Meanings of the twentieth century…


Understanding the twentieth century is mandatory for grasping the meanings of the twenty-first: Special thanks to Krisztina Kós and Central European University Press. It’s been a wonderful collaboration and I look very much forward into the next projects. These volumes owe a lot to the conferences organized in Washington, DC by the Romanian Cultural Institute and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars with support from the University of Maryland, Georgetown University and the Embassy of Romania (2007-2012).


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Zoe Petre RIP…


Cred că pot spune că am cunoscut-o bine. Am fost oaspetele ei in repetate rânduri, m-a invitat să mă intâlnesc cu studentii de la Istorie pe vremea când, imediat dupa revolutie, devenise decan. Dincolo de divergente legate de perceperea unei personalităti ori a alteia, vedeam lumea post-comunistă in chip similar (nu identic). N-am făcut parte din cercul amicilor lui Emil Constantinescu, dar am rămas apropiat de Zoe, eram prieteni de familie. Zoe a fost devotată celui căruia ii fusese consilieră. Cred că il privea ca pe un ucenic, a preferat să inchidă ochii in raport cu stupefianta-i mediocritate. In răspăr cu multi dintre colegii ei politici, Zoe Petre a scris elogios despre Raportul Final al Comisiei Prezidentiale pentru Analiza Dictaturii Comuniste din România: “Raportul este cea mai consistentă contributie de până acum la istoria celor aproape 50 de ani de dictatură comunistă din trecutul apropiat al României”. (“Ziua”, 5 ianuarie 2007, text preluat, cu acordul ei, pe coperta a patra a editiei Humanitas). A venit anul 2012, Zoe a sustinut puciul parlamentar, s-a situat, cu arme si bagaje, in tabara uselistă. Nu ne-am mai revăzut. Mi-a fost dat să privesc uluit câteva emisiuni anteniste in care apărea alături de personaje abominabile. Aflu acum, cu tristete, că s-a stins din viată. A fost o adevarată profesoara, o persoană de o rară eruditie si un om generos. Să se odihnească in pace…

Darkness at Noon, August 21…


Re-reading “Darkness at Noon” on August 21: “An inscription came into his mind which he had read on the gateway at the cemetery at Errancis where Saint-Just, Robespierre and their sixteen beheaded comrades lay buried. It consisted of one word: Dormir–to sleep.”


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Stalin’s Willing Executioner


: On August 21, 1940, one year after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Catalan communist agent Ramón Mercader assassinated Leon (Lev) Davidovich Trotsky, Stalin’s nemesis. To carry out Stalin’s order, Mercader hit Trotky in the skull with an icepick. The Old Bolshevik fought back with desperate energy. He passed away one day later in a Mexico City hospital. Mercader was arrrested and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He secrelty received the Lenin Order and the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for services to the revolutionary cause. Mercader died, age 65, in Havana in October 1978. Altogether, a lurid story of crimes, deceptions, betrayals, manipulations, misplaced ardor, plundered illusions, espionage, hopelessness, and moral decay…

Image: The definitive Mercader biography that I bought in Barcelona in June 2015


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What Charlottesville is about…


I’m the last person to condone far left violence. I’m unequivocally opposed to any extra-legal forms of rebellion (I don’t regard totalitarian decrees, abusively and arbitrarily humiliating, as laws). I admire Thoreau, but I think that civil disobedience ought to be civilian (with bold characters), i.e., non violent, decent, civilized. I detest Molotov, in any of his incarnations: as the man who signed the infamous pact and as a “revolutionary” cocktail. My admiration for the whole civil society strategy that triumphed in Eastern Europe during the annus mirabilis 1989 is precisely rooted in this philosophical engagement. But I need to say it emphatically: Charlottesville is the name of far right (alt right, as it were) jingoism, racism, anti-Semitism, white resentment, lumpen malaise, in short updated, Americanized Fascism. I just read a great essay by Mary McCarthy titled “Hannah Arendt and Politics.” It reminded me that during Senator McCarthy’s vicious witchhunts, Hannah Arendt considered returning to Europe, becoming a refugee for the second time in her life. Neither she nor her husband were directly targeted, but they felt that America was running amok. For me, 45’s conduct is just latter day McCarthyism…

Soviet Grand Guignol


They were all burnt by the unsparingly cruel sun of the Revolution, the Piatnitskys, the Radeks, the Bukharins, the Yakirs, the Redenses and Svanidzes (Stalin’s in-laws), the Litvinovs, the Tukhachevskys, the Rakovskys, and countless others. Fully deserved congratulations to Berkeley historian Yury Slezkine for this formidable accomplishment! An apocryphal story claims that, during the Great Terror, the genialissimo generalissimo used to watch from his office in the Kremlin how the lights turned on and off in the House on the Embankment–the title of a semi-autobiographical novella by Yuri Trifonov. In a recent conversation, Stalin’s biographer Stephen Kotkin told me that this would have been physically impossible. But the vozhd definitely knew what was going on there, who was arrested, whatever happened to the families of those purged. In fact, not only was Koba in the know, but he was in full control, the utimate mastermind of the social cataclysm…

Many residents and their families were detained during Stalin’s terror in the late 1930s, such that the building was dryly referred to as “The House of Preliminary Detention.” (A play on the Russian initialism Допр, from the building’s original name: Дом прави́тельства.) Fully one third of residents disappeared during the terror. The building was in fact an immense mousetrap serving the vindictive appetite of the Black Cat…

Sheila Fitzpatrick in the London Review of Books: “Yuri Slezkine, a master stylist as well as a first-class historian, is the least predictable of scholars. Still, it comes as a surprise to find that the book he has now produced, after long gestation, is a Soviet War and Peace.”

Bulat Okudzhava: Song of the Black Cat (Песенка про чёрного кота)

He doesn’t demand, doesn’t ask,
only his yellow stare glows.
Every cat brings him his catches,
and thanks him besides.

He doesn’t utter a word,
he just eats and drinks.
His claws paw the dirty ground
like they would scratch your throat.

One does wonder why
it’s so gloomy in our block.
We should hang a lamp in the courtyard,
but no way to collect the money.

The tragic fate of liberty in Maduro’s Venezuela


Me duele Venezuela. We are all entitled to more than one fatherland. In my case, I love these countries dearly, I rejoice their happy moments and I lament their predicaments: Romania, where I was born and grew up; France, where I first experienced real liberty; Venezuela, where I understood the meanings of intellectual fraternity; and the US, this great republic of hope, tolerance, and inclusion. This is why I suffer for Venezuela and I raise my voice in support of those who, against terrible odds, defy the Maduro dictatorship. Let me also say that I’m still waiting for the enthusiastic minstrels of the Chavista “Bolivarian socialism” to spell out some regrets. Better late than never…