Solzhenitsyn and Brodsky. When good weaponized immigrants suddenly become problematic.
I’ve been woefully neglecting my focus on weaponized immigrants lately. And that’s too bad. With this shitty war, there’s a lot more new weaponized immigrant opportunities going around. Almost too many new opportunities. But there are plenty of cancellations, too. Take this article in the Wall Street Journal that was making the rounds in a big a few weeks ago — even my dad read it! It was written by one of the paper’s senior war correspondents — Yaroslav Trofimov. In it, he goes after Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Not so long ago, these two guys were feted in Europe and America. Both got their own Nobel Prizes in literature. They were promoted to depict Soviet evil — brave individuals who exposed, through their own lives, the criminality and barbarity of communist society. Now…well…it appears times have changed.
Here’s how Yaroslav explains it:
As a young poet in the Soviet Union, Joseph Brodsky was persecuted by the authorities before escaping to the U.S. in 1972 and going on to win the Nobel Prize in literature. In Soviet-era Kyiv, Ukrainian intellectuals used to trade coveted samizdat reprints of Brodsky’s poems, reciting them at clandestine gatherings.
But the affection wasn’t mutual. At a reading in 1992, less than a year into Ukraine’s existence as an independent nation, Brodsky offered a new poem titled “To the Independence of Ukraine.” “Farewell khokhols,” he intoned, using a racial slur for Ukrainians. “We’ve lived together, now enough. Wish I could spit into the Dnipro river, perhaps it would now flow backwards.” Brodsky went on to predict that when the ungrateful Ukrainians were wheezing on their deathbeds, they would surely revert to reciting the verse of the classic Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin, rather than the “lies” of their own national poet, Taras Shevchenko.
…The tradition of Russian hostility to Ukrainian aspirations comes in two strands. One simply denies the existence of Ukrainians as a people distinct from Russians. That was the line adopted by the Russian Empire for much of the 19th century, when it banned books in Ukrainian and the very term Ukraine, calling the region “Little Russia” instead. Another strand holds that while Ukrainians do in fact have their own identity and speak their own language, at least half the territory of present-day Ukraine really belongs to Russia and was unfairly pried away by the Soviet Union’s founder Vladimir Lenin.
That was the view of the Russian novelist and former political prisoner Alexander Solzhenitsyn, another Nobel laureate, who was exiled by the Soviets in 1974 and returned to Russia in 1994. He initially expressed understanding of Ukrainian suffering. “We should prove the greatness of our nation not by the sheer size of our territory and the number of peoples in our care, but by the greatness of our actions,” he wrote in his 1968 classic, “The Gulag Archipelago,” describing encounters with Ukrainian political prisoners.
But after Ukraine’s independence turned from a distant and unlikely prospect to reality, Solzhenitsyn adopted a different tone…In a 2006 interview with Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper, Solzhenitsyn argued that southern and eastern Ukraine, the Crimea and Donbas have never belonged to historical Ukraine, and that the country was being dragged into NATO against the will of the inhabitants of these areas. “Under all these conditions, Russia can under no circumstances dare to betray the multimillion Russian population of Ukraine, renounce our unity with them,” he said.
I love to read stuff like this. It’s instructive in the way that America puts its weaponized foreigners and immigrants to use, and how fickle America can be with its honors. One day you’re in demand and hailed as a hero — because your work is useful to the empire. The next you find yourself out of favor and trashed because the political situation’s changed and the stuff you produced no longer serves the empire’s interests. In fact, opposite can suddenly become true: Demonizing you is now what’s good for business. So…here we are.
And this isn’t just the Wall Street Journal. Google around a bit and you’ll find a lot of critical “Russian imperialist” appraisals of Brodsky and Solzhenitsyn coming out in the last few months. The criticism is not focused just on them. Instead, they’re used as a foil to expose the supposed barbaric hatred of Ukraine that’s been latent in all Russians. Even a Koch-funded hack like Tyler Cowen is blogging about it. So you know it’s going on around.
I’ll write a bit more on this later. But I think this is a good start…
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