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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Which Way Paradise?

Russia: Which Way Paradise? by Monica Attard

When Monica Attard, a former ABC Foreign Correspondent in Australia, was young, her father used to tell her that 'of the political systems which had led to genocide this century...communism was the one which at least held out some hope of a better future for the working class.' He thought that the Soviet's would fix up communism in time, as Stalin had gone. He also used to say that: "Capitalism is no better than the dictatorships of Hitler or Stalin."

Idealistic and young, Monica set off for Russia in 1983. Here she found a very different country from the one that her father dreamed about. She found a country beset by corruption and ruled by fear; a country where the Communist bureacrats and leaders had become the upper class (and there'll always be an upper class!) had many of the privileges of wealthy Westerners. It was a country in which ordinary people had to wait in long queues to buy even staple foods, and where they couldn't even trust their neighbours.

As a reporter, she saw the half-hearted reforms of Gorbachov, who couldn't bring himself to abandon Communism entirely, the people's revolt, and the rise of Boris Yeltsin. Capitalism, probably because it was introduced too quickly and in a laissez-faire way, didn't bring much joy either. Now we have a situation in Russia where many people favour the memory of Stalin!

I found this book interesting, but unfortunately it was extremely long, detailed and rather dry, so I didn't finish it. The part that probably interested me most, apart from Monica's rather low opinion of the famous Russian poet Yevteshenko, was her description of the British traitor, George Blake.

Blake, a spy who gave the KGB a copy of nearly every important document which passed through his hands, escaped from prison in England to Russia. "Instead of the new society Lenin promised, Blake found queues, food shortages and a chronic housing problem which left divorced couples living together in one room with their in-laws for twenty years. Instead of paradise he found a society riddled with inequality, envy and corrcuption."

Blake felt no remorse. "I didn't act in my own personal interest," he told Monica. "I never accepted money from the activities weren't directed against those I worked with. They were directed against the capitalist system."

He was wrong. "The court which sentenced him to life imprisonment for treason was told he'd caused the deaths of forty-two western and Soviet agents."

I should have persevered with this book, probably. It's well worth looking at if you are interested in Russia.


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Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Must-read for Ballet Lovers: Irina by Irina Baronova

Irina is a charming rags-to-riches story and a must-read for ballet lovers. In this very interesting book Irina Baronova tells the tale of her family's difficult escape from Russia; her rise to fame as one of the Baby Ballerinas with the Ballet Russe; her sometimes traumatic personal life and struggles with a dominating mother; and her departure from the ballet to be a wife and mother.

Every ballet lover will enjoy reading about Irina's time in the Ballet Russe where she worked with talented choreographers, including Massine and Nijinska, and ballerinas, such as the great Danilova. She also writes a lot about the Ballet Russes' tours of America and Australia.

Even those who are not very interested in the ballet will enjoy this autobiography which covers so much history and so many changes in the world.

I have just seen the wonderful documentary about the Ballets Russes so I am interested in reading sections of this book again. My only problem with Irina's book is that it is very long, detailed, and a little bit technical. (It's a long time since I learnt any ballet!)