‘The Executed Renaissance’ - Lessons from Timothy Snyder
Why authoritarians fear writers
***If you would like to join Bette’s Happy Hour on Tuesdays and receive invites to the special guest ‘Speakeasy’ zoom forums, please upgrade to a paid membership.🤍
“Famines are always political,” said Timothy Snyder, in lecture No. 15 from his series ‘The Making of Modern Ukraine’.
I stopped cold. The realization that starving millions could be political was a new low in my understanding of unhumanity.
In my interview with Fabio Parasecoli — who wrote Gastronativism: Food, Identity, Politics, an exploration on how food can become a gateway to nationalism — I asked him what the food of fascism was and he responded, “Hunger.”
Once I surrendered to the shock of famines being political, I ran Snyder’s words through a contemporary lens. The US is memory holing the political decisions by an administration* that allowed hundreds of thousands of Americans to callously die as it embraced anti-science.
As I wrote in a recent Byline Supplement investigation, those who watched Fox News were more likely to die from COVID-19. Russian cognitive warfare linked up with anti-vaxxers in the West and waged biological warfare.
“An Alabama man’s dying words were ‘this is not a hoax’. He first succumbed to online conspiracies, then he succumbed to the virus – after spending 51 days on a ventilator,” I reported.
Independent investigative reporters and tenured historians who speak truth to power are beacons of truth during coordinated and well-financed political obfuscation of reality.
We need only look to history to see what could happen if we do not defeat the fascist creep.
In Snyder’s lecture No. 15, he mentioned “The Executed Renaissance” - a phrase used to describe the murder of the Ukrainian intelligentsia that flourished in the 1920s and 1930s.
Echoes of the first interview the RadPod team did with Zarina Zabrisky, a brilliant writer turned war correspondent who grew up in both St. Petersburg and Odesa. When asked about the Russian writers and poets, she wanted to talk about the Ukrainian writers and poets.
I realized I knew nothing of their work, and now I know why.
They were exterminated.
‘The Executed Renaissance’
A generation of Ukrainian language poets, writers, and artists of the 1920s and early 1930s, who lived in the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic were persecuted, denied work, imprisoned, and murdered. Poets, writers, dramaturgists who wrote in the Ukrainian language were denied their voice in history.
But thanks to a Polish publisher living in Paris in 1959, Jerzy Giedroyc of Kultura magazine, who was writing to a Ukrainian literary critic, an anthology titled “The Executed Renaissance” exists.
According to historian Orest Subtelny, the collapse of the Russian Empire and the subsequent “cultural leniency of the Soviet regime in the 1920s led to an astonishing literary and cultural renaissance” in Ukraine, which was part of a movement to stamp out illiteracy. The new generation of writers, who used their words to rise up beyond their social circumstances, celebrated independent thought and a rebellious spirit.
This brief period of literary freedom - also referred to as the Red Renaissance - was exterminated under Stalinist rule, with repression, show trials, forced suicides, concentration camps, and executions to silence independent expression.
In a period known as the Great Terror of 1937 - 1938, 223 writers were arrested, and about 300 representatives of the Ukrainian Renaissance were murdered in October and November 1938 and buried in a mass killing field.
These words from a defiant Ukrainian poet sentenced to execution by firing squad echo in eternity thanks to a saved scrap of paper:
‘I am writing to you as the sun is shining outside my window – and, oh goodness, how difficult I find it to restrain myself so as not to scream – about how good life is, about how wonderful the future of a person, who owns the right to that future, is. I’m sending you a kiss, my dear, and ask that you remember the date of this letter as a date of one of my best days.’
These words were etched on paper by poet Ievhen Pluzhnyk in a letter to his wife on 28 March 1935, soon after his sentencing by the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union to execution by firing squad. Though his sentence was later changed to long-term incarceration in a Solovki concentration camp, the poet died of tuberculosis the following year, his resting place thousands of miles away from his homeland of Ukraine.—Retrospect Journal
As American corporate media fails to cover the authoritarian right’s attempts to deny freedom in the US with the urgency required, it falls on the shoulders of independent writers and historians to do their work.
Another jolt hit me while listening to Snyder’s lecture when he told the students who populate his classroom that in their lifetime democracy is receding. He’s right.
Last week, as I judged the quarterfinals of the biggest poetry slam in the country, the first thing I did after taking my seat in the front row was look for a hiding place if a mass shooter showed up. I was a few feet away from the theatre’s stage, and I could see an opening where I could crawl under the stage. I had the same thought when watching my daughter graduate from Wellesley last year.
That is not freedom. That is early stages of fascism.
A malignant party filled with American traitors is causing these terror incidences to escalate by refusing to enact legislation that could save lives, and corporate media still parrots and covers these fascists and their tankie toadies like a horse race.
Although I learned while listening to Snyder that Stalin did not say the loss of a million lives is a statistic and the loss of one life is a tragedy, I could see how that would be believed.
“Let the peasants die,” seems to be a metaphor for these grave days.
Maybe the world has to bottom out to recognize the urgency.
In American, pro-democracy voices are being stifled with death threats - it takes guts to keep speaking truth to power when Kremlin-linked traitors are threatening lawfare and worse.
Go ahead, make us famous.
I will keep writing, warning, and interviewing the world’s most brilliant and brave people, despite these threats.
Today, RadPod is releasing a breaker we did with an undercover mother - a former Republican who divorced herself from a party that “leads by hate.”
Gay members of her family were being threatened so she went undercover and infiltrated her local chapter of Moms for Liberty, and what she found was a cesspool of hate. She exposed them and now public officials who are members of the group are being outed for their hate, for using their public positions to promote hate.
She is my hero.
I asked her to give a final thought to our global viewers, and she said:
“Be careful who you hate, because it might be someone you love.”
Bette Dangerous is a reader-funded magazine. Thank you to all monthly, annual, and founding members. Thank you as well to all those who support my work with your generous coffee tips and who buy my ebooks. A private link to group activist discounts available upon request by emailing email@example.com.
More info about Bette Dangerous - This magazine is written by Heidi Siegmund Cuda, an Emmy-award winning investigative reporter, author, and veteran music and nightlife columnist. She is the cohost of RADICALIZED Truth Survives, an investigative show about disinformation and is part of the Byline Media team. Thank you for your support of independent investigative journalism.
Save the date! The next Bette Dangerous ‘Speakeasy’ Zoom for paid members is Sunday, May 7, 4 pm PT, featuring ‘Canaries in the Net’ podcast team Alex Alvarova and Josef Holy, who can offer insights into disinformation campaigns targeting the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe, the overlap in America and the West, and how we inoculate ourselves against disinformation. Paid members will also receive invites to our new weekly Bette’s Happy Hour, a wellness checkin on Tuesdays.
We have a membership gifting program so if you’re bucks up and wish to adopt a member, you can learn more about that here. My generous benefactors have awarded eight gift memberships in the past few weeks. Thank you, truly.
(Below, an original cover of ‘The Executed Renaissance’ - read more about the book and its writers here.)
“I say a silent prayer of thanksgiving as I walk upon the earth.”-Audrey Peterman.
“May the viral hope for truth and humanity wash away the chaos of these years.”-S.C., Bette community member
“Something Sacred never dies in almost all of us, who can hear the invitation of Truth…”-words written by a member of Bette’s community
Bette Dangerous is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.