Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The uses of literacy?

In Moscow someone has hung a poster outside the Dom Knigi bookshop denouncing a group of opposition figures as a "fifth column" which supports the "junta in Ukraine" and blaming them for the deaths in Odessa. The group includes the blogger Alexei Navalny, the politician Boris Nemtsov, the singers Andrey Makarevich and Yuri Shevchuk (note the Ukrainian name), and the writers Dmitry Bykov (who is Jewish) and Boris Akunin (who is Jewish and Georgian). I don't think the ethnicities are irrelevant. "чужие среди нас!" screams the poster. "Strangers (or foreigners) are among us!"

Behind them the bookshop advertises the works of Ivan Turgenev and Alexander Herzen, two 19th-century writers associated with the moderate tradition of Russian political thought. Had they been alive today, I have little doubt they would be starring on that poster with the other "national traitors".


  1. Playing the ethnic card, no doubt. On a weakly related note, I recall a Russian-Israeli poet yelling at Bykov, "Dmitry Lvovich Bykov, you're not a Jew!" (implying Bykov's mother was not Jewish) in a heated online argument some 15 years ago. Bykov used to be an aggressive, ardent online polemicist on literary forums, and provoked his opponents into all sorts of personal attacks. He could be a bit of a bully, too, when he resorted to his ultima ratio, "I am a recognized poet with a body of published work to my credit; and what are you?" How irrelevant and petty all that seems now.

    Turgenev was a moderate in the best possible sense of the word. Herzen could be quite a leftist on some issues, such as religion, but he was deeply disillusioned by 1848 and developed a non-dogmatic, moderate approach to politics. It's hard to pin Herzen down, but he would undoubtedly despise Putin and Putinism.

    1. I've read a fair amount of Turgenev, but not much Herzen. As far as I remember, he was a radical who became disgusted with radical violence. I really should get round to reading Tom Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia", which has Herzen as its hero.