My friend David Satter has come out with a terrific new book entitled It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past – recommended reading for anyone who follows Russia. Here, in the Montreal Review, he has a short essay on the politics of history and individualism in Russia.
In the interest of preserving Russia’s status as a great power, millions of people were put to death deliberately during the communist era but there is no desire in Russia to commemorate their fate. The official view is that there were dark chapters in the country’s history and also glorious deeds and it does not pay to dwell on the dark chapters. Russia was great in the past and will be great in the future. As for the need to change the state mentality that justified the murder of millions in order to guarantee Russia’s supposed “greatness,” the question is given little thought.
Recent weeks have seen signs of change in Russia. After twenty years of post-Soviet corruption and abuse, Russians have begun to protest against the ruling regime. They have, in effect, given themselves a second chance to gain the democracy they sought but did not achieve after the fall of the Soviet Union. The attempt will lead nowhere, however, without a change in the low value attributed to the individual in Russia, an attitude that, to a distressing degree, the people share with the regime. But for such a change to take place, Russia must discard its pretensions and honor its dead. Such a break with the past will not be easy. But it is within the capacity of a nation that tried to create heaven on earth and it is the only path to a better future.