30 Jul 2023

‘parallel polis’ and political hope: masha gessen

. . . You’re talking about the dissidents of eastern Europe in the sixties, seventies. Um, is the whole question of exile, of Russian exile right now, is it closer to the Russian exile of the Revolution, of the Bolshevik Revolution, where you had a bunch of people who left, and finally it’s their children who went back to Russia . . . . So is the comparison better with the exiled of Russia of the twenties?

Well, actually, I don’t think it’s a great comparison, because I think that the huge difference between people who left Russia in 2022 and the people who left a hundred years earlier is that the people who left in 2022 had the experience of the people who left a hundred years earlier to look at, and to learn from. And I think that — I mean, this is anecdotally, but I think that one of the biggest lessons that they learned from it was that, Don’t hold out hope that you’re going to go back in a few years because the Bolshevik regime is going to collapse. Um, I think, you know — and I, you know, and Andrei may be different in this, but I’m not making an argument for believing in a wonderful Russia of the future. Um, and that’s really not what the whole, sort of, this idea of political hope, is about. Uh, because that is, that is an exercise in faith, right? And I’m not kind of interested in exercising faith, I’m interested in the idea that you build something in the present. And you measure it by the criteria of the present. And if you haven’t — you know, if the regime doesn’t collapse: you at least have had the political experience of living in an actual, you know, situation of cooperation and doing good in the world. Um, and that’s all that any of us can ask for.

(Part of) an audience member’s question and Masha Gessen’s reply, from a conversation held in Tbilisi earlier this month on the subject of a book Gessen has had in the works for a little while now, apparently to be titled ‘The Certainty of the Reality of the Possibility.’ The video embed below is set to jump to the Q & A bit quoted above, but you can scrub back to its opening for some intro on the book project. You can also listen to earlier talks about it I’ve given links to here, from 2019 and 2021.

If you’re looking to read Václav Benda’s original 1978 essay ‘The Parallel Polis’ and having trouble finding it, send me an email.

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