Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Writer's Reflections on Years in Moscow

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Writer's Reflections on Years in Moscow

Article excerpt

David Remnick covered what he calls "the last days of one of the cruelest regimes in human history" for the Washington Post. Now at The New Yorker, he discussed his new book, "Lenin's Tomb," while in Boston recently.

Prior to Gorbachev, Western journalists in Moscow had little access. But you were there from 1988 to '91.

The Russian people had been silent for so long that it was an absolute feast for a journalist. Even if you were a very bad reporter and all you did every morning was walk out your door and go six steps, you had to find a story.

You open your book with a Soviet colonel investigating the secret, systematic murder of 30,000 Polish officers by the KGB in 1940 and his reaction to the August 1991 coup.

The episode seemed symbolic of the excavation of history so crucial to the opening up of the Soviet Union. The colonel had become disillusioned. On the day of the coup he is told to stop work and report to the KGB, and he just refuses. This showed how irreversible the process of liberalization had become by '91.

The fall of the USSR already seems ancient history.

Yes, particularly in Russia. In 1993, no one cares about this. In the ultimate existential society, the crisis in always now. But we do need to understand what that regime was in order to understand the pathologies that still exist in Russia. The fear of the past and the need for an authoritarian figure - this is bred in the bone, especially for older generations. Opposition to Yeltsin today has nothing to do with communism in cold-war terms. It is a nostalgia for the order of the 1970s - a regularity, a hierarchy that no longer exists, and a disgust with a secondary role in world affairs.

If you are a 20-year-old Russian, the myths of Soviet power and blamelessness are not very deep within you. For the last five years, you have been reading newspapers and magazines that have given a serious reckoning of the past. If you are 65 and participated in the "great patriotic war" {World War II} and thought you helped "save the world" with your own grit and blood, and then you hear these things are hollow . …

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