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It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past Hardcover – December 13, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A sweeping study of how the former Soviet Union’s bloody past continues to poison Russia’s present and threatens to strangle the country’s future.”—Newsweek

“A fascinating, deeply thoughtful and researched study that contributes mightily to the ongoing humanist debate.”—Kirkus Reviews
(Kirkus Reviews)

“Satter’s reflective, expert analysis of a Russian society in moral and cultural flux after the end of communism provides great food for thought beyond today’s headlines.”—Publishers Weekly
(Publishers Weekly)

"David Satter delivers one of the most harrowing stories of all time. . . This is a rare book by many measures, not least of which is the way in which Satter captures the magnitude of Russian atrocities and the frightening realities that people accept as part of their daily lives. By no means is Russia unique in being a nation that must grapple with the question of national cruelty and corruption. . . but its rich history makes it story all the more fascinating—and tragic."—Jedd Beaudoin, PopMatters
(Jedd Beaudoin PopMatters)

"A meticulous, sweeping and wrenching history of Russia's burial of Soviet crimes. It is also a sensitive, compelling and convincing exploration of the importance of memory. But it makes a broader contention - that forgetting is a symptom of an illness that Russia contracted before the Soviet era. . . a humane, measured, first-hand, historically and philosophically rooted argument that is hard to refute."—Andrew Gardner, European Voice
(Andrew Gardner European Voice)

"David Satter has written a book full of vivid and well chosen anecdotes. . . . The use of nostalgia is Satter's field. Russia is not, he believes, able to give itself a chance; in love with their chains, its people cannot face up to the horrors of a past they wish to ignore or romanticize."—John Lloyd, Financial Times
(John Llyod Financial Times)

"Impeccably argued. . . Satter is a man whom no Russian leader would wish to meet, let alone shake by the hand, but he has their measure."—Donald Rayfield, Literary Review
(Donald Rayfield Literary Review)

"[Satter] does a brilliant job of chronicling the human consequences of Communism."—The National Review
(National Review)

"David Satter has really captured the role of the past in the present in Russia. . . . He feels that the Soviet Union hollowed out both public and private morality and left people without a moral compass when it collapsed. . . . The title of his book is the quintessence of the Putinist attitude to the past."—Edward Lucas, The Browser
(Edward Lucas Browser)

“Satter grapples with an elemental failing of Russia’s leaders and people. . . . Russia, he argues, refuses to face the fundamental moral depravity of its Soviet past. . . . Expansive and brilliantly explored . . . compelling.”—Foreign Affairs
(Foreign Affairs)

“Truly illuminating….Satter is both a gifted journalist and a chronicler of intellectual and political currents….Splendidly researched and engagingly written, this book offers invaluable vignettes of various reactions to the still unprocessed remembrance of totalitarian times.”
—Vladimir Tismaneanu, International Affairs
(Vladimir Tismaneanu International Affairs)

“David Satter has written a classic of its kind, investigating the psychological reactions that modern Russians feel towards the crimes of their Communist forebears.”—Andrew Roberts, The American Spectator
(Andrew Roberts The American Spectator)

“Compelling, a journalist’s book.”—Choice 

Book Description

This compelling and original book explores why Russia has ignored the lessons of its tragic Communist experience and shows how a deep-rooted lack of respect for the individual blocks the nation's way to a stable and democratic future.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (December 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300111452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300111453
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #792,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The previous book by Mr. Satter "Darkness at Down" was translated here in Russia without any problems, but it seems this one has no chances for publication, to judge from the Moscow's recent firm refuse to prolong the author's visa. Anyway, I am sure "It Was a Long Time Ago" wouldn't change the Russian readers' "forgetful" attitude, mentioned in the title of this book: this attitude wasn't changed by mountains of earlier volumes on the same theme, from many documentary researches by our own dissidents to fine Western works, like "Molotov's Magic Lantern" by Rachel Polonsky or, say, Anne Applebaum's "GULAG'. I think that now the only cure for my nation is not in books, but, hopefully, in time – in a very long time of slow, hard, torturous resistance to all the accursed utopias, both past and present. From my point of view, Mr. Satter's book is timely not so for our readers, as for the Western audience, whose traditional position of horrified (or amused) observer "Oh, those Russians!" is hardly appropriate any more. David Satter supplies all of us with a thorough analysis of big governments' technology for enslaving any nation, Russian or not.
Of course, since times of Ivan the Terrible the enslaving of Russian minds was carried on mainly by brutal force, while modern Western rulers prefer much softer instruments: generous welfare, exquisite politcorrectness, multicultural diversity, ecological care etc. Nevertheless, in spite of so different instruments, the resulting "profound change" of citizenry's views is quite similar. The book's sad title can be as deservedly applied now to many episodes of the Western history too, be it US bureaucracy's cold-blooded betrayal of some 12.
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Format: Paperback
I have been living in Russia for over 7 years and have spent a great deal of time researching this topic, and have visited most of the sites discussed in this book(and indeed worked at one of them). Without going into endless detail and rewriting the author's book here, let me say that he has hit the nail on the head with this one. Yes, the book is certainly not a cheerful one, but it is very well written and simply reflects many of the deeper truths about life in Russia and indeed in Eastern Europe itself. The only potential drawback - and this is no fault of the author's- is that a person reading this book outside of Russia or with only limited or non-existant experience of Russian life, could easily conclude that life here is one long torment. Of course, this is not the case at all, but it bears pointing out that discussing the non-depressing aspects of Russian life and history is not in the author's remit here. In short, this is a direct, honest, and objective (as far as that is possible) account of the crimes of the soviet regime and how these events are remmembered and commemorated today. To round off the picture, I would recommend G. Hoskings books on Russia...his superlative analysis reinforces in many ways what you read here and gives a deeper background.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a sobering book on the irredeemability of the Russian psyche and goes a long way to explain Russia's current stance and paranoia. For a few years the Russians admitted their past and tended to offer regrets, then they began to say that whatever happened was necessary and those millions punished in the various terrors probably deserved it, now the general tendency is to suggest it was never as bad as the West has painted it. Russians just want to be repected for their strength and as democracy seems to them a sign of weakness then it's not for them. Recent research shows that of the former Soviet Union states only the Ukrainians are strongly in favour of democratic ideals. Most other former Soviet Union states from Belarus to Kazakhstan and including Russia believe in strong autocratic leadership. It's not likely to change in a country where autocracy has been the favoured government system for a thousand years.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
David Satter's "It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway" provides an excellent recap of defining events in Soviet and modern Russian history with a common theme - the perplexing self-destructive behavior of Russian society.

The author reviews historical examples of bad behavior, including the Holodomor, the Katyn massacre, and the Vorkuta labor camps. And the author reviews modern examples, including the FSB apartment bombings and the Nord-Ost siege.

The examples are well described with accounts by people personally involved, thus providing interesting additional information for readers who have already studied these events.

The author also reviews thoughts of prominent writers including Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, and Shafarevich, and provides an understanding of the perverse mentalities of people within the Cheka/NKVD/KGB/FSB.

The author believes that by allowing government zero accountability and complete immunity, Russian society condemns itself to more oppression. By covering-up and forgetting the past rather than exposing terrible events and making memorials to victims, Russian society condemns itself to more terrible events.

Mr. Satter is hopeful that open recognition and critique of historical events could result in an improved society with a rational morality that values self-preservation.

by John Christmas, exiled "Latvian Proxy Network" whistleblower and author of "Democracy Society"
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