After the Romanovs – Red Notice

29th April 2022

Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

This week, we will digress to discuss how important learning is when it comes to international politics and war.  Let us begin with the book After the Romanovs: Russian Exiles in Paris from the Belle Époque Through Revolution and War by Helen Rappaport. As Barb was learning Russian back in the 1970s, the exiled “White” Russians (that is, those who opposed the communist “Reds”), had left their mark on the Russian-speaking diaspora worldwide. So it was fascinating to read this book and learn more about this community of millions who fled Russia as a result of the Soviet take-over in 1917.  What makes this book particularly intriguing is the many personal stories. Talented writers and poets in exile, for example, who found themselves lost in melancholia, unpublishable under Soviet censorship; and the mind-bogglingly wealthy who were lucky enough to escape largely penniless to the West, re-emerging as seamstresses and taxi-drivers, or worse, as drunks and suicides. 

On a side note, if you want to better understand the history of what is unfolding now in Ukraine, we highly recommend the Great Courses’  A History of Eastern Europe, by Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius. Liulevicius, a professor at the University of Tennessee, is a riveting speaker who makes the complex sweep of eastern European history understandable.  It can be difficult for those in North America to understand the turmoil and upheaval endemic in recent memory within these contentious, diverse regionsuntil the European Union began to form a fruitful path forward.

After the Romanovs and A History of Eastern Europe are particularly apropos in this sad time when a new diaspora of both Ukrainians and Russian supporters of Ukraine has begun to appear. As leading scientist John Holdren and his colleagues point out in Science, in an overarching goal of overturning Putin’s regime, “Let’s not abandon Russian scientists.”  If you think it’s incumbent upon all Russians to protest the policies of their leaders, you may wish to watch “The Lives of Others,” an award-winning film about how totalitarian societies can make any protest dangerous not only for the person who protests, but dangerous as well for all whom that person might love. 

This is a time when having historical perspective can be valuable.  It is hard to believe, but in her recent visit to Eastern Europe, where support for the Ukrainians is strong, Barb still met some who believed that the Ukrainians had brought the destruction upon themselves by not simply giving in to Putin at the very beginning.  This pathologically altruistic view of the situation overlooks the fact that the last time the Russians controlled Ukraine, they managed to kill some four million Ukrainians in a genocide known as the Holodomor.

Sadly, some true-believers trust the carefully-filtered news they are fed by Russian government sources. The upshot? As one of Barb’s friends notes from a country bordering Russia: “The War in Ukraine is a personal matter for most of us …, as we have our friends, colleagues, relatives there right now. Also there is a big diaspora of Ukrainians here…. So, I am not sure if we are able to forgive anytime soon what Putin and Russia are doing: killing civilians, destroying the country. I really hope that Ukraine will be able to win in this unfair war, as Ukraine is fighting for all of us now…”

For those who would like unusual insights on Putin by a man who has dedicated his life to thwarting him, you can do little better than to read the gripping Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder. This book gives a deep sense of the governmental corruption endemic in Russia at virtually every level—and also how this affects ordinary (and extraordinary) Russians.

There are, in fact, many Russians who are deeply supportive of Ukraine, and Ukrainians themselves are feeling the stigma of mis-directed anti-Russian prejudice.  Russians outside Russia who had previously escaped the communist regime are feeling a bias double-whammy. As the famed “Russian Tea Room” notes on the entry to their website: “The Russian Tea Room renounces Russia’s unprovoked acts of war in the strongest possible terms. For 95 years, the NY institution’s history has been deeply rooted in speaking against communist dictatorship and for democracy. Just as the original founders, Soviet defectors who were displaced by the revolution, stood against Stalin’s Soviet Union, we stand against Putin and with the people of Ukraine.” So, if you happen to live near NYC, feel free to stop by the Russian Tea Roomone of our favorite iconic restaurants—and learn about their rich history of opposition of oppression!

That’s all for this week. Have a thoughtful week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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