Russia, Masher Gessen, Soviet Union discussed on Monocle 24: The Big Interview
I've thought a lot about how my hopes of my friends hopes and some other people's hopes were crushed after the nineteen nineties and how our assumption that that we're all going the same direction we had just moved through the end of history was so incredibly wrong and so I, think I keep circling around that place and trying to understand how people choose unfreedom. How it actually comes to take hold what to shared reality and shared language. When we enter autocracy, that's what I've tried to focus when I read about. This book is about United States, but the teams are very similar. Masher Gessen's latest book is called surviving or talk crecy. It is a subject know better than most now a columnist for the New Yorker the prize winning journalist and author spent two decades covering the resurgence of totalitarianism in. Russia. Since leaving what was then Soviet Union as a teenager, they've been a persistent and prominent critic what is now Russia or at least of the people who run it? Gessen has always been careful to keep pointing out however that what has happened in Russia is not necessarily uniquely Russian surviving autocracy is pitched depressingly accurately as a memo to their adopted. United. States. Many books have been written about Donald Trump's bazaar presidency mostly essays in shock sneering and satire. GESSEN's latest takes a more practical approach deploying what they've learned as instructions for how a country which has taken at least a few steps down a dark path can turn itself around ideally before. November, third. I'm Andrew and I spoke to Masha Gessen for the big interview. Masha Gessen. Welcome to the beginning of you. Thank you. It's good to be here. I want to start kind of at the start because it strikes me that one of the perspectives that underpins a lot of your work and especially the new book surviving autocracy is that. You're of that generation that got to have a fairly fully formed understanding of two completely different systems of government you were I think about fourteen years old when you left the Soviet Union when you'd left which I think is in nine hundred, eighty one did you have an understanding before you left the Soviet Union of how different it was from where you were going? I don't think you can have an understanding when you have grown up in really effectively forced isolation. I mean there was no place for that kind of imagination to develop. We and by we I mean the sort of the Soviet underground of wish my parents were very much part. You know believed that there was something else out there but my parents had a friend who actually joked, where are you going to go? Do you have any scientific proof that the West actually exists? Have we seen any material evidence of the existence of the West and we hadn't but we western journalists and we Russian intellectuals? Believed that democracy was going to take hold and my last book. The future is history was really very much about why that doesn't happen and also why that misconception. Was So. Stubborn and Sarong and so important at the same time and in a sense, the new book takes off from the same place. It's not about Russia but I actually used the work of a Hungarian incurred named Ball and monitor. WHO has worked lot on developing a system for understanding how the systems have developed in one of the things he says. Is really striking to me, which is that when the Soviets systems collapsed in nineteen eighty nine, we started using the language of liberal democracy to describe them because we saw that that's what was going to happen. But also because that's the language of political science but that's the terminology us we ask. Are there free and fair elections is their freedom of the media is their freedom of assembly? andled macho says, okay. You can describe the absence marked absences by using that language, but you can't describe the thing itself and I love when he says this but you can say that the elephant doesn't fly you can say that elephant can swim but you still have not described elephant. You talk about this in your new book about the perhaps the need to better defined political terms political terminology because a word like democracy kind of course, mean any one of a number of things absolutely. But also that they are interesting understanding. Is biased toward what we think of as democratic institutions and what we think of as liberal democracies, and so we have a much harder time understanding autocracies and so module has developed a language and taxonomy for autocracies where he describes the autocratic attempt to autocratic raked through the autocratic consolidation and in a gesture of both poetic justice and and just I think good research I borrow his language. So I, take the language from what used to Eastern Bloc and apply to the United States, which is, of course, you know how political models develop as we take something see where it fits where it needs to be adjusted and whether it benefits our understanding. So. That's very long winded way of answering your question. You know, I've thought a lot about how my hopes, my friends, hopes, and so many other people's hopes were crushed after the nineteen ninety S, and how are some Shin that that we're all going in the same direction we had just lived through the end of history was so incredibly wrong and so I think I keep circling around that place trying to understand how people choose unfreedom How it actually comes to take hold what happens to shared reality and shirt language. When we enter autocracy, that's what I've tried to focus when I write about Russia in this book is about the United, states but the themes are very similar when you went back to Russia in the nineteen ninety. Then did you have an idea of what kind if Russia was going to become a liberal democracy? What kind of liberal democracy it would become? Did you Majett being say akin to what the Baltic states are now only a lot bigger obviously. Well, it depends on what you mean by what the Baltic states are. Now because you know Russia made some decisions about a very early on about the structure of its government. They settled on a presidential republic road than a parliamentary democracy, which is what a lot of the.