Why the reds flagged

  • Comrades: the Rise and Fall of World Communism
    by Robert Harvey, John Murray, 2003, 422pp.

Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Ceausescu, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Salvador Allende, Mengistu, Castro, Kim Il-sung: the list of murderous communist leaders is long, diverse and profoundly multicultural. Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Angola, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Chile, Cuba: the list of countries that have attempted to create communist societies is equally broad. Continue reading “Why the reds flagged”

Speech Lessons: What Khrushchev’s famous “secret speech” can tell us about regime change.

  • Khrushchev: The Man and His Era,
    by William Taubman, Norton, 2004, 908 pp.

Because he has already been lauded for his extensive research and his psychological insight, I won’t heap further praise on William Taubman, author of a substantial new biography Khrushchev: the Man and His Era. Suffice it to say that he makes extensive use of newly opened archives, carefully parses the Cuban Missile Crisis, pays due attention to Khrushchev’s role in the terror of the 1930s, and includes a healthy sprinkling of the Soviet leader’s favorite insults (“Your view of Soviet power is from inside a toilet!”). Continue reading “Speech Lessons: What Khrushchev’s famous “secret speech” can tell us about regime change.”

It’s make-your-mind-up time, Prime Minister

When the fog of war eventually lifts, how different will the post-war landscape really be? Baghdad will be transformed, whatever happens. The rest of the Arab world might be altered too. But whether the war lasts six days or six months or six years, the international stalemate – the diplomatic quagmire – will still be there when it is over. Continue reading “It’s make-your-mind-up time, Prime Minister”

George’s big mistake was to listen to Tony

Practically nobody is willing to say it, so let us be as frank as possible: the decision to conduct the invasion of Iraq in consultation with the United Nations – a decision taken by President George W Bush partly to mollify his friend Tony Blair – has been utterly disastrous. Continue reading “George’s big mistake was to listen to Tony”

An Oddball Miles From Anywhere

  • Regions of the Great Heresy: Bruno Schulz, A Biographical Portrait
    by Jerzy Ficowski, (translated by Theodosia Robertson)
    W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2004, 282pp.

Hot and silent, dusty and deserted, the town of Drohobycz seemed, during the few summer days I spent there some years ago, like a place forgotten in time. The houses had a certain faded, Austro-Hungarian glamour, but seemed to have been built for different people, in a different era. The central market square had a certain pleasing symmetry, but practically no business was conducted there. The peasant women who had carved small vegetable gardens out of the tangles of weed that passed for shrubbery looked up suspiciously when a stranger passed, and then looked quickly down again. Continue reading “An Oddball Miles From Anywhere”

Saddam is a pushover compared to Kim Jong Il

This weekend, Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State, is not in Israel or in Jordan, preparing for imminent war with Iraq. He is not in Europe, mollifying allies. Instead, he is in Japan and South Korea, quietly dealing with the other weapons-of-mass-destruction crisis, the one we have heard much less about. Continue reading “Saddam is a pushover compared to Kim Jong Il”

After the Gulag

  • The Gulag Survivor: Beyond the Soviet System,
    Nanci Adler, Transaction, 290 pp.
  • Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia,
    by Catherine Merridale, Penguin, 402 pp.
  • Reabilitatsiya: Kak Eto Bylo (Rehabilitation: How It Was),
    by Andrei Artizov, Yuri Sigachev, Vyacheslav Khlopov, and Ivan Shevchuk,
    Moscow: International Democracy Foundation, 502 pp.

In 1955, the Russian writer Yuri Dombrovsky returned home to Moscow after twenty-five years in Soviet camps and exile—twenty-five years “out there”—to discover that he had not, after all, been completely forgotten. He was handed a rehabilitation document, given a grudging pension, assigned a single room in a communal apartment. Although few of his works would ever be published again, he was allowed to rejoin the Writer’s Union. Most of his colleagues there shunned him. Continue reading “After the Gulag”