Martin Sixsmith's Russia: the Wild East - explores the history of this great land and for the first time for me explains why Russia's political attitudes and responses seem often threatening and even hostile to habits of thought that we take for granted, being almost inscrutable to those brought up in Western European (and American) society. Even Winston Churchill called Russia 'A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma'.
The most recent episode deals with their terrible 240 years of slavery under the yoke of the unbelievably cruel and barbaric Tartars (led by a descendant of Ghengis Khan) who laid waste to their beautiful capital, then Kiev, while butchering and burning their way across the country in what was a dark age version of 'total war'. Russia lived under the Tartars' autocratic rule for nearly three centuries during the crucial era in which Europe discovered of the Enlightenment and the Renaissance. Russia not only missed out on those great and civilizing influences, but additionally became attached to the arbitrary and autocratic exercise of power and the subjugation of the judicial process to dictatorial whim - as still pertains today. As Sixsmith says "She would never fully catch up with its intellectual, cultural and social values. Instead, a profound admiration for the Mongol model of an autocratic, militarised state began to enter the Russian psyche.This legacy was so deeply assimilated that its influence has marked the way the country is governed right down to the present day."
Click here for a recent review from the Guardian
Click here for some of Ahkatomova's poems which deal with the fear and cruelty of the now slightly more familiar Stalin terror.
This excellent history reminds me of the even finer America: Empire of Liberty by David Reynolds