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It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past
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It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  175 ratings  ·  26 reviews
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, pre ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published December 13th 2011 by Yale University Press (first published September 28th 2008)
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Patrick Sprunger
I've come across a few authors capable of a sincere consideration of the Soviet Union, free from histrionics. Many more end up punch drunk from their subject. The latter is the case with David Satter and It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway. Generally speaking, I think authors are stupefied by the USSR because the philosophical tenet of utilitarianism is rendered invalid.

(Utilitarianism says that, when more than one choice is available, the one that produces the most good for th
Eric Lee
Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
First of all, that's a great title for a book. And this is a very good book.

Veteran journalist David Satter explores the difficult terrain of historical memory in post-Communist Russia. He explores issues like what do with mass graves from the Stalin era (and how to find them), memorials and museums, school textbooks, and so on. The book was published seven years ago, but it anticipates what the Putin era was going to be like, especially regarding Ukraine, Georgia and Russian foreign policy in g
May 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
I think we ought to study the 20 million people killed in the USSR the way we study the loses of the Holocaust.

This book was as scary and depressing as reading about the Holocaust is. People can cry all they want about things they don't like about the way the US did things in the past, we take our freedom and safety for granted.

It's so interesting that people don't study the millions of people
murdered by their government in the USSR the way they study the
holocaust. I'm coming to realize that one
University of Chicago Magazine
David Satter, AB'68

From our pages (Jan–Feb/12): "For more than two decades journalist David Satter reported from the Soviet Union and Russia, and this book examines how the country's attitudes toward Soviet Communism have changed—or not. In fact, he argues, many citizens seem to have forgotten the crimes inflicted on the population during the Soviet regime and even go so far as to mourn that era. Russian society, Satter says, has not learned to appreciate the value of the individual citize
Fantastic book written on the subject, David Satter captures the events with great subtlety. As his other works show, he has an extremely nuanced and perceptive way of capturing the atmosphere of the nation. Anyone who has ever traveled to the former USSR and spoken to especially the older generation will recognize many of the attitudes he writes about in this work.
Honestly, some of the negative reviews of this work are just daft.
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I will be thinking about this book for a long time. I only wish I knew more about the topic in order to evaluate his analysis.
Frederic Kerr
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Memory is a tricky thing. We often forget things we have every reason to remember, let alone events that were painful. In the communist Soviet Union, millions of people lost relatives who were rounded up, often on trumped up charges based on arrest quotas, murdered by the state and then dumped in unmarked, mass graves. Thousands of Russians were complicit in those murders, during a time when refusal to comply with orders meant death, or worse.

Author David Satter explores the reluctance of moder
Richard Creel
Jan 15, 2021 rated it did not like it
The book is a political diatribe against the Soviet Union and Russia since the end of the former, full of the disgusting self-righteousness of Westerners who were willing to use the Red Army as cannon fodder in the fight against the Third Reich. The criticism of Stalin, et al, for the 1939 pact with Germany dispenses with serious Russian motives for distrusting everyone, and the ridiculous Drax-Doumenc mission to Moscow in August, 1939, plus the opposition of Poland and Romania to the movement o ...more
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Published seven years ago, this was helpful to flesh out ideas explored in Gessen's The Future Is History about the individual being disregarded over the power and goals of the state in Russia. This book took a handful of events, places and people to illustrate how the Soviet totalitarian state disregarded people (Katyn massacre, Ukraine famine) and how in the aftermath of the disintegration of USSR, while there was a brief period of interest in disseminating the truth, the collapse of the econo ...more
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Added to my list of books that I think everyone should read in the current climate, regardless of whether or not they're interested in Russia. What this country does or doesn't do is mind blowing! ...more
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This history and analysis of modern Russia is by far my favorite book on the social impact of the purges.
Bonita Braun
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book if you are interested in the personality of Russia today using examples in Soviet history. David Satter’s writing is easy to follow, clear and concise.
Andrew Davis
Jul 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A sad book about changes in Russia following the collapse of Communism. Unfortunately, the initial steps towards a civil society were soon arrested by election of Putin and his attempts to make Russia strong again. An organisation called Memorial which had done a lot to discover graves of communism victims and improve democracy has been declared a “foreign agent” and shut down by the authorities. A number of government critics have been assassinated. The author present very depressing view of th ...more
Feb 10, 2012 rated it liked it
I found this kind of an unusual read-- some non-fiction books are interested in developing a particular theory of events, and others are mostly interested in a dispatches from the front lines kind of approach, bringing before the reader information and stories (journalism) that the reader, for whatever reason, might have previously been unaware of. I prefer the former, with a strong point of view, but this book fits more neatly into the latter category. There's a point-of-view, but it is, largel ...more
Chris Jaffe
Not a fun book, and it has some really good moments, but it tends to be keep going over a lot of the same ground. The point is that Russia must come to terms with its Soviet past in order to do more to promote human rights and a stronger sense of personal freedoms. OK, but I had the sense reading this that the most effective way to do that wouldn't be to have more museums and historical markers for the victims. The real lost opportunity is something mentioned often in the background in this book ...more
Sandra Strange
May 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book examines the Stalinist terror of the USSR's history both before and after WWII and contemporary reaction to those who want to uncover all of its horror and even finance memorials to remind the Russians what they lived through. Thus the biggest part of this book is the author's detailing of how much resistance Russians give to this part of history. Through this review of the mass killings and their aftermath, especially in the lives of relatives and others affected by the executions and ...more
Jason Walker
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Hard book. Hard time. Hard people.

It is assumed that free people with open access to information, want information. But that isn't always true. Russia is beautiful and complex and with Putin still a nation in search of heroes. I had recently penned in my notes on this book but I am forgoing those things for this one thought wrote earlier: "This is not an easy book to get around or through. I find myself inspired by the " white poets" of the Revolution who survived Stalin's purges. Regardless of
Dec 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Mostly an academic read. After the first couple of chapters felt like I was hearing the same thing. More appropriate as a detailed article in a political magazine like Current History than stretched out into 300 pages. That said, the subject of so many Russians---millions---killed for political power is grimly sobering. A reminder of what truly totalitarian regimes do: treat any dissenters as enemies of the state to be liquidated.
Aug 20, 2016 rated it liked it
There is a lot of great information in this book and it really does open your eyes to the relationship between the Soviet past and the Russian present. I do think that for an everyday leader however, there would be a lot of open questions that the book didn't specifically answer, especially on the impact on Russia today more generally. There is a great amount of research and evidence that the book clearly displays. However, it could have been slightly shorter. ...more
Dec 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
While I agree with the main premise of the book, the author so frequently peppered the text with his right-wing assumptions as though they were the only appropriate conclusions, without acknowledging his own bias, that I found myself treating him as an unreliable narrator about halfway through. A shame because the core material is so important.
Bob Duke
Nov 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
All countries and peoples are uncomfortable with facing the crimes of their past. This book details the problems that Russia has in coming to terms with its past. The will to forget and justify these crimes is outlined in this book. The failure of Russia to come to terms with this is problematic for its newly liberated neighbours.
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book about the Soviet regime. The scale of murder is unparalleled. A fascinating if sobering read, as these stories are known by few and cared about by fewer. It is a shame that these tragedies were never shared with the world in the way the Holocaust was.
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian-history
The stories at Botovo haunt me. Satter's argument that the government is not facing and ameliorating the past is compelling. Sad and important history told so well, I fought tears and physical discomfort at parts. ...more
Nov 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fantastic read but also very depressing. Not sure I agree 100% with his thesis.
Kevin Kizer
Dec 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting book about Russia coming to grips with its communist past, with many wanting to just for get about it all and others wanting memorials to those killed.
Nancy Barnum
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Stephen Smith
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Jan 05, 2018
Mark Wilkinson
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Oct 18, 2019
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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.

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