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New York Times | 11Sep2015 | Askold Lozynskyj,  Brooks
Askold S. Lozynskyj to
Brooks: The Russia I Miss
Does anyone know if the New York Times published Mr. Lozynskyj's
rebuttal? If not, it would indicate the NYT continues in its
Ukrainophobic policies a la Walter Duranty. Was it published anywhere
Don't fret, the Russia you
miss is very much with us today. It continues to stand for something
America has never been known for. But not depth of soul
as you suggest,
rather its darkness. Its soul is as dark and tortured today as that of
Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov albeit even less remorseful.
Vladimir Putin is
a fitting successor to Russia's most evil czars -- Ivan, Peter,
commissars Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev, Brezhnev.
In view of the nostalgia which so
moves and influences you, may I suggest that you study Russian history
XII through the XX centuries, replete with the oppression of its own
the persecution of those peoples whose lands Russia invaded. This is
for that Russian soul.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in Crime
covered with blood”,
Raskolnokov said with a peculiar air; then he smiled, nodded and went
He walked down slowly and
deliberately, feverish but not conscious of it, entirely absorbed in a
overwhelming sensation of life and strength that surged up suddenly
This captures the essence of the
Russian soul -- covered with blood, feverish with killing to the point
being conscious and acquiring a new found strength from that killing.
Russia started as a simple walled
city on the Moscow river in the XII century, rose to a duchy and then
vast czarist and then soviet wasteland comprising ten time
peppered with several centers like watchtowers in a concentration camp
monuments to its overbearing and suffocating might. Even its cultural
St. Petersburg, apparently the center of both your and Putin's longing,
was built by a tyrant to satisfy and honor himself employing captured
for labor many of whom perished in the process. Czar Peter paid no
human loss of life. St. Petersburg's centerpieces, the Hermitage
the years became enriched with a collection of stolen booty while Petrodvoretz
became an ostentatious faux Versailles.
One should note that Russia and Russians did not exist prior to 1721
when “Tsar Peter the Great” declared Muscovy
to be the Russian Empire. The
people in the vicinity of Moscow were called Muscovites (Moscali, in
Ukrainian) and spoke a Muscovite language. The people in the vicinity
of Kyiv were called Rus’ and spoke what is now the Ukrainian language.]
That Russia was characterized by its oppressed
captives as a prison
of nations and American president Ronald Reagan called it the
Mykola Hohol better known to you as Nikolai
Gogol, a well known Russian
writer who was really Ukrainian, but was compelled to write in Russian
Czar, exposed this Russian soul in his satirical masterpiece Dead
It was a satire of that Russia you miss where life was tragically
meaningless and the dead counted for as much as the living. Russia did
honor its dead, it merely recounted them as a statistic. Gogol finally
perhaps as a result and ended his life.
Your lament is misplaced. It seems contrived
and disingenuous as you
continue to enjoy the good fortune of living in a country where life is
precious and every individual has certain inalienable rights, endowed
Creator and guaranteed by the rule of law. Yet you belittle America as
having depth of soul. Had you grown up in the
Russia of your dreams you
would have had precious little of anything. Perhaps your American
contorted your perception.
However, this isn't about you. You
perform a disservice to the millions, yes, millions of victims of the
you contend missing. No country in history has been responsible for
suffering or more killings, in terms of sheer numbers, more than the
more than Mao's cultural revolutionaries, more than the regime of Pol
than the perpetrators of genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and more
the Islamic radicals today. To those victims, you owe an
Askold S. Lozynskyj
The writer is a former
the Ukrainian World Congress.
New York Times | 11Sep2015 | David Brooks
The Russia I Miss
St. Petersburg, Russia -- People who came of age after the end
Cold War may not realize how powerfully Russia influenced Western
culture for 150 years. For more than a century, intellectuals, writers,
artists and activists were partly defined by the stances they took
toward certain things Russian: Did they see the world like Tolstoy or
like Dostoyevsky? Were they inspired by Lenin and/or Trotsky? Were they
alarmed by Sputnik, awed by Solzhenitsyn or cheering on Yeltsin or
That was because Russian culture had an unmatched intensity. It was
often said that Russian thinkers addressed universal questions in their
most extreme and illuminating forms.
In his classic book, “The Icon and the Axe,” James H. Billington wrote
that because of certain conditions of Russian history, “the kind of
debate that is usually conducted between individuals in the West often
rages even more acutely within individuals in Russia.”
But Russia stood for something that America has never been known for:
depth of soul. If America radiated a certain vision of happiness onto
the world, Russian heroes radiated a vision of total spiritual
“The ‘Russian’ attitude,” Isaiah Berlin wrote, “is that man is one and
cannot be divided.” You can’t divide your life into compartments, hedge
your bets and live with prudent half-measures. If you are a musician,
writer, soldier or priest, integrity means throwing your whole
personality into your calling in its purest form.
The Russian ethos was not bourgeois, economically minded and pragmatic.
There were radicals who believed that everything should be seen in
materialistic terms. But this was a reaction to the dominant national
tendency, which saw problems as primarily spiritual rather than
practical, and put matters of the soul at center stage.
In the Middle Ages, Russian religious icons presented a faith that was
more visual than verbal, more mysterious than legalistic. Dostoyevsky
put enormous faith in the power of the artist to address social
problems. The world’s problems are shaped by pre-political roots:
myths, morals and the state of the individual conscience. Beauty could
save the world.
Even as late as the 1990s, one could sit with Russian intellectuals,
amid all the political upheaval in those days, and they would talk
intensely about the nature of the Russian soul. If it was dark in the
kitchen at night, they wouldn’t just say, “Let’s replace the light
bulb.” They’d talk for hours about how actually the root problem was
the Russian soul.
Many of Russia’s most charismatic figures were on a lifelong search for
purity. For the elder Tolstoy, you could live with material abundance
and rot inside, or you could live the pure, simple rural life of the
peasant. Solzhenitsyn wrote, “It makes me happier, more secure, to
think … that I am only a sword made sharp to smite the unclean forces,
an enchanted sword to cleave and disperse them.”
All of this spiritual ardor, all of this intense extremism, all of this
romantic utopianism, all of this tragic sensibility produced some
really bad political ideas. But it also produced a lot of cultural
vibrancy that had an effect on the world.
While the rest of the world was going through industrialization and
commercialism and embracing the whole bourgeois style of life, there
was this counterculture of intense Russian writers, musicians, dancers
-- romantics who offered a different vocabulary, a different way of
thinking and living inside.
And now it’s gone.
Russia is a more normal country than it used to be and a better place
to live, at least for the young. But when you think of Russia’s
cultural impact on the world today, you think of Putin and the
oligarchs. Now the country stands for grasping power and ill-gotten
There’s something sad about the souvenir stands in St. Petersburg.
They’re selling mementos of things Russians are sort of embarrassed by
-- old Soviet Army hats, Stalinist tchotchkes and coffee mugs with
bare-chested and looking ridiculous. Of the top 100 universities in the
world, not a single one is Russian, which is sort of astonishing for a
country so famously intellectual.
This absence leaves a mark. There used to be many countercultures to
the dominant culture of achievement and capitalism and prudent
bourgeois manners. Some were bohemian, or religious or martial. But one
by one those countercultures are withering, and it is harder for people
to see their situations from different and grander vantage points.
Russia offered one such counterculture, a different scale of values,
but now it, too, is mainly in the past.