Greg Afinogenov

  • The Revolution Will Be Compromised

    Vladimir Putin’s Russia lends itself to being seen in Manichaean terms. Commentators at home and abroad like to picture a desperate struggle between the centralized state and a righteous but comparatively powerless coalition of prodemocratic forces. This black-and-white view goes back at least to the Soviet era, when small groups of dissidents who celebrated “living in truth” and refused to surrender to the hated regime found an eager audience among Cold Warriors. Their enduring romantic vision has shaped much of the Western discourse about Russian politics, at the cost of much-needed nuance

  • Friendly Fire

    Ronald Reagan rose to power by exploiting fears of Communist subversion and infiltration. The Americans takes this fantasy literally. Its protagonists, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, are Soviet spies infiltrated into the United States under false identities to pose as the typical white suburban family of the 1980s. (“Couple kids. American dream. Never suspect them,” says one of their allies as he dies in the fourth-season finale.) Together they defend Soviet interests and dodge the FBI agent who lives across the street. In the actual 1980s, this scenario would have been presented as a suspense

  • Vlad Handing

    For the past several decades, the overwhelming majority of Western reporting about Russia has rested on a specific historical narrative about the fall of the Soviet Union. In this story, the USSR collapsed largely from its own economic contradictions. But the heroes were the thousands of ordinary Russians who first supported perestroika and then, in August 1991, turned out in the streets of Moscow to successfully oppose a hard-line Communist coup, precipitating the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union. Though derived from the Cold War school of understanding Soviet citizens as

  • culture August 22, 2014

    Whatever Happened to St. Petersburg?

    Catriona Kelly’s Petersburg: Shadows of the Past takes the city’s marginal and offbeat local culture not as a fall from grace but as an opportunity. Despite its foreboding subtitle, the book ventures into this least heroic period of the city’s life—from 1945 to the present—with the briskness of a government inspector.

    St. Petersburg used to be a familiar place for Russians and non-Russians alike. It is so recognizable—even clichéd—as a setting for the high drama and intrigue of nineteenth-century Russian literary classics that one recent Russian novel features a first-person shooter videogame called Dostoevsky’s Petersburg. As Petrograd, we know it as the cradle of the Revolution, the backdrop for Eisenstein; as Leningrad, the tale of its suffering during the murderous Siege of Leningrad by Nazi and Finnish troops in 1941-44 is part of the common tragic legacy of World War II.

    But there, after the war, the

  • culture April 09, 2013

    It’s No Good: Poems/Essays/Actions by Kirill Medvedev

    Since the Cold War, there have only been two reliable ways for a Russian intellectual to get noticed in the United States. One is being a dissident with charisma and sufficiently nonthreatening political views. The other is writing poetry or literature of such austere depth that it makes American literary culture seem shallow and comfortable. (Even better would be, like Brodsky or Solzhenitsyn, having a little bit of both.) The two are not, despite appearances, at odds. The arcane poets and political misfits both draw on and contribute to a deep-seated set of stereotypes about Russian literary