Author Topic: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?  (Read 108252 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Bev

  • Graf
  • ***
  • Posts: 254
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #195 on: October 17, 2006, 01:50:37 PM »
Beautifully written, Eliz., and sadly I must agree.  A few days ago, I watched a film called "Lords of War" with Nicholas Cage (I believe that's the name) - it's not a new film, it's been out for awhile, but it speaks of the hypocrisy of all the people in the world that we're willing to overlook crimes against humanity if there is something in it for ourselves. 

No, I don't think the Soviet Union was a "mistake."  I think it was the deliberate infliction of one group's will upon another.

Offline Tania+

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1206
  • I love YaBB 1G - SP1!
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #196 on: October 17, 2006, 02:56:13 PM »
The Soviet Union was not only a mistake, because it deliberately inflicted untold suffering on it's own peoples, but also to the extreme degree to other countless countries and peoples. It insisted to dominate over all groups, peoples, ethnicities, and to close off any and all connects to political and religious affiliations.

The word 'Mistake' does not begin to explain what it has left many nations and peoples. It was not only to Russia that this tragedy happened to, but to a whole group of countries. In many languages the story goes out, and the insistence that it will never happen again. But then again, right here under the our very eyes, that of Dafur....and never again comes too soon, and globally who responds ? .....

Tatiana+
TatianaA


Offline Elisabeth

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 2131
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #197 on: October 21, 2006, 12:42:32 PM »
You can be sure that ethnic peoples persecuted by the Soviet regime have an assured cohesive sense of identity in that Soviet suffering. I don't know whom you have reached out to, or whom you know, but as sure as you and i live they surely identify in term of suffering. There is no ambiguity in the above for anyone, believe me.

Tatiana+

Dear Tatiana, I wasn't saying that there was any moral ambiguity whatsoever in the suffering of myriad peoples under the Soviet yoke. Millions of people suffered and died under Stalin and it was wrong. Period. I was merely suggesting that for some Russians (not very large in number, but all the same they do figure in camp memoirs), there was an ambiguity about how they felt towards Stalin's regime. Some of these people, you have to remember, were true believers in Marxism-Leninism and even in Stalinism. Remember, the Great Terror of 1937 was primarily directed at Soviet citizens who belonged to the Communist party - the very same people who tended to believe, upon their arrest, that they must have done something wrong to deserve such treatment at the hands of the state they themselves had helped to build.

Of course there were many brave souls, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, arrested in 1945, who rightly believed, heart and soul, in their own innocence and who felt nothing but hatred and bitterness toward the regime that persecuted them. But for every Solzhenitsyn there was someone like his dear friend Lev Kopelev (who appears as Rubin in Solzhenitsyn's novel The First Circle), who believed that they had been wrongly convicted but nevertheless the system itself was ultimately right. This is one reason why I think it is harder for Russian survivors of the Stalinist terror to make themselves heard as a cohesive lobbying block. Some of them, small in number but significant nonetheless, still believe in the Soviet dream...The other reason is that Russians of course are ethnically distinct from Armenians, Kazakhs, Crimean Tartars, etc. All these groups have their own individual stories of suffering to tell (and I'm sure you are right that for some of these groups, such as the Armenians, the suffering under the Soviet regime was an experience of national bonding). We shouldn't leave out the Chechens, either. Their story of suffering continues to this day. 
« Last Edit: October 21, 2006, 12:46:26 PM by Elisabeth »
... I love my poor earth
because I have seen no other

-- Osip Mandelshtam

Offline Elisabeth

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 2131
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #198 on: October 21, 2006, 12:52:36 PM »
Beautifully written, Eliz., and sadly I must agree.  A few days ago, I watched a film called "Lords of War" with Nicholas Cage (I believe that's the name) - it's not a new film, it's been out for awhile, but it speaks of the hypocrisy of all the people in the world that we're willing to overlook crimes against humanity if there is something in it for ourselves. 

No, I don't think the Soviet Union was a "mistake."  I think it was the deliberate infliction of one group's will upon another.

Many thanks for your kind words, Bev. I haven't seen "Lords of War" yet but on your recommendation I'm planning to look it up.

I suppose I was being too polite when I called the Soviet Union a "mistake." I was trying to take into consideration all those people out there who still hold a residual respect if not affection for dear old Ilych, I mean Vladimir Ilych Lenin. I shouldn't have been so cautious. I don't really believe it was a mistake either. Lenin meant to take power at any cost to the nation and society, and that's what he did. No mistake!

... I love my poor earth
because I have seen no other

-- Osip Mandelshtam

Offline RichC

  • Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 757
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #199 on: October 23, 2006, 08:53:45 PM »
I watched a program this evening on the History International channel called Siberia: How the East Was Won.

Here are some topics covered in the program:

The program talks about the Kolyma -- a remote region of Siberia which was populated by slaves.  Millions died, apparently, mining gold in horrific conditions.  According to calculations made at the time, the cost was one life per gram of gold mined. 

One of the goals of the Soviet leadership was the forced relocation of the population across the nation's landmass, which included the building of large cities in places where no sane person would want to live.  The forced relocation of millions of people to these "dead" areas has been a disaster for Russia, both in human and economic terms.  According to Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag, the problem with the communists wasn't that Russia wasn't developed, but that it was mis-developed.  In other words all of the work was for nothing.

According to the program HIV is growing faster in Siberia than anywhere else in the world, due to rampant drug abuse and prostitution.  It is predicted that AIDS deaths in Russia will rise from 500/month today to 21,000/month by 2020.

This is part of the legacy of the Soviet Union.

Offline Tania+

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1206
  • I love YaBB 1G - SP1!
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #200 on: October 23, 2006, 09:21:03 PM »
RichC,

I am so grateful that you are presenting understandings to this forum as to what was done under Soviet rule. There are so many terrible tales, and horrid conditions that the population had to endure, that there are not enough of these stories translated, yet alone shared here in the Western communities. I shudder to think and remember all of those who conveyed to me their typical hardships in the gulags, etc. Slave labor was more than rampant, and to be sent to Siberia and endure the extensive hardships and terrors alone of just the environment, and lack of basic needs, is mind boggling.

It is alarming to know that HIV has a foothold of death over a vast area of Siberia today. I know that prostitution and drug abuse was at an alarming rate, but not to the degree that it is taking lives. Was any indication of global health assurance and support offered to the region ? Anything stated of United Nations health support ? Honestly, it is all so sad, and my heart goes out to those who may have not support nor assist what so ever. Thanks for your sharing this information, and God bless !

Tatiana+
TatianaA


Offline RichC

  • Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 757
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #201 on: October 24, 2006, 12:12:43 AM »

It is alarming to know that HIV has a foothold of death over a vast area of Siberia today. I know that prostitution and drug abuse was at an alarming rate, but not to the degree that it is taking lives. Was any indication of global health assurance and support offered to the region ? Anything stated of United Nations health support ?


They interviewed someone from the World Health Org.  From what I watched, the authorities in Russia are hampering efforts to deal with the problem because they don't want to admit how bad it is.

The biggest problem appears to be lack of understanding that shared needles spread HIV.

Offline Elisabeth

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 2131
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #202 on: October 24, 2006, 09:50:40 AM »
The program talks about the Kolyma -- a remote region of Siberia which was populated by slaves.  Millions died, apparently, mining gold in horrific conditions.  According to calculations made at the time, the cost was one life per gram of gold mined. 

If you're interested in reading about the Kolyma concentration camps, you might want to look up Varlam Shalamov's famous Kolyma Tales. Shalamov was first arrested in 1929, when only 22 years old, and sent to the Solovki concentration camp. He was arrested again in 1937 and sent to Kolyma. His collection of short stories is based on the time he spent there. These stories are brilliant, very spare and terse in style, and incredibly disturbing. The one that always sticks out in my mind is "Lend-Lease," where the Kolyma camp authorities are presented with a bulldozer from the United States, and the first job they use it for is to dig a mass grave.

According to Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag, the problem with the communists wasn't that Russia wasn't developed, but that it was mis-developed.  In other words all of the work was for nothing.

This was also true of the White Sea-Baltic (Belomor) Canal, the first massive slave-labor project under Stalin. It's estimated that during the first winter of its construction alone (1931-32), 100,000 slave laborers died trying to build it. In fact so many people died during that winter and into the following summer that the disposal of corpses became difficult and by accident many bones became mixed into the concrete and thus were preserved forever in the last lock of the city of Belomorsk... But when the Canal was completed in 1933 it turned out it could only be used for passenger traffic, not for freight, as had been intended, because the planners had screwed up and the Canal was too shallow (only sixteen feet deep). And when Solzhenitsyn visited it in 1966 there wasn't even much passenger traffic traveling on it, because the authorities were afraid of American spies! So all those poor people died for nothing.

According to the program HIV is growing faster in Siberia than anywhere else in the world, due to rampant drug abuse and prostitution.  It is predicted that AIDS deaths in Russia will rise from 500/month today to 21,000/month by 2020.

This is part of the legacy of the Soviet Union.

I read a very scary article in The New Yorker about a year ago, entitled "Is Russia Dying"? According to the world-renowned demographer the writer interviewed, the answer was yes. And this was largely because of the mounting AIDS crisis in Russia, which is being willfully ignored by a government that can donate millions to Africa to combat AIDS but still consistently refuses to deal with the problem at home.
... I love my poor earth
because I have seen no other

-- Osip Mandelshtam

Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #203 on: October 24, 2006, 12:28:28 PM »
The AIDS epidemic is but the symptom of an even more-intractable problem.  These inhospitable regions were not developed only by prison labor that died or disappeared in the process.  They were peopled by millions of workers and their families who were enticed into the regions by attractive economic packages funded by a state economy.  Even by Soviet standards, these were seen as regions that could be exploited only inefficiently.  Workers were paid two to three times the prevailing wages for similar work in other regions, the government provided long vacations at state-run resorts, more consumer goods were made available in local stores, etc.

One of the artifacts of the mis-development that Applebaum described is that millions of Russians now find themselves stranded in cities that today have no economic reason to exist in a free economy.  The reasons that enticed the Soviet regime -- desired secrecy around certain industries, the high-labor extraction of mineral reserves -- do not prevail today.  By virtue of their geographic isolation and brutal climates, these cities offer no prospect for becoming manufacturing centers in a consumer economy.  Unemployment is rife, alcoholism and drug use are endemic, the maintenance of large populations in such extreme environs is economicially and ecologically taxing, and there are neither means nor destinations available for relocating populations of this size.  These people are simply abandoned and left to fend for themselves, mostly by cannibalizing an infrastructure that is rapidly decaying around them.

As is Russia's severely depressed birth rate, this is just one more artifact of Russia's bleak passage through the 20th century that will weigh on her well into the 21st.

Offline RichC

  • Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 757
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #204 on: October 24, 2006, 09:31:02 PM »

What I feel "nostalgia" for, if that's what you call a bitter regret for something stamped out without mercy, is the promise and potential held out by prerevolutionary, pre-World War I Russia. But I would argue that no one who has studied Russian history can feel anything other than tremendous sorrow at Russia's fate in the twentieth century. I don't understand this apparent need of yours to equate autocratic Russia with the Bolshevik Soviet Union... the two were not equivalent. And  I still do not ascribe to the belief that Russians somehow deserved what happened to them in the twentieth century, or were fated to go through these trials, because of their autocratic past - if you have read Russian literature, heard Russian music, you know there was a great deal more to imperial Russian history than an autocratic government. No, in my humble opinion Russia, in addition to the burdens placed on it by its unfortunate past, also suffered a run of tremendously bad luck in the twentieth century. Everything that could have gone wrong did, and in the worst possible way. I can't blame the Russian people or even autocracy for that.

I hope it's ok, Elisabeth, that I stole this quote from another thread.  I try to avoid the "survivor" threads -- I don't think I have the guts to wade into that!

I agree completely that there is an ocean of difference between the Tsarist state and the Soviet state.  One simply cannot say that the Tsarist government ever managed to bring as much suffering to the Russian people as the Soviet state did.  But one comment made in last night's program struck me; it was the notion among Russians that fear is an inherent component of the idea of power.  In other words, if a leader, or a group of leaders, do not inspire fear, than they are not considered powerful.

It's hard for me to understand how democracy can take root and flourish with that kind of mindset; one that existed even under the Tsars.  Another ingredient in the mix is the idea that democracy itself is somehow "un-Russian".  There was an article in yesterday's NYT about a Russian art gallery in Moscow that was attacked and vandalized in broad daylight by a group of skinheads.  (I'll post the article on the News thread).

A British art dealer who represents the Georgian artist whose art was on exhibt at the gallery (and many of whose works were destroyed in the rampage), said on the radio tonight that what is taking shape in Russia now is an age-old battle between the "Western" liberalizers and the "Slavophiles" -- represented by Putin and his cronies.

Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #205 on: October 25, 2006, 11:34:43 AM »

No, in my humble opinion Russia, in addition to the burdens placed on it by its unfortunate past, also suffered a run of tremendously bad luck in the twentieth century. Everything that could have gone wrong did, and in the worst possible way. I can't blame the Russian people or even autocracy for that.


But one comment made in last night's program struck me; it was the notion among Russians that fear is an inherent component of the idea of power.  In other words, if a leader, or a group of leaders, do not inspire fear, than they are not considered powerful.


It strikes me as odd that most discussions about Russian history -- be they about autocracy or communism -- are premised on the notion that the government of Russia is something fundamentally apart from her people.  I am not pointing fingers here, because I operate from the same premise myself when I opine on what autocracy did to channel Russian history toward the abyss of the soviet era.

In the case of Russia, government seems over and over to be viewed as something done to the people, not something done by them.  I think RichC's astute observation that if Russians do not fear their leaders, they do not consider them powerful is very telling.  It comes very close to the psychology of abuse victims who confuse violence with strength and fear with respect.

People who tolerate abuse are generally people who, from a very early age, have been conditioned to think it their inescapable lot in life.  I think that applies somewhat to Russia's people.  Having been taught in the nursery of the tsars that they were not capable of making their own decisions, when they entered the adulthood of revolutionary Russia and for the first time were confronted with adult choices, they quicky delivered themselves into the hands of another government that said it would make better decisions for them . . . but still make the decisions for them.

One can attempt to cure an individual of abuse syndrome.  I cannot even begin to imagine how one cures an entire nation of it. 

Offline Elisabeth

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 2131
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #206 on: October 25, 2006, 04:08:53 PM »
But one comment made in last night's program struck me; it was the notion among Russians that fear is an inherent component of the idea of power.  In other words, if a leader, or a group of leaders, do not inspire fear, than they are not considered powerful.

I think this is very true and Tsarfan is quite right to take up your idea and expand it into a fully-fledged theory that the entire Russian nation has been suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder for the last several hundred years. This is my own personal opinion. But one has to tread very carefully here because Russians have been so insulted by recent publications in the West regarding their psychiatric state as a nation - one in particular was especially heinous, an actual scholarly work, The Slave Soul of Russia by some glorified Freudian-Lacanian academic practicing armchair psychology. He essentially blames Russians for being what he terms "masochistic" (one of his favorite words, actually). Taking Tsarfan's analogy one step further, it's almost as if the abused wife or child went to the psychologist and was then told, in the latest highfalutin psychobabble, "You asked for it, and not only that, you enjoyed it." 

It's hard for me to understand how democracy can take root and flourish with that kind of mindset; one that existed even under the Tsars.  Another ingredient in the mix is the idea that democracy itself is somehow "un-Russian".  There was an article in yesterday's NYT about a Russian art gallery in Moscow that was attacked and vandalized in broad daylight by a group of skinheads.  (I'll post the article on the News thread).

A British art dealer who represents the Georgian artist whose art was on exhibt at the gallery (and many of whose works were destroyed in the rampage), said on the radio tonight that what is taking shape in Russia now is an age-old battle between the "Western" liberalizers and the "Slavophiles" -- represented by Putin and his cronies.

I wish I could say that this is a gross oversimplification but on second thought, I can't and I won't. I think it's true that Putin and his cronies are set on keeping Russia an entity distinct from the West, with its own somehow "unique" path of development. Sigh. This is indeed a very old and familiar tune... But I will make the proviso that unlike the traditional nineteenth-century Slavophiles, who had very high ideals and a sincere belief in Russia and the Russian people, Putin and Co. are a deeply cynical bunch who are only interested in money and power. They're not ideological, much less philosophical; they're just a bunch of thugs. That's why you can see hard-core pornography on late-night Russian television (not only on cable, but also on the regular networks), something that no doubt has true Slavophiles like Aksakov and Dostoevsky rolling over in their graves. But it's a very cynical ploy to keep potential malcontents off the street and preoccupied with the modern-day equivalent of bread and circuses.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2006, 04:12:57 PM by Elisabeth »
... I love my poor earth
because I have seen no other

-- Osip Mandelshtam

Offline Tania+

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1206
  • I love YaBB 1G - SP1!
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #207 on: October 25, 2006, 05:08:50 PM »
I very much agree on what has been stated, in fact I brought this exact statement and understanding up on another of the AP threads, that the Soviet union is going through a post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome for all the traumatic events she has been forced to go through. Being in the field for over 30 years, addressing those who have endured all types of torture, and abuse, it is not that easy to overlook, especially in the incidences offered so in the early postings of RichC and what was done early on in the revolution by the communists, etc., and all through the WW's. When one also remembers the many psychiatric hospitals, clinics set up especially for dissadents, and the terrors that were permitted to run rampant, one can only expect the worst of the worst to continue to run amuck in the society at large. Mental help of course was not the optimum offering when one was sent to these dins of iniquity...

I must say imho, the ninteenth century Slavopiles did have high ideals and did lead in the belief of the Russian peoples. In today's Russia however, it is nothing that any individual or nation can feel that it has the best intentions for all the peoples. I would rather look, and lived in the Russia of 1914, than what is feted to be under the guise of only name value of 'the federation of Russia'. Each member of the AP, and reader, may believe what you wish, and that is how we think here in the West, as individuals, and always hope that lives of people near and far may be with every integrity, and allowance that allows for peoples to be and feel free.

imho, nothing but nothing can match that of the horrors of the endless mistakes the Soviets made then, and never was brought to court on. I can't help but think again about Stalin when you mention the Georgians RichC. How many Georgians spoke up for or against Stalin and his crimes, before, during, and after his demise ? Just looking at any part that the Soviets had control of is a nightmare. Even when one thinks of the buildings they built, and what they used to build, and how these housing needs were short changed, etc. The list is endless of who profited and who really lost...and the losses remain and are endless..the robbing goes on and on...

Tatiana+
TatianaA


Offline Tsarfan

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 1848
  • Miss the kings, but not the kingdoms
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #208 on: October 26, 2006, 09:18:57 AM »

But one has to tread very carefully here because Russians have been so insulted by recent publications in the West regarding their psychiatric state as a nation - one in particular was especially heinous, an actual scholarly work, The Slave Soul of Russia by some glorified Freudian-Lacanian academic practicing armchair psychology. He essentially blames Russians for being what he terms "masochistic" (one of his favorite words, actually).


I don't take your admonition lightly, Elisabeth, and it is with a bit of trepidation that I write the following.  But I think it bears discussion.

I think there really is something unique about how we separate the Russian people from their government in discussing the soviet era.  It generally does not happen to the same extent in discussions about other governments, be they democracies or more centralized systems.  Take the following examples as cases in point:

The Treaty of Versailles imposed crippling and punitive reparations on Germany after World War I.  The Kaiser had been deposed and his government dismantled.  So these reparations were imposed on the German people, not on the decision-makers who helped trigger the war.  Why?  Because the German people were viewed as answerable for their government's policies and for their participation in giving them effect.

The IRA spent years bombing the civilian British population for the policies of the British government.  No distinction was drawn between Cabinet decisions and the complicity of the British people as a whole, nor did many Britons argue that any such distinction should be drawn.

When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, it was intended as an attack on American foreign policy, not on the specific policy-makers.  And Americans viewed it as an attack on them, not an attack on their government.

At the Nuremburg trials, the "I-was-just-following-orders" defense was disallowed.  As late as last month, a case was winding through the Wisconsin court system over the U.S. government's attempt to deport an octogenarian who had been a guard in a German concentration camp over six decades ago.  All participants in Nazi atrocities were and still are viewed as being as culpable as their masters.  We don't talk about Hitlerism.  We talk about Naziism and how it enmeshed an entire nation in collective guilt for the actions of their government.

Yet when it comes to the Soviet Union and the participation of vast numbers of Russians in the extermination of millions of their fellow countrymen, in the building and guarding of slave labor camps, in spying on their neighbors, in signing up for the Communist Party to get a better job or a better flat, we make it all about a handful of men.  We talk about "Leninism" and "Stalinism" as if all this evil was their handiwork alone.

I simply cannot believe this entire framework for our thinking about Russia -- and for how Russians think about themselves -- was born out of the ether in October 1917.  I think it rests on a very deep set of shared assumptions that the Russian people, to an extent virtually unique in modern western history, have no responsiblity for the actions of their government.  And I think those assumptions have their roots in the autocratic history of Russia.

Offline Elisabeth

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 2131
    • View Profile
Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #209 on: October 26, 2006, 12:26:18 PM »
Yet when it comes to the Soviet Union and the participation of vast numbers of Russians in the extermination of millions of their fellow countrymen, in the building and guarding of slave labor camps, in spying on their neighbors, in signing up for the Communist Party to get a better job or a better flat, we make it all about a handful of men.  We talk about "Leninism" and "Stalinism" as if all this evil was their handiwork alone.

Well, Tsarfan, that's not entirely fair because I have written repeatedly about the need for Russians to take responsibility for their own history - this continues to be one of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's strongest beliefs, by the way, and he was the first Russian to call upon the Russians as a people to seek redemption for their Soviet past. Just because you're a victim doesn't mean you can't also become a victimizer... indeed, all too often the two syndromes are indissolubly linked... and Solzhenitsyn has written far more extensively and eloquently on this subject than any of us could ever hope to do.

Also, please forgive me for pointing this out, but you yourself almost always talk about autocracy as if the Russian people were a completely separate entity from it, that is, the people were continually acted upon by the autocracy but not themselves responsible for the autocratic system. I think this is a bit, well, more than a bit, of a double standard, especially considering how many more millions perished under the Soviets as compared to the tsars. Clearly more was at stake for the average Russian in standing up to the Bolsheviks than in standing up to any nineteenth-century, or even eighteenth-century emperor. 

I simply cannot believe this entire framework for our thinking about Russia -- and for how Russians think about themselves -- was born out of the ether in October 1917.  I think it rests on a very deep set of shared assumptions that the Russian people, to an extent virtually unique in modern western history, have no responsiblity for the actions of their government.  And I think those assumptions have their roots in the autocratic history of Russia.

Obviously they do. But how do you correct the problem, if you say the Russian people's responsibility began in 1917, but not back in the eighteenth century, under Peter the Great, or in the sixteenth century, under Ivan the Terrible? Why not even go back to the very distant past, when the ancient Russian tribes asked the Varangians to "come and rule over us," because they could not keep order amongst themselves... You see the kind of moral quandary all this leads to! Especially when we consider that the Germans and Americans have traditionally had far much more say in their governments than have the Russians, so you could argue that our standards for judging their (or our) behavior are immeasurably higher, and perhaps rightly so.

Frankly I think the Russians people's real responsibility in the twentieth century is not simply for crimes committed against each other but also and perhaps even more importantly for the countless crimes committed by Russians against the minority peoples of the former Soviet Union, as well as against the peoples of Eastern Europe. And it's in this area, where their sins of commission and omission affected other peoples,  that I would really like to see the Russians accept a reasonable share of responsibility and try to make amends for the past.
« Last Edit: October 26, 2006, 12:38:30 PM by Elisabeth »
... I love my poor earth
because I have seen no other

-- Osip Mandelshtam