David Remnick's book, Lenin's Tomb

A friend loaned me this book a few weeks ago and I completed it this morning. I can only quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the "Vintage Edition" Afterword: The heart is not yet glad. So much waste, so much betrayal, so much accusation of "you moved too fast!", "you moved too slowly!", "you betrayed our trust!" (in every possible direction). And yet, the book is out of date already because Boris Yeltsin has been out of power some time now -- died just this year -- and in his place the former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, looks to be establishing himself as the next long-term autocrat. Of course he has some semblance of legitimacy but it is hard, in the face of his relations to politically interested oligarchs (e.g. MIkhail Khodorkovsky), Belarus and Ukraine (with regard to natural gas pipelines) to accord him more than the semblance.

May the heart yet be glad! Still, it's easy to ignore, in the Anglophone west, what a long hard struggle the progress from autocracy to civil, responsible government was. The French might still remember that Bastille Day was followed by the terror, Napoleon, the return of the Bourbons, another Napoleon or two before things settled down, decades after the ouster of the WWII Quisling government, to the (largely) civilized government we see today. But in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the memory has to be a little longer -- okay, so the Americans have fought more recent wars, but their progress was accelerated by their English heritage and the Lessons Learned from the conflict by England helped the others along. These countries all mostly inherit the results of the Magna Carta (1215 or so) and the ensuing developments over the next 500 years until the last time (Queen Anne, 1707) a monarch over-turned an act of the Commons, outright.

These things take time, lots of time. It may not be in our lifetimes but there is still reason to hope that tyranny will come to an end some time in Russia (and the former SSRs). They are not doomed forever to swing from autocrat to autocrat, from corrupt bureaucracy to corrupt bureaucracy. We can hope and pray that it'll be sooner rather than later but we need not despair that it'll likely be never.

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