Tag Archives: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A menetekel

One of the key messages of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Two Hundred Years Together” is that the October Revolution, Bolshevism, and communist ideology in general are essentially Jewish “projects.” The intelligence apparatus, the systematic murder of regime opponents, the creation of the Gulag system in which millions of people were enslaved and murdered: it is mainly the Jews who are to blame. (He does not say it so flatly, but in the end this is what really matters to him). So whoever today is an anti-Semite, one could conclude by implication, only proves his anti-communism convincingly. And if there were acts of violence against Jews in Eastern Europe apart from the Nazi crimes, it was self-defense or revenge for communist injustice suffered, and in fact they meant only the Jewish political commissars … – so justifies for example Paul Goma today the murder of Jews, committed by Romanians during WWII. And in Bulgaria, too, this form of anti-Semitism is a daily affair among staunch anti-communists. The more so today, where openly anti-Semitic parties are in the government.

Therefore, when the Bulgarian writer Theodora Dimova publishes a strangely conspiratorial text in the otherwise respectable portal “Kultura”, which ostensibly commemorates the anniversary of the bombing of Sofia’s Sv. Nedelja Church in 1925, while emphasizing the struggle of the Bolsheviks against the Christian religion (which in the context of this terrorist act represents a falsification of history, since its motivation was quite different), this may at first sight seem a little outlandish. But the author, who often refers to “Christian values” in her public statements and laments the lack of a “spiritual elite” in Bulgaria, may be having in mind the approaching Orthodox Easter?

What follows is a long-winded series of biblical quotations and hermeneutical remarks, all of which point to the continuity of the hatred of the enemies of Christ and Christianity – then as now: the Jews, as many readers who understand Dimova’s wink will surely say. They murdered Christ and they are behind Bolshevism, the ideology of the Anti-Christ. Dimova is too clever, she does not mention the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But the Jewish Passover feast and the invention of Jews abducting and slaughtering Christian children to drink their blood are well known to most Bulgarians, and the timing of the publication is obviously no coincidence. The ritual murder legend is believed by many or at least found to be “interesting”. And there are also openly violent-pornographic anti-Semitic works, from Adolf Hitler to Henry Ford and Fred Leuchter, prominently placed and advertised in almost every bookstore in Bulgaria and sold by the tens of thousands. In such an environment, it is no longer necessary to be more explicit. Almost anyone who wants to understand the subtext understands it. One mentions the religious hostility of the early Bolsheviks, spreads long and broadly about the Christ-killers (everything from biblical sources, thus unsuspiciously), and publishes everything fitting to Passover. “We understood”.

Of course, all this is not conclusive proof of an intention. But the subtext is there. And the author is not naïve. However, anyone who babbles about “Christian values” and “spiritual elite” and then uses anti-Semitic clichés, only shows that he / she stands neither for these values, nor belongs to a spiritual elite, but to a dull mass of eternally-yesterday.

The dilemma of the democratic right wing and conservatism in Bulgaria is that apart from militant verbal anti-communism, they have nothing to offer. There are no real values that they stand for and the ideology that they are shouting about and whose monuments they want to dispose of, is already dead (its enterprising heirs though are alive and kicking). There is a lack of a unifying, positive thought, a social vision. Moreover, there is no delimitation from the enemies of a democratic and pluralistic community from the extreme right. The tsarist and fascist dictatorship before the Communist takeover are glorified, the main responsible for the murder of more than 11,000 Jews is counter-factually declared the “savior of the Bulgarian Jews”, General Lukov, a particularly close friend of the Gestapo and head of the Bulgarian legions becomes a hero and brave anticommunist, surviving members of these organizations who participated in crimes against humanity, are portrayed as great democrats and true patriots and given every podium (including the European Parliament) to spread their fake version of history to the applause of many Bulgarian intellectuals. The terrorist anti-Semitic VMRO is today a ruling party in Bulgaria. And so it goes on – the media and history books are now being “adapted” accordingly.

Today, Bulgaria is even further away than ever from making progress on the way to an open society. On the contrary, we are experiencing today the almost complete collapse of any intellectual honesty and decency. Bulgaria’s misery is not primarily due to the existence of corruption and organized crime, but to the indolence, cynicism and moral failure of a large part of the Bulgarian intelligentsia. The intellectually completely irrelevant article by T. Dimova is a menetekel.

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Alexander Solschenizyn: Two Hundred Years Together, Herbig 2015 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


Georgi Markov – a footnote on a recent edition

I am reading right now (in Bulgarian) a three-volume edition of the essays of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who is for me one of the most remarkable Eastern European intellectuals of the time between the end of WWII and the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately he is in the West mainly known for the fact that he was assassinated in a rather bizarre way by a hit-man in the service of the Bulgarian State Security, and not for his work and the brilliant analysis of the Bulgarian and other regimes in Eastern Europe.

The edition contains many essays that are – according to the information in the books – published here for the first time in print, and it is remarkable how fresh and highly relevant these essays that are at least four decades old, are today. A fact that says also something very unpleasant about the situation in Bulgaria – still very much run by the networks of people with links to the former Bulgarian State Security and their underlings – and most other Eastern European countries.

The publisher, who brought recently among others also Varlam Shalamov, Yevgenia Ginzburg, and works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the Bulgarian readers, has to be praised for this deed.

However, I have also to mention that the footnotes are to me very annoying. While some of them are ridiculously inadequate – is it really necessary to try to explain in two lines who Thomas Mann or Pablo Picasso were, and does the fact that the publisher added these footnotes mean that this edition is intended for an audience that is missing even an elementary Bildung? -, others are inaccurate, and even manipulative.

One example: Pablo Neruda is described in a footnote as an author that was “occupied by communist ideas”, which is clearly a strong understatement; he was in reality a Stalinist hardliner and active GPU/NKWD agent with blood on his hands; he played a big role in the Trotsky assassination, and allegedly some others, and he personally took care of deleting non-Stalinist leftists from the list of people that would be granted a place on a rescue ship and visa to Chile, people desperately trying to leave unoccupied France in 1940; Neruda knew perfectly well that his selection (I am almost tempted to write Selektion here) was in fact a death sentence for almost all of them, executed either by the Nazis, or by the assassination squads of Stalin (Victor Serge has written in detail about such murderous “intellectuals” as Neruda). The footnote about Neruda is in this context extremely misleading.

Another example is Günter Grass, who according to the footnote was a “far-left” writer. For those who don’t know it, Grass was a life-long supporter of the German Social Democrats, even when he left the party for few years out of disappointment; he wrote speeches for his close friend, Chancellor Willy Brandt, one of the most fervent German anti-Communists, and he was himself a lifelong anti-Communist. The German Social Democrats, and also Grass himself, were never “far-left”, and the footnote is either reflecting a completely uninformed editor, or is – what I don’t hope, but cannot completely dismiss as a possibility – intentionally manipulative, “far-left” being in Bulgaria a common epithet for a Communist sympathiser.

On the other hand, it is mentioned that Salvador Dali left Spain after the Civil War, but “refrained from political activities”; those who don’t know who Dali really was, might get the impression that he was an active anti-fascist who left the country to avoid persecution – while the truth is exactly the opposite: he showed a servile attitude towards the dictator Franco and open sympathies for fascism, and he had even the bad taste to (figuratively speaking) spit on the grave of his former best friend Garcia Lorca, who was murdered by Dali’s new friends. There was a reason why Max Ernst crossed the street when he got sight of Dali during his emigration, and it was not only for artistic reasons that he didn’t want to face his shameless plagiarist!

Unfortunately, all intellectuals with sympathies for the (democratic) left seem to be described in a way similar to Grass, while in cases of intellectuals or artists with fascist sympathies a sudden amnesia seems to have taken hold of the editors. 

But not only when it comes to Western artists and intellectuals, this edition goes astray; almost all Bulgarian authors – most of them household names for the readers of this edition; even the famous Blaga Dimitrova has her two-line resume – have a footnote; only Lyubomir Levchev, a key figure of Bulgarian literary life in the time of Communism is not worthy(?) of a footnote. This gifted poet, a close friend of Markov while the later dissident was still living in Bulgaria, who made a career as an orthodox Communist literary functionary, played for example a very active role in the persecution and partly expulsion of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria in the 1980’s (euphemistically called “Revival process” by the Communists), a role in which he seems to take pride until today.

I doubt very much that the missing footnote for Lyubomir Levchev was an editorial oversight (I have privately my suspicion for which reason the footnote is missing), and this missing footnote, together with the other inadequate, wrong, and manipulative footnotes decrease my pleasure in this otherwise great and valuable edition very much. I hope that this edition will see many reprints, and that many especially young Bulgarians will read it – but with more appropriate and correct footnotes!

Георги Марков: До моя съвременник; Ненаписаната българска харта; Ходенето на българина по мъките (3 volumes), Communitas Foundation, Sofia 2015-2016

My remarks are mainly based on the first of the three volumes, which I have finished so far.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Everything Flows

Ivan Grigoryevich has just been released after 30 years in the GULag. He is set free after Stalin’s death – if one can call it “freedom” what a former political prisoner experiences in a just slightly changed country that is still run by the basically same dictatorial regime and totalitarian ideology. Ivan Grigoryevich comes back to a life that is physically and morally still devastated by war and terror.

The brilliant novel Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman, based on the fate of Grossman’s brother-in-law, describes the destroyed, almost extinguished life of a man that – like many millions of others – fell victim to the great purges of the 1930s in the Soviet Union, after his release from a slave labor camp in the Kolyma region in the Far North East of Siberia.

We follow Ivan during his train ride to Moscow, listening to the conversations of some typical representatives of the “new” society, a society which is alien and repelling for Ivan.

We meet his cousin with wife, his only relative, who – although not a bad person – made many compromises and committed small acts of treachery in the past in order to make the career he (and his ambitious wife) felt he was entitled to have.

We meet the person who decades ago denounced Ivan (which meant death or long term imprisonment as a slave worker in the GULag; in the case of a death sentence, the families were usually informed that the convicted was being sentenced to “ten years without right of correspondence”).

We see Ivan in front of the house where his big love is living, a woman that long ago stopped to send letters to the prisoner, either because she thought that Ivan is dead or because she simply moved on with her life.

Ivan feels that all these people have got nothing to do with him anymore. But how to live and for what purpose? And how to make sense of this wasted life since the decades that are missing will not come back?

With a little bit of luck, Ivan finds a job in a workshop where he is accepted despite his past. (By the way a bit similar to the workshop in Kharkov in which my father used to work for many years during the Stalin era.)

And he finds against all odds love: he meets the widow Anna and experiences for the first time in his life a form of warmth and tenderness that was unknown to him. But Ivan’s and Anna’s happiness lasts only for a short while…As Anna puts it:

“Happiness doesn’t seem to be our fate in this world.”

Everything flows is an extremely touching novel. It contains many scences that leave their mark on the reader for a very long time.

There is for example the scene when Anna describes how she as a young party activist participated in the so-called “dekulakisation”, i.e. the forced expulsion of the so-called kulaks (usually small landowners) to remote and uninhabited areas, which meant for hundreds of thousands of them death by starvation.

Or the few pages that describe the fate of a gentle, meek, family of Ukrainian farmers in the early 1930s, who – like their whole village and thousands of villages in the Ukraine – became a victim of the so-called Holodomor, the probably biggest man-made killing by starvation in history. (The grain, including the seeds, that the OGPU, Stalin’s ruthless secret police extorted from the farmers was exported – with the money, Stalin bought machinery that should help to modernize the Soviet Union fast. At the same time 5-8 millions of potential “enemies” of the system “disappeared” by starvation and cannibalism.)

The novel contains also a mock trial that sheds a light on the absurdity of the great purge which sent dozens of millions of people to the camps; and chapters that try to explain the nature of the Soviet system by the character of its leaders, especially Lenin. An interesting thought is Grossman’s explanation that progress and slavery in Russia were always combined: periods of great progress (like under Peter the Great or Katharina) were always periods where individual freedom was even more reduced than before – a model which also Stalin seemed to have in mind when he made himself a “Red” Czar that was aiming to exterminate freedom completely in his empire.

Stylistically and regarding its composition the novel is slightly uneven. Grossman was still working on the book when he died, so what we have as readers is not the version that Grossman would have considered as ready for publishing. Anyway, it was obvious that he couldn’t have published this book during his lifetime. Too open is his criticism not only against Stalinism but against the roots of the Soviet system as a whole. Still, despite this unevenness, it is a great and extremely impressive achievement.

Grossman is not condemning anyone that denounced his neighbor, or who was a political activist that participated in what he or she later recognized as monstrous crimes, or who in order to protect his/her own family stopped social contacts with the family members of someone that was arrested. He is particularly sympathetic with the women who became a victim of Stalinism; their fate was frequently even worse than that of the men. He tries to understand why it all happened.

Many Russian authors have written about the GULag (and about its Czarist predecessors in the 19th century). In the West, mainly the books of Alexander Solzhenitsyn about the GULag are known and read; A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a great story, but unfortunately Solzhenitsyn’s other works are too frequently marred by his reactionary, anti-semitic prejudices and rhetoric.

To me, the beautiful novels of Vasily Grossman and the breathtaking stories of Varlam Shalamov about the GULag, are far more important and worth reading.

Grossman

 

Vasily Grossman: Everything Flows, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, with Anna Aslanyan, Vintage, London 2011

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or 
duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.