The Pandemic of Fear & the Angel of Dread

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Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium, Appendix VII

‘It will need the whole of Europe to keep those gentlemen within bounds.’

Frederick the Great on the Russians
quoted in Norman Davies
Europe: A History, 1997, p.649

In response to a visit to Babyn Yar (Ru.: Babi Yar) outside Kyiv in 1961, Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1932-2017) published a poem that the composer Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) made the centre piece of his Symphony No. 13. Composed in July 1962, the symphony premièred in Moscow that December. Widely acclaimed during the short-lived Soviet ‘thaw’, Symphony No. 13, also known by its subtitle ‘Babi Yar’, generated considerable controversy, in particular because it affirmed the theme of Yevtushenko’s poem which was anti-Semitism, both past and present. Nonetheless, Shostakovich’s work is credited with having pressured the Communist Party bureaucracy of Ukraine to build a memorial to commemorate the massacre of some 34,000 Jews and many others at Babyn Yar by the Nazis in 1941. Yevtushenko himself said that Shostakovich was the moral architect of that memorial.

On 3 March 2022, Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker wrote:

‘Of late, I’ve been listening to the enigmatically gentle music of Valentin Silvestrov, among other Ukrainian composers. I’ve also turned to Shostakovich, the angel of dread. His Symphony No. 13 is subtitled “Babi Yar,” in honor of one of the most horrific massacres of the Holocaust. On Tuesday, a Russian missile reportedly killed five people in the area of the Babyn Yar memorial, in Kyiv. The symphony’s fourth movement is an immensely chilling setting of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “Fears,” which begins with the ironic announcement that “fears are dying out in Russia” and goes on to say: “I see new fears dawning: / the fear of being untrue to one’s country, / the fear of dishonestly debasing ideas / which are self-evident truths; / the fear of boasting oneself into a stupor . . .” As war fever mounts on all sides, those words and that music might haunt the citizens of all lands.’

Alex Ross, ‘Valery Gergiev and the Nightmare of Music Under Putin’
The New Yorker, 3 March 2022

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Readers of China Heritage will be familiar with our argument that the Chinese Communist Party’s civil war within the borders of China Proper, and its conquest of much of the former territory of the Qing Empire (which was claimed by the Republic of China established in 1912, the successor regime to the Qing), in particular Greater Tibet and Xinjiang (but not Mongolia or vast tracts of land ceded to the Soviet Union and Kim Il-sung’s Korea by Mao Zedong) has lasted for over seventy years. Beijing’s imposition of a ‘Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’ on 1 July 2020 formally marked the third front in the Communist’s decades-long war of attrition. Taiwan is the fourth front in China’s ongoing uncivil war.

These lines from Yevtushenko’s poem ‘Fears’ страхи resonate with the theme of our consideration of the Xi Jinping decade:

I wish that men were possessed of the fear
of condemning a man without proper trial,
the fear of debasing ideas by means of untruth,
the fear of exalting oneself by means of untruth,
the fear of remaining indifferent to others,
when someone is in trouble or depressed,
the desperate fear of not being fearless
when painting on a canvas or drafting a sketch.

Here, the poet also unwittingly predicted his ongoing balletic accommodation with the Soviet establishment.

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This is Appendix VII of Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium. When China experiences its next ‘thaw’, the works of those who bore witness to the Xi interregnum honestly may enjoy the recognition that they are presently denied.

— Geremie R. Barmé, Editor, China Heritage
Distinguished Fellow, The Asia Society
6 March 2022

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Related Material:

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Part of the Mirror Field designed by Maksym Demydenko and Denis Shibanov at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center. Source: The Economist, 18 September 2021

Fears

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

 

Fears are dying out in Russia
like the ghosts of bygone years,
and only like old women, here and there,
they still beg for alms on the steps of a church.

But I remember them in their strength and power
at the court of triumphing falsehood.
Like shadows, fears crept in everywhere,
and penetrated to every floor.

Gradually, they made people subservient,
and set their seal upon all things:
they taught us to shout when we should have kept silent,
and to shut our mouths when we had need to shout.

Today all this has become remote.
It’s strange even to recall nowadays
the secret fear of being denounced,
the secret fear of a knock at the door.

And what of the fear of speaking to a foreigner?
A foreigner’s one thing, but what of speaking to one’s wife?
And what of the boundless fear of remaining
alone with silence after the brass bands have stopped?

We were not afraid of building in the blizzard,
or of going into battle while shells exploded,
but at times we were mortally afraid
of even talking to ourselves.

We were not corrupted or led astray;
and Russia, having conquered her fears,
gives rise — not without reason — to even
greater fear among her enemies!

I wish that men were possessed of the fear
of condemning a man without proper trial,
the fear of debasing ideas by means of untruth,
the fear of exalting oneself by means of untruth,
the fear of remaining indifferent to others,
when someone is in trouble or depressed,
the desperate fear of not being fearless
when painting on a canvas or drafting a sketch.

And as I write these lines —
and I am in too great a haste at times —
I have only one fear when writing them:
the fear of not writing with all my power.

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страхи

Евге́ний Алекса́ндрович Евтуше́нко

Умирают в России страхи
словно призраки прежних лет.
Лишь на паперти, как старухи,
кое-где ещё просят на хлеб.

Я их помню во власти и силе
при дворе торжествующей лжи.
Страхи всюду как тени скользили,
проникали во все этажи.

Потихоньку людей приручали
и на всё налагали печать:
где молчать бы –
кричать приучали,
и молчать –
где бы надо кричать.

Это стало сегодня далёким.
Даже странно и вспомнить теперь.
Тайный страх перед чьим-то доносом,
Тайный страх перед стуком в дверь.

Ну а страх говорить с иностранцем?
С иностранцем-то что, а с женой?
Ну а страх безотчётный остаться
после маршей вдвоём с тишиной?

Не боялись мы строить в метели,
уходить под снарядами в бой,
но боялись порою смертельно
разговаривать сами с собой.

Нас не сбили и не растлили,
и недаром сейчас во врагах,
победившая страхи Россия,
ещё больший рождает страх.

Страхи новые вижу, светлея:
страх неискренним быть со страной,
страх неправдой унизить идеи,
что являются правдой самой!
страх фанфарить до одурения,
страх чужие слова повторять,
страх унизить других недоверьем
и чрезмерно себе доверять.

Умирают в России страхи.
И когда я пишу эти строки
и порою невольно спешу,
то пишу их в единственном страхе,
что не в полную силу пишу.

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