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Journal of Cold War Studies 1.2 (1999) 127-128



Book Review

Etyudy o vremeni


Dmitrii Volkogonov, Etyudy o vremeni (Sketches about Time), Moscow: Novosti, 1998. 416 pp.

Etyudy o vremeni (Sketches about Time) consists of notes, reflections, and other research materials compiled by the late Russian military historian General Dmitrii Volkogonov. They have been readied for publication by his daughter, Olga. Although the book contributes interesting and useful pieces of information that were left out of his published works, its intentions are different. This is the story of the intellectual, emotional, and ideological transformation of a Soviet general from a devout Stalinist (by his own admission) into a democrat, from a bona fide member of the Soviet military elite into a pro-democracy rebel.

There are many similar stories, but each has its unique features. For Volkogonov, the transformation began with his discovery of a piece of family history: Volkogonov's father fell victim to the Stalinist purges in the 1930s. Next came his personal encounters with the so-called "national liberation movements" in the Third World and his eventual comprehension of how they really were "building socialism." In the end, however, it was archival research that finally turned this moderate liberal into a full-fledged supporter of reforms. "To understand history means to live it inside your own soul, year after year. I spent many years of my life 'living through' history," reflected Volkogonov afterward (p. 282). Exposure to the hidden past can crush some people, elicit their blind rejection of the facts, or liberate them. Volkogonov belonged to the third category and, in turn, he was among those who uncovered the truth for others to see.

Personal transformations can have different outcomes, and Volkogonov's views departed in many important respects from what has come to be associated with the image of "real Russian democrats" in the West. He advocated a much greater role for the state in economic and social affairs (p. 349); he criticized the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine and continued to regard it as part of Russia, at least in principle (pp. 175, 398); he expressed doubts about the federal structure of the Russian Federation (the existence of national republics and autonomies) and advocated a return to the pre-1917 gubernii (pp. 377-381); and he viewed the future of the former Soviet Union as a confederation of former republics with a common border, a common army, and an economic union (pp. 381-382, 390). These views were not widely shared among "real democrats" in 1992-1993, but he continued to espouse them even as he remained a staunch defender of democracy in Russia and a member of Egor Gaidar's liberal "Russia's Choice" party.

Having spent many years at or near the top rung of the Soviet military hierarchy, Volkogonov was witness to many events, and his personal recollections are as informative and revealing as his archival research. In a way, his brief characterizations of [End Page 127] various people and events bring to life the statue-like figures we know only from the pages of Soviet and Russian newspapers. A few examples will illustrate the point.

Volkogonov describes Aleksei Epishev, the chief of the Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s, as a "tough, uncompromising, but straight and honest 'servant of the party'" (p. 74). Epishev, according to Volkogonov, was also secretly critical of the "war hero" Leonid Brezhnev, whom Epishev knew during World War II. As the Soviet Ambassador to Romania from 1955 to 1962, Epishev was one of the main contacts for the future leader of Romania, Nicolae Ceau>=escu, who at that time was a paid Soviet agent; afterward Ceau>=escu never could feel at ease in Epishev's presence (p. 267).

Dmitrii Ustinov, the Soviet Minister of Defense from 1976 to 1984, was, in Volkogonov's words, "Stalin's technocrat." Ustinov played a key role in the decision to send troops to Afghanistan, but, according to Volkogonov, Ustinov first had to "convince himself" that it was necessary (p. 263). In the...

Additional Information

ISSN
1531-3298
Print ISSN
1520-3972
Pages
pp. 127-128
Launched on MUSE
1999-05-01
Open Access
No
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