They sometimes answer questions better than I can
Thank you for all of your books and your Thinking about posts. I have read and appreciated all of your books and recommend them to others as must reads. With family and friends still in Ukraine and others who are now refugees, I find your works have helped me both better understand context for where we are now, while also raising my level of apprehension for our shared future. 🙏🏻
History helps to provide context for the present and provide possibilities for the future. It should also provide lessons to help us choose better destinies. It seems unfortunate that too many fail to take seriously or perhaps understand those lessons. So we seemed doomed to the recurrence loop. Thank you for trying to teach those lessons. I also send my regrets that it seems too many of us suffer the same fate as Kassandra - not to be heeded.
thank you for your truly extraordinary, tirelessly generous, and brilliant work
the lessons of the Holocaust are still there...as you say, history never comes to an end. Black Earth spreads these lessons out for us. Your words, "We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from this experience."
Oddly enough (and embarrassingly so) I haven't yet read Sketches from a Secret War. I've made a mental note now to do this as soon as possible. I otherwise think that Black Earth is your most important work but also one where I perhaps like your tone the most as a writer. Better still it perhaps best reflects the set of concerns (including your ethical compass) that animate your work. I admit this forms a diptych with Bloodlands and the two should be read or thought of together in this sense. Nonetheless Black Earth is a field-reshaping work in my limited judgment and also one of the rare ones that is something more than even superlative history writing. Leaving these more 'obvious' choices aside I'm perhaps most 'interested' in the Reconstruction of Nations. And here I've always noted a certain tension in your work. On pragmatic grounds I understand why it must be so but I think there's for all this a deeper problem (if you will) on this score. On the one hand the very fluidity of identity that I find marvelous and that enabled people to get up in the morning and decide which national alternative they'd like to choose (at least for the class for which this was possible once upon a time in the regions you examine.. and I use the word 'class' advisedly but necessarily) and then on the other the more crystalized national fictions that are forever militating against these deeper realities (and sadly perverting so many over time). In a world of nationalist fictions one cannot do anything other than defend the right of every group of people to select their own stories and therefore their own nation-states. Almost as a logical proposition. If Russia then there must be Ukraine. If there isn't Ukraine there isn't Russia either. But I tend to prefer the latter formulation much more. It seems to me that this option takes one closer to perhaps that utopian possibility of greater freedom to move across boundaries and to not be pushed into a permanent box from the moment of birth and beyond this to be able to ally oneself intellectually and emotionally with a different nation or geographic region of the world. Your own life offers an exemplary reference point in this sense. But to follow the logic of that second framing there are no nation states. There are only nationalist constructions. This is of course not to say that there are more natural identities preceding national ones. Those are constructions of different sorts. All of this only means that where people find a way to argue against the 'names' they are given in their lives and practices this is a model to be admired and followed. Such is your Reconstruction account (but not only here) for me. But then there is that more pragmatic urgency that forces you to hold up the national. Again it would be absurd to argue against this. When there's an invading army on your borders it's certainly not the appropriate time to have such debates. And yet the historian or the non-historian thinker must be able to do both in a sense. What worthwhile history could simply be about the moment? The most ethical, moving activism will still not have been the most valuable history. In this context I've always loved the Albanian example. Whenever I run into Albanians from Albania or Kosovo or Montenegro and so on they simply define themselves as 'Albanian'. Whether they are actually from the nation-state bearing that name or not seems somewhat irrelevant to them. They are just invested in this larger Albanian identity that transcends national borders. Now to be clear I am not at all naively invested in some more natural notion of being Albanian. It's a conceit I accept provisionally in precisely the age of nation-states. If we were in a different age or era the same caveats would have to be differently formulated. But certainly coming from the Indian subcontinent and its relatively recent (and epic) histories of multiple partitions, genocidal wars, fascist flirtations (these days a bit more than that unfortunately) etc and national identity seems to underpin so much of the politics and ordinary debates among people, from this vantage point the Albanian model seems like a breath of fresh air. If there are nation-states we should all be a bit Albanian! This is of course more or less your Reconstruction idea. Not just the history you are recounting or highlighting but the model you're celebrating in a way. Only uneasily can I move from this to a Russia-Ukraine opposition. Not because this doesn't exist in the real world but to only have this framing is to accept precisely the terms of the debate which one might otherwise be interrogating elsewhere. Once more, I understand the pragmatic choice here. This is not what I am arguing against. But there is not a neat dividing line between Russian and Ukraine much as there isn't only the 'Russian' in Russia or only the 'Ukrainian' in Ukraine. A final, perhaps unfair, provocation in this regard. If one side gets up and says there are nuclear weapons in Iraq and the other side calls it a lie the former has already won because he or she has framed the debate a certain way. The greater lie is then the discursive space itself for such a debate. How does one reject such a playing field altogether? This is always the challenge. I completely accept all the outpourings for Ukrainian solidarity. I just wonder if there's a way to say and do all of this while simultaneously undermining the nationalist pretense of the aggressor here and in time the victim (though there probably wouldn't be the latter without the former). Not as a political clarion call but as a thought.
I am unsure whether the war in Ukraine should be escalated by those supporting Ukraine. That's a more complicated strategic and policy question that I cannot answer. But I don't think it should be taken off the table. I just fear a final 'peace' which would resemble the 'they made it a desert and called it peace' sentiment that Tacitus expressed in another context. I do believe you've been proven right in not just the sense of having talked about this subject for so long but also this other idea of the EU or 'the West' being on cruise control. To the extent that this current war shakes of that sense, even more so in Europe, or gives NATO a renewed mission and more importantly the EU a similar one. I'd only add here that one doesn't need to be a fan of Putin's monstrous politics in any sense to consider that there might be issues with NATO's expansion that are not simply about one man's politics. In other words even if he's used this idea cynically and hypocritically there might still remain the question of whether any nation with great power pretensions (justifiably or not) would simply accept (except in moments of weakness) such an economy of NATO whereby all its neighbors could potentially be allowed to join an entity with all the history that NATO has and which in turn is led by a nation that has enforced the Monroe Doctrine for so long! All of this does not have very much to do with the current conflict and here I agree with you that left commentary can sometimes be led astray in this sense. But there are longer historical reverberations. One could make similar arguments for China vis-a-vis Taiwan. Again I don't at all support the hegemonic aims either way. But perhaps it's also not completely realistic to insist on national self-determination for smaller nations when those nationalist fictions are themselves the detritus of (as you've pointed put repeatedly in other contexts) failed imperial projects. This is just another way of saying one must deconstruct the original fiction itself. Russia is a fiction. As is China. There are no 'Russians' that overlap with all of the nation-state's citizens just as there are no Han Chinese in the same vein. Not only that everyone isn't Russian (or Han Chinese) but that these labels have themselves meant very different things at different points.
This rambling has been atrociously long so I'l stop here. I did briefly sign in last night but wasn't able to hang around. I did go through a great deal of that very long thread this morning and here I am. Unfortunately in rambling mode once again! Apologies as always. The same in turn for any typos that might exist in this response. I thought I'd check for these but I can't bear to reread my notes!
I’m sorry I missed last night but have read through the comments. I donated to Razom and have spread the word. Thank you for providing the links to this and other organizations. We will add Black Earth (as recommended by Kaleem to be read with Bloodlands) and Sketches from a Secret War to our library. My son, a cadet, at Virginia Tech is currently reading Bloodlands and I’m reading On Tyanny. These, along with Thinking about… were recommended by several readers in HCR LTA. Grateful.
Thank you. Your work is important to the understanding of this region. I hope the people making decisions read it too.
I'm embarrassed to say I had never even heard of Sketches from a Secret War -- I've read several of your books, and can say without reservation that Bloodlands and Black Earth changed my life (I read those pretty much "together") -- along with Mazower's "Hitler's Empire", which abuts your work in some ways, not only was the way in which I thought about the 1930s and 1940s different, but the relevance to our times was also terrifyingly present (and not only in Europe / Russia -- currently the language/rhetoric and actions of the Right in power in India to my mind offer the closest parallel). Thank you for your scholarship, and for your various lectures and talks on those and other books over the years. (On a selfish note, I will add that I "miss" that Professor Snyder, even as I have been very grateful for your increasingly prominent role as a public intellectual speaking to and of our contemporary American moment, such is the freshness of perspective and insight you brought to the history of eastern Europe and WWII.)
I wonder what you think about John Mearsheimer’s talk about Why Ukraine is the West’s Fault.
Tremendously helpful, thank you!!!
Thank you so much.
I read Black Earth and the road to Unfreedom long before the current Ukraine crisis but observing what is happening today, I realize they were not only excellent historical scholarship, but prescient. Putins’ behavior today is exactly what one would expect after reading these two fine books.
Unfortunately, they also are very relevant to what has been happening in the US since 2016 and before. Many of the characteristics that Dr. Snyder discusses can be seen all around us. President Biden’s statements that we are in are in the middle of a conflict between democracy and dictatorship, need to be taken seriously.
I would also recommend on tyranny which is a fast read but gave me a blueprint as to how to protect the nation from dictatorship.
Finally, I must compliment “Our Malady”. As a physician since the mid-70’s ( and now retired) I have seen the changes in health care in that time and am not surprised by Dr. Snyder’s experiences with the US health system in contrast to the European model. Severe (equals expensive) health problems are, for the most part, random events. Some people require minimal amounts of health care over their life whereas others large amounts. The market based system that we now have, does not work. I believe in capitalism and markets but there are some industries that just do not work well in these systems.
Many thanks to Dr. Snyder for his many books, articles and interviews.
With regard to your book, Reconstruction of Nations, are you familiar with the work edited by Melanie Tatur, The Making of Regions in Post-Socialist Europe?