Re-drawing the Iron Curtain?



With ever-increasing enthusiasm, Russia claims to be the heir to the Soviet Union, and attacks on bronze, granite and plaster Lenins in Ukraine have generally been interpreted here [in Moscow] as anti-Russian, notes Masha Gessen, the author of “The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, reacted to a recent Ukrainian law on “de-Communization,” which mandates changing Soviet-era city and street names and removing Soviet-era monuments, by calling the members of Ukraine’s Parliament “ignorant zombies,” she writes for The New York Times:

Russia’s Soviet past has been reglorified in recent years. Even Stalin’s public image is being largely redeemed: His likeness has gone up on posters around the country, and he has been praised as a great military and industrial leader. Lenin, as a historic figure, had always seemed to be beyond criticism, and residents of the neighborhood where his statue was destroyed last week have already asked that it be restored.

Once upon a time, not so long ago—after the Iron Curtain was lifted and before too many people absorbed a new set of propaganda cliches as their own speech—one could travel to the former Soviet Union, find a person of a certain age, ask a question, and hear the story of an entire life, Gessen writes for The New York Review of Books:

The story was invariably painful and contradictory, and often a perfect encapsulation of the twentieth century. In the last quarter-century, the number of people of a certain age in the former Soviet Union has dwindled, and the number of those willing to tell their life stories to foreign strangers has decreased even faster. Soon, no one will be left to speak for the Soviet experience.

The graphic novelist Igort’s Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule covers (the war in Chechnya, the Gulag, two of the most horrific terrorist attacks in recent history, the theater siege in Moscow in 2002 and the Beslan school massacre in 2004—and some of the murders of journalists and human rights defenders, she adds:

The single anchoring story of this part of the book is that of a young man who volunteered to fight in Chechnya and emerged damaged in body and soul. This first-person account, though, came to Igort by way of an online forum, and this is perhaps what robs it of the sense of presence so palpable in the Ukrainian part of the book. The other major Russian story is that of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya [left– recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2007 Democracy Award], whom Igort also never saw, because she was killed in her building in Moscow in 2006. A nostalgic observation breaks through the lifeless language of the translation: “Anna was infused with the ethical sense that spills out of the pages of nineteenth-century Russian literature,” writes Igort. “Anna’s was a better Russia.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email