These are all the Blogs posted on Sunday, 27, 2012.
Sunday, 27 May 2012
Istanbul: Thousands pray for Hagia Sophia to become mosque
- Thousands of devout Muslims prayed outside Turkey's historic Hagia Sophia museum on Saturday to protest a 1934 law that bars religious services at the former church and mosque.
Worshippers shouted, "Break the chains, let Hagia Sophia Mosque open," and "God is great" before kneeling in prayer as tourists looked on.
Turkey's secular laws prevent Muslims and Christians from formal worship within the 6th-century monument, the world's greatest cathedral for almost a millennium before invading Ottomans converted it into a mosque in the 15th century.
"Keeping Hagia Sophia Mosque closed is an insult to our mostly Muslim population of 75 million. It symbolises our ill-treatment by the West," Salih Turhan, head of the Anatolian Youth Association, which organised the event, told the crowd, whose male and female worshippers prayed separately according to Islamic custom.
The rally's size and location signals more tolerance for
religious Islamic expression under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose party traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement.
His government has also allowed Christian worship at sites that were off-limits for decades, as it seeks to bring human rights in line with the European Union, which it aims to join.
Turhan told Reuters his group staged the prayers ahead of celebrations next week marking the 559th anniversary of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet's conquest of Byzantine Constantinople. "As the grandchildren of Mehmet the Conqueror, seeking the re-opening Hagia Sophia as a mosque is our legitimate right," Turhan said in an interview. . . some devout Turks believe that barring worship at Hagia Sophia is an affront against Sultan Mehmet, who designated it as a mosque and who, like other Ottoman leaders, served as caliph to the Islamic world.
Under Erdogan, many Turks have come to embrace their imperial Ottoman past and question the more austere, Western-oriented reforms that followed the last sultan's overthrow in 1923.
The shift coincides with a stalled EU bid and declining expectations Turkey will ever join the mostly Christian bloc. The government's active diplomatic engagement in the Middle East with lands that once belonged to the Ottoman empire has also prompted Turks to re-examine the NATO member's Western tilt.
Meanwhile, some Orthodox argue Hagia Sophia should be returned to its original state as a Christian basilica.
In 2010, 200 or so Greek American Orthodox aborted plans to pray at Hagia Sophia after the Turkish government threatened to block their entry into the country on security grounds.
Posted on 05/27/2012 2:01 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Sunday, 27 May 2012
The Muslim Brotherhood In Parliament: "There Has Not Been A Single Point Of Improvement"
From The Sydney Morning Herald:
Brotherhood leads the way as voters face more of same
May 28, 2012
CAIRO: For the Egyptians who fought so hard to unseat the regime that dominated their lives for 30 years, the results of the first round of the country's first free presidential election are unthinkable.
Instead of working towards desperately needed economic reform, they are faced with an impossible choice in next month's run-off elections - the Islamist candidate backed by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood movement, Mohamed Mursi, or the candidate seen as a feloul, or remnant of the old regime, Ahmed Shafiq.
Providing some faint hope to the young revolutionaries and progressive voters, the leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who polled strongly and came in at third place, announced over the weekend that he will appeal for Egypt's presidential election to be suspended over alleged voting irregularities.
The former US president Jimmy Carter, who led a team of electoral observers, said the process had been ''encouraging'' despite constraints, including observers being prevented from seeing the collation of counted votes at regional stations.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mr Mursi offered to cooperate with other political parties if he is elected president.
''Our goals are the same, our path is the same. All of us seek stability, democracy and freedom. We also share the aim of stamping on remnants of the corrupt regime,'' he said.
His opponent, Mr Shafiq, pledged to start a new era. ''There is no going back,'' Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party already dominate the new parliament after winning 47 per cent of the vote in the November/December elections. Many Egyptians - particularly Coptic Christians and other minorities - fear the possibility of Islamists controlling both the executive and the legislature.
''We went from a one man show with Mubarak, to a one group show with the Brotherhood,'' says Mohamed al-Guindy, an orthopaedic surgeon who was one of the volunteer doctors staffing the makeshift field clinics during the violent government crackdown on protesters in Tahrir Square last year.
Like many Egyptians, Dr Guindy is scathing in his criticisms of the Brotherhood's performance in parliament.
''There has been no progress. It has been exactly the same - there has not been a single point of improvement, wages are still the same, people are still suffering,'' he says.
''I am not asking for the impossible here - I do understand that change cannot happen in three to four months but … by just taking your seat in parliament and literally doing nothing helps no one.''
One major issue that is yet to be resolved is the new constitution - the committee charged with drafting the document collapsed over allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood had stacked the group with its own members.
Out of 100 members of the original committee, there were just six Christians, six women and a handful of liberals.
A supporter of the former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who came in last of the five front-runners in the first round, Dr Guindy says he will have to consider backing Mr Shafiq, who the former president Hosni Mubarak appointed as prime minister in the dying days of his regime.
Echoing many the Herald spoke to in Egypt, the 27-year-old said he did not want the Muslim Brotherhood to take the presidency: ''I am a Muslim, but I do not think you should combine religion and politics. I think it is a dangerous mix.''
There is a real sense of a missed historic opportunity, says a prominent Egyptian blogger, Bassem Sabry, of the failure to run a ''unity'' revolutionary candidate in the election.
''There is now a sense of heavy-hearted confusion as progressive revolutionary Egyptians find themselves torn between three painful options,'' he wrote on his blog An Arab Citizen.
''The first would be voting for what seems to be a hungry and increasingly-conservative political machine that is at odds with much of their beliefs … voting for a secular-leaning candidate who immediately represents an autocratic regime they fought with their lives to bring down … and a boycott.''
But a boycott, he notes, will damage the broad appeal needed for an urgent national reconstruction effort.
Officially, Egypt's unemployment rate is 12.2 per cent, however experts say the country's enormous informal employment sector, where many barely make enough to live, masks a much greater problem.
Its gross domestic product growth, 7.2 per cent in 2008, is forecast to fall to 1.5 per cent in 2012 and its GDP per capita is $US6500. And while official figures indicate 20 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, it is widely believed the real rate is as high as 40 per cent.
''Egypt's problem is not just one of economic mismanagement but of endemic corruption,'' a research fellow in Middle East politics at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, Elizabeth Iskander, says.
The country is facing a series of urgent and complex economic challenges - most significant is its crippling unemployment problem, she says.
''This is the problem that affects all Egyptians directly, [it] was a main contributing factor to the frustration that fed the uprising and it will be the indicator that many Egyptians will judge the success of the new government upon.''
The incoming president must ensure the government designs economic policies that promote employment, reform the taxation system and lift education and training levels, says associate professor of political economics at the American University of Cairo, Samer Soliman.
''The Egyptian taxation system now is unfair and inefficient, it is biased against the poor and the middle classes, it is full of corruption, fraud and avoidance.
''In the long run the whole future of the Egyptian economy depends on the capacity of the new regime to reform state institutions, to reform education and reform the public sector and taxation.''
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/brotherhood-leads-the-way-as-voters-face-more-of-same-20120527-1zd0w.html#ixzz1w53GDmrJ
Posted on 05/27/2012 9:30 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 27 May 2012
From The Telegraph:
Cabinet minister Baroness Warsi admits breaking cash rules
David Cameron has suffered a fresh political blow as the Conservative Party chairman admits that she failed to declare thousands of pounds in rental income.
Baroness Warsi said she did not tell House of Lords authorities that she was receiving income from a London property she had bought and rented out.
She apologised last night for the breach of parliamentary guidelines, blaming “an oversight, for which I take full responsibility”. However, she claimed she had paid tax on the rent.
The disclosure, the latest in a series of crises to hit Mr Cameron, comes as the future of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, is called into question once again.
Senior sources told The Sunday Telegraph that Mr Hunt, who will be questioned under oath at Lord Leveson’s inquiry into media standards this week, could temporarily step down from front-line politics after the Olympics.
It follows intense pressure over his handling of the attempt by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to take full control of BSkyB.
The admission by Baroness Warsi is a serious blow to the Conservative Party’s pledge to be transparent in its dealings, and will increase pressure on Mr Cameron to replace her in a reshuffle.
The failure to make a declaration means that the public was unaware that she had another source of income, over and above her salary, which is paid by the Conservative Party, and the £300 a day allowance which she is eligible to claim when she attends the Lords.
The baroness updated the register of interests for members of the House of Lords last Monday. It now states under “land and property”: “Flat in London NW from which rental income is received.”
The Prime Minister and Baroness Warsi have spoken of the commitment to transparency by the Conservatives and the Coalition.
In November 2010 Mr Cameron said “it is our ambition to be one of the most transparent governments in the world”.
In July last year the peer said: “This Government is delivering unprecedented transparency.” The total amount that she failed to declare is not known because Baroness Warsi did not disclose it last night.
Peers are required to register any rental income worth more than £5,000 in a calendar year but do not have to say how much.
However, the amount is likely to run into five figures because it involves rental income from a home in London for at least 12 months.
As well as raising questions over her own financial affairs, it will further strain relations with grassroots members, among whom the 41-year-old baroness is not believed to enjoy widespread popularity.
The political career of her special adviser was also in question last night.
The failure to make a declaration emerged from a dispute between Baroness Warsi and a Conservative donor and fund-raiser, Dr Wafik Moustafa.
He was upset when the Conservative Arab Network, which he founded, was told earlier this year to sever its links with the party and was subsequently threatened with legal action by Baroness Warsi.
That prompted him to disclose that he had given her and her special adviser, Naweed Khan, accommodation in London.
In the course of inquiries made because of his public statement, the failure to make a disclosure about her rental income was discovered.
Baroness Warsi said last night that she bought a flat in Wembley, north-west London, in September 2007 to use after being ennobled.
However, she said that the property transaction was not “due for completion” until 2008 and so she had to find accommodation elsewhere, “predominantly” in two hotels.
“Not having made advance bookings for these hotels, there was a period of about six weeks when I spent occasional nights at a flat in Acton, which was occupied by Naweed Khan, at the time a member of Conservative Campaign HQ staff,” she said. “For the nights that I stayed as a guest of Naweed Khan, I made an appropriate financial payment equivalent to what I was paying at the time in hotel costs.” However, Mr Naweed was actually staying rent-free at Dr Moustafa’s home in London, meaning that by extension Baroness Warsi was receiving his hospitality.
Baroness Warsi said she moved into the Wembley home in March 2008 and stayed there until June 2010, when “upon security advice, I moved to another address closer to the House of Lords”.
She said that some months later she began, “with the prior approval of the Cabinet Office and the Leader of the House of Lords, to let out the Wembley property”.
“Due to an oversight, for which I take full responsibility, the flat was not included on the Register of Lords’ Interests when its value and the rent received came to exceed the thresholds for disclosure,” she said.
“When the discrepancy became apparent this week, I immediately informed the Registrar of Lords’ Interests of its omission. I repeat: at all times my ownership of the flat and the fact that it was being let out was fully disclosed to Cabinet Office officials and HM Revenue and Customs, and was appropriately reported on the register of Ministers’ interests held by the Government.” The disclosure means that she failed to declare rental for at least 12 months, and up to 18 months. An average rent for a one-bedroom flat in Wembley is currently £1,000 a month, meaning the amount undeclared could be as high as £18,000.
Baroness Warsi has been criticised over her performance as Tory party chairman.
Some Conservative MPs want Mr Cameron to replace her with Grant Shapps, the housing minister. Earlier this month the Conservatives performed poorly in local elections, losing more than 400 council seats.
Baroness Warsi became the first Muslim woman to be selected as a parliamentary candidate by the Tories, contesting the Dewsbury seat in 2005, but failed to win.
She went on to be a special adviser to Lord Howard, the former Conservative leader, but saw her career take off under Mr Cameron, who made a special effort to promote ethnic minority candidates and party officials as part of his drive to modernise the Tories.
This month she said a small minority of Pakistani men saw white women as “third-class citizens” and “fair game” — following a case which saw nine Muslim men found guilty of grooming young white girls for sex.
Posted on 05/27/2012 9:43 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 27 May 2012
Welcome To Sunny Azawad
From The Telegraph:
May 27, 2012
Islamists declare north Mali an independent state governed by sharia
Mali moved a step closer to being broken in two on Sunday when al-Qaeda-linked Islamists and Tuareg rebels declared the nation's north an independent country to be ruled according to sharia law.
The announcement, from Ansar Dine and the Tuareg MNLA group, came as the country's interim president remained in a Paris hotel recovering from an assault in his private office last week.
Diplomats and Mali's neighbours fear that the country, once a beacon for democratic stability in West Africa, is poised to plunge further into crisis following a coup two months ago.
The "declaration of independence" for the northern half of Mali, Africa's sixth-largest country, came late on Saturday.
Timbuktu, the history trading centre and seat of Tuareg learning, now lies in the disputed territory, to be known as Azawad, which is almost the size of France.
"The two movements have created the transitional council of the Islamic state of Azawad," the groups, which have been controlling the area for the past two months, said in their "protocol agreement".
"We are all in favour of the independence of Azawad ... We all accept Islam as the religion," they said, adding that Islam would also be the main source of law.
In Gao, a major town in the north where leaders of the two movements have been holding talks, the sealing of the deal was greeted by the sound of guns being fired into the air.
The rebel army is made up largely of Tuaregs, Saharan tribespeople who have been battling for independence from southern Mali since the nation's independence from France in 1960.
Malian mercenaries returning from Libya after the death of Col Gaddafi strengthened the MNLA's leadership, swelled its infantry ranks and boosted its arsenal.
The rebels' lightning advance across Mali's north was launched as middle-ranking officers from the national army staged a coup in Bamako on March 22, creating chaos in the capital, far to the south.
Islamist fighters, grouped together as Ansar Dine, which has links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, then took the chance of the power vacuum also to seize territory.
The country's interim administration immediately rejected the independence declaration.
Posted on 05/27/2012 10:15 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 27 May 2012
A Musical Interlude: If You Want The Rainbow, You Must Have The Rain (Annette Hanshaw)
Posted on 05/27/2012 10:27 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 27 May 2012
Tunisian Temperance League Has A Temper Tantrum
From Agence France-Presse:
Arrests after Salafists rampage in Tunisia
TUNIS — Police have arrested about 15 people after hardline Islamists went on the rampage, torching police stations and attacking bars selling alcohol in Tunisian towns, the interior ministry said Sunday.
Police used tear gas to stop gangs of ultra-conservative Salafists, some armed with clubs and swords, who went on the attack in the northwestern towns of Jendouba and Ghardimaou on Saturday.
"About 15 people have been arrested and calm has been restored," interior minstry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche told AFP, adding that security reinforcements had been brought in to the region.
The TAP news agency said national army units had been deployed after the violence to protect public buildings.
"The law will be applied. These incidents are dangerous and will be dealt with in the appropriate manner," secretary of state for the interior Said Mechichi told TAP.
Last week the country's Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri threatened to punish those who use violence to impose their views on others after Salafists forced a number of bars to close.
More moderate Tunisians have voiced deep concern over the rising power of Salafists since the revolution that toppled the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last year and touched off the Arab Spring.
Posted on 05/27/2012 10:32 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 27 May 2012
On Excercise and Laugh Expectancy
Medical journals, the Lancet among them, are not famed for their humor, but a letter in a recent edition of the latter raised a smile, at least in me.
It referred to a previous paper in that august publication from Taiwan about the health benefits of exercise. It is a medical truth now universally acknowledged that regular exercise prolongs human life, but it is not known what is the smallest amount of exercise that will have such an effect.
Between 1996 and 2008, the Taiwanese researchers divided 416,175 people into five categories, according to the amount of exercise, on self-report, that they did: from none to a lot. They discovered that those who did a little exercise, on average 92 minutes per week, had a reduction of 14 percent in their all-cause rate of mortality. They also found that “every additional 15 minutes of daily exercise beyond the minimum of 15 minute per day further reduced all-cause mortality by 4 percent.”
The subsequent letter to the Lancet pointed out that this cannot be correct: for if it were correct, and on the assumption that the relation between exercise and longevity were a causative one, Man would be immortal if only he did sufficient daily exercise, something in the region of six hours. In these circumstances, at least in my opinion, life would not actually go on forever; it would merely seem as if it did, in the sense of being boring and pointless.
Let us suppose that a person sleeps the number of hours per night that is optimal for life expectancy: that is to say, eight hours, both more and less being associated with increased death rates. This means that he has 16 waking hours to fill. Let us suppose that of these, 4 are devoted to tasks that he cannot avoid, such as eating, cleaning, administration etc. He also works on average 6 hours a day. That means that he has 6 hours of disposable time, analogous to disposable income. If, in addition to his basic 15 minutes of exercise daily, he does 30 minutes extra exercise, he spends 8.33 percent of his disposable time on it. This will increase the length of his life by 8 percent. He has therefore gained no disposable time, assuming, that is, that he has performed the exercise solely for its health-giving properties and not for its own sake, that is to say for any enjoyment that he might have had out of it. But people who enjoy exercise will do it anyway, irrespective of its health benefits.
It might be argued that the time he gains will be at the end of his life, when he is retired and therefore has more disposable time on his hands. On the other hand, it is not true that an hour of disposable time at the age of eighty is of the same value as an hour of disposable time at the age of forty. These two considerations probably cancel each other out; and therefore doing exercise is of no value to your life, unless you enjoy doing it.
Be that as it may, the letter in the Lancet ends on a note of irony not frequently encountered in the scientific literature:
We contend, therefore, that the risk of mortality for everyone—prophets included—is 1·0 (1·0—1·0).
We declare that we have no conflicts of interest.
The (1.0 – 1.0) refers to the statistical confidence limits with which the statement is made: in other words the rule is one man, one death. As for the lack of conflicting interest, that speaks for itself.
Originally published in PJ Media.
Posted on 05/27/2012 10:39 AM by Theodore Dalrymple
Sunday, 27 May 2012
Panetta On Pakistan
From Agence France-Presse:
US will not be price ‘gouged’ by Pakistan: Panetta
WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta vowed Sunday not to let the United States be “gouged” by Pakistan on the price it charges for overland deliveries of American military supplies to Afghanistan.
Pakistan closed the land route to US supplies in November as punishment for a botched US air strike that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, but have been in negotiations to reopen the border crossing.
US defense officials have said the Pakistanis are demanding several thousand dollars for every truck crossing its border with the supplies, up from $250 per truck before the closure.
“We’re not about to get gouged in the price. We want a fair price,” Panetta said on ABC’s “This Week.”Without the Pakistani supply lines, the United States has had to rely on a much longer, more expensive northern route to resupply its forces in Afghanistan.
The supply lines impasse is just one of a host of issues that have opened deep schisms in relations between the two countries, supposed allies in the US battle against extremists.
Relations plunged to an all-time low after a US raid by US special operations forces killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a compound in a Pakistani garrison town on May 2, 2011.
The United States has moved gingerly to make up with the Pakistanis, who were incensed that they learned of the raid only after it had been carried out.
But the issue flared anew last week when a Pakistani court sentenced a doctor who helped the United States gather DNA data used to track down bin Laden to 33 years in prison for helping the Americans.
“It is so difficult to understand and it’s so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist in our times,” Panetta said.
“What they have done here,” he added, “does not help in the effort to try to reestablish a relationship between the United States and Pakistan.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to cut US aid to Pakistan by a symbolic $33 million — $1 million for each year of jail time given to Shakil Afridi, the doctor.
The measure, an amendment to the $52 billion US foreign aid budget, passed in a 30-0 vote in a sign of growing frustration with Pakistan.
Posted on 05/27/2012 4:08 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 27 May 2012
Orlando Figes, And His Critics
From The Nation:
Orlando Figes and Stalin's Victims
Peter Reddaway and Stephen F. Cohen | May 23, 2012
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R80329 / CC-BY-SA
Many Western observers believe that Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime has in effect banned a Russian edition of a widely acclaimed 2007 book by the British historian Orlando Figes, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia. A professor at University of London’s Birkbeck College, Figes himself inspired this explanation. In an interview and in an article in 2009, he suggested that his first Russian publisher dropped the project due to “political pressure” because his large-scale study of Stalin-era terror “is inconvenient to the current regime.” Three years later, his explanation continues to circulate.
We doubted Figes’s explanation at the time—partly because excellent Russian historians were themselves publishing so many uncensored exposés of the horrors of Stalinism, and continue to do so—but only now are we able to disprove it. (Since neither of us knows Figes or has ever had any contact with him, there was no personal animus in our investigation.) Our examination of transcripts of original Russian-language interviews he used to write The Whisperers, and of documents provided by Russians close to the project, tells a different story. A second Russian publisher, Corpus, had no political qualms about soon contracting for its own edition of the book. In 2010, however, Corpus also canceled the project. The reasons had nothing to do with Putin’s regime but everything to do with Figes himself.
* * *
In 2004 specialists at the Memorial Society, a widely respected Russian historical and human rights organization founded in 1988 on behalf of victims and survivors of Stalin’s terror, were contracted by Figes to conduct hundreds of interviews that form the basis of The Whisperers, and are now archived at Memorial. In preparing for the Russian edition, Corpus commissioned Memorial to provide the original Russian-language versions of Figes’s quotations and to check his other English-language translations. What Memorial’s researchers found was a startling number of minor and major errors. Its publication “as is,” it was concluded, would cause a scandal in Russia.
This revelation, which we learned about several months ago, did not entirely surprise us, though our subsequent discoveries were shocking. Separately, we had been following Figes’s academic and related abuses for some time. They began in 1997, with his book A People’s Tragedy, in which the Harvard historian Richard Pipes found scholarly shortcomings. In 2002 Figes’s cultural history of Russia, Natasha’s Dance, was greeted with enthusiasm by many reviewers until it encountered a careful critic in the Times Literary Supplement, Rachel Polonsky of Cambridge University. Polonsky pointed out various defects in the book, including Figes’s careless borrowing of words and ideas of other writers without adequate acknowledgment. One of those writers, the American historian Priscilla Roosevelt, wrote to us, “Figes appropriated obscure memoirs I had used in my book Life on the Russian Country Estate (Yale University Press, 1995), but changed their content and messed up the references.” Another leading scholar, T.J. Binyon, published similar criticism of Natasha’s Dance: “Factual errors and mistaken assertions strew its pages more thickly than autumnal leaves in Vallombrosa.”
In 2010 a different dimension of Figes’s practices came to light. For some time he had been writing anonymous derogatory reviews on Amazon of books by his colleagues in Russian history, notably Polonsky and Robert Service of Oxford University. Polonsky’s Molotov’s Magic Lantern, for example, was “pretentious” and “the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published.” Meanwhile, Figes wrote on Amazon, also anonymously, a rave review of his own recent The Whisperers. It was, Figes said, a “beautiful and necessary” account of Soviet history written by an author with “superb story-telling skills…. I hope he writes forever.”
When Service and Polonsky expressed their suspicion that Figes had written the reviews, his lawyer threatened Service with court action. Soon, however, Figes was compelled to admit that he had indeed written the anonymous reviews. Service summed up the affair: Figes had “lied through his teeth for a week and threatened to sue me for libel if I didn’t say black was white…. If there is one thing that should come out of this, it is the importance of giving people freedom to speak the truth without the menace of financial ruin.”
* * *
At about the same time, as we later learned, the true story of the Russian edition of Figes’s The Whisperers was unfolding behind the scenes in Moscow. In summer 2010, representatives of three Russian organizations involved—the publisher Corpus, Memorial and a foundation, Dynastia (which owned the Russian rights and paid for the translation)—met to consider what Memorial’s researchers had uncovered. According to a detailed account by one participant, the group tried to find a way to salvage the project, but the researchers had documented too many “anachronisms, incorrect interpretations, stupid mistakes and pure nonsense.” All of The Whisperers’ “facts, dates, names and terms, and the biographies of its central figures, need to be checked,” the participant added. It was too much. A decision was made against proceeding with the Russian edition. After re-examining the relevant materials, Dynastia informed Figes of the decision in an April 6, 2011, letter to his London literary agency.
Indeed, after looking at only a few chapters of The Whisperers, Memorial found so many misrepresentations of the life stories of Stalin’s victims that its chief researcher, a woman with extensive experience working on such materials, said, “I simply wept as I read it and tried to make corrections.” Here are just three examples, which we have also examined, whose gravity readers can decide for themselves:
§â€ˆTo begin with an example that blends mistakes with invention, consider Figes’s treatment of Natalia Danilova (p. 253), whose father had been arrested. After misrepresenting her family history, Figes puts words in her mouth, evidently to help justify the title of his book: Except for an aunt, “the rest of us could only whisper in dissent.” The “quotation” does not appear in Memorial’s meticulous transcription of its recorded interview with Danilova.
§â€ˆFiges invents “facts” in other cases, apparently also for dramatic purpose. According to The Whisperers (pp. 215-17, 292-93), “it is inconceivable” that Mikhail Stroikov could have completed his dissertation while in prison “without the support of the political police. He had two uncles in the OGPU” (the political police). However, there is no evidence that Stroikov had any uncles, nor is there any reason to allege that he had the support of the secret police. Figes also claims that for helping Stroikov’s family, a friend then in exile was “rearrested, imprisoned and later shot.” In reality, this friend was not rearrested, imprisoned or executed, but lived almost to the age of 90.
§â€ˆFiges’s distortion of the fate of Dina Ielson-Grodzianskaia (pp. 361-62), who survived eight years in the Gulag, is grievous in a different respect. After placing her in the wrong concentration camp, he alleges that she was “one of the many ‘trusties’” whose collaboration earned them “those small advantages which…could make the difference between life and death.” There is no evidence in the interviews used by Figes that Ielson-Grodzianskaia was ever a “trusty” or received any special privileges. As a leading Memorial researcher commented, Figes’s account is “a direct insult to the memory of a prisoner.”
The Whisperers may be consistent with Figes’s other practices, but for us, longtime students (and friends) of victims of Stalinist and other Soviet-era repressions, the book’s defects are especially grave. For many Russians, particularly surviving family members, Stalin’s millions of victims are a “sacred memory.” Figes has not, to say the least, been faithful to that memory—nor to the truth-telling mission of the often politically embattled Memorial, which, despite the effort expended, honorably agreed with the decision against publishing the Russian edition. Still more, a great many Russians have suffered, even died, for, as Service put it, the “freedom to speak the truth.” Figes has not honored that martyrdom either.
* * *
Unfortunately, The Whisperers is still regarded by many Western readers, including scholars, as an exemplary study of Soviet history. These new revelations show, however, that Figes’s work cannot be read without considerable caution. Historians are obliged to be especially meticulous in using generally inaccessible archive materials, but Figes cannot be fully trusted even with open sources. Thus, in The Whisperers he also maligns the memory of the late Soviet poet and longtime editor of Novyi Mir, Aleksandr Tvardovsky, a bold forerunner of Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-Stalinist thinking, by stating that Tvardovsky “betrayed” his own father to the police during the terror (p. 134). Figes’s allegation has been convincingly refuted in the Russian press.
We hope that in his latest book, Just Send Me Word, published in May, Figes has treated his unique sources with more care. This book tells the saga of a deeply moving, secret, more than eight-year correspondence between an inmate in Stalin’s remote Gulag and a devoted woman in Moscow, who later became his wife. Regrettably, the book conveys the impression that Figes retains the full support of Memorial, through, for example, the insertion at the end of the volume of “A Note from Memorial” (an analysis of the correspondence by a Memorial researcher that was apparently designed for another purpose).
In truth, Memorial has come to a different decision regarding Figes. In a letter, one of its leading figures recently wrote about Figes, “Many of us have formed an impression of him as being…a very mediocre researcher and an incompetent handler of sources who is poorly oriented in his chosen topic, but an energetic and talented businessman.” As a result, the writer continued, “In the future, we do not want to link his name with that of Memorial.”
Posted on 05/27/2012 8:39 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald