Varlam Shalamov

Valery Yesipov

Cerebration or Genuflection? (Varlam Shalamov and Alexander Solzhenitsin)

It was almost twenty years ago, back when Brezhnev’s era was coming to a close. A small crowd, some forty people, were paying their last respects to a writer nearly forgotten by his contemporaries.

Many thought he had already died. “Varlam Shalamov is dead,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn declared to the whole world from America. Meanwhile, Shalamov still walked the streets of Moscow. He could be seen on Tverskaya, when he ventured out from his hole to buy groceries. He was a ghastly sight, reeling down the street like a drunk, falling over. The police force of the “model communist city”, always on guard, would lift him off the ground, and Shalamov, perfectly sober, would present a doctor’s note about his illness, Ménière's disease, a disorder which affected his balance and had been exacerbated by years of camps. (This note, which the writer always had on him during the last years of his life, is kept in the Shalamov Museum in Vologda).

On top of that he was also almost blind and deaf, and in 1979, when he was already 72, he was put into a nursing home for the disabled. He was alone, without a family, and he was visited only by a few friends and acquaintances, as well as foreign journalists. This kept the KGB ever on the watch. At the hospital, he kept on writing poetry. It contained no politics, only Shalamov’s characteristic stubbornness:

As before, I’ll do without a candle.
And I’ll lift myself without a jack.

Plainclothes officers were present even at the cemetery during Shalamov’s funeral. But then, only forty people attended in all.

Why bring this up now? Many details are, after all, well known. These details made anyone who has read Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales and appreciated his greatness as a writer and a human being feel personally ashamed for Shalamov’s fate. Just as one felt ashamed for the lives destroyed or crippled by Stalin’s regime. Then, back in the first years of perestroika, we believed that this shame could be cathartic to our society.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case. The two sad facts I would like to relate here are entirely unconnected, but each could epitomise Russia’s current demoralization and its recent history.

In June 2000, at the Kuntsevo cemetery, Shalamov’s gravestone was destroyed. Unidentified grave robbers tore down and stole the bronze head off the writer’s monument, leaving the granite pedestal bare. These barbarians are undoubtedly heirs of that most immoral type of criminal that the writer knew well from the camps and would later describe in his short stories. The crime, much as many other crimes in Russia, remains unsolved.

The second event occurred a year earlier. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, upon his return from America, published his memoirs about Shalamov in Novy Mir, which cannot be considered anything other than the settling of personal accounts with a dead and defenceless fellow writer. The reader learns that the Kolyma Tales did not “artistically satisfy” Solzhenitsyn. Shalamov’s patriotism is also found somewhat lacking (“is he really burning with desire to save our land?”). Same goes for Anti-Sovietism (“Never, neither in writing, nor personally, did he express a repulsion toward the Soviet system, never made even a single reproach, relegating the Gulag saga to the metaphysical plane.”). Even his appearance, it seems, was repulsive (“a haggard face with a streak of madness in his eyes”). Patently, the author of Gulag Archipelago, despite his venerable age, has not become more objective or tolerant in his judgment. What is more discouraging, however, is the fact that his harsh and tactless invective was received with silence by the Russian press (the sole exception being the response of Shalamov’s legitimate heir, Irina Sirotinskaya, an archivist, published the same year in issue 8 of Novy Mir). Apparently, Russian liberals have made a vow to keep from criticizing Solzhenitsyn, continuing the tradition adopted back in the clandestine sixties (REF 2).

It seems appropriate then to recall some facts of literary life in the days when Gulag prose, the truth about Stalin’s regime, was just coming to the surface, raising a wave of disillusionment and discontent with the existing political system, which ended in Gorbachev’s perestroika and the ensuing catastrophic series of events in our country.

Shalamov started writing short stories in 1954, when he came back from 17 years of Kolyma camps to a backwater settlement in the peat fields not far from Moscow. Earlier, still working as a camp medical assistant in the bush, he started writing poetry. Neither his poetry nor his prose could be published then, but they were distributed among close friends.

One of Shalamov’s letters to Pasternak (1956) contains the following portentous lines:

“To print or not to print is in my mind a question of some importance, but by no means the most important one. There are some moral barriers that I cannot break.”

The writer rejects the very idea of conforming to censorship, guided by truth as his primary literary and existential principle. His words reveal an enormous faith in the ineradicability of absolute human values, which will, sooner or later, return to his country. It would be preposterous to speak of Shalamov “soaring high” above reality or “standing above the fray.” The fight in which he takes part is one of the highest spiritual rank, he is firm in the knowledge that “art is life eternal.”

Essentially, Varlam Shalamov, when working on the Kolyma Tales, was nothing like the clearly political image of a “clandestine writer” that Solzhenitsyn presents in his The Oak and the Calf. Shalamov’s kindred spirit was rather Pimen, Pushkin’s monk, writing his “lamentable tale” in the hope that future generations will hear him, with that sole difference that instead of Pimen’s “mansuetude”, we see Shalamov’s holy anger and righteous indignation, vested in an extraordinarily succinct, ascetic artistic form.

The founding principle of Shalamov’s reclusion was rooted in the covenants of selfless devotion, devoid of any kind of vanity, much in line with Russia’s spiritual tradition. Such examples are rarely to be found in modern times. Is that not why Shalamov has remained, to a great degree, unrecognized and underappreciated?

The drama of Shalamov’s destiny as a writer is particularly manifest when confronted with that of Solzhenitsyn. By 1962, the year of the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which secured Solzhenitsyn international fame, Shalamov had already written about sixty short stories and sketches from the Kolyma cycle. The bulk of these works could have made up a massive volume. Yet not a single one of them, just as none of his later texts, was, as it is known, published in the USSR in Shalamov’s lifetime. So how did they, after all, differ from Solzhenitsyn’s works of the same period?

Let’s begin by considering a text, dated 1959, when Solzhenitsyn, as he himself confessed, wrote a “reduced” version of his story S-854, which was later to become the story of Ivan Denisovich. At that same time, Shalamov wrote his Major Pugachev’s Last Battle, a story about a break-out from a camp, coloured with undisguised admiration for the fugitives. This was far beyond what even the literary standards of the years of the “Thaw” could permit. It essentially constituted a challenge to the unshakable doctrine of the ideology of the society he lived in: a person unrightfully convicted during the Stalin era was supposed to believe in justice and await it, strictly adhering to the common procedure, which knows no exceptions. A clandestine party cell dedicated to an in-depth study of Marx – that’s fine. But armed uprising – no way. This is a way of “resisting tragic circumstances” that no hired critic could accept. It goes without saying that Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, with his repeatedly stigmatized “non-resistance,” is the exact opposite of major Pugachev and his friends?

One other short story by Shalamov, Typhoid Quarantine, can also illustrate this contrast. It is an overwhelming psychological portrait of a camp weakling, who is bound to die. He is saved not by faith, not by hope, not by love, not by anger even, but by the primal self-preservation instinct, which forces him to completely ignore the next person. He stays alive only through dishonesty: another man gets sent to the mine, to face certain death, while he himself hides out. This story is even more typical of Shalamov’s work, for it corresponds to his view of humanity and asserts the belief in the boundless power of “animal instincts”, which play a greater role in the world than people think. The story could serve as an illustration for the universality of the concepts of psychoanalysis and existentialism, though Shalamov surely did not read about them. It is his own artistic discovery, similar to that of Freud’s student Bruno Bettelheim, who was a prisoner of Dachau and Buchenwald Camps (REF 3). “A Soviet citizen can not turn into an animal, the author is denigrating the Soviet citizen!” – such would be the most common responses, had this article been published in the USSR immediately after it was written. Ivan Denisovich would likely be used as an example of a man who works in the camp and enjoys the small things.

Finally, it is worthwhile to juxtapose Shalamov’s short story “His name was Aka Berdy,” also written in 1959, with Solzhenitsyn’s “The incident at Krechetovka Station,” published in 1963. The two stories share the common raw material: the life of a railway station during the war. The two writers draw upon the same raw material, a grim anecdote. In Solzhenitsyn’s case, it is the arrest of an old intellectual, who calls Stalingrad, absent-mindedly, by its old name, Tzaritsyn. Shalamov’s is a story of how a missing prisoner is replaced by the first person that comes along, a Turkmen from the marketplace who doesn’t even understand Russian.

What is comparable here? The degree of absurdity? Indeed, it is probably the same. Obviously, Solzhenitsyn insists on denouncing the total “vigilance” personified by the young lieutenant on duty. Though important, this theme was by no means new in the sixties. Besides, a character who forgets that the city has borne the name of the “Father of the Peoples” since 1925, is rather untypical for the 1940s. One can hardly feel anything but pity for the hapless character.

Shalamov, on the other hand, digs much deeper. Never before (and never since, it seems), has the true face of the “unwavering friendship of the peoples” been so ruthlessly unmasked. The man is subjected to arbitrary treatment only because he does not speak Russian and is therefore defenceless.

Finally, here is what is most eloquent in this comparison: Shalamov’s story is four pages long, Solzhenitsyn’s is 50 pages. To anyone who considers conciseness and precision the highest achievement in prose (as Pushkin did), the conclusion is obvious.

Shalamov’s reasons for an unenthusiastic assessment of Ivan Denisovich are evident. While giving Solzhenitsyn credit for the strong sides of the novel, he also expressed, in a personal letter, criticisms that question the veracity of the plot: “A cat walking beside a medical unit is absolutely incredible for a real camp. The cat would have long been eaten. Where is this wondrous camp? A year spent there would have been a vacation back in the day.” Nowhere in Shalamov’s long letter is there a suggestion that the story had been made lighter to please the censor, “the top hillbilly” Tvardovsky or the “supreme hillbilly” Khrushchev. Shalamov does not simply hint at the existence of a different, much grimmer life in the camps. It is a question of a different level of truth, a truth without bounds, without conventions, a truth of the absolutes. Later he would write that the so-called camps theme is the “main literary issue of our day,” “a subject-matter that can freely accommodate a hundred writers of Solzhenitsyn’s rank, and five Tolstoys.”

He bases this conviction of his on the assertion: “A camp is world-like.” This idea emphasizes that the theme of resisting inhuman circumstances, resisting the cogs of the state machinery, is universal and eternal. He therefore concludes: “My stories are basically advice to a man on how to act in a crowd.”

The reasons behind the negative reception of Shalamov’s prose in the USSR were not so much political, as esthetical and philosophical. His stories are devoid of any passionate political commentary on the “murderous regime”. Rather, they mostly use simple, objectified “horror pictures”, to bring up eternal, existential questions. This approach goes far beyond the bounds not only of the Soviet literary tradition, but of the Russian literary tradition itself, goes against the normative aesthetics of the masses, against conventional optimism and humanism. Shalamov has had his historical reasons for insisting on the non-ideological position of art, but his view resonates with the same search for moral truths among the most thoughtful Western intellectuals. Just as Adorno declared that “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric,” Shalamov thought that literature had to “change drastically after the Kolyma.” “The Russian humanist writers of the second half of the nineteenth century carry the heavy sin for the blood shed under their banner in the twentieth century.” “Art has lost its right to preach.” “The affliction of Russian literature is that it meddles around, directing people’s lives, speaking out on issues it is not competent in,” – these Shalamov’s maxims obviously polemicise with Solzhenitsyn, who, starting from the middle of the 1960s, openly takes a stand against the regime, basing it on the conservative tradition (Dostoyevski) and Tolstoy’s moral example. In one of the letters from 1972, Shalamov puts it plainly: “Solzhenitsyn is bogged down in the themes of the nineteenth century literature,” “all those who follow Tolstoy’s precepts are cheaters,” “such teachers, poets, prophets, writers can only do harm.” Shalamov was convinced that “all kinds of hell can, alas, come back!” The reason for this dark foreboding is that Russia has not grasped the main lesson of the twentieth century, that “the animal inside can get unleashed even under the guises of the most humanistic concepts.” (REF 5)

This negative view stands out especially against the general admiration Solzhenitsyn’s activity received both in the liberal circles in the USSR and in the West. It is no accident that Shalamov fell victim to “liberal terror”: following his letter to the Literaturnaya Gazeta in which he protested against political profiteering from the publication of his Kolyma Tales by the Posev Publishers and by other odiously anticommunist publications. Many pro-Western intellectuals in the USSR rejected Shalamov, qualifying his actions as civil weakness, as a “capitulation” to the authorities. His letter, however, was meant to defend the artist’s freedom from a political engagement. This natural desire was intertwined with Shalamov’s camp experience: he knew well what it meant to “be used” (in the prisoner slang it meant both “to fall for a provocation by the secret police” and “to become the victim of sexual violence”). Moscow dissidents wanted to see him, a cripple, as a hero. They were the sort of people that he despised. The people who would talk with admiration of Mandelshtam, yet would write their Ph.D. theses on the most orthodox poets of the Soviet era. Incapable of acting courageously themselves, they would blackguard writers (not only Shalamov) for lack of courage. “They will push me down the hole and then write petitions to the UN,” Shalamov would say about them.

In his letter to the Literaturnaya Gazeta, the writer angrily rebukes the claims of those who saw him as an anti-Soviet ally, a Solzhenitsyn-like internal émigré. Taking into account his remarks quoted earlier, it is apparent that, for Shalamov, this was a fully conscious, firm choice, which had to do with a clear understanding of the consequences of being implicated in politics, in the solution of this fragile world’s global problems where naïve good intentions can bring forth a new evil. (REF 6)

The style of the letter, which many found too blunt for Shalamov, can be explained by the following Shalamov’s comment: “Had it been The Times rather than Posev, I would have found special words, but for Posev there are no words other than swearwords.” REF7 Symbolically, the same year, 1972, Joseph Brodsky published, soon after his emigration, a letter to the New York Times, which kept a calm and firm style but contained the same ideas as Shalamov’s letter: “I am a private, rather than a political figure. I have never allowed myself to be used in any political game, nor will anybody be allowed to do it here.” Parenthetically, we may note that Brodsky was never stonewalled by the liberals for this statement, which clearly demonstrates that the overly politicised conscious tends to indulge in wishful thinking, assigning some writers the role that does not naturally belong to them.

Now we must turn to the complicated and rather sensitive question, whether Shalamov was right in his view of the historical consequences of Solzhenitsyn’s literary and political activity. This subject, of course, requires a special study and what will be presented below is inevitably simplified and subjective. The need for an appraisal of the “Solzhenitsyn Phenomenon” in the light of current changes in Russia and in the world is, however, obvious.

First and foremost, the role of “opposition” literature and of Solzhenitsyn in particular in fostering the crisis of the USSR’s official ideology should not be overestimated. The crisis built up over the 1970s – 1980s as a result of complex objective circumstances and was calling for a resolution. The image of a messiah delivering the world from the “communist disease” associated with Solzhenitsyn’s name has, to a large extent, become a myth that the writer himself has contributed to. Despite the dissatisfaction of the large majority of the USSR’s population with their living standards, despite the sceptical attitude towards the senescent leaders of the communist party, anticommunist feelings were by no means widespread. Public opinion leaned towards a “socialism with a human face”, allowing for a freedom of opinion, a New Economic Policy-style coexistence of different economic forms, all of which was to be achieved through a gradual evolution. It is in this climate that Mikhail Gorbachev started the perestroika, which was to become a “revolution from above” (something typical in Russia), that is, implemented by the government in the face of unsolvable global and internal problems. Had Gorbachev been able to implement his scenario, the fate of Solzhenitsyn’s work and the public attitude towards him in the world and in Russia may well have been different than now, let’s say, somewhat colder. Suffice it to say that Gorbachev had reservations about Solzhenitsyn, even calling him once a “monarchist”. The faux pas was mitigated by the clarifying statement from the president’s advisor, Yuri Karyakin, broadcast on television.

Significantly, the first publication of Gulag Archipelago in 1989 (in the Novy Mir magazine) was accompanied by fierce debates, not only sanctioned from above, but also sincere, one may think. In these discussions, Solzhenitsyn’s philosophy of history was subjected to sharp criticism. For instance, during the roundtable organized by the Literaturnaya Gazeta on January 17, 1990, called “History. Revolution. Literature,” the author’s ideas were called a “retrograde utopia.”

In the past ten years, the attitude in Russia towards Solzhenitsyn’s ideas has changed repeatedly. Whereas during Yeltsyn’s time, Solzhenitsyn’s best card was his anticommunism, after Putin came to power, it became his state patriotism. (Even the orthodox members of the Russian Communist Party may find something to their liking in the complex conglomerate of Solzhenitsyn’s ideas: “He was always against the power of money, after all.”) The various uses of his ideas confirm the existence of different potentials in his energy field, the destructive and the constructive one, which is only to be expected when an ambitious, “charismatic” artist becomes involved in politics.

The situation with Solzhenitsyn in today’s Russia is somewhat of a paradox. On the one hand, many liberal intellectuals, even those who once sharply criticised Solzhenitsyn, have drifted further and further, openly calling themselves anticommunists (not in the sense of an opposition to the Russian Communist Party, but as a renunciation of everything accomplished in Russia under the banner of socialism). On the other hand, day-to-day life in the provinces remains replete with attributes of the Soviet era (Marx and Lenin monuments, streets named after them). The way history is taught in Russian schools has been only somewhat modernized by reinforcing the criticism of Stalin and Brezhnev while preserving the reverent depiction of Lenin (Lenin as a cult figure was only removed from the preschool system). Mainstream historians have also conserved the old view of the country’s political history: a scrutinizing research into the conservative political movements and other tendencies, oppositional to bolshevism, has not done away with the view that the October Revolution was no historical accident. Moreover, there is a growing interest in the New Economic Policy as an alternative to Stalinism (REF 9). The chasm between the ideology of the liberal elite and public attitudes took an unexpected, though predictable form in the symbiosis of Russia’s new national symbols. The helplessness of the anticommunists’ demagogical arguments in the open discussion on the restored music of the Soviet anthem against the “arguments of the street,” of the simple folk who do not want to “lose the meaning of life” is strong evidence, in my view, of the failure of those who celebrated victory ten years ago. The story with the anthem is hardly a sign of increased sympathies for communism among Russians, and much less so for Stalin. The reasons are rather psychological. It is no accident that one modern thinker recently recalled Balzac’s dictum: “A hard brush will rip a soft fabric” as an illustration of an entirely justified conclusion that “this ‘jumble of ideas’ is the result of crossing the line of healthy criticism, which became a factor of destruction” (REF 10).

There hardly is another writer besides Solzhenitsyn, in whose work the line of healthy criticism was crossed to such an enormous degree. This applies, above all, to his main book, Gulag Archipelago, which had an unprecedented impact on the world’s public opinion during the Cold War and created a thoroughly negative image of the USSR as the “Evil Empire.” It goes without saying that certain groups were interested in the widest distribution of the Archipelago. The fact that its publication in the IMCA Press was funded by a secret US agency (REF 11) will likely be corroborated with other similar evidence. One can guess that the realization that his books were being exploited in this rather utilitarian way was not without effect upon his discomfort in emigration. Perhaps, this explains his declarative rejection of the Western democratic values, his gravitation towards Orthodox fundamentalism, etc. On the other hand, by insisting, during the perestroika, on the priority publication of the Archipelago, rather than of his other works, Solzhenitsyn demonstrated that he was mostly interested in the propagandist effect of his book, “deadly,” as he thought, to the “abominable communist ideology.”

Why then, did a critical attitude towards Archipelago, give place to its extolment? The answer is difficult. Much depended not only on the radicalization of changes under Yeltsyn, but also on the tendency of the liberal intellectuals to worship idols, and total trust in literary authorities (which Shalamov also noted).

One could observe, at the beginning of the “Solzhenization of the entire country” (a witty term coined by Maria Rozanova, coeditor, together with Andrei Sinyavsky, of the Sintaksis magazine), a great number of metamorphoses of the same kind that honest citizens of Tzarist Russia underwent following the February Revolution. To avoid being labelled conservative, many quickly became members of the socialist revolutionary party (there were tens of thousands of these), they were referred to as the “March socialists.” In a similar way, one could talk of the “August democrats:” those who instantly relearned the history of their country “according to Solzhenitsyn” and took to talking with demonstrative contempt of the “vanguard Marxist ideology,” equating Stalin with Lenin, Bukharin, Trotsky, and others, repeating, “They are commies, all of them.” One set of dogmas was replaced by another, of the opposite sense, popularized by the media. The result was what scholars call a “breakdown of the collective conscious,” “loss of the socio-cultural identity and of traditional value orientations,” or, to speak plainly, a confusion of thoughts of an enormous scale and catastrophic in nature. The economic, demographic, criminal, and other consequences of the “Russian social revolution of the late 20th century” are well known. Bulgakov has already shown how devastation in human lives goes hand in hand with devastation in human minds. How can one then avoid the question, what was Solzhenitsyn’s part in Russia’s new woes? “Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin!”

The “abominable question of the cost of ideas”,raised by Solzhenitsyn applies not only to the past, not only to the ideas of socialism. Since the author of Gulag Archipelago keeps incriminating to Karl Marx the responsibility for the October Revolution of 1917 (“Marx should have known better,” a naïve phrase we came across in one of Solzhenitsyn’s recent publications), one can, with as much reason, hold Solzhenitsyn himself accountable for his doctrine of militant anticommunism which has found its proselytes. Though Solzhenitsyn can claim that he “did not want it to happen,” that he has warned against a landslide after the fall of communism and gave concrete advice to the leaders of the USSR and Russia, it can hardly be disputed that the destructive principle in his literary and political activity greatly prevailed over the constructive, the Utopian one. While he is to be credited as a critic of the perverse forms of the “really existing socialism”, one cannot deny that the author of the Archipelago, The Red Wheel, Lenin in Zurich has, like no one else, contributed to transform the whole Soviet period of Russian history into a “black hole” and thereby to break those “spiritual holdfasts” that could lead society along a path much less destructive, a path from false militarized socialism to real social democracy. Ultimately, it is the politicians that carry the responsibility for Russia’s demoralization and its increasing backwardness? But is it not also the reckoning for the recent liberal enthusiasm for “approved” Solzhenitsyn?

One has to admit, in all honesty, that Shalamov turned out to be largely right. At least, he cannot be blamed for anything of that sort, he is clear before history. Solzhenitsyn is far from being right when, in his memoirs, he presents himself the winner in the debate with Shalamov, when he reproaches Shalamov that he remained, “in spite of the Kolyma experience, deep inside a revolution sympathizer, tainted by the twenties.” For without this “taint,” which he shares with the majority of Russia’s population, it is impossible to come to a consensus and self-respect which the country so urgently needs.

Recent events in Russia demonstrate that anticommunism has turned out to be unacceptable for the majority of Russian society, not least because of its destructive, nihilist attitude towards the past. The masses turned out to be more perspicacious than many an intellectual, for they intuitively tend to view the world in its living contradictions, in the union of “the bad” and “the good,” “the sombre” and “the bright” and do not accept a one-dimensional view, seeing it, not incorrectly, as serving someone’s political benefit. This is why, perhaps, the Gulag Archipelago is now read less and less.

The discrepancies in Shalamov’s and Solzhenitsyn’s outlook on the world will long remain a subject of debate. There is another telling point that has to be touched on. Can one imagine finding on the pages of Gulag Archipelago the following lines:

“They died, all of them… Nikolai Kazimirovich Barbă, one of the founders of the Russian Communist Youth, a friend who once helped me haul a boulder up out of a narrow trench – dead. Shot dead because his work-unit did not meet the plan… Dmitry Nikolayevich Orlov, Kirov’s erstwhile secretary – dead. We sawed wood together during one night-shift at the mine… Semyon Alekseyevich Sheynin, a kind man. Dead. Ivan Yakovlevich Fedyakhin, a philosopher, a peasant from Volokolamsk, the founder of Russia’s first collective farm. Dead. Fritz David – dead. He was a Dutch communist, a member of the Communist International, accused of espionage. He had beautiful curly hair.”

Shalamov’s short story The Funeral Oration, a passage from which is cited above, was written in 1960. It is often forgotten, just as many short stories of its kind. But it is exactly these half-forgotten, nameless martyrs, the millions destroyed by the regime that the writer saw as the living forces of Russia and a guarantee of its possible healthy self-development. They are the ones that fall into Solzhenitsyn’s category of camp “idiots” or “right-thinking prisoners” and who represented, surely, a much more complex and tragic phenomenon.

The sorrowful tone of Shalamov’s Eulogy is the leading note of his entire Kolyma prose. Can one discern here a single note of reproach? The very thought of sorting people into ideologically “pure” and “impure” was to him a sacrilege. All those who sincerely believed in the validity of the principles of the new life and who, having fallen victim to terror, preserved what was human are, in his eyes, only worthy of compassion. In this unbiased, understanding warmth lies Shalamov’s supreme moral righteousness.

Needless to say, this righteousness is a constructive one, it calls not for a search of enemies (in the past and present), nor for a new rift in society, but for a recognition of the true tragedy of Russia’s historical path in the twentieth century. To recognize this is to reject simplistic, black-and-white interpretations of the eighty Soviet years, leaving room not only for the “fingers of Aurora,” but also for the reality of the 1920s, when the market was still more important than the camp; not only for the “evil Bolsheviks” but for such powerful factors as famine, war, human passions and fallacies which, unfortunately, tend to come back.

Russkij Sever [The Russian North] №4 (23-29 of January), 2002, p. 17