The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe

The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe

Marci Shore

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 0307888819

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

An inventive, wholly original look at the complex psyche of Eastern Europe in the wake of the revolutions of 1989 and the opening of the communist archives.
   In the tradition of Timothy Garton Ash’s The File, Yale historian and prize-winning author Marci Shore draws upon intimate understanding to illuminate the afterlife of totalitarianism.  The Taste of Ashes spans from Berlin to Moscow, moving from Vienna in Europe’s west through Prague, Bratislava, Warsaw and Bucharest to Vilnius and Kiev in the post-communist east. The result is a shimmering literary examination of the ghost of communism – no longer Marx’s “specter to come” but a haunting presence of the past.
   Marci Shore builds her history around people she came to know over the course of the two decades since communism came to an end in Eastern Europe: her colleagues and friends, once-communists and once-dissidents, the accusers and the accused, the interrogators and the interrogated, Zionists, Bundists, Stalinists and their children and grandchildren.  For them, the post-communist moment has not closed but rather has summoned up the past: revolution in 1968, Stalinism, the Second World War, the Holocaust.  The end of communism had a dark side.  As Shore pulls the reader into her journey of discovery, reading the archival records of people who are themselves confronting the traumas of former lives, she reveals the intertwining of the personal and the political, of love and cruelty, of intimacy and betrayal. The result is a lyrical, touching, and sometimes heartbreaking, portrayal of how history moves and what history means.

The Leader Cult in Communist Dictatorship: Stalin and the Eastern Bloc

One Day That Shook the Communist World: The 1956 Hungarian Uprising and Its Legacy

Revolutionary Pamphlets

Communism: A Very Short Introduction

The Life and Death of Leon Trotsky

A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism: Fables from a Mouse, a Parrot, a Bear, a Cat, a Mole, a Pig, a Dog, and a Raven



















true: even Stalin could not live forever. He died in March 1953. Three years passed after Stalin’s death before Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, openly criticized his predecessor. In his “secret speech” of February 1956, Khrushchev conceded that under Stalin there had been “excesses.” With this very limited acknowledgment of Stalin’s crimes, Stalinism came to an end. This meant the fall of some communists and the rise—or rehabilitation—of others. In Poland, the nationally minded communist

Władysław Gomułka was quietly released from house arrest and appointed the new Communist Party leader. In Hungary de-Stalinization proceeded more vigorously. Hungarian premier Imre Nagy wanted socialism—only a more democratic version. But he went too far. After he proclaimed a multiparty system and an independent foreign policy, Soviet tanks put a stop to Hungary’s revolution. Houses were burned and gutted; thousands of Hungarians were killed or imprisoned. In the years that followed the

slogan: “Służy do grania, nie do zabijania” (This is for playing, not for killing). As if the misuse of the baseball bats were, perhaps, only a misunderstanding. To the Polish graduate student Mikołaj, Warsaw’s violence seemed almost natural. He had moved to the capital from a smaller town in 1988 to begin studying at university, and he remembered the Warsaw of those last days of communism as “dangerous, impoverished … but with some charm.” “That time was really exciting,” Mikołaj wrote to me

diligent student, he did not become a physicist. Instead, in July 1992 he ran for parliament on the ticket of Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, a nationalist-populist party led by a demagogue named Vladimír Mečiar. Somewhat unexpectedly to himself, Miloš won. Just months later, in January 1993, came the “Velvet Divorce”: Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. There had been no referendum. Miloš explained to me that a referendum would have been impossible: a referendum among all Czechoslovak citizens

husband is very stingy in explanation.” Chaim Finkelstein’s wife believed that the underlying cause was anti-Semitism—and its economic implications. Chaim Finkelstein interrupted, now in Yiddish, “A shikse bay a rov ken oykh a shayle paskenen” (The rabbi’s shiksa servant knows the answers to the questions people come to ask the rabbi). “The lack of possibility to live as normal persons,” she continued, “the background was lack of economic possibilities to make a living.” She began to explain:

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