Being the thoughts and writings of one Gustaf Erikson; father, homeowner, technologist.

This category contains capsule reviews of books I've read

Sunday, 2005-01-16

Crumbling dominion

Imperium, by Ryszard Kapuscinski.

A travel writer mostly known for his writings on the Third World, Kapuscinski tells us about his encounters with the Imperium — Russia, first in its Czarist incarnation, then as the Soviet Union, and lastly stumbling towards a new system, which seems unlikely to be democracy in the Western sense.

From the harrowing account of his childhood in Soviet-occupied Poland, to the recollections of camp inmates in Magadan and the tragedy of Armenia, Kapuscinski paints a bleak picture of a great country plundered and murdered by generations of ruthless rulers.

This passage sums up the Soviet period. A batch of deportees has arrived in Magadan after a freezing sea voyage. They are counted, slowly, by illiterate guards:

The half-naked deportees stood motionless in a blizzard, lashed by the gales. Finally, the escorts delivered their routine admonition: A step to the left or a step to the right is considered an escape attempt — we shoot without warning! This identical formula was uniformly applied throughout the entire territory of the USSR. The whole nation, two hundred million strong, had to march in tight formation in a dictated direction. Any deviation to the left or the right meant death.

A democratic future in Russia seems unlikely:

The Russian land, its characteristics and resources, favor the power of the state. The soil of native Russia is poor, the climate cold, the day, for the greater part of the year, short. Under such natural conditions, the earth yields meager harvests, there is recurrent famine, the peasant is poor, too poor to become independent. The master or the state has always had enormous power over him. The peasant, drowning in debt, has nothing to eat, is a slave.

On the future:

And yet this country’s future can be seen optimistically. Large societies have great internal strength. They have sufficient vital energy and inexhaustible supplies of all kinds of power so as to be able to raise themselves up from the most grievous setbacks and emerge from the most serious crises.

Update: Just saw a TV programme about Kapuscinski, A Poet of the Frontline. So now I’m adding The Emperor to my reading list.

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