Modern Times Review, May 21, 2020
Modern Times Review, May 7, 2020
Modern Times Review, May 3, 2020
Modern Times Review, April 10, 2020
Modern Times Review, March 12, 2020
Modern Times Review, March 6, 2020
Modern Times Review, February 17, 2020
Modern Times Review, February 2, 2020
Modern Times Review, January 30, 2020
Modern Times Review, January 27, 2020
The Hollywood Reporter, December 11, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, November 11, 2019
University World News, August 12, 2019
Modern Times Review, July 7, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, June 13, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, June 10, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, May 31, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, April 20, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter, March 20, 2019
The Guardian, December 31, 2018
Later update here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/31/russia-detains-american-in-moscow-suspected-of-spying
Russia detains American in Moscow on suspicion of spying
FSB opens criminal case against US citizen for ‘carrying out act of espionage’
Russia’s domestic security service has detained a US citizen on suspicion of spying.
The FSB, the successor of the Soviet-era KGB, said in a statement that the American was arrested on Friday “while carrying out an act of espionage”.
The statement, in Russian, used a name that appeared to translate as Paul Whelan and said a criminal case had been opened “under article 276 of the criminal code (Espionage)”.
No further details were given. People convicted of spying in Russia face a prison term of between 10 and 20 years.
The US embassy in Moscow could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday, a public holiday in Russia.
On Sunday Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, expressed a desire for better relations with the US in 2019. In a new year letter to the US president, Donald Trump, he said Moscow was ready for dialogue on a “wide-ranging agenda”.
A Kremlin statement said Putin’s letter stressed that Russia-US relations were “the most important factor for providing strategic stability and international security”.
Russia has sought to improve relations with the west after a year in which diplomacy was at its frostiest since the cold war.
Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats over accusations that the Kremlin was behind the novichok attack in March on the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury. Russia denied any involvement in the poisoning and, in retaliation, sent home the same number of British embassy workers.
In October, the US justice department accused seven Russians of being GRU military intelligence officers, charging them with hacking and wire fraud. Four men from that group were expelled from the Netherlands in April after being caught allegedly attempting to hack the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
On 13 December, Maria Butina, a 30-year-old Russian citizen and suspected spy, pleaded guilty in a Washington DC court to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.
There are, however, small signs of improved relations between Russia and the UK: Russia’s embassy in London said on Friday that Moscow and London had agreed to return some staff to the respective embassies.
The Hollywood Reporter, July 17 2018
The Hollywood Reporter, June 22 2018
The Hollywood Reporter, June 20 2018
Modern Times Review
University World News, May 24, 2018
The Hollywood Reporter, April 16, 2018
The European Film Academy, December 2017
The Hollywood Reporter, December 11 2017
The Hollywood Reporter, November 6 2017
The Times, November 6 2017
Wilbur Ross, Trump’s business chief, has cash ties to Putin’s family
Nick Holdsworth, Moscow
November 6 2017, 12:01am, The Times
Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, is linked to President Putin’s son-in-law through a shipping business in which he holds a stake, according to the Paradise Papers.
Separately, hundreds of millions of pounds were invested in Facebook and Twitter by two state-owned Russian companies via Yuri Milner, a billionaire born in Moscow now based in the US.
The documents show that Mr Ross, 79, has a stake in Navigator, a shipping company, through a chain of offshore investments. Navigator is a partner of Sibur, a gas company whose owners include Kirill Shamalov, husband of Mr Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova.
Mr Ross did not dispose of his holdings when he took office and stands to benefit from a company run by close associates of the Russian president, some of whom are under US sanctions.
Records show that Navigator has maintained close relations with Sibur since 2014, when US sanctions were imposed on Russia after Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine. The holding has since collected $68 million from Sibur.
James Rockas, a spokesman for Mr Ross, told The New York Times that Mr Ross “recuses himself from any matters focused on trans-oceanic shipping vessels, but has been generally supportive of the administration’s sanctions of Russian and Venezuelan entities”.
Mr Trump is under pressure from the special counsel’s investigation into links between the White House and Russia, headed by Robert Mueller, the former FBI chief.
Last night NBC News reported that Mr Mueller had enough evidence to charge Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and his son, over allegations of collusion between Trump aides and Russia. Their lawyers declined to comment.
The Paradise Papers also show that millions of pounds was invested in Facebook and Twitter in the early days of social media by two Russian state institutions with close ties to the Kremlin via a business associate of Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law.
Mr Milner, who funded Russian internet start-ups, channelled $191 million from VTB, a Russian state bank, into Twitter and, via an obscure offshore company, bought $1 billion of Facebook shares.
The Times , November 3 2017
RT boss Margarita Simonyan eclipses Hillary Clinton on Forbes power list
Nick Holdsworth, Moscow
The head of RT, the Kremlin’s international propaganda channel, has been named among the world’s most powerful women by the American business magazine Forbes.
At 52nd place, Margarita Simonyan, 37, is well above Hillary Clinton, the failed US presidential candidate, who has plunged from second place to 65th in one year.
Ms Simonyan is one of only two Russian woman to make the top 100, along with Elvira Nabiullina, head of Russia’s central bank, who is in 49th place.
Angela Merkel tops the list, followed by Theresa May.
Ms Simonyan’s position above Mrs Clinton seems to have prompted a little schadenfreude in Moscow.
RT noted that her inclusion “perhaps gives Hillary Clinton another bone to pick with RT”, adding: “It is Hillary Clinton and her allies’ focus on making Russia the scapegoat that has given a boost to RT’s editor-in-chief, according to Forbes.”
Forbes’ citation states: “A year ago, most people had no idea who Margarita Simonyan was. Now, she’s being discussed in tech, media and political circles as the outsized influence of her Russian TV network, RT, comes in focus.”
Last month Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, referred RT to Ofcom over advertisements on the London Underground that made jokey references to Russia’s perceived attempts to undermine democracy in the West.
Ms Simonyan said that she was “disappointed that despite the earnest efforts of The Times and other mainstream media outlets to keep RT in fear-inducing headlines each and every day”, it was not enough to push her into “at least the top 20”.
Her entry is another milestone in the rise of a woman who was born to Armenian parents in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, made her name as a regional television reporter covering the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004 and the following year was chosen to be editor-in-chief of the newly founded RT (then Russia Today), at the age of 25.
A Kremlin loyalist said to be close to President Putin, Ms Simonyan strenuously denies that RT is a propaganda outlet, though she concedes that as a Russian station “we see the world from a Russian point of view” and has stated: “There is no objectivity — only approximations of the truth by as many different voices as possible.”
Lenin’s tomb with a view to stay overground
Nick Holdsworth, Moscow
Right-wing nationalists and Kremlin loyalists want to put their revolutionary past behind them and bury Lenin’s body.
A hundred years after the Russian revolution and more than 90 years since Lenin died, there are no plans to bury the embalmed body of the Bolshevik leader, the Kremlin said yesterday.
Lenin is on display in a mausoleum on Red Square, where he has been lying in state since 1924. The body is preserved in a glass sarcophagus and costs £150,000 a year to maintain.
As Russia prepares to mark the revolution next week, the question of the future of his remains is again on the agenda.
Right-wing nationalists and Kremlin loyalists want to put their revolutionary past behind them and bury Lenin’s body. However, the communist lobby, who still support President Putin, are demanding that their history is preserved, above ground, for all to see.
The announcement yesterday was prompted after Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, called for the return from a St Petersburg museum of the skull of Hadji Murat, a 19th century Chechen chieftain.
Mr Kadyrov said that Lenin, who had wanted to be buried with his mother, should have his wish.
The question of what to do with the remains has been raised every year since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but Dmitry Peskov, the presidential spokesman, said: “This is not an issue on the agenda for the Kremlin.”
Jihlava Dok Revue, October 23 2017
The Daily Mail, October 20 2017
story based on Nick Holdsworth’s report in THR of October 19, 2017
New Harvey Weinstein allegations: Mogul ‘wanted to barter sex for roles’ with Marisa Coughlan and trapped TV host in hotel room for nude massage where he showed off open stomach wound
News Com Australia, October 19 2017
story based on Nick Holdsworth’s report in THR of the same day
The New York Daily Post October 19 2017
story based on Nick Holdsworth’s report in THR of the same day
The Hollywood Reporter October 19 2017
The Hollywood Reporter September 18 2017
The Hollywood Reporter July 24 2017
The Hollywood Reporter July 21 2017
The Hollywood Reporter May 24 2017
Christian Science Monitor May 3 2017
The Hollywood Reporter April 3 2017
The Hollywood Reporter March 24 2017
The Hollywood Reporter November 28 2016
The Times May 27 2016
Vladimir Putin will be otherwise engaged when Sir Elton John visits Moscow next week despite having promised to meet the singer to discuss gay rights.
Sir Elton will be playing in the Russian capital and had been planning a meeting with the president but the Kremlin said yesterday that scheduling conflicts meant it could not happen.
“We were in correspondence a couple of weeks ago, because there was an agreement that, if their schedules allow, this meeting could take place,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Mr Putin, said.
“President Putin expressed readiness for this meeting. But this time, the meeting won’t take place, unfortunately — their schedules do not match up. But this does not mean that such a meeting won’t take place next time.”
Sir Elton has hoped for a meeting since September when two Russian comedians telephoned and fooled him into believing that Mr Putin had called him to discuss gay rights in the country, which has banned the promotion of what it terms “non-traditional sexual relations”.
The incident led to a genuine offer from the Kremlin to arrange a meeting, when Mr Putin subsequently called the singer to say he was open to “discuss whatever issues are of interest”.
University World News April 28 2016
RBTH March 25 2016
University World News March 11 2016
The Guardian November 15 2015
Radio Free Europe October 28 2015
The Hollywood Reporter May 19 2015
RBTH April 29 2015
(and see link from Lumiere gallery, Atlanta Georgia)
The Times March 5 2015
The Times March 4 2015
The Times March 4 2015
The Times March 3 2015
The Hollywood Reporter March 3 2015
The Hollywood Reporter March 1 2015
Keeping abreast of naked news
Will a controversial British Museum loan of an Elgin Marbles sculpture to the Hermitage in St Petersburg end in Greek tragedy?
The British Museum’s loan to the Hermitage in St Petersburg of the headless Greek god, thought to personify the river Ilissos, which until the early 19th century graced a frieze on the top of the Parthenon in Athens, prompted a storm of headlines in Russia.
Part of the Elgin Marbles, which were shipped off to England 200 years ago before being acquired by the British Museum in 1816, the loan sparked a political storm. Radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) caught the diplomatic zeitgeist in its story headlined: “Hermitage director dubs British Museum’s decision to send Parthenon marble to St Petersburg a most important artistic and political gesture.”
But it swiftly plunged into the controversy, noting that the loan of figure, which will be on display until January 18, 2015 had long been contested by the Greeks.
“Transporting the statue is opposed by Athens, where the monument is considered to be cultural heritage plundered from Greece,” said the station.
Stripping the Parthenon bare is an issue that has long soured diplomatic relations between the Greeks and the British. That does not seem to bother the directors of the two museums, who back in October cooked up the deal to ship the massive marble to St Petersburg before its dramatic unveiling last week.
Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, was infuriated, Ekho Moskvy reported, arguing that the loan torpedoed the British Museum’s old argument that it could not return the marbles to Greece because they must not be moved.
Things could still go wrong. What if Russia returned the marble to Athens, rather than London? Armless as well as headless, Ilissos can’t stick two fingers up to Lord Elgin, but like Mr Putin, the Greek statue certainly has what the Spanish call cojones.
[nb: Last sentence of my original copy read: “…but like Mr Putin, the Greek statue certainly has balls.”
The Times January 10 2015
University World News January 9 2015
The Hollywood Reporter January 1 2015
The Times December 8 2014
The Times December 5 2014
The Hollywood Reporter December 5 2014
The Times November 24 2014
Russia Behind the Headlines October 16 2014
Cliches and conventions in Russian view of us Brits, weekly column in RBTH
Russia Behind the Headlines October 9 2014
Of burgers and spies, A British view on Russian media coverage of the UK, a weekly column in RBTH
Russia Behind the Headlines September 29 2014
A Russian conundrum — modern times and ancient matters, from RBTH column looking at odd stories in the Russian press
ETF September 25 2014
The European Training Foundation’s conference on vocational education initiatives in Central Asia, reporting from Dushanbe, Tajikistan on how to contribute to peace and stability the long, hard, peaceful way in a strategic and at times unstable region.
Russia Behind the Headlines September 22 2014
A cheesy look at odd stories in the Russian press for RBTH
The Hollywood Reporter, June 30 2014
Oscar Winner Nikita Mikhalkov Appeals to Free Ukrainian Filmmaker Held by Russians on Terrorist Charges
Roman Polanski Prepping Next Feature in Poland, Wants Assurance He Won’t Be Extradited to U.S.
The Times June 28 214
Ukraine’s EU deal provokes warning from Moscow http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4132318.ece Nick Holdsworth, Moscow Ukraine tied its future to the West yesterday when its new president signed a trade and political deal with the EU, seven months after his predecessor’s failure to do so plunged the country towards civil war and conflict with Russia. Petro Poroshenko’s signature on the 1,200-page EU Association Agreement ends President Putin’s dreams of establishing a Eurasian Union, a free trade association widely seen as a first step by Moscow towards a 21st-century version of the Soviet Union reuniting Russia with Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Smiling after signing the document in Brussels, President Poroshenko called it “maybe the most important day for my country” since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He agreed to extend by three days, until Monday, a ceasefire in the fighting with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country. Two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova, also signed similar free trade deals, stoking Russian fears about its shrinking regional influence and that markets for its exports could be hit by cheap EU imports. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, warned: “There will undoubtedly be serious consequences for Ukraine and Moldova’s signing.” President Putin confined himself to comments on a negotiated settlement to fighting in eastern Ukraine that has cost the lives of more than 385 people and displaced tens of thousands. “The most important thing is to guarantee a long-term ceasefire as a precondition for meaningful talks between Kiev authorities and representatives of the southeast,” he said. EU leaders gave the Kremlin and Ukrainian rebel forces until Monday to take steps to improve the situation or face sanctions. The three-day extension to the ceasefire, which had been due to expire yesterday, will give both sides more time to agree approaches to negotiations, after a week in which they accused each other of numerous breaches.
The TImes June 23 214
Hollywood Reporter March 27 2014 Ukraine’s Odessa Film Festival Vows to Open Despite Crisis
Hollywood Reporter March 26 2014: Russian Quotas: Hollywood Studios Would Be Hardest Hit
Hollywood Reporter March 25 2014: Russia mulls tough quotas on foreign films
Christian Science Monitor February 28 2014: Next revolutionary step in Ukraine: Reform the police
The Times February 26 2014: Police refused order to machinegun protesters
(Full text below, as you may not be able to read this article on the Times website) Nick Holdsworth Kiev Published at 12:01AM, February 26 2014: The bloodbath on Kiev’s streets last week would have been far worse if police had not refused orders to spray protesters in Independence Square with machinegun fire, a police colonel said yesterday. Colonel Roman Leonovich said that he ignored the order last Tuesday, then brokered a deal with the opposition to keep his men away from the square on Thursday as the worst violence in the country’s post-Soviet history erupted. By the end of the week, at least 86 protesters had been killed, many of them by government snipers. Colonel Leonovich’s account provides a view of last week’s transformative events from the other side of the barricades, where police were also dying under fire. Colonel Leonovich, 40, has served 22 years in the police, and last week was in command of 600 men garrisoned in a 19th-century fortess that housed a military arsenal. On Tuesday night he took 100 of them to Independence Square. That night, he said, three officers serving near him died and two were wounded close to a barricade at the entrance to the square. “Within minutes of taking our positions we came under fire. Two officers from a nearby unit in the line were killed by shots to the head from a 9mm Makarov pistol,” he said. “Two others were wounded by shotgun fire and a Berkut [riot police] officer died after pellets penetrated his jacket.” He said that the senior officer commanding 400 police who had been ordered to hold a line on Kreshchatyk Street, between European Square and Maidan, telephoned his superiors at the Ministry of Interior Affairs. “The senior line officer reported the use of firearms and asked for freshorders,” Colonel Leonovich said. “The answer came back: ‘You can fire back’. That was official permission.” The colonel said that he did not know who gave the order, and added that police were asked if they had armoured vehicles. They had two available, and were given permission to use the vehicles’ heavy-calibre machineguns. “We discussed the situation and several officers said they could not shoot back, as we could not identify the shooters and the barricade was manned by unarmed people. “We decided to use the armoured cars to force our way through. Had we known who shot at us and [been able to] identify them, we would not have hesitated — that would have been one sniper against the other — but we did not.” As Colonel Leonovich’s men advanced behind the armoured cars under a hail of petrol bombs and other missiles, the barricade was swept aside and its defenders disappeared. The colonel said that his and other police units established a new line on the edge of Maidan parallel with the Trade Union building that had served as the protest HQ, and remained there until 8am the next day. As conditions in Kiev deteriorated, the colonel said he became convinced the country was sliding into civil war. He said he received a phone call on a closed ministry line used only by senior officials. The caller, who refused to identify himself, ordered him and his men to join other units to force their way into parliament. He ignored the command. Colonel Leonovich’s claim is difficult to substantiate, but tallies with an alleged plan to use 22,000 police and rooftop snipers to snuff out the anti-Government protest. It was outlined this week by Hennadii Moskal, a former deputy interior minister who is now an MP for Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party. The man said to be behind that plan, the Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, is among senior Yanukovych officials who have vanished.
Christian Science Monitor February 5 2014: Mayor of ‘Ukraine’s soul’ looks to heal country’s divides
Sunday Telegraph November 24 2013: The film Russia tried to block: The ‘threats and corruption’ behind Sochi Olympics
The Times, October 24 2013: Russian special forces to get new underwater machine gun
An assault rifle that its maker claims is the first that can be used on land or underwater was revealed for the first time in public yesterday.Sounding like something Q might supply to James Bond and designed for Russia’s Spetsnaz special forces — equivalent to Britain’s Special Boat Service — the ADS 5.45mm automatic has already won overseas orders, its maker, Russia’s leading small-arms manufacturer, said.The ADS, an adaptation of the Kalashnikov AK47, uses standard 5.45mm x 39mm rounds on land and special, similar rounds underwater. Instrument Design Bureau, or KBP, based in Tula, said that underwater its weapon was usable down to 40m (130ft) and had a range of between 8m and 25m. On land, it is accurate to 500m.Nikolai Komarov, spokesman for KBP, said: “Special forces troops no longer need to carry two assault rifles, but just the one.”Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defence analyst, questioned whether the gun would find a wide market. “It is a very specialised weapon, where you would need to have two opposing armies of frogmen shooting it out underwater — something I’ve only ever seen in James Bond movies,” he said.
The Sunday Telegraph March 23 2013:Prime suspect in Georgi Markov ‘umbrella poison’ murder tracked down to Austria
The Times 20 August 2011: The train on Platform 6 is for Paris, Moscow and New York – through the Bering Strait
(Full text below, as you may not be able to read this article on the Times website) Nick Holdsworth Yakutsk Published at 12:01AM, August 20 2011 It might still be too soon to book your ticket from King’s Cross to Grand Central station in New York, but the prospect of such an epic rail journey has just moved a step closer.The Kremlin gave its blessing this week to the greatest railway project of all time: a 65-mile (106km) tunnel linking Asia and North America under the Bering Strait and connecting railway lines that would allow a seamless train trip from Britain to the United States.The £60 billion scheme would push the Trans-Siberian railway eastward while extending Alaska’s tracks towards Siberia. East and West would meet directly at the international dateline under the Bering Strait islands of the Russian Big Diomede and the US territory of Little Diomede.The Bering Strait tunnel, first mooted by Tsar Nicholas II in 1905, is no pipedream. This week it was endorsed by President Medvedev’s top officials, including Aleksandr Levinthal, the deputy federal representative for the Russian Far East. Proponents of the network say that apart from the romance of taking a once-in-a-lifetime journey across the breathtaking wildernesses of Siberia and Alaska, it would be cheaper, faster and more secure than shipping goods around the world. It could carry about 3 per cent of the world’s freight, earning £7 billion a year.Engineers say there is no technical reason why the tunnel could not be built and investors would break even within 15 years of it opening.Mr Levinthal was among several Kremlin officials, including Vladimir Nazarov, the deputy secretary of the Russian National Security Council, who flew to Yakutsk, 5,000 miles east of Moscow, to take part in a three-day conference on developing integrated infrastructure in northeast Russia.Hosted by Yegor Borisov, the Governor of Yakutia (the Sakha Republic), the conference drew hundreds of delegates from Russia, the US, China and Britain to examine ways of boosting the economic potential of the resource-rich but sparsely populated region that stretches to the Arctic Circle.A 500-mile rail spur to Yakutsk from the Trans-Siberian — built at a cost of £900 million and due for completion in 2013 — is part of a Kremlin strategy that will push rail links a further 2,360 miles to the northeastern tip of Siberia by 2030. It will connect the mineral-rich territory to key freight lines in Russia and China. That would make the construction of the tunnel, a 15-year project that would account for about a tenth of the joint investment in Russian, American and Canadian railway extensions envisaged, feasible. “We should see advanced development of road and rail infrastructure here [in the Russian Far East] and improvement in the investment climate in Russia as a key aim,” Mr Levinthal said.Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, has made no secret of his intention to pursue Russia’s claim to the vast untapped fossil fuel and mineral wealth of the Arctic, improve trade with China and secure its borders in the Far East.Building roads and railways, repopulating towns and cities ravaged by more than two decades of neglect, and bringing prosperity to a region that Europe could fit into three times over, has become a national priority. Against that background, the prospect of finding the political will — and cash — to bore a route twice the length of the Channel Tunnel under the Bering Strait becomes much more realistic.But Stephen Dalziel, the head of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, said it was unlikely that British companies would invest in the scheme until it was up and running. “It would be a great idea if it worked,” he said.Igor Arzhanukhin, an engineer who is working on the spur line, said: “It is a brilliant idea. We are all really proud to be a part of it.”
Am gradually adding older stories here when I find time.
Here is an obituary I wrote in 2003 for The Moscow Times after the death of a dear Moscow friend of mine, writer and polymath, Igor Mozheiko, aka sic-fi author Kir Bulychov:
The Moscow Times, September 12, 2003
Science Fiction’s Kir Bulychov Dies
- By Nick Holdsworth
- Sep. 12 2003
An OBE for the soldier who fought the King
How did a Russian Jew who was exiled to Siberia, lost family in the Holocaust and fought British-led forces for an Israeli state earn an OBE? Nick Holdsworth reports.
Tears of mirth still spring to Teodor Shanin’s eyes when he recalls the day the British ambassador in Moscow rang to tell him he had been made an OBE. “Me an officer of the Order of the British Empire?” says Shanin, founder and rector of the Russian-British Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “I was amazed and amused – my relationship with the empire, when it existed, was involvement in anti-imperialism.”
Nevertheless, Shanin will receive his OBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in October.
For Shanin – who was born 72 years ago in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius (then the Polish border city of Vilna), who endured exile in Siberia and the loss of many family members in the Holocaust, and who later led Israeli commandos against British-led Arab forces in the war for Israeli independence – the idea that he should be made an officer of an empire that no longer exists seemed a huge joke. But he is genuinely pleased with the award, which was made in recognition of his services to Russian tertiary education.
He has come a long way from the boy who was put on a train bound for Siberia and oblivion by the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police. Shanin spent his wartime exile first in Siberia’s remote Altai region and later in the ancient Uzbek city of Samarkand, where to stave off starvation, he worked as a “runner” in a gang selling stolen bread. The experiences toughened him up for later battles. These he fought on the front lines as a volunteer in Palestine in 1947 and 1948, and with bureaucracy as an Israeli social work chief and a pioneering British sociologist.
Shanin, the only son of a successful Jewish patrician textile trader and industrialist in pre-war Vilna, enjoyed an early life of privilege. All this changed after the arrival of the Soviets in 1939 – first with the installation of a pliant Socialist Lithuanian government as part of the Russian-German non-aggression pact to carve up Poland, then with full occupation in 1940. In June 1941, the arrest of Shanin’s father, a former Social Revolutionary student in St Petersburg during the Russian February revolution of 1917, as a member of the “bourgeoisie”, spelled the end of innocence.
“My father was sent to a camp, and my mother and I went into exile in Siberia,” Shanin says. “The war began a week later. Arrest by the Russians saved our lives – a few weeks later the Germans were in Vilna.”
One of the NKVD officers, knowing that Teodor’s four-year-old sister would never survive the long journey by cattle car to Siberia, said he would “look the other way” if relatives could be found to care for her. Today, the remains of Shanin’s sister, his grandfather and more than 80,000 other Jews, gypsies and other Nazi victims lie in the pits where they were shot in woods outside Vilnius. Shanin’s mother never got over the loss of her little girl. Shanin, too, is still distressed by the image, related by witnesses they found on their return to Vilnius in 1946, of the “little blonde blue-eyed angel of a girl” being led away to her death by SS soldiers.
“My mother did not believe she was dead. By the standards of the Nazis, we did not look Jewish. The family is blue-eyed. My mother thought she had been left with a Catholic family. We searched for three weeks, but all we found were people who had seen them being led to their deaths.”
Such experiences created an abiding hatred for Germans and a fierce and radical Zionism that made the 16-year-old Shanin a leader of Jewish youth in the Polish city of Lodz. After finishing his interrupted schooling, Shanin, his mother and his father – who survived the Soviet camps despite suffering from scurvy – moved to Paris. There on November 29 1947, at a meeting held to debate the United Nation’s resolution on the creation of Jewish and Palestine states, Shanin declared: “The war begins today. No state is created by the decision of a committee, and everybody who is capable of carrying arms must move to Palestine. Those who are not must provide weapons.”
Through a series of Zionist movement safe houses, Shanin made his way via Marseilles to Palestine where, lying about his age (he was just 17), he joined the Israeli forces in the war of independence. The absurdity of fighting Arabs to establish a Jewish state did not escape Shanin at the time. “I remember turning to one of my fellow commandos and remarking that here I was killing Arabs because I hated Germans,” he recalls.
With victory won and the state of Israel established, Shanin took up a veteran’s university scholarship in social work. He saw the chance to make a real difference in a country populated by people physically and mentally scarred by a multitude of 20th-century sins: war, imprisonment, displacement, torture and hunger. He went on to take a BA in sociology and economics and eventually became the head of a rehabilitation unit, which to this day he considers the “peak of social work”, whose aim is to “set people free of the need of social workers”.
After ten years, he went to England to study British rehabilitation work – “exceptionally good then and now” – before returning to Israel to lead a “splendid new rehabilitation unit” situated, bizarrely, in a hospital for the chronically ill. Shanin fought a long and fruitless campaign to get it moved, achieving only a reputation as a troublesome leftie. Finding himself “virtually unemployable” after he resigned, he wrote to friends in Birmingham who had urged him to apply for scholarships in Britain. One was still available, so in 1963 Shanin arrived at Birmingham’s Centre for Russian and Eastern European Studies (Crees) to study for his PhD on the Russian peasantry during the revolution. It was an undeveloped field, he says, because although “peasants made up 87 per cent of the population in 1917, they were rarely found anywhere but in the footnotes of history books”. He moved to Sheffield University in 1965 to establish a pioneering course on the sociology of the third world, where he developed his early intuitive notion of Russia as a third-world country into a trademark theory.
After being called up but missing service in the Arab-Israeli “six-day” war of 1967 because of its brevity, he returned to teach at Haifa University. Within three years he became disenchanted with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and went back to England. After a year’s fellowship at St Anthony’s College, Oxford, Shanin moved to Manchester in 1974 to take up a professorship in sociology, where he stayed for 25 years, enjoying the freedom bestowed by “an extremely liberal” and supportive university.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms in the late 1980s allowed Shanin to return to Russia for the first time in 40 years. They also allowed him access to archives to research books including Russia 1905-07: Revolution as a Moment of Truth and Russia as a ‘Developing Society’ . “Perestroika gave me the feeling that, for a Russian speaker, I had not so much a privilege but a duty to do something to help,” he says.
Work in Britain retraining young Russian sociologists led to a George Soros-backed programme to help transform the study of the humanities in Russia and then, in 1993, to Shanin’s suggestion of an integrated British-Russian postgraduate school to help accelerate educational reform by blending the best of the West with the skills of Russia’s brightest young scholars.
Education ministers quickly agreed to the idea, the British Council and the Soros Foundation put up 90 per cent of the budget, and all seemed straightforward. But Russian bureaucracy was too big a barrier: the Russian side failed to come up with the promised site, the flats for staff or its share of the budget. The British Council called off negotiations and it looked as if the idea was dead.
Later, Abel Agabegyan, head of the Russian Academy of National Economy, stepped in with the offer of space at his institute on the outskirts of Moscow, and with backing from Soros, but not now the British Council, the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences opened its doors to its first postgraduate students in 1995.
Shanin was persuaded to lead the institution by friends who insisted that without his vision, the school would be “eaten up” by competing interests within a few years.
The school, which has faculties of sociology, politics, law, cultural management, social work, business studies and, from September, educational management, offers masters courses leading to twin certificates validated by Manchester University (for business studies, Kingston University) and the MSSES itself under Russian accreditation.
More than 200 students pursue full-time postgraduate courses each year, paying between £1,500 and £3,000 in fees. But as part of the institution’s mission to help all of Russia, more than 70 per cent of students come from the provinces and get full scholarships in recognition of the disparities in wealth between the capital and the regions.
“Russian education is still in transition from the dominance of the system of learning by rote to that of learning how to think,” Shanin says. “The key aim of the institution is to improve the ability of students to think independently and analytically.”
He says that despite extensive changes in the past ten years, Russia remains handicapped by its unreformed bureaucracies and the slow pace of political change. Yet Shanin is optimistic about the country’s future. And its fascination for him endures. Last year, when he returned for the first time in nearly 60 years to the Siberian village where he had been exiled, he found it virtually unchanged, still with a population of just 400.
“There was one old woman there who remembered me,” Shanin says. “Well, she didn’t remember me exactly. But she had never forgotten that in this bunch of Poles who arrived there was a small boy wearing shorts. Nobody wore shorts in Siberia then – not even in mid-summer, when we arrived. The shock of seeing a boy in shorts had never left the locals in 60 years. That boy was me.”