Mikhail Gorbachev went far beyond Nikita Khrushchev’s “Back to Lenin” approach. When he came to power in March 1985, he tried to instill new life into a dying body. This explains the inconsistencies and blunders of the first three years (1985-1988). He knew from his mentor Yuri Andropov that touching the Stalin question would inevitably open a Pandora box. And yet he did it.
Glasnost meant the return of repressed memories, the rebirth of pluralism, and the return of civil society. It meant telling the truth about the horrible crimes of the past. It meant admitting that the regime contained violence against society in its deepest matrix. By the end of the 1980s, Gorbachev, Yakovlev, Georgy Shakhnazarov and their supporters realized that liberalization was not sufficient. The next step was democratization. But an intrinsically authoritarian culture like Bolshevism be democratized without renouncing its defining features? The answer came in August 1991 with the anti-Gorbachev putsch and four months later with the end of the USSR. Altogether, he was a world-historical personality attuned to the turbulent and perplexing times in which he lived. No hagiography would do him justice. The same can be said about endeavors to negate his real merits.
I was little when I heard my parents talking about their experiences as political refugees. First in French camps, after the Spanish Civil War, then as asylees in the Soviet Union between late 1939 and early 1948. In elementary school, I was friends with Alex, the youngest son of Federico Melchior, the editor-in-chief of “Mundo Obrero.” Then, in highschol, with Charalambis, son of the editor of “Neos Kosmos.” Nansen passports. Like Menelaos Ludemis, like Dimos Rendis. LikeYannis Veakis, Elena Patrascanu’s secnd husband. I warmly recommend Apostolos Patelakis’s book about the Greek political refugees in Romania. Later, I read Koestler’s “Scum of the Earth” and Hannah Arendt’s essay “We, Refugees.” To be a political refugee means Heimatslosigkeit. Uprootedness. No civic rights. Unprotectedness. Defenselessness. Hopelessnes. Helplessness. Carola Neher was a political refugee in the USSR. So were Maria Osten, Eva Zeisel, Alex Weissberg, Margarete Buber Neumann. So were Elena Filipovici, Marcel Pauker (Luximin), David Fabian, and Alexandru Dobrogeanu-Gherea. No light at the end of the existential tunnel. A bureaucrat’s whim determines the refugee’s destiny. Transit. Like in Anna Seghers’s novel and Christian Petzold’s film. Like in Walter Benjamin’ failed attempt to escape France. Like in Danilo Kis’s “A Tomb for Boris Davidovich.”
Photo: Moscow, 1940, after the Spanish Civil War my parents were political refugees in the Soviet Union. She was 25, he was 27. The then general secretary of the Communist Party of Romania (Section of the Communist International), Boris Stefanov, urged them not to ask questions about prominent Romanian refugees. Silence was a rule of survival. In Moscow, my mother was on friendly terms with two German refugees: Helene (Lena) Berg and Hanna (Haschka) Wolf. They were close friends with Hilde Benjamin, WB’s sister-in-law and the GDR’s first Minister of Justice. Georg Benjamin died in a Nazi concentration camp. Hilde was a fanatic instrument of “class justice.” Lena served as SED representative on the editorial board of the Prague- based monthly “World Marxist Review.” Haschka was Rector of the SED’s Superior Party School. Both were CC members.
Citesc fascinanta biografie a lui Jacob Taubes, filosoful politicului si al religiei, de fapt unul dintre cei mai originali ganditori pe teme legate de nihilism, salvare, gnosticism, eschatologii si religii politics. Fiu de rabin elvetian, Taubes a cunoscut traditia iudaica din interior. Mesianismul sau era asumat. Autorul aceste esentiale biografii, profesorul Jerrry Muller, citeaza pe larg cuvintele de pretuire ale lui E. M. Cioran despre Taubes. Au fost prieteni. Am regasit azi textul meu despre Cioran aparut pe Contributors in 2011.
Ceea ce aveau in comun Taubes si Cioran era pesimismul apocaliptic si constiinta tragismului istoriei. Cartea lui Muller se intituleaza Professor of Apocalypse. A aparut anul acesta la Princeton University Press.
Lithuanian political philosopher Leonidas Donskis on populism, fear, and courage. I publish here a fragment from the first chapter of a book of dialogues we were writing together when he suddenly passed away. I received it on September 6, 2016. Leonidas died on September 21. One can read it as this critical intellectual’s testament: “The question arises as to fear of what? The answer is quite simple: It is fear of someone who comes as personification of our own insecurities a…nd uncertainties, who get their first and last names of facial features due to excessive sensationalist media coverages, tabloid editorials, and conspiracy theories. Fear of Islam and Muslims, fear of immigrants, fear of gays and lesbians, fear of godless pinkos, fear of new Jewish world conspiracies, fear of Jews and Banderovites – that is, fascists in the way in which the Kremlin propaganda depicts them – in Ukraine.
Together with privacy exposed in the public, fear has become most precious political commodity. At the same time, it serves as the key to success for every tabloid. For we live in a world of self-generating and self-sustaining fear, panic-mongering, fake images and information, compulsive self-exposure, constant attention-seeking, conspiracy theories, suspicion, hatred, and bullying conflated with critique.
This is not to say that courage bid farewell to this world. Ukraine could serve here as the best proof of courage, bravery, sacrifice, willpower, and magnanimity without which the country would never have had the strength to mobilize and defend itself against Russia’s aggression and political terrorism.
And it becomes the reminder of what it means no to succumb to panic and fear both being the most desirable outcome for the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. To find the strength to resist nuclear blackmail, toxic lies, and hate crimes committed inside and outside Russia means to be on the winning side nowadays. The more fear we generate in our media, the more success we bring to the Kremlin.”
Nobletea spiritului: Unul din marile daruri pe care le-am primit in viata este cel al unor prietenii de neclintit. Intre acestea, cat se poate de intensa, fraterna legatura sentimentala, morala si intelectuala cu Horia Patapievici. In a mea umila opinie, Horia este cel mai important intelectual (ganditor politic) liberal al zilelor noastre in Romania. Ura impotriva lui Horia este ura in raport cu ceea inseamna ideile sale. Vreau sa o spun cat pot de clar: fara Horia n-as fi …rezistat in 2006, in timpul cand lucram impreuna in cadrul Comisiei Prezidentiale pentru Analiza Dictaturii Comuniste din Romania. Vorbeam zilnic la telefon. El si Mihnea Berindei tineau permanent legatura cu Monica Lovinescu si Virgil Ierunca. Sunt coplesit de amintiri. Voi spune doar ca, fara Horia, viata mea si a noastra ar fi infinit mai saraca. Am trecut si vom trece prin multe impreuna, dar niciodata, sub nicio forma nu ne-am indoit de inoxidabila noastra solidaritate. A fost, este, va fi! La Multi Ani, cu noroc, sanatate si minunate impliniri intelectuale!
A creat Planeta Humanitas. A veștejit ticăloșia, mișelia, lichelismul. Refuză să se pensioneze moral. Rămâne un spirit aronian, adică un spectator angajat. Este un camusian, adică posedă un inepuizabil rezervor al revoltei etice. Refuză tăcerea. A fost și continuă să fie insultat, ponegrit, calomniat. Una din cele mai intristătoare forme de obscurantism este intelofobia. Intr-un remarcabil articol apărut pe platforma “Contributors”. Mircea Morariu atrage atentia asupra acestei noi imunde campanii impotriva celui mai activ exponent al spiritului lovinescian (Eugen și Monica) din cultura românească a zilelor noastre. Articolul se incheie cu aceste cuvinte ale lui Vladimir Jankélévitch: “În cele din urmă nu există nimic care nu poate fi uitat, dar rămâne întotdeauna ceva ce nu este scuzabil”. (Washington, DC, 4 ianuarie 2018)
Gaudium in veritate: It is my pleasure to recommend in superlative terms this book by my friend and U-MD colleague, Piotr Kosicki. Superbly written and truly illuminating, this is comparative intellectual history at its very best! Congrats, Piotr, see you on Thursday and Friday at our conference on “One Hundred Years of Communist Experiments.” Thanks for the great inscription!
A century after the Bolshevik revolution: Raymond Aron was, as Allan Bloom wrote shortly after the philosopher’s death in 1983, “the man who for fifty years . . . had been right about the political alternatives actually available to us. . . . [H]e was right about Hitler, right about Stalin, and right that our Western regimes, with all their flaws, are the best and only hope of mankind.”
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).