It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway Russia and the Communist Past David Satter

Publication date:
22 Jan 2013
Yale University Press
400 pages: 235 x 156mm

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A veteran writer on Russia and the Soviet Union explains why Russia refuses to draw from the lessons of its past and what this portends for the future

Russia today is haunted by deeds that have not been examined and words that have been left unsaid. A serious attempt to understand the meaning of the Communist experience has not been undertaken, and millions of victims of Soviet Communism are all but forgotten. In this book David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent and longtime writer on Russia and the Soviet Union, presents a striking new interpretation of Russia's great historical tragedy, locating its source in Russia's failure fully to appreciate the value of the individual in comparison with the objectives of the state. 

Satter explores the moral and spiritual crisis of Russian society. He shows how it is possible for a government to deny the inherent value of its citizens and for the population to agree, and why so many Russians actually mourn the passing of the Soviet regime that denied them fundamental rights. Through a wide-ranging consideration of attitudes toward the living and the dead, the past and the present, the state and the individual, Satter arrives at a distinctive and important new way of understanding the Russian experience.

David Satter is senior fellow, Hudson Institute, and fellow, Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He was Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times from 1976 to 1982, then a special correspondent on Soviet affairs for the Wall Street Journal.

"A book full of vivid and well-chosen anecdotes."—Financial Times

"David Satter has written a book full of vivid and well chosen anecdotes. . . . The use of nostalgia is Satter's field. Russia is not, he believes, able to give itself a chance; in love with their chains, its people cannot face up to the horrors of a past they wish to ignore or romanticize."—John Lloyd, Financial Times

"Rich in detail and enthused by civil passion, It Was A Long Time Ago contains many precise, moving and original observations."—Alexander Etkind, Times Literary Supplement

"A sweeping study of how the former Soviet Union’s bloody past continues to poison Russia’s present and threatens to strangle the country’s future."—Newsweek

"Satter’s reflective, expert analysis of a Russian society in moral and cultural flux after the end of communism provides great food for thought beyond today’s headlines."—Publishers Weekly

"This book, its title deliberately inviting a loud shout of ‘No!’ is more vehement than his previous studies of post-Soviet Russia, but just as impeccably argued."—Donald Rayfield, Literary Review

"Satter casts fascinating light on the (comparatively cheerful) way in which repression was endured by the citizens of the USSR. . . . An informed and insightful essay – with disturbing implications."—Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

"A meticulous, sweeping and wrenching history of Russia's burial of Soviet crimes. It is also a sensitive, compelling and convincing exploration of the importance of memory. But it makes a broader contention - that forgetting is a symptom of an illness that Russia contracted before the Soviet era . . . a humane, measured, first-hand, historically and philosophically rooted argument that is hard to refute."—Andrew Gardner, European Voice

"Impeccably argued. . . . Satter is a man whom no Russian leader would wish to meet, let alone shake by the hand, but he has their measure."—Donald Rayfield, Literary Review

"A meticulous, sweeping and wrenching history of Russia's burial of Soviet crimes . . . [and] a sensitive, compelling and convincing exploration of the importance of memory."—European Voice

"Truly illuminating. . . . Satter is both a gifted journalist and a chronicler of intellectual and political currents. . . . Splendidly researched and engagingly written, this book offers invaluable vignettes of various reactions to the still unprocessed remembrance of totalitarian times."—Vladimir Tismaneanu, International Affairs

"Highly successful in shedding light on both the nature of the Soviet system and the post-Communist period, this is a lucid, illuminating portrait of the outlook and attitudes of Russians. This book is one of the best I have ever read about the Soviet system and what it left behind."—Paul Hollander, author ofPolitical Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism

"The central message of this important new book—that Russia cannot reverse its current decline without first coming to terms with the crimes of its Soviet past—is both sobering and absolutely compelling."—Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy

"In this penetrating analysis of Russia today, David Satter demonstrates how terror, ideology and mass murder were integrated and institutionalized in the Soviet Union, then dismantled in economic collapse, and are now resurrected in a modern, lighter authoritarian regime, minus the ideology. 'It Never Happened' gives the reader original insights and analysis by a Russian expert par excellence, and one exceptionally well written."—Richard V. Allen, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution and former National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan

"An insightful, informative and fact-filled book."—Paul Hollander, author of Political Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism

"Many of our finest journalists have grappled with the moral legacy of Soviet communism. This book is a reminder that no one has stayed with the issue longer, dug deeper, or thought harder about it than David Satter."—Stephen Sestanovich, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the former Soviet Union, 1997-2001