Russia the Surreal: “And the reason for my arrest is . . . ?”

“But I repeat:  the fact that the repressive system was legal does not mean that it was logical . . .  it was no easier to predict with any certainty who would be arrested in 1947 than it had been in 1917.”

—  p. 122 of Gulag:  A History, by Anne Applebaum

Believe it or not, self thinks reading this book is making her happier.  How can one NOT be happy when one thinks:  The worst that can happen to me today is that I will get a parking or a speeding ticket.  Or that the frost kills off a few of my plants.  Or that The Man will be in a bad mood.  What are these in comparison to being in a Soviet labor camp in the far north of Russia, putting in 12-hour shifts of hard labor and surviving on one meal a day?  At least, the things that currently annoy and frustrate me will certainly not result in death!

In front of each chapter of Gulag:  A History, the Pulitzer-prizewinning book by Anne Applebaum, there is usually a quote from a Russian writer.  The quote at the beginning of Chapter 7 is from Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope. Here is the entire quote:

We never asked, on hearing about the latest arrest, “What was he arrested for?”  but we were exceptional.  Most people, crazed by fear, asked this question just to give themselves a little hope; if others were arrested for some reason, they wouldn’t be arrested, because they hadn’t done anything wrong.  They vied with each other in thinking up ingenious reasons to justify each arrest.  “Well, she really is a smuggler, you know.” “He really did go rather far,” or “It was only to be expected, he’s a terrible man,” “I always thought there was something fishy about him,” “He isn’t one of us at all . . . ”

This was why we had outlawed the question “What was he arrested for?”

“What for?” Akhmatova would cry indignantly whenever, infected by the prevailing climate, anyone of our circle asked this question.

“What do you mean what for?  It’s time you understand that people are arrested for nothing!”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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