I Said Slav, Dammit, Not "Slaw"


In case you needed reminding about the murderous combination of authoritarianism and ethnic-purity fantasia -- and really, who doesn't? -- here's a chilling passage I just came across from Neal Ascherson's highly recommended history Black Sea:

From the early 1930s to the late 1950s, the Party officials in charge of Soviet archaeology designed and reared up a skyscraper of chauvinist imbecility. This was the assertion that the whole area of modern Russia, Ukraine, eastern and even central Europe had been inhabited by proto-Slav populations since the middle Iron Age: say, 900 BC. Stalin fired his revolver in the air and the entire past of the Black Sea steppes, which had been a history of ceaseless migrancy and ethnic mingling, froze terrified in its tracks and turned into a history of static social development.

And the shots were not only metaphorical. Mikhail Miller, a Russian archaeologist who took refuge in the West after the Second World War, recorded in his Archaeology in the USSR the fate of his colleagues when the new line was enforced between 1930 and 1934. Some 85 per cent of the profession fell victim to the purge. Most of them were deported to Siberian or Asian labour camps or exile. Some were shot or committed suicide when the NKVD came to arrest them. But most -- including Miller's brilliant brother Alexander -- died in the Gulag.