August 22, 2019 | 76° F

COMMENTARY: Article misrepresents historical realities

A ghost of the Cold War is walking again. Masha Gessen “wakens up the dead” to appeal to sensibilities of those who are more inclined to celebrate an analogy between the Russian and Soviet states and then question the validity or origins of such a projection. In her recent opinion piece “Did the Soviet Union Really End?” she declares contemporary Russia to be an heir to a Soviet totalitarianism. She brings back this dramatic, half-century-old cliche, to mobilize Americans again against the old enemy.

Gessen gives no substance to her call, despite her defensive tone. She discusses issues only subtly relevant to the subject matter: She commemorates the 25th anniversary of the 1991 dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and comments on the abortive efforts of the new Russian leaders to institute democracy. She returns to her central inquiry just once, to reiterate the title: “Today, life in Russia … is more similar to life in the Soviet Union than at any point in the last 25 years.” Gessen suggests that the U.S.S.R., which emerged in the 1920s, remained the same as a state and a nation, for 70 years of its existence. She strips the Soviet past out of its remarkable diversity. She also divests the Soviet and Russian people of any agency, turning them into marionettes manipulated by supra-natural forces. Gessen blames for failing case of democracy “the command center of the planned economy” and the “KGB” — the totalitarian “institutions” that “have turned out to be stronger than the men who had set out to reform them … (and having) ... resisted change for nearly a decade … fell into place, easing Russia’s regression.”  Gessen leaves unexplained the causes of problems in the Soviet and contemporary Russia: The totalitarian “institutions,” which she claims have acted as forces of history is an empty generalization she substitutes for concrete historical evidence. Gessen's sole comparative attempt in conclusion is limited to a description of monuments to the two historical periods, which only solidifies an impression of her use of history as an artifact, ready to support her ideological battle.

I grew up in a family of an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. The topic is important to me for personal reasons — my grandfather lives in Ukraine. Perhaps my vision of history is too influenced by Marx’s ideas, for whom this “awakening of the dead” would seem a parody of magnifying old struggles. Yet precisely because I am aware of how serious the issues surrounding the current Russian political course are to world security, I see this “parody” to be potentially dangerous. It misrepresents the Soviet and Russian historical realities. It awakens the old prejudices by misinforming the public.

Thomas Gosart is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in physics.

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