Soljenitsyne alexandre / Solzhenitsyn Alexander Isayevich


Soljenitsyne alexandre, Le déclin du courage
Solzhenitsyn alexander, A World split apart -- Commencement Address delivered at Harvard university, june 8, 1978
Soljenitsyne alexandre, Le discours du prix Nobel, Harvard, 8 juin 1978
Solzhenitsyn alekxandr, Diễn từ Nobel (1970), Đoàn Tử Huyến dịch
Solzhenitsyn on Communism, 1980
Applebaum anne, Soixante-dix ans après la Grande Terreur stalinienne, Les derniers secrets du goulag
Applebaum anne, Gulag intro
Applebaum anne, the Gulag : Lest we forget
Applebaum anne, Gulag : understanding the magnitude of what happened
Solzhenitsyn alexander, một ngày của Ivan Denisovich, Đào Tuấn Ảnh chuyển ngữ

LE DÉCLIN DU COURAGE


Date:1978 | 6 | 8                                                    Sélection et mise en page par l'équipe de Perspective Monde

Extraits du discours prononcé par Alexandre Soljénitsyne, prix Nobel de littérature(1970) à Harvard le 8 juin 1978. Il condamne alors les deux systèmes économiques -le communisme et le capitalisme. Il dénonce surtout la chute spirituelle de la civilisation.


"Je suis très sincèrement heureux de me trouver ici parmi vous, à l'occasion du 327ème anniversaire de la fondation de cette université si ancienne et si illustre. La devise de Harvard est « VERITAS ». La vérité est rarement douce à entendre ; elle est presque toujours amère. Mon discours d'aujourd'hui contient une part de vérité ; je vous l'apporte en ami, non en adversaire.

Il y a trois ans, aux Etats-Unis, j'ai été amené à dire des choses, que l'on a rejeté, qui ont paru inacceptables. Aujourd'hui, nombreux sont ceux qui acquiescent à mes propos d'alors.(...)

Le déclin du courage est peut-être le trait le plus saillant de l'Ouest aujourd'hui pour un observateur extérieur. Le monde occidental a perdu son courage civique, à la fois dans son ensemble et singulièrement, dans chaque pays, dans chaque gouvernement, dans chaque pays, et bien sûr, aux Nations Unies. Ce déclin du courage est particulièrement sensible dans la couche dirigeante et dans la couche intellectuelle dominante, d'où l'impression que le courage a déserté la société toute entière. Bien sûr, il y a encore beaucoup de courage individuel, mais ce ne sont pas ces gens là, qui donnent sa direction à la vie de la société. Les fonctionnaires politiques et intellectuels manifestent ce déclin, cette faiblesse, cette irrésolution dans leurs actes, leurs discours et plus encore, dans les considérations théoriques qu'ils fournissent complaisamment pour prouver que cette manière d'agir, qui fonde la politique d'un Etat sur la lâcheté et la servilité, est pragmatique, rationnelle et justifiée, à quelque hauteur intellectuelle et même morale qu'on se place. Ce déclin du courage, qui semble aller ici ou là jusqu'à la perte de toute trace de virilité, se trouve souligné avec une ironie toute particulière dans les cas où les mêmes fonctionnaires sont pris d'un accès subit de vaillance et d'intransigeance, à l'égard de gouvernements sans force, de pays faibles que personne ne soutient ou de courants condamnés par tous et manifestement incapables de rendre un seul coup. Alors que leurs langues sèchent et que leurs mains se paralysent face aux gouvernements puissants et aux forces menaçantes, face aux agresseurs et à l'Internationale de la terreur. Faut-il rappeler que le déclin du courage a toujours été considéré comme le signe avant coureur de la fin ?

Quand les Etats occidentaux modernes se sont formés, fut posé comme principe que les gouvernements avaient pour vocation de servir l'homme, et que la vie de l'homme était orientée vers la liberté et la recherche du bonheur (en témoigne la déclaration américaine d'Indépendance.)Aujourd'hui, enfin, les décennies passées de progrès social et technique ont permis la réalisation de ces aspirations : un Etat assurant le bien-être général. Chaque citoyen s'est vu accorder la liberté tant désirée, et des biens matériels en quantité et en qualité propres à lui procurer, en théorie, un bonheur complet, mais un bonheur au sens appauvri du mot, tel qu'il a cours depuis ces mêmes décennies.

Au cours de cette évolution, cependant, un détail psychologique a été négligé : le désir permanent de posséder toujours plus et d'avoir une vie meilleure, et la lutte en ce sens, ont imprimé sur de nombreux visages à l'Ouest les marques de l'inquiétude et même de la dépression, bien qu'il soit courant de cacher soigneusement de tels sentiments. Cette compétition active et intense finit par dominer toute pensée humaine et n'ouvre pas le moins du monde la voie à la liberté du développement spirituel.

L'indépendance de l'individu à l'égard de nombreuses formes de pression étatique a été garantie ; la majorité des gens ont bénéficié du bien-être, à un niveau que leurs pères et leurs grands-pères n'auraient même pas imaginé ; il est devenu possible d'élever les jeunes gens selon ces idéaux, de les préparer et de les appeler à l'épanouissement physique, au bonheur, au loisir, à la possession de biens matériels, l'argent, les loisirs, vers une liberté quasi illimitée dans le choix des plaisirs. Pourquoi devrions-nous renoncer à tout cela ? Au nom de quoi devrait-on risquer sa précieuse existence pour défendre le bien commun, et tout spécialement dans le cas douteux où la sécurité de la nation aurait à être défendue dans un pays lointain ?

Même la biologie nous enseigne qu'un haut degré de confort n'est pas bon pour l'organisme. Aujourd'hui, le confort de la vie de la société occidentale commence à ôter son masque pernicieux.

La société occidentale s'est choisie l'organisation la plus appropriée à ses fins, une organisation, que j'appellerais légaliste. Les limites des droits de l'homme et de ce qui est bon sont fixées par un système de lois ; ces limites sont très lâches. Les hommes à l'Ouest ont acquis une habileté considérable pour utiliser, interpréter et manipuler la loi, bien que paradoxalement les lois tendent à devenir bien trop compliquées à comprendre pour une personne moyenne sans l'aide d'un expert. Tout conflit est résolu par le recours à la lettre de la loi, qui est considérée comme le fin mot de tout. Si quelqu'un se place du point de vue légal, plus rien ne peut lui être opposé ; nul ne lui rappellera que cela pourrait n'en être pas moins illégitime. Impensable de parler de contrainte ou de renonciation à ces droits, ni de demander de sacrifice ou de geste désintéressé : cela paraîtrait absurde. On n'entend pour ainsi dire jamais parler de retenue volontaire : chacun lutte pour étendre ses droits jusqu'aux extrêmes limites des cadres légaux.

J'ai vécu toute ma vie sous un régime communiste, et je peux vous dire qu'une société sans référent légal objectif est particulièrement terrible. Mais une société basée sur la lettre de la loi, et n'allant pas plus loin, échoue à déployer à son avantage le large champ des possibilités humaines. La lettre de la loi est trop froide et formelle pour avoir une influence bénéfique sur la société. Quand la vie est tout entière tissée de relations légalistes, il s'en dégage une atmosphère de médiocrité spirituelle, qui paralyse les élans les plus nobles de l'homme.

Et il sera tout simplement impossible de relever les défis de notre siècle menaçant armés des seules armes d'une structure sociale légaliste.

Aujourd'hui la société occidentale nous révèle qu'il règne une inégalité entre la liberté d'accomplir de bonnes actions et la liberté d'en accomplir de mauvaises. Un homme d'Etat, qui veut accomplir quelque chose d'éminemment constructif pour son pays, doit agir avec beaucoup de précautions, avec timidité pourrait-on dire. Des milliers de critiques hâtives et irresponsables le heurtent de plein fouet à chaque instant. Il se trouve constamment exposé aux traits du Parlement, de la presse. Il doit justifier pas à pas ses décisions, comme étant bien fondées et absolument sans défauts. Et un homme exceptionnel, de grande valeur, qui aurait en tête des projets inhabituels et inattendus, n'a aucune chance de s'imposer : d'emblée on lui tendra mille pièges. De ce fait, la médiocrité triomphe sous le masque des limitations démocratiques.

Il est aisé en tout lieu de saper le pouvoir administratif, et il a en fait été considérablement amoindri dans tous les pays occidentaux. La défense des droits individuels a pris de telles proportions que la société en tant que telle est désormais sans défense contre les initiatives de quelques-uns. Il est temps, à l'Ouest, de défendre non pas temps les droits de l'homme que ses devoirs.

D'un autre côté, une liberté destructrice et irresponsable s'est vue accorder un espace sans limite. Il s'avère que la société n'a plus que des défenses infimes à opposer à l'abîme de la décadence humaine, par exemple en ce qui concerne le mauvais usage de la liberté en matière de violence morale faites aux enfants, par des films tout pleins de pornographie, de crime, d'horreur. On considère que tout cela fait partie de la liberté, et peut être contrebalancé, en théorie, par le droit qu'ont ces mêmes enfants de ne pas regarder er de refuser ces spectacles. L'organisation légaliste de la vie a prouvé ainsi son incapacité à se défendre contre la corrosion du mal. (...)

L'évolution s'est faite progressivement, mais il semble qu'elle ait eu pour point de départ la bienveillante conception humaniste, selon laquelle l'homme, maître du monde, ne porte en lui aucun germe de mal, et tout ce que notre existence offre de vicié est simplement le fruit de systèmes sociaux erronés qu'il importe d'amender. Et pourtant, il est bien étrange de voir que le crime n'a pas disparu à l'Ouest, alors même que les meilleurs conditions de vie sociale semblent avoir été atteintes. Le crime est même bien plus présent que dans la société soviétique, misérable et sans loi. (...)

La presse, aussi, bien sûr, jouit de la plus grande liberté. Mais pour quel usage ? (...) Quelle responsabilité s'exerce sur le journaliste, ou sur un journal, à l'encontre de son lectorat, ou de l'histoire ? S'ils ont trompé l'opinion publique en divulguant des informations erronées, ou de fausses conclusions, si même ils ont contribué à ce que des fautes soient commises au plus haut degré de l'Etat, avons-nous le souvenir d'un seul cas, où le dit journaliste ou le dit journal ait exprimé quelque regret ? Non, bien sûr, cela porterait préjudice aux ventes. De telles erreurs peut bien découler le pire pour une nation, le journaliste s'en tirera toujours. Etant donné que l'on a besoin d'une information crédible et immédiate, il devient obligatoire d'avoir recours aux conjectures, aux rumeurs, aux suppositions pour remplir les trous, et rien de tout cela ne sera jamais réfuté ; ces mensonges s'installent dans la mémoire du lecteur. Combien de jugements hâtifs, irréfléchis, superficiels et trompeurs sont ainsi émis quotidiennement, jetant le trouble chez le lecteur, et le laissant ensuite à lui-même ? La presse peut jouer le rôle d'opinion publique, ou la tromper. De la sorte, on verra des terroristes peints sous les traits de héros, des secrets d'Etat touchant à la sécurité du pays divulgués sur la place publique, ou encore des intrusions sans vergogne dans l'intimité de personnes connues, en vertu du slogan : « tout le monde a le droit de tout savoir ». Mais c'est un slogan faux, fruit d'une époque fausse ; d'une bien plus grande valeur est ce droit confisqué, le droit des hommes de ne pas savoir, de ne pas voir leur âme divine étouffée sous les ragots, les stupidités, les paroles vaines. Une personne qui mène une vie pleine de travail et de sens n'a absolument pas besoin de ce flot pesant et incessant d'information. (...) Autre chose ne manquera pas de surprendre un observateur venu de l'Est totalitaire, avec sa presse rigoureusement univoque : on découvre un courant général d'idées privilégiées au sein de la presse occidentale dans son ensemble, une sorte d'esprit du temps, fait de critères de jugement reconnus par tous, d'intérêts communs, la somme de tout cela donnant le sentiment non d'une compétition mais d'une uniformité. Il existe peut-être une liberté sans limite pour la presse, mais certainement pas pour le lecteur : les journaux ne font que transmettre avec énergie et emphase toutes ces opinions, qui ne vont pas trop ouvertement contredire ce courant dominant.

Sans qu'il y ait besoin de censure, les courants de pensée, d'idées à la mode sont séparés avec soin de ceux qui ne le sont pas, et ces derniers, sans être à proprement parler interdits, n'ont que peu de chances de percer au milieu des autres ouvrages et périodiques, ou d'être relayés dans le supérieur. Vos étudiants sont libres au sens légal du terme, mais ils sont prisonniers des idoles portées aux nues par l'engouement à la mode. Sans qu'il y ait, comme à l'Est, de violence ouverte, cette sélection opérée par la mode, ce besoin de tout conformer à des modèles standards, empêchent les penseurs les plus originaux d'apporter leur contribution à la vie publique et provoquent l'apparition d'un dangereux esprit grégaire, qui fait obstacle à un développement digne de ce nom. Aux Etats-Unis, il m'est arrivé de recevoir des lettres de personnes éminemment intelligentes ... peut-être un professeur d'un petit collège perdu, qui aurait pu beaucoup pour le renouveau et le salut de son pays, mais le pays ne pouvait l'entendre, car les média n'allaient pas lui donner la parole. Voilà qui donne naissance à de solides préjugés de masse, à un aveuglement, qui à notre époque est particulièrement dangereux. (...)

Il est universellement admis que l'Ouest montre la voie au monde entier vers le développement économique réussi, même si dans les dernières années il a pu être sérieusement entamé par une inflation chaotique. Et pourtant, beaucoup d'hommes à l'Ouest ne sont pas satisfaits de la société, dans laquelle ils vivent. Ils la méprisent, ou l'accusent de plus être au niveau de maturité requis par l'humanité. Et beaucoup sont amenés à glisser vers le socialisme, ce qui est une tentation fausse et dangereuse. J'espère que personne ici présent ne me suspectera de vouloir exprimer une critique du système occidental dans l'idée de suggérer le socialisme comme alternative. Non, pour avoir connu un pays, où le socialisme a été mis en oeuvre, je ne prononcerai pas en faveur d'une telle alternative. (...) Mais si l'on me demandait si, en retour, je pourrais proposer l'Ouest, en son état actuel, comme modèle pour mon pays, il me faudrait en toute honnêteté répondre par la négative. Non, je ne prendrais pas votre société comme modèle pour la transformation de la mienne. On ne peut nier que les personnalités s'affaiblissent à l'Ouest, tandis qu'à l'Est elles ne cessent de devenir plus fermes et plus fortes. Bien sûr, une société ne peut rester dans des abîmes d'anarchie, comme c'est le cas dans mon pays. Mais il est tout aussi avilissant pour elle de rester dans un état affadi et sans âme de légalisme, comme c'est le cas de la vôtre. Après avoir souffert pendant des décennies de violence et d'oppression, l'âme humaine aspire à des choses plus élevées, plus brûlantes, plus pures que celles offertes aujourd'hui par les habitudes d'une société massifiée, forgées par l'invasion révoltante de publicités commerciales, par l'abrutissement télévisuel, et par une musique intolérable.

Tout cela est sensible pour de nombreux observateurs partout sur la planète. Le mode de vie occidental apparaît de moins en moins comme le modèle directeur. Il est des symptômes révélateurs, par lesquels l'histoire lance des avertissements à une société menacée ou en péril. De tels avertissements sont, en l'occurrence, le déclin des arts, ou le manque de grands hommes d'Etat. Et il arrive parfois que les signes soient particulièrement concrets et explicites. Le centre de votre démocratie et de votre culture est-il privé de courant pendant quelques heures, et voilà que soudainement des foules de citoyens Américains se livrent au pillage et au grabuge. C'est que le vernis doit être bien fin, et le système social bien instable et mal en point.

Mais le combat pour notre planète, physique et spirituel, un combat aux proportions cosmiques, n'est pas pour un futur lointain ; il a déjà commencé. Les forces du Mal ont commencé leur offensive décisive. Vous sentez déjà la pression, qu'elles exercent, et pourtant, vos écrans et vos écrits sont pleins de sourires sur commande et de verres levés. Pourquoi toute cette joie ?

Comment l'Ouest a-t-il pu décliner, de son pas triomphal à sa débilité présente ? A-t-il connu dans son évolution des points de non-retour qui lui furent fatals, a-t-il perdu son chemin ? Il ne semble pas que cela soit le cas. L'Ouest a continué à avancer d'un pas ferme en adéquation avec ses intentions proclamées pour la société, main dans la main avec un progrès technologique étourdissant. Et tout soudain il s'est trouvé dans son état présent de faiblesse. Cela signifie que l'erreur doit être à la racine, à la fondation de la pensée moderne. Je parle de la vision du monde qui a prévalu en Occident à l'époque moderne. Je parle de la vision du monde qui a prévalu en Occident, née à la Renaissance, et dont les développements politiques se sont manifestés à partir des Lumières. Elle est devenue la base da la doctrine sociale et politique et pourrait être appelée l'humanisme rationaliste, ou l'autonomie humaniste : l'autonomie proclamée et pratiquée de l'homme à l'encontre de toute force supérieure à lui. On peut parler aussi d'anthropocentrisme : l'homme est vu au centre de tout.

Historiquement, il est probable que l'inflexion qui s'est produite à la Renaissance était inévitable. Le Moyen Age en était venu naturellement à l'épuisement, en raison d'une répression intolérable de la nature charnelle de l'homme en faveur de sa nature spirituelle. Mais en s'écartant de l'esprit, l'homme s'empara de tout ce qui est matériel, avec excès et sans mesure. La pensée humaniste, qui s'est proclamée notre guide, n'admettait pas l'existence d'un mal intrinsèque en l'homme, et ne voyait pas de tâche plus noble que d'atteindre le bonheur sur terre. Voilà qui engagea la civilisation occidentale moderne naissante sur la pente dangereuse de l'adoration de l'homme et de ses besoins matériels.Tout ce qui se trouvait au-delà du bien-être physique et de l'accumulation de biens matériels, tous les autres besoins humains, caractéristiques d'une nature subtile et élevée, furent rejetés hors du champ d'intérêt de l'Etat et du système social, comme si la vie n'avait pas un sens plus élevé. De la sorte, des failles furent laissées ouvertes pour que s'y engouffre le mal, et son haleine putride souffle librement aujourd'hui. Plus de liberté en soi ne résout pas le moins du monde l'intégralité des problèmes humains, et même en ajoute un certain nombre de nouveaux.

Et pourtant, dans les jeunes démocraties, comme la démocratie américaine naissante, tous les droits de l'homme individuels reposaient sur la croyance que l'homme est une créature de Dieu. C'est-à-dire que la liberté était accordée à l'individu de manière conditionnelle, soumise constamment à sa responsabilité religieuse. Tel fut l'héritage du siècle passé.

Toutes les limitations de cette sorte s'émoussèrent en Occident, une émancipation complète survint, malgré l'héritage moral de siècles chrétiens, avec leurs prodiges de miséricorde et de sacrifice. Les Etats devinrent sans cesses plus matérialistes. L'Occident a défendu avec succès, et même surabondamment, les droits de l'homme, mais l'homme a vu complètement s'étioler la conscience de sa responsabilité devant Dieu et la société. Durant ces dernières décennies, cet égoïsme juridique de la philosophie occidentale a été définitivement réalisé, et le monde se retrouve dans une cruelle crise spirituelle et dans une impasse politique. Et tous les succès techniques, y compris la conquête de l'espace, du Progrès tant célébré n'ont pas réussi à racheter la misère morale dans laquelle est tombé le XXème siècle, que personne n'aurait pu encore soupçonner au XIXème siècle.

L'humanisme dans ses développements devenant toujours plus matérialiste, il permit avec une incroyable efficacité à ses concepts d'être utilisés d'abord par le socialisme, puis par le communisme, de telle sorte que Karl Marx pût dire, en 1844, que « le communisme est un humanisme naturalisé. » Il s'est avéré que ce jugement était loin d'être faux. On voit les mêmes pierres aux fondations d'un humanisme altéré et de tout type de socialisme : un matérialisme sans frein, une libération à l'égard de la religion et de la responsabilité religieuse, une concentration des esprits sur les structures sociales avec une approche prétendument scientifique. Ce n'est pas un hasard si toutes les promesses rhétoriques du communisme sont centrées sur l'Homme, avec un grand H, et son bonheur terrestre. A première vue, il s'agit d'un rapprochement honteux : comment, il y aurait des points communs entre la pensée de l'Ouest et de l'Est aujourd'hui ? Là est la logique du développement matérialiste. (...)

Je ne pense pas au cas d'une catastrophe amenée par une guerre mondiale, et aux changements, qui pourraient en résulter pour la société. Aussi longtemps que nous nous réveillerons chaque matin, sous un soleil paisible, notre vie sera inévitablement tissée de banalités quotidiennes. Mais il est une catastrophe, qui pour beaucoup est déjà présente pour nous. Je veux parler du désastre d'une conscience humaniste parfaitement autonome et irréligieuse.

Elle a fait de l'homme la mesure de toutes choses sur terre, l'homme imparfait, qui n'est jamais dénué d'orgueil, d'égoïsme, d'envie, de vanité, et tant d'autres défauts. Nous payons aujourd'hui les erreurs, qui n'étaient pas apparues comme telles au début de notre voyage. Sur la route, qui nous a amenés de la Renaissance à nos jours, notre expérience s'est enrichie, mais nous avons perdu l'idée d'une entité supérieure, qui autrefois réfrénait nos passions et notre irresponsabilité.

Nous avions placé trop d'espoirs dans les transformations politico-sociales, et il se révèle qu'on nous enlève ce que nous avons de plus précieux : notre vie intérieure. A l'Est, c'est la foire du Parti, qui la foule aux pieds, à l'Ouest la foire du Commerce : ce qui est effrayant, ce n'est même pas le fait du monde éclaté, c'est que les principaux morceaux en soient atteints d'une maladie analogue. Si l'homme, comme le déclare l'humanisme, n'était né que pour le bonheur, il ne serait pas né non plus pour la mort. Mais corporellement voué à la mort, sa tâche sur cette terre n'en devient que plus spirituelle : non pas un gorgement de quotidienneté, non pas la recherche des meilleurs moyens d'acquisition, puis de joyeuse dépense des biens matériels, mais l'accomplissement d'un dur et permanent devoir, en sorte que tout le chemin de notre vie devienne l'expérience d'une élévation avant tout spirituelle : quitter cette vie en créatures plus hautes que nous n'y étions entrés.

Il est impératif que nous revoyions à la hausse l'échelle de nos valeurs humaines. Sa pauvreté actuelle est effarante. Il n'est pas possible que l'aune, qui sert à mesurer de l'efficacité d'un président se limite à la question de combien d'argent l'on peut gagner, ou de la pertinence de la construction d'un gazoduc. Ce n'est que par un mouvement volontaire de modération de nos passions, sereine et acceptée par nous, que l'humanité peut s'élever au-dessus du courant de matérialisme, qui emprisonne le monde.

Quand bien même nous serait épargné d'être détruits par la guerre, notre vie doit changer, si elle ne veut pas périr par sa propre faute. Nous ne pouvons nous dispenser de rappeler ce qu'est fondamentalement la vie, la société. Est-ce vrai que l'homme est au-dessus de tout ? N'y a-t-il aucun esprit supérieur au-dessus de lui ? Les activités humaines et sociales peuvent-elles légitimement être réglées par la seule expansion matérielle ? A-t-on le droit de promouvoir cette expansion au détriment de l'intégrité de notre vie spirituelle ?

Si le monde ne touche pas à sa fin, il a atteint une étape décisive dans son histoire, semblable en importance au tournant, qui a conduit du Moyen-âge à la Renaissance. Cela va requérir de nous un embrasement spirituel. Il nous faudra nous hisser à une nouvelle hauteur de vue, à une nouvelle conception de la vie, où notre nature physique ne sera pas maudite, comme elle a pu l'être au Moyen-âge, mais, ce qui est bien plus important, où notre être spirituel ne sera pas non plus piétiné, comme il le fut à l'ère moderne.

Notre ascension nous mène à une nouvelle étape anthropologique. Nous n'avons pas d'autre choix que de monter ... toujours plus haut." 

Alexandre Soljénitsyne, Le Déclin du courage, Harvard, 8 juin 1978

A World split apart -- Commencement Address delivered at Harvard university, june 8, 1978

Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn's warning of Western decline is as relevant today as it was twenty-five years ago.

I am sincerely happy to be here with you on the occasion of the 327th commencement of this old and illustrious university. My congratulations and best wishes to all of today's graduates.

Harvard's motto is "VERITAS." Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us as soon as our concentration begins to flag, all the while leaving the illusion that we are continuing to pursue it. This is the source of much discord. Also, truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter. A measure of truth is included in my speech today, but I offer it as a friend, not as an adversary.

Three years ago in the United States I said certain things that were rejected and appeared unacceptable. Today, however, many people agree with what I said . . .

The split in today's world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of destroying each other. However, the understanding of the split too often is limited to this political conception: the illusion according to which danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is both more profound and more alienating, that the rifts are more numerous than one can see at first glance. These deep manifold splits bear the danger of equally manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a kingdom ---- in this case, our Earth ---- divided against itself cannot stand.

There is the concept of the Third World : thus, we already have three worlds. Undoubtedly, however, the number is even greater; we are just too far away to see. Every ancient and deeply rooted self-contained culture, especially if it is spread over a wide part of the earth's surface, constitutes a self-contained world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking. As a minimum, we must include in this China, India, the Muslim world, and Africa, if indeed we accept the approximation of viewing the latter two as uniform.

For one thousand years Russia belonged to such a category, although Western thinking systematically committed the mistake of denying its special character and therefore never understood it, just as today the West does not understand Russia in Communist captivity. And while it may be that in past years Japan has increasingly become, in effect, a Far West, drawing ever closer to Western ways (I am no judge here), Israel, I think, should not be reckoned as part of the West, if only because of the decisive circumstance that its state system is fundamentally linked to its religion.

How short a time ago, relatively, the small world of modern Europe was easily seizing colonies all over the globe, not only without anticipating any real resistance, but usually with contempt for any possible values in the conquered people's approach to life. It all seemed an overwhelming success, with no geographic limits. Western society expanded in a triumph of human independence and power. And all of a sudden the twentieth century brought the clear realization of this society's fragility.

We now see that the conquests proved to be short lived and precarious (and this, in turn, points to defects in the Western view of the world which led to these conquests). Relations with the former colonial world now have switched to the opposite extreme and the Western world often exhibits an excess of obsequiousness, but it is difficult yet to estimate the size of the bill which former colonial countries will present to the West and it is difficult to predict whether the surrender not only of its last colonies, but of everything it owns, will be sufficient for the West to clear this account.

But the persisting blindness of superiority continues to hold the belief that all the vast regions of our planet should develop and mature to the level of contemporary Western systems, the best in theory and the most attractive in practice; that all those other worlds are but temporarily prevented (by wicked leaders or by severe crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from pursuing Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in that direction. But in fact such a conception is a fruit of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, a result of mistakenly measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet's development bears little resemblance to all this.

The anguish of a divided world gave birth to the theory of convergence between the leading Western countries and the Soviet Union. It is a soothing theory which overlooks the fact that these worlds are not evolving toward each other and that neither one can be transformed into the other without violence. Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the other side's defects, too. and this can hardly suit anyone.

If I were today addressing an audience in my country, in my examination of the overall pattern of the world's rifts I would have concentrated on the calamities of the East. But since my forced exile in the West has now lasted four years and since my audience is a Western one, I think it may be of greater interest to concentrate on certain aspects of the contemporary West, such as I see them.

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?

When the modern Western states were being formed, it was proclaimed as a principle that governments are meant to serve man and that man lives in order to be free and pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration of Independence.) Now at last during past decades technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state.

Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and in such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness, in the debased sense of the word which has come into being during those same decades. (In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to this end imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to carefully conceal such feelings. This active and tense competition comes to dominate all human thought and does not in the least open a way to free spiritual development.)

The individual's independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed; the majority of the people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, preparing them for and summoning them toward physical bloom, happiness, and leisure, the possession of material goods, money, and leisure, toward an almost unlimited freedom in the choice of pleasures. So who should now renounce all this, why and for the sake of what should one risk one's precious life in defense of the common good and particularly in the nebulous case when the security of one's nation must be defended in an as yet distant land?

Even biology tells us that a high degree of habitual well-being is not advantageous to a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to take off its pernicious mask.

Western society has chosen for itself the organization best suited to its purposes and one I might call legalistic. The limits of human rights and rightness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law (though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert). Every conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the ultimate solution.

If one is risen from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be right, and urge self-restraint or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrifice and selfless risk: this would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: everybody strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames. (An oil company is legally blameless when it buys up an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to purchase it.)

I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take full advantage of the full range of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man's noblest impulses.

And it will be simply impossible to bear up to the trials of this threatening century with nothing but the supports of a legalistic structure.

Today's Western society has revealed the inequality between the freedom for good deeds and the freedom for evil deeds. A statesman who wants to achieve something highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; thousands of hasty (and irresponsible) critics cling to him at all times; he is constantly rebuffed by parliament and the press. He has to prove that his every step is well founded and absolutely flawless. Indeed, an outstanding, truly great person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind does not get any chance to assert himself; dozens of traps will be set for him from the beginning. Thus mediocrity triumphs under the guise of democratic restraints.

It is feasible and easy everywhere to undermine administrative power and it has in fact been drastically weakened in all Western countries. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.

On the other hand, destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society has turned out to have scarce defense against the abyss of human decadence, for example against the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. This is all considered to be part of freedom and to be counterbalanced, in theory, by the young people's right not to look and not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

And what shall we say about the dark realms of overt criminality? Legal limits (especially in the United States) are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also some misuse of such freedom. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency ---- all with the support of thousands of defenders in the society. When a government earnestly undertakes to root out terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorist's civil rights. There is quite a number of such cases.

This tilt of freedom toward evil has come about gradually, but it evidently stems from a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which man ---- the master of the world ---- does not bear any evil within himself, and all the defects of life are caused by misguided social systems, which must therefore be corrected. Yet strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still remains a great deal of crime; there even is considerably more of it than in the destitute and lawless Soviet society. (There is a multitude of prisoners in our camps who are termed criminals, but most of them never committed any crime; they merely tried to defend themselves against a lawless state by resorting to means outside the legal framework.)

The press, too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word "press" to include all the media.) But what use does it make of it?

Here again, the overriding concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for distortion or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to the readership or to history? If they have misled public opinion by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, even if they have contributed to mistakes on a state level, do we know of any case of open regret voiced by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No; this would damage sales. A nation may be the worse for such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. It is most likely that he will start writing the exact opposite to his previous statements with renewed aplomb.

Because instant and credible information is required, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be refuted; they settle into the readers' memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed everyday, confusing readers, and then left hanging?

The press can act the role of public opinion or miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters pertaining to the nation's defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion into the privacy of well-known people according to the slogan "Everyone is entitled to know everything." (But this is a false slogan of a false era; far greater in value is the forfeited right of people not to know, not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life has no need for this excessive and burdening flow of information.)

Hastiness and superficiality ---- these are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century and more than anywhere else this is manifested in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press; it is contrary to its nature. The press merely picks out sensational formulas.

Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within Western countries, exceeding that of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. Yet one would like to ask: According to what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the Communist East, a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has voted Western journalists into their positions of power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives?

There is yet another surprise for someone coming from the totalitarian East with its rigorously unified press: One discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole (the spirit of the time), generally accepted patterns of judgment, and maybe common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Unrestrained freedom exists for the press, but not for readership, because newspapers mostly transmit in a forceful and emphatic way those opinions which do not too openly contradict their own and that general trend.

Without any censorship in the West, fashionable trends of thought and ideas are fastidiously separated from those that are not fashionable, and the latter, without ever being forbidden have little chance of finding their way into periodicals or books or being heard in colleges. Your scholars are free in the legal sense, but they are hemmed in by the idols of the prevailing fad. There is no open violence, as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to accommodate mass standards frequently prevents the most independent-minded persons from contributing to public life and gives rise to dangerous herd instincts that block dangerous herd development.

In America, I have received letters from highly intelligent persons ---- maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but the country cannot hear him because the media will not provide him with a forum. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, to a blindness which is perilous in our dynamic era. An example is the self-deluding interpretation of the state of affairs in the contemporary world that functions as a sort of petrified armor around people's minds, to such a degree that human voices from seventeen countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will be broken only by the inexorable crowbar of events.

I have mentioned a few traits of Western life which surprise and shock a new arrival to this world . The purpose and scope of this speech will not allow me to continue such a survey, in particular to look into the impact of these characteristics on important aspects of a nation's life, such as elementary education, advanced education in the humanities, and art.

It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world the way to successful economic development, even though in past years it has been sharply offset by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of no longer being up to the level of maturity by mankind. And this causes many to sway toward socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.

I hope that no one present will suspect me of expressing my partial criticism of the Western system in order to suggest socialism as an alternative. No; with the experience of a country where socialism has been realized, I shall not speak for such an alternative. The mathematician Igor Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliantly argued book entitled Socialism; this is a penetrating historical analysis demonstrating that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. Shafarevich's book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in English in the U.S.

But should I be asked, instead, whether I would propose the West, such as it is today, as a model to my country, I would frankly have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through deep suffering, people in our own country have now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just enumerated are extremely saddening.

A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human personality in the West while in the East it has become firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. The complex and deadly crush of life has produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting personalities than those generated by standardized Western well-being. Therefore, if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant points.

Of course, a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our country. But it is also demeaning for it to stay on such a soulless and smooth plane of legalism, as is the case in yours. After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, introduced as by a calling card by the revolting invasion of commercial advertising, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.

All this is visible to numerous observers from all the worlds of our planet. The Western way of life is less and less likely to become the leading model.

There are telltale symptoms by which history gives warning to a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, a decline of the arts or a lack of great statesmen. Indeed, sometimes the warnings are quite explicit and concrete. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.

But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive. You can feel their pressure, yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?

How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present debility? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing steadily in accordance with its proclaimed social intentions, hand in hand with a dazzling progress in technology. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very foundation of thought in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was born in the Renaissance and has found political expression since the Age of Enlightenment. It became the basis for political and social doctrine and could be called rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the pro-claimed and practiced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of all.

The turn introduced by the Renaissance was probably inevitable historically: the Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, having become an intolerable despotic repression of man's physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. But then we recoiled from the spirit and embraced all that is material, excessively and incommensurately. The humanistic way of thinking, which had proclaimed itself our guide, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any task higher than the attainment of happiness on earth. It started modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend of worshiping man and his material needs.

Everything beyond physical well-being and the accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtle and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any higher meaning. Thus gaps were left open for evil, and its drafts blow freely today. Mere freedom per se does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and even adds a number of new ones.

And yet in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding one thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims.

Subsequently, however, all such limitations were eroded everywhere in the West; a total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming ever more materialistic. The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even excess, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistic selfishness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century's moral poverty, which no one could have imagined even as late as the nineteenth century.

As humanism in its development was becoming more and more materialistic, it also increasingly allowed concepts to be used first by socialism and then by communism, so that Karl Marx was able to say, in 1844, that "communism is naturalized humanism."

This statement has proved to be not entirely unreasonable. One does not see the same stones in the foundations of an eroded humanism and of any type of socialism: boundless materialism; freedom from religion and religious responsibility (which under Communist regimes attains the stage of antireligious dictatorship); concentration on social structures with an allegedly scientific approach. (This last is typical of both the Age of Enlightenment and of Marxism.) It is no accident that all of communism's rhetorical vows revolve around Man (with a capital M) and his earthly happiness. At first glance it seems an ugly parallel: common traits in the thinking and way of life of today's West and today's East? But such is the logic of materialistic development.

The interrelationship is such, moreover, that the current of materialism which is farthest to the left, and is hence the most consistent, always proves to be stronger, more attractive, and victorious. Humanism which has lost its Christian heritage cannot prevail in this competition. Thus during the past centuries and especially in recent decades, as the process became more acute, the alignment of forces was as follows: Liberalism was inevitably pushed aside by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism, and socialism could not stand up to communism.

The communist regime in the East could endure and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who (feeling the kinship!) refused to see communism's crimes, and when they no longer could do so, they tried to justify these crimes. The problem persists: In our Eastern countries, communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. And yet Western intellectuals still look at it with considerable interest and empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.

I am not examining the case of a disaster brought on by a world war and the changes which it would produce in society. But as long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we must lead an everyday life. Yet there is a disaster which is already very much with us. I am referring to the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness.

It has made man the measure of all things on earth ---- imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now paying for the mistakes which were not properly appraised at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.

We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. It is trampled by the party mob in the East, by the commercial one in the West. This is the essence of the crisis: the split in the world is less terrifying than the similarity of the disease afflicting its main sections.

If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become above all an experience of moral growth: to leave life a better human being than one started it.

It is imperative to reappraise the scale of the usual human values; its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance should be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or to the availability of gasoline. Only by the voluntary nurturing in ourselves of freely accepted and serene self-restraint can mankind rise above the world stream of materialism.

Today it would be retrogressive to hold on to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Such social dogmatism leaves us helpless before the trials of our times.

Even if we are spared destruction by war, life will have to change in order not to perish on its own. We cannot avoid reassessing the fundamental definitions of human life and society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities should be ruled by material expansion above all? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our integral spiritual life?

If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era.

The ascension is similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage. No one on earth has any other way left but ---- upward.

Copyright © 2001-2008 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.


Alexandre Soljenitsyne

“ LE CRI.
Le discours du prix Nobel 
”.

Un article publié dans la revue L’EXPRESS, Paris, no 1104, 4-11 septembre 1972, pp. 66-73. 

ALEXANDRE SOLJENITSYNE. « L'art vaincra toujours le mensonge et la violence. » [Kuballa-Stern]

 

Alexandre Soljenitsyne, prix Nobel 1970, n'a pas la parole.

Alors, il crie. Et c'est ce long cri dont L'Express

publie ici le texte intégral.

Parler de lui est interdit dans son pays,

où son œuvre continue à être bannie.

La cérémonie privée qui devait avoir lieu, à Pâques dernier,

dans un appartement de Moscou,

au cours de laquelle le prix Nobel devait lui être remis,

a été annulée parce que le secrétaire général

de l'académie suédoise n'a pas pu obtenir

des autorités soviétiques un visa d'entrée.

Soljenitsyne a refusé d'aller recevoir ce prix

à Stockholm, selon la coutume, parce qu'il craint,

s'il quitte le territoire russe,

de ne plus revoir son pays.

Ainsi le discours traditionnel du lauréat Nobel

a-t-il été escamoté.

Mais l'ambassadeur des ombres,

le survivant du « Pavillon des cancéreux »

et du « Premier Cercle », n'a pas accepté le silence.

Le discours qu'il aurait prononcé, il l'a écrit.

C'est un grand texte. Le voici dans son entier.

Comme le sauvage intrigué qui a ramassé un étrange objet – venu de l'océan ? dégagé des sables ou tombé du ciel ? - aux courbes compliquées et qui luit d'abord faiblement pour lancer ensuite de vifs éclats, de même qu'il le tourne d'un côté puis de l'autre, puis le retourne, essayant de découvrir ce qu'il peut en faire, s'efforçant de lui trouver une utilisation terrestre qui soit à sa portée, mais ne pouvant imaginer qu'il puisse avoir une plus haute fonction. 

Ainsi sommes-nous, tenant l'art entre nos mains, convaincus d'en être les maîtres : nous avons l'audace de le diriger, de le renouveler, de le réformer ; nous le vendons pour de l'argent, l'utilisons pour nous attirer les faveurs du pouvoir, le transformons parfois en amusement - jusqu'aux chansons populaires et aux boîtes de nuit - ou, à d'autres moments, le brandissons comme une arme - carotte ou bâton - pour les besoins éphémères de la politique ou de mesquins idéaux sociaux. Mais l'art n'est pas souillé par nos efforts, pas plus qu'il ne s'écarte de sa vraie nature, car, à chaque occasion et pour chaque application, il nous révèle un peu de son feu interne et secret.

 

 

FÉDOR DOSTOIEVSKI. « La beauté sauvera le monde. »[ Roger-Viollet]

 

Pourrons-nous jamais, percevoir cette lumière dans sa plénitude. ? Qui aura l'audace de dire qu'il a pu définir les limites de l'art et qu'il en a recensé toutes les facettes ? Dans le passé, il est probablement arrivé que quelqu'un l'ait compris et nous l'ait fait savoir, mais nous ne nous en sommes pas contentés longtemps : nous avons écouté, puis nous avons oublié, et nous avons éparpillé cette connaissance de-ci, de-là, pressés comme d'habitude d'échanger ce que nous avions pourtant de meilleur, pour quelque chose de nouveau. Et lorsqu'on nous redit cette vérité ancienne, nous ne nous souvenons 'même plus que nous la possédions déjà. 

L'artiste se considère comme le créateur d'un monde spirituel qui lui est propre : il porte sur ses épaules la responsabilité de créer ce monde, de le peupler et d'en assumer l'entière responsabilité. Mais il est écrasé sous ce fardeau, car un génie mortel n'est pas en mesure de supporter une telle charge. De même que l'homme, après s'être déclaré le centre de la vie, n'a pas réussi à construire un système spirituel équilibré. Et fi l'infortune s'abat sur lui, il en rejette le blâme sur l'éternel manque d'harmonie du monde, sur la complexité des âmes brisées du temps présent, ou sur la stupidité du public. 

D'autres artistes, reconnaissant l'existence d'une puissance supérieure, travaillent avec enthousiasme comme d'humbles apprentis sous le regard de Dieu. Mais alors, leur responsabilité : face à tout ce qu'ils écrivent ou peignent, et face aux âmes qui reçoivent leur message, est plus astreignante que jamais. En revanche, ils ne sont plus les créateurs de ce monde ni ne le dirigent. Pour eux, le doute n'est plus possible : l'artiste a seulement alors une conscience plus aiguë que celle des autres de l'harmonie du monde, de sa beauté et de sa laideur, de l'apport de l'homme, qu'il doit transmettre intelligemment aux autres. Et dans le malheur, et même au plus profond de la détresse de l'existence, dénuement, prison ou maladie, sa certitude d'une permanente harmonie ne l'abandonne jamais. 

L’irrationalité de l'art, ses éblouissants revirements, ses découvertes imprévisibles, l'influence explosive qu'il a sur les êtres humains, tout cela contient trop de magie pour être épuisé par la vision que l'artiste a du monde, par la conception qu'il a de son art ou par l'œuvre de ses mains indignes. 

Les archéologues n'ont pas découvert de traces d'existence humaine qui n'aient connu de forme artistique. Dès l'aube de l'humanité, nous avons reçu l'art de mains que nous avons été trop lents à reconnaître. Et nous avons été trop lents à nous demander : pourquoi avons-nous reçu ce don et qu'allons-nous en faire ? 

 “Ils se trompent ceux qui prophétisent que l'art va mourir. C'est nous qui mourrons, l'art est éternel” 

 Ils se trompent, et ils se tromperont toujours. ceux qui prophétisent que l'art va se désintégrer, et mourir. C'est nous qui mourrons, l'art est éternel. Serons-nous capables, même au jour de notre mort, d'en percevoir tous les aspects et toutes les possibilités ? 

On ne peut donner un nom à toutes choses, car certaines choses nous entraînent bien au-delà des mots. L’art peut même enflammer une âme glacée plongée dans les ténèbres, et l'élever à une expérience spirituelle. Grâce à l'art, il nous arrive d'avoir des révélations, même vagues et brèves, qu'aucun raisonnement, si serré soit-il, ne pourrait faire naître. 

Comme cette petite glace des contes de fées dans laquelle on ne se voit pas soi-même, mais où, pendant une brève seconde, on voit l'inaccessible, où aucun homme ne peut aller, ni avec ses jambes ni avec ses ailes. Et l'âme seule exhale sa plainte... 

Un jour, Dostoïevski a laissé échapper cette énigmatique remarque : « La beauté sauvera le monde. » Qu'est-ce que cela veut dire ? Pendant longtemps, j'ai pensé que ce n'étaient que des mots. Comment était-ce possible ? Quand donc, au cours de notre sanglante Histoire, la beauté a-t-elle sauvé quiconque de quoi que ce soit ? Ennobli, exalté, oui. Mais qui a été sauvé ? 

Il existe, toutefois, une certaine particularité dans l'essence même de la beauté et dans la nature même de l'art : la conviction profonde qu'entraîne une vraie oeuvre d'art est absolument irréfutable, et elle contraint même le coeur le plus hostile à se soumettre. On peut parfaitement composer un discours politique apparemment bien fait, écrire un article convaincant, concevoir un programme social ou un système philosophique, en partant d'une erreur ou d'un mensonge. Dans ce cas, ce qui est caché ou déformé n'apparaît pas immédiatement. 

Un discours, un article ou un programme exactement contraire et un système philosophique construit d'une façon entièrement différente rallieront l'opposition. Et ils sont tout aussi bien construits, tout aussi convaincants. Ce qui explique à la fois la confiance et la défiance qu'ils provoquent. 

Mais une oeuvre d'art porte en soi sa propre confirmation. Si la pensée est artificielle ou exagérée, elle ne supporte pas d'être portée en images. Tout s'écroule, semble pâle et terne, et ne convainc personne. En revanche, les oeuvres d'art qui ont cherché la vérité profonde et nous la présentent comme une force vivante s'emparent de nous et s'imposent à nous, et personne, jamais, même dans les âges à venir, ne pourra les réfuter. 

Ainsi cette ancienne trinité que composent la vérité, la bonté et la beauté n'est peut-être pas simplement une formule vide et flétrie, comme nous le pensions aux jours de notre jeunesse présomptueuse et matérialiste. Si les cimes de ces trois arbres convergent, comme le soutiennent les humanistes, mais si les deux troncs trop ostensibles et trop droits que sont la vérité et la bonté sont écrasés, coupés, étouffés, alors peut-être surgira le fantastique, l'imprévisible, l'inattendu, et les branches de l'arbre de beauté perceront et s'épanouiront exactement au même endroit et rempliront ainsi la mission des trois à la fois. 

Alors, la remarque dé Dostoïevski « La beauté sauvera le monde » ne serait plus une phrase en l'air, mais une prophétie. Après tout, il est vrai qu'il eut des illuminations fantastiques. Et, dans ce cas, l'art, la littérature peuvent vraiment contribuer à sauver notre monde. C'est la compréhension qu'au cours des années j'ai pu acquérir en cette matière que je voudrais essayer de vous exposer aujourd'hui. 

Pour accéder à cette tribune d'où est lu le discours du prix Nobel, où peu d'écrivains sont invités, occasion unique dans leur vie, je ne me suis pas contenté de monter trois ou quatre marches, j'en ai gravi des centaines et des milliers, raides, abruptes, glacées, émergeant de l'obscurité et du froid, où ce fut mon sort de survivre, tandis que d'autres - peut-être plus doués et plus forts que moi - périssaient. Je n'en ai rencontré que quelques-uns sur la multitude des Îles du Gulag [1]. Écrasé sous la surveillance policière, je n'ai pu parler à tous, je n'ai eu de nouvelles que de quelques-uns. Pour les autres, j'ai deviné. Ceux qui ont été engloutis dans ce gouffre, alors qu'ils s'étaient déjà fait un nom, sont au moins connus. Mais combien ont pu en revenir ? Toute une littérature nationale est enfouie là, plongée dans l'oubli, non, seulement sans une pierre tombale, mais sans vêtements, nue, avec seulement un numéro. La littérature russe n'a jamais cessé d'être, mais, du dehors, elle semble une terre en friche. Là où devrait s'élever une calme forêt ne subsistent, après cette coupe dramatique, que deux ou trois arbres épargnés par hasard. 

Et si je suis ici aujourd'hui, accompagne par les ombres de ceux qui sont tombés, le front baissé pour laisser passer devant moi, à cette place, ceux qui la méritèrent avant moi, comment moi, devant vous, puis-je deviner et exprimer ce qu'ils auraient voulu vous dire ? 

Cette obligation pèse sur nous depuis longtemps, et nous l'avons comprise. Comme le dit Wladimir Soloviev : « Même dans nos chaînes, nous devons nous-mêmes boucler le cercle que les dieux ont tracé pour nous. » Souvent, dans le grouillement pénible des camps, dans les colonnes de prisonniers, lorsque les guirlandes de lanternes percent les ténèbres des frimas nocturnes, jaillissaient au-dedans de nous les mots que nous aurions voulu crier au monde, si le monde extérieur avait pu nous entendre. 

À ce moment-là, tout semblait clair, ce que notre ambassadeur devait dire et comment le monde réagirait aussitôt. Notre horizon embrassait distinctement les choses matérielles et les mouvements spirituels, et le monde indivisible ne présentait pour moi aucun défaut. Ces idées ne venaient pas des livres. Elles étaient nées au cours de conversations avec ceux qui sont morts aujourd'hui, dans les cellules des prisons et autour des feux. C'est de cette existence-là qu'elles sont nées et c'est à l'épreuve de cette vie-là qu'elles ont été soumises. 

Lorsque, enfin, la pression se fut atténuée et que notre horizon se fut graduellement agrandi, à travers une fente minuscule, nous vîmes apparaître ce qu'était « le monde entier ». Et à notre stupéfaction, nous découvrîmes que ce n'était pas du tout ce que nous attendions, ce que nous espérions, c'est-à-dire un monde qui ne vivrait pas « par cela » et qui ne conduirait pas « à cela ». C'était un monde qui pouvait s'écrier, à la vue d'un bourbeux marécage : « Oh ! la jolie petite mare », ou, devant de lourds carcans : « Oh ! le charmant collier », un monde où certains versaient d'inconsolables larmes et d'autres dansaient au rythme d'une musique légère. 

Comment cela a-t-il pu se produire ? Pourquoi cette faille ? Étions-nous insensibles ? Le monde était-il insensible ? Ou était-ce dû aux différences de langage ? Pourquoi les êtres humains ne peuvent-ils entendre, ce que disent distinctement les autres ? Les mots cessent d'avoir un sens et coulent comme l'eau, sans goût, sans couleur, sans odeur, sans laisser de trace. 

Et, au cours des années, au fur et à mesure que je comprenais cela, changeaient la construction, le contenu et le ton de mon discours, ce discours que je prononce aujourd'hui. Il a maintenant peu de points communs avec le plan, initial, conçu au cours des soirées glaciales des camps. 

Depuis les temps immémoriaux, l'homme a été ainsi fait que sa vision du monde, tant qu'elle ne lui est pas imposée par l'hypnose, ses motivations et son échelle des valeurs, ses actes et ses intentions sont déterminés par son expérience personnelle et collective de la vie. 

Comme le dit un proverbe russe : « Ne crois pas ton frère, mais crois plutôt ton oeil, même s'il louche. » C'est le moyen le plus sûr de comprendre le monde qui nous entoure et le comportement des hommes qui y vivent. Pendant ces longues périodes où notre monde était plongé dans le mystère et la barbarie, avant qu'il ait été rapetissé par les moyens de communication, avant qu'il ait été transformé en un unique bloc aux pulsations convulsives, les hommes, se fondant sur l'expérience, apprirent à se gouverner dans le cadre de leurs communautés, de leurs sociétés et, finalement, de leurs territoires nationaux. À cette époque, il était possible aux êtres humains de discerner et d'admettre une échelle de valeurs commune, de faire la distinction entre ce qui était considéré comme normal, ou incroyable, ou cruel, ou ce qui dépassait les limites de la perversité, ou ce qu'était la loyauté, ou, au contraire, la tromperie. 

Et bien que ces peuples disséminés aient mené des vies très différentes, que leurs valeurs sociales fussent souvent en violent désaccord, de même que leurs systèmes de poids et mesures ne coïncidaient pas, ces, contradictions ne surprenaient que d'occasionnels voyageurs, n'étaient signalées dans les récits que comme des sujets d'étonnement et ne présentaient aucun danger pour l'humanité, qui n'était pas encore unifiée. 

Mais au cours des dernières décennies, imperceptiblement mais rapidement, l'humanité est devenue une seule entité -source à la fois de confiance et de danger - de sorte que les chocs et les embrasements de l'une de ses parties sont immédiatement transmis aux autres, détruisant parfois une immunité nécessaire. L'humanité est devenue une, mais pas aussi fermement que les communautés ou même les nations, pas grâce à des années d’expérience mutuelle, ni parce qu'elle a appris à voir avec un seul oeil, même s'il louche, ni parce qu'elle utilise le même langage, mais en enjambant toutes les barrières grâce à la radio et à l'imprimerie. Une avalanche d'événements s'abat sur nous et, en une minute, la moitié du monde en est informée. 

Mais l'étalon qui permettrait de mesurer ces événements et de les évaluer en fonction des lois qui régissent des régions peu connues du globe n'est pas et ne peut pas se trouver sur les ondes ou dans les colonnes de journaux. Car ces échelles de valeur ont été mûries et assimilées pendant trop d'années, dans des conditions trop particulières, dans les communautés et les sociétés, pour qu'elles puissent être échangées à travers l'éther. Dans les diverses parties du monde, les hommes appliquent leurs propres références aux événements, et ils les jugent, avec entêtement et confiance, en fonction d'elles, et non selon celles des autres. 

S'il n'existe pas tellement d'échelles de valeurs différentes dans le monde, on en dénombre au moins quelques-unes : une pour les événements proches, une pour les événements éloignés, une pour les vieilles sociétés, une autre pour les jeunes. Les peuples malheureux en ont une, les peuples heureux une autre. Les sons discordants et grinçants de ces diverses échelles nous abasourdissent et nous étourdissent, et, sans être toujours douloureux, ils nous empêchent d'entendre les autres dont nous nous tenons éloignés, comme nous le ferions de la démence ou de l'illusion, pour ne juger en toute confiance le monde entier que d'après nos propres valeurs. 

C'est pourquoi nous considérons comme le, plus important, le plus pénible et le moins supportable ce qui est le plus proche de nous. Tout ce qui est loin, tout ce qui ne menace pas de nous envahir à l'instant et de franchir le seuil de notre porte même avec ses gémissements pathétiques, ses cris étouffés, ses vies détruites, ses millions de victimes - tout cela, nous le considérons comme parfaitement supportable et tolérable. 

 En se retirant dans sa tour d'ivoire, l'artiste risque d'abandonner le monde aux mains de mercenaires, de nullités, sinon de tous 

 Dans une partie du monde, il n'y a pas si longtemps, des persécutions semblables à celles de la Rome antique ont condamné des centaines de milliers de chrétiens silencieux à donner leur vie pour leur foi en Dieu. Dans l'autre hémisphère, un fou (il n'est sûrement pas le seul) se hâte de traverser l'océan pour nous délivrer de la religion, en frappant le grand prêtre d'une lame. Son acte a été calculé pour frapper chacun d'entre nous en fonction de son échelle de valeurs personnelle. 

Ce qui paraît de loin, selon une certaine échelle de valeurs, une liberté enviable et florissante, est ressenti sur place, et selon des valeurs différentes, comme une contrainte insupportable, déchaînant la colère et les émeutes. Ce qui, dans une partie du monde, peut représenter un rêve d'incroyable prospérité peut exaspérer les hommes dans une autre et être considéré comme une exploitation sauvage, appelant la grève immédiate. Les échelles de valeurs sont aussi différentes Pour les catastrophes naturelles : une inondation qui emporte des centaines de milliers de vies humaines a moins de signification pour nous qu'un accident au coin de la rue. 

Il en est de même pour les insultes personnelles : un sourire ironique ou un simple geste de renvoi est parfois humiliant, alors qu'à d'autres moments des brutalités physiques sont pardonnées, comme s'il s'agissait d'une mauvaise plaisanterie. 

Il en est de même pour les châtiments : pour les uns, un mois de prison, ou une interdiction de séjour, ou l'isolement dans une cellule avec du pain et du lait pour toute nourriture, frappe l'imagination et emplit les colonnes des journaux d'articles furieux. Tandis que, pour d'autres, des peines de vingt-cinq ans de prison, des cellules dont les murs sont givrés de glace et où les prisonniers n'ont que leurs sous-vêtements, des asiles de fous pour les gens sains d'esprit, d'innombrables gens qui, pour les raisons mystérieuses, s'obstinent à fuir et sont abattus, aux frontières, tout cela est courant et parfaitement accepté. 

Notre esprit est tout à fait en paix quand il s'agit de cette partie exotique du monde dont nous ne savons pratiquement rien, dont nous ne recevons même pas d'informations, à l'exception des supputations superficielles et déjà dépassées de quelques correspondants. 

Cependant, nous ne pouvons reprocher à la vision humaine cette dualité, cette incompréhension ahurissante de la peine d'un autre homme éloigné, car l'homme est ainsi fait. Mais, pour l'ensemble de l'humanité, unie en un seul bloc, cette incompréhension mutuelle présente la menace d'une destruction imminente et brutale. Un monde, une humanité ne peuvent exister en face de six, de quatre ou même de deux échelles de valeurs : nous serions déchirés par cette disparité de rythmes, cette dualité de vibrations. 

Si un homme avec deux coeurs n'est pas fait pour ce monde, nous ne pouvons pas non plus vivre avec cette dualité sur une même Terre. 

Alors, qui coordonnera ces échelles de valeurs ? Et comment ? Qui créera pour l'humanité un seul système d'interprétation, valable pour le bien et le mal, pour ce qui est supportable et pour ce qui ne l'est pas ? Qui fera clairement comprendre à l'humanité ce qui est une souffrance réellement intolérable et ce qui n'est qu'une égratignure superficielle ? Qui orientera la colère des hommes contre ce qui est le plus terrible, et non plus contre ce qui est le plus proche ? Qui réussira à transposer une telle compréhension au-delà des limites de son expérience personnelle ? Qui réussira à faire comprendre à une créature humaine fanatique et bornée les joies et les peines de ses frères lointains, à lui faire comprendre ce dont il n'a lui-même aucune notion ? 

Propagande, contrainte, preuves scientifiques, tout est inutile. Mais il existe heureusement un moyen de le faire dans ce monde : l'art, la littérature. 

Les artistes peuvent accomplir ce miracle. Ils peuvent surmonter cette faiblesse caractéristique de l'homme qui n'apprend que de sa propre expérience tandis que l'expérience des autres ne le touche pas. L'art transmet d'un homme à l'autre, pendant leur bref séjour sur la Terre, tout le poids d'une très longue et inhabituelle expérience, avec ses fardeaux, ses couleurs, la sève de sa vie : il la recrée dans notre chair et nous permet d'en prendre possession, comme si elle était nôtre. 

Plus encore, les pays et les continents répètent les fautes des autres avec des intervalles de parfois plusieurs siècles. 

Dans ce cas, tout devrait être clair. Mais non. Ce que certaines nations ont déjà rejeté est brusquement découvert par d'autres, qui le considèrent comme le dernier cri. Là encore, le seul substitut à l'expérience que nous n'avons pu acquérir est l'art, la littérature. Ceux-ci possèdent un merveilleux pouvoir : au-delà des différences de langues, de coutumes, de structures sociales, ils peuvent transmettre l'expérience de toute une nation à une autre. Ils peuvent faire connaître à une nation novice la pénible épreuve d'une autre s’étendant sur des dizaines d'années, lui évitant ainsi de suivre une route inutile, ou erronée, ou même désastreuse, abrégeant ainsi les sinuosités de l'histoire de l'humanité. 

La littérature transmet encore l'expérience d'une autre façon : d'une génération à l'autre. Elle préserve ainsi son histoire et ranime sa flamme sous une forme pure de toute déformation ou calomnie. C'est ainsi que la littérature, avec le langage, protège l'âme d'une nation. 

Il était de bon ton, récemment, de parier du nivellement des nations, de la disparition des différentes races dans le creuset de la civilisation contemporaine. Je ne suis pas d'accord avec cette opinion. La disparition des nations ne nous appauvrirait pas moins que si tous les hommes devenaient semblables, avec une seule personnalité et un seul visage. Les nations sont la richesse de l'humanité, ses personnalités collectives : la plus infime d'entre elles a sa coloration particulière et porte en elle un reflet particulier de l'intention divine. 

Mais malheur au pays dont la littérature est menacée par l'intervention du pouvoir ! Car il ne s'agit plus là seulement d'une violation du « droit d'écrire », c'est l'étouffement du coeur d'une nation, la destruction de sa mémoire. La nation cesse d'être attentive à elle-même, elle est dépossédée de son unité spirituelle, et, en dépit d'un langage supposé commun, ses citoyens cessent brusquement de se comprendre les uns les autres. 

Des générations silencieuses vieillissent et meurent sans s'être adressé la parole. 

Quand des écrivains comme Evguéni Zamiatine - enterrés vivants pour le reste de leur vie - sont condamnés à créer en silence jusqu'à leur mort, sans entendre jamais l'écho des mots qu'ils ont écrits, alors ce n'est plus seulement une tragédie personnelle, c'est le martyre d'une nation tout entière. 

Et même, dans certains cas - lorsqu'il résulte d'un tel silence que l'ensemble des faits historiques cesse d'être compris - c'est un danger pour l'ensemble de l'humanité. 

En plusieurs occasions et dans divers pays, on a assisté à des débats animés, passionnés, subtils, sur la question de savoir si l'artiste doit être libre de vivre pour lui-même ou s'il doit toujours avoir à l'esprit ses devoirs envers la société et s'il doit toujours se mettre à son service. Le discours d'Albert Camus, à l'occasion de la remise de son prix Nobel, est un des plus brillants qui aient été prononcés à ce sujet, et je suis heureux de souscrire à ses conclusions. En fait, depuis plusieurs décennies, la littérature russe s'est gardée de se perdre dans une attitude contemplative, elle a évité les spéculations frivoles. Je n'ai pas honte d'avoir respecté cette tradition, du mieux que j'ai pu. L'idée qu'un écrivain peut faire beaucoup Pour la société où il vit et que c'est un devoir pour lui de le faire est depuis longtemps familière à la littérature russe.

 

UN CAMP DE TRAVAIL SOVIÉTIQUE. « Même dans nos chaînes, nous devons boucler le cercle que les dieux ont tracé pour nous. » 

Ne violons pas le droit de l'artiste d'exprimer exclusivement son expérience et Sa vie, intérieure, sans se soucier de ce qui se passe dans le monde extérieur. N'exigeons rien de lui, mais demandons-lui, supplions-le, encourageons-le. Cela, nous pouvons le faire. 

Après tout, il ne peut cultiver lui-même qu'une partie de son talent : pour la plus grande part, il lui est insufflé à la naissance, comme un produit fini. Et ce don impose des responsabilités à son libre arbitre. 

Partons du principe que l'artiste ne doit rien à personne. Néanmoins, il est pénible de voir comment, en se retirant dans sa tour d'ivoire ou dans le monde de ses fantasmes, il risque d'abandonner le monde réel aux mains de mercenaires, de nullités, sinon de fous. 

Notre XXe siècle a prouvé qu'il était plus cruel que les siècles précédents, et sa première moitié n'a pas encore effacé ses horreurs. Notre monde est toujours déchiré par les passions de l'âge des cavernes : la cupidité, l'envie, l'emportement, la haine, qui, au cours des ans, ont acquis de nouveaux noms respectables, comme la lutte des classes, l'action des masses, le conflit racial, le combat syndical. Le refus primitif de tout compromis est devenu. un principe et l'orthodoxie est considérée comme une vertu. Elle exige des millions de sacrifices par une guerre civile incessante. Elle essaie de nous convaincre a grands coups de tambour que les concepts universels de bonté et de justice n'existent pas, qu'ils sont relatifs et changeants. D'où la règle : « Fais toujours ce qui est le plus profitable pour ton parti ». Dès qu'un groupe perçoit l'occasion de s'emparer d'un morceau, même superflu, même immérité, il l'arrache sur-le-champ, et tant pis si toute la société doit s'écrouler. 

Vue du dehors, l'amplitude des soubresauts de la société occidentale approche de la limite au-delà de laquelle le système perdra l'équilibre et s'effondrera. La violence, de moins en moins embarrassée par les restrictions imposées par des siècles de légalité, embrase le monde entier, se souciant peu de savoir que l'Histoire a démontré maintes fois son caractère stérile. Bien plus, ce n’est pas seulement la force brute qui triomphe au-dehors, mais sa justification enthousiaste. 

Le monde est emporté par la conviction cynique que la force peut tout, la justice rien. Les démons de Dostoïevski -apparemment, les produits du ; cauchemar d'un provincial au siècle dernier - rampent à travers le monde sous nos yeux, contaminant des contrées où l'on ne pouvait même pas les imaginer. 

À travers les enlèvements, les actes de piraterie, les explosions et les incendies de ces dernières années, ils manifestent leur volonté d'ébranler et de détruire la civilisation. Et ils pourraient bien y parvenir. 

Les jeunes, à un âge où ils n'ont d'autre expérience que sexuelle, où ils n'ont pas encore des années de souffrance et de compréhension derrière eux, répètent avec jubilation les erreurs de la Russie dépravée du XIXe siècle, en ayant l'impression de découvrir quelque chose de nouveau. Ils applaudissent aux derniers actes de vandalisme des Gardes rouges chinois et les donnent joyeusement en exemple. Avec une méconnaissance totale de l'essence millénaire de l'humanité, avec la confiance naïve de cœurs sans expérience, ils crient : « Chassons ces gouvernements d'oppresseurs, cruels et avides ! Les nouveaux (c'est-à-dire nous), après avoir déposé les fusils et les grenades, seront justes et indulgents. » 

Ce sera le contraire. Mais ceux qui ont vécu et qui savent, ceux qui pourraient s'opposer à ces jeunes ? Beaucoup n'osent pas. Ils gobent même n'importe quoi pour ne pas paraître « conservateurs ». Encore un de ces phénomènes russes du XIXe siècle que Dostoïevski appelait être esclave des dupes progressistes. 

L'esprit de Munich ne s'est certainement pas estompé dans le passé : ce n'était pas une simple péripétie. Je me risquerais même à dire que l'esprit de Munich domine le XXe siècle. 

Un monde civilisé et timide n'a rien trouvé d'autre a opposer à la renaissance brutale et à visage découvert de la barbarie, que des sourires et des concessions. L'esprit de Munich est une maladie de la volonté chez les peuples nantis. Un état d'âme permanent chez ceux qui se sont abandonnés à la poursuite de la prospérité à tout prix, ceux pour qui le bien-être matériel est devenu le but principal de leur vie sur terre. Ces gens-là - et il y en a beaucoup dans le monde aujourd'hui - ont choisi la passivité et la reculade, afin de prolonger un peu leur train-train quotidien, afin d'éluder la difficulté aujourd'hui. Et demain, vous verrez, tout ira bien. Mais rien n'ira bien. Le prix de la lâcheté est toujours le mal. Nous ne récolterons la victoire que si nous avons le courage de faire des sacrifices. 

 Un écrivain n'est pas le juge indifférent de ses compatriotes. Il est le complice de tout le mal commis dans son pays 

 Et, par-dessus tout cela, nous sommes menacés de destruction parce que notre monde, physiquement tendu et comprimé, n'a pas le droit de communier spirituellement. Les molécules de la connaissance et de là sympathie n'ont pas le droit de sauter d'une moitié dans l'autre. Voilà un danger évident : l'interdiction de l'échange d'informations entre les différentes parties de la planète. L'histoire contemporaine sait que l'interdiction de l'information rend toute signature d'accords internationaux illusoire. Dans un monde clos, il ne coûte rien d'interpréter n'importe quel accord à sa façon. Ou même, plus simplement, de l'ignorer complètement, comme S'il n'avait jamais existé (Orwell a compris cela admirablement), Un monde clos est peuplé, non pas de Terriens, mais d'un corps expéditionnaire de Martiens, qui ne savent rien de sensé sur le reste de la planète et qui sont prêts à l'écraser avec la conviction sacrée d'être des « libérateurs ». 

Il y a un quart de siècle, naissait l'Organisation des nations unies, qui portait les espoirs de l'humanité. Hélas ! dans un monde immoral, elle est devenue immorale. Ce n'est pas une organisation de nations unies, mais une organisation de gouvernements unis, où tous les gouvernements sont égaux : ceux qui ont été élus librement, ceux qui ont été imposés par la force et ceux qui se sont emparé du pouvoir par les armes. S'appuyant sur une majorité mercenaire, l'ONU protège jalousement la liberté de certains pays et néglige souverainement celle des autres. 

À la suite d'un vote servile, elle a refusé d'entendre les appels - sanglots, cris, suppliques - d'humbles individus ordinaires. Une bien petite chose pour une si grande organisation. L'ONU n'a déployé aucun effort pour faire de l'adoption de la Déclaration des droits de l'homme - son meilleur texte en vingt-cinq ans - la condition pour être admis en son sein. Elle a ainsi trahi ces humbles gens placées à la merci de gouvernements qu'ils n'ont pas choisis. 

Il semblerait que la physionomie du monde contemporain dépende, en fin de compte, des savants. Tous les progrès techniques de l'humanité sont entre leurs mains. Il semblerait donc que l'avenir du monde devrait dépendre de la bonne volonté des savants, et non de celle des hommes politiqués. D'autant plus que certains exemples ont montré tout ce dont ils sont capables, quand ils conjuguent leurs efforts. Eh bien ! non : les savants n'ont manifesté aucune volonté de devenir une force importante et indépendante de l'humanité. Ils consacrent des congrès entiers à ignorer les malheurs des autres. Il vaut mieux rester sagement dans les limites de la science. L'esprit de Munich a étendu ses ailes démoralisantes sur eux. 

Quels sont donc exactement la place et le rôle de l'écrivain dans ce monde cruel, déchiré et sur le point de se détruire lui-même ? Après tout, nous n'avons rien à voir avec le lancement des fusées. Nous ne poussons même pas la plus petite des voitures à bras. Nous sommes méprisés par ceux qui respectent seulement le pouvoir matériel. N'est-il pas naturel que nous aussi, nous nous retirions du jeu, que nous perdions la foi dans la pérennité de la bonté, de l'indivisibilité de la vérité, pour nous contenter de faire part au monde de nos réflexions amères et détachées : comme l'humanité est devenue désespérément corrompue, comme les hommes ont dégénéré, et comme il est devenu difficile, pour des âmes nobles et raffinées, de vivre parmi eux ! 

Mais nous n'avons même pas recours à cette échappatoire. Quand on a épousé le monde, on ne peut plus lui échapper. Un écrivain n'est pas le juge indifférent de ses compatriotes et de ses contemporains. Il est le complice de tout le mai commis dans son pays ou par ses compatriotes. Si les tanks de son pays ont inondé de sang les rues d'une capitale étrangère, alors les taches brunes, marqueront son visage pour toujours. Si, par une nuit fatale, on a étrangle son ami endormi et confiant, les paumes de ses mains porteront les traces de la corde. Si ses jeunes concitoyens, proclamant joyeusement la supériorité de la dépravation sur le travail honnête, s'adonnent à la drogue, leur haleine fétide se mêlera à la sienne. 

Aurons-nous la témérité de prétendre que nous ne sommes pas responsables des maux que connaît le monde d'aujourd'hui ? 

Et, pourtant, je suis réconforté par le sentiment que la littérature mondiale est comme un seul cœur géant, qui bat au rythme des soucis et des drames de notre monde, même s'ils sont ressentis et exprimés différemment en ses quatre coins. 

Au-delà des littératures nationales vieilles comme le monde, l'idée d'une littérature mondiale qui serait Comme une anthologie des sommets des littératures nationales et la somme de leurs influences réciproques a toujours existé, même dans le passé. Mais il y a toujours eu un décalage dans le temps. Lecteurs et auteurs ne pouvaient connaître les œuvres des écrivains d'une autre languie qu'après un certain délai, parfois après des siècles. De sorte que les influences réciproques étaient, elles aussi, retardées, et que l'anthologie des littératures nationales ne se révélait qu'aux générations futures. 

Aujourd'hui, le contact entre les écrivains d'un pays et les écrivains ou les lecteurs d'un autre est presque instantané. J'en ai fait personnellement l'expérience. Ceux de mes livres qui - hélas ! - n'ont pas été publiés dans mon pays ont trouvé une audience immédiate dans le monde entier, malgré des traductions hâtives et souvent imparfaites. Des écrivains occidentaux comme Heinrich Böll ont entrepris de les analyser. Au cours de ces dernières années, alors que mon travail et ma liberté ne se sont pas écroulés, mais, contrairement aux lots de la gravité, sont restés suspendus en l'air, rattachés à rien, sinon à la toile d'araignée invisible d'un public sympathisant, alors j'ai découvert, avec une immense gratitude, un soutien inattendu : celui de la fraternité des écrivains internationaux.

 

 LE SIÈGE DE L'ONU. Les humbles ont été trahis.

Pour mon cinquantième anniversaire, j'ai eu la surprise de recevoir les vœux de célèbres hommes de lettres occidentaux. Aucune pression sur moi ne fut plus ignorée. Au cours des semaines dangereuses où je fus exclu de. l'Union des écrivains, le, mur dressé par les auteurs les plus éminents du monde m'a protégé contre des persécutions plus graves. Des écrivains et des artistes norvégiens me préparaient un asile, pour le cas où l'on me forcerait à l'exil, comme on m'en menaçait. Finalement ce n'est pas le pays où je vis et ou j'écris qui a proposé mon nom pour le prix Nobel, mais François Mauriac et ses collègues. Et, plus tard, toutes les associations d'écrivains m'ont soutenu. 

J'ai ainsi compris et senti que la littérature mondiale n'est plus une anthologie abstraite ni un vague concept inventé par les historiens de la littérature, mais un corps et un esprit vivants, reflétant l'unité grandissante de l'humanité. Les frontières des États sont encore portées au rouge par les fils électriques et les tirs des mitrailleuses, et de nombreux ministres de l'Intérieur considèrent encore la littérature comme « une affaire de politique intérieure » relevant de leur juridiction. Les manchettes des journaux proclament encore : « Pas le droit d'interférer dans nos affaires intérieures ! » Alors qu'il n'y a plus d'« affaires intérieures » sur notre terre surpeuplée et que le salut de l'humanité dépend de ce que chacun fasse siennes les affaires d'autrui, de ce que les peuples de l'Est aient un intérêt vital pour ce qu'on pense à l'Ouest, de ce que les peuples de l'Ouest aient un intérêt vital pour ce qui se passe à l'Est. 

La littérature, un des instruments les plus sensibles de l'être humain, a été la première à détecter ce sentiment d'unité grandissante du monde et à le faire sien. 

Aussi, je me tourne avec confiance vers le monde littéraire d'aujourd'hui, vers ces centaines d'amis que je ne connais pas et que je ne verrai peut-être jamais. 

Mes amis. Essayons d'être utiles si nous pouvons servir à quoi que ce soit. Qui donc, depuis les temps immémoriaux, a constitué une force d'union, et non de division, dans nos pays déchirés par les partis, les mouvements, les castes, les groupes ? Voilà, en substance, le rôle des écrivains : ils expriment à travers leur langue maternelle la force principale d'unité d'un pays, de la terre qu'occupe son peuple, et, au mieux, de son esprit national. 

Je crois que la littérature mondiale, dans ces temps troublés, est capable d'aider l'humanité à se voir telle qu'elle est, en dépit de l'endoctrinement et des préjugés des hommes et des partis. La littérature mondiale est capable de communiquer une expérience condensée d'un pays à un autre afin que nous ne soyons plus divisés et déconcertés, que nos différentes échelles de valeurs puissent coïncider ; et, surtout, que le citoyen d'un pays puisse lire de façon concise et véridique l'Histoire d'un autre et la vivre avec une telle force et un tel réalisme douloureux qu'il lui soit ainsi épargné de commettre les mêmes erreurs cruelles. 

Peut-être que, de cette façon, nous, les artistes, nous pourrons développer en nous un champ de vision capable d'embrasser lé monde entier : en observant, comme tout être humain, ce qui se passe tout près,, autour de nous, et en y introduisant ce qui se passe dans le reste du monde. Nous établirons ainsi des relations à l'échelle mondiale. 

Et qui, sinon nous, les écrivains, pourra porter un jugement sur nos gouvernements défaillants (dans certains États, c'est la façon la plus facile de gagner son pain, occupation de tout homme qui n'est pas un paresseux), et aussi sur le peuple, lui-même, sur sa lâche humiliation, sur sa faiblesse satisfaite ? Qui pourra porter un jugement sur les écarts inconsidérés de la jeunesse et sur les jeunes pirates qui brandissent leurs couteaux ? 

On nous dira : que peut la littérature contre la ruée sauvage de la violence ? Mais n'oublions pas que la violence ne vit pas seule, qu'elle est incapable de vivre seule : elle est intimement associée, par le plus étroit des liens naturels, au mensonge. La violence trouve son seul refuge dans le mensonge, et le mensonge son seul soutien dans la violence. Tout homme qui a choisi la violence comme moyen doit inexorablement choisir le mensonge comme règle. 

Au début, la violence agit à ciel ouvert, et même avec orgueil. Mais, dès qu'elle se renforce, qu'elle est fermement établie, elle sent l'air se raréfier autour d'elle et elle ne peut survivre sans pénétrer dans un brouillard de mensonges, les déguisant sous des paroles doucereuses. Elle ne tranche pas toujours, pas forcément, les gorges ; le plus souvent, elle exige seulement un acte d'allégeance au mensonge, une complicité. 

Et le simple acte de courage d'un homme simple est de refuser le mensonge. Que le monde s'y adonne, qu'il en fasse même sa loi - mais sans moi. 

Les écrivains et les artistes peuvent faire davantage. Ils peuvent vaincre le mensonge. Dans le combat contre le mensonge, l'art a toujours gagné, et il gagnera toujours, ouvertement, irréfutablement, dans le monde entier. Le mensonge peut résister à beaucoup de choses. Pas à l'art. 

Et dès que le mensonge sera confondu, la violence apparaîtra dans sa nudité et dans sa laideur. Et la violence, alors, s'effondrera. 

C'est pourquoi, mes amis, je pense que nous pouvons aider le monde en cette heure brûlante. Non en nous donnant pour excuse de ne pas être armés, non en nous adonnant à une vie futile, mais en partant en guerre. 

Les Russes aiment les proverbes qui ont trait à la vérité. Ceux-ci expriment de façon constante et parfois frappante la dure expérience de leur pays : « Une parole de vérité pèse plus que le monde entier. » 

Fin du texte


[1]    Administration centrale des camps de travail obligatoire.

 Alekxandr Solzhenitsyn

Diễn từ Nobel (1970)

Đoàn Tử Huyến dịch

1.


Như một gã dã nhân ngớ ngẩn nhặt được một vật lạ - vừa bị đại dương ném lên ? lộ ra từ trong cát ? hay từ trên trời rớt xuống ? - với những đường cong bí ẩn ánh lên khi mờ khi chói, - hắn ta đảo đi đảo lại trên tay, nghĩ xem có thể dùng nó vào việc gì, cố tìm hiểu những khả năng sử dụng đơn giản của vật tìm thấy mà hoàn toàn không nghĩ đến những công năng cao cấp của nó.

Chúng ta cũng vậy, nắm Nghệ Thuật trong tay, ngạo mạn tự phong cho mình là chủ nhân của nó, định hướng nó một cách táo bạo, làm mới, cải tạo, tuyên ngôn, bán lấy tiền, lấy lòng kẻ mạnh, biến nó khi thì để giải trí - đến thành cả những ca khúc nhạc nhẹ và quán đêm, khi thì - làm cú đấm hay làm gậy, tùy dịp - cho những nhu cầu chính trị nhất thời, nhưng đòi hỏi xã hội hạn hẹp. Còn nghệ thuật - vẫn không bị vấy bẩn bởi những mưu toan của chúng ta, không vì thế mà đánh mất nguồn gốc của mình, lần nào và ở cách sử dụng nào cũng giành cho chúng ta một phần ánh nội quang bí ẩn của mình.

Nhưng liệu chúng ta có ôm trọn được hết toàn bộ cái ánh sáng đó ? Có ai dám nói rằng đã định-nghĩa được Nghệ Thuật ? đã liệt kê hết tất cả các phương diện của nó ? Mà có thể trong các thế kỉ quá khứ, nó đã được hiểu, được gọi tên, nhưng chúng ta chỉ có thể dừng lại không lâu : chúng ta đã nghe, và đã xem thường, và liền đó vứt đi, như chúng ta vẫn thường xuyên vội vã đem đổi dù là cái tốt nhất để lấy một cái gì đó chỉ cần mới là được ! Rồi khi lại được nghe nói về cái cũ thì chúng ta không còn nhớ là mình đã từng có nó.

Một vị nghệ sĩ tưởng chừng mình là đấng sáng tạo của thế giới tinh thần độc lập, và tự chất lên đôi vai của mình cái hành động sáng tạo ra thế giới đó, cư dân của nó, trách nhiệm vô biên đối với nó, nhưng liền bị gãy sống lưng - vì một sức nặng như thế thì một kẻ thiên tài trần thế làm sao kham nổi; cũng như nói chung con người, tự tuyên bố mình là trung tâm của sinh tồn, không thể tạo nên hệ thống tinh thần cân bằng. Còn nếu như gặp thất bại, họ sẽ đổ tất cả lên sự bất xứng muôn đời của thế giới, lên sự phức tạp của tâm hồn tơi tả hiện đại hoặc lên sự tối dạ của công chúng.

Một người khác tự biết sức mạnh tối cao ngự trị trên mình và hân hoan làm một chân thợ phụ nhỏ bé dưới bầu trời của Chúa, mặc dù trách nhiệm của anh ta đối với những gì được viết, được vẽ ra, đối với những tâm hồn tiếp nhận càng nghiêm túc hơn. Bù lại, thế giới này không phải do anh ta tạo ra, không phải do anh ta cai quản, không có nghi ngờ trong những căn gốc của nó, người nghệ sĩ chỉ được trao cho khả năng cảm nhận sâu, nhạy hơn người khác sự hài hòa của thế giới, vẻ đẹp và xấu của sự đóng góp của con người vào thế giới - và truyền đạt lại cái đó một cách sắc sảo cho mọi người. Và trong những thất bại, thậm chí cả nơi đáy sâu của sự tồn tại - trong bần cùng, trong tù ngục, trong bệnh tật - cái cảm nhận sự hài hòa bền vững không thể rời bỏ anh ta.

Nhưng toàn bộ tính duy lí của nghệ thuật, những đường bay bất ngờ chói sáng, những thành tựu không đoán trước được, những tác động rung chuyển đối với con người của nó là quá thần diệu để có thể gói gọn nó bằng thế giới quan của người nghệ sĩ, bằng ý tưởng của anh ta hay bằng công việc của những ngón tay không xứng đáng của anh ta.

Các nhà khảo cổ học không phát hiện ra những giai đoạn tồn tại sớm của con người, khi chúng ta chưa có nghệ thuật, ngay từ buổi tranh tối tranh sáng trước bình minh của nhân loại chúng ta đã nhận nó từ Bàn Tay mà chúng ta chưa kịp nhìn rõ. Và không kịp hỏi : cái quà tặng này cho chúng ta để làm gì ? phải sử dụng nó như thế nào ?

Và chúng ta đã sai lầm. Và sẽ sai lầm tất cả những ai đoán trước rằng nghệ thuật sẽ tàn suy, sẽ cạn kiệt các hình thức của mình, sẽ chết. Chúng ta chết, nhưng nghệ thuật sẽ còn lại. Và liệu cho đến lúc chết chúng ta có hiểu được tất cả những phương diện và những chức năng của nó hay không ?

Không phải tất cả - có thể nói như vậy. Có cái sẽ đi xa hơn lời nói. Nghệ thuật làm ấm lại thậm chí cả một linh hồn nguội lạnh, u tối đối với một kinh nghiệm tinh thần cao cả. Thông qua nghệ thuật, đôi khi chúng ta được ban tặng những mặc khải, mơ hồ, ngắn gọn - mà một tư duy trí não không thể nào khám phá được.

Như tấm gương bé nhỏ trong các câu chuyện cổ tích: nhìn vào đó ta trông thấy - không phải bản thân mình - mà thấy trong một thoáng Cái Không Thể Ðạt Tới, cái ta không thể chạy, không thể bay đến. Và chỉ có tâm hồn trăn trở...


2.

Dostoevski [1] một lần buông lời đầy bí ẩn : "Cái đẹp sẽ cứu thế giới". Ðó là cái gì ? Rất lâu tôi cảm thấy đó chỉ đơn giản là một câu nói. Làm sao có thể như thế được ? Cái đẹp đã cứu ai và cứu khỏi cái gì, khi nào trong lịch sử khát máu ? Che chở, nâng đỡ - có thể; nhưng đã cứu được ai ?

Nhưng có một điều đặc biệt trong bản chất cái đẹp, một điều đặc biệt trong vị thế nghệ thuật: sức thuyết phục của một tác phẩm nghệ thuật chân chính là tuyệt đối không thể chối bỏ và nó bắt quy thuận thậm chí cả những trái tim ương ngạnh. Có thể trên cơ sở sai lầm, thậm chí dối trá tạo dựng một bài phát biểu chính trị, một tác phẩm chính luận hùng hồn, một chương trình sinh hoạt xã hội, một hệ thống triết lí có vẻ ngoài trơn tru, cân đối: không thể nhìn thấy ngay được những gì ẩn giấu bên trong, những gì bị bóp méo. Và để tranh luận lại, sẽ có một phát biểu trái ngược, một tác phẩm chính luận, một chương trình, một hệ thống triết lí khác - và tất cả cũng lại cân đối, trơn tru, và lại ổn thỏa. Vì vậy mà đối với chúng, tất cả những cái đó, vừa tin đấy mà lại vừa không đáng tin.

Cái gì không thể thâm nhập được, thì chỉ là nói suông vô ích vào trái tim.

Còn các tác phẩm nghệ thuật đã mang trong mình một sự tự thử thách : những khuynh hướng giả tạo, gượng ép không chịu nổi những thử thách trên các hình tượng: chúng sẽ sụp đổ, sẽ rệu rã, nhợt nhạt, không thuyết phục được ai cả. Còn những tác phẩm tìm chứa sự thật và trình bày nó cho chúng ta một cách cô đúc - sinh động, thì sẽ chinh phục chúng ta, lôi cuốn chúng ta một cách mãnh liệt, - và sẽ không có ai, không bao giờ, thậm chí sau nhiều thế kỉ, phủ nhận chúng.

Vậy thì có thể cái bộ ba thống nhất Chân - Thiện - Mĩ già cỗi kia không đơn giản là một công thức cũ kĩ dùng để trưng bày như chúng ta đã từng cảm thấy vào cái thời tuổi trẻ duy vật ngạo mạn ? Nếu như đỉnh ngọn của ba cái cây này sẽ chụm vào nhau, như các nhà nghiên cứu khẳng định, nhưng những thân cành quá thẳng thắn của cây Chân và cây Thiện bị chèn ép, bị đốn chặt, không vươn lên được, - thì liệu có thể chăng những thân cành lạ lùng, chúng ta không chờ đợi, không đoán trước được của cây Mĩ có lớn lên, vươn tới đúng vào chính cái chỗ đó, và như vậy thực hiện công việc thay cho cả ba cái cây hay không ?

Và lúc đó câu nói "Cái đẹp sẽ cứu thế giới" của Dostoevski không phải là một sự buột miệng, mà là lời tiên tri ? Bởi vì ông được ban cho khả năng thấy được nhiều điều, được khải thị kì diệu.

Và khi đó nghệ thuật, văn học có thể thực sự giúp đỡ thế giới ngày hôm nay hay không ?

Những gì ít ỏi mà tôi đã nhìn ra được qua năm tháng trong cái nhiệm vụ này, tôi sẽ cố gắng trình bày ở đây hôm nay.


3.

Ðể bước lên cái bục này, cái bục đọc Diễn từ Nobel, cái bục không phải dành cho mọi nhà văn và chỉ được dành một lần trong đời, tôi đã phải đi qua không chỉ ba bốn bậc tam cấp bằng phẳng, mà là hàng trăm, thậm chí hàng ngàn bậc khó vượt, cheo leo, trơn lạnh, từ trong tối tăm và giá buốt, nơi tôi may mắn được sống sót, còn những người khác - có thể tài năng hơn tôi, khỏe hơn tôi - thì đã chết. Trong số họ chỉ có vài người bản thân tôi được gặp ở trong Quần đảo Gulag [2] với vô vàn đảo nhỏ nằm rải rác khắp nơi, và dưới những ánh nhìn dò xét và thiếu tin cậy không phải với ai cũng nói chuyện được, về những người khác chỉ nghe nhắc đến, về số thứ ba chỉ có thể đoán ra. Những ai rơi vào cái hố sâu đó khi đã có tên tuổi văn học, mặc dù nổi tiếng - nhưng biết bao nhiêu người không được nhận ra, không được một lần nào gọi tên công khai ! và gần như - gần như không một ai trở về được. Cả một nền văn học dân tộc đã ở lại nơi đó, bị chôn vùi không chỉ không có quan tài, mà không có cả quần áo lót, trần truồng, với sợi xích nơi ngón chân. Nền văn học Nga không một khoảnh khắc nào bị đứt đoạn ! - mà từ ngoài nhìn vào chỉ thấy như một chỗ hoang. Nơi đáng lí có thể mọc lên một cánh rừng đông đảo, chỉ còn lại sau tất cả những trận đốn chặt vài ba cây tình cờ bị bỏ qua. Và tôi hôm nay, được tháp tùng bởi những cái bóng của những người đã khuất, cúi đầu nhường bước những người khác xứng đáng sớm hơn đi lên chỗ này, tôi hôm nay làm sao đoán được và nói ra những gì mà họ muốn nói ? Trách nhiệm này từ lâu đè nặng lên chúng tôi, và chúng tôi hiểu nó. Bằng lời của Vladimir Soloviov [3] :

Và cả trong xích xiềng, chúng ta cần phải
Ði trọn vòng của Chúa đã vạch ra.


Trong những chuyến chuyển trại nhọc nhằn, trong đoàn người tù tội, trong bóng tối những chiều đêm lạnh giá với dải đèn le lói, - không phải một lần đã dâng lên tận cổ chúng tôi tiếng kêu muốn thoát ra cho cả thế giới, giá như thế giới có thể nghe thấy một ai đấy trong số chúng tôi. Khi đó điều này dường như rất rõ ràng: vị sứ giả may mắn của chúng tôi sẽ nói - và thế giới sẽ ngay lập tức lên tiếng đáp lại. Tầm nhìn của chúng tôi được chứa đầy một cách rất rõ ràng cả các đối tượng vật chất và các chuyển động tinh thần, và trong thế giới không phân đôi chúng không thấy có sự nghiêng lệch. Những ý nghĩ đó không phải đến từ sách vở và không phải để cho suôn sẻ; chúng được hình thành trong những xà lim và bên những đống lửa trong rừng, qua các câu chuyện với những người mà nay không còn nữa, được kiểm nghiệm bởi cuộc sống mà từ đó chúng đã sinh ra.

Còn khi áp lực bên ngoài giảm xuống - tầm nhìn của tôi và của chúng tôi được mở rộng, và dần dần, dù là qua một khe hẹp, cái "toàn bộ thế giới" đó đã được nhìn thấy và được nhận biết. Và thật kinh ngạc đối với chúng tôi, cái "toàn bộ thế giới" đó hoàn toàn không giống như chúng tôi chờ đợi, chúng tôi hi vọng: nó sống không phải "bằng cái đó", nó đi không phải "về hướng đó", nó thốt lên với bãi lầy hôi thối : "Ôi cái vũng nước mới đẹp làm sao !", nó thán phục những chiếc gông bê tông đeo cổ : "Ôi vòng dây chuyền mới tinh tế làm sao !", còn nơi số người này đang nhỏ những giọt nước mắt không thể lau khô thì những kẻ khác nhảy những điệu nhạc vô tư.

Tại sao lại xảy ra như vậy ? Từ đâu trống hoác cái vực thẳm này ? Chúng ta vô cảm chăng ? Thế giới vô cảm chăng ? Hay đó là vì sự khác biệt ngôn ngữ ? Tại sao con người không có khả năng nghe được mọi lời được nói ra rõ ràng của nhau ? Những lời nói cứ tắt lặng và trôi đi như nước - không mùi, không vị, không màu sắc. Không dấu vết. Trong khi tôi hiểu dần ra điều này, đã thay đổi và thay đổi cùng với năm tháng cái thành phần, ý nghĩa và giọng điệu của lời phát biểu có thể có của tôi. Của lời phát biểu ngày hôm nay của tôi.

Và nó chỉ còn giống rất ít với những gì đã được nghĩ ra lúc ban đầu trong những đêm giá lạnh ở trại tập trung.


4.

Con người từ xa xưa đã được tạo ra để cho thế giới quan của anh ta, - khi nó không bị thôi miên, - động cơ và thang giá trị của anh ta, hành động và dự định của anh ta được xác định bởi kinh nghiệm sống cá nhân và tập thể của anh ta. Một câu ngạn ngữ Nga nói: đừng tin người anh em ruột của mình, hãy tin con mắt lé của mình. Ðó chính là cơ sở lành mạnh nhất để hiểu thế giới xung quanh và cách ứng xử trong thế giới đó. Và trong suốt nhiều thế kỉ, khi thế giới của chúng ta trải rộng một cách bí ẩn, hoang vu, khi nó còn chưa có được những tuyến liên lạc thống nhất, chưa biến thành một khối co giật duy nhất, - thì con người đã ứng xử một cách không sai lầm bởi kinh nghiệm sống của mình trong cái địa phương giới hạn của mình, trong công xã của mình, trong cộng đồng của mình, và cuối cùng, trong lãnh thổ dân tộc mình. Lúc đó bằng từng con mắt người riêng rẽ có thể thấy và chấp nhận một hệ thống định giá chung nào đó: cái gì là bình thường, cái gì là phi thường; cái gì là tàn bạo, cái gì nằm ngoài phạm vi cái ác; cái gì là trung thực, cái gì là dối lừa. Và mặc dù các dân tộc rải rác sống rất khác nhau và các thang giá trị xã hội của họ có thể rất nhiều điều không trùng hợp, cũng như không trùng hợp các hệ thống đo lường của họ, nhưng những khác biệt đó chỉ làm ngạc nhiên những khách du lịch hiếm hoi và trở thành những chuyện lạ trên các tờ tạp chí mà không mang lại bất cứ một mối nguy hiểm nào cho nhân loại lúc đó còn chưa trở nên thống nhất.

Nhưng rồi qua mấy thập kỉ gần đây nhân loại bỗng đột nhiên và không ai nhận thấy trở nên thống nhất - thống nhất một cách đầy hi vọng và thống nhất một cách nguy hiểm, cho nên sự chấn động và viêm cháy của một phần nào đó của nó gần như ngay tức khắc lây chuyển sang các phần khác nhiều khi không có một mối quan hệ liên thông nào với điều đó. Nhân loại trở nên thống nhất - nhưng không phải sự thống nhất bền vững như trước đây của một công xã hay thậm chí của một dân tộc: không phải thông qua kinh nghiệm sống chậm rãi, không phải thông qua con mắt riêng được gọi là lé một cách bao dung, thậm chí không phải thông qua tiếng mẹ đẻ dễ hiểu, - mà, vượt trên tất cả các thứ rào cản, thông qua hệ thống truyền thanh và in ấn toàn cầu. Hàng núi sự kiện đổ ập lên chúng ta, chỉ sau một phút đến nửa thế giới đã biết về chúng, nhưng qua làn sóng điện và các trang báo chúng không mang truyền, - và không thể mang truyền - các thước đo - để đo và đánh giá các sự kiện đó theo quy luật của các phần thế giới xa lạ đối với chúng ta: các thước đo này mọc sâu và bám rễ quá lâu và quá đặc thù trong cuộc sống riêng của các đất nước và xã hội khác nhau, chúng không thể được truyền đi trong không khí. Tại các khu vực khác nhau người dân áp dụng thang giá trị riêng đã được kiểm nghiệm đối với các sự kiện - và kiên trì, tự tin phán xét chỉ theo thang giá trị của mình, chứ không phải của bất kì một ai khác.

Và những thang giá trị như vậy trên thế giới nếu không phải là vô số thì ít ra cũng khá nhiều: thang để đo các sự kiện gần và thang để đo các sự kiện xa; thang của xã hội già cũ và thang của xã hội mới; thang của những người may mắn và thang của những người không may mắn. Sự phân chia các thang giá trị không trùng hợp một cách ồn ào, sặc sỡ, chúng làm ta lóa mắt, và để khỏi chói đau, chúng ta quay lưng lại với tất cả các thang giá trị xa lạ như những gì điên loạn, lầm lạc, - và chúng ta tự tin phán xét cả thế giới theo thang giá trị riêng của mình. Vì thế cái mà chúng ta cảm thấy lớn lao, đau đớn và khó chấp nhận hơn không phải những gì trong thực tế lớn lao, đau đớn và khó chấp nhận hơn, mà những gì gần với chúng ta hơn. Còn cái gì ở xa, không đe dọa ngày hôm nay sẽ ập đến ngưỡng cửa ngôi nhà chúng ta, thì chúng ta sẽ coi - với tất cả những tiếng rên rỉ, kêu thét của nó, với những số phận bị hủy hoại, cho dù cả hàng triệu nạn nhân - nhìn chung là chịu đựng được và ở một chừng mực có thể chấp nhận.

Ở một phía, trong sự đàn áp không hề thua kém thời La Mã cổ đại, hàng trăm ngàn người Thiên Chúa giáo không tiếng nói cách đây không lâu đã bỏ đời mình vì niềm tin vào Chúa Trời. Ở bán cầu khác, một kẻ mất trí nào đó (và có lẽ ông ta không chỉ một mình) lại xông qua đại dương để bằng cú đòn thép nhằm vào đại linh mục giải-phóng chúng ta khỏi tôn giáo ! Theo thang giá trị của mình, ông ta đã tính toán như vậy cho tất cả chúng ta !

Cái mà theo một thang giá trị từ xa là tự do cao cả đáng thèm muốn, thì theo thang giá trị khác ở gần lại cảm thấy như một sự bắt buộc đáng buồn kêu gọi phải quay hướng xe. Cái mà nơi này được ước mơ như một sự phồn vinh khó tưởng tượng thì nơi khác lại gây phẫn nộ như một sự bóc lột man rợ đòi hỏi phải bãi công ngay tức khắc. Những thang đo khác nhau đối với thiên tai: cơn lũ với hai trăm ngàn nạn nhân có vẻ nhẹ hơn một trường hợp tai nạn của thành phố chúng ta. Những thang đo khác nhau đối với sự xúc phạm nhân cách : nơi thì thậm chí một nụ cười mỉa mai và một cử chỉ lảng tránh cũng đã là hạ nhục, nơi thì những trận đòn tàn nhẫn cũng có thể được bỏ qua như một trò đùa không đúng chỗ. Những thang đo khác nhau đối với sự trừng phạt, đối với tội ác. Theo một thang đo thì một tháng tù giam, hay bị gửi về nông thôn, hay không gian cá nhân, nơi thức ăn là bánh mì trắng và sữa, - đã gây chấn động tâm trí, đổ tràn phẫn nộ lên mặt các trang báo. Còn theo một thang đo khác thì tất cả những cái đó đều bình thường và được chấp nhận - cả những hạn tù lên đến hai mươi lăm năm, cả những xà lim nơi trên tường hơi nước đóng thành băng nhưng con người vẫn ở trần, cả những nhà thương điên dành cho những người khỏe mạnh, cả những loạt súng nơi biên giới bắn chết vô số những kẻ mất trí nhưng không hiểu vì sao cứ tìm cách chạy đi đâu đó. Và trái tim vẫn đặc biệt thản nhiên vì cái xứ xa lạ và quái dị ấy, nơi ta hầu như không biết một tí gì, từ đó không có tin tức gì tới được với chúng ta, mà chỉ có một số phỏng đoán mơ hồ của vài ba phóng viên ít ỏi.

Và vì cái sự tách đôi đó, vì cái sự không hiểu biết khô cứng đó đối với nỗi đau khổ xa lạ xa xôi đó, ta không thể trách cứ tầm nhìn của con người: con người sinh ra vốn vậy. Nhưng đối với cả loài người bị ép nén vào trong một khối duy nhất thì sự không hiểu biết lẫn nhau như vậy đe doạ một cái chết gần kề và nhanh chóng. Khi tồn tại sáu, bốn, hay thậm chí chỉ hai thang đo giá trị thì không thể có một thế giới thống nhất, một nhân loại thống nhất: chúng ta sẽ bị xé lẻ bởi sự khác biệt nhịp điệu, khác biệt rung động đó. Chúng ta không thể cùng sống chung trên một Trái Ðất, cũng như con người không thể sống với hai trái tim.

[1]Dostoevski, Fedor Mikhailovich (1821-1881) : nhà văn Nga.
[2]Gulag : từ viết tắt trong tiếng Nga, chỉ hệ thống các trại giam giữ và cải tạo lao động thời Stalin (những năm 1930-1950).
[3]Soloviov, Vladimir Sergeevich (1853-1900) : nhà triết học, nhà thơ, nhà văn Nga.

 

5.

Nhưng ai và làm thế nào để thống nhất những thang đo đó lại ? Ai sẽ tạo ra cho loài người một hệ thống đo lường thống nhất - cả cho việc dữ và việc thiện, cả cho cái chấp nhận được và không chấp nhận được, làm cách nào để vạch ra ranh giới của chúng hôm nay ? Ai sẽ nói cho nhân loại biết cái gì thật sự nặng nề và không chịu nổi, còn cái gì chỉ làm ta rát mặt vì nó ở quá gần, - và hướng sự phẫn nộ tới cái đáng sợ hơn chứ không phải tới cái ở gần hơn ? Ai có thể mang sự thấu hiểu đó vượt qua giới hạn của kinh nghiệm cá nhân người ? Ai có thể gợi nhập vào trái tim người bướng bỉnh thủ cựu những đau khổ và niềm vui xa lạ xa xôi, sự hiểu biết những quy mô và lầm lẫn mà không bao giờ chính họ phải trải qua ? Ở đây cả sự tuyên truyền, cả sự cưỡng bức, cả những chứng minh khoa học cũng bất lực. Nhưng thật may mắn là trên đời vẫn còn một phương thức có thể làm được điều đó ! Ðấy là nghệ thuật. Ðấy là văn học.

Văn học và nghệ thuật có thể làm nên điều kì diệu: chế ngự được cái đặc tính riêng biệt tai hại của con người là chỉ học trên kinh nghiệm của chính bản thân mình khốn cho vốn kinh nghiệm của người khác đối với anh ta là vô ích. Chứa đầy quãng thời gian cõi đời ngắn ngủi của con người, nghệ thuật mang chuyển từ người này sang người khác toàn bộ gánh nặng kinh nghiệm sống trải lâu dài của người khác với tất cả những lo toan, sắc màu, máu thịt - và cho phép người tiếp nhận cảm nhận được như kinh nghiệm của chính mình đã trải qua.

Và thậm chí còn lớn hơn, lớn hơn như thế rất nhiều: cả những quốc gia, cả những châu lục lặp lại những sai lầm của nhau một cách muộn màng, nhiều khi muộn đến hàng thế kỉ, khi tất cả tưởng như đã hiện rõ nhãn tiền! Thế nhưng không, cái mà dân tộc này đã trải qua, đã nhận thức kĩ càng và đã loại bỏ, lại bỗng được các dân tộc khác phát hiện ra như một tiếng nói mới mẻ nhất. Và ở đây cũng vậy: cái thay thế duy nhất cho những kinh nghiệm chúng ta không tự thân trải qua là nghệ thuật, văn học. Nghệ thuật và văn học được ban cho một khả năng thần diệu : mang truyền những kinh nghiệm sống của cả một dân tộc này đến cho cả một dân tộc khác, vượt qua mọi sự khác biệt ngôn ngữ, phong tục, lối sống xã hội - cái kinh nghiệm của dân tộc này khó khăn tích lũy được qua nhiều thập kỉ mà dân tộc kia chưa bao giờ trải qua, trong trường hợp may mắn có thể giữ cho cả một dân tộc khỏi lặp lại con đường không cần thiết hay sai lầm, hoặc thậm chí là nguy hại, và nhờ vậy giảm bớt những đận quanh co của lịch sử loài người.

Về cái đặc tính cao cả vĩ đại đó của nghệ thuật, hôm nay tôi xin kiên trì nhắc đi nhắc lại từ bục diễn đàn Nobel này.

Và văn học còn mang truyền những kinh nghiệm chắt lọc không thể chối bỏ theo một hướng khác nữa: từ thế hệ trước sang thế hệ sau. Như vậy văn học trở thành kí ức sống của dân tộc. Như vậy văn học giữ ấm trong mình và lưu lại lịch sử đã bị đánh mất của dân tộc - dưới dạng không thể bị xuyên tạc và vu khống. Ðó là cách văn học cùng với ngôn ngữ gìn giữ tâm hồn dân tộc.

(Gần đây người ta hay nói về sự đánh mất bản sắc dân tộc, về sự biến mất các dân tộc trong cái chảo văn minh hiện đại. Tôi không đồng ý với điều đó, nhưng việc thảo luận về chuyện này là một đề tài khác, ở đây tôi chỉ nhân tiện nói rằng: sự biến mất các dân tộc cũng làm cho chúng ta nghèo nàn đi không kém so với việc tất cả mọi người đều có một khuôn mặt, một tính cách giống hệt nhau. Các dân tộc là tài sản của nhân loại, là những nhân cách tổng hợp của nhân loại; một dân tộc bé nhỏ nhất cũng có những bản sắc riêng, cũng mang trong mình nét riêng của Chúa Trời).

Ðau khổ cho dân tộc nào có nền văn học bị đứt đoạn bởi sự can thiệp của sức mạnh: đó không chỉ là vi phạm "tự do ngôn luận", đó là sự khóa kín trái tim dân tộc, là sự cắt bỏ kí ức dân tộc. Dân tộc tự mình không nhớ chính mình, dân tộc bị tước mất sự thống nhất tinh thần, - và với một ngôn ngữ dường như là thống nhất, nhưng những người cùng tổ quốc bỗng không còn hiểu nhau nữa. Sẽ đi qua, sẽ chết đi hàng thế hệ câm lặng, không tự kể về mình cho chính mình cũng như cho con cháu. Nếu những bậc thầy như Akhmatova [1] hay Zamatin, suốt đời bị chôn sống, cho đến lúc chết buộc phải sáng tạo trong im lặng, không nghe dư âm đồng vọng đối với những gì mình viết, - thì đó không chỉ là tai họa cá nhân họ, mà đó là sự khốn nạn cho cả dân tộc, là mối nguy hiểm đối với cả dân tộc.

Và trong những trường hợp khác - đối với cả loài người : khi vì sự im lặng đó mà toàn bộ Lịch Sử không còn được nghe hiểu !


6.

Vào những thời gian khác nhau ở các đất nước khác nhau người ta tranh luận hết sức sôi nổi, hết sức giận dữ và hết sức tinh tế về việc nghệ thuật và người nghệ sĩ có được tự mình sống cho chính mình hay phải luôn luôn nhớ đến nghĩa vụ của mình trước xã hội và phục vụ xã hội, dù là vô điều kiện. Ðối với tôi ở đây không có gì phải tranh cãi, nhưng tôi không muốn lại đưa ra các chuỗi luận chứng dài dòng. Một trong những ý kiến xuất sắc nhất về đề tài này chính là Diễn từ Nobel của Albert Camus [2] - và tôi rất vui mừng được chia sẻ những luận điểm đó. Và văn học Nga nhiều thế kỷ đã theo đường hướng ấy - không tự quá ngắm nghía mình, không bay lượn quá vô tâm, và tôi không xấu hổ tiếp tục truyền thống đó theo khả năng sức lực của mình. Trong văn học Nga từ lâu đã bắt rễ vào đầu chúng tôi một quan niệm rằng nhà văn có thể - và cần phải - là rất nhiều trong nhân dân của mình.

Chúng ta sẽ không phủ nhận quyền của người nghệ sĩ thể hiện những cảm xúc và quan sát hết sức riêng của mình và bỏ qua tất cả những gì diễn ra trong thế giới xung quanh. Chúng ta sẽ không đòi hỏi người nghệ sĩ, - nhưng chúng ta sẽ được phép trách móc, cầu xin, kêu gọi và khuyến dụ. Bởi vì tài năng của người nghệ sĩ chỉ một phần do anh ta tự mình phát triển, còn phần lớn nó được ban sẵn cho anh ta từ khi sinh ra - và cùng với tài năng là trách nhiệm đối với ý chí tự do của anh ta. Cứ cho là người nghệ sĩ không mắc nợ ai cái gì, nhưng thật đau lòng khi thấy anh ta, để rảnh rỗi đi vào những thế giới do anh ta tạo nên hay vào những khoảng không gian của những ý tưởng chủ quan, lại có thể trao cái thế giới hiện thực vào tay những kẻ hám lợi, mà có khi còn hèn hạ, có khi còn điên rồ.

Thế kỷ XX của chúng ta tàn bạo hơn các thế kỷ trước, và tất cả những điều khủng khiếp của nó chưa kết thúc cùng với nửa đầu thế kỉ. Vẫn những cảm xúc man rợ cũ xưa ấy - tham lam, ghen ghét, thô lỗ, ác ý đối với nhau, trong quá trình phát triển tự gán cho mình những tên hiệu tử tế như đấu tranh giai cấp, chủng tộc, quần chúng, công đoàn, vẫn đang xâu xé và tàn phá thế giới của chúng ta. Thái độ không nhân nhượng một cách man rợ được đưa lên thành nguyên tắc lí luận và được coi là đạo đức chính thống. Nó đòi hỏi hàng triệu nạn nhân trong các cuộc nội chiến bất tận, nó buộc vào tâm hồn chúng ta rằng không có khái niệm bền vững chung cả nhân loại về cái thiện và công bằng, rằng chúng nhất thời, chúng thay đổi, có nghĩa là anh luôn luôn cần phải hành động như thế nào đó có lợi cho đảng anh. Bất kì một nhóm chuyên nghiệp nào nếu có được thời cơ thuận tiện sẽ giật ngay một mẩu, dù là không phải do mình làm ra, dù là thừa thãi, - giật liền, dù cho cả xã hội có sụp đổ ngay. Biên độ dao động của xã hội phương Tây nếu từ ngoài nhìn vào hình như đang tiến đến gần cái giới hạn nếu vượt qua thì cả hệ thống sẽ mất ổn định và sụp đổ. Càng ngày càng ít bị bó buộc bởi những điều luật lâu đời, bạo lực đang dạo bước khắp hoàn cầu một cách trơ tráo và đắc thắng, không quan tâm đến việc rằng sự vô nghĩa và bất lực của nó đã từng được thể hiện và chứng minh trong lịch sử. Thậm chí tỏ vẻ đắc thắng không chỉ đơn thuần bạo lực thô thiển, mà cả sự bào chữa lớn tiếng cho nó: cả thế giới tràn ngập lời khẳng định trắng trợn rằng sức mạnh có thể làm được tất cả, còn lẽ phải thì chẳng làm được gì. Lũ người quỷ ám của Dostoevski - hình như chỉ là một giả tưởng tỉnh lẻ đáng sợ của thế kỉ trước - trước mắt chúng ta đang bò loang ra khắp cả thế giới, đến cả những đất nước mà chỉ tưởng tượng ra chúng cũng không thể - và bằng những vụ cướp máy bay, bắt giữ con tin, nổ bom và thiêu lửa những năm gần đây họ báo hiệu về quyết tâm xô đổ và hủy diệt nền văn minh ! Và họ hoàn toàn có thể làm được. Ðám thanh niên - vào cái tuổi còn chưa có một kinh nghiệm nào khác ngoài kinh nghiệm tình dục, khi trên vai còn chưa có các năm tháng của những đau khổ riêng và hiểu biết riêng, - sẵn sàng cuồng nhiệt lặp lại những mảnh sân sau nhơ bẩn của người Nga thế kỷ XIX mà cứ tưởng là đang phát hiện ra một cái gì đó mới mẻ. Sự thoái hóa Hồng Vệ Binh đến đồi bại mới xuất hiện được họ xem như một mẫu mực đáng mừng. Sự hiểu biết hời hợt bản chất con người từ ngàn đời, sự tự tin ngây thơ của những trái tim chưa sống trải: đấy, chúng ta sẽ xua đuổi những kẻ thống trị, áp bức hung hãn, tham lam này đi, còn những người kế tiếp (chúng ta !) sẽ xếp súng gươm lại và trở thành những người công bằng và đầy thông cảm. Làm sao lại không như thế được !... Còn ai đã sống thì hiểu, ai có thể phản đối đám thanh niên này - nhiều người không dám phản đối, thậm chí nói không nên lời, chỉ sợ tỏ ra mình là người "bảo thủ", - lại là một hiện tượng Nga thế kỉ XIX, Dostoevski gọi nó là "sự nô lệ cho những ý tưởng cấp tiến bé con".

Tinh thần của München [3] đã không hề lui về dĩ vãng, nó không phải chỉ là một chi tiết ngắn. Thậm chí tôi còn dám nói rằng tinh thần München còn chiếm thế ưu ở thế kỉ XX. Thế giới văn minh, co rúm trước áp lực của sự man rợ vung vuốt nhe răng bỗng dưng tái xuất, không tìm ra bất kì một phương thức nào để chống lại ngoài những nhượng bộ và những nụ cười. Tinh thần München là căn bệnh ý chí của những người thành đạt, nó là trạng thái thường nhật của những kẻ khao khát sự sung túc bằng bất kì giá nào, coi cuộc sống vật chất đầy đủ như mục đích chính yếu nhất của sự tồn tại trên mặt đất. Những người như thế - mà trong thế giới ngày nay thật đông đảo - chọn cho mình thái độ thụ động và lùi bước chỉ cốt để làm sao kéo dài cuộc sống quen thuộc, để hôm nay không phải rơi vào tình thế khắc nghiệt, còn ngày mai, biết đâu sẽ qua khỏi... (Nhưng không bao giờ qua khỏi ! - sự trừng phạt đối với lối sống hèn nhát chỉ sẽ tàn khốc hơn. Lòng dũng cảm và chiến thắng sẽ chỉ đến với chúng ta khi chúng ta dám hi sinh).

Chúng ta còn bị đe dọa bởi cái chết, vì người ta không để cho thế giới bị dồn nén về thể chất được hòa hợp về tinh thần, không cho các phần tử kiến thức và thông cảm được liên chuyển từ nửa này sang nửa kia. Ðây là một mối nguy hiểm đáng sợ: sự ngăn cách thông tin giữa các phần của hành tinh. Khoa học hiện đại đã biết rằng sự ngăn cách thông tin là con đường dẫn đến entropia [4] , sự hủy diệt toàn thể. Sự ngăn cách thông tin làm cho các kí kết và thỏa ước quốc tế trở thành các thây ma: trong một vùng câm kín không có bất kì một thỏa ước nào đáng được bàn thảo, mà tốt hơn là quên hết chúng đi, như thể chúng chưa hề tồn tại bao giờ (điều này thì Orwell [5] hiểu rất rõ). Dường như sống trong vùng câm kín không phải các cư dân Trái Ðất, mà là một đoàn thám hiểm của Hỏa Tinh, họ không biết tí gì về phần Trái Ðất còn lại và sẵn sàng xông ra dẫm nát nó với một niềm tin thần thánh là "giải phóng" nó.

Một phần tư thế kỉ trước Liên Hợp Quốc đã ra đời trong những niềm hi vọng vĩ đại của loài người. Than ôi, trong thế giới vô đạo đức thì nó cũng đã lớn lên thành vô đạo đức. Ðó không phải là Liên Hợp Quốc, mà là Liêp Hợp các Chính phủ, nơi đánh đồng ngang nhau cả những người được bầu lên một cách tự do, cả những kẻ bị áp đặt một cách cưỡng bức, cả những kẻ tiếm đoạt chính quyền bằng vũ khí. Với sự thiên vị vụ lợi của đa số, Liên Hợp Quốc hăng hái chăm lo cho tự do của một số dân tộc này nhưng lại thờ ơ bỏ mặc tự do của các dân tộc khác. Bằng biểu quyết đầy xu nịnh, nó chối bỏ việc xem xét những khiếu nại riêng - những tiếng rên rỉ, kêu khóc và khẩn cầu của những cá nhân đơn-giản là con người, những con côn trùng quá nhỏ bé so với một tổ chức vĩ đại như vậy. Cái văn kiện tốt nhất của mình trong suốt 25 năm qua - bản Tuyên Ngôn Nhân Quyền - cũng không được Liên Hợp Quốc nỗ lực biến thành điều luật bắt buộc đối với các chính phủ, thành điều kiện trở thành thành viên của họ, - và bằng cách đó đã phó mặc số phận những con người nhỏ bé vào tay những chính phủ không phải do họ bầu ra.

Có vẻ như : toàn bộ bộ mặt của thế giới hiện đại nằm trong tay các nhà bác học, tất cả những bước đi công nghệ của loài người đều do họ định đoạt. Có vẻ như: thế giới đi về đâu là phụ thuộc vào cộng đồng quốc tế các nhà bác học chứ không phải các nhà chính trị. Ðiều đó càng có vẻ rõ ràng hơn khi một số cá nhân riêng lẻ đã cho thấy họ có thể làm được thật nhiều khi họ hợp tác cùng nhau. Nhưng không, các nhà bác học đã không chứng tỏ sự nỗ lực chói sáng trở thành động lực độc lập quan trọng của loài người. Họ tránh trốn những đau khổ của người khác bằng những cuộc đại hội: ở trong giới hạn của học thuật sẽ yên ổn hơn nhiều. Vẫn cái tinh thần München ấy treo trên đầu họ những đôi cánh chùng lỏng.

Vai trò và vị trí của nhà văn như thế nào ở trong cái thế giới tàn bạo, nén chặt, sẵn sàng bùng nổ này, trên ranh giới của mười cái chết của nó ? Nói chung là chúng ta không phải là những kẻ gửi tên lửa đi, thậm chí không đẩy cả toa xe phụ cuối cùng, và chúng ta bị những kẻ chỉ tôn sùng mỗi sức mạnh vật chất khinh bỉ. Có hợp lẽ tự nhiên không nếu chúng ta cũng lùi bước, từ bỏ niềm tin vào sự vững vàng của cái thiện, vào sự không thể chia cắt của chân lí, và chỉ làm mỗi một việc là chia sẻ cùng thế giới những quan sát bàng quan cay đắng của mình, rằng nhân loại đã hư hỏng một cách vô phương cứu chữa, rằng con người đã trở nên hèn mọn và những tâm hồn đẹp, tinh tế cô độc sống giữa họ thật đau khổ ?

Nhưng cả sự chạy trốn đó chúng ta cũng không thể. Ðã một lần gắn bó với ngôn từ, thì sau đó sẽ không bao giờ lảng tránh: nhà văn không phải là kẻ phán xét dửng dưng đối với các đồng bào của mình và những người đồng thời với mình, nhà văn là người cùng có lỗi trong tất cả mọi cái ác diễn ra trên đất nước anh ta hoặc do nhân dân anh ta gây nên. Nếu như những chiếc xe tăng của tổ quốc anh ta làm đổ máu trên mặt đường nhựa của một thủ đô nước khác, thì những vết máu đó sẽ vĩnh viễn ném vào mặt nhà văn. Nếu như vào một đêm bất hạnh một Người Bạn cả tin đang ngủ bị thắt cổ, thì trên bàn tay nhà văn sẽ hằn vết bầm của sợi dây thừng đó. Và nếu như những đồng bào trẻ tuổi của anh ta tuyên bố một cách thản nhiên ưu thế của sự trụy lạc đối với lao động khiêm tốn, bán mình cho ma túy hay bắt cóc con tin - thì cái xú khí đó sẽ trộn lẫn vào hơi thở của nhà văn.

Liệu chúng ta có dám cả gan tuyên bố rằng mình không chịu trách nhiệm về những vết thương lở loét của thế giới ngày nay ?


7.

Tuy nhiên tôi vẫn được khích lệ bởi cái cảm giác sống động của nền văn học thế giới như một trái tim lớn hòa nhịp đập trong những lo toan và tai họa của thế giới chúng ta, dù những lo toan và tai họa đó được hình dung và nhìn nhận khác nhau ở các góc khác nhau của thế giới.

Bên cạnh những nền văn học dân tộc lâu đời, cả vào những thế kỉ trước đây cũng đã tồn tại khái niệm văn học thế giới - như một đường viền chạy theo các đỉnh cao của các nền văn học dân tộc và như một tập hợp những ảnh hưởng qua lại của văn học. Nhưng có một sự chậm trễ về thời gian: những độc giả và những nhà văn biết về các nhà văn của các ngôn ngữ khác với một sự cách biệt nhiều khi đến hàng thế kỉ, cho nên các tác động ảnh hưởng lẫn nhau cũng xảy ra muộn hơn, và đường viền các đỉnh cao của các nền văn học dân tộc chỉ hiện ra trong mắt của con cháu chứ không phải của những người đương thời. Còn hôm nay giữa các nhà văn của một nước và nhà văn và người đọc của nước khác có một tác động lẫn nhau nếu như không tức thời thì cũng gần như vậy, chính bản thân tôi đã cảm nhận được điều đó. Những cuốn sách của tôi, than ôi, không được in ở trong nước, nhưng mặc dù thông qua những bản dịch vội vã và nhiều khi rất tồi, chúng đã nhanh chóng tìm được những người đọc quốc tế đầy cảm thông. Những tác phẩm của tôi đã được các nhà văn xuất chúng của Phương Tây như Henrich Böll [6] phân tích phê bình. Vào những năm gần đây, khi công việc và sự tự do của tôi không sụp đổ, vẫn trụ được dường như trong không khí chống lại các quy luật trọng trường, dường như được treo đỡ bằng những sợi dây cảm thông xã hội vô hình, hoàn toàn bất ngờ đối với bản thân, với một sự tri ân ấm áp tôi đã nhận được sự ủng hộ của cộng đồng nhà văn quốc tế. Vào ngày sinh lần thứ năm mươi của mình, tôi kinh ngạc khi nhận được những lời chúc mừng của các nhà văn Châu Âu danh tiếng. Không một áp lực nào đối với tôi đi qua mà không được nhận thấy. Trong những tuần nguy hiểm đối với tôi sau khi bị khai trừ khỏi Hội Nhà văn, bức tường bảo vệ do các nhà văn nổi tiếng thế giới dựng lên đã giúp tôi thoát khỏi những sự truy bức tồi tệ hơn. Còn các nhà văn và nghệ sĩ Na Uy đã chu đáo chuẩn bị cho tôi một nơi trú ngụ trong trường hợp tôi bị đuổi khỏi tổ quốc tôi. Và cuối cùng, chính việc đề cử tôi nhận giải Nobel đã được khởi xướng không phải ở đất nước tôi sống và viết, mà do Francois Mauriac [7] và các đồng nghiệp của ông. Và sau đó, nhiều tổ chức quốc gia các nhà văn đã lên tiếng ủng hộ tôi.

Tôi đã hiểu và đã cảm nhận ở bản thân mình điều này: văn học thế giới không còn là một đường viền trừu tượng, không còn là một khái niệm tổng hợp do các nhà nghiên cứu văn học tạo nên, mà là một thực thể và một tinh thần chung, một sự thống nhất thân tình sống động, trong đó thể hiện sự thống nhất tinh thần ngày một lớn thêm của nhân loại. Hãy còn các biên giới quốc gia cháy nóng bởi những hàng rào dây thép gai điện và những tràng liên thanh, hãy còn những bộ nội vụ cho rằng văn học cũng là "nội-vụ" của những đất nước do họ quản lý, hãy còn những tít báo phô trương "họ không có quyền can thiệp vào công việc nội bộ của chúng ta !" - nhưng thực ra nói chung không còn công việc nào là nội-bộ nữa trên cái Trái Ðất chật hẹp này của chúng ta. Và phương thức cứu loài người chỉ có thể là làm sao để tất cả liên thông đến tất cả: người Phương Ðông tuyệt đối không thờ ơ với việc người Phương Tây nghĩ gì; những người Phương Tây tuyệt đối không thờ ơ trước những gì xảy ra ở Phương Ðông. Và văn học nghệ thuật - một trong những công cụ tinh tế, nhạy cảm nhất của con người - đã sớm tiếp nhận, nắm bắt được cái cảm quan đó của sự thống nhất đang mỗi ngày một lớn thêm của loài người. Và bây giờ đây tôi đang tin tưởng nói với văn học thế giới ngày hôm nay - với hàng trăm người bạn mà tôi chưa một lần gặp mặt và có lẽ sẽ không bao giờ được gặp.

Hỡi các bạn ! Chúng ta sẽ thử tìm cách giúp đỡ, nếu chúng ta đáng giá một cái gì đấy ! Trong những đất nước của mình bị băm xé bởi những giọng điệu hỗn độn của các đảng phái, phong trào, phe nhóm, ai vốn từ khởi thủy là lực lượng không chia cắt, mà kết gắn ? Ðó chính là vị thế bản chất của nhà văn: là người thể hiện của ngôn ngữ dân tộc, là lực lượng kết nối chính của dân tộc - và của miền đất nơi nhân dân anh ta sống, và trong trường hợp may mắn - là của cả tâm hồn dân tộc.

Tôi nghĩ rằng trong những giờ phút đầy âu lo này, văn học thế giới đủ sức để giúp đỡ nhân loại nhận biết một cách đúng đắn chính mình bất chấp những lời rêu rao của những cá nhân và những đảng phái đầy thiên vị; chuyển tải những kinh nghiệm được tích lũy từ khu vực này sang khu vực khác, để cho chúng ta không còn bị phân lập và hỗn loạn, để cho các thang đo giá trị trở nên thống nhất, để cho dân tộc này biết được một cách chính xác và cô đúc lịch sử chân chính của các dân tộc khác ở mức độ có thể khám phá và cảm nhận được sự đau đớn như chính họ đã trực tiếp trải qua, - và bằng cách đó tránh được những sai lầm tàn khốc về sau. Và đồng thời chính chúng ta cũng phát triển nơi bản thân mình cái nhìn thế-giới: trong khi bằng trung tâm của mắt, như mọi người khác, nhìn thấy cái ở gần, thì bằng phần ngoài của mắt chúng ta bắt đầu thu nhận những gì diễn ra trong phần còn lại của thế giới. Và chúng ta sẽ tuân thủ, so sánh các tỉ lệ tương quan của thế giới.

Và còn ai nếu không phải nhà văn nói lời phê phán không chỉ đối với các nhà cầm quyền không đạt của mình (trong một số nước, đó là thứ bánh mì dễ dàng nhất, bất kì một kẻ nào nếu không lười biếng đều có thể làm việc đó), mà còn đối với cả xã hội - vì sự hạ mình hèn nhát hay sự yếu đuối đầy tự mãn mà còn đối với những trò manh động nhẹ cân của tuổi trẻ; đối với đám kẻ cướp trẻ con vung dao vẩy kéo.

Có người sẽ hỏi chúng ta : văn học có thể làm gì để chống lại sức tấn công tàn khốc của bạo lực công khai ? Ðây: chúng ta không quên rằng bạo lực không sống một mình và không có khả năng sống một mình: nó nhất thiết phải kết gắn với sự dối trá. Giữa bạo lực và dối trá là một mối quan hệ sâu sắc nhất, tự nhiên nhất, ruột thịt nhất: bạo lực không có gì để che đậy ngoài dối trá, và dối trá không có gì để bấu víu ngoài bạo lực. Bất kì ai đã một lần tuyên bố bạo lực là phương thức của mình, người đó nhất định phải chọn dối trá làm nguyên tắc của mình. Khi bắt đầu sinh ra, bạo lực hành động công khai và thậm chí tỏ ra kiêu hãnh. Nhưng khi đã lớn mạnh, có chỗ đứng, nó cảm thấy gió bão rít quanh mình và không thể tồn tại tiếp mà không trốn vào trong dối trá, ngụy trang bằng những lời lẽ ngọt ngào của dối trá. Bạo lực không phải bao giờ cũng trực tiếp ra tay bóp cổ, đa phần nó chỉ đòi hỏi thần dân của nó một lời thề dối trá, một sự tham dự vào dối trá.

Và một bước giản dị của một con người dũng cảm giản gị: không tham dự vào dối trá, không ủng hộ những hành động dối trá ! Cứ để nó đến và thậm chí thống trị trong thế giới - nhưng không thông qua ta ! Nhà văn và nghệ sĩ còn có thể làm nhiều hơn thế : chiến thắng dối trá ! Chính trong cuộc chiến đấu với dối trá, nghệ thuật bao giờ cũng đã và đang chiến thắng - hiển nhiên, không chối cãi được đối với tất cả ! Dối trá có thể chống được rất nhiều thứ trên thế giới này, nhưng không thể chống được nghệ thuật.

Và khi dối trá bị xua tan - bạo lực sẽ hiện ra trần trụi một cách đáng ghê tởm - và bạo lực rệu rã sẽ sụp đổ.

Chính vì thế mà tôi nghĩ, thưa các bạn, rằng chúng ta có thể giúp đỡ thế giới trong cái giờ phút nóng bỏng này của nó. Ðừng bỏ vũ khí trốn chạy, đừng đắm mình vào cuộc sống vô tư lự - mà xông vào trận chiến! Trong tiếng Nga có những câu tục ngữ được ưa thích về sự thật. Chúng kiên trì thể hiện những kinh nghiệm dân gian nặng nề, nhiều khi thật đáng kinh ngạc :

Một lời nói của sự thật kéo chuyển cả thế giới.

Chính sự phá vỡ mang tính ảo - giả tưởng định luật bảo toàn khối lượng và năng lượng là cơ sở cho các hoạt động của tôi và lời kêu gọi của tôi gửi đến các nhà văn toàn thế giới !

(Diễn từ trên đây được gửi tới Viện Hàn lâm Thụy Điển, nhưng Alexandr Solzhenitsyn đã không thể có mặt tại buổi lễ trao tặng giải Nobel để đọc diễn từ này.)

Nguồn: http://www.kulichki.com

Trung tâm Văn hóa Ngôn ngữ Ðông Tây giữ bản quyền của bản dịch tiếng Việt.

[1]Akhmatova, Anna Andreevna (1889-1966) : nữ nhà thơ Nga; Zamatin, Evgheni Ivanovich (1884-1937) : nhà văn Nga.
[2]Camus, Albert (1913-1960) : nhà văn Pháp, giải Nobel Văn học 1957.
[3]Tinh thần München : München (Munich) là nơi kí hiệp ước phân chia lãnh thổ Tiệp Khắc vào năm 1938. Nghĩa bóng là thái độ thỏa hiệp với kẻ xấu, đồng lõa với cái ác để được yên thân.
[4]Entropia (tiếng Hy Lạp) : nghĩa là sự chuyển hóa, thay đổi, đột biến.
[5]Orwell, George (bút danh : Erik Blair) (1903-1950) : nhà văn Anh.
[6]Böll, Henrich (1917-1985) : nhà văn Ðức, giải Nobel Văn học 1972.
[7]Maurriac, Francois (1885-1970) : nhà văn Pháp.




L’archipel du goulag : cette révolution venue de l’Est 

Par Mickaël BERTRAND* 
Le 15/07/2009 

Il peut paraître présomptueux de prétendre apporter un éclairage nouveau sur cette œuvre magistrale. Dès sa traduction française en 1974, L’Archipel du goulag d’Alexandre Soljenitsyne a été l’objet de brillantes critiques de la part des plus grands intellectuels.

 
Il ne s’agit pas ici d’apporter un énième commentaire, ni même de tenter une synthèse des précédents, mais de comprendre cet ouvrage dans la perspective des relations complexes entre l’Est et l’Ouest, des années 1970 à nos jours. 

Il convient tout d’abord de s’interroger sur l’aspect révolutionnaire de L’Archipel du goulag. Lorsqu’il fut traduit par les éditions du Seuil en 1974, l’ouvrage n’apportait a priori aucune révélation sur le système pénitentiaire soviétique. Pourtant, une analyse synchronique permet de mieux comprendre pourquoi l’œuvre a provoqué un tel séisme dans un monde divisé par la guerre froide. Dans un second temps, il s’agira de reconsidérer l’ouvrage dans une perspective diachronique afin de savoir s’il peut finalement être davantage considéré comme un élément de rupture ou de continuité entre les deux entités géographiques considérées. 

Un ouvrage révolutionnaire

Lorsqu’il évoque le regard du monde occidental sur l’URSS avant l’édition deL’Archipel du Goulag, l’historien Michel Winock parle de «grand aveuglement»[1]. Dans cette perspective, l’œuvre peut être considérée comme un soleil qui éclaircirait les obscurités du système soviétique. La métaphore est intéressante mais elle doit être précisée. L’astre n’a pas éclairé toutes les zones d’ombre de la même façon. Chaque «planète» a finalement développé sa propre lecture de l’ouvrage.

Une révolution populaire

En seulement quelques mois, le premier tome de L’Archipel du Goulag est vendu en 500.000 exemplaires. Ce succès de librairie se poursuit avec les deux tomes suivants puisque l’ensemble de l’œuvre atteint un total d’un million deux cent mille exemplaires. On ne peut cependant pas juger de l’audience au seul regard de l’édition. Les écrits de Soljenitsyne provoquent une véritable onde de choc dans les médias écrits français et suscitent débats et polémiques entre les plus grands éditorialistes. Nous pouvons donc considérer sans trop exagérer que la grande majorité de la population occidentale a été informée de l’édition et du contenu de L’Archipel du Goulag. Une citation du Guardian, à l’occasion de l’édition anglaise de l’ouvrage, résume bien l’état d’esprit des journalistes politiques de cette époque: «Vivre aujourd’hui et ignorer cette œuvre, c’est être une sorte d’imbécile historique, passer à côté d’un aspect crucial de la conscience de l’époque»[2].

Une révolution intellectuelle

On oublie trop souvent que Bernard-Henry Levy et André Glucksmann ont fait leurs premières armes en s’exprimant sur L’Archipel du Goulag[3]. Le succès de cet ouvrage ne tient pas seulement à sa valeur intrinsèque; il est aussi le produit de l’histoire et du charisme personnel d’Alexandre Soljenitsyne qui représente un nouvel archétype de l’intellectuel. Depuis l’apparition du rideau de fer, les clercs occidentaux avaient quelque peu oublié le devenir de leurs homologues à l’Est. Les risques bravés par l’homme et son manuscrit pour rejoindre l’Ouest n’ont pas laissé indifférent. Les intellectuels ont probablement ressenti un mélange de culpabilité et de fascination face à cet homme qui a risqué sa vie et celle de ses proches au nom de l’art de la vérité. Pierre Daix est l’un de ceux-là. Ancien déporté de Mauthausen, il refuse longtemps d’accepter la réalité des camps de concentration soviétiques malgré une vive polémique qui le mène des colonnes de l’hebdomadaire communiste Les Lettres françaises jusqu’au prétoire dans le cadre d’un procès qui l’oppose à Kravchenko. Pierre Daix n’hésite alors pas à expliquer que les camps soviétiques étaient des camps de rééducation modèles[4]. Il change pourtant d’avis quelques années plus tard en découvrant, grâce à Elsa Triolet, l’un des premiers ouvrages de Soljenitsyne, Une journée dans la vie d’Ivan Denissovitch. Il s’implique alors personnellement dans l’édition de ce livre en 1963 et devient le plus fervent défenseur de son auteur[5]. Dans une lettre au Magazine littéraire en 1974, il décrit l’auteur comme «la voix de ceux qui n’ont pas voix au chapitre […] surtout les millions de victimes de Staline, simples prisonniers de guerre rejetés et persécutés, déportés politiques, torturés avec ou sans procès»[6]. Devant l’audience et l’autorité rapidement acquise de Soljenitsyne, les intellectuels occidentaux ont donc été amenés à relativiser leurs certitudes historiques mais aussi leur rapport au pouvoir politique et à la liberté d’expression. Une forme d’identification est à l’œuvre à la lecture deL’Archipel du Goulag. Elle entraîne une mutation progressive du comportement des intellectuels français qui se réunissent autour de la figure du «dissident»[7]. C’est pourquoi, dans une optique assumée de contestation du pouvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Roland Barthes et François Jacob invitent des dissidents des pays de l’Est à Paris le 21 juin 1977, tandis qu’à quelques kilomètres, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing reçoit à l’Elysée son homologue Leonid Brejnev. De même, il est indéniable que l’ouvrage de François Furet Penser la Révolution française[8] n’aurait pas été possible sans la lecture préalable de L’Archipel du Goulag. L’historien concède lui-même que l’ouvrage a participé à la démolition du «catéchisme révolutionnaire». Dès lors, nous pouvons considérer que cet ouvrage dépasse largement son message intrinsèque. Il invite à relire le passé à la lumière d’une nouvelle vision du monde: c’est une véritable révolution scientifique. 

Une révolution politique

Certes, l’édition de L’Archipel du Goulag n’est pas directement à l’origine d’un renversement du pouvoir institué, mais nous pouvons considérer qu’elle contribue à des bouleversements importants dans l’échiquier politique. En France par exemple, depuis 1972, le Parti Communiste français s’est allié à d’autres forces au sein de l’Union de la gauche conduite par François Mitterrand. Une telle alliance nécessite d’adopter une position commune sur plusieurs sujets sensibles qui pourraient faire l’objet d’un débat électoral. Or, ce qui devient en France, dès janvier 1974 (soit seulement quelques semaines avant l’élection présidentielle), «l’affaire Soljenitsyne», exacerbe les tensions. Avant même la sortie de l’ouvrage en français, l’organe de presse du PCF, L’Humanité, critique vertement l’ouvrage et son auteur, relayant ainsi la campagne de délation soviétique. Le 1er février 1974, le bureau du PCF s’exprime même directement en dénonçant les «professionnels de l’antisoviétisme». En face, l’opposition ne se fait pas attendre pour dénoncer non seulement les crimes commis au nom du communisme, mais aussi leur négation par le PCF et la collaboration de toute la gauche française au sein de l’Union. Philippe Malaud, ministre de la Fonction publique en 1974, n’hésite pas, par exemple, à utiliser la polémique pour décrédibiliser les communistes français dans La Croix. Il ironise ainsi: «Le communisme à la française, ce sera bien de chez nous, rigolard, petit-bourgeois et arrangeant. Eh bien! Non. Tout permet au contraire de croire que le communisme en France ce serait probablement pire qu’ailleurs»[9]. Face à ces critiques, François Mitterrand répond à la polémique le 11 février dans L’Unité, en s’étonnant «du coup de sang qui a donné la fièvre au Parti communiste au point de ranimer un vocabulaire que l’on imaginait jeté aux oubliettes». La même semaine, il précise dans leNouvel Observateur que «la liberté ne se négocie pas» et que «si l’anticommunisme est incompatible avec l’union de la gauche […] cela ne peut interdire la critique des positions théoriques et pratiques du Parti communiste». En somme, le chef de l’Union de la gauche adopte une position consensuelle afin de ménager les susceptibilités. Le 13 février, l’ensemble du bureau exécutif du Parti Socialiste déclare: «Le Parti socialiste, fermement attaché en France à la politique d’union de la gauche et en Europe à la politique de détente, tient à rappeler que pour lui la liberté de création, d’expression, de publication est inséparable de la démocratie socialiste». La dimension internationale est ici importante. Si l’œuvre de Soljenitsyne pose question aux communistes français dans le contexte particulier de l’Union de la gauche, la situation est similaire partout dans le monde. Dans son ouvrage sur L’histoire de l’Europe depuis 1945, l’historien anglo-saxon Tony Judt considère que l’édition du manuscrit de L’Archipel du Goulag constitue un moment symbolique dans l’histoire politique et sociale de l’Europe. Il identifie cette période comme un désenchantement du monde préparé de longue date mais qui, à ce moment précis, bénéficie d’une audience jamais égalée. Il convient dès lors de comprendre pourquoi. 

Une lecture historico-mémorielle de l’œuvre

Dès le début de l’année 1974, le journal L’Humanité dénonce la thèse d’Alexandre Soljenitsyne d’une façon originale. Il ne réfute pas la véracité de ses propos mais lui reproche d’utiliser ces informations à des fins antisoviétiques. L’angle d’attaque est intéressant car, au-delà de la polémique, il détient une part de vérité. Au moment de sa sortie, le contenu de l’ouvrage n’est guère original. En revanche, c’est la forme et le contexte qui font le succès immédiat de l’auteur. 

Le grand éblouissement

Le célèbre rapport Khrouchtchev de 1956 consacrait déjà quelques lignes aux dérives du système pénitentiaire soviétique mais, comme dans l’ensemble du dossier, le nouveau Premier secrétaire tendait à attribuer la responsabilité de ces excès à son prédécesseur. Dans un développement sur l’incompétence militaire de Staline, il rappelle par exemple que de «nombreux commandants périrent dans les camps et les prisons, et l'armée ne les revit jamais plus». L’ouvrage de Soljenitsyne porte la critique bien plus loin puisqu’il se dégage des considérations individuelles pour s’intéresser au système en lui-même. C’est pourquoi le sous-titre du livre porte les dates de 1918-1956. Sa thèse consiste à démontrer que le système concentrationnaire soviétique n’est pas le fruit de la seule volonté stalinienne, mais qu’elle germait déjà dans les prémices léninistes. 

Il est également possible de citer plusieurs dizaines d’ouvrages qui, avant 1974, avaient déjà dénoncé les camps du goulag. Si certains ont été édités avant la Seconde Guerre mondiale[10], la plupart paraissent au début des années 1950. En France, c’est le livre de Victor Kravchenko, J’ai choisi la liberté, qui connut le plus grand succès. Il provoque en 1949 l’un des plus retentissants procès de l'après-guerre. Attaqué dans plusieurs articles de la revue communiste Les Lettres françaises sur la véracité de ses propos, l’auteur décide d’attaquer le journal en justice pour diffamation. Il appelle alors à témoigner à la barre des anciens déportés, dont Margaret Buber-Neumann, d’abord incarcérée par Staline dans un camp au Kazakhstan avant d'être livrée aux SS en 1940 puis envoyée à Ravensbrück. La justice donne alors raison à Kravchenko, validant ainsi en quelque sorte une «vérité juridique» bien avant la première loi dite «mémorielle».

La force du récit de Soljenitsyne repose en fait énormément sur le talent littéraire de son auteur, mais aussi sur la forme originale choisie au préalable. L’Archipel du Goulag n’est pas l’énième récit d’un rescapé tels qu’ils se multiplient dans le paysage éditorial; C’est une véritableinvestigation littéraire, qui rassemble 227 témoignages mis en perspectives, lesquels offrent un tableau plus complet de la réalité concentrationnaire soviétique. De plus, le contexte est particulièrement favorable. Si, dans son article sur «Le grand aveuglement», Michel Winock identifie bien les causes de cette cécité générale de l’occident, il convient désormais de comprendre pourquoi les yeux se sont soudain ouverts.

D’une part, il faut évoquer le contexte politique français au sein duquel le communisme perd de son influence. Le capital de sympathie du «parti des fusillés» s’érode progressivement. C’est d’ailleurs une force politique tellement vacillante qu’à l’occasion des polémiques sur l’ouvrage de Soljenitsyne, Michel Rocard s’interroge publiquement sur l’intérêt pour le Parti socialiste de maintenir avec elle une alliance: «La nature du régime soviétique, les liens que le Parti communiste français conserve avec lui et le projet de société dont sont porteurs les communistes qui restent liés à Moscou posent aux forces socialistes de redoutables problèmes»[11].

D’autre part, il faut évoquer le contexte international. Malgré quelques signes de réchauffement, la guerre froide est omniprésente dans les relations entre l’Est et l’Ouest. Tony Judt montre bien à quel point l’anticommunisme pouvait paraître décalé jusqu’au milieu des années 1970 tant cette idéologie semblait répondre à un idéal de progrès plus ou moins imité par les démocraties sociales occidentales. Or, lorsque paraît le premier tome de L’Archipel du Goulag, les pays industrialisés commencent à ressentir les effets du premier choc pétrolier. Les démocraties occidentales n’ont plus les moyens de financer leurs modèles sociaux et, au-delà des divergences idéologiques, ce sont désormais deux modèles de sociétés qui s’affrontent. Le PCF utilise d’ailleurs cet argument contre un livre qu’il considère comme un instrument de l’Ouest pour «détourner l’attention de la crise qui sévit dans les pays capitalistes». L’Archipel du Goulag est donc un objet original qui s’inscrit progressivement dans l’histoire dont il propose une nouvelle lecture. Du statut de témoignage, il évolue vers un objet de dissension, voire de rupture entre l’Est et l’Ouest. 

Les zones d'ombre de Soljenitsyne

Alors que l’ouvrage fascine les intellectuels occidentaux, dès février 1974, Soljenitsyne est déchu de sa nationalité et expulsé d’URSS. Il est alors contraint de s’installer à l’Ouest. C’est à partir de ce moment qu’il faut reconsidérer une œuvre que l’auteur prend parfois le temps de venir présenter dans des émissions de télévisions telles qu’Apostrophes ou encoreBouillon de Culture[12]. Les lecteurs français découvrent alors un nouveau Soljenitsyne, à partir duquel a été façonné le modèle du dissident mais qui s’avère être en fait profondément attaché à la Russie. En 1970 déjà, il a refusé de se rendre en Suède pour recevoir son prix Nobel de littérature, de peur que les autorités soviétiques ne le laissent pas revenir dans son pays. L’incompréhension des commentateurs occidentaux s’exprime par exemple dans la voix d’un journaliste qui s’étonne qu’à l’occasion de son passage en France en 1975, Soljenitsyne «a visité tout ce qu’il y a de russe dans Paris, réveillonnant même dans un restaurant… russe»[13]. L’écrivain lui-même entretient cette image puisqu’il justifie son déplacement par une volonté de rencontrer d’autres Russes qui s’installent, selon lui, «en France, comme nulle part en Europe».

Alexandre Soljenitsyne se détache alors peu à peu du message que son œuvre semblait avoir porté en le précédant à l’Ouest. S’il condamne fermement les dérives du communisme, il refuse d’abandonner définitivement son pays. Lors de son passage à Paris, il affirme: «Je vis ici avec l’idée permanente que je ne fais que passer provisoirement; je suis persuadé qu’un jour je retournerai en Union soviétique, dans ma patrie, mais je ne peux pas dire quand et personne ne peut le dire à ma place». Il refuse par ailleurs d’être instrumentalisé par les pouvoirs politiques qui voudraient voir dans son exil une apologie des démocraties libérales. Ainsi, lorsque Jean d’Ormesson l’interroge sur son sentiment face à l’Occident au cours de l’émission Apostrophes du 11 avril 1975, l’auteur russe répond par une pirouette. Il explique que les menaces qui pèsent sur le travail de l’écrivain sont de natures différentes mais de valeur égale à l’Est et à l’Ouest: en URSS, il s’agit de la censure; en occident, ce sont les médias. Au micro de Bernard Pivot en 1998, Soljenitsyne justifie d’ailleurs son départ de l’Europe pour le Vermont aux Etats-Unis par une volonté de fuir les sollicitations trop nombreuses et pour travailler plus sereinement. Dans d’autres interventions, comme dans l’émission Les dossiers de l’écran en mars 1976, il n’hésite d’ailleurs pas à se faire beaucoup plus critique en identifiant une «crise spirituelle» d’un Occident dévoué au matérialisme depuis le haut Moyen-âge. 

Une oeuvre devenue universelle

Dès lors, il est plus aisé de comprendre le retour tant attendu de cet intellectuel qui, s’il a fasciné ses homologues occidentaux, n’a jamais perdu l’attachement spirituel pour sa patrie. Même en exil, Alexandre Soljenitsyne est resté un écrivain russe, défendant des valeurs russes. L’auteur deL’Archipel du Goulag peut finalement être considéré comme un formidable «passeur» culturel. Dans l’URSS soviétique, il était considéré comme un dissident car il osait dénoncer les failles du système soviétique. En Occident, il reconquiert progressivement sa citoyenneté, en devenant le meilleur défenseur de la Russie. Lorsqu’il revient sur le sol russe en 1994, il est finalement accueilli en héros. 

Il est d’ailleurs surprenant de constater à quel point Soljenitsyne est toujours resté un acteur de premier ordre dans l’histoire de la Russie, malgré son éloignement géographique. En 1988, son œuvre peut encore être considérée comme un révélateur des évolutions en cours à l’Est. L’intelligentsia russe se réunit en effet au mois de décembre 1988 afin de célébrer le 70e anniversaire de l’écrivain; deux mois plus tard, elle se réunit à nouveau afin de commémorer le 15e anniversaire de son expulsion, mais aussi pour demander aux autorités de lever l’interdit sur l’édition de son œuvre. En juin, Mikhaïl Gorbatchev annonce personnellement au cours d’une visite à Paris qu’il autorise la publication de L’Archipel du Goulag en URSS. Encore une fois, l’œuvre est placée au centre des évolutions politiques du pays: sa mise en vente dans les librairies russe devient un symbole de la «glasnost». 

A son retour, il fait l’unanimité dans les médias. Pour les libéraux, Soljenitsyne incarne l’ouverture sur l’Occident, celui qui a su très tôt identifier les failles du système soviétique en se tournant vers l’Ouest; pour les conservateurs, il est l’éternel promoteur des valeurs slaves à l’étranger. L’année 1990 est proclamée «année Soljenitsyne» par le rédacteur en chef de la revue russe Novy Mir: des colloques sont organisés sur son travail et l’ensemble de ses écrits est progressivement édité. Son rôle de passeur s’inverse alors de l’Ouest vers l’Est. Beaucoup de commentateurs ont tenté d’interpréter son choix de revenir en Russie par l’Est pour ensuite parcourir le pays en train jusqu’à Moscou: était-ce une volonté de revenir par un autre chemin que celui de l’expulsion? Voulait-il simuler symboliquement un tour du monde? Est-ce la métaphore d’une transition de l’Est vers l’Ouest? Tant de questions auxquelles Alexandre Soljenitsyne n’a jamais vraiment répondu sauf pour rendre hommage aux victimes des camps du Goulag, essentiellement situés à l’Est du pays. 

L’image de l’écrivain devient d’ailleurs ambigüe. Alors qu’il avait toujours habilement repoussé les questions politiques en Occident, il n’hésite plus désormais à prendre la parole dans ce domaine. Il se rend d’ailleurs à la Douma au mois de novembre 1994 afin d’y prononcer un discours où il affirme que «la Russie n’est pas démocratique. Elle est actuellement gouvernée par une oligarchie, un petit nombre de personnes corrompues et inefficaces». C’est à cette même occasion qu’il explique regretter également la dissolution du vieil empire russe. Cette phrase malheureuse lui vaut de nombreuses critiques, tant à l’Est qu’à l’Ouest, où certains l’accusent de nourrir des sentiments nationalistes et d’être nostalgique du pouvoir tsariste. D’autres s’inquiètent de ses ferventes convictions religieuses orthodoxes. Les commentateurs s’aperçoivent en fait qu’après avoir vécu deux décennies au sein des démocraties occidentales, le champion de l’anticommunisme à l’Ouest n’est pas pour autant devenu le porte-parole de la démocratie à l’Est. 

L’Archipel du Goulag est donc une œuvre monumentale. Si l’on retient souvent le choc qu’elle a suscité en Occident lors de sa parution, on oublie trop souvent que son apport ne se résume pas seulement à son intérêt informatif et qu’il dépasse largement ce cadre géographique. L’historiographie occidentale lui a quasiment donné la valeur d’un document patrimonial, regroupant ainsi des finalités culturelles et pédagogiques. Des extraits de l’ouvrage sont d’ailleurs largement utilisés dans les manuels scolaires car ils permettent d’illustrer l’URSS à l’époque de Staline. Nous avons vu cependant que l’ouvrage ne peut pas être réduit à une simple critique interne du modèle soviétique. C’est une œuvre à vocation universelle qui interroge tout autant l’Est et l’Ouest, voire les relations dynamiques entre ces deux entités. 

[1] Michel WINOCK, «Le grand aveuglement», in L’Histoire, n°247, octobre 2000, p.46. 
[2] Cité par Tony JUDT, Après-guerre, une histoire de l’Europe depuis 1945, Paris, Armand Colin, 2007.
[3] André GLUCKSMANN, La Cuisinière et le Mangeur d'homme, Paris, Le Seuil, 1975; puis Les Maîtres penseurs, Paris, Grasset, 1977. Bernard-Henry LEVY, La Barbarie à visage humain, Paris, Grasset, 1977.
[4] Pierre DAIX, «Pierre Daix, matricule 59.807 à Mauthausen», in Les Lettres françaises, 1949.
[5] Pierre DAIX, Ce que je sais de Soljenitsyne, Paris, Le Seuil, 1974. 
[6] «Soljenitsyne à l’ordre du jour», in Magazine Littéraire, n°86, mars 1974, p. 22. 
[7] Sur ce point, l’analyse de François HOURMANT est probablement la plus complète: «Autour de la dissidence. L’intelligentsia française entre célébration et identification ennoblissante», in Revue Historique, n°297, 1997, p. 223-250.
[8] François Furet, Penser la Révolution française, Paris, Gallimard, 1978.
[9] Propos recueillis et rassemblés dans L’Année politique, économique, sociale et diplomatique de la France, Paris, PUF, 1975.
[10] C’est le cas de l’écrivain communiste yougoslave Ante CILIGA, Au pays du grand mensonge, Paris, Gallimard, 1938.
[11] Op. Cit. note 9.
[12] Les archives audiovisuelles de ces apparitions télévisées sont disponibles sur le site de l’INA.
[13] Commentaires du présentateur du journal télévisé de 20h le 3 janvier 1975.

* Historien, Université de Bourgogne.
http://www.regard-est.com/home/breve_contenu.php?id=977





Monday, Feb. 18, 1980

Solzhenitsyn on Communism

Advice to the West, in an "hour of extremity"

Some Soviet dissidents still argue that their country's Marxist-Leninist system can be reformed from within. Not Alexander Solzhenitsyn: he has never swerved from his belief in the inherent evil of Communism. Last week, the Nobel-prizewinning novelist composed this essay for TIME in response to the crisis in East-West relations created by the Soviet conquest of Afghanistan. Solzhenitsyn argues that Afghanistan is merely the latest demonstration of the U.S.S.R.s insatiable desire for world conquest. As in his grim 1978 Harvard commencement address, he chides the West for weakness. But the West may yet prevail, he says, if it will recognize that Communism and the people oppressed by it are not one and the same.

Many Americans will find Solzhenitsyn's views too harsh, his vision too chilling. But the reflections of Russia's greatest living writer on today's crisis merit wide attention.

The West began its perilous miscalculation of Communism in 1918: from the very beginning the Western powers failed to see the deadly threat that it represented. In Russia at that time, all previously warring factions—from the government forces to the Constitutional Democrats and the right-wing Socialists—united against Communism. Though the peasants and workers were not formally allied with these groups, and were not coordinated, thousands of peasant revolts and dozens of worker uprisings reflected the masses' opposition to Communism. A Red Army was mobilized by executing tens of thousands of men who tried to evade Bolshevik conscription. But this Russian national resistance to Communism received scant support from the Western powers.

The most fantastically rosy notions about the Communist regime circulated in the West, and so-called progressive public opinion greeted it with joy, in spite of the fact that by 1921, 30 Russian provinces were undergoing a Cambodia-like genocide. (In Lenin's lifetime, no fewer innocent civilians perished than under Hitler, and yet today American schoolchildren, who invariably regard Hitler as the greatest villain in history, look upon Lenin as Russia's benefactor.) The Western powers vied with one another to give economic and diplomatic support to the Soviet regime, which could not have survived without this aid. Europe took no notice of the fact that some 6 million people in the Ukraine and the Kuban River basin had died of hunger.

In 1941, the worth of this much-touted regime became apparent to the world: from the Baltic to the Black Sea the Red Army retreated as if swept away by the wind, in spite of its numerical superiority and its excellent artillery. There was no precedent for such a rout in a thousand years of Russian history and, indeed, in all military history. In the first few months of the war, some 3 million soldiers had fallen into enemy hands! Here was a clear statement of our people's desire to be rid of Communism. The West could not have failed to understand if only it had wanted to see. But in its nearsightedness, the West held that the sole threat to the world resided in Hitler and that his overthrow would end all danger. The West did what it could to help Stalin forcibly harness Russian nationalism for the Communist cause. And so, in World War II, the West defended not freedom in general but merely freedom for itself.

In order to buy Stalin's friendship at the end of the war, the West turned over 1.5 million people who were then in Allied hands and who did not wish to return to Stalin's tyranny. Among them were entire Russian divisions, Tartar and Caucasian battalions, as well as P.O.W.s and forced laborers numbering in the hundreds of thousands, including old men, women and children. Stalin manipulated Roosevelt with ease, effortlessly assuring himself of control over Eastern Europe: Yalta marked the beginning of a 35-year streak of American defeats, only briefly interrupted in Berlin and Korea. (When there was the will to resist, victory followed.) As I have written on earlier occasions [in 1975 in an article entitled "The Big Losers in the Third World War" and in the book Warning to the West], the entire period from 1945 to 1975 can be viewed as another world war that was lost by the West without a battle and in which some two dozen countries were abandoned to Communism.

There are two reasons for this string of capitulations. First is the spiritual impotence that comes from living a life of ease; people are unwilling to risk their comforts.

Second, and just as important, is the prevailing, total incomprehension of the malevolent and unyielding nature of Communism, which is equally dangerous to every country. The West often seeks an explanation for the phenomenon of 20th century Communism in some supposed defects of the Russian nation. This is ultimately a racist view. (How then can China be explained? Viet Nam? Cuba? Ethiopia? Or the likes of Georges Marchais?) Flaws are sought everywhere but in Communism itself. Its aggressiveness is explained by, for example, Averell Harriman, in terms of a national dread of foreign aggression; this is said to account for the building of a vast arsenal and the seizing of new countries.

Western diplomats depend on unsound hypotheses that involve supposed "left" and "right" factions of the Politburo, when, in reality, all of its members are united in seeking world conquest and are undiscriminating in the means they use. Insofar as struggles do occur within the Politburo, they are purely personal; they cannot be used for diplomatic leverage. The average Soviet citizen, deprived though he is of information about the world and of the benefits of Western Kremlinology, understands this perfectly well. Illiterate Afghan herdsmen are equally on target when they burn portraits of Marx and Lenin, instead of accepting the tale that their country was occupied simply because Leonid Brezhnev happened to be ailing.

Try asking a malignant tumor what makes it grow. It simply cannot behave otherwise. The same is true of Communism; driven by a malevolent and irrational instinct for world domination, it cannot help seizing ever more lands. Communism is something new, unprecedented in world history; it is fruitless to seek analogies. All warnings to the West about the pitiless and insatiable nature of Communist regimes have proved to be in vain because the acceptance of such a view would be too terrifying. (Did not the Afghan tragedy in fact take place two years ago? But the West shut its eyes and postponed recognizing the problem—all for the sake of an illusory detente.) For decades it has been standard practice to deny reality by citing "peaceful coexistence," "détente," "the Kremlin leadership's pursuit of peace." Meanwhile Communism envelops country after country and achieves new missile capabilities. Most amazing is that the Communists themselves have for decades loudly proclaimed their goal of destroying the bourgeois world (they have become more circumspect lately), while the West merely smiled at what seemed to be an extravagant joke. Yet destroying a class is a process that has already been demonstrated in the U.S.S.R. So has the method of exiling an entire people into the wilderness in the space of 24 hours.

Communism can implement its "ideals" only by destroying the core and foundation of a nation's life. He who understands this will not for a minute believe that Chinese Communism is more peace-loving than the Soviet variety (it is simply that its teeth have not yet grown), or that Marshal Tito's brand is kindly by nature. The latter was also leavened with blood, and it too consolidated its power by mass killings, but the weak-hearted West preferred not to take any notice in 1943-45. He who understands the nature of Communism will not ask whether the world's aid is reaching the starving Cambodians through the good offices of the Heng Samrin regime. Of course it does not. It is confiscated for the army and government. The people can starve.

Communism needs the whole charade of detente for only one purpose: to gain additional strength with the help of Western financing (those loans will not be repaid) and Western technology before it launches its next large-scale offensive. Communism is stronger and more durable than Nazism, it is far more sophisticated in its propaganda and excels at such charades.

Communism is unregenerate; it will always present a mortal danger to mankind. It is like an infection in the world's organism: it may lie dormant, but it will inevitably attack with a crippling disease. There is no help to be found in the illusion that certain countries possess an immunity to Communism: any country that is free today can be reduced to prostration and complete submission.

Nevertheless, healers frequently turn up to pronounce the following reassuring diagnosis of the acute infection that is Communism: "This malady is not contagious; it is a hereditary Russian disorder." The cure they propose involves avoiding angering the Brezhnev regime at all costs. Instead, it must be supported and equipped. They insist that the enemy to be opposed is any manifestation of the Russian national consciousness, when, in reality, it is the only force that is realistically capable of weakening Soviet Communism from within. The case against the Russian national consciousness is systematically being argued by noted American academics and journalists, who are using irresponsible and tendentious data supplied by some recent emigres from the Soviet Union.

Such propaganda is sheer madness and serves only to disarm the West. After the forces of Russian nationalism were betrayed by the West in the Russian civil war and once again in World War II, here is an open call to repeat this betrayal yet a third time. This would have ruinous consequences for the Russian people and for the other peoples of the U.S.S.R. It would be just as ruinous for the West. Today the Communist leadership with its decrepit ideology once again dreams of saddling and bridling Russian nationalism in pursuit of its imperial goals. The West must not now equip a horseman intent on the West's destruction.

Communism is inimical and destructive of every national entity. The American antiwar movement long nurtured the hope that in North Viet Nam nationalism and Communism were in harmony, that Communism seeks the national self-determination of its beloved people. But the grim flotilla of boats escaping from Viet Nam—even if we count only those that did not sink—may have explained to some less ardent members of the movement where the national consciousness resides and always did reside. The bitter torment of millions of dying Cambodians (to which the world is already growing accustomed) demonstrates this even more vividly. Take Poland: the nation prayed for just a few days with the Pope; only the blind could still fail to distinguish the people from Communism. Consider the Hungarian freedom fighters, the East Germans who keep on dying as they try to cross the Wall, and the Chinese who plunge into shark-infested waters in the hope of reaching Hong Kong. China conceals its secrets best of all; the West hastens to believe that this, at least, its secrets best of all; the West hastens to believe that this, at least, is "good, peace-loving" Communism. Yet the same unbridgeable abyss, the same hatred separate the Chinese regime and the Chinese people.

An identical chasm exists between Communism and the Russian national consciousness. It pains us that the West heedlessly confuses the words Russian and Russia with Soviet and U.S.S.R. To apply the former words to the latter concepts is tantamount to acknowledging a murderer's right to the clothes and identification papers of his victim. It is a thoughtless blunder to consider the Russians the "ruling nationality" in the U.S.S.R. The Russians were the recipients, under Lenin, of the first crushing blow. They suffered millions of victims (with the most outstanding killed off selectively) even before the genocidal collectivization of agriculture. At the same time Russian history was reviled. Russia's culture and its church were crushed. Russia's clergy, nobility, merchants and finally its peasantry were destroyed. Though the regime's blows fell next on the other nationalities, the Russian countryside today has the lowest standard of living in the U.S.S.R., and Russian provincial towns have the lowest priority in the distribution of consumer goods. In huge areas of our country, there is nothing to eat, and the purchases of U.S. grain do not improve the people's diet (the grain goes to military stockpiles). The Russians make up the bulk of the slaves of the Soviet state. The Russians are exhausted; their debilitation is becoming hereditary, their national consciousness has been debased and suppressed.

Nothing could now be further from the heart of the Russian people than a militant nationalism; the idea of an empire is repulsive to them. But the Communist regime watches its slaves carefully and takes special pains to suppress their non-Communist consciousness. The result: enormous labor camp terms for the proponents of freedom (Igor Ogurtsov—20 years, Vladimir Osipov—16 years, Yuri Orlov—seven years); the new arrests of priests, the spiritual teachers of the people (Gleb Yakunin and Dmitri Dudko); the destruction of the innocent Christian Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights; the continuing mass imprisonment of young Christians; the exile of Andrei Sakharov.

In expectation of World War III the West again seeks cover, and finds Communist China as an ally! This is another betrayal, not only of Taiwan, but of the entire oppressed Chinese people. Moreover, it is a mad, suicidal policy: having supplied billion-strong China with American arms, the West will defeat the U.S.S.R., but thereafter no force on earth will restrain Communist China from world conquest.

Communism stops only when it encounters a wall, even if it is only a wall of resolve. The West cannot now avoid erecting such a wall in what is already its hour of extremity. Meanwhile, however, 20 possible allies have fallen to Communism since World War II. Meanwhile, Western technology has helped develop the terrifying military power of the Communist world. The wall will have to be erected with what strength remains. The present generation of Westerners will have to make a stand on the road upon which its predecessors have so thoughtlessly retreated for 60 years.

But there is hope. All oppressed peoples are on the side of the West: the Russians, the various nationalities of the U.S.S.R., the Chinese and the Cubans. Only by relying on this alliance can the West's strategy succeed. Only together with the oppressed will the West constitute the decisive force on earth. This is also a matter of principle, if the West is to uphold freedom everywhere and not merely for itself.

This strategy will obviously entail radical conceptual changes and the rethinking of tactics on the part of Western politicians, diplomats and military men.

Five years ago, all my warnings were ignored by official America. Your leaders are free to ignore my present predictions as well. But they too will come true.

  • Find this article at:
  • http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,921828,00.html



Alexander Solzhenitsyn dies at 89
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (image from 1994) 
Solzhenitsyn had been ill for years

Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who exposed Stalin's prison system in his novels and spent 20 years in exile, has died at 89, Russian media say.

The author of the Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, who returned to Russia in 1994, died of either a stroke or heart failure.

The Nobel laureate had suffered from high blood pressure in recent years.

After returning to Russia, Solzhenitsyn wrote several polemics on Russian history and identity.

His son Stepan was quoted by one Russian news agency as saying his father died of heart failure, while another agency quoted literary sources as saying he had suffered a stroke.

He died in his home in the Moscow area, where he had lived with his wife Natalya, at 2345 local time (1945 GMT), Stepan told Itar-Tass.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent his condolences to the writer's family, a Kremlin spokesperson said.

Solzhenitsyn served as a Soviet artillery officer in World War II and was decorated for his courage but in 1945 was denounced for criticising Stalin in a letter.

He spent the next eight years in the Soviet prison system, or Gulag, before being internally exiled to Kazakhstan, where he was successfully treated for stomach cancer.


Soixante-dix ans après la Grande Terreur stalinienne
Les derniers secrets du goulag

C'est une gigantesque machine, qui a broyé des millions d'hommes et de femmes en Union soviétique. Pendant près de trente ans, l'appareil du goulag a réduit en esclavage, dans près de 500 camps de travail, opposants politiques, mais surtout simples paysans ou ouvriers, raflés au hasard et souvent morts d'épuisement. Comment fonctionnait le grand «hachoir à viande», comme l'appelaient les détenus ? Que révèlent les archives ouvertes récemment ? A l'heure où la Russie de Poutine tente de justifier la répression stalinienne, Vincent Jauvert a interrogé l'historienne Anne Applebaum. Il a retrouvé les rescapés de cet enfer, qui racontent de l'intérieur le plus grand système concentrationnaire du monde. Et «le Nouvel Observateur» publie en exclusivité les extraits de deux ouvrages inédits du prix Nobel Alexandre Soljénitsyne, l'auteur de «l'Archipel du Goulag».

N. O. - Combien de détenus sont morts en camp ?

A. Applebaum. - Disons d'emblée que le goulag ne faisait pas partie d'une entreprise d'extermination comme les camps de la mort nazis. Pour tuer, et Dieu sait qu'elle a tué (800 000 personnes ont été exécutées durant la Grande Terreur de 1937-1938), la police secrète soviétique procédait à des exécutions à la mitrailleuse, le plus souvent en forêt. Des exécutions de masse, il y en a eu au goulag, mais «que» 350 000. Il apparaît bien dans les documents de l'époque que l'on envoyait certains détenus politiques dans les pires camps du Nord, parce qu'on savait que là-bas le taux de mortalité dépassait 60 % et que donc ils avaient très peu de chances d'en revenir vivants. Néanmoins, encore une fois, l'objectif principal du goulag n'était pas de tuer, mais de faire tourner l'économie soviétique.

N. O. - Reste qu'il y a eu beaucoup de morts dans ce goulag, que les détenus appelaient «le hachoir à viande»...
A. Applebaum. - Bien sûr. Des morts de faim, surtout, de maladie, aussi, du scorbut, de la tuberculose, des morts d'épuisement et de désespoir (voir les témoignages p. 16). Des morts de mauvais traitements aussi. En fait beaucoup ont péri de sauvagerie gratuite. Et le plus atroce, c'est que la brutalité et la cruauté n'étaient même pas exigées par les autorités. Au contraire, les archives montrent que les inspecteurs venus de Moscou se plaignaient régulièrement de l'état délabré des prisonniers. Ce n'était pas de la compassion, mais de l'intérêt économique bien compris. Cela dit, certains commandants de camp, une minorité, traitaient correctement leurs détenus. Il y en a plusieurs preuves dans les témoignages d'anciens zeks et dans les archives. Alors combien de morts ? 1,6 million, de 1930 à 1953, selon les archives du NKVD. Mais ce chiffre est largement sous-évalué. Il ne tient pas compte des décès, très nombreux, durant les transferts. Il néglige aussi le fait que, pour faire baisser le taux de mortalité dans leur camp, les commandants libéraient souvent les détenus à l'article de la mort.


N. O. - Pourquoi ferme-t-on le goulag au milieu des années 1950 ?
A. Applebaum. - Pour deux raisons. D'abord, Beria, le bras droit de Staline, comprend que ce gigantesque complexe industriel concentrationnaire est un gouffre financier. Il a bien essayé d'en modifier l'organisation, d'améliorer les conditions de vie. Mais rien n'y a fait : tous les rapports du NKVD le montrent, les camps coûtent plus cher qu'ils ne rapportent. Il y a une autre raison : les rébellions, qui se multiplient après la mort de Staline - des révoltes, qui menacent tout le système (voir les témoignages p. 16). Si bien que, très vite après la disparition du tsar rouge, on multiplie les amnisties et on ferme les camps. Le goulag sera officiellement totalement démantelé en 1960.

N. O.-Mais on continuera d'expédier des prisonniers politiques en camps de travail.
A. Applebaum. - Evidemment. Leur nombre atteint encore 10 000 en 1970. La plupart sont envoyés soit en Mordovie, au sud de Moscou, soit à Perm, dans l'Oural. Il s'agit toujours de travail forcé, mais les conditions y sont bien meilleures, et l'activité des camps n'est plus au centre de l'économie soviétique. Tout prendra fin en 1986-1987, quand Mikhaïl Gorbatchev amnistiera les derniers prisonniers politiques.



N. O. - Sait-on tout aujourd'hui du goulag ?
A. Applebaum. - Non, pas tout, mais l'essentiel. Ce savoir est récent. Pendant la guerre froide, le sujet était méconnu, controversé. Des légendes circulaient, alimentées par la propagande, de part et d'autre. On ne pouvait se fier qu'aux témoignages d'anciens détenus, dont, bien sûr, les oeuvres immenses de Soljénitsyne et de Chalamov. Tout a changé au cours des années 1990. Les principales archives du Goulag ont été ouvertes. On a donc eu accès à une masse considérable de documents : la correspondance entre les commandants des camps et le Kremlin, les comptes financiers, les rapports - étonnamment précis - des inspecteurs du KGB... Ce qui reste toujours fermé aujourd'hui, ce sont les dossiers individuels, auxquels les victimes ou leurs familles ont en général accès, mais pas les historiens.

N. O. - Récemment, Vladimir Poutine a fait récrire les livres d'histoire destinés aux enfants des écoles. On peut y lire désormais que la répression stalinienne a été terrible, mais nécessaire à la modernisation de l'Union soviétique. Qu'en pensez-vous ?
A. Applebaum. - On ne peut pas justifier les horreurs du stalinisme - le goulag en particulier. En aucune manière ! Ceux qui tentent de le faire aujourd'hui ont évidemment des arrière-pensées politiques. Je vous laisse deviner lesquelles.

Editorialiste au «Washington Post» et historienne, Anne Applebaum a publié «Goulag, une histoire» (Grasset, 2005). Pour ce livre, qui a été traduit dans de nombreuses langues, elle a obtenu le prix Pulitzer du meilleur essai.

Les grandes dates

1918. Premiers décrets sur les «camps de concentration».
1919. La Tcheka a le droit d'interner tout ennemi de la révolution.
1923. Les îles Solovetski sont placées sous l'autorité de la police politique.
1930. Création de la Direction générale des Camps, Goulag.
1931. Premier chantier modèle : le canal de la mer Blanche.
1932-1935. Multiplication des gigantesques camps-chantiers.
1941. Envoi de détenus au front.
1948. Création des camps «spéciaux» pour politiques.
1953. Mort de Staline, suivie d'une grande amnistie.
1953-1954. Grandes grèves dans les camps de Norilsk et de Vorkouta.
1960. Suppression du Goulag.

Vincent Jauvert
Le Nouvel Observateur


Interview

Gulag. A history of the Soviet Camps - Anne Applebaum

Anne Applebaum is a columnist and member of the editorial board of The Washington Post. She began working as a journalist in 1988, when she moved to Poland to become the Warsaw correspondent for The Economist. She covered the collapse of communism across Central and Eastern Europe, writing for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. Her book, Gulag: A History, narrates the history of the Soviet concentration camp system and describes daily life in the camps. She is determined to make sure the victims of the Soviet concentration camps are remembered and their oppressors exposed. Her book is tragic testimony to how evil ideologically inspired dictatorships can be. It makes extensive use of recently-opened Russian archives. Dirk Verhofstadt had a exclusive interview with Anne Applebaum. 

Where does the name Gulag comes from? 

Anne Applebaum: Gulag is an acronym - it means Main Camp Administration, in Russian, Glavnoe upravlenie lagerei. It was the bureaucratic name for the camp system, used by the Soviet government. Solzhenitsyn popularized it in his book, Gulag Archipelago. 

Who installed these camps? Did they already exist under tsaar Nicolas II or were they the result of the communist system? 

Anne Applebaum: The Czars did have small forced labor colonies, and a larger exile population. In some ways, the USSR built on that tradition: Stalin very much admired Peter the Great’s use of forced labor in the construction of Sint Petersburg, for example. But the Gulag was a very different phenomenon: it was not only far larger - millions of people, instead of thousands - it was a major part of the Soviet economy, and central to the ideology of the system. 

In the 1920’s the Soviet Union launched a programme of industrialisation. The initators decided that forced labourers could usefully be made to open up remote and forbidden areas of the country. Can we state that the camps became part of the economy plan? 

Anne Applebaum: Yes - as I say, Stalin considered them very important. He used Gulag prisoners in some of the Soviet Union’s most prestigious industrial projects, and kept close track of the Gulag’s economic achievements. 

You wrote that Lenin, not Stalin, founded the camps and that they were integral to the Soviet system. What was the role of Lenin and Stalin? 

Anne Applebaum: Lenin’s role was significant because it was he who intitally set up a dual judicial system: an ‘ordinary’ system for criminal prisoners, and a ‘special’ system of special camps for political prisoners, run by the secret police. Later, under Stalin, the secret police came to run the entire system. This was significant because they were not controlled through rule of law, but were rather under the direct control of Stalin. According several reports a massive number of people were arrested and imprisoned during the Great Terror in 1937-1939. Stalin initiated the Great Terror, directed the Great Terror, and personally signed the orders to arrest and kill people during the Great Terror. He played an absolutely central role. 

What did they use the camps for? Labourcamps or extermination camps? 

Anne Applebaum: Soviet camps were not officially intended to be extermination camps. They were built, according to secret police ordres, in order to make use of forced labor to help the Soviet Union industrialize faster. In practice, certain camps, at certain times, were extremely deadly. In the camps of the far north, particularly during the war years, it seems that the vast majority of prisoners died. The Gulag death rate for the year 1942-43 is about 25%. 

You wrote that the camps themselves were not destined for torture and killing but rather for profit. Didn’t they torture or kill? What did they understand under ‘profit’? 

Anne Applebaum: Yes, they did torture and kill. But those who founded and then ran the camps always discussed them as an economic project. If this sounds paradoxical, perhaps it helps to understand that the camp administrators and guards thought of the prisoners not as human beings, but as ‘enemies of the people’ who could be treated as if they were catttle, or lumps of steel. They were simply part of a production process: no one was trying to kill them, but if they died, no one minded either . 

Is it true that the Gulag penal system built infrastructure like airports, railroads, dams, etc. and that this was inherited by the 15 former Soviet republics? 

Anne Applebaum: Yes. An enormous amount of infrastructure, including many of the Siberian roads and railroads, gold mines, coal mines, power plants, canals, oil fields, and entire cities were built by prisoners. Examples are the construction of the White Sea Canal, the railway line from Baikal to Amur and the oil field of Ukhtpechlag. 

For which reason did they imprison people? 

Anne Applebaum: In Stalin’s Soviet Union, it was possible to be arrested for almost anything. During waves of mass terror, the regime arrested anyone whom anyone felt was suspicious for any reason: anyone who had told a political joke, anyone who had foreign origins, anyone who had travelled abroad. Generally speaking, the majority of those arrested were workers and peasants, proportionally of the same national orgins as everyone else in the USSR, which means mostly Russian. Certain national categories were, however, over-represented, particularly those with close connections with countries on the immediate border of the USSR such as Poles, Balts, Finns, Koreans, and others. Sometimes, particular institutions, such as the army or the foreign service or even the Party, were attacked. Sometimes, arrests seem to have been totally random. Not all arrests were for so-called ‘political’ crimes. There were also millions of criminal prisoners, although their ‘crimes’ would not be called so in most societies. During the war, you could be sent to a camp for being late to work, for changing jobs wihtout permission. During the era of collectivzation you could be arrested as a thief for picking up leftover grain from fields. 

How many people were imprisoned in the Gulag camps and what was their origin? 

Anne Applebaum: In the appendix to my book, estimate that between 1929, when they first became a mass phenomenon, and 1953, the year of Stalin’s death, some 18 million passed through the camps. In addition, a further 6 or 7 million people were deported, not to camps but to exile villages. In total, that means the number of people with some experience of imprisonment, in Stalin’s Soviet Union, could have run as high as 25 million, about 15 percent of the population. 

What about the Jews? Were they also arrested and persecuted because of the fact they were Jews? 

Anne Applebaum: There were many Jews in Stalin’s camps. It is difficult to count them, because their nationality would not always have been recorded as Jewish. Jews were mainly arrested for the same reasons that others were arrested, but in the early 1950s, there was a political attack on Jews, particularly those in the medical professions. Large numbers of Jews were arrested at that time. 

Is it true that the Germans took the Russian camps as an example ? Did they ever visit them? 

Anne Applebaum: While it is certainly true that the Germans knew about the Soviet camps - there are even aeriel photographs taken of them, during the war - there were no official Nazi visits to the Soviet camps, at least none that we know about. I don’t believe the Germans needed the Soviet example: in my view, both the Nazi and the Bolshevik camps had their origins in the broader European traditions of exile, imprisonment, political arrest and eugenics. At base, though, both regimes legitimated themselves, in part, by establishing categories of ‘enemies’ or ‘sub-humans’ whom they persecuted and destroyed on a mass scale. 

Can we compare those camps with the German concentration camps? What’s the difference between Kolyma and Auschwitz? 

Anne Applebaum: As any reader with any general knowledge of the Holocaust will discover in the course of reading my book, life within the Soviet camp system differed in many ways, both subtle and obvious, from life within the Nazi camp system. There were differences in the organization of daily life and of work, different sorts of guards and punishments, different kinds of propaganda. The Gulag lasted far longer, and went through cycles of relative cruelty and relative humanity. The history of the Nazi camps is shorter, and contains less variation: they simply became crueler and crueler, until the retreating Germans liquidated them or the invading Allies liberated them. The Gulag also contained a wide variety of camps, from the lethal gold mines of the Kolyma region to the ‘luxurious’ secret institutes outside Moscow, where prisoner scientists designed weapons for the Red Army. Although there were different kinds of camps in the Nazi system, the range was far narrower. 

Above all, however, two differences between the systems strike me as fundamental. First, the definition of ‘enemy’ in the Soviet Union was always far more slippery than the definition of ‘Jew’ in Nazi Germany. With an extremely small number of unusual exceptions, no Jew in Nazi Germany could change his status, no Jew inside a camp could reasonably expect to escape death, and all Jews carried this knowledge with them at all times. While millions of Soviet prisoners feared they might die - and millions did - there was no single category of prisoner whose death was absolutely guaranteed. At times, certain prisoners could improve their lot by working in relatively comfortable jobs, as engineers or geologists. Within each camp there was a prisoner hierarchy, which some were able to climb at the expense of others, or with the help of others. At other times - when the Gulag found itself overburdened with women, children, and old people, or when soldiers were needed to fight at the front - prisoners were released in mass amnesties. It sometimes happened that whole categories of ‘enemies’ suddenly benefited from a change in status. Stalin arrested hundreds of thousands of Poles, for example, at the start of the Second World War in 1939 - and then abruptly released them from the Gulag in 1941 when Poland and the USSR became temporary allies. The opposite was also true: in the Soviet Union, perpetrators could become victims themselves. Gulag guards, administrators, even senior officers of the secret police, could also be arrested and find themselves sentenced to camps. Not every ‘poisonous weed’ remained poisonous, in other words - and there was no single group of Soviet prisoners who lived with the constant expectation of death. 

Second - the primary purpose of the Gulag, according to both the private language and the public propaganda of those who founded it, was economic. This did not mean that it was humane. Within the system, prisoners were treated as cattle, or rather as lumps of iron ore. Guards shuttled them around at will, loading and unloading them into cattle cars, weighing and measuring them, feeding them if it seemed they might be useful, starving them if they were not. They were, to use Marxist language, exploited, reified, and commodified. Unless they were productive, their lives were worthless to their masters. 

Nevertheless, their experience was quite different from that of the Jewish and other prisoners whom the Nazis sent to a special group of camps called not Konzentrationslager but Vernichtungslager-camps that were not really ‘labor camps’ at all, but rather death factories. There were four of them: Belzec, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Majdanek and Auschwitz contained both labor camps and death camps. Upon entering these camps, prisoners were ‘selected’. A tiny number were sent to do a few weeks of forced labor. The rest were sent directly into gas chambers where they were murdered and then immediately cremated. As far as I have been able to ascertain, this particular form of murder, practiced at the height of the Holocaust, had no Soviet equivalent. True, the Soviet Union found other ways to mass-murder hundreds of thousands of its citizens. Usually, they were driven to a forest at night, lined up, shot in the skull, and buried in mass graves before they ever got near a concentration camp - a form of murder no less ‘industrialized’ and anonymous than that used by the Nazis. For that matter, there are stories of Soviet secret police using exhaust fumes - a primitive form of gas - to kill prisoners, just as the Nazis did in their early years. Within the Gulag, Soviet prisoners also died, usually not thanks to the captors' efficiency but due to gross inefficiency and neglect. In certain Soviet camps, at certain times, death was virtually guaranteed for those selected to cut trees in the winter forest or to work in the worst of the Kolyma gold mines. Prisoners were also locked in punishment cells until they died of cold and starvation, left untreated in unheated hospitals, or simply shot at will for ‘attempted escape’. Nevertheless, the Soviet camp system as a whole was not deliberately organized to mass-produce corpses - even if, at times, it did. 

These are fine distinctions, but they matter. Although the Gulag and Auschwitz do belong to the same intellectual and historical tradition, they are nevertheless separate and distinct, both from one another and from camp systems set up by other regimes. The idea of the concentration camp may be general enough to be used in many different cultures and situations, but even a superficial study of the concentration camp’s cross-cultural history reveals that the specific details - how life in the camps was organized, how the camps developed over time, how rigid or disorganized they became, how cruel or liberal they remained - depended on the particular country, on the culture, and on the regime. To those who were trapped behind barbed wire, these details were critical to their life, health, and survival. 

Is there evidence or proof that prisoners went through medical experiments? 

Anne Applebaum: No. 

A lot of books have been published about the Nazi Concentration camps. The Gulag entered into the world's historical consciousness only in 1972 with the publication of Solzhenitsyn's epic oral history of the Soviet camps, The Gulag Archipelago. Why aren’t there more books about the camps in de Sovjet Union? And was the Western world aware of these camps before 1972? 

Anne Applebaum: If you don’t mind, I’m afraid these question have several answers, and I will answer them jointly. Put bluntly, the crimes of Stalin still not inspire the same visceral reaction, in the West, as do the crimes of Hitler. The passage of time is part of it: communist regimes really did grow less reprehensible as the years went by. Nobody was very frightened of General Jaruzelski, or even of Brezhnev, although both were responsible for a great deal of destruction. Besides, archives were closed. Access to campsites was forbidden. No television cameras ever filmed the Soviet camps or their victims, as they had done in Germany at the end of the Second World War. No images, in turn, meant that the subject, in our image-driven culture, didn’t really exist either. 

But ideology twisted the ways in which we understood Soviet and East European history as well. In fact, in the 1920s, a great deal was known in the West about the bloodiness of Lenin’s revolution. Western socialists, many of whose brethren had been jailed by the Bolsheviks, protested loudly and strongly against the crime of the Russian revolution. In the 1930s, however, as Westerners became more interested in learning how socialism could be applied here, the tone changed. Writers and journalists went off to the USSR, trying to learn lessons they could use at home. The New York Times employed a correspondent, Walter Duranty, who lauded the five-year plan and argued, against all evidence, that it was a massive success – and won a Pulitzer Prize for doing so. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, a part of the Western Left struggled to explain and sometimes to excuse the camps, and the terror, which created them, precisely because they wanted to try some aspects of the Soviet experiment at home. In 1936, after millions of Soviet peasants had died of famine, and millions more were in camps or in exile, the British socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb published a vast survey of the Soviet Union, which explained, among other things, how the “downtrodden Russian peasant is gradually acquiring a sense of political freedom.” 

These sentiments reached their peak during the Second World War, when Stalin was our ally and we had other reasons to ignore the truth about his repressive regime. In 1944, the American vice-president, Henry Wallace, actually went to Kolyma, one of the most notorious camps, during a trip across the USSR. Imagining he was visiting some kind of industrial complex, he told his hosts that ‘Soviet Asia’, as he called it, reminded him of the Wild West: “The vast expanses of your country, her virgin forests, wide rivers and large lakes, all kinds of climate - from tropical to polar – her inexhaustible wealth, remind me of my homeland.” According to a report that the boss of Kolyma later wrote for Beria, then the head of the security services, Wallace did ask to see prisoners, but was kept away. He was not alone in refusing to see the truth about Stalin’s system: Roosevelt and Churchill had their photographs taken with Stalin too. 

All of that contributed to our firm conviction that the Second World War was a wholly just war, and even today few want that conviction shaken. We remember D-Day, the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the children welcoming American GI s with cheers on the streets. We do not remember that the camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were liberated. No one wants to think that we defeated one mass murderer with the help of another. 

During the Cold War, it is true, our awareness of Soviet atrocities went up - but in the 1960s, they receded again. Even in the 1980s, there were still American academics that went on describing the advantages of East German health care or Polish peace initiatives. In the academic world, Soviet historians who wrote about the camps generally divided up into two groups: those who wrote about the camps as criminal, and those who downplayed them, if not because they were actually pro-Soviet, then because they were opposed to America’s role in the Cold War, or maybe Ronald Reagan. Right up to the very end, our views of the Soviet Union, and its repressive system, always had more to do with Western politics and ideological struggles than they did with the Soviet Union itself. 

A lot of leftist-intellectuals supported the Sovjet-system in the 50’s and 60’s. When Jean Paul Sartre returned from a trip to Russia in 1954 he declared that there existed a total freedom to criticize in the SU. Is it possible they knew nothing? 

Anne Applebaum: No. By 1954 there was an enormous amount of information available about the camps. I would have to assume that he was lying, or that he deliberately did not want others to know. Sartre once told Camus that “like you, I find these camps intolerable, but I find equally intolerable the use made of them every day in the bourgeois press.” 

In 1986 Gorbatsjov amnestied all political prisoners? Why? 

Anne Applebaum: Gorbachev’s political amnesty actually came rather late, in the development of glasnost, and seems to have been called for only reluctantly. It was a part of his campaign to modernize the Soviet Union and improve relations with the West - but also the result of a report that Victor Cherbrikov, then the head of the KGB, sent to the Central Committee, which described the dissidents as so weak that they could not do much harm any more. It actually took several more years before all political prisoners were actually freed. 

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. Have you since noticed confessions of guilt, indictments or legal actions taken by victims or their relatives? Did (or do) the Russian autorities commemorate this tragedy and did they build memorials to the dead? Were the commissioners and executors prosecuted? 

Anne Applebaum: I do discuss this issue at length in the epilogue to my book. But the short answer is that although there are some small memorials scattered around the country, there has still been no major official effort to build a monument to the camps, to commemorate the dead, or to conduct any investigation to the past. There have been no courts, no trials, and nothing like the truth and reconciliation commissions that have been used so well in South Africa. 

What is the position of the actual Russian goverment and president Putin with regard to this part of the Russian history? 

Anne Applebaum: The current Russian government are not interested in preserving the memory of the camps or of Stalin's crimes at all. On the contrary, they have used many opportunities to revive the image of the old Soviet Union - by bringing back the Soviet national anthem, for example. President Putin, an old KGB officer, speaks of himself as ‘Chekist’, using the old-fashioned word for Lenin's political police - a word that older Russians associate with the era of repression. 

Are there nowadays similar camps in Russia? Are there still prisoners in these camps? 

Anne Applebaum: No - or not really. The Gulag system - as a mass system of forced labor - was dismantled after Stalin's death. Soviet political prisons, on a smaller scale remained intact until Gorbachev freed the majority of political prisoners in the late 1980s. The worst that can be said of Russia's criminal prison system now is that it is dirty and deteriorating, and that the legal system remains corrupt and unfair. I visited a Russian prison in the late 1990s and was shocked by how similar it seemed to the descriptions of Stalin's prisons I had read in Gulag memoirs. Many of these prisons are still physically much the same as they were. But no, there is no mass system of forced labor in modern Russia.

Interview by Dirk Verhofstadt 

Links

Mailto:verhofstadt.dirk@pandora.be

http://www.liberales.be/cgi-bin/en/showframe.pl?interview&applebaumgulageng



GULAG : a history

INTRODUCTION

And fate made everybody equal
Outside the limits of the law
Son of a kulak or Red commander
Son of a priest or commissar . . .

Here classes were all equalized,
All men were brothers, camp mates all,
Branded as traitors every one . . .
-alexander tvardovsky,
"By Right of Memory"

This is a history of the Gulag: a history of the vast network of labor camps that were once scattered across the length and breadth of the Soviet Union, from the islands of the White Sea to the shores of the Black Sea, from the Arctic Circle to the plains of central Asia, from Murmansk to Vorkuta to Kazakhstan, from central Moscow to the Leningrad suburbs. Literally, the word GULAG is an acronym, meaning Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, or Main Camp Administration. Over time, the word "Gulag" has also come to signify not only the administration of the concentration camps but also the system of Soviet slave labor itself, in all its forms and varieties: labor camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women's camps, children's camps, transit camps. Even more broadly, ";Gulag" has come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself, the set of procedures that prisoners once called the "meat-grinder": the arrests, the interrogations, the transport in unheated cattle cars, the forced labor, the destruction of families, the years spent in exile, the early and unnecessary deaths.

The Gulag had antecedents in Czarist Russia, in the forced-labor brigades that operated in Siberia from the seventeenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. It then took on its modern and more familiar form almost immediately after the Russian Revolution, becoming an integral part of the Soviet system. Mass terror against real and alleged opponents was a part of the Revolution from the very beginning--and by the summer of 1918, Lenin, the Revolution's leader, had already demanded that "unreliable elements" be locked up in concentration camps outside major towns. A string of aristocrats, merchants, and other people defined as potential "enemies" were duly imprisoned. By 1921, there were already eighty-four camps in forty-three provinces, mostly designed to "rehabilitate" these first enemies of the people.

From 1929, the camps took on a new significance. In that year, Stalin decided to use forced labor both to speed up the Soviet Union's industrialization, and to excavate the natural resources in the Soviet Union's barely habitable far north. In that year, the Soviet secret police also began to take control of the Soviet penal system, slowly wresting all of the country's camps and prisons away from the judicial establishment. Helped along by the mass arrests of 1937 and 1938, the camps entered a period of rapid expansion. By the end of the 1930s, they could be found in every one of the Soviet Union's twelve time zones.

Contrary to popular assumption, the Gulag did not cease growing in the 1930s, but rather continued to expand throughout the Second World War and the 1940s, reaching its apex in the early 1950s. By that time the camps had come to play a central role in the Soviet economy. They produced a third of the country's gold, much of its coal and timber, and a great deal of almost everything else. In the course of the Soviet Union's existence, at least 476 distinct camp complexes came into being, comprising thousands of individual camps, each of which contained anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of people. The prisoners worked in almost every industry imaginable--logging, mining, construction, factory work, farming, the designing of airplanes and artillery--and lived, in effect, in a country within a country, almost a separate civilization. The Gulag had its own laws, its own customs, its own morality, even its own slang. It spawned its own literature, its own villains, its own heroes, and it left its mark upon all who passed through it, whether as prisoners or guards. Years after being released, the Gulag's inhabitants were often able to recognize former inmates on the street simply from "the look in their eyes."

Such encounters were frequent, for the camps had a large turnover. Although arrests were constant, so too were releases. Prisoners were freed because they finished their sentences, because they were let into the Red Army, because they were invalids or women with small children, because they had been promoted from captive to guard. As a result, the total number of prisoners in the camps generally hovered around two million, but the total number of Soviet citizens who had some experience of the camps, as political or criminal prisoners, is far higher. From 1929, when the Gulag began its major expansion, until 1953, when Stalin died, the best estimates indicate that some eighteen million people passed through this massive system. About another six million were sent into exile, deported to the Kazakh deserts or the Siberian forests. Legally obliged to remain in their exile villages, they too were forced laborers, even though they did not live behind barbed wire.

As a system of mass forced labor involving millions of people, the camps disappeared when Stalin died. Although he had believed all of his life that the Gulag was critical to Soviet economic growth, his political heirs knew well that the camps were, in fact, a source of backwardness and distorted investment. Within days of his death, Stalin's successors began to dismantle them. Three major rebellions, along with a host of smaller but no less dangerous incidents, helped to accelerate the process.

Nevertheless, the camps did not disappear altogether. Instead, they evolved. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, a few of them were redesigned and put to use as prisons for a new generation of democratic activists, anti-Soviet nationalists--and criminals. Thanks to the Soviet dissident network and the international human rights movement, news of these post-Stalinist camps appeared regularly in the West. Gradually, they came to play a role in Cold War diplomacy. Even in the 1980s, the American President, Ronald Reagan, and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, were still discussing the Soviet camps. Only in 1987 did --himself the grandson of Gulag prisoners--begin to dissolve the Soviet Union's political camps altogether.

Yet although they lasted as long as the Soviet Union itself, and although many millions of people passed through them, the true history of the Soviet Union's concentration camps was, until recently, not at all well known. By some measures, it is still not known. Even the bare facts recited above, although by now familiar to most Western scholars of Soviet history, have not filtered into Western popular consciousness. "Human knowledge," once wrote Pierre Rigoulot, the French historian of communism, "doesn't accumulate like the bricks of a wall, which grows regularly, according to the work of the mason. Its development, but also its stagnation or retreat, depends on the social, cultural and political framework."

One might say that, until now, the social, cultural, and political framework for knowledge of the Gulag has not been in place.

**********

I first became aware of this problem several years ago, when walking across the Charles Bridge, a major tourist attraction in what was then newly democratic Prague. There were buskers and hustlers along the bridge, and, every fifteen feet or so someone was selling precisely what one would expect to find for sale in such a postcard-perfect spot. Paintings of appropriately pretty streets were on display, along with bargain jewelry and "Prague" key chains. Among the bric-a-brac, one could buy Soviet military paraphernalia: caps, badges, belt buckles, and little pins, the tin Lenin and Brezhnev images that Soviet schoolchildren once pinned to their uniforms.

The sight struck me as odd. Most of the people buying the Soviet paraphernalia were Americans and West Europeans. All would be sickened by the thought of wearing a swastika. None objected, however, to wearing the hammer and sickle on a T-shirt or a hat. It was a minor observation, but sometimes, it is through just such minor observations that a cultural mood is best observed. For here, the lesson could not have been clearer: while the symbol of one mass murder fills us with horror, the symbol of another mass murder makes us laugh.

If there is a dearth of feeling about Stalinism among Prague tourists, it is partly explained by the dearth of images in Western popular culture. The Cold War produced James Bond and thrillers, and cartoon Russians of the sort who appear in Rambo films, but nothing as ambitious as Schindler's List or Sophie's Choice. Steven Spielberg, probably Hollywood's leading director (like it or not) has chosen to make films about Japanese concentration camps (Empire of the Sun) and Nazi concentration camps, but not about Stalinist concentration camps. The latter haven't caught Hollywood's imagination in the same way.

Highbrow culture hasn't been much more open to the subject. The reputation of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger has been deeply damaged by his brief, overt support of Nazism, an enthusiasm which developed before Hitler had committed his major atrocities. On the other hand, the reputation of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre has not suffered in the least from his aggressive support of Stalinism throughout the postwar years, when plentiful evidence of Stalin's atrocities was available to anyone interested. "As we were not members of the Party," he once wrote, "it was not our duty to write about Soviet labor camps; we were free to remain aloof from the quarrels over the nature of the system, provided no events of sociological significance occurred." On another occasion, he told Albert Camus that "Like you, I find these camps intolerable, but I find equally intolerable the use made of them every day in the bourgeois press."

Some things have changed since the Soviet collapse. In 2002, for example, the British novelist Martin Amis felt moved enough by the subject of Stalin and Stalinism to dedicate an entire book to the subject. His efforts prompted other writers to wonder why so few members of the political and literary Left had broached the subject. On the other hand, some things have not changed. It is possible--still--for an American academic to publish a book suggesting that the purges of the 1930s were useful because they promoted upward mobility and therefore laid the groundwork for perestroika. It is possible--still--for a British literary editor to reject an article because it is "too anti-Soviet." Far more common, however, is a reaction of boredom or indifference to Stalinist terror. An otherwise straightforward review of a book I wrote about the western republics of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s contained the following line:_"Here occurred the terror famine of the 1930s, in which Stalin killed more Ukrainians than Hitler murdered Jews. Yet how many in the West remember it? After all, the killing was so--so boring, and ostensibly undramatic."

These are all small things: the purchase of a trinket, a philosopher's reputation, the presence or absence of Hollywood films. But put them all together and they make a story. Intellectually, Americans and West Europeans know what happened in the Soviet Union. Alexander Solzhenitsyn's acclaimed novel about life in the camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was published in the West in several languages in 1962– . His oral history of the camps, The Gulag Archipelago, caused much comment when it appeared, again in several languages, in 1973. Indeed, The Gulag Archipelago led to a minor intellectual revolution in some countries, most notably France, converting whole swathes of the French Left to an anti-Soviet position. Many more revelations about the Gulag were made during the 1980s, the glasnost years, and they too received due publicity abroad.

Nevertheless, to many people, the crimes of Stalin do not inspire the same visceral reaction as do the crimes of Hitler. Ken Livingstone, a former British Member of Parliament, now Mayor of London, once struggled to explain the difference to me. Yes, the Nazis were "evil," he said. But the Soviet Union was "deformed." That view echoes the feeling that many people have, even those who are not old-fashioned left-wingers: the Soviet Union simply went wrong somehow, but it was not fundamentally wrong in the way that Hitler's Germany was wrong.

Until recently, it was possible to explain this absence of popular feeling about the tragedy of European communism as the logical result of a particular set of circumstances. The passage of time is part of it: communist regimes really did grow less reprehensible as the years went by. Nobody was very frightened of General Jaruzelski, or even of Brezhnev, although both were responsible for a great deal of destruction. The absence of hard information, backed up by archival research, was clearly part of it too. The paucity of academic work on this subject was long due to a paucity of sources. Archives were closed. Access to camp sites was forbidden. No television cameras ever filmed the Soviet camps or their victims, as they had done in Germany at the end of the Second World War. No images, in turn, meant less understanding.

But ideology twisted the ways in which we understood Soviet and East European history as well. A small part of the Western Left struggled to explain and sometimes to excuse the camps, and the terror which created them, from the 1930s on. In 1936, when millions of Soviet peasants were already working in camps or living in exile, the British socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb published a vast survey of the Soviet Union, which explained, among other things, how the "downtrodden Russian peasant is gradually acquiring a sense of political freedom." At the time of the Moscow show trials, while Stalin arbitrarily condemned thousands of innocent Party members to camps, the playwright Bertolt Brecht told the philosopher Sidney Hook that "the more innocent they are, the more they deserve to die."

But even as late as the 1980s, there were still academics who continued to describe the advantages of East German health care or Polish peace initiatives, still activists who felt embarrassed by the fuss and bother raised over the dissidents in Eastern Europe's prison camps. Perhaps this was because the founding philosophers of the Western Left--Marx and Engels--were the same as those of the Soviet Union. Some of the language was shared as well: the masses, the struggle, the proletariat, the exploiters and exploited, the ownership of the means of production. To condemn the Soviet Union too thoroughly would be to condemn a part of what some of the Western Left once held dear as well.

But it is not only the far Left, and not only Western communists, who were tempted to make excuses for Stalin's crimes that they would never have made for Hitler's. Communist ideals--social justice, equality for all--are simply far more attractive to most in the West than the Nazi advocacy of racism and the triumph of the strong over the weak. Even if communist ideology meant something very different in practice, it was harder for the intellectual descendants of the American and French Revolutions to condemn a system which sounded, at least, similar to their own. Perhaps this helps explain why eyewitness reports of the Gulag were, from the very beginning, often dismissed and belittled by the very same people who would never have thought to question the validity of Holocaust testimony written by Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel. From the Russian Revolution on, official information about the Soviet camps was readily available too, to anyone who wanted it: the most famous Soviet account of one of the early camps, the White Sea Canal, was even published in English. Ignorance alone cannot explain why Western intellectuals chose to avoid the subject.

The Western Right, on the other hand, did struggle to condemn Soviet crimes, but sometimes using methods that harmed their own cause. Surely the man who did the greatest damage to the cause of anti-communism was the American Senator Joe McCarthy. Recent documents showing that some of his accusations were correct do not change the impact of his overzealous pursuit of communists in American public life: ultimately, his public "trials" of communist sympathizers would tarnish the cause of anti-communism with the brush of chauvinism and intolerance. In the end, his actions served the cause of neutral historical inquiry no better than those of his opponents.

Yet not all of our attitudes to the Soviet past are linked to political ideology either. Many, in fact, are rather a fading by-product of our memories of the Second World War. We have, at present, a firm conviction that the Second World War was a wholly just war, and few want that conviction shaken. We remember D-Day, the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the children welcoming American GIs with cheers on the streets. No one wants to be told that there was another, darker side to Allied victory, or that the camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were liberated. To admit that by sending thousands of Russians to their deaths by forcibly repatriating them after the war, or by consigning millions of people to Soviet rule at Yalta, the Western Allies might have helped others commit crimes against humanity would undermine the moral clarity of our memories of that era. No one wants to think that we defeated one mass murderer with the help of another. No one wants to remember how well that mass murderer got on with Western statesmen. "I have a real liking for Stalin," the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, told a friend, "he has never broken his word." There are many, many photographs of Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt all together, all smiling.

Finally, Soviet propaganda was not without its effect. Soviet attempts to cast doubt upon Solzhenitsyn's writing, for example, to paint him as a madman or an anti-Semite or a drunk, had some impact. Soviet pressure on Western academics and journalists helped skew their work too. When I studied Russian history as an undergraduate in the United States in the 1980s, acquaintances told me not to bother continuing with the subject in graduate school, since there were too many difficulties involved: in those days, those who wrote "favorably" about the Soviet Union won more access to archives, more access to official information, longer visas in the country. Those who did not risked expulsion and professional difficulties as a consequence. It goes without saying, of course, that no outsiders were allowed access to any material about Stalin's camps or about the post-Stalinist prison system. The subject simply did not exist, and those who pried too deep lost their right to stay in the country.

Put together, all of these explanations once made a kind of sense. When I first began to think seriously about this subject, as communism was collapsing in 1989, I even saw the logic of them myself: it seemed natural, obvious, that I should know very little about Stalin's Soviet Union, whose secret history made it all the more intriguing. More than a decade later, I feel very differently. The Second World War now belongs to a previous generation. The Cold War is over too, and the alliances and international fault lines it produced have shifted for good. The Western Left and the Western Right now compete over different issues. At the same time, the emergence of new terrorist threats to Western civilization make the study of the old communist threats to Western civilization all the more relevant.

In other words, the "social, cultural and political framework" has now changed--and so too has our access to information about the camps. At the end of the 1980s, a flood of documents about the Gulag began to appear in Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union. Stories of life in Soviet concentration camps were published in newspapers for the first time. New revelations sold out magazines. Old arguments about numbers--how many dead, how many incarcerated--revived. Russian historians and historical societies, led by the pioneering Memorial Society in Moscow, began publishing monographs, histories of individual camps and people, casualty estimates, lists of the names of the dead. Their efforts were echoed and amplified by historians in the former Soviet republics and the countries of what was once the Warsaw Pact, and, later, by Western historians too.

Despite many setbacks, this Russian exploration of the Soviet past continues today. True, the first decade of the twenty-first century is very different from the final decades of the twentieth century, and the search for history is no longer either a major part of Russian public discourse, nor quite so sensational as it once seemed. Most of the work being carried out by Russian and other scholars is real historical drudgery, involving the sifting of thousands of individual documents, hours spent in cold and drafty archives, days spent looking for facts and numbers. But it is beginning to bear fruit. Slowly, patiently, Memorial has not only put together the first guide to the names and locations of all of the camps on record, but has also published a groundbreaking series of history books, and compiled an enormous archive of oral and written ' tales as well. Together with others--the Sakharov Institute and the publishing house Vozvrashchenie (the name means "return")--they have put some of these memoirs into general circulation. Russian academic journals and institutional presses have also begun to print monographs based on new documents, as well as collections of documents themselves. Again, similar work is being carried out elsewhere, most notably by the Karta Society in Poland; by historical museums in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, and Hungary; by a handful of American and West European scholars who have the time and energy to work in the Soviet archives.

While researching this book, I had access to their work, as well as to two other kinds of sources that would not have been available ten years ago. The first is the flood of new memoirs which began to be published in the 1980s in Russia, America, Israel, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. In writing this book, I have made extensive use of them, a practice which is not entirely orthodox. In the past, some scholars of the Soviet Union have been reluctant to rely upon Gulag memoir material, arguing that Soviet memoir writers had political reasons for twisting their stories, that most did their writing many years after their release, and that many borrowed stories from one another when their own memories failed them. Nevertheless, after reading several hundred camp memoirs, and interviewing some two dozen survivors, I felt that it was possible to filter out those which seemed implausible or plagiarized or politicized. I also felt that while memoirs could not be relied upon for names, dates, and numbers, they were nonetheless an invaluable source of other kinds of information. Without them, it would not be possible to describe certain crucial aspects of life in the camps: prisoners' relationships with one another, with their guards, with the camp regime. I have consciously made heavy use of only one writer--Varlam Shalamov--who wrote fictionalized versions of his life in the camps, and this is because his stories are known to be based upon real events.

As far as was possible, I have also backed up the memoirs with an extensive use of archives--a source which, paradoxically, not everyone likes to use either. As will become clear in the course of this book, the power of propaganda in the Soviet Union was such that it frequently altered perceptions of reality. For that reason, historians in the past were right not to rely upon officially published Soviet documents, which were often deliberately designed to obscure the truth. But secret documents--the documents now preserved in archives--had a different function. In order to run its camps, the administration of the Gulag needed to keep certain kinds of records. Moscow needed to know what was happening in the provinces, the provinces had to receive instructions from the central administration, statistics had to be kept. This does not mean that these archives are entirely reliable--bureaucrats had their own reasons to distort even the most mundane facts--but if used judiciously, they can explain some things about camp life which memoirs cannot. Above all, they help to explain why the camps were built--or at least what it was that the Stalinist regime believed they were going to achieve.

It is also true that the archives are far more varied than many anticipated, and that they tell the story of the camps from many different perspectives. I had access, for example, to the archive of the Gulag administration, with inspectors' reports, financial accounts, letters from the camp directors to their supervisors in Moscow, accounts of escape attempts, and lists of musical productions put on by camp theaters, all kept at the Russian State Archive in Moscow. I also consulted records of Party meetings, and documents that were collected in a part of Stalin's osobaya papka collection, his "special archive." With the help of other Russian historians, I was able to use some documents from Soviet military archives, and the archives of the convoy guards, which contain things such as lists of what arrested prisoners were and were not allowed to take with them. Outside of Moscow, I also had access to some local archives--in Petrozavodsk, Arkhangelsk, Syktyvkar, Vorkuta, and the Solovetsky islands--where day-to-day events of camp life were recorded, as well as to the archives of Dmitlag, the camp that built the Moscow–Volga Canal, which are kept in Moscow. All contain records of daily life in the camps, order forms, prisoners' records. At one point, I was handed a chunk of the archive of Kedrovyi Shor, a small division of Inta, a mining camp north of the Arctic Circle, and politely asked if I wanted to buy it.

Put together, these sources make it possible to write about the camps in a new way. In this book, I no longer needed to compare the "claims" of a handful of dissidents to the "claims" of the Soviet government. I did not have to search for a median line somewhere in between the accounts of Soviet refugees and the accounts of Soviet officials. Instead, to describe what happened, I was able to use the language of many different kinds of people, of guards, of policemen, of different kinds of prisoners serving different kinds of sentences at different times. The emotions and the politics which have long surrounded the historiography of the Soviet concentration camps do not lie at the heart of this book. That space is reserved, instead, for the experience of the victims.

**********

This is a history of the Gulag. By that, I mean that this is a history of the Soviet concentration camps: their origins in the Bolshevik Revolution, their development into a major part of the Soviet economy, their dismantling after Stalin's death. This is also a book about the legacy of the Gulag: without question, the regimes and rituals found in the Soviet political and criminal prison camps of the 1970s and 1980s evolved directly out of those created in an earlier era, and for that reason I felt that they belonged in the same volume.

At the same time, this is a book about life in the Gulag, and for that reason it tells the story of the camps in two ways. The first and third sections of this book are chronological. They describe the evolution of the camps and their administration in a narrative fashion. The central section discusses life in the camps, and it does so thematically. While most of the examples and citations in this central section refer to the 1940s, the decade when the camps reached their apex, I have also referred backward and forward--ahistorically--to other eras. Certain aspects of life in the camps evolved over time, and I felt it was important to explain how this happened.

Having said what this book is, I would also like to say what it is not: it is not a history of the USSR, a history of the purges, or a history of repression in general. It is not a history of Stalin's reign, or of his Politburo, or of his secret police, whose complex administrative history I have deliberately tried to simplify as much as possible. Although I do make use of the writings of Soviet dissidents, often produced under great stress and with great courage, this book does not contain a complete history of the Soviet human rights movement. Nor, for that matter, does it do full justice to the stories of particular nations and categories of prisoner--among them Poles, Balts, Ukrainians, Chechens, German and Japanese POWs--who suffered under the Soviet regime, both inside and outside the Soviet camps. It does not explore in full the mass murders of 1937– , which mostly took place outside the camps, or the massacre of thousands of Polish officers at Katyn and elsewhere. Because this is a book intended for the general reader, and because it does not presume any specialized knowledge of Soviet history, all of these events and phenomenon will be mentioned. Nevertheless, it would have been impossible to do all of them justice in a single volume.

Perhaps most important, this book does not do justice to the story of the "special exiles," the millions of people who were often rounded up at the same time and for the same reasons as Gulag prisoners, but who were then sent not to camps but to live in remote exile villages where many thousands died of starvation, cold, and overwork. Some were exiled for political reasons, including the kulaks, or rich peasants, in the 1930s. Some were exiled for their ethnicity, including Poles, Balts, Ukrainians, Volga Germans, and Chechens, among others, in the 1940s. They met a variety of fates in Kazakhstan, central Asia, and Siberia--too wide a variety to be encompassed in an account of the camp system. I have chosen to mention them, perhaps idiosyncratically, where their experiences seemed to me especially close or relevant to the experiences of Gulag prisoners. But although their story is closely connected to the story of the Gulag, to tell it fully would require another book of this length. I hope someone will write one soon.

Although this is a book about the Soviet concentration camps, it is nevertheless impossible to treat them as an isolated phenomenon. The Gulag grew and developed at a particular time and place, in tandem with other events--and within three contexts in particular. Properly speaking, the Gulag belongs to the history of the Soviet Union; to the international as well as the Russian history of prisons and exile; and to the particular intellectual climate of continental Europe in the mid-twentieth century, which also produced the Nazi concentration camps in Germany.

By "belongs to the history of the Soviet Union," I mean something very specific: the Gulag did not emerge, fully formed, from the sea, but rather reflected the general standards of the society around it. If the camps were filthy, if the guards were brutal, if the work teams were slovenly, that was partly because filthiness and brutality and slovenliness were plentiful enough in other spheres of Soviet life. If life in the camps was horrible, unbearable, inhuman, if death rates were high--that too was hardly surprising. In certain periods, life in the Soviet Union was also horrible, unbearable, and inhuman, and death rates were as high outside the camps as they were within them.

Certainly it is no coincidence that the first Soviet camps were set up in the immediate aftermath of the bloody, violent, and chaotic Russian Revolution either. During the Revolution, the terror imposed afterward, and the subsequent civil war, it seemed to many in Russia as if civilization itself had been permanently fractured. "Death sentences were meted out arbitrarily," the historian Richard Pipes has written, "people were shot for no reason and equally capriciously released." From 1917 on, a whole society's set of values was turned on its head: a lifetime's accumulated wealth and experience was a liability, robbery was glamorized as "nationalization," murder became an accepted part of the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this atmosphere, Lenin's initial imprisonment of thousands of people, simply on the grounds of their former wealth or their aristocratic titles, hardly seemed strange or out of line.

By the same token, high mortality rates in the camps in certain years are also, in part, a reflection of events taking place throughout the country. Death rates went up inside the camps in the early 1930s, when famine gripped the entire country. They went up again during the Second World War: the German invasion of the Soviet Union led not only to millions of combat deaths, but also to epidemics of dysentery and of typhus, as well as, again, to famine, which affected people outside the camps as well as within them. In the winter of 1941– , when a quarter of the Gulag's population died of starvation, as many as a million citizens of the city of Leningrad may have starved to death too, trapped behind a German blockade. The blockade's chronicler Lidiya Ginzburg wrote of the hunger of the time as a "permanent state . . . it was constantly present and always made its presence felt . . . the most desperate and tormenting thing of all during the process of eating was when the food drew to an end with awful rapidity without bringing satiety." Her words are eerily reminiscent of those used by former prisoners, as the reader will discover.

It is true, of course, that the Leningraders died at home, while the Gulag ripped open lives, destroyed families, tore children away from their parents, and condemned millions to live in remote wastelands, thousands of miles from their families. Still, prisoners' horrific experiences can be legitimately compared to the terrible memories of "free" Soviet citizens such as Elena Kozhina, who was evacuated from Leningrad in February 1942. During the journey, she watched her brother, sister, and grandmother die of starvation. As the Germans approached, she and her mother walked across the steppe, encountering "scenes of unbridled rout and chaos . . . The world was flying into thousands of pieces. Everything was permeated with smoke and a horrible burning smell; the steppe was tight and suffocating, as if squeezed inside a hot, sooty fist." Although she never experienced the camps, Kozhina knew terrible cold, hunger, and fear before her tenth birthday, and was haunted by the memories for the rest of her life. Nothing, she wrote, "could erase my memories of Vadik's body being carried out under a blanket; of Tanya choking in her agony; of me and Mama, the last ones, trudging through smoke and thunder in the burning steppe."

The population of the Gulag and the population of the rest of the USSR shared many things besides suffering. Both in the camps and outside them, it was possible to find the same slovenly working practices, the same criminally stupid bureaucracy, the same corruption, and the same sullen disregard for human life. While writing this book, I described to a Polish friend the system of tufta--cheating on required work norms--that Soviet prisoners had developed, described later in this book. He howled with laughter: "You think prisoners invented that? The whole Soviet bloc practiced tufta." In Stalin's Soviet Union, the difference between life inside and life outside the barbed wire was not fundamental, but rather a question of degree. Perhaps for that reason, the Gulag has often been described as the quintessential expression of the Soviet system. Even in prison-camp slang, the world outside the barbed wire was not referred to as "freedom," but as the bolshaya zona, the "big prison zone," larger and less deadly than the "small zone" of the camp, but no more human--and certainly no more humane.

Yet if the Gulag cannot be held totally apart from the experience of life in the rest of the Soviet Union, neither can the story of the Soviet camps be fully separated from the long, multinational, cross-cultural history of prisons, exile, incarceration, and concentration camps. The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can "pay their debt to society," make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea. Georgian Britain sent its pickpockets and thieves to Australia. Nineteenth-century France sent convicted criminals to Guyana. Portugal sent its undesirables to Mozambique.

The new leadership of the Soviet Union did not, in 1917, have to look quite as far away as Greenland for a precedent. Since the seventeenth century, Russia had its own exile system: the first mention of exile in Russian law was in 1649. At the time, exile was considered to be a new, more humane form of criminal punishment--far preferable to the death penalty, or to branding and mutilation--and it was applied to a huge range of minor and major offenses, from snuff-taking and fortune-telling to murder. A wide range of Russian intellectuals and writers, Pushkin among them, suffered some form of exile, while the very possibility of exile tormented others: at the height of his literary fame in 1890, Anton Chekhov surprised everyone he knew and set off to visit and describe the penal colonies on the island of Sakhalin, off Russia's Pacific coast. Before he left, he wrote to his puzzled publisher, explaining his motives:

We have allowed millions of people to rot in prisons, to rot for no purpose, without any consideration, and in a barbarous manner; we have driven people tens of thousands of versts through the cold in shackles, infected them with syphilis, perverted them, multiplied the number of criminals . . . but none of this has anything to do with us, it's just not interesting . . .

In retrospect, it is easy to find, in the history of the Czarist prison system, many echoes of practices later applied in the Soviet Gulag. Like the Gulag, for example, Siberian exile was never intended exclusively for criminals. A law of 1736 declared that if a village decided someone in its midst was a bad influence on others, the village elders could divide up the unfortunate's property and order him to move elsewhere. If he failed to find another abode, the state could then send him into exile. Indeed, this law was cited by Khrushchev in 1948, as part of his (successful) argument for exiling collective farmers who were deemed insufficiently enthusiastic and hard-working.

The practice of exiling people who simply didn't fit in continued throughout the nineteenth century. In his book, Siberia and the Exile System, George Kennan--uncle of the American statesman--described the system of "administrative process" that he observed in Russia in 1891:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is "prejudicial to public order" or "incompatible with public tranquility," he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years.

Administrative exile--which required no trial and no sentencing procedure--was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime. In the early days, many of these were Polish noblemen who objected to the Russian occupation of their territory and property. Later, exiles included religious objectors, as well as members of "revolutionary" groups and secret societies, including the Bolsheviks. Although they were not administrative exiles--they were tried and sentenced--the most notorious of Siberia's nineteenth-century "forced settlers" were also political prisoners: these were the Decembrists, a group of high-ranking aristocrats who staged a feeble rebellion against Czar Nicholas I in 1825. With a vengeance that shocked all of Europe at the time, the Czar sentenced five of the Decembrists to death. He deprived the others of their rank, and sent them, in chains, to Siberia, where a few were joined by their exceptionally brave wives. Only a few lived long enough to be pardoned by Nicholas's successor, Alexander II, thirty years later, and to return home to St. Petersburg, by then tired old men. Fyodor Dostoevsky, sentenced in 1849 to a four-year term of penal servitude, was another well-known political prisoner. After returning from his Siberian exile, he wrote The House of the Dead, still the most widely read account of life in the Czarist prison system.

Like the Gulag, the Czarist exile system was not created solely as a form of punishment. Russia's rulers also wanted their exiles, both criminal and political, to solve an economic problem that had rankled for many centuries: the underpopulation of the far east and the far north of the Russian landmass, and the Russian Empire's consequent failure to exploit Russia's natural resources. With that in mind, the Russian state began, as early as the eighteenth century, to sentence some of its prisoners to forced labor--a form of punishment which became known as katorga, from the Greek word kateirgon, "to force." Katorga had a long Russian prehistory. In the early eighteenth century, Peter the Great had used convicts and serfs to build roads, fortresses, factories, ships, and the city of St. Petersburg itself. In 1722, he passed a more specific directive ordering criminals, with their wives and children, into exile near the silver mines of Daurya, in eastern Siberia.

In its time, Peter's use of forced labor was considered a great economic and political success. Indeed, the story of the hundreds of thousands of serfs who spent their lives building St. Petersburg had an enormous impact on future generations. Many had died during the construction--and yet the city became a symbol of progress and Europeanization. The methods were cruel--and yet the nation had profited. Peter's example probably helps explain the ready adoption of katorga by his Czarist successors. Without a doubt, Stalin was a great admirer of Peter's building methods too.

Still, in the nineteenth century, katorga remained a relatively rare form of punishment. In 1906, only about 6,000 katorga convicts were serving sentences; in 1916, on the eve of the Revolution, there were only 28,600. Of far greater economic importance was another category of prisoner: the forced settlers, who were sentenced to live in exile, but not in prison, in underpopulated regions of the country, chosen for their economic potential. Between 1824 and 1889 alone, some 720,000 forced settlers were sent to Siberia. Many were accompanied by their families. They, not the convicts laboring in chains, gradually populated Russia's empty, mineral-rich wastelands.

Their sentences were not necessarily easy ones, and some of the settlers thought their fate worse than that of the katorga prisoners. Assigned to remote districts, with poor land and few neighbors, many starved to death over the long winters, or drank themselves to death from boredom. There were very few women--their numbers never exceeded 15 percent--fewer books, no entertainment.

On his journey across Siberia to Sakhalin, Anton Chekhov met, and described, some of these exiled settlers: "The majority of them are financially poor, have little strength, little practical training, and possess nothing except their ability to write, which is frequently of absolutely no use to anybody. Some of them commence by selling, piece by piece, their shirts of Holland linen, their sheets, their scarves and handkerchiefs, and finish up after two or three years dying in fearful penury . . ."

But not all of the exiles were miserable and degenerate. Siberia was far away from European Russia, and in the East officialdom was more forgiving, aristocracy much thinner on the ground. The wealthier exiles and ex-prisoners sometimes built up large estates. The more educated became doctors and lawyers, or ran schools. Princess Maria Volkonskaya, wife of the Decembrist Sergei Volkonsky, sponsored the building of a theater and concert hall in Irkutsk: although she had, like her husband, technically been deprived of her rank, invitations to her soirées and private dinners were eagerly sought after, and discussed as far away as Moscow and St. Petersburg.

By the early twentieth century, the system had shed some of its previous harshness. The fashion for prison reform which spread through Europe in the nineteenth century finally caught up with Russia too. Regimes grew lighter, and policing grew laxer. Indeed, in contrast to what came later, the route to Siberia now seems, if not exactly pleasurable, then hardly an onerous punishment for the small group of men who would lead the Russian Revolution. When in prison, the Bolsheviks received a certain amount of favorable treatment as "political" rather than criminal prisoners, and were allowed to have books, paper, and writing implements. Ordzhonikidze, one of the Bolshevik leaders, later recalled reading Adam Smith, Ricardo, Plekhanov, William James, Frederick W. Taylor, Dostoevsky, and Ibsen, among others, while resident in St. Petersburg's Schlüsselberg Fortress. By later standards, the Bolsheviks were also well-fed, well-dressed, even beautifully coiffed. A photograph taken of Trotsky imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1906 shows him wearing spectacles, a suit, a tie, and a shirt with an impressively white collar. The peephole in the door behind him offers the only clue to his whereabouts. Another taken of him in exile in eastern Siberia, in 1900, shows him in a fur hat and heavy coat, surrounded by other men and women, also in boots and furs. All of these items would be rare luxuries in the Gulag, half a century later.

If life in Czarist exile did become intolerably unpleasant, there was always escape. Stalin himself was arrested and exiled four times. Three times he escaped, once from Irkutsk province and twice from Vologda province, a region which later became pockmarked with camps. As a result, his scorn for the Czarist regime's "toothlessness" knew no bounds. His Russian biographer Dmitri Volkogonov characterized his opinion like this: "You didn't have to work, you could read to your heart's content and you could even escape, which required only the will to do so."

Thus did their Siberian experience provide the --Bolsheviks with an earlier model to build uponand a lesson in the need for exceptionally strong punitive regimes.

**********

If the Gulag is an integral part of both Soviet and Russian history, it is inseparable from European history too: the Soviet Union was not the only twentieth-century European country to develop a totalitarian social order, or to build a system of concentration camps. While it is not the intention of this book to compare and contrast the Soviet and the Nazi camps, the subject cannot be comfortably ignored either. The two systems were built at roughly the same time, on the same continent. Hitler knew of the Soviet camps, and Stalin knew of the Holocaust. There were prisoners who experienced and described the camps of both systems. At a very deep level, the two systems are related.

They are related, first of all, because both Nazism and Soviet communism emerged out of the barbaric experiences of the First World War and the Russian civil war, which followed on its heels. The industrialized methods of warfare put into wide use during both of these conflicts generated an enormous intellectual and artistic response at the time. Less noticed--except, of course, by the millions of victims--was the widespread use of industrialized methods of incarceration. Both sides constructed internment camps and prisoner-of-war camps across Europe from 1914 on. In 1918 there were 2.2 million prisoners of war on Russian territory. New technology--the mass production of guns, of tanks, even of barbed wire--made these and later camps possible. Indeed, some of the first Soviet camps were actually built on top of First World War prisoner-of-war camps.

The Soviet and Nazi camps are also related because they belong, together, to the wider history of concentration camps, which began at the end of the nineteenth century. By concentration camps, I mean camps constructed to incarcerate people not for what they had done, but for who they were. Unlike criminal prison camps, or prisoner-of-war camps, concentration camps were built for a particular type of noncriminal civilian prisoner, the member of an "enemy" group, or at any rate of a category of people who, for reasons of their race or their presumed politics, were judged to be dangerous or extraneous to society.

According to this definition, the first modern concentration camps were set up not in Germany or Russia, but in colonial Cuba, in 1895. In that year, in an effort to put an end to a series of local insurgencies, imperial Spain began to prepare a policy of reconcentración, intended to remove the Cuban peasants from their land and "reconcentrate" them in camps, thereby depriving the insurgents of food, shelter, and support. By 1900, the Spanish term reconcentración had already been translated into English, and was used to describe a similar British project, initiated for similar reasons, during the Boer War in South Africa: Boer civilians were "concentrated" into camps, in order to deprive Boer combatants of shelter and support.

From there, the idea spread further. It certainly seems, for example, as if the term kontslager first appeared in Russian as a translation from the English "concentration camp," probably thanks to Trotsky's familiarity with the history of the Boer War. In 1904, German colonists in Deutsche Sud-West Afrika also adopted the British model--with one variation. Instead of merely locking up the region's native inhabitants, a tribe called the Herero, they made them carry out forced labor on behalf of the German colony.

There are a number of strange and eerie links between these first German-African labor camps and those built in Nazi Germany three decades later. It was thanks to these southern African labor colonies, for example, that the word Konzentrationslager first appeared in the German language, in 1905. The first imperial commissioner of Deutsche Sud-West Afrika was one Dr. Heinrich Goering, the father of Hermann, who set up the first Nazi camps in 1933. It was also in these African camps that the first German medical experiments were conducted on humans: two of Joseph Mengele's teachers, Theodor Mollison and Eugen Fischer, carried out research on the Herero, the latter in an attempt to prove his theories about the superiority of the white race. But they were not unusual in their beliefs. In 1912, a best-selling German book, German Thought in the World, claimed that nothing can convince reasonable people that the preservation of a tribe of South African kaffirs is more important for the future of humanity than the expansion of the great European nations and the white race in general . . . it is only when the indigenous people have learned to produce something of value in the service of the superior race . . . that they can be said to have a moral right to exist.

While this theory was rarely put so clearly, similar sentiments often lay just beneath the surface of colonial practice. Certainly some forms of colonialism both reinforced the myth of white racial superiority and legitimized the use of violence by one race against another. It can be argued, therefore, that the corrupting experiences of some European colonists helped pave the way for the European totalitarianism of the twentieth-century. And not only European: Indonesia is an example of a post-colonial state whose rulers initially imprisoned their critics in concentration camps, just as their colonial masters had.

The Russian Empire, which had quite successfully vanquished its own native peoples in its march eastward, was no exception. During one of the dinner parties that takes place in Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina, Anna's husband--who has some official responsibilities for "Native Tribes"--holds forth on the need for superior cultures to absorb inferior ones. At some level, the Bolsheviks, like all educated Russians, would have been aware of the Russian Empire's destruction of the Kirgiz, Buryats, Tungus, Chukchi, and others. The fact that it didn't particularly concern them--they, who were otherwise so interested in the fate of the downtrodden--itself indicates something about their unspoken assumptions.

But then, full consciousness of the history of southern Africa or of eastern Siberia was hardly required for the development of European concentration camps: the notion that some types of people are superior to other types of people was common enough in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. And this, finally, is what links the camps of the Soviet Union and those of Nazi Germany in the most profound sense of all: both regimes legitimated themselves, in part, by establishing categories of "enemies" or "sub-humans" whom they persecuted and destroyed on a mass scale.

In Nazi Germany, the first targets were the crippled and the retarded. Later, the Nazis concentrated on Gypsies, homosexuals, and, above all, on the Jews. In the USSR the victims were, at first, the "former people"--alleged supporters of the old regime--and later the "enemies of the people," an ill-defined term which would come to include not only alleged political opponents of the regime, but also particular national groups and ethnicities, if they seemed (for equally ill-defined reasons) to threaten the Soviet state or Stalin's power. At different times Stalin conducted mass arrests of Poles, Balts, Chechens, Tartars, and--on the eve of his death--Jews.

Although these categories were never entirely arbitrary, they were never entirely stable either. Half a century ago, Hannah Arendt wrote that both the Nazi and the Bolshevik regimes created "objective opponents" or "objective enemies," whose "identity changes according to the prevailing circumstances--so that, as soon as one category is liquidated, war may be declared on another." By the same token, she added, "the task of the totalitarian police is not to discover crimes, but to be on hand when the government decides to arrest a certain category of the population." Again: people were arrested not for what they had done, but for who they were.

In both societies, the creation of concentration camps was actually the final stage in a long process of dehumanization of these objective ----a process which began, at first, with rhetoric. In his autobiography, Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote of how he had suddenly realized that the Jews were responsible for Germany's problems, that "any shady undertaking, any form of foulness" in public life was connected to the Jews: "on putting the probing knife to that kind of abscess one immediately discovered, like a maggot in a putrescent body, a little Jew who was often blinded by the suddenness of the light_._._."

Lenin and Stalin also began by blaming "enemies" for the Soviet Union's myriad economic failures: they were "wreckers" and "saboteurs" and agents of foreign powers. From the late 1930s, as the wave of arrests began to expand, Stalin took this rhetoric to greater extremes, denouncing the "enemies of the people" as vermin, as pollution, as "poisonous weeds." He also spoke of his opponents as "filth" which had to be "subjected to ongoing purification"--just as Nazi propaganda would associate Jews with images of vermin, of parasites, of infectious disease.

Once demonized, the legal isolation of the enemy began in earnest. Before the Jews were actually rounded up and deported to camps, they were deprived of their status as German citizens. They were forbidden to work as civil servants, as lawyers, as judges; forbidden to marry Aryans; forbidden to attend Aryan schools; forbidden to display the German flag; forced to wear gold stars of David; and subjected to beatings and humiliation on the street. Before their actual arrest in Stalin's Soviet Union, "enemies" were also routinely humiliated in public meetings, fired from their jobs, expelled from the Communist Party, divorced by their disgusted spouses, and denounced by their angry children.

Within the camps, the process of dehumanization deepened and grew more extreme, helping both to intimidate the victims and to reinforce the victimizers' belief in the legitimacy of what they were doing. In her book-length interview with Franz Stangl, the commander of Treblinka, the writer Gitta Sereny asked Stangl why camp inmates, before being killed, were also beaten, humiliated, and deprived of their clothing. Stangl answered, "To condition those who actually had to carry out the policies. To make it possible for them to do what they did." In The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp, the German sociologist Wolfgang Sofsky has also shown how the dehumanization of prisoners in the Nazi camps was methodically built into every aspect of camp life, from the torn, identical clothing, to the deprivation of privacy, to the heavy regulation, to the constant expectation of death.

In the Soviet system, the dehumanization process also began at the moment of arrest, as we shall see, when prisoners were stripped of their clothes and identity, denied contact with outsiders, tortured, interrogated, and put through farcical trials, if they were tried at all. In a peculiarly Soviet twist on the process, prisoners were deliberately "excommunicated" from Soviet life, forbidden to refer to one another as "comrade," and, from 1937 on, prohibited from earning the coveted title of "shock-worker," no matter how well they behaved or how hard they worked. Portraits of Stalin, which hung in homes and offices throughout the USSR, almost never appeared inside camps and prisons, according to many prisoner accounts.

None of which is to say that the Soviet and Nazi camps were identical. As any reader with any general knowledge of the Holocaust will discover in the course of this book, life within the Soviet camp system differed in many ways, both subtle and obvious, from life within the Nazi camp system. There were differences in the organization of daily life and of work, different sorts of guards and punishments, different kinds of propaganda. The Gulag lasted far longer, and went through cycles of relative cruelty and relative humanity. The history of the Nazi camps is shorter, and contains less variation: they simply became crueler and crueler, until the retreating Germans liquidated them or the invading Allies liberated them. The Gulag also contained a wide variety of camps, from the lethal gold mines of the Kolyma region to the "luxurious" secret institutes outside Moscow, where prisoner scientists designed weapons for the Red Army. Although there were different kinds of camps in the Nazi system, the range was far narrower.

Above all, however, two differences between the systems strike me as fundamental. First, the definition of "enemy" in the Soviet Union was always far more slippery than the definition of "Jew" in Nazi Germany. With an extremely small number of unusual exceptions, no Jew in Nazi Germany could change his status, no Jew inside a camp could reasonably expect to escape death, and all Jews carried this knowledge with them at all times. While millions of Soviet prisoners feared they might die--and millions did--there was no single category of prisoner whose death was absolutely guaranteed. At times, certain prisoners could improve their lot by working in relatively comfortable jobs, as engineers or geologists. Within each camp there was a prisoner hierarchy, which some were able to climb at the expense of others, or with the help of others. At other times--when the Gulag found itself overburdened with women, children, and old people, or when soldiers were needed to fight at the front--prisoners were released in mass amnesties. It sometimes happened that whole categories of "enemies" suddenly benefited from a change in status. Stalin arrested hundreds of thousands of Poles, for example, at the start of the Second World War in 1939--and then abruptly released them from the Gulag in 1941 when Poland and the USSR became temporary allies. The opposite was also true: in the Soviet Union, perpetrators could become victims themselves. Gulag guards, administrators, even senior officers of the secret police, could also be arrested and find themselves sentenced to camps. Not every "poisonous weed" remained poisonous, in other words--and there was no single group of Soviet prisoners who lived with the constant expectation of death.

Second--as, again, will become evident in the course of this book--the primary purpose of the Gulag, according to both the private language and the public propaganda of those who founded it, was economic. This did not mean that it was humane. Within the system, prisoners were treated as cattle, or rather as lumps of iron ore. Guards shuttled them around at will, loading and unloading them into cattle cars, weighing and measuring them, feeding them if it seemed they might be useful, starving them if they were not. They were, to use Marxist language, exploited, reified, and commodified. Unless they were productive, their lives were worthless to their masters.

Nevertheless, their experience was quite different from that of the Jewish and other prisoners whom the Nazis sent to a special group of camps called not Konzentrationslager but Vernichtungslager--camps that were not really "labor camps" at all, but rather death factories. There were four of them: Belzec, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Majdanek and Auschwitz contained both labor camps and death camps. Upon entering these camps, prisoners were "selected." A tiny number were sent to do a few weeks of forced labor. The rest were sent directly into gas chambers where they were murdered and then immediately cremated.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, this particular form of murder, practiced at the height of the Holocaust, had no Soviet equivalent. True, the Soviet Union found other ways to mass-murder hundreds of thousands of its citizens. Usually, they were driven to a forest at night, lined up, shot in the skull, and buried in mass graves before they ever got near a concentration camp--a form of murder no less "industrialized" and anonymous than that used by the Nazis. For that matter, there are stories of Soviet secret police using exhaust fumes--a primitive form of gas--to kill prisoners, just as the Nazis did in their early years. Within the Gulag, Soviet prisoners also died, usually not thanks to the captors' efficiency but due to gross inefficiency and neglect. In certain Soviet camps, at certain times, death was virtually guaranteed for those selected to cut trees in the winter forest or to work in the worst of the Kolyma gold mines. Prisoners were also locked in punishment cells until they died of cold and starvation, left untreated in unheated hospitals, or simply shot at will for "attempted escape." Nevertheless, the Soviet camp system as a whole was not deliberately organized to mass-produce corpses--even if, at times, it did.

These are fine distinctions, but they matter. Although the Gulag and Auschwitz do belong to the same intellectual and historical tradition, they are nevertheless separate and distinct, both from one another and from camp systems set up by other regimes. The idea of the concentration camp may be general enough to be used in many different cultures and situations, but even a superficial study of the concentration camp's cross-cultural history reveals that the specific details--how life in the camps was organized, how the camps developed over time, how rigid or disorganized they became, how cruel or liberal they remained--depended on the particular country, on the culture, and on the regime. To those who were trapped behind barbed wire, these details were critical to their life, health, and survival.

In fact, reading the accounts of those who survived both, one is struck more by the differences between the victims' experiences than by the differences between the two camp systems. Each tale has its own unique qualities, each camp held different sorts of horrors for people of different characters. In Germany you could die of cruelty, in Russia you could die of despair. In Auschwitz you could die in a gas chamber, in Kolyma you could freeze to death in the snow. You could die in a German forest or a Siberian wasteland, you could die in a mining accident or you could die in a cattle train. But in the end, the story of your life was your own. http://www.anneapplebaum.com/gulag/intro.html

HISTORY AND CULTURE:
The Gulag : Lest We Forget

By Anne Applebaum

The more we are able to understand how various societies have transformed their neighbors and fellow citizens from people into objects, and the more we know of the specific circumstances that led to each episode of mass torture and mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature. By Anne Applebaum.



In the early autumn of 1998, I took a boat across the White Sea, from the city of Arkhangelsk to the Solovetsky Islands, the distant archipelago that was once home to the Soviet Union’s first political prisons. The ship’s dining room buzzed with good cheer. There were many toasts, many jokes, and hearty applause for the ship’s captain. My assigned dining companions, two middle-aged couples from a naval base down the coast, seemed determined to have a good time.
At first, my presence only added to their general merriment. It is not every day one meets a real American on a rickety ferry boat in the middle of the White Sea, and the oddity amused them. When I told them what I was doing in Russia, however, they grew less cheerful. An American on a pleasure cruise, visiting the Solovetsky Islands to see the scenery and the beautiful old monastery—that was one thing. An American visiting the Solovetsky Islands to see the remains of the concentration camp—that was something else.
One of the men turned hostile. “Why do you foreigners only care about the ugly things in our history?” he wanted to know. “Why write about the Gulag? Why not write about our achievements? We were the first country to put a man into space!” By “we” he meant “we Soviets.” The Soviet Union had ceased to exist seven years earlier, but he still identified himself as a Soviet citizen, not as a Russian.
His wife attacked me as well. “The Gulag isn’t relevant anymore,” she told me. “We have other troubles here. We have unemployment, we have crime. Why don’t you write about our real problems, instead of things that happened a long time ago?”
While this unpleasant conversation continued, the other couple kept silent, and the man never did offer his opinion on the subject of the Soviet past. At one point, however, his wife expressed her support. “I understand why you want to know about the camps,” she said softly. “It is interesting to know what happened. I wish I knew more.”
In my subsequent travels around Russia, I encountered these four attitudes about my project again and again. “It’s none of your business” and “it’s irrelevant” were both common reactions. Silence—or an absence of opinion, as evinced by a shrug of the shoulders—was probably the most frequent reaction. But there were also people who understood why it was important to know about the past and who wished it were easier to find out more.
Monuments and Public Awareness
In fact, with some effort, one can learn a great deal about the past in contemporary Russia. Not all Russian archives are closed, and not all Russian historians are preoccupied with other things. The story of the Gulag has also become part of public debate in some of the former Soviet republics and former Soviet satellites. In a few nations (as a rule, those who remember themselves as victims rather than perpetrators of terror), the memorials and the debates are very prominent indeed.
Dotted around Russia itself, there are also a handful of informal, semi-official, and private monuments and museums, erected by a wide variety of people and organizations. Strange, surprising, individual monuments can sometimes be found in out-of-the-way places. An iron cross has been placed on a barren hill outside the city of Ukhta commemorating the site of a mass murder of prisoners. To see it, I had to drive down an almost impassable muddy road, walk behind a building site, and clamber over a railway track. Even then I was too far away to read the actual inscription. Still, the local activists who had erected the cross a few years earlier beamed with pride as they pointed it out to me.
A few hours north of Petrozavodsk, another ad hoc memorial has been set up outside the village of Sandormokh, where prisoners from the Solovetsky Islands were shot in 1937. Because there are no records stating who is buried where, each family has chosen, at random, to commemorate a particular pile of bones. Relatives of victims have pasted photographs of their relatives, long dead, on wooden stakes, and some have carved epitaphs into the sides. Ribbons, plastic flowers, and other funerary bric-a-brac are strewn throughout the pine forest that has grown up over the killing field. On the sunny August day that I visited (it was the anniversary of the murder, and a delegation had come from St. Petersburg), an elderly woman stood up to speak of her parents, both buried there, both shot when she was seven years old. A whole lifetime had passed before she had been able to visit their graves.
And yet in Russia, a country accustomed to grandiose war memorials and vast, solemn state funerals, these local efforts and private initiatives seem meager, scattered, and incomplete. The majority of Russians are probably not even aware of them. And no wonder: Ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia—the country that has inherited the Soviet Union’s diplomatic and foreign policies, its embassies, its debts, and its seat at the United Nations—continues to act as if it has not inherited the Soviet Union’shistory. Russia does not have a national museum dedicated to the history of repression. Neither does Russia have a national place of mourning, a monument officially recognizing the suffering of victims and their families.
More notable than the missing monuments, however, is the missing public awareness. Sometimes it seems as if the enormous emotions and passions raised by the wide-ranging discussions of the Gorbachev era simply vanished, along with the Soviet Union itself. The bitter debate about justice for the victims disappeared just as abruptly. Although there was much talk about it at the end of the 1980s, the Russian government never did examine or try the perpetrators of torture or mass murder, even those who were identifiable.
It is true, of course, that trials may not always be the best way to come to terms with the past. But there are other methods, aside from trials, of doing public justice to the crimes of the past. There are truth commissions, for example, of the sort implemented in South Africa, which allow victims to tell their stories in an official, public place and make the crimes of the past a part of the public debate. There are official investigations, like the British Parliament’s 2002 inquiry into the Northern Irish “Bloody Sunday” massacre,which took place 30 years earlier. There are government inquiries, government commissions, and public apologies. Yet the Russian government has never considered any of these options. Other than the brief, inconclusive “trial” of the Communist Party, there have in fact been no public truth-telling sessions in Russia, no parliamentary hearings, no official investigations of any kind into the murders or the massacres or the camps of the USSR.
The result: half a century after the end of World War II, the Germans still conduct regular public disputes about victims’ compensation, about memorials, about new interpretations of Nazi history, even about whether a younger generation of Germans ought to go on shouldering the burden of guilt about the crimes of the Nazis. Half a century after Stalin’s death, there were no equivalent arguments taking place in Russia because the memory of the past was not a living part of the public discourse.
The Russian rehabilitation process did continue, very quietly, throughout the 1990s. By the end of 2001, about 4.5 million political prisoners had been rehabilitated in Russia, and the national rehabilitation commission estimated that it had a further half million cases to examine. But although the commission itself is serious and well intentioned, and although it is composed of camp survivors as well as bureaucrats, no one associated with it really feels that the politicians who created it were motivated by a real drive for “truth and reconciliation,” in the words of the British historian Catherine Merridale. Rather, the goal has been to end discussion of the past, to pacify the victims by throwing them a few extra rubles and free bus tickets, and to avoid any deeper examination of the causes of Stalinism or of its legacy.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same...
There are some good, or at least forgivable, explanations for this public silence. Most Russians really do spend all their time coping with the complete transformation of their economy and society. The Stalinist era was a long time ago, and a great deal has happened since it ended. Post-communist Russia is not postwar Germany, where the memories of the worst atrocities were still fresh in people’s minds. In the early twenty-first century, the events of the middle of the twentieth century seem like ancient history to much of the population.
Perhaps more to the point, many Russians also feel that they have had their discussion of the past already and that it produced very little. When one asks older Russians, at least, why the subject of the Gulag is so rarely mentioned nowadays, they wave away the issue: “In the 1990s that was all we could talk about, now we don’t need to talk about it anymore.” 
But there are other reasons, less forgivable, for the profound silence. Many Russians experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union as a profound blow to their personal pride. Perhaps the old system was bad, they now feel—but at least we were powerful. And now that we are not powerful, we do not want to hear that it was bad. It is too painful, like speaking ill of the dead.
Some still also fear what they might find out about the past if they were to inquire too closely. Aleksandr Yakovlev, chairman of the Russian rehabilitation commission, put this problem bluntly. “Society is indifferent to the crimes of the past,” he told me, “because so many people participated in them.” The Soviet system dragged millions and millions of its citizens into many forms of collaboration and compromise. Although many willingly participated, otherwise decent people were also forced to do terrible things. They, their children, and their grandchildren do not always want to remember that now.
But the most important explanation for the lack of public debate does not involve the fears of the younger generation or the inferiority complexes and leftover guilt of their parents. The most important issue is rather the power and prestige of those now ruling not only Russia but also most of the other former Soviet states and satellite states. In December 2001, on the 10th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 13 of the 15 former Soviet republics were run by former Communists, as were many of the former satellite states. Even in those countries not actually run by the direct ideological descendants of the Communist Party, former Communists and their children or fellow travelers continued to figure largely in the intellectual, media, and business elites. The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, was a former KGB agent who proudly identified himself as a Chekist, a word used to describe Lenin’s political police at the time of the revolution. The dominance of former Communists and the insufficient discussion of the past in the post-communist world is not coincidental. To put it bluntly, former Communists have a clear interest in concealing the past: it tarnishes them, undermines them, hurts their claims to be carrying out “reforms,” even when they personally had nothing to do with past crimes. Many, many excuses have been given for Russia’s failure to build a national monument to its millions of victims, but Aleksandr Yakovlev, again, gave me the most succinctexplanation. “The monument will be built,” he said, “when we—the older generation—are all dead.”
This matters because the failure to acknowledge or repent or discuss the history of the communist past weighs like a stone on many of the nations of post-communist Europe. Whispered rumors about the contents of old “secret files” continue to disrupt contemporary politics, destabilizing at least one Polish and one Hungarian prime minister. Deals done in the past, between fraternal communist parties, continue to have ramifications in the present. In many places, the secret police apparatus—the cadres, the equipment, the offices—remains virtually unchanged. The occasional discovery of fresh caches of bones can suddenly spark controversy and anger.
This past weighs on Russia most heavily of all. Russia inherited the trappings of Soviet power—and also the Soviet Union’s great power complex, its military establishment, and its imperial goals. As a result, the political consequences of absent memory in Russia have been much more damaging than they have in other former communist countries. Acting in the name of the Soviet motherland, Stalin deported the Chechen nation to the wastes of Kazakhstan, where half of them died and the rest were meant to disappear, along with their language and culture. Fifty years later, in a repeat performance, the Russian Federation obliterated the Chechen capital, Grozny, and murdered tens of thousands of Chechen civilians in the course of two wars. If the Russian people and the Russian elite remembered—viscerally, emotionally remembered—what Stalin did to the Chechens, they could not have invaded Chechnya in the 1990s, not once and not twice. To do so was the moral equivalent of postwar Germany invading western Poland. Very few Russians saw it that way—which is itself evidence of how little they know about their own history.
There have also been consequences for the formation of Russian civil society and for the development of the rule of law. To put it bluntly, if scoundrels of the old regime go unpunished, good will in no way have beenseen to triumph over evil. This may sound apocalyptic, but it is not politically irrelevant. The police do not need to catch all the criminals all of the time for most people to submit to public order, but they need to catch a significant proportion. Nothing encourages lawlessness more than the sight of villains getting away with it, living off their spoils, and laughing in the public’s face. The secret police kept their apartments, their dachas, and their large pensions. Their victims remained poor and marginal. To most Russians, it now seems as if the more you collaborated in the past, the wiser you were. By analogy, the more you cheat and lie in the present, the wiser you are.
In a very deep sense, some of the ideology of the Gulag also survives in the attitudes and worldview of the new Russian elite. The old Stalinist division between categories of humanity, between the all-powerful elite and the worthless “enemies,” lives on in the new Russian elite’s arrogant contempt for its fellow citizens. Unless that elite soon comes to recognize the value and the importance of all of Russia’s citizens, to honor both their civil and their human rights, Russia is ultimately fated to become today’s northern Zaire, a land populated by impoverished peasants and billionaire politicians who keep their assets in Swiss bank vaults and their private jets on runways, engines running.
Tragically, Russia’s lack of interest in its past has deprived the Russians of heroes, as well as villains. The names of those who secretly opposed Stalin, however ineffectively, ought to be as widely known in Russia as are, in Germany, the names of the participants in the plot to kill Hitler. The incredibly rich body of Russian survivors’ literature—tales of people whose humanity triumphed over the horrifying conditions of the Soviet concentration camps—should be better read, better known, more frequently quoted. If schoolchildren knew these heroes and their stories better, they would find something to be proud of even in Russia’s Soviet past, aside from imperial and military triumphs.
Yet the failure to remember has more mundane, practical consequences too. It can be argued, for example, that Russia’s failure to delve properly into the past also explains its insensitivity to certain kinds of censorship and to the continued, heavy presence of secret police, now renamed the Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, or FSB. Most Russians are not especially bothered by the FSB’s ability to open mail, tap telephones, and enter private residences without a court order.
Insensitivity to the past also helps explain the absence of judicial and prison reform. In 1998, I paid a visit to the central prison in the city of Arkhangelsk, once one of the capital cities of the Gulag. The city prison, which dated back to before Stalin’s time, seemed hardly to have changed since then. As I walked the halls of the stone building, accompanied by a silent warder, it seemed as if we had stepped back into one of the many Gulag memoirs I had read. The cells were crowded and airless; the walls were damp; the hygiene was primitive. The prison boss shrugged. It all came down to money, he said: The hallways were dark because electricity was expensive, the prisoners waited weeks for their trials because judges were badly paid. I was not convinced. Money is a problem, but it is not the whole story. If Russia’s prisons still look as they did in Stalin’s era, if Russia’s courts and criminal investigations are a sham, that is partly because the Soviet legacy does not hang like a bad conscience on the shoulders of those who run Russia’s criminal justice system. The past does not haunt Russia’s secret police, Russia’s judges, Russia’s politicians, or Russia’s business elite.
But then, very few people in contemporary Russia feel the past to be a burden, or an obligation, at all. The past is a bad dream to be forgotten or a whispered rumor to be ignored. Like a great, unopened Pandora’s box, it lies in wait for the next generation.
Western Amnesia
Our failure in the West to understand the magnitude of what happened in the Soviet Union and Central Europe does not, of course, have the same profound implications for our way of life as it does for theirs. Our tolerance for the odd “Gulag denier” in our universities will not destroy the moral fabric of our society. The Cold War is over, after all, and there is no real intellectual or political force left in the communist parties of the West.
Nevertheless, if we do not start trying harder to remember, there will be consequences for us too. For one, our understanding of what is happening now in the former Soviet Union will go on being distorted by our misunderstanding of history. Again, if we really knew what Stalin did to the Chechens, and if we felt that it was a terrible crime against the Chechen nation, it is not only Vladimir Putin who would be unable to do the same things to them now, but also we who would be unable to sit back and watch with any equa-nimity. Neither did the Soviet Union’s collapse inspire the same mobilization of Western forces as did the end of the Second World War. When Nazi Germany finally fell, the rest of the West created both NATO and the European Community—in part to prevent Germany from ever breaking away from civilized “normality” again. By contrast, it was not until September 11, 2001, that the nations of the West seriously began rethinking their post–Cold War security policies, and then there were other motivations stronger than the need to bring Russia back into the civilization of the West.
But in the end, the foreign policy consequences are not the most important. For if we forget the Gulag, sooner or later we will find it hard to understand our own history too. Why did we fight the Cold War, after all? Was it because crazed right-wing politicians, in cahoots with the military-industrial complex and the CIA, invented the whole thing and forced two generations of Americans and West Europeans to go along with it? Or was there something more important happening? Confusion is already rife. In 2002, an article in the conservative British Spectator magazine opined that the Cold War was “one of the most unnecessary conflicts of all time.” The American writer Gore Vidal has also described the battles of the Cold War as “forty years of mindless wars which created a debt of $5 trillion.”
Thus we are forgetting what it was that mobilized us, what inspired us, what held the civilization of “the West” together for so long; we are forgetting what it was that we were fighting against. If we do not try harder to remember the history of the other half of the European continent, the history of the other twentieth-century totalitarian regime, in the end it is we in the West who will not understand our past, we who will not know how our world came to be the way it is.
And not only our own particular past, for if we go on forgetting half of Europe’s history, some of what we know about mankind itself will be distorted. Every one of the twentieth-century’s mass tragedies was unique: the Gulag, the Holocaust, the Armenian massacre, the Nanking massacre, the Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian revolution, the Bosnian wars, among many others. Every one of these events had different historical, philosophical, and cultural origins; every one arose in particular local circumstances that will never be repeated. Only our ability to debase and destroy and dehumanize our fellow men has been—and will be—repeated again and again: our transformation of our neighbors into “enemies,” our reduction of our opponentsto lice or vermin or poisonous weeds, our reinvention of our victims as lower, lesser, or evil beings, worthy only of incarceration or expulsion or death.
The more we are able to understand how different societies have transformed their neighbors and fellow citizens from people into objects, the more we know of the specific circumstances that led to each episode of mass torture and mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature. Totalitarian philosophies have had, and will continue to have, a profound appeal to many millions of people. Destruction of the “objective enemy,” as Hannah Arendt once put it, remains a fundamental object of many dictatorships. We need to know why—and each story, each memoir, each document in the history of the Gulag is a piece of the puzzle, a part of the explanation. Without them, we will wake up one day and realize that we do not know who we are.

Material from pages 178–91 adapted from the book Gulag, by Anne Applebaum, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. © 2003 by Anne Applebaum. Reprinted with permission.

Available from the Hoover Press is The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, by Hugh Agnew, part of the Studies of Nationalities series, which examines the nationalities of Central and Eastern Europe.


Anne Applebaum is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Washington Post.

http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/3001971.html


October 16, 2003
Gulag : Understanding the Magnitude of What Happened
by Anne Applebaum
Heritage Lecture #800

I am very delighted to be here--for a number of reasons, but mostly because Heritage was one of the organizations that continued to say what was wrong with Communism and continued to criticize it even before everybody else saw the light and agreed that that was the right thing to do. So thank you very much for having me here.

I'd like to begin by pointing out that I am standing before you today in 2003, the year that marks the 50th anniversary of Stalin's death. In commemoration of that event, I'd like to read a very short excerpt from the memoirs of his daughter, Svetlana, who sat by his deathbed until the very end. For the last twelve hours, she wrote:

The lack of oxygen became acute . . . the death agony was terrible. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed to be the very last moment, he opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane, or perhaps angry, and full of the fear of death.

Within days of Stalin's demise, his henchman Beria, and then Khrushchev, began dismantling one of the dictator's proudest achievements, namely his concentration camps. They did so for many reasons--some had wives and relatives in the camps; some feared retribution from others who did. Most of all, though, they did so because the camps were an economic disaster and had distorted the society they were supposed to help build.

Yet although they knew this, none of Stalin's Soviet successors--not Nikita Khrushchev and not his reformist successor, Mikhail Gorbachev--was far-seeing enough, or politically powerful enough, to finish the job. As a result, both the economic and the moral legacy of the camps continue to distort Russian and East European society today. One might say that Stalin is dead, but his last, terrible gaze still casts its shadow.

Although the legacy of the Gulag will be the ultimate subject of my talk today, I do want to begin with a brief account of what we have learned about the camps since the time of Stalin's death, and in particular what we know now that we did not know 10 years ago. For I do not want to claim that, in writing a narrative history of the Gulag,1 I have discovered a new topic that has never been touched upon before: Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, the history of the camp system that he published in the West in the 1970s, largely got it right. Although he had no access to archives, and based all of his writing on letters and memoirs of other prisoners, he did, it now appears, get the general outline of the history right, proving that prisoners' gossip was not so wrong as many historians tried to claim.

Mining the Archives

In the years I spent researching this book, however, I concluded that archives can make a difference. I was able to work in archives in Moscow and Karelia, and had access to many documents already copied out of archives in St. Petersburg, Perm, Vorkuta, Kolyma, and Novosibirsk. At one point, I was handed a part of the archive of a small camp called Kedrovy Shor, in the far north, and politely asked if I wanted to buy it--which I did, of course.

What was available to me was often quite ordinary--the day-to-day archive of the Gulag administration, for example, with inspectors' reports, financial accounts, letters from the camp directors to their supervisors in Moscow. Yet when reading these documents, the full extent of the system, and its importance to the Soviet economy, comes into focus.

Thanks to archives, we now know that there were at least 476 camp systems, each one made up of hundreds, even thousands of individual camps or lagpunkts, sometimes spread out over thousands of square miles of otherwise empty tundra. We know that the vast majority of prisoners in them were peasants and workers, not the intellectuals who later wrote memoirs and books. We know that, with a few exceptions, the camps were not constructed in order to kill people--Stalin preferred to use firing squads to conduct mass executions.

Nevertheless they were, at times, very lethal: Nearly one-quarter of the Gulag's prisoners died during the war years. They were also very fluid: Prisoners left because they died, because they escaped, because they had short sentences, because they were being released into the Red Army, or because they had been promoted from prisoner to guard. There were also frequent amnesties for the old, the ill, pregnant women, and anyone else no longer useful to the forced labor system. These releases were invariably followed by new waves of arrests.

As a result, between 1929, when they first became a mass phenomenon, and 1953, the year of Stalin's death, some 18 million people passed through them. In addition, a further 6 or 7 million people were deported, not to camps but to exile villages. In total, that means the number of people with some experience of imprisonment in Stalin's Soviet Union could have run as high as 25 million, about 15 percent of the population.

We also know they were everywhere. Although we are all familiar with the image of the prisoner in the snowstorm digging coal with a pickaxe, there were also camps in central Moscow, where prisoners built apartment blocks or designed airplanes; camps in Krasnoyarsk, where prisoners ran nuclear power plants; fishing camps on the Pacific coast. The Gulag photo albums in the Russian State Archive are chock-full of pictures of prisoners with their camels.

From Aktyubinsk to Yakutsk, there was not a single major population center that did not have its own local camp or camps, and not a single industry that did not employ prisoners. Over the years, prisoners built roads and railroads, power plants and chemical factories; manufactured weapons, furniture, even children's toys. In the Soviet Union of the 1940s, the decade the camps reached their zenith, it would have been difficult in many places to go about your daily business and not run into prisoners.

The Five Year Plan

We also understand better the chronology of the camps. We've long known that Lenin built the first ones in 1918, at the time of the Bolshevik revolution, as an ad hoc, emergency measure to contain "enemies of the people," prevent counter-revolution, and re-educate the bourgeoisie.

Archives have also helped explain why Stalin chose to expand them in 1929. In that year, Stalin launched the Five Year Plan, an extraordinarily costly attempt, in human lives and natural resources, to force a 20 percent annual increase in the Soviet Union's industrial output and to collectivize agriculture. The plan led to millions of arrests as peasants were forced off their land and imprisoned if they refused to leave. It also led to an enormous labor shortage. Suddenly, the Soviet Union found itself in need of coal, gas, and minerals, most of which could be found only in the far north of the country.

The decision was taken: The prisoners should be used to extract the minerals. To the secret policeman charged with carrying out the construction of the camps, it all made sense. Here is how Alexei Loginov, former deputy commander of the Norilsk camps, north of the Arctic Circle, justified the use of prisoner labor in a 1992 interview:

If we had sent civilians, we would first have had to build houses for them to live in. And how could civilians live there? With prisoners it is easy--all you need is a barrack, a stove with a chimney, and they survive.

None of which is to say that the camps were not also intended to terrorize and subjugate the population. Certainly prison and camp regimes, which were dictated in minute detail by Moscow, were openly designed to humiliate prisoners. The prisoners' belts, buttons, garters, and items made of elastic were taken away from them; they were described as "enemies" and forbidden to use the word "comrade." Such measures contributed to the dehumanization of prisoners in the eyes of camp guards and bureaucrats, who therefore found it that much easier not to treat them as fellow citizens, or even as human beings.

In fact, this was an extremely powerful ideological combination--the disregarding of the humanity of prisoners, combined with the overwhelming need to fulfill the Plan. Nowhere is this clearer than in the camp inspection reports, submitted periodically by local prosecutors and now kept neatly on file in the Moscow archives.

When I first began to read them, I was shocked both by their frankness and by the peculiar kind of outrage they express. Describing conditions in Volgolag, a railroad construction camp in Tatarstan, in July 1942, one inspector complained, for example, that "the whole population of the camp, including free workers, lives off flour. The only meal for prisoners is so-called `bread' made from flour and water, without meats or fats." As a result, the inspector went on indignantly, there were high rates of illness, particularly scurvy, and, not surprisingly, the camp was failing to meet its production norms.

The outrage ceased to seem surprising after I had read several dozen similar reports, each of which used more or less the same sort of language and ended with more or less the same ritual conclusion: Conditions needed to be improved so that prisoners would work harder, and so that production norms would be met. Yet very little was actually done.

The reports reminded me of the inspectors of Gogol's era: The forms were observed, the reports were filed, and effects on actual human beings were ignored. Camp commanders were routinely reprimanded for failing to improve living conditions, living conditions continued to fail to improve, and the discussion ended there.

The level of detail also, however, clears up any remaining doubt about who was in control of the camp, the central government or the regional bosses. Back in Moscow, they knew what the camps were like, and they knew in great detail.

Distortion of the Economy

Without question, the expansion of the camps distorted the Soviet economy. With so much cheap labor available, the Soviet economy took far longer than it should have to become mechanized. Problems were solved by calling for more workers. With so many poorly trained people working under coercion, construction was not of the highest quality either. By one account, labor productivity among free workers in the forestry industry was nearly three times that of the prisoners working in the forestry camps.

But the camps also distorted the way people in the lands of the former Soviet Union think about economics, a point I would like to illustrate by describing a trip I took a couple of years ago to the city of Vorkuta, on the Arctic Circle.

Vorkuta's history begins in 1931, when a group of colonists first arrived in the region by boat, up the northern waterways. Although even the tsars had known about the region's enormous coal reserves, no one had managed to work out precisely how to get the coal out of the ground, given the sheer horror of life in a place where temperatures regularly drop to -30 degrees or -40 degrees in the winter, where the sun does not shine for six months of the year, and where--as I can testify--in the summertime flies and mosquitoes travel in great dark clouds.

But Stalin found a way by making use of another sort of vast reserve. Vorkuta's 23 original settlers were, of course, prisoners, and the leaders of that founding expedition were, of course, secret policemen. Over the subsequent two and a half decades, a million more prisoners passed through Vorkuta, one of the two or three most notorious hubs of the Gulag.

With the help of prisoners, the Soviet authorities built a city with shops and schools and later swimming pools. Yet the cost of heating shoddy Soviet apartment blocks for 11 months of the year was astronomical, far more than the value of the coal itself. The city's infrastructure, built on constantly shifting permafrost, required huge efforts to maintain. Miners could, instead, have been flown in and out on two-week shifts, as they are in Canada or Alaska. Nevertheless, Vorkuta, now a city of 200,000 people, kept going throughout the 1970s and 1980s and still exists today.

The truth, of course, is that Vorkuta was and still is completely unnecessary. Why build kindergartens and university lecture halls in the tundra? Why build puppet theatres? Vorkuta has three. Yet in Vorkuta, you cannot ask such questions, even now.

You cannot ask them, for example, of Zhenya, a retired geologist with whom I spent the better part of a day. Together, we walked around the city, around the prisoners' cemeteries, around the ruined geological institute--a once-solid structure, complete with a columned, Stalinist portico and a red star on the pediment. Although her Polish parents had been arrested and deported here in the 1940s, although she knows and willingly recounts the city's history, Zhenya nevertheless spent a good part of the day railing against the "thief-democrats" and "greedy bureaucrats" who had, rather sensibly, decided to shut the institute down. If your whole life has been associated with a place, it is hard to admit that the place need never have existed.

Confused Memory of the Past

But if Zhenya, herself the daughter of victims, was unable to understand why her city now needs to be dismantled, then who can? And this question brings me to the next part of my talk, in which I would like to ask why the Gulag, about which historians now know so much, and whose economic impact we now understand so much better, is so seldom debated and discussed by Russians.

One of the things that always strikes contemporary visitors to Russia is the lack of monuments to the victims of Stalin's execution squads and concentration camps. There are a few scattered memorials, but no national monument or place of mourning. Worse, 15 years after glasnost, 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been no trials, no truth and reconciliation commissions, no government inquiries into what happened in the past, and no public debate.

This was not always the case. During the 1980s, when glasnost was just beginning in Russia, Gulag survivors' memoirs sold millions of copies, and a new revelation about the past could sell out a newspaper. But more recently, history books containing similar "revelations" are badly reviewed or ignored. The president of Russia is a former KGB agent who describes himself as a "Chekist," the word for Stalin's political police.

The reasons for this are not hard to fathom. Life is genuinely difficult in Russia today, and most Russians, who spend all of their time trying to cope, do not want to discuss the past. The Stalinist era was a long time ago, and a great deal has happened since it ended. Post-Soviet Russia is not the same as post-Nazi Germany, where the memories of the worst atrocities were still in people's minds.

The memory of the camps is also confused in Russia by the presence of so many other atrocities: war, famine, and collectivization. Why should camp survivors get special treatment? It is further confused by the link made, in some people's minds, between the discussion of the past that took place in the 1980s and the total collapse of the economy in the 1990s. What was the point of talking about all of that, many people said to me: It didn't get us anywhere.

But there is also a question of pride. Like Zhenya, many experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union as a personal blow. Perhaps the old system was bad, they now feel, but at least we were powerful. And now that we are not powerful, we do not want to hear that it was bad.

Far and away, though, the most important explanation for the lack of debate is not the fears and anxieties of the ordinary Russian, but the power and prestige of those now ruling the country. In December 2001, on the 10th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 13 of the 15 former Soviet republics were run by former communists, as were many of the satellite states.

To put it bluntly, former communists have no interest in discussing the past. It tarnishes them, undermines them, hurts their image as "reformers." Sometimes they end discussion subtly; sometimes they do so bluntly. Just a few weeks ago, Hungary's new post-communist government cut the funding and fired the board of directors of Budapest's new museum dedicated to the history of communism and fascism, which the previous government had erected at great cost.

And this matters: The failure to acknowledge or repent affects politics and society across the region. Would the Russians truly be able to conduct a war in Chechnya if they remembered what Stalin did to the Chechens? During the Second World War, Stalin accused the Chechens of collaboration with the Germans, but instead of punishing collaborators--if there were any--he punished the whole nation. Every Chechen man, woman, and child was put on a truck or a cattle car and sent to the deserts of Central Asia. Thousands wound up in camps. Half of them died. To invade Chechnya again, at the end of the 20th century, was the moral equivalent of Germany re-invading Poland, yet very few Russians saw it that way.

Yet the failure to fully absorb the lessons of the past has consequences for ordinary Russians too. It can be argued, for example, that the Russian failure to delve properly into the past also explains the Russian insensitivity to the slow growth of censorship, and to the continued, heavy presence of the secret police.

It may also explain the stunning absence of judicial and police reform. In 1998, I visited a criminal prison in Arkhangelsk and emerged reeling from what I'd seen. The women's cells, with their hot, heavy air and powerful smells, made me feel as if I were walking back into the past. Next door, in the juvenile cell, I met a sobbing, 15-year-old girl who had been accused of stealing the ruble equivalent of $10. She had been in jail, without a hearing, for a week.

Afterwards, I spoke to the prison boss. It all came down to money, he told me. The prison warders were rude because they were badly paid. The ventilation was bad because the building was old and needed repairs. Electricity was expensive, so the corridors were dark. Trials were delayed because there were not enough judges.

I was not convinced. Money is a problem, but it is not the whole story. If Russia's prisons look like a scene from a Gulag memoir, and if Russia's courts and criminal investigations are a sham, that is partly because the Soviet legacy does not haunt Russia's criminal police, secret police, judges, jailers, or even businessmen. But then, very few people in contemporary Russia feel the past to be a burden or an obligation at all. Like a great, unopened Pandora's box, the past lies in wait for the next generation.

Lessons for the West

But do we, in the West, remember the Soviet past any better? One of the reasons I wrote this book was because I really encountered this subject only while living in Eastern Europe, and I started to wonder why.

Since there are a lot of writers in the room today, I think I can also confess that I was further inspired by an irritating New York Times review of my first book, in 1994, which was about the Western borderlands of the former Soviet Union. Although largely positive, of course, it contained the following line:

Here occurred the terror famine of the 1930s, in which Stalin killed more Ukrainians than Hitler murdered Jews. Yet how many in the West remember it? After all, the killing was so--so boring, and ostensibly undramatic.

Were Stalin's murders boring? Many people think so. Put differently, the crimes of Stalin do not inspire the same visceral reaction as do the crimes of Hitler.

Ken Livingstone, a former British member of Parliament, now Mayor of London, once struggled to explain the difference to me. Yes, the Nazis were "evil," he said. But the Soviet Union was "deformed." That view echoes the feeling that many people have, even people who are not old-fashioned members of the British Labor Party: The Soviet Union simply went wrong somehow, but it was not fundamentally wrong in the way that Hitler's Germany was wrong.

Until recently, it was possible to explain this absence of popular feeling about the tragedy of European communism in the West as the logical result of a particular set of circumstances. The passage of time is part of it: Communist regimes really did grow less reprehensible as the years went by. Nobody was very frightened of General Jaruzelski, or even of Brezhnev, although both were responsible for a great deal of destruction. Besides, archives were closed. Access to camp sites was forbidden. No television cameras ever filmed the Soviet camps or their victims, as they had done in Germany at the end of the Second World War. No images, in turn, meant that the subject, in our image-driven culture, didn't really exist either.

But ideology twisted the ways in which we understood Soviet and East European history as well. In fact, in the 1920s, a great deal was known in the West about the bloodiness of Lenin's revolution. Western socialists, many of whose brethren had been jailed by the Bolsheviks, protested loudly and strongly against the crimes being committed then.

In the 1930s, however, as Americans became more interested in learning how socialism could be applied here, the tone changed. Writers and journalists went off to the USSR, trying to learn lessons they could use at home. The New York Times employed a correspondent, Walter Duranty, who lauded the five-year plan and argued, against all the evidence, that it was a massive success--and won a Pulitzer Prize for doing so.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, a part of the Western Left struggled to explain, and sometimes to excuse, the camps and the terror that created them precisely because they wanted to try some aspects of the Soviet experiment at home. In 1936, after millions of Soviet peasants had died of famine, the British socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb published a vast survey of the Soviet Union, which explained, among other things, how the "downtrodden Russian peasant is gradually acquiring a sense of political freedom."

These sentiments reached their peak during the Second World War, when Stalin was our ally and we had other reasons to ignore the truth about his repressive regime. In 1944, the American Vice President, Henry Wallace, actually went to Kolyma, one of the most notorious camps, during a trip across the USSR. Imagining he was visiting some kind of industrial complex, he told his hosts that "Soviet Asia," as he called it, reminded him of the Wild West:

The vast expanses of your country, her virgin forests, wide rivers and large lakes, all kinds of climate--from tropical to polar--her inexhaustible wealth, remind me of my homeland.

According to a report that the boss of Kolyma later wrote for Beria, then the head of the security services, Wallace did ask to see prisoners, but was kept away. He was not alone in refusing to see the truth about Stalin's system: Roosevelt and Churchill had very cordial relations with Stalin too.

All of that contributed to our firm conviction that the Second World War was a wholly just war, and even today few want that conviction shaken. We remember D-Day, the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the children welcoming American GIs with cheers on the streets. We do not remember that the camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were liberated. No one wants to think that we defeated one mass murderer with the help of another.

During the Cold War, it is true, our awareness of Soviet atrocities went up--but in the 1960s, they receded again. Even in the 1980s, there were still American academics that went on describing the advantages of East German health care or Polish peace initiatives.

In the academic world, Soviet historians who wrote about the camps generally divided up into two groups: those who wrote about the camps as criminal and those who downplayed them, if not because they were actually pro-Soviet, then because they were opposed to America's role in the Cold War, or perhaps to Ronald Reagan. Right up to the very end, our views of the Soviet Union and its repressive system always had more to do with American politics and American ideological struggles than they did with the Soviet Union itself.

Together, all of these explanations once made a kind of sense. When I first began to think seriously about this subject, as communism was collapsing in 1989, I even saw the logic of them myself: It seemed natural, obvious, that I should know very little about Stalin's Soviet Union, whose secret history made it all the more intriguing.

More than a decade later, I feel very differently. World War II now belongs to a previous generation. The Cold War is over too, and the alliances and international fault lines it produced have shifted for good. The Western Left and the Western Right now compete over different issues. At the same time, the emergence of new terrorist threats to Western civilization make the study of the old communist threats to Western civilization all the more relevant. It is time, it seems to me, to stop looking at the history of the Soviet Union through the narrow lens of American politics and start seeing it for what it really was.

I should say, of course, that our failure in the West to understand the magnitude of what happened in Central Europe does not have the same profound implications for our way of life as it does in Russia. But there will be consequences.

For one, our understanding of what is happening now in the former Soviet Union is distorted by our misunderstanding of its history. Again, if we really felt--if we really, viscerally felt--that what Stalin did to the Chechens amounted to genocide, it is not only Vladimir Putin who would be unable to do the same things to them now, but we who would be unable to sit back with any equanimity and watch them.

In the end, the foreign policy consequences are not the most important. For if we forget the Gulag, sooner or later we will forget our own history too. Why did we fight the Cold War, after all? Was it because crazed right-wing politicians, in cahoots with the military-industrial complex and the CIA, invented the whole thing and forced two generations of Americans to go along with it? Or was there something more important happening?

Confusion is already rife. In 2002, an article in the conservative British Spectator magazine opined that the Cold War was "one of the most unnecessary conflicts of all time." Gore Vidal has also described the battles of the Cold War as "forty years of mindless wars which created a debt of $5 trillion." Already, we are forgetting what it was that mobilized us, what inspired us, what held the civilization of "the West" together for so long.

And this is not only about the politics of the West. For if we do not study the history of the Gulag, some of what we know about mankind itself will be distorted. Every one of the 20th century's mass tragedies was unique: the Gulag, the Holocaust, the Armenian massacre, the Nanking massacre, the Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian revolution, the Bosnian wars, the Rwandan massacres. Every one of these events had different historical and philosophical origins, and arose in circumstances that will never be repeated. Only our ability to debase and destroy and dehumanize our fellow men has been--and will be--repeated again and again.

Yet the more we understand how different societies have transformed their neighbors and fellow citizens into objects, the more we know of the specific circumstances which led to each episode of mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature. I wrote my book about the Gulag not "so that it will not happen again," as the cliché has it, but because it probably will happen again. We need to know why--and each story, each memoir, each document is a piece of the puzzle. Without them, we will wake up one day and realize that we do not know who we are.

Anne Applebaum is a columnist and member of the editorial board of The Washington Post.


1. Gulag: A History (New York: Doubleday, 2003).


Comments