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March 2009

The lingering stench: airing Stalin’s archives

by Gary Saul Morson

On Inside the Stalin Archives by Jonathan Brent.

As he wanders through the streets of St. Petersburg contemplating murder, the hero of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment notices “that special Petersburg stench” which seems to be everywhere. Somehow, that stench constitutes the atmosphere in which lethal and repulsive ideas arise.

When Jonathan Brent arrived in Moscow, he detected the same stench. It was 1992, just after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Brent seized a unique opportunity that, if not for him, would doubtless have been missed. He came to negotiate a deal to publish sensitive and secret documents from the Central Party Archives. But despite the new openness, the old Russian smell, or spirit—the Russian word dukh means both—persisted. Brent noticed “the smell of Moscow—flat, unwashed, sour—an accumulation of fifty years without sunlight or cleansing breeze, as if inhering in the things themselves.” ...

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Gary Saul Morson is Chair of Slavic Languages & Literature at Northwestern University.


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 27 March 2009, on page 10

Copyright © 2014 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com

http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-lingering-stench--airing-Stalin-s-archives-4028

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