Archive for February 26, 2010

Quotes from Preface to “The Whisperers”

I haven’t finished reading yet The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia by Orlando Figes but I have really enjoyed reading the first third of this very detailed book describing the brokenness in many Russian families.  However, this is about Russia and the author is a Russophile to the exclusion of other countries and cultures who suffered as much, if not more, than the Russians did during Stalin’s reign of terror. [My own comments are in brackets, I can’t help myself!!!]

Preface 31 “A silent and conformist population is one lasting consequence of Stalin’s reign. [wow, how’s that for leaving a legacy of brokenness?]

Pre 32 “Historians have been slow to enter the inner world of Stalin’s Russia.  Until recently, their research was concerned mostly with the public sphere, with politics and ideology and with the collective experience of the “soviet masses.”  The individual – in so far as he appeared at all – featured mainly as a letter-writer to the authorities (i.e. as a public actor rather than as a private person or family member).  The private sphere of ordinary people was largely hidden from view. [the same might be written about the culture of Kazakhstan where writing was not as important as telling stories orally, they DO have stories, just not in the written form!!!]

Pre 33 “But while these memoirs speak a truth for many people who survived the Terror, particularly for the intelligentsia strongly committed to ideals of freedom and individualism, they do not speak for the millions of ordinary people, including many victims of the Stalinist regime, who did not share this inner freedom or feeling of dissent, but on the contrary, silently accepted and internalized the system’s basic values, conformed to its public rules and perhaps collaborated in the perpetration of its crimes.” [I suppose there are Kazakhs who did conform and even perpetrated some of the Soviet crimes among their own people…I have heard stories]

Pre 34 “According to some, it was practically impossible for the individual to think or feel outside the terms defined by the public discourse of Soviet politics, and any other thoughts or emotions were likely to be felt as a ‘crisis of the self’ demanding to be purged from the personality.”

“The Soviet mentalities reflected in this book in most cases occupied a region of the consciousness where older values and beliefs had been suspended or suppressed; they were adopted by people, not so much from a burning desire to ‘become Soviet’ as from a sense of shame and fear.” [using fear is a terrible motivation to change, can still be used in teaching practices today]

Pre 35 “…a way to make sense of their suffering, which without this higher purpose might reduce them to despair…

Such mentalities are less often reflected in Stalin-era diaries and letters – whose content was generally dictated by Soviet rules of writing and propriety what did not allow the acknowledgement of fear – than they are in oral history.  Historians of the Stalinist regime have turned increasing to the techniques of oral history. Like any other discipline that is hostage to the tricks of memory, oral history has its methodological difficulties, and in Russia, a nation taught to whisper, where the memory of Soviet history is overlaid with myths and ideologies, these problems are especially acute.” [sad but true]

Having lived in a society where millions were arrested for speaking inadvertently to informers, many older people are extremely wary of talking to researchers wielding microphones (devices associated with the KGB).  From fear or shame or stoicism, these survivors have suppressed their painful memories.  Many are unable to reflect about their lives, because they have grown so accustomed to avoiding awkward questions about anything, not least their own moral choices at defining moments of their personal advancement in the Soviet system.  Others are reluctant to admit to actions of which they are ashamed, often justifying their behaviour by citing motives and beliefs that they have imposed on their pasts.  Despite these challenges, and in many ways because of them, oral history has enormous benefits for the historian of private life, provided it is handled properly. [Yes, let’s hear it for oral history and qualitative research!!!]

Pre 36 “For three quarters of a century the Soviet system exerted its influence on the moral sphere of the family, no other totalitarian system had such a profound impact on the private lives of its subjects, not even Communist China. [wow, that’s pretty bad!!!]

Check out

Pre 37 “The population of the Gulag’s labour camps and ‘special settlements’ peaked not in 1938 but in 1953 and the impact of this long reign of terror continued to be felt by millions of people for many decades after Stalin’s death.” [that’s a LOT of people who were affected by Stalin and his regime of terror, even after his death!]

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