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Roots

Defendants in the dock at a Nuremberg trial (Wikimedia Commons)

With some regularity, my critics will say to me, “Today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union, you know!” I say, “I know. But does Putin? Are you sure?” He murders his critics, invades foreign countries, sows discord in the democracies … It’s as though a KGB man were presiding in the Kremlin.

Today, we publish the final installment of my series on, and with, Vladimir Bukovsky, the great Soviet-era dissident. Here. One of my questions is, “How should the West deal with Putin?” Bukovsky says, in part: He engages in brinkmanship, just like his predecessors. He is an excellent bluffer. Don’t fall for it.

People like to emphasize the discontinuity between the Soviet Union and modern Russia. But there are also continuities to consider. I find that I have not considered them enough. Twenty years ago, David Pryce-Jones and others told me that the tragedy of the formerly Communist nations was that they had not had Nuremberg trials. There had been no equivalent of denazification. Everyone wanted to “move on” and sweep under the rug.

I always understood this concept, of course. I’m not sure I grasped the full importance of it.

Bukovsky is convinced that, without Nuremberg and denazification, the Nazis would have been back in Germany — not with the swastika, not with “The Horst Wessel Song,” but under some guise. Look at parties that are on the rise today, by the way: in Germany, Austria, France, Sweden, and elsewhere. Examine their roots. They are nasty, those roots, and it would be foolish to pretend they have nothing to do with what’s above the soil.

Toward the end of my installment today, I ask Bukovsky about heroes. There are obvious heroes of Soviet times, such as Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, and himself. What about less known ones? He gives an answer I did not expect.

“There was an extensive group of Old Bolsheviks who completely disagreed with Stalin and went against him. Lots of them were murdered — killed, executed, tortured. I was privileged to know several of them who survived. They were great people. I did not agree with their philosophy at all.”

He mentions, in particular, Sergei Petrovich Pisarev — “a guy who was tortured so severely, they broke his backbone, and the rest of his life he had to wear a special corset. But he didn’t sign any papers, he didn’t sign any false accusations, and they couldn’t break him. He was an Old Bolshevik, but, in all humility, I have to admit he was a great man.”

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