November 01, 2006

Notes from Underground

The day after Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated (see page 9), I was editing this issue’s story on Dostoyevsky (page 50) and happened to read Vissarion Belinsky’s infamous 1847 letter to Nikolai Gogol. The public reading of this letter (to a handful of friends) was a main reason for Dostoyevsky’s conviction for subversion. This famous excerpt attracted my attention:


...What [Russia] needs is not sermons (she has heard enough of them!) or prayers (she has repeated them too often!), but the awakening in the people of a sense of their human dignity, which has been lost for so many centuries amid the mire and manure; she needs rights and laws conforming not to the preaching of the Church but to common sense and justice, and their strictest possible observance.  But instead of that, Russia presents the horrible spectacle of a country where men traffic in men, without even having the excuse so insidiously exploited by the American plantation owners who claim that the Negro is not a man; a country where people call themselves not by names but by nicknames such as Vanka, Vaska, Steshka, Palashka; a country where not only are there no guarantees for
individuality, honor and property, but even no police order, and where there is nothing but vast corporations of official thieves and robbers of various descriptions...

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