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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 KGB...my 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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