Mikhail Zygar  <<

The Empire Must Die 

Published by Alpina, Moscow; rights sold to publishers in Sweden, Estonia, USA and Slovakia

In his new book Michail Zygar deals with the prehistory of the most important event of the 20th century - the Russian Revolution of 1917 with its subsequent tectonic shifts in history and geography in Europe and the world. The book is not an academic treatise, but a story told by persons, written in a lively and entertaining way like a historical crime novel. Leo Tolstoy was expelled from the church in 1901, whereupon he became the symbolic figure of the struggle against the regime and the most important ideologist of the opposition. The extremely clever finance minister Sergej Witte unsuccessfully tries to prevent a Russian invasion of China, while the regent Alexandra fights with her mother-in-law Maria for supremacy at the tsar's court and in Russia. The Pope Gapon leads a popular uprising in 1905, and the proletarian writer Maxim Gorki asks the West to stop making money available to Russia. Grigori Rasputin becomes the most influential cheater and most hated pacifist, and the Russian cultural elite sympathises more and more with the ideas of the revolution. Due to corruption and incompetence, Russia is gambling away World War II, and at the same time Tsar Nicholas II, instead of urgently carrying out reforms, is trying to reverse the country's development - he is increasingly focusing on "traditional values", orthodoxy and the army. And Lenin, whom hardly anyone knows, is still afraid to return to Russia for the time being and does not believe in the success of the revolution.

In particular, the years between 1905 and 1914 are astonishingly reminiscent of the state of Russia a hundred years later. For some, these were "full" years, the time of flourishing prosperity, for others, however, dark years of repression, corruption, electoral fraud, and frame-up legal proceedings. It is no coincidence that both during the Revolution and a hundred years later, "power and influence fall into the hands of religious radicals and witch-hunters, who demand that cultural figures be biblically “chastised with scorpions” for daring to insult the authorities or the feelings of Orthodox believers (trial of 'Pussy Riot'). Many intellectuals leave Russia for Europe, where they engage in endless debates about the fate of their homeland. Bizarrely, Europe is also home to many imperial family members and courtiers, who shock the locals with their lavish lifestyle. " (from the preface) Doesn't this resemble the image that Russia presents today? A complete fusion of state and church, lawsuits against creative artists, an unyielding pressure on opposition parties, arrests of demonstrators, the blatant demonstration of stolen wealth by Russian nouveaux riches in Western Europe with absolute disdain for local customs and traditions.

The author's aim is to show Russia at the beginning of the 20th century from the point of view of the people of that time, the outstanding representatives of culture, the family of the last Russian tsar, the ministers, big industrialists (many of whom financed the revolution), the well-known preachers, writers and journalists, terrorists and anarchists. "When I started writing the book, I did not have a ready-made answer to the question of why the Russian revolution happened. I did not have a theory that I wanted to prove to the reader; that would have required some fact-filtering. On the contrary, it took me a great deal of work to clear the picture of prejudices and stereotypes, and to peel away the layers of sediment deposited by dozens of professional historians." (from the preface)

Michail Sygar succeeded in reconstructing the atmosphere of that time, his protagonists speak for themselves on the pages of their diaries, memoirs, essays and letters of that time. "The author tells of Russian politicians and public figures in Russia a hundred years ago as if they were still alive, still acting - there is no distance between them and the author, as if he were delivering a live report. This is indeed an unusual effect that makes reading 'The Empire Must Die' not only exciting but also instructive. For the passions, disputes, disputes and social developments that took place in our country a little over a hundred years ago are still relevant and omnipresent." (Vladislav Tolstov)

"In turning the stories of the dramatis personae into a narrative, I have not attempted to write a complete history of the Russian state from 1901 to 1917. Russian history, in my view, already concentrates too heavily on the state, or rather on the Sovereign, in whatever guise. Russians are accustomed to viewing their history as a set of biographies of leaders—an elegant array of tsars, general secretaries, and presidents behind which Russian society is obscured. What did the people want? What did they fear? For me, what they did and how they went about doing it are far more important than the dreams and desires of the inhabitants of Tsarskoye Selo or the Kremlin. This book is an attempt to tell the history of Russian society, an attempt to study what it strove for and why, by force of popular pressure, the empire had to die." (from the preface)