FIGES INTERVIEWS ONLINE.

I’ve written about the controversial historian Orlando Figes a number of times (for the correct pronunciation of his name, see this post); his prose is very readable, but his facts are not always reliable (and of course there was that business about his Amazon reviews and threats to sue, covered in the links below). There’s more controversy, this time about his recent book The Whisperers; Peter Reddaway and Stephen Cohen publicized it in a Nation article, and Robert Booth and Miriam Elder reported on it for the Guardian, saying:

Figes had commissioned hundreds of interviews with the relatives of victims of gulag labour camps to produce a 700-page chronicle of “private life in Stalin’s Russia”, published in 2007. But the Moscow-based publisher, and a historian who conducted some of the interviews, claim some of the material was misrepresented. While none of the alleged errors would strike the lay reader as particularly egregious, the Russians argue Figes’ version of some of the most tragic events in Russian history would cause distress to relatives of gulag victims.

For that reason, Russian publishers have rejected a translation of the book.
That sordid squabble by itself wouldn’t necessarily be LH material, but in the comments at the Guardian, a reader says “One thing that Figes has done is to put his source material on the Internet, where anyone can access it. In a way these documents and interview transcripts speak more eloquently that the book could. It’s an extraordinary oral history project,” and gives links to extended extracts from the interviews and the family archives; I thought they were worth passing along here for anyone who is interested in the period (and can read Russian). Hat tip to Garrigus Carraig for the links.

Comments

  1. I know I might have an axe to grind about Figes, but I would say calling someone a collaborator on the basis of totally fabricated evidence is the kind of thing a lay reader would find pretty egregious. Not to mention the fact that citing the hypothetical reaction of an imagined lay reader to defuse accusations of falsification and misconduct is… wrongheaded? Unsettling? I’m not sure what the word should be.

  2. slawkenbergius says:

    And Figes has shown such a pattern of inexcusable behavior in a broad range of instances that it’s hard for me to see how he can possibly deserve the benefit of the doubt implied by the pox-on-both-their-houses attitude.

  3. apart from the ‘Figes issue’, this decision is a reflection of the bitter, often hysterical debate in Russia on Stalin and ‘stalinism’.

  4. And Figes has shown such a pattern of inexcusable behavior in a broad range of instances that it’s hard for me to see how he can possibly deserve the benefit of the doubt implied by the pox-on-both-their-houses attitude.
    Oh, I agree, and I’m sorry if I came across as taking a pox-on-both-their-houses attitude—I’m definitely on the side of the Russians here. I just wanted to get the inaccuracy thing out of the way so I could get to the good links. Figes-bashing is welcome, and I encourage one and all to indulge in it (at the risk of lawsuits, of course—hi, Orlando! we’re just kidding, honest! or is that Mrs. Orlando?).

  5. I’ve just read the Nation article. It’s not clear how and why Peter Reddaway and Stephen Cohen got to ‘investigate’ Figes’ practices. Does anyone know the story?

  6. Well, Steve Cohen is a well-respected Soviet historian. I don’t know about Reddaway.
    One thing the article doesn’t mention is the episode where Figes wrote an indignant letter to the journal Kritika in defense of his work–but instead of signing his own name to it, he claimed it was from Memorial (which, of course, doesn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore). Now that’s sleazy.

  7. Steve Cohen is the left’s Russia expert in the US; he’s also married to the Nation’s editor. When I lived there, he was always on tv together with Richard Pipes, “for balance”. Anyway, Fie-jeez is a conservative with a shady history so it’s not too surprising they’d go after him.

  8. Anyway, Fie-jeez is a conservative with a shady history so it’s not too surprising they’d go after him.
    O du Vanchik (if I may be familiar): Surely you’re not suggesting that there is nothing reprehensible about any of his behavior, and that he is the object of meritless political persecution?

  9. No, of course he’s reprehensible, and any pursuit was justified, because of his past behaviour. But a right-wing sleaze is more likely to be pursued by the left than the right, isn’t he? Nixon? Oliver North? And sometimes even vice versa, I’m sure, though no examples spring to mind.

  10. How about….Stalin?

  11. Does anyone think of Stalin as a man of the left?

  12. Trond Engen says:

    Does anyone think of Stalin as a man of the left?
    I do. Despotism is despotism whatever label you put on it, but his special brand of despotism certainly grew out of left-wing ideology.

  13. But Stalin, whatever his background, decimated the left. Mao might be a better example.

  14. Trond Engen says:

    Successful despots purge the people they owe their rise to power. Machiavelli knew that.

  15. But Stalin, whatever his background, decimated the left. Mao might be a better example.
    Mao decimated the left too. In other words, what Trond said.
    And for heaven’s sake, of course Stalin was a man of the left, if that phrase has any meaning whatever.

  16. Does anyone think of Stalin as a man of the left?
    Um, yeah. What Trond said.
    Stalin, whatever his background, decimated the left
    Murdering your own comrades is pretty typical for the extreme left (e.g. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot). Some don’t even bother to wait until they’ve seized power before doing so.

  17. Murdering your own comrades is pretty typical for the extreme right, too (Hilter). So what Trond said. Or Machiavelli. Nothing to do with the left, particularly.
    Oh all right, I suppose that Stalin was sort of left wingish in a despotty sort of way. But he wasn’t rejected solely by the right and he wasn’t defeated by the right (Q.E.D.), he died in office.
    Pol Pot wasn’t defeated by the right, either. The Khmer Rouge were defeated by the Vietnamese (i.e. the left), and Pol Pot was imprisoned by his KR former comrades.
    Now I have to go to bed.

  18. Trond Engen says:

    In other words, what Trond said.
    Um, yeah. What Trond said.
    So what Trond said.
    How can I not love this place! You don’t get to hear things like that as a husband and father.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    Alas, as we say in French: Nul n’est prophète en son pays. (No one is believed and respected at home).

  20. I was about to say that anyone attacked by Pipes couldn’t be all bad (in the manner of Thurber’s characterization of W.C. Fields), but then I realized I had conflated Richard Pipes, the father, with Daniel Pipes, the son. (Of course some people are attacked by Valves, and still others by Kettledrums.)
    Despotes: Relative to the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese were on the right.
    Trond: Well, as a husband and father I frequently do hear it (buffs nails).
    Marie-Lucie: Jesus says this in all four gospels after the people of Nazareth mostly reject his message. Here’s the NIV translation of Mark 6:1-6:

    Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

    “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

    Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

  21. Relative to the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese were on the right.
    Relative to the Khmer Rouge, pretty much everybody is on the right. (NB: Vietnam and the KR didn’t start off as enemies either).
    Murdering your own comrades is pretty typical for the extreme right, too (Hilter).
    Well, there was the Night of the Long Knives in which about 85+ people died, but that doesn’t really compare to Stalin’s purges, the AB League “Incident”, the Cultural Revolution, S.21 etc. Violent political extremists are violent political extremists but the extreme left seem especially fond of killing their own. If what Wikipedia says is true, the Japanese United Red Army murdered 14 out of its total membership of 29 – that’s some purging.
    [Stalin] wasn’t defeated by the right
    I’m not sure I understand this theory if you’re implying defeat by the right makes you left and vice versa. The Socialist Revolutionaries, Nestor Makhno, the Georgian Mensheviks and the Armenian Dashnaks – to take just a few examples – were all left-wingers and were all defeated by the Bolsheviks. I think Figes in A People’s Tragedy says somewhere that the Russian Civil War would have been over in months rather than years if Lenin had allied with other left-wing parties (or maybe I dreamt that up).
    Anyhow, I don’t particularly want to lead this thread too far away from the subject at hand…

  22. I’m not sure I understand this theory
    I’m not sure you’ve read from the beginning of the thread. It’s not a theory, I was simply looking for examples of bad people on the left who were pursued by the right. See May 25, 2012 03:00 PM. Vietnam was not a right-wing regime, John.
    Nul n’est prophète en son pays.:
    Il nʾy a pas de héros pour son valet-de-chambre.
    Une phrase attribuée à Anne-Marie Bigot, dame Cornuel.
    “Tel a été miraculeux au monde, auquel sa femme et son valet n’ont rien vu seulement de remarquable. Peu d’hommes ont été admirés par leurs domestiques.”
    Montaigne, Essais, Livre III, Chapitre 2 : Du repentir.
    Goethe & Hegel rationalise it here. But I especially like Tolstoy’s “Il ne peut y avoir de grand homme pour un laquais, parce que le laquais a sa conception à lui de la grandeur.” (I can’t find the equivalent translation in English.)

  23. Well, as a husband and father I frequently do hear it (buffs nails).
    I’m not sure why hearing “what Trond said” has that effect, but whatever buffs your nails, as they say.

  24. Trond just has a funny effect on people.

  25. Trond Engen says:

    On myself too. Yesterday a toenail came off, and now my toe is in the buff.

  26. Ouch. Consider seeing a podiatrist if this happens often.
    Anyway, I was referring to a genericized version, something like “What you said”, which I actually do hear from those who made me a husband and father.

  27. > the correct pronunciation of his name
    Is there any etymological basis for that? It doesn’t make sense give the German origin (which would suggest “Feegus”). Or is it one of these Menzies / Mingus issues, or even plain affectation?

  28. I suspect it’s just how English-speakers unfamiliar with the original pronunciation said it, and the family eventually gave up correcting them. Compare the case of the great jazz drummer Paul Motian, who insisted on the pronunciation MOH-tee-an for his Armenian name for years before giving up and accepting that everyone was going to pronounce it like motion.

  29. Yes, but I’d expect an anglicization more like Figgus or even Fidges. Fy-gees is as unintuitive as Fines for Fiennes.

  30. If there were a Latin noun fix with a plural figes, that’s just how it would be anglicized. I rest my case.

  31. So it would, but living people don’t bear Latin names. Marcus Tullius Figes, yes, maybe. Orlando Figes, no.

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