Saturday, February 14, 2009

A nice absurdity

An ancient blog post under Blog.
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I have always been interested in Russia because of its signficance in determining the future of the world. One can easily say that Russia basically won World War 2 single-handedly, for example (and would have succeeded even without the Allies). The most interesting thing about Russia is the Soviet period and all the stories that went untold. There were a lot of good jokes, for example:

“When did the first Soviet elections take place?
When God put Eve before Adam and said: ‘Choose yourself a wife!’”
There was also the Stalinist purges, where millions of people across the USSR were imprisoned to fill quotas that Stalin defined: it was unacceptable to him that he could have so many enemies now and then, suddenly, they would all have been arrested and he would have none. There must have been more hiding, he thought. His enemies must have created centres of dissidence. And so they threw civilians to the Gulag. Some stories stand out: many peasants, and not many of them adults, were given ten years in hard labour camps for gleaning ears of grain that were left after the harvest, since they got very little food from the State (jailed for sabotaging the State grain industry). An illiterate man was jailed for Anti-Soviet Activity for writing his name (the only word he knew) inadvertently across Stalin’s picture in a newspaper. There was also this gem:
“Here is one vignette from those years as it actually occured. A district Party conference was underway in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusiong of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with "stormy applause, rising to an ovation”.; For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the "stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming unsufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Comittee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on — six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly — but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter. Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone! To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel. That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!” (And just what are we supposed to do? And how are we supposed to stop?) Now that’s what Darwin’s natural selection is. And that’s also how to grind people down with stupidity.“

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

That's all there is, there isn't any more.
© Desi Quintans, 2002 – 2016.