These days there is an additional opportunity to help the International Memorial recognized in Russia as a “foreign agent”. On non / fiction book fair, which opened in Gostiny Dvor, we need to find a stand for this public organization. In addition to books, there is a donation box.
It is difficult for Memorial now. A lot of energy and time is spent on participating in court hearings and preparing for them – the Prosecutor General’s Office insists on the elimination of NGOs. And yet, miraculously, human rights activists continue to work as before. Here at the fair of intellectual literature they have a full program. The presentation of each book becomes an occasion to talk to readers about serious and often painful social problems. For example, how grandchildren and great-grandchildren today experience and comprehend Soviet repression against their relatives. Do families remember such a tragic experience, do they talk about it with teenagers and children?
On Sunday, December 5, we will talk about how the perception of Soviet history has changed since the 1990s. The International Memorial invited writers Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Alexander Arkhangelsky, publisher Irina Prokhorov and historian Nikita Sokolov to participate in the discussion.
In addition, human rights activists present their joint project with UFO Publishing House at Non / fiction. This “Encyclopedia of Dissent. Dissent in the USSR and Eastern Europe “. The experience of participants in non-violent resistance to totalitarian systems in the current political reality is more than relevant, according to the International Memorial.
Of course, there are enough novelties and reprints of a completely different kind at the International Book Fair. As usual at Non / fiction, fiction, scientific, memoir, reference and children’s literature are fully represented here. Even – gastronomic.
With beautiful books on fine arts, as in previous years, you are forced to slow down. In short, everything is balanced. And yet it should be noted that authors and publishers are increasingly turning to the topic of repression. And here are not left out of the children’s book. It is symptomatic that the bestsellers released by the Scooter publishing house have become “Leningrad Tales” St. Petersburg writer Julia Yakovleva. This is a series of books with the same characters – children whose parents were declared enemies of the people. The time of the first books is the years of the Great Terror and the war with its Blockade. In 2021, the final, fifth book of the mystical saga was published – “Clay bees”. This is the first postwar year. The grown-up heroes survived, but in the conditions of such a terrible reality that it did not fit into consciousness and then turned into a fairy tale. True, also scary.
The publishing project of the Gulag History Museum is dedicated to another survivor, and this time to a real person. The first volume of the collection of works by Georgy Demidov – a collection of short stories – is still presented at the book fair “Wonderful planet”. According to the historian and senior researcher at the museum Tatiana Polyanskayait is planned to release a total of six volumes:
He was a pupil and colleague of Lev Landau, but in 1938 he became a Kolyma prisoner
– His works have been published before, but the full collection of works will be the first time. Georgy Demidov and Varlam Shalamov turned out to be one-stage, and it was about him, not knowing that Demidov survived in the Kolyma camps, Shalamov said in one of his works that “the most respected man I met in Kolyma was the Kharkov physicist Demidov.” Indeed, Demidov is not a professional writer, like most of those who wrote camp prose. He was a pupil and colleague of Lev Landau, but in 1938 he became a Kolyma prisoner.
There was a startling story with his manuscripts. After his release from the camps, Demidov believed that his main goal was to write about what he had seen and experienced. He understood bitterly that the physicist in it had died, although Landau admitted that Demidov was incredibly talented. So, he wrote. But in 1980, something happened that later killed the man. All his archives, all his drafts, all his manuscripts were confiscated by the KGB. It didn’t even help that he kept the manuscripts not only at home, but also with loyal friends. Everything went to the KGB special storage. After that, Georgy Demidov did not write anything more. He died seven years later. When a new wave of rehabilitation began in Perestroika, the commission of Alexander Yakovlev started working, Georgy Demidov’s daughter Valentina Georgievna asked Yakovlev to help return her father’s manuscripts. And they were literally brought to her house.
I believe that Demidov’s prose is incredibly relevant right now. We already know the macro history of the Gulag, and there is a lot of information about it in both memoirs and scientific sources. Now the views of researchers turn directly to people, that is, to the history of everyday life. In other words, it became important to know not how the prisoner lived (what his daily routine was, for example), but how he realized himself in a particular situation. What level of resistance he had, how he survived not physically but spiritually, so as not to be subjected to camp corruption. These are deep-seated problems. The answers to these questions can be found in the prose of Georgy Demidov, – he says Tatiana Polyanskaya.
Researcher of memorial culture, philologist Nikolai Apple came to Non / fiction in a T-shirt with a print in support of the International Memorial. This year the author of the book “Uncomfortable past. Memory of state crimes in Russia and other countries” was awarded the “Enlightener” and “LibMission” awards. The book was first published in 2020 and was so popular that the circulation was later reprinted. Your lecture Nicholas Apple began with words of gratitude:
– Thanks to the publishing house “New Literary Review”, which has the courage in our difficult times to publish awkward books. When my book was presented a year and a half ago, Memorial had problems only because the event did not have a “foreign agent” label, and now, as we know, Memorial is under threat of closure.
In Russia, what is often mentioned in the desired mood is impossible, namely – Nuremberg over the perpetrators of Soviet terror
While working on the book, I came to some conclusions. In Russia, what is often mentioned in the desired mood is impossible, namely, Nuremberg over the perpetrators of Soviet terror. And this is not even because the guilty are long gone. Namely, because Nuremberg is a unique event and, in general, not typical of the world and some universal mechanisms. But the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is another matter. This is when in society the parties sit down at the negotiating table and talk about exactly how real politics should be built and how responsibility for what happened should be built. The task of such an institution is not to condemn and put to the wall specific performers, but to make available, public and publicly recognized the truth about what happened. Such a mechanism is quite possible in Russia. Moreover, in the academic literature on how this work takes place in different countries, the same International Memorial is called an institute that is busy with work reminiscent of the work of preparing such a commission. At the same time, there is a firm rule of the game: in order for this study to be considered somewhat convincing, such a commission must be authorized by the state. Must have a state mandate. This cannot be the work of just any public organization, even a very respected one. Knowledge of the difficult past of society can be made if this effort is made with the involvement of the state.
Shifting from the focus of guilt to responsibility
In all countries where talking about a traumatic past has been effective, there has been a shift from guilt to responsibility. Surprisingly, the most important book has not been read in Russia, which has become an important factor in speaking about this topic in Germany, and then in other countries. This is the work of Karl Jaspers “The Question of Guilt”. The book was written in 1946, but became a bestseller and a phenomenon only in the 1960s, when German society matured. This is an incredibly relevant book for us, but it has not been republished in Russia since 1993. I pull the publishers all the time and persuade them to do so. It describes the types of guilt and responsibility. The author explains why and how all citizens, even if they did not directly participate in the crimes, nevertheless bear political responsibility. This is the most important conversation that no society can avoid. No country that deals with this kind of past. In Russia, meanwhile, it is often said, “You make us repent and instill guilt.”