This Date's Issues: 4610
Johnson's Russia List
31 October 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. strana.ru: Halloween toddles into Russia.
2. Reuters: Martin Nesirky. ANALYSIS-Gore or Bush, US-Russia ties face tough
3. Interfax: MAJORITY OF RUSSIAN ELITE THINKS THAT THE U.S. POSES THREAT TO RUSSIA -
4. gazeta.ru: Bazaar to Playboy. (re foreign owned media in Russia)
5. The Independent (UK): Patrick Cockburn, Putin fights dirty with regional power
6. Moscow Times EDITORIAL: When the Cure Is Like The
7. Interfax: FOOD AID MAY DAMAGE RUSSIA - WORLD BANK
8. Stephen Shenfield: new book on Russian fascism.
9. Andrei Liakhov: Why am I interested in Russia?
10. The New Republic: Stephen Kotkin, Kremlinologist as Hero. (about Adam Ulam)
11. Moscow Times: Boris Kagarlitsky, Two Wars, One Mess. (Chechnya and Middle
October 30, 2000
Halloween toddles into Russia
By Aram Yavrumyan
Strange to relate, Europe is rediscovering its own pagan past, which comes
back home in the guise of a large Halloween pumpkin. The place, to which
the celebration owes its second birth, is America, where people have long
realized that the second best loved holiday after Christmas, Halloween, is
a fine opportunity for making a buck. Billions of bucks, actually, since
the U.S. statistics for this fall reveal that Halloween souvenirs, witches'
costumes, pumpkins, and other such things have fetched no more no less than
seven billion dollars.
The Americans even have a Halloween producers association, which is in the
business of promoting their manufactures, as well as the tradition itself,
to other areas of the world. According to its reports, England, France,
Australia and Japan have fallen almost without resistance. The sailing is
somewhat more difficult in Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
Russia, where this ancient Celtic tradition was totally unknown in the
past, is learning the habit fast. Celebrations have started at offices of
resident Western companies. Numerous Moscow nightclubs are holding a
weeklong string of Halloween parties. English schools for Russian children
encourage students to go through the motions within the framework of their
U.S. area studies courses. And you should see those kids,
all dressed as witches and vampires, go trick-or-treating through the
streets of Moscow!
ANALYSIS-Gore or Bush, US-Russia ties face tough patch
By Martin Nesirky
MOSCOW, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Back in 1992, a provincial southern governor was
battling a long-time White House insider for the U.S. presidency. In Russia,
there was a new Kremlin chief barely a year into the job.
Eight years after Bill Clinton was elected president and Boris Yeltsin
started ill-starred economic reforms, a mood of cautious optimism has been
replaced by one of disillusionment and disconcerting indifference in
Whether Democrat Al Gore, vice president for eight years, or Republican
George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, wins on November 7, Russia will face a
tough job focusing U.S. attention on the Russian economy, regional problems
and arms control.
"The 'forget Russia' school is in the ascendancy in Washington. The question
now is whether there is much substance left in the relationship," said a
former U.S. policymaker on Russia.
"The relationship is going to be much more difficult than some expect. The
gaping and growing asymmetry in power, fortune and attitude is changing the
international order and structures to Russia's disfavour."
It is a sign of these changed times that Russia -- a former superpower with a
troubled economy and an inexperienced leader -- figures as scarcely more than
a transient blip on either candidate's campaign radar screen.
In Moscow, there is inevitable shoulder-shrugging about which candidate
better matches Russia's interests.
"It would be naive on the part of the Kremlin or the powers that be to place
bets entirely on one or the other," said Yuri Kobaladze, a managing director
at Renaissance Capital investment house who was previously in Russian foreign
Political analysts and Kremlin sources give cogent arguments why Russian
leaders would rather see Gore in charge, above all because he knows the ropes
and the folks. They provide equally rational explanations why Bush would be
the better option, not least for Kremlin hawks and Russian arms exports.
Deputies of different hues in the State Duma lower house of parliament give
predictably varied views but agreed there was little to choose between Gore
and Bush, seen from Moscow.
"I don't think there is a unified approach to this here. This is because
there is no concept of national interests," said political analyst Yevgenia
Albats. "There are just the interests of various factions."
President Vladimir Putin is not even a year into his four-year term, he has
not built a solid personal relationship with Clinton and his own
adminstration is still finding its feet -- variously advised by an
increasingly assertive Security Council and more cautious Foreign Ministry,
Kremlin sources say.
PUTIN IN WEAKER POSITION THAN YELTSIN
"Europe, not the United States, is the top priority of Russian foreign policy
after securing cooperation of 'close neighbours'," said a senior Russian
Foreign Ministry official. By close neighbours the official meant ex-Soviet
"Relations with the United States are less important to Putin than they were
to Yeltsin," the official said.
Of course, Putin, like the rest of the world's leaders, will have to work
with Washington whoever is in the White House.
But he is in a weaker position than Yeltsin in 1992, despite Russia's recent
oil revenue bonanza and his own high popularity ratings.
"It seems no matter who wins, Russia will have to deal with the United States
trying to resolve three main groups of issues, while we have today growing
tension between Russia and the West," said Sergei Rogov, head of Russia's
prestigious USA and Canada institute.
He said those three baskets were the economy, regional problems and arms
control. The most important was the economic basket and it contained Russian
foreign debt restructuring, Russian admission to the World Trade Organisation
"These issues are crucial for Russian economic recovery," Rogov said. The
Clinton administration had had good intentions but did not succeed in
transforming Russia, he said.
On regional problems, Russia has already felt the impact of its reduced world
"The record of the Democratic administration is that it tends ignore the
Russian view and it quite often presents Russia with a fait accompli, whether
it is the war in Kosovo or the Sharm-el-Sheikh (Middle East) summit a few
days ago or the Korean negotiations," said Rogov.
He said Bush had suggested several times during the campaign that Russia
should be included more, but the analyst noted the Republicans tended to be
"more unilateralist" than Democrats.
Arms control further emphasises Russia's weakness, despite its nuclear
capability. With its armed forces in self-injurious decline, Moscow needs
more disarmament as well as troop cuts.
"It became very expensive for Russia to modernise and maintain its nuclear
arsenal," said Ariel Cohen, a Russia expert at the Heritage Foundation in
Washington. "Russia wants the United States to cut its arms down to Russia's
For the same reason, Moscow also wants to prevent the United States from
deploying a national missile defence (NMD) shield against rogue rockets.
Yevgeny Volk, a Moscow-based political analyst, said Gore would be less tough
on NMD than Bush.
Rogov, of the USA and Canada thinktank, said NMD was more about ideology than
military necessity for the Republicans and even prompted some in the party to
say the age of arms control is over. That would spell trouble for bilateral
ties, he said.
Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie thinktank saw another area where a Bush
administration could cause jitters in Moscow. He noted the one time Russia
had figured prominently in the campaign was when Bush accused former Prime
Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin of stealing IMF money.
Chernomyrdin has threatened to sue Bush.
(Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in London)
MAJORITY OF RUSSIAN ELITE THINKS THAT THE U.S. POSES THREAT TO RUSSIA -
MOSCOW. Oct 30 (Interfax) - A recent poll shows that more than one
half of the Russian 'elite' is prone to believing that the United States
poses a threat to Russia's security.
A majority 53.2% of the elite said they think that the United
States is really a danger to Russia, 41.4% think otherwise, and 5.4% had
difficulty answering the question, the All-Russia Independent Research
Center - Gallup International reported Monday, after having conducted a
survey of 500 representatives of the country's elite.
The poll was conducted in ten Russian cities at the end of
September. The question was asked of representatives of the executive
and legislative authorities, business and state enterprise leaders,
scientists and top mass media brass.
October 30, 2000
Bazaar to Playboy
By Sergei Ivashko
The Security Council of Russia is set to enforce the ‘doctrine of
informational security.’ To begin with, foreign owned media outlets will be
forced out of Russia. To justify the measures, the Security Council has
referred to a similar US law, which has been in force since 1934, and the
recent refusal to grant a license to the Russian radio station Mayak to
broadcast in the US.
The deputy chief of the Russian Security Council’s department for
informational security, Anatoly Streltsov told Gazeta.Ru that to begin with
it is necessary to rescind the licenses from foreign financed media outlets
operating in Russia. According to Streltsov, “currently there are 38
electronic and 68 printed media editions registered in Russia, which were
set up with foreign capital or whose founders include foreign legal
However, in order to strip the licenses from the foreign owned media in
Russia, the Security Council must first introduce a bill calling for
amendments to the law on the mass media, which has clear guidelines on the
revocation of media licenses. According to that law, a violation of media
guidelines must be proven, e.g. inciting racial hatred or propagating the
use of illegal drugs and three official warnings served for such violations
before a license can be withdrawn. To amend the law in order to allow for
the revocation of licenses namely from foreign financed media outlets will
be no easy task and will undoubtedly face stiff opposition in both the
lower and upper houses of the Russian parliament.
According to the Press Ministry’s statistics, on September 1 of this year,
more than 1500 foreign media concerns held licenses to operate in Russia.
Streltsov is convinced that the foreign media’s presence on the Russian
market is undermining the financial stability of their Russian counterparts.
Strelstov says there exist precedents for such a law. There is US law which
forbids the licensing of media outlets which have more than 20% foreign
capital. If such a law is introduced in Russia, Streltsov believes that one
of the world’s most powerful media magnates, Rupert Murdoch would not be
able to buy the private Russian channel NTV and the US congress would have
to stop the transmission of Radio Liberty throughout Russia.
Leonid Bershidsky, the editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti, 66%
of which is owned by Dow Jones and the Financial Times, told Gazeta.Ru that
this is the second time within a year that the Security Council has come up
with proposals to stop foreign investment in Russia media. The Council’s
first attempts apparently came to nothing and Bershidsky is convinced that
it will be the same this time around. He says that many high-ranking
officials in the Press Ministry have told him that they want to see a
continuation of foreign investment into the Russian media.
According to the head of the Daily Telegraph’s Moscow office Marcus Warren,
the bureaucrats relationship with foreign correspondents and also media
outlets, founded by or financed by foreigners, is determined not by the
law, but by personal mistrust. Warren is therefore deeply concerned that
the Russian authorities have resolved to treat all foreign media the same
as Radio Liberty. “On many occasions I have defended Putin and the new
government in disputes with a wide variety of audiences, but when documents
such as that on informational security appear, I despair.”
The Independent (UK)
30 October 2000
Putin fights dirty with regional power brokers
By Patrick Cockburn
In an angry letter, a frustrated Peter the Great once asked one of his
regional governors: "What have you done with the money? And why is it that
dealing with you is like negotiating with the king of a foreign country?"
Three hundred years later, President Vladimir Putin is putting the same
questions to the governors and local leaders of the 89 regions into which
Russia is divided. He is discovering, as have so many previous rulers of the
country, that the man in the Kremlin often reigns rather than rules and real
power is in the hands of local despots.
Yevgeny Melnichenko, a political scientist at the Volgograd Academy for
Public Service, told me: "It is like the feudal system in the Middle Ages
when everybody had a big boss in his own region. If you are involved in
business here you have to have a patron."
This is not the view of academics alone. I asked Misha, a former leading
light of the criminal underworld in Yaroslavl, a city 600 miles north of
Moscow, how he rated the local governor. He said: "He is like a duke from
long ago. You can't do anything without him."
It is these reigning dukes that Mr Putin is trying to curb. He has appointed
seven envoys or "super-governors" to re-establish the power of the central
government across Russia. He is ending the automatic right of governors to
sit in the upper house of the Duma.
He is trying to limit their right to levy taxes. In theory it should be easy.
The governors usually depend on federal funds. They are often disliked in
their own regions. Furthermore, some 40 regional leaders, half the total, are
standing for re-election this autumn. Mr Putin is still popular among voters
for promising to restore the power of the state.
In this struggle, no blow is considered too low. In the Kursk region south of
Moscow, Alexander Rutskoi, the governor and a former vice -president of
Russia who helped defend parliament against President Boris Yeltsin in 1993,
found his name removed from the ballot less than 24 hours before polling day.
His crime was that he had not listed his ownership of a six-year-old Volga
car, which he says he sold some years ago, when he filed as a candidate. The
Kremlin says it had nothing to do with his removal, but this is unlikely
given the timing of the ruling which gave Mr Rutskoi no time to appeal.
The political execution of Mr Rutskoi shows that the Kremlin, if anybody had
any doubts, is prepared to fight dirty in getting rid of regional leaders it
dislikes. The problem is that it does not have anyone of real authority to
put in their place. Most of Mr Putin's envoys are former security men or
military officers without local standing.
The success of Mr Putin in exerting authority through his special envoys or
getting governors of his choice elected varies from region to region. In the
far east, his envoy did not even succeed in finding office accommodation.
Every time he sent people to look at a possible site, the local governor
sealed it off with guards. Another local leader said that if any federal
official was appointed without his say-so, he would simply "cut off his
The prize for the most imaginative act of local sabotage of an incoming
federal official goes to Yekaterinburg, the largest city in the Urals. Here
Mr Putin appointed Petr Latyshev as his special envoy. The local authorities
allocated him a large, beautiful 19th-century palace as his headquarters.
This, as Mr Latyshev should have realised, was a trap. The mansion had long
been used by school children as a House of Creative Activity. No sooner was
it announced that Mr Putin's envoy was going to move in than weeping mothers
and distressed children picketed his future residence. Whenever he gave a
press conference the first question was, invariably: "Don't you like
children, Mr Latyshev?"
October 31, 2000
EDITORIAL: When the Cure Is Like The Disease
There is little reason to be sorry to see Alexander Rutskoi lose the
governor's office in Kursk. He was by any measure a terrible governor. When
he was not calling on farmers to raise ostriches f Rutskoi, by the way,
defended a doctoral dissertation on agriculture the day before the Oct. 21
gubernatorial vote f he was busily installing relatives in government
positions, and then making a family-wide effort at running the region into
So we could have supported an open Kremlin drive to defeat Rutskoi at the
polls. President Vladimir Putin could have used his popularity and moral
authority to argue that it was time to dump Rutskoi, and make room for the
Kremlin-friendly former FSB man, Viktor Surzhikov. Whatever else it might
have been, it would have been democracy in all of its messy glory.
Instead, a Kursk court removed Rutskoi from the ballot the day before the
vote. Rutskoi says he was removed on Kremlin orders; the Kremlin and the
Central Elections Commission are both shrugging and pleading ignorance.
Before anything can be sorted out, we are already hurrying on to new
elections, where other unfriendly governors f in Chukotka, for example, where
the job is now being sought by Sibneft oil head Roman Abramovich f are having
new legal troubles.
Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported on Monday that Rutskoi is right, and the
Kremlin even has methodical election-by-election spread sheets of who is to
If so, perhaps President Putin & Co. believe they are doing the nation a
favor. The governors have long been derided as 89 feudal princes. Many of
them ought to be removed with dispatch. It's possible the Kremlin thinks it's
cleaning up the nation, by freeing the regions from bumbling rulers like
Rutskoi. However, if nontransparent and nondemocratic means are used, then in
the end we will get the same as we have now: nontransparent and nondemocratic
governors. Simply striking a Rutskoi off the ballotis an invitation to
continuing corruption and tyranny in the regions f not a cure.
Happily, federal law prevents governors from serving more than two terms. In
the case of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiyev has not said whether he will seek a
third term this March. And the Kremlin has not said whether he legally can,
So here's another one of those if-then constructions so beloved of
Russia-watchers, who enjoy setting the nation tests and tasks: If the Kremlin
undemocratically removes one political boss (Rutskoi), and then
undemocratically keeps another (Shaimiyev), will this be "cleaning up the
Or will it be running Russia the way Rutskoi ran Kursk?
FOOD AID MAY DAMAGE RUSSIA - WORLD BANK OFFICIAL
MOSCOW. Oct 30 (Interfax) - Director of the World Bank's Moscow
Office Michael Carter has said he is convinced that in the current
circumstances Russia does not need food aid, and that such aid may only
damage Russian agriculture production.
It would be hard to admit the necessity of food aid for Russia, he
said at a conference in Moscow on Monday on ways of drawing investment
to competitive Russian food enterprises. He also said that food aid is
not necessary for Russia and can even inflict certain damage on it.
As a rule, the gap between domestic production and the country's
needs is filled with commercial purchases, he said, adding that food aid
is justified only when such purchases cannot be made in the absence of
resources or market organizations that might handle them. But there are
no signs of this in Russia, he said.
Up until now, the World Bank has been involved in two Russian
agricultural projects concerning land cadaster problems and the
development of a system of market and farming information, Carter said.
The possibility of giving investors guarantees against risks of state
interference is among the most promising areas of cooperation, he said.
Russia's agricultural successes in recent years have been largely
due to good weather conditions, Carter said. Agricultural reform has
been seriously lagging behind. The slower the pace of reforms, the more
difficult it is to implement them, he said.
The development of private entrepreneurship would promote progress,
he said, noting that conditions must be created for trade and for
mortgage practices. But this problem must be treated with caution, he
The restructuring of agricultural enterprises is also important,
Carter said. In countries where bankruptcy practices were used more
aggressively, new and viable enterprises appeared more quickly, he said.
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000
From: Stephen Shenfield <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: new book on Russian fascism
I would like to inform JRL readers about my new book: "Russian Fascism:
Traditions, Tendencies, Movements." It will be available from M. E. Sharpe
of New York in early January 2001.
The book is the fruit of several years of intensive research on fascist
tendencies and movements in post-Soviet Russia. It will be the first
book-length study of the subject in English, filling a major gap in the
Chapter 1 provides a firm conceptual basis for the study by considering the
meanings of the term "fascism," both in general and in the Russian context.
Chapter 2 addresses the question of whether Russia has a fascist tradition.
Chapter 3 discusses the relationship between Russian fascism and Russian
nationalism, and proceeds to assess fascist tendencies in the Communist
Party of the Russian Federation, other communist parties, the Russian
Orthodox Church, and the neo-pagan revival movement. Chapter 4 examines the
Cossack revival movement, skinheads, and the politics of Russia's soccer
Chapter 5 is devoted to Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the Liberal-Democratic
Party of Russia. To what extent can the LDPR be considered a fascist party?
Chapter 6 is a detailed study of Alexander Barkashov's Russian National
Unity (RNU), until very recently the largest unequivocally fascist
organization in Russia. I analyze not only the RNU's ideology, but also its
mode of operation, its role in regional politics, and its strategy. The
recent split in the RNU is described in an Afterword.
Chapter 7 deals with the National-Bolshevik Party. I also look at its
leader, the writer Eduard Limonov, and his long-time collaborator, the
philosopher Alexander Dugin, as influential fascist cultural figures.
Chapter 8 portrays a number of smaller fascist organizations of various
types -- paramilitary and party-political, Christian and pagan, mimetic
(i.e., imitative of foreign fascisms) and nativist. Chapter 9 is a
comparative overview of the fascist and semi-fascist organizations
considered in Chapters 5-8.
In the Conclusion, I comment on the analogy commonly drawn between
post-Soviet Russia and Weimar Germany. Weimar Russia?
The price of the book is $66.95 for 320 pages in hardcover. I would like the
price to be lower, but that is outside my control.
The book can be ordered from M. E. Sharpe, 80 Business Park Drive, Armonk,
NY 10504, tel. 800 541 6563, fax 914 273 2106, website www.mesharpe.com.
The ISBN is 0-7656-0634-8.
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000
From: "Andrei Liakhov" <email@example.com>
Subject: Why am I interested in Russia?
Why am I interested in Russia?
1. For personal reasons obviously, I do not think there is a need to go into
these (being Russian, need to know what's happening, etc.);
2. It seems to me that what's going on in Russia since 1987 is history in
the making and not in everyday meaning of the word, but big time. (I can
imagine the reaction of "objective" and "independent" commentators to what
I'm about to say!) Irrespective of the quite widespread notion of Russia's
almost messian destiny (which I do not share in its pure form) I believe
that the future development of human society is, to a large extent, being
determined by what's going on in Russia. Throughout its recent history
Russia (with the benefit of a hindsight) was (and still is) a huge testing
ground for various models of social order ranging from absolute monarchy to
"oligarhism" (otherwise known as "controlled democracy" - I think this will
be the best compromise between Mike McFaul's purely mechanical
interpretation of Russia's development in the 90ies into a basically
democratic (ha-ha!) society and the understanding of these processes with
some insider's knowledge). Some of the things which are being tested in
Russia (like the power of "black PR") find (albeit in a hugely adapted,
cleaned up and purified version - see CNN coverage of Kosovo conflict last
year) their way into the fabric of modern Western society. Others, it seems,
will be thrown out to the wastebin of history and researched by future
generations of social scientists only as the ways how things should not be
done in any circumstances.
Quite apart from its role as a testing ground for models of social
(including but not limited to social, political, economic, demographic, etc)
development, it seems to me that Russia has a great potential of becoming
one of (and the Russian ultimate aspiration is to become the only one) the
leading countries of the modern world with the incomparable influence,
impact and strength in the world affairs. I fully appreciate that the above
reads like ramblings of a complete "hura-patriotic" lunatic in the current
political, economic and social situation in Russia and around Russia,
however I also passionately believe that the country so rich in traditions,
people, resources and everything else cannot just disappear into the
historic oblivion. What it will become is unclear, but irrespective of what
it will become it will affect the course of history on the scale comparable
with the Reformation or the Enlightenment.
3. On a more practical level (which is also partly personal) I am looking
for the answers to three most frequently asked questions in modern Russia:
"What really happened in '90-'91?" and "Why did it happen?" and "What's
next?". I can't find a parallel in history where a country and a nation lost
the direction and destiny so abruptly and so completely. As an example of
the national shock Russia went through in '91-'92 just imagine that when you
wake up tomorrow morning there will be no mighty US of A; you will need a
visa to go to New Jersey from New York; there will be a different currency
across the Hudson; CNN will announce that George Washington was a traitor
and produce documentary evidence of this, there was no War for Independence,
Alexander Hamilton took orders from the King of England who wanted him to
become a president; and under the secret agreement signed by FDR with
Hitler, the state of California does actually belong to the Germans. How
would an average US person feel if all that would happen in a day? And how
long do you think Americans will need to come to grips with the new reality?
The Russians as a nation still are in the state of collective shock and
obviously we need to understand what really happened to us and why. Believe
it or not but even after 10 years or so on I keep thinking whether I did
everything I could to prevent the disaster. And I'm not alone, the whole
nation is in the process of soul searching.
4. Purely professional reasons - my business is East European oriented and
in this part of the world, unless you understand who is what and what is
where you will have difficulties in doing business. Although this applies to
every market, the degree of political and social awareness of foreign
business and their adaptability to local conditions must be much higher in
The New Republic
November 6, 2000
[for personal use only]
Kremlinologist as Hero
by Stephen Kotkin (kotkin@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
STEPHEN KOTKIN directs the Russian Studies program at Princeton University.
Understanding the Cold War:
A Historian's Personal Reflections
by Adam B. Ulam
Leopolis, 448 pp.
Try to imagine the intellectual life of the post-war West without the Polish
emigration. The Polish impact has been especially immense when it comes to
views on Russia. Czeslaw Milosz lectured at Berkeley with uncanny empathy on
Dostoevsky. Leszek Kolakowski, the renowned moral philosopher at Oxford and
Chicago, entombed Soviet Marxism as well as Western Marxism in his monumental
trilogy, and composed an immortal parody of revisionist scholarship on
Stalinism (for the pages of Survey, edited by Leo Labedz). Andrzej Walicki of
Notre Dame struck brilliant portraits of Russian populism and the
Slavophile-Westernizer divide, and then delivered his own eulogy for the
And beyond the history of ideas, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the grand strategist
and perceptive analyst of the Soviet Bloc, served as National Security
Adviser (under Carter), while Richard Pipes, the grand synthesizer of
imperial Russian history, also found his way into the National Security
Council (under Reagan). The University of Pennsylvania's Moshe Lewin became
the acclaimed village elder among historians of Soviet Russia's peasant
inheritance, monstrous bureaucracy, and the supposed dynamics of the system's
evolution. The itinerant Isaac Deutscher, based eventually in England,
achieved biographical mastery over Stalin, ultimately cast out Trotsky as
prophet, and talked up Khrushchev, until he was banished. And there have been
many others, notably Adam Ulam, who died in March in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, leaving behind a half century of influential scholarship and
punditry, and a posthumous memoir, Understanding the Cold War.
Adam Bruno Ulam was born in 1922 in Lwow in Poland, a medieval town that was
known as Lemberg under the Habsburgs and would become Lvov under the Soviets.
Since 1991, the "City of Lions" has been Lviv in independent Ukraine. Little
remains there of the classical education or Old World culture that nurtured
the future Cold War historian. In 1939, Adam, who had just graduated high
school, and his twenty-nine-year-old brother Stanislaw, a young mathematician
at Harvard's Society of Fellows, home for summer holiday, were scheduled to
board ship for New York on September 3. Their perspicacious father, a
well-to-do lawyer who was widowed the year before, advised his boys to set
sail earlier. So they embarked for New York in mid-August. Hitler invaded
Poland on September 1. Sixteen days later, Stalin, by prior secret agreement
with Hitler, invaded Poland from the east. By then, Stan had returned to
Harvard, and Adam enrolled at Brown, the only entering foreign student, and a
Jew. The brothers never saw their father or elder sister again.
Brown, where young Ulam studied European and American history, was not City
College with its politicized, immigrant alcoves. As the Nazis overran France,
began bombing Britain, and then drove deep into the Soviet Union, the gaiety
of fraternity life and the "America First" detachment of 1939-1941 was almost
too much to bear for a Polish student from occupied Europe. Finally Pearl
Harbor broke the isolationist spell. Ulam obtained immigration papers and
reported to the United States draft board, only to be rejected for having
"relatives living in enemy territory"! In 1943, upon graduating, the tall,
strapping youth was summoned for a physical, but he was turned away again,
this time for near-sightedness. Unlike other eager call-ups, he had forgotten
to wear contacts.
Following his elder brother (and surrogate father) to the University of
Wisconsin, Adam got a job as an army instructor for Russian, the unfamiliar
language of our wartime ally. The other teachers included an ex-czarist
general, a former baroness, and a Moscow-trained Polish violinist with whom
Adam shared an apartment. The roommates befriended a retired professor of
Byzantine history, Alexander Vasiliev, who had known Tchaikovsky in St.
Petersburg, and in Madison helped them to order spaghetti and meatballs in
Italian. In such company, Adam acquired a fondness for Russian culture rather
than the more typical Russophobia of the emigre Pole born of centuries under
the Russian boot. The army privates and non-coms whom Ulam had taught to
speak Russian were assigned to the Pacific Theater.
Stanislaw Ulam had disappeared (to New Mexico, it turned out, to work on the
bomb), and after the long anticipated victory Poland disappeared, too, behind
the Iron Curtain. Adam, meanwhile, had enrolled in Harvard's Government
Department for graduate study. Two of his teachers at Brown had studied at
Harvard, and Ulam writes that they imparted "an historical approach to modern
politics enlarged by philosophical analysis and political and economic
considerations"--a description of what would become his own winning method,
now quantifiably out of fashion. He wrote a dissertation on English
socialism, and also studied with Merle Fainsod, the dean of Soviet analysts,
whose twelve o'clock lectures in a basement classroom in the Fogg Museum were
affectionately known as "Darkness at Noon."
At Ulam's first Harvard residence, Claverly Hall, the janitor sported a derby
hat and pince-nez, and reminisced about former student residents, such as
Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later Ulam swapped places with a young scholar named
McGeorge Bundy and moved to Eliot House. The housemaster at his new abode,
John Finley, a professor of Greek, brought the university's most renowned
faculty to the mess hall and social gatherings, and knew by name his entire
student "flock," not just the European counts and princes. Ulam boarded with
the son of James Joyce, the grandson of Matisse, the younger son of the Aga
Khan, and a descendant of Indonesian rajas who told him his family had been
in politics for 800 years. "And what did they do before?" Ulam recalls having
In these mandarin alcoves of the new, American-dominated postwar world, Ulam,
in J. Press suits and striped bow ties, came to know officials of Chiang
Kai-Shek's Nationalist regime, who had no clue that they were soon to be
overthrown, as well as trainees for what would become Mao's regime. Ulam also
met Pierre Trudeau, whom he recalls as an aristocratic French-Canadian with
"Christian-anarchist" views, as well as the doctoral student in economics
Andreas Papandreou. Whatever he did for Greece as prime minister after the
downfall of the colonels' dictatorship, Papandreou is said to have been
valuable company for obtaining special treatment in Greek-American
restaurants, and for navigating Boston nightclubs. Ulam lets slip that in
1945, after the relaxation of gender segregation on campus, a romance
blossomed in Widener Library with an unnamed Anglo-Irish representative of
the fair sex, leading to dog shows, horse races, and the Boston symphony, but
it all "ended tempestuously." In 1947, he received his doctorate and George
Marshall gave the commencement address in which he announced his plan for
rebuilding Western Europe.
Harvard hired Ulam for the next academic year, and it set up a Russian
Research Center, which in the years to come became the academic epicenter of
the Cold War. Following Fainsod's death in 1972, Ulam would direct the
high-profile center for sixteen of the next twenty years. But he taught his
first class, attended by the undergraduate Henry Kissinger, on the British
Empire. "Every few months, a piece of my course would, so to speak, fall
off," Ulam writes of postwar decolonization. "I decided ... to shift to an
expanding ... subject, and to teach about the Soviet Union." Before he
retired, in 1992, he would preside pedagogically over that empire's crack-up
Ulam married a Radcliffe graduate, Mary Hamilton Burgwin, in 1963 (they later
divorced), had two sons, and wrote nineteen books, one a novel. As he here
recounts, he initially devoted himself to examining Marxism's powers of
seduction, which he linked not to intelligentsia manipulations but to
psychological proclivities arising out of social developments, especially in
peasant societies undergoing industrialization. And whereas some celebrated
analysts, such as John Maynard Keynes, had dismissed Marxism as "illogical
and dull," Ulam highlighted the doctrine's intricacy and comprehensiveness,
which, he argued, explained its attraction not just to peasants but also to
intellectuals. Ulam also wrote about the Soviet-Yugoslav split in 1948, which
just three years after the Chinese revolution, he presented as a harbinger of
the fracturing of communism. These two themes--Marxism's spreading influence
and its resulting divisions--formed the core of Ulam's work.
Having already ruffled some academic feathers by aptly describing the power
struggle after Stalin's death in 1953 as akin to gangland Chicago under
Capone, in 1965 Ulam published The Bolsheviks, the most incisive study to
date of Lenin and his followers. Ulam's Lenin came across as a cultured
Russian gentleman and an heir to a long revolutionary tradition, but also as
a fanatic who, when the moment fortuitously arrived, beat the underground
party into seizing power at all costs. What Ulam called Lenin's "penchant for
terror" he attributed to a "perverse hatred" that the dropout law student
felt toward "his own class," the intelligentsia, and to the hanging of his
elder brother by the czarist police. Such occasionally strained
psychologizing went together with skillful recuperations of seemingly obscure
ideological disputations, alleged to have long-term repercussions, and sober
details of political repression.
The upshot, a powerful portrait of the Bolshevik leader and the Bolshevik
movement written despite the inaccessibility of many documents, burst on the
scene after the de-Stalinization in 1956, the launching of Sputnik in 1957,
and the Cuban revolution in 1960, all of which had contributed to a sense
that the Soviet Union had not simply recovered from World War II but
recaptured its revolutionary elan, and might just be the wave of the future.
Here Ulam notes that the opening of the secret archives has brought little
that was truly unknown about Lenin, unless one counts the proof of his
consummation with Inessa Armand. The dictator's "all-engrossing passion for
revolution," he writes, had "seemed to preclude the possibility, perhaps the
ability, to respond to the temptation of the flesh."
Stalin had succeeded Lenin, and in 1973 Ulam published his acclaimed
biography, Stalin: The Man and His Era. At the time the book appeared, the
extent of the terror and the Gulag was being minimized by some leading
American scholars, while even intellectuals without leftist sympathies
sometimes felt that accepting the full unvarnished truth about the Soviet
Union smacked of bad taste, or even McCarthyism. Ulam piled up the sordid
details of Stalin's reign, and against the post-Khrushchev interpretive
trend, he argued that the tyrant represented not a perversion or a usurpation
of Leninism but rather its "defining characteristic." To his critics, who
noted the utter absence of society in his great-man histories, Ulam
countered, as he recalls that, "the most practical and important approach to
the study of the Soviet Union was through its politics, which in its turn had
to be an inquiry into what was going on in the political leadership." Dubbed
Sovietology or sometimes Kremlinology, this endeavor at its best entailed
voracious reading of official sources, often between the lines, frequent
resort to the accounts of defectors, and inventive guesswork.
So much about the Stalin years seemed to defy logic, such as the accusations
of mass spying and wrecking throughout the Soviet elite during the Great
Terror. Ulam surmised that in the conspiratorial atmosphere of the 1930s,
most people, mentally equipped with little more than the official ideology,
probably believed the preposterous charges that resulted in millions of
arrests. "Working on Stalin, as I suppose on Hitler," he confesses, "is not a
pleasant job. One cannot help becoming depressed by recounting the stories of
human depravity and mass suffering." Ulam admits, however, having "found
occasional distraction in trying to solve the intriguing historical puzzles
of the period," mysteries "that would challenge the ingenuity of Agatha
Christie's Hercule Poirot." The archives, still not fully revealed,
overwhelmingly confirm Stalin's responsibility for the massacres as well as
the system's inhumanity, with copious new details; but the secret documents
offer few new insights into Ulam's larger questions of the bases of mass
participation and the adherence to socialism despite knowledge or even direct
experience of the pervasive bloodletting.
Ulam applied his feel for Communist personalities and paradoxes to the
mysteries of international behavior of the Soviet Union as well. In such
works as the instant classic Expansion and Coexistence (1968, 1974), as well
as The Rivals (1971) and Dangerous Relations (1983), he wondered whether the
Soviet leadership could achieve a lasting detente with the West, or required
a permanent siege mentality for domestic purposes--a potentially shattering
proposition in the nuclear age. Hawkish specialist-officials such as
Brzezinski and Pipes largely dismissed any possibility of lessening
hair-trigger tensions, arguing that the Soviet system could never change,
while some left-leaning scholars such as Deutscher and Lewin foresaw a
relaxation both feeding and growing out of a Soviet domestic liberalization.
Inclined neither to bring on doomsday nor to pursue the chimera of socialism
with a human face, Ulam hinted that the Soviet regime was beset by the
contradictions of its expansionist successes, and might become more
accommodating abroad even as it remained authoritarian at home. That is more
or less what happened, until Gorbachev arrived to expose the incurable
ailments and unwittingly hastened the system's suicide.
"Who in 1971," Ulam muses, "could have believed that if the USSR went down it
would do so with barely a whimper?" Concerning the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan, which precipitated warnings of Soviet global domination, he
claims that "even in 1979-1980 I felt that the era of militant Communism was
definitely over," given the threats posed by the anti-Communist resistance in
his native Poland and a "capitalist-road" China. Still, he observes that he
did not fathom the depth of Soviet problems, and he did not predict the
collapse. No one did. As other scholars publish highly selective collections
of declassified Soviet documents, which supposedly confirm their long-held
views, Ulam, more right than most, had the courage to concede that "I was
rather timid when assessing the chances for fundamental changes," and that on
some major questions "I was quite mistaken."
Perhaps no subject exercised the lifelong student of European political
systems and international affairs more than the American university, which
Ulam had known since his years at Brown. Writing of the 1960s, Vietnam, and
the student protests, he recalls encountering on his way to class "morning
scenes of a sizeable crowd sometimes filling the large space in front of the
library and an orator with a microphone denouncing violently some special
iniquity of the university and/or of the bourgeois world." He pronounces the
issues (or some of them) legitimate, but the methods not. The smugness that
"Harvard was not Columbia" ended with the takeover and the forcible clearing
of the administration building. Ulam admonishes that "the university in a
democratic country is not the proper place for political struggle," while
also judging the faculty's behavior at the time as "un-heroic."
Lecturing to Harvard students on socialism and revolution, Ulam had to be
dragged to the suddenly recurring faculty meetings, which he likens to a
"rowdy Balkan parliament" of "scholarly men, . . . largely without prior
interest in politics, split up into combating factions." Of the phenomenal
post-1960s growth in academic administrators, he concludes sardonically that
"a great proliferation of bureaucracy follows every revolution, and Harvard
was no exception." In 1972, Ulam published The Fall of the American
University, in which he decried the "governmentalization and politicization"
of the American academy, though he would continue to prosper at an American
university for several more decades. He also became captivated by Russia's
tumultuous 1860s and 1870s, writing In the Name of the People (1977) about
the radical revolutionary mystique, the bomb throwing, and the assassination
Cursed to live in interesting times, the exile from bygone Lwow came to know
three American presidents, but mostly kept his distance from Washington. The
academic conference circuit was not his cup of tea either. He never returned
to his birthplace in what he playfully liked to call "Ukrainian-occupied
Poland," and he avoided all travel to the Soviet Union, when it became
possible after 1957, except for one short trip in fall 1985, preferring to
receive important contacts along with students at the Russian Research Center
(known since 1997 as the Davis Center). Ulam's tidied-up reminiscences are
interspersed with warm recollections from his brother (who died in 1984), his
exwife (the book's publisher), his sons, colleagues, former students, and old
family friends. A zestful storyteller, Ulam favors the winning anecdote and
the wink and nod over the tedium of score-settling. His tales of clubby
academic practices and upheavals amid the Ivy alternate with ponderous
exegeses of ever-receding Cold War controversies and brief mentions of out of
place characters, such as Heinrich Bruning, the German chancellor who gave
way, eventually, to Hitler and also found a home at Harvard.
October 31, 2000
Two Wars, One Mess
By Boris Kagarlitsky
Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist. He contributed this comment
to The Moscow Times.
The news out of the Middle East lately has become more and more reminiscent
of reports from Chechnya. In fact, the very essence of the two conflicts
seems surprisingly similar. Both the current crisis in the occupied
territories and the second war in Chechnya are not merely the continuations
of long-running conflicts; both are to a large extent the unfortunate results
of a failed cease-fire, of a bad peace.
The old saw that "a bad peace is better than a good war" is certainly true,
but it is also true that a bad peace will inevitably end up leading precisely
to another conflict. It is hard not to notice the similarities between the
Oslo Peace Accords and the Russian-Chechen cease-fire that was signed in
Khassav-Yurt. In Oslo, the Palestinians sought autonomy and settled for a
partial troop withdrawal. Meanwhile, Palestine itself was given
"indeterminate status," exactly as Chechnya was after the 1996 agreements.
For both of these nations, this indetermination has meant the constant fear
of reoccupation, while for Israel and Russia it has meant the constant fear
Moreover, both Palestinian "autonomy" under Yassar Arafat and "independent"
Ichkeria under Aslan Maskhadov have turned out to be complete disasters. The
Palestinian administration has proven incapable of ruling: It is both corrupt
and incompetent. Living standards have fallen and economic dependence on
Israel has increased. Chechnya has been pure chaos.
No sooner had Palestinian officials and Chechen warlords achieved both peace
and power than they set about establishing dubious ties with the very people
they had vowed to protect their people from f the Israelis on one hand and
the Russian oligarchs on the other.
Psychologically, the cease-fires were based on a general war-weariness. After
just a few years, that weariness passed and was replaced by a general
frustration that the anticipated fruits of peace had not materialized. In
both cases, the fighting resumed with a violence and intensity that would
have been unimaginable a few years ago.
You have to hand it to Ariel Sharon. His visit to the Temple Mount was a
stunning provocation. Not only did he manage to offend the Palestinians but,
more importantly, he fired up Israeli Jews as well. You see, emigrÎs from the
former Soviet Union play a crucial role in Israeli politics. But under
ordinary circumstance they are not very much concerned with the fate of
Jewish holy sites. They eat pork Saturdays and think more about salaries,
housing and jobs than about the symbolic significance of Jerusalem for the
Jewish nation. Therefore, despite their strong suspicions of the Arabs, they
generally vote for the liberals who promise them peace and jobs. Until, that
is, violence flares. As soon as that happens, former Soviet Jews immediately
turn into rapid hawks and call for bombing. Slogans like, "They are killing
our people," easily overwhelm the voice of reason.
Sharon's move was right on target. The former Soviet Jews fell into line as
soon as the fighting started and Israeli conservatives had their little
victory over the liberals. And it would seem they are completely satisfied
with the price they paid for it: the destabilization of the entire Middle
East and the sparking of a crisis that may end up taking hundreds or even
thousands of lives.
These developments are also startlingly similar to events in Russia. The
Kremlin elite wanted to win the parliamentary elections in 1999 and the
presidential election this spring. The Chechen war was an amazingly
successful campaign strategy. The goal was achieved f the Kremlin's choice
has become president. But the war continues and no one can come up with an
Both the Israeli and Russian leaderships were quick to pronounce that those
sitting across the table from them were unacceptable negotiating partners.
"Maskhadov doesn't control anything," was Moscow's line, while Israel
maintains that "Arafat is not capable of managing the situation." And indeed,
the leadership elites in both conflicts had lost control over events. Both in
Chechnya and in Palestine, the uprisings are now driven by radical Moslems.
The moderate forces that were the political base for both Arafat and
Maskhadov have steadily lost their influence as their nations' "indeterminate
status" made it impossible for them to improve living conditions for the
majority of their people. The longer these conflicts continue, the more these
moderate forces become prisoners of the radicals.
It is always easier to bring the crowds out into the streets than to get them
to go home again. In these conflicts, all sides have long since taken the
stand, "We'll fight until we win." Really, though, they all understand that
the only solution is some sort of compromise. But how can you explain that to
people whose passions have been inflamed by nationalistic slogans?
Lately, President Vladimir Putin has been hinting at possible contacts with
Maskhadov, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with Arafat in Egypt.
These partners, who just recently were dismissed as "irrelevant and
powerless," have suddenly turned out to be extremely important. However, it
is obvious that neither Arafat nor Maskhadov will be able to stop the
violence unless they can do something to show their people the blood spilled
has not been in vain. And that means something must be done to restrict
Israeli and Russian "great-power patriotism."
As a result, both Israel and Russia will most likely end up with peace
agreements that are much worse than the ones they might have had if they had
been willing to negotiate reasonably from the beginning. And those
less-than-desirable agreements will only have been reached after long, bloody
and completely senseless fighting. Only then will the next wave of
war-weariness once again overwhelm the disenchantment caused by the last bad
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