Neal Ascherson thinks there’s a book to be written called ‘Europe’s Buried Revolution 1943-48’ (LRB, 17 November). He suggests that across the Resistance movements, both East and West, there was a ‘consensus on postwar change’ which ‘sank under the floods of Stalinism and Cold War mobilisation’: an apparently unified non-Communist revolutionary tendency that was supressed, in Eastern Europe, with the arrival of the Red Army. And then he praises Tony Judt for giving some recognition to what he calls a ‘currently obscure’ topic. In Slovenia, it’s a live political issue. In October 1945 eight thousand Slovene refugees were captured by British forces and sent back to Tito’s Partisans, who executed them. They were mostly members of the collaborationist Home Guard. In July 2003, after a series of arguments lasting five years, the Slovene parliament finally rejected the centre-right proposal to mark the mass graves, there and elsewhere, as containing victims of ‘Communist violence’. This, many had felt, tried to turn the dead into martyrs to an anti-Communist cause – and, by implication, into Resistance heroes whose tactics had been disallowed by the Communists. But was there non-Communist resistance in Slovenia? In August 2004, in the run-up to the last general election, various veterans described the Slovene Resistance movement: it had been a ‘national liberation struggle’, Janez Stanovnik said, which included people of all political stripes. It didn’t. The Slovene Liberation Front didn’t admit non-Communists: mostly because, among those opposed to the occupation, there were very few non-Communists – and those there were had questionable aims. The anti-Fascist paramilitary groups that existed in Italian-run territory before the war – where their manifesto was anti-assimilationist and strongly nationalist or regionalist – continued their operations against Fascist targets only until 1943.Stanovnik, Slovenia’s last socialist president, had a reason for making the claim he did: with the country’s accession to the EU, it was important that Slovenia be seen to have been part of a gently social democratic tradition, with a history of pro-Western and anti-Soviet activity going back to the years of occupation. Current political imperatives mean inventing a buried revolution that never existed, and burying the revolution that did.
William Livesey (Letters, 17 November) raised the case of Parveen Sharif, the Muslim woman who has been accused of encouraging terrorism and is currently being retried at the Old Bailey, and wondered why we hadn’t read a word about how the trial is going. We still haven’t so far as I’m aware. It’s almost as if the media had been banned from reporting it on the catch-all grounds of national security, something one wouldn’t put beyond the Home Office. The silence is all the more extraordinary and suggestive because we’ve just had the third and final reading of the government’s new anti-terrorist legislation in the House of Commons and by the time the next issue of the LRB appears, the bill will have gone to be debated in the House of Lords before being enacted, unless of course the Lords do what we would like them to do and send it back. Ms Sharif, it will be remembered, is charged with not having told the authorities that her brother was planning to commit a terrorist act, but instead encouraging him to go ahead and do it, an offence seemingly in its own right even though the email supporting him was a purely private communication. Omar Sharif was intending to explode a suicide bomb not here but in Israel – against another country and another population, that is to say. This automatically brings back into view the question of how ‘terrorism’ is to be defined, a difficult question that has been raised time and again in recent years and has let’s hope been raised once more in the course of the proceedings at the Old Bailey. We all know that acts of violence construable as terrorist by some will be construed by others as legitimate acts of resistance on the part of populations suffering under some form of oppression. A second aspect of the case against Ms Sharif was also highly relevant to the debate in the Commons, which ended, Labour rebels be praised, with the government’s defeat and the reduction of the period for which terrorist suspects can be held without charge from a monstrous 90 days to a bearable but still shameful 28. The coverage of the debate concentrated exclusively on that bit of the proposed legislation, thereby overlooking the other bit, to which Livesey also drew attention, which creates the new and preposterous offence of ‘glorifying’ acts of terrorism, the way over the top term ‘glorification’ now being asked to take the place of the subdued ‘encouragement’ of which Ms Sharif was guilty (or not). It’s as if the Home Office – or else the unelected body that now manages, alarmingly, to speak through it: I mean the Metropolitan Police – feared that no future jury would want to bring in a conviction when someone is charged with anything as mild as encouragement. It’s usually thought to be a good thing to go around offering encouragement after all, whereas to go around offering glorification takes us into a fresh dimension of well-wishing. But glorification is what we’re faced with none the less, because that clause of the bill seems to have gone through on the nod during the third reading, so obsessed were the legislators with deciding how long a period the police needed to be able productively (or not) to interrogate those they had banged up on suspicion. If the House of Lords is also caught nodding and ‘glorification’ is the description the courts must live with, I can foresee absurd philological set-tos between cavilling barristers that will not do the dignity of our criminal justice system any good at all.
The new Crimestoppers ‘Britain’s most wanted’ website crashed within hours of going online, after receiving more than 200,000 hits, when it was prepared for no more than a tenth of that. The aim of the site seems to be to encourage all the latent Comrade Pavliks out there to dob in the men next door who look like crooks on the run. Crimestoppers – which is a charity, apparently, as Eton and Harrow are – clearly underestimated the willingness of modern Britons to hand their shady neighbours over to the law. Either that, or they underestimated the extent to which the internet gives free reign to voyeurs and gawkers, for whom a monthly dose of Crimewatch UK on the BBC just isn’t enough.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, looking at the history of Stalinist denunciation, wonders what the position would be of a person of Arab origin in the US, or indeed the UK, nowadays if they thought that one of their relations was possibly a terrorist. The likely answer, at least in the UK, is that they would be arrested for the crime of failing to inform. I would have said that Fitzpatrick’s piece was giving New Labour ideas, but the cabinet has enough experts in the methods of Stalinism to have got there first.
Sheila Fitzpatrick says that Eisenstein’s 1936 film Bezhin Meadow was freely adapted from the Pavlik legend. I’ve always understood that it was based on the story called ‘Bezhin Lug’ (lug is the Russian for ‘meadow’) in Turgenev’s Sportsman’s Sketches. The central character in the story is a teenage boy called Pavel, which might have caused the confusion.
Hal Foster mentions that pictures in the exhibition of Russian art currently at the Guggenheim ‘are drawn mostly from the Tretyakov gallery (in Moscow) and the Hermitage (in St Petersburg)’ (LRB, 3 November). But several of the pictures he mentions are not to be found in either, but in the Russian Museum in St Petersburg. Anyone visiting St Petersburg should know that no masterpieces by Ilya Repin can be found in the Hermitage; nor can works by Malevich, Goncharova, Tatlin and other Russian pioneers of abstract art. They hang in the Russian Museum, a pleasant, light and airy place.
Henry Fonda’s character in Twelve Angry Men does not prove, as Rick Perlstein claims, that ‘the accused boy couldn’t have committed the crime’ (LRB, 17 November). He only has to demonstrate that some witnesses are unreliable in their recollections and that there must, therefore, be a reasonable doubt about the boy’s guilt. As I write, that’s still sufficient to acquit the accused, though I’m conscious that in the current climate that may have changed by the date of your next issue.