In High Stalinist Times
- BuyIron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1945-56 by Anne Applebaum
Allen Lane, 512 pp, £25.00, October 2012, ISBN 978 0 7139 9868 9
Anne Applebaum’s book begins with one group of women in the Polish city of Lodz and ends with another. The 45 years between the end of the Second World War and the emergence of a free, non-communist Poland separate them. But the younger women have decided to start again at the point where their elders left off – and to avoid their mistakes.
Vol. 35 No. 2 · 24 January 2013
From Robert Buckeye
A few years ago an exhibition of photographs in Safarikovo Square in Bratislava commemorated the 40th anniversary of the uprising against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The square was near my apartment and several times I saw older men speaking emphatically to the student at the information desk. When I asked her what the men were saying she told me they wanted the tanks to come back. Under Communism, they said, we could be sent away to camps if we said the wrong thing, or even if we said nothing, but everyone had a job, and healthcare and education were free. What you did at home was your own affair. You had a private life. Today we can say and do what we want. But unemployment is high while healthcare and education are expensive.
Neal Ascherson argues that Anne Applebaum, in her book Iron Curtain, questions not only totalitarian Communist regimes but also the welfare state (LRB, 20 December 2012). She sees what was wrong with Communism but fails to see what its attraction was; what, in short, a state might do for its citizens. It would never have been possible in imperial Russia or the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a peasant to be a teacher, a miner a lawyer, a woman a doctor. Under Communism, at least at first, the playing field in Eastern Europe had been level as it had not been before.
Vol. 35 No. 3 · 7 February 2013
From Mark Etherton
Robert Buckeye does not help his argument that things were better under Communism by claiming that ‘it would never have been possible in imperial Russia or the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a peasant to be a teacher, a miner a lawyer, a woman a doctor’ (Letters, 24 January). To take just a few examples: under Dmitri Tolstoy, minister of education from 1866 to 1880, the Russian government encouraged young peasants to train as teachers; Adolf Schärf rose from poverty to take a doctorate in law from Vienna University in 1914, later becoming the sixth president of Austria; and women were practising as medical doctors in both countries well before the end of the 19th century.
It is also mistaken to suggest that ‘under Communism, at least at first, the playing field in Eastern Europe had been level as it had not been before.’ While of course after the war previously excluded groups had opportunities they had not had earlier, the playing field was never level: from the first significant parts of the population were shut out of civil society.
Vol. 35 No. 5 · 7 March 2013
From Robert Buckeye
Count Dmitri Tolstoy may have encouraged peasants to be teachers, as Mark Etherton argues, but in 1877, 11 years into Tolstoy’s educational ministry, only one in 77 Russians was in education of any institutional kind (Letters, 7 February).