Streetwise Professor

February 3, 2007

A Must Read

Filed under: Russia — The Professor @ 11:14 pm

This interview by Russian novelist Vladimir Sorokin is a must read. I have to say that I agree with virtually everything he says.

I was particularly gratified to read that his most recent book is titled “The Day of the Oprichnik,” and that Sorokin draws the analogy between Putin’s Russia and Ivan IV’s Oprichnina–an analogy I drew in my post the “New Oprichnina.” I was unaware of Sorokin’s work–another example of Merton’s Theory of Multiples, I guess.

After twisting my arm to pat myself on the back, in fairness I must now give myself a jab. Commentor Dmitri wrote to say “‘oprichnina’ is a feminine noun, so the title should be ‘Новая опричнина.’ ” An illustration of the perils of using free online translators in an attempt to appear more erudite than one is.

More substantively, Dmitri makes the case that Ivan the Terrible should really be called Ivan-the-Not-as-Terrible-as-Henry VIII. Maybe so, but Ivan’s body count is still enough to earn him the “Terrible” sobriquet (although “Grozny” can also be interpreted as “the Great.”) After all, extirpating a city is a terrible thing. Dmitri argues that Novgorod deserved it because of its treasonous dalliance with Poland-Lithuania. This begs the question of why Novgorod–an advanced, developed place, especially by the standards of 16th century Russia–preferred Polish rule to Muscovite. Dmitri also excuses the Oprichnina on the grounds that its depredations were directed at the boyars, and gave the serfs a break. The boyars were certainly not angels, but this is no defense for autocratic, extra-legal persecution that was motivated more by cupidity and rage at being thwarted than by a desire to see justice done; another parallel to today (cf. Mikhail Khodorkovsky.) Finally, although the evidence from the time is sketchy, that which exists suggests that the Oprichniki’s depredations were not so discriminating, and devastated boyar and serf alike.

So, Dmitri, I imagine we agree to disagree–but I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

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