The ‘horrifying genius’ of Soviet totalitarianism and its ability to control and quell protest will be examined tonight by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum.

The horrifying genius of Soviet communism - as conceived in the 1920s, perfected in the 1930s and then spread by force to Soviet-occupied Europe was the system's ability to get the silent majority in so many countries to play along without much protest.

Anne Applebaum

Her lecture ‘True Believers: Collaboration and Opposition under Totalitarian Regimes’ takes place at the Umney Theatre, Robinson College, tonight at 5pm.

Applebaum won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2004 book Gulag: A History, and is also the author of Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, and Gulag Voices: An Anthology. Her most recent book is Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956.

She said: “The horrifying genius of Soviet communism - as conceived in the 1920s, perfected in the 1930s and then spread by force to Soviet-occupied Europe was the system's ability to get the silent majority in so many countries to play along without much protest. 

“A small proportion of people protested and small proportion collaborated. But carefully targeted violence, propaganda and state's monopoly on economic and civic institutions persuaded the rest to go along. These techniques were used to great effect in Eastern Europe after 1945.”

Applebaum, who is currently Philip Roman Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics, a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate, is also a former Editor of The Economist, where she provided in-depth coverage of Eastern Europe before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Dr Rachel Polonsky, a lecturer at the Department of Slavonic Studies and organiser of tonight’s event, said: “We are proud to be hosting Anne Applebaum, whose work and life centre on the areas we study in the Department.

“As a historian of the twentieth century, Anne reminds us how intricately interwoven the political destinies and cultures of Russia, Ukraine and Poland have been, and how important it is to study them together. She is one of a series of high-profile lecturers (including the Polish intellectual Adam Michnik and the British historian Norman Davies) whose visits to Cambridge demonstrate the commitment of the University to securing a future for Polish studies within the Slavonic Department, and the hope that this commitment will resonate outward to a wider public, both within and beyond the University.”

Head of Slavonic Studies, Dr Emma Widdis, said: “Our research and teaching in Ukrainian, Russian and in future, as we hope, Polish, reflect our sense of the importance of understanding this complex European 'neighbourhood', in which historical legacies remain politically contested. We are all very much looking forward to Anne’s talk this evening.”

Tonight’s talk at Robinson College is part of the CamCREES 2013 public lecture series, which also runs alongside a series of public lectures on Resistance in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Upcoming events in this series include:

'Resistance and Rights' on Thursday 7 March 2013, given by Professor Benjamins Nathans, University of Pennsylvania
How and with what effects was the rhetoric of rights - the lingua franca of liberalism - deployed in an avowedly illiberal society like the Soviet Union? How do activists invoke rights in today's Russia? This lecture will analyse continuities and ruptures in the career of civil and human rights as a mode of resistance from the period of "developed socialism" to the Putin era.

'Resistance and Performance' on Thursday 25 April 2013, given by Dr John Freedman (writer, translator, critic, and scholar of Russian theatre)
Political resistance and social commentary are deeply ingrained in the Russian theatre tradition. Rarely, however, have they been as open and obvious as in recent years. Throughout the Soviet period (and Imperial era) theatre artists "spoke the truth" by way of metaphor and implication. This tended to remain true even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when artists, who achieved new freedoms, were more intent on creating new kinds of art than on speaking about social ills. But in one of the biggest breaks with tradition in the history of Russian theatre, some writers, directors and actors are currently becoming extremely outspoken in their works. This discussion will focus on current developments, putting them into a historical context.


'Resistance and Gender' on Thursday 2 May 2013, given by Dr Olesya Khomeychuk, University of Cambridge


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.