It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway

Russia and the Communist Past

David Satter

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January 22, 2013
400 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300192377
Paper

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Russia today is haunted by deeds that have not been examined and words that have been left unsaid. A serious attempt to understand the meaning of the Communist experience has not been undertaken, and millions of victims of Soviet Communism are all but forgotten. In this book David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent and longtime writer on Russia and the Soviet Union, presents a striking new interpretation of Russia's great historical tragedy, locating its source in Russia's failure fully to appreciate the value of the individual in comparison with the objectives of the state. 

Satter explores the moral and spiritual crisis of Russian society. He shows how it is possible for a government to deny the inherent value of its citizens and for the population to agree, and why so many Russians actually mourn the passing of the Soviet regime that denied them fundamental rights. Through a wide-ranging consideration of attitudes toward the living and the dead, the past and the present, the state and the individual, Satter arrives at a distinctive and important new way of understanding the Russian experience.

David Satter is senior fellow, Hudson Institute, and fellow, Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He was Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times from 1976 to 1982, then a special correspondent on Soviet affairs for the Wall Street Journal.

"A sweeping study of how the former Soviet Union’s bloody past continues to poison Russia’s present and threatens to strangle the country’s future."—Newsweek

"Highly successful in shedding light on both the nature of the Soviet system and the post-Communist period, this is a lucid, illuminating portrait of the outlook and attitudes of Russians. This book is one of the best I have ever read about the Soviet system and what it left behind."—Paul Hollander, author ofPolitical Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism

"David Satter has written a fascinating account of what the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia have really been like and why the failure of today's Russians to face up to that reality has ominous consequences for them and us."—Richard Pipes, Baird Professor of History, Emeritus, Harvard University

"The central message of this important new book—that Russia cannot reverse its current decline without first coming to terms with the crimes of its Soviet past—is both sobering and absolutely compelling."—Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy

"David Satter has put the whole Lenin/Stalin experience in a welcome fresh perspective, with a fine analysis of the broad motivations, particularly the terror mentality."—Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror

"In this penetrating analysis of Russia today, David Satter demonstrates how terror, ideology and mass murder were integrated and institutionalized in the Soviet Union, then dismantled in economic collapse, and are now resurrected in a modern, lighter authoritarian regime, minus the ideology. 'It Never Happened' gives the reader original insights and analysis by a Russian expert par excellence, and one exceptionally well written."—Richard V. Allen, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution and former National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan

"David Satter points to the utter failure of contemporary Russia to confront its own bloody legacy of terror, and the willingness of the rest of the world to move on to other, more pleasant issues.  In doing so he performs a service not just for the long-dead victims, but for future generations who might otherwise have forgotten."—Francis Fukuyama, Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

"An insightful, informative and fact-filled book."—Paul Hollander, author of Political Will and Personal Belief: The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism

"A fascinating, deeply thoughtful and researched study that contributes mightily to the ongoing humanist debate."—Kirkus Reviews

"Satter’s reflective, expert analysis of a Russian society in moral and cultural flux after the end of communism provides great food for thought beyond today’s headlines."—Publishers Weekly

"Many of our finest journalists have grappled with the moral legacy of Soviet communism. This book is a reminder that no one has stayed with the issue longer, dug deeper, or thought harder about it than David Satter."—Stephen Sestanovich, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the former Soviet Union, 1997-2001

"A book full of vivid and well-chosen anecdotes."—Financial Times

"David Satter delivers one of the most harrowing stories of all time. . . . This is a rare book by many measures, not least of which is the way in which Satter captures the magnitude of Russian atrocities and the frightening realities that people accept as part of their daily lives. By no means is Russia unique in being a nation that must grapple with the question of national cruelty and corruption . . . but its rich history makes it story all the more fascinating—and tragic."—Jedd Beaudoin, PopMatters

"David Satter has written a book full of vivid and well chosen anecdotes. . . . The use of nostalgia is Satter's field. Russia is not, he believes, able to give itself a chance; in love with their chains, its people cannot face up to the horrors of a past they wish to ignore or romanticize."—John Lloyd, Financial Times

"[Satter] does a brilliant job of chronicling the human consequences of Communism."—The National Review

"David Satter has really captured the role of the past in the present in Russia. . . . He feels that the Soviet Union hollowed out both public and private morality and left people without a moral compass when it collapsed. . . . The title of his book is the quintessence of the Putinist attitude to the past."—Edward Lucas, The Browser

"Satter grapples with an elemental failing of Russia’s leaders and people. . . . Russia, he argues, refuses to face the fundamental moral depravity of its Soviet past. . . . Expansive and brilliantly explored . . . compelling."—Foreign Affairs

"Rich in detail and enthused by civil passion, It Was A Long Time Ago contains many precise, moving and original observations."—Alexander Etkind, Times Literary Supplement

"David Satter has written a classic of its kind, investigating the psychological reactions that modern Russians feel towards the crimes of their Communist forebears."—Andrew Roberts, The American Spectator

"Compelling, a journalist’s book."—Choice

"E.H. Carr made the point that, to understand how history gets written, one first has to understand who the  historian is and the age in which they are writing. I was reminded of this warning when reading Satter's fascinating study of how Russia has, since 2000, been trying to construct its own particular version of the past that directly serves Vladimir Putin's purposes - with the obvious caveat that they are not dealing with a sole historian but a whole state apparatus - Professor Michael Cox, BBC History Magazine

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