Russian reading requires stamina

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Reading a couple of current books on the history and politics of Russia for a project, I am learning about Vlad the Putin and Vlad the Impaler (15th-century prince of Romania the Russians wrote about because his impaling deeds were so horrible people felt drawn to them in order to be horrified).

The two Vlads could be related – wanting their way and brooking no slights, whether in words or deeds. Scary guys. Vlad the Impaler had his good point: he despised thievery. Vlad the Putin probably has a good point, too: we await history to tell us.
The books are:

Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped (Atlantic Books 2015), by Garry Kasparov (Russian; world chess champion for 20 years; leader of the pro-democracy opposition against Vladimir Putin; chairman of the Human Rights Foundation; contributing editor to the Wall Street Journal since 1991).

The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War (Perseus Books 2015), by Arkady Ostrovsky (Russian; writing for the Financial Times, he broke the news in the 1990s that Russia was being taken over by the KGB; PhD in English from Cambridge; editor at The Economist; commentator for BBC and NPR on Russia and the former Soviet Union).

Neither of these informed fellows lives in his own country anymore. In a manner of speaking, they can’t get security clearance.

Garry Kasparov writes: “November 9, 1989, was one of the most glorious days in the known history of the world. Hundreds of millions of people were released from totalitarian Communism after generations of darkness…that without the unity of the free world against a common enemy, without a strong stand based on refusing to negotiate over the value of individual freedom, the Wall would still be standing today….”

That paragraph started out as one of relief and ended with a flat-out warning: Stand for human rights or fall because you don’t. Kasparov called the worldwide fight against social injustice “a real battle worth fighting.”

Arkady Ostrovsky quotes the Russian editor of the Kommersant, a liberal Russian newspaper of the 1990s, making this appeal to any media controlled by KGB strongmen: “Stop teaching people how to hate. Because hatred is already tearing the country to pieces…. The information war is first and foremost destroying ourselves.”
This paragraph started out hopeful, too – a liberal Russian newspaper? No longer do they have one or such writing that is its own flat-out warning: Hate ruins lives and countries; misinformation is as deadly to them both.

The Kommersant editor ended with: “The Kremlin is cultivating and rewarding the lowest instincts in people, provoking hatred and fighting. People are set against each other. This hell cannot end peacefully.”

A couple of things not to ignore, in this country, in this era.

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