November 18, 2012


The Books Interview : Anne Applebaum: "Why did so many people co-operate with what were clearly evil and unjust regimes?" (JONATHAN DERBYSHIRE PUBLISHED 08 NOVEMBER 2012, New Statesman)

You describe a process in the Soviet sphere of influence in eastern Europe after the war that you call "passive collaboration".

I struggled for the correct phrase. Someone who read the manuscript said, "You shouldn't use the word 'collaboration'." On the other hand, I couldn't think of what other word I could use.

What I meant were people who went along with things because they had very bad choices and because the circumstances of their lives forced them to do it.

I have huge sympathy for people who lived in, say, Poland or Czechoslovakia in that period. I have much less sympathy for people in the west. There was always information about what was going in eastern Europe. They had plenty of good choices. So I don't feel sympathy for Eric Hobsbawm and his friends but I do have sympathy for unwilling, half-enthusiastic communists in eastern Europe in the 1950s. They had a tough time. [...]

You mentioned Eric Hobsbawm. How do you see the role of western communists and fellow-travellers in this period? You mention Sartre, among others, in the book.

They assisted in legitimising the regimes, at least for a period, but I wouldn't overplay their role. They were important in legitimising the Soviet Union in the 1930s - that was when they did real damage.

You suggest that there was nothing inevitable about the fate of eastern Europe. It's not as if the countries in the region were predisposed to totalitarianism.

Right. If Austria had been taken over, Austria would have been a communist country. And if the Soviets hadn't taken over Poland, Poland wouldn't have been a communist country.
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Posted by at November 18, 2012 7:23 AM

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