Staunton, July 13 – The premature death of Valeriya Novodvorskaya at 64 has brought an outpouring of regret about the passing of rights activist and commentator. But Aleksandr Skobov, who has a biography in many respects paralleling hers but who often disagreed with her, has called attention to one aspect of our collective loss that must not be forgotten.
In a commentary on Grani.ru July 13, Skobov acknowledges that the two of them often found themselves as ideological opponents over the last two decades because it seemed to him that Novodvorskaya was still fighting with a dragon that had died, “the dragon of Soviet totalitarianism”.
Given how many new evils had emerged in Russia since 1991, Skobov says, it seemed that Novodvorskaya had become “a Cassandra” who was always harping on one theme: “the dragon is alive and will necessarily awake! And she left this life just when no one could fail to notice that the dragon in fact has awoken.”
That reawakened dragon, as she pointed out, has sought to drown Russia in “a flood of fascist prohibitions.” Those seeking to impose them pursue that dream with the same passion as “a vampire wants blood.” Not surprisingly, that dragon and its accomplices want to send people to the camps and to psychiatric prisons just as they once did Novodvorskaya.
People said, Skobov writes, that “her interpretation of liberalism only alienated people from liberal values, that her views were the same bolshevism which she fought but only with a minus sign, that the ‘unlimited capitalism’ she passionately advocated was no less inhumane than the Stalinist dictatorship.
But Skobov insists, the only ones who have the right to condemn Novodvorskaya for her views are those who also “have not been afraid” as she was not “to say to the criminal authorities: ‘Gentlemen, you are beasts! You are liars, scoundrels, sadists and murderers!’” and who like her were not afraid to suffer the consequences.
In many ways, Skobov says, Novodvorskaya was a precise “reflection of the tragic fate of the Russian intelligentsia which dreamed of giving the people freedom but which was forced to defend its own freedom from this very people. Because it turned out that the people did not want freedom for itself” and was prepared to back those who would deprive everyone of it.
Whether this is because of manipulation or reflects something “in the nature of ‘the people’ itself” is one of those eternal and cursed Russian questions, Skobov says. But Novodvorskaya stood out because she was always prepared to defend the individual against the tyranny of the majority.
According to Skobov, “when the majority is wrong, resistance to it is the duty” of those who see it as Novodvorskaya did. And that applies to “when the majority turns a blind eye on or shameful behavior, when the majority approves and supports the denial of rights and dignities of the human person, and when the majority sympathizes with that.”
“An all-embracing system of force over the human personality was established in the USSR, the ideal model of which was the prison-camp zone,” he writes and Novodvorskaya insisted upon. Tragically, as she noted, the majority often liked that, liked having an enemy, liked not having to make their own choices.
Skobov says that “the majority even now does not want to remember and think” about such things. Its members are inclined to accept those who say that “not everything was bad about our little dragon,” that it launched satellites and won wars. But those who say that aren’t doing so for any reason but to trivialize “the lie, force, and cruelty” and make them possible again.
Valeriya Novodvorskaya “constantly recalled all this to all of us: the Soviet system was a bad form of fascism, with the same cruelty to which was added hypocrisy. And its crimes cannot be justified by any historical circumstances and tasks or any achievements,” just as Hitler’s crimes can’t be justified by the autobahns.
Those who “carried out collectivization, the Great Terror, the deportation of peoples, who helped Hitler unleash the second world war and then under the guise of liberation imposed a new tyranny on Eastern Europe, who violated all human moral laws lost the right to be called people,” even if they were “capable organizers.”
“One can understand them, perhaps even regret the situation they found themselves in, but one must not justify them,” that was Novodvorskaya’s constant message. When others did not, she recalled to the current generation “the missions of victims of the Soviet system.” Indeed, Skobov says, she was “their deputy among the living.”
And because she was prepared to do so, those who would replicate what the Soviets had done “had to know that none of their new victims would remained unnoticed. Someone would always be found who would not allow the world to forget.” That was to her credit and honor. It is something that despite Novodvorskaya’s passing must never be forgotten.