Mar 212008

I was home sick today, and in the times when I wasn’t sleeping I finished Anne Applebaum’s book, “Gulag”. Back in 1979 or 1980 I read Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” while sick in bed, so it seemed appropriate to read this one when sick, too.

It was interesting that in her final paragraph, she wrote: “This book was not written ‘so that it will not happen again,’ as the
cliche would have it. This book was written because it almost certainly will happen again. Totalitarian philosophies have had, and
will continue to have, a profound appeal to many millions of people.”

Leading up to this statement is her account of how this whole episode in Russian history has gone down a memory hole in present-day Russia. In her travels in Russia she encountered some people who were glad she was helping to bring these episodes to memory, but she encountered a lot more who were antogonistic or indifferent. Applebaum discusses the following categories of reasons for the silence on the topic.

  • Russians are too busy dealing with the present.
  • They already discussed it all in the early 1990s.
  • Discussion of the gulag is associated with the democratic reforms that went bad.
  • There are so many tragedies, such as the war dead and famines. Why pick on this one?
  • The fall of the old system is a blow to Russians’ personal pride in their country as a world power.
  • They might not like what they find — relatives and friends who were collaborators and informers.
  • Many of the former leaders of the old system are still in positions of influence and power. They have an interest in concealing the past.

Applebaum then goes on to discuss some of the bad effects of this silence and concealment on Russian society:

  • “…if scoundrels of the old regime go unpunished, good will in no way have been seen to triumph over evil.” The sight of villains who got away with it leads to cynicism.
  • The elite have not come to value the lives and rights of all of Russia’s citizens
  • It has deprived Russians of heroes (compared to Germany, where those who participated in anti-Hitler plots are now heroes)
  • It has lead to an insensitivity to continued censorship and intrusions into private life by the FSB.
  • There has been no judicial or prison reform

After reading the book, I found the following web site that contains a number of Applebaum’s articles and columns:

I think I’ll be reading a lot of them for more insights.