Sunday, June 05, 2005

# Posted 5:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

MARGARET PAXSON LOOKS to what will become of Russia's intelligentsia in a poignant essay which opens with the line, 'can a nation look for grace?'.
In the 69 years of its existence, the Soviet Union kept the state together with various means—from the white noise of its propaganda machinery to the animal brutality of its repressions. As easy and lulling as it must have been to succumb to the iron will of the state, voices of thoughtful dissent were also nourished in the Soviet Union, in spite of its best designs. These voices belonged to its intelligentsia: artists, writers, linguists, geologists, playwrights, economists, biologists. Sometimes they spoke in the exquisite language of poetry; sometimes they employed irony and satire; sometimes they fell into a simple and quiet insistence on the truth of science and reason and on the need to define one’s humanity through something other than fear. By the 1980s, some of these figures had become emboldened to challenge the state directly, and though the Soviet Union fell at last under the weight of its own political and economic system, the steady crescendo of their voices abetted the dissolution.

Members of the intelligentsia—painfully byzantine in their sense of social order, awkwardly ascetic in their tastes, and often entirely disconnected from the people they claimed to speak for—had spent years in faraway gulags for crimes of thought. It was they who had memorized lines of Anna Akhmatova’s poems because it was too dangerous to keep written copies.
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