Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, tells us what she's been reading in a feature that Morning Edition likes to call "Word of Mouth." This month, Brown selects two recent pieces of news commentary and a memoir on political resistors.
A Son's Plea For A Dissident Father
First up is the Financial Times article "My Father's Message to Putin from a Prison Camp" by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former CEO of the massive Russian oil company Yukos.
Starting in 2002, the Russian government pursued Yukos with fraud allegations and high tax demands that couldn't be met by the company, whose assets were eventually frozen by the government.
President Vladimir Putin says Khodorkovsky, who was arrested on fraud charges, was jailed because he was a criminal. Khodorkovsky's supporters, however, say he was prosecuted because he funded opposition political groups and Putin wanted to make an example of him. The human-rights-group Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.
Pavel Khodorkovsky, who has not seen his father since he left for college in the United States in 2003, begins his piece with an image of his father in prison:
"His hands numb after queueing in the bitter cold outside, my father squeezes into a phone booth and dials my number. Thousands of miles away in the U.S., I hear his dear voice, still husky from the frosty Karelian air. His tone has its usual calm; his mood is upbeat."
Brown says with this article, Pavel Khodorkovsky is trying to get his father back on the public's radar.
"He has been incredibly brave and has just refused to recant his opposition to Putin," Brown tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep. "The son is really reminding us how incredibly important it is not to forget these people."
A Chess Grand Master's Political Activism
Imprisonment may sometimes work as a move to silence dissidents. But in a Newsweek article on world-famous Russian chess player Garry Kasparov, Putin biographer Masha Gessen suggests that in Russia, there are more subtle ways of marginalizing the opposition.
Gessen describes how in 2005, Kasparov — encouraged by the protest movements against Putin and demanding fair elections — formed the pro-democracy organization the United Civil Front. At the same time, Kasparov renounced chess and took to campaigning against the Putin regime.
Gessen explains that Putin believed he could not imprison a world celebrity like Kasparov. Instead he took a different approach.
"He did something almost more sinister," Brown says. "He simply reduced him to a non-person. What Kasparov found is that drivers who took him to any engagements that he was doing, political engagements, would suddenly get lost. Hecklers would be there mysteriously planted to pelt him with eggs and ketchup. His rallies were incorrectly publicized [and] recorded broadcasts that he made weren't transmitted."
But Kasparov has remained determined, Brown says, and the wave of Moscow protests in the wake of recent presidential elections are in some ways the fruit of Kasparov's activism.
"He helped to create these networks, many of them," Brown says. "He actually had begun six years ago now in trying to get groups together, outlying groups and so on, and it's that agenda ... that has helped to fuel the recent protest movement."
Madeleine Albright On The Soul Of The Resistor
Brown says the common theme to each of her recommendations is the idea that one chooses who they want to be morally — something that Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, writes about in her memoir Prague Winter.
Albright, who in the 1990s discovered that she had Jewish ancestry, traces the history of her relatives who survived the Holocaust, and charts the painful experiences of those who died in concentration camps.
Albright constantly asks the question, Brown says, of what makes a person a resistor rather than a collaborator. In one passage, Albright writes:
"Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity, while others quickly lose heart? What separates the bully from the protector? Is it education, spiritual belief, our parents, our friends, the circumstances of our birth, traumatic events, or more likely some combination that spells the difference?"
Brown recounts one story from the book, about a pair of heroic parachuters among a group sent from Britain to occupied Czechoslovakia. Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis were sent to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's emissary to Prague.
"As [Heydrich] rounded the hairpin bend in his open Mercedes, Gabcik fired a shot," Brown says. "Unfortunately his gun jammed, and Kubis therefore lobbed a hand grenade. The car blew up, but didn't kill Heydrich. He was terribly wounded; he was rushed to hospital."
Albright goes on to describe the sacrifice of Marie Moracova, who helped Gabcik and Kubis to reunite with the rest of their group. When Moracova was discovered, she took a cyanide pill before the Nazis could question her.
Albright says she feels disdain for the outright traitors — and unrestrained admiration for the heroes who chose bravery. But between those extremes, there's a less easily defined emotional territory.
"For the many who kept their eyes averted and their mouths shut, doing all they could to avoid involvement, I feel neither respect nor any sense of superiority," Albright writes. "But placed in the same circumstances, would I have shown the courage of a Madame Moravcova? As much as I would like to think so, I can make no such claim."
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