It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past

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Overview

Russia today is haunted by deeds that have not been examined and words that have been left unsaid. A serious attempt to understand the meaning of the Communist experience has not been undertaken, and millions of victims of Soviet Communism are all but forgotten. In this book David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent and longtime writer on Russia and the Soviet Union, presents a striking new interpretation of Russia's great historical tragedy, locating its source in Russia's failure fully to appreciate the value of the individual in comparison with the objectives of the state. 

Satter explores the moral and spiritual crisis of Russian society. He shows how it is possible for a government to deny the inherent value of its citizens and for the population to agree, and why so many Russians actually mourn the passing of the Soviet regime that denied them fundamental rights. Through a wide-ranging consideration of attitudes toward the living and the dead, the past and the present, the state and the individual, Satter arrives at a distinctive and important new way of understanding the Russian experience.

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Editorial Reviews

Newsweek

“A sweeping study of how the former Soviet Union’s bloody past continues to poison Russia’s present and threatens to strangle the country’s future.”—Newsweek
European Voice

“A meticulous, sweeping and wrenching history of Russia's burial of Soviet crimes … [and] a sensitive, compelling and convincing exploration of the importance of memory.”—European Voice
Financial Times

“A book full of vivid and well-chosen anecdotes.”—Financial Times
National Review

"[Satter] does a brilliant job of chronicling the human consequences of Communism."—The National Review
PopMatters - Jedd Beaudoin

"David Satter delivers one of the most harrowing stories of all time. . . This is a rare book by many measures, not least of which is the way in which Satter captures the magnitude of Russian atrocities and the frightening realities that people accept as part of their daily lives. By no means is Russia unique in being a nation that must grapple with the question of national cruelty and corruption. . . but its rich history makes it story all the more fascinating—and tragic."—Jedd Beaudoin, PopMatters
European Voice - Andrew Gardner

"A meticulous, sweeping and wrenching history of Russia's burial of Soviet crimes. It is also a sensitive, compelling and convincing exploration of the importance of memory. But it makes a broader contention - that forgetting is a symptom of an illness that Russia contracted before the Soviet era. . . a humane, measured, first-hand, historically and philosophically rooted argument that is hard to refute."—Andrew Gardner, European Voice
Financial Times - John Llyod

"David Satter has written a book full of vivid and well chosen anecdotes. . . . The use of nostalgia is Satter's field. Russia is not, he believes, able to give itself a chance; in love with their chains, its people cannot face up to the horrors of a past they wish to ignore or romanticize."—John Lloyd, Financial Times
International Affairs - Vladimir Tismaneanu

“Truly illuminating….Satter is both a gifted journalist and a chronicler of intellectual and political currents….Splendidly researched and engagingly written, this book offers invaluable vignettes of various reactions to the still unprocessed remembrance of totalitarian times.”
—Vladimir Tismaneanu, International Affairs
The American Spectator - Andrew Roberts

“David Satter has written a classic of its kind, investigating the psychological reactions that modern Russians feel towards the crimes of their Communist forebears.”—Andrew Roberts, The American Spectator
Choice
“Compelling, a journalist’s book.”—Choice 
The Times Literary Supplement - Alexander Etkind

"Rich in detail and enthused by civil passion, It Was A Long Time Ago contains many precise, moving and original observations."—Alexander Etkind, Times Literary Supplement
BBC History Magazine - Professor Michael Cox

"E.H. Carr made the point that, to understand how history gets written, one first has to understand who the  historian is and the age in which they are writing. I was reminded of this warning when reading Satter's fascinating study of how Russia has, since 2000, been trying to construct its own particular version of the past that directly serves Vladimir Putin's purposes - with the obvious caveat that they are not dealing with a sole historian but a whole state apparatus - Professor Michael Cox, BBC History Magazine
Choice

“Compelling, a journalist’s book.”—Choice 
Foreign Affairs

“Satter grapples with an elemental failing of Russia’s leaders and people. . . . Russia, he argues, refuses to face the fundamental moral depravity of its Soviet past. . . . Expansive and brilliantly explored . . . compelling.”—Foreign Affairs
Publishers Weekly
Satter (Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union), a Hudson Institute fellow and former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, amasses over two decades of research and reporting in a startling book that revisits the history, symbols, and repressive tools of the deposed Soviet state and the crushing grip of amnesia imposed on citizens since the fall of the Communist regime. Despite the millions prosecuted and killed during the many Soviet purges and mock trials, Satter boldly states that today’s average Russian is not interested in re-evaluating the past, but merely surviving and avoiding any mention of “bad things in our history.” Some think of the Brezhnev years as good times, when the terror abated and the government provided economic security. Satter concludes that the failure of a “historically enslaved population” to confront the “authoritarian instincts” on which communism was built leaves Russia vulnerable to a resurgence of those instincts. Drawing on interviews with Russian citizens and officials, Satter’s reflective, expert analysis of a Russian society in moral and cultural flux after the end of communism provides great food for thought beyond today’s headlines. (Dec.)
PopMatters
David Satter delivers one of the most harrowing stories of all time. . . This is a rare book by many measures, not least of which is the way in which Satter captures the magnitude of Russian atrocities and the frightening realities that people accept as part of their daily lives. By no means is Russia unique in being a nation that must grapple with the question of national cruelty and corruption. . . but its rich history makes it story all the more fascinating—and tragic.—Jedd Beaudoin, PopMatters

— Jedd Beaudoin

Literary Review - Donald Rayfield

"Impeccably argued. . . Satter is a man whom no Russian leader would wish to meet, let alone shake by the hand, but he has their measure."—Donald Rayfield, Literary Review
Browser - Edward Lucas

"David Satter has really captured the role of the past in the present in Russia. . . . He feels that the Soviet Union hollowed out both public and private morality and left people without a moral compass when it collapsed. . . . The title of his book is the quintessence of the Putinist attitude to the past."—Edward Lucas, The Browser
Browser
David Satter has really captured the role of the past in the present in Russia. . . . He feels that the Soviet Union hollowed out both public and private morality and left people without a moral compass when it collapsed. . . . The title of his book is the quintessence of the Putinist attitude to the past.—Edward Lucas, The Browser

— Edward Lucas

Literary Review
Impeccably argued. . . Satter is a man whom no Russian leader would wish to meet, let alone shake by the hand, but he has their measure.—Donald Rayfield, Literary Review

— Donald Rayfield

International Affairs
Truly illuminating….Satter is both a gifted journalist and a chronicler of intellectual and political currents….Splendidly researched and engagingly written, this book offers invaluable vignettes of various reactions to the still unprocessed remembrance of totalitarian times.”

—Vladimir Tismaneanu, International Affairs

— Vladimir Tismaneanu

Kirkus Reviews
Sober, trenchant exploration of the need for settling the crimes of the Soviet Union with history. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, yet a proper reckoning over its 73 years of totalitarianism has not yet been achieved, writes Hudson Institute senior fellow Satter (Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State, 2003, etc.). Reflecting his own visits to Russia, the author looks at various facets of Russian society with an eye on the Soviet past--e.g., national monuments, textbooks, the election of Vladimir Putin and rehabilitation of many of Soviet leaders--and he questions why a moral reflection has not penetrated very deeply. Many Russians look back at the Soviet era as a time of solidity and security, when everyone had jobs and were taken care of by the state, and the Soviet Union was perceived as powerful. The election of Putin has reinforced a dangerous tilt toward nostalgia, as one of his first acts when assuming power in 2000 was to restore a plaque commemorating his former KGB boss, Yuri Andropov, the "cold-blooded" autocrat. Even though the crimes of the Soviet regime eventually became known to the people, the dossiers of KGB informers were swiftly closed by law in 1992, and President Yeltsin's attempts to ban the Communist Party in 1994 were largely foiled. Putin's proposal to reintroduce the Soviet national anthem "enabled Russians to be proud of the Soviet-era achievements," but without the essential moral introspection. Throughout Satter's journeys across Russia, he witnessed the struggle between forces of remembrance and forgetting. A fascinating, deeply thoughtful and researched study that contributes mightily to the ongoing humanist debate.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300192377
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 1/31/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 602,707
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


David Satter is senior fellow, Hudson Institute, and fellow, Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He was Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times from 1976 to 1982, then a special correspondent on Soviet affairs for the Wall Street Journal.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

List of Abbreviations and Administrative Delineations xi

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 The Statue of Dzerzhinsky 11

Chapter 2 Efforts to Remember 29

Chapter 3 Butovo and Kommunarka 49

Chapter 4 St. Petersburg 75

Chapter 5 The Appeal of Communism 95

Chapter 6 The Responsibility of the State 112

Chapter 7 The Trial of the Communist Party 128

Chapter 8 Moral Choice under Totalitarianism 142

Chapter 9 The Roots of the Communist Idea 167

Chapter 10 Symbols of the Past 88

Chapter 11 History 207

Chapter 12 The Shadow of Katyn 229

Chapter 13 Vorkuta 256

Chapter 14 The Odyssey of Andrei Poleshchuk 279

Conclusion 300

Notes 307

Bibliography 357

Index 365

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