Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, tells us what she's been reading in a feature that Morning Edition likes to call "Word of Mouth." This month, Brown selects two recent pieces of news commentary and a memoir on political resistors.
A Son's Plea For A Dissident Father
First up is the Financial Times article "My Father's Message to Putin from a Prison Camp" by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former CEO of the massive Russian oil company Yukos.
Starting in 2002, the Russian government pursued Yukos with fraud allegations and high tax demands that couldn't be met by the company, whose assets were eventually frozen by the government.
President Vladimir Putin says Khodorkovsky, who was arrested on fraud charges, was jailed because he was a criminal. Khodorkovsky's supporters, however, say he was prosecuted because he funded opposition political groups and Putin wanted to make an example of him. The human-rights group Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.
Pavel Khodorkovsky, who has not seen his father since he left for college in the United States in 2003, begins his piece with an image of his father in prison:
"His hands numb after queuing in the bitter cold outside, my father squeezes into a phone booth and dials my number. Thousands of miles away in the U.S., I hear his dear voice, still husky from the frosty Karelian air. His tone has its usual calm; his mood is upbeat."
Brown says with this article, Pavel Khodorkovsky is trying to get his father back on the public's radar.
"He has been incredibly brave and has just refused to recant his opposition to Putin," Brown tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep. "The son is really reminding us how incredibly important it is not to forget these people."
A Chess Grand Master's Political Activism
Imprisonment may sometimes work as a move to silence dissidents. But in a Newsweek article on world-famous Russian chess player Garry Kasparov, Putin biographer Masha Gessen suggests that in Russia, there are more subtle ways of marginalizing the opposition.
Gessen describes how in 2005, Kasparov — encouraged by the protest movements against Putin and demanding fair elections — formed the pro-democracy organization the United Civil Front. At the same time, Kasparov renounced chess and took to campaigning against the Putin regime.
Gessen explains that Putin believed he could not imprison a world celebrity like Kasparov. Instead he took a different approach.
"He did something almost more sinister," Brown says. "He simply reduced him to a nonperson. What Kasparov found is that drivers who took him to any engagements that he was doing, political engagements, would suddenly get lost. Hecklers would be there mysteriously planted to pelt him with eggs and ketchup. His rallies were incorrectly publicized, [and] recorded broadcasts that he made weren't transmitted."
But Kasparov has remained determined, Brown says, and the wave of Moscow protests in the wake of recent presidential elections are in some ways the fruit of Kasparov's activism.
"He helped to create these networks, many of them," Brown says. "He actually had begun six years ago now in trying to get groups together, outlying groups and so on, and it's that agenda ... that has helped to fuel the recent protest movement."
Madeleine Albright On The Soul Of The Resister
Brown says the common theme to each of her recommendations is the idea that one chooses whom they want to be morally — something that Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, writes about in her memoir Prague Winter.
Albright, who in the 1990s discovered that she had Jewish ancestry, traces the history of her relatives who survived the Holocaust, and charts the painful experiences of those who died in concentration camps.
Albright constantly asks the question, Brown says, of what makes a person a resister rather than a collaborator. In one passage, Albright writes:
"Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity, while others quickly lose heart? What separates the bully from the protector? Is it education, spiritual belief, our parents, our friends, the circumstances of our birth, traumatic events, or more likely some combination that spells the difference?"
Brown recounts one story from the book, about a pair of heroic parachuters among a group sent from Britain to occupied Czechoslovakia. Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis were sent to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's emissary to Prague.
"As [Heydrich] rounded the hairpin bend in his open Mercedes, Gabcik fired a shot," Brown says. "Unfortunately his gun jammed, and Kubis therefore lobbed a hand grenade. The car blew up but didn't kill Heydrich. He was terribly wounded; he was rushed to hospital."
Albright goes on to describe the sacrifice of Marie Moravcova, who helped Gabcik and Kubis to reunite with the rest of their group. When Moravcova was discovered, she took a cyanide pill before the Nazis could question her.
Albright says she feels disdain for the outright traitors — and unrestrained admiration for the heroes who chose bravery. But between those extremes, there's a less easily defined emotional territory.
"For the many who kept their eyes averted and their mouths shut, doing all they could to avoid involvement, I feel neither respect nor any sense of superiority," Albright writes. "But placed in the same circumstances, would I have shown the courage of a Madame Moravcova? As much as I would like to think so, I can make no such claim."
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Tina Brown is with us once again. She's the editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, and she brings us a regular feature we call Word of Mouth. We hear what Tina's reading. We get reading recommendations for ourselves. And this time around she's sent us some recommendations on the theme of resistance. Hi, Tina.
TINA BROWN: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: And when we say resistance, here's this first one from the Financial Times. The article is called "My Father's Message to Putin From a Prison Camp." Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, once again.
BROWN: Yes, what a scary, brutal guy he is. I mean, this is a piece by Pavel Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky, as you say, he is the son of the former CEO of Yukos, once Russia's largest company, the oil company, which was seized by Putin, and largely because Khodorkovsky had been funding oppositional politics.
And the piece begins by his son writing: His hands numb after queuing in the bitter cold outside, my father squeezes into a phone booth and dials my number. Thousands of miles away in the U.S., I hear his dear voice, still husky from the frosty Karelian air. His tone has its usual calm.
It's just unbelievable that this guy has been in a penal colony.
INSKEEP: It's really incredible. I mean, this guy - was he not the richest man in Russia or one of the richest men in Russia? He went from the absolute top to the absolute bottom here.
BROWN: He did. And he has been incredibly brave, and he has just refused to sort of recant his opposition to Putin. And he's - this son has not seen him since 2003, when he went to college in the U.S., and the son is really reminding us how incredibly important it is not to forget these people.
And as we saw this past week when we were all mesmerized by the incredible courage of the blind lawyer, Chen Guangcheng in China, who escaped the house arrest and crawled blind, you know, through the undergrowth and then met this fellow dissident who drove him to Beijing to the American embassy, these people are so incredibly brave. And it really is important for us not to forget them when they're off the radar, which of course most of them are.
INSKEEP: So Mikhail Khodorkovsky's son is trying to keep him on the radar, get him back on the radar.
BROWN: He's trying to get him back on the radar, and we must remember him. Actually, we have in Newsweek now a piece this week, which is kind of a companion in a sense to this one, by Putin's terrific biographer Masha Gessen, about Garry Kasparov.
She describes how the world-famous chess player in 2005, encouraged by the protest movements at the time against - you know, demanding fair elections - formed an organization called the United Civil Front, and renounced chess and took on the road to campaign against Putin.
But what she described is how basically Putin understood that he could not imprison Kasparov. He's just too much of a world celebrity, just could not do that. But instead he did something kind of almost more sinister. He simply reduced him really to a non-person.
What Kasparov found is that drivers who took him to any engagements that he was doing, his political engagements, would suddenly mysteriously get lost. Hecklers would be there mysteriously planted to pelt him with eggs and ketchup. You know, his rallies were incorrectly publicized, or you know, recorded broadcasts that he made weren't transmitted.
And so basically he was turned into this marginal person. But he stayed on in Russia. He's determined, and of course the recent protest movements have really been in a sense helped to be seeded by Kasparov's bravery in a sense, because had to create these networks, many of them.
He actually had begun six years ago now in trying to get groups together, and outlying groups and so on. And they have actually proven, it's that agenda in a sense, that has helped to fuel the recent protest movement. So he's done a good job in that sense.
INSKEEP: Your third recommended reading on resistance takes us back into history.
BROWN: Well, it does. And again, it is this theme, much of it in Madeleine Albright's wonderful memoir, "Prague Winter," that, you know, that you choose who you want to be morally. You really do.
All the way through these stories, whether it's Khodorkovsky, whether it's Kasparov, or whether indeed it is the Czechs in - who were in a sense forced to collaborate with Hitler because there was no help for the Czechs, and so when Hitler marched into the Sudetenland, they really were forced to just simply give up without a fight.
But nonetheless there were people who decided that they were going to simply collaborate and others who really tried to resist. And...
INSKEEP: Let's remind people of Madeleine Albright's connection to all of this. First female secretary of state, and around the time that she was becoming secretary of state, in the 1990s, she found out that she had Jewish ancestry and that she had relatives who had gone through the Holocaust. And now in this book she's listed even more of them.
BROWN: She has. And she used her family papers at this time to go back into this sort of unexplored story of her past where she discovered that relatives had died horribly in the camps at Terezin and shot in the woods as well. And it's a very - for her it was a very painful memoir, I think, to write.
And she describes a lot about her father, Josef Korbel, who, of course, had to go into exile in the U.K. where he worked for the BBC. He was a very distinguished academic. And he did what he could at the BBC to help to rally support for the Czechs and the outlawed Czech government in London. And you know, I was thinking that, you know, people either have the soul of collaborators or the soul of resisters.
And this is very much a theme in a sense of Albright's book, because she constantly asks the question: What kind of choices do we decide to make?
You know, she has an interesting passage where she says: Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity while others quickly lose heart? What separates the bully from the protector? Is it education, spiritual belief, our parents? More succinctly, do our hopes for the future hinge on a desirable unfolding of external events or some mysterious process within?
This is really her obsessive theme in the book, which is who has the stuff and why do you have it to become a resister rather than a collaborator.
INSKEEP: And your eye was turned to one particular story of heroism there.
BROWN: Yeah, she tells her most amazing story about how these two heroes - in May 1942, a group of parachuters was sent from the U.K. to drop into occupied Czechoslovakia with the goal of assassinating the really brutal Reinhard Heydrich, who was Hitler's emissary to Prague to crush the Czechs. These two incredibly brave heroes, Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, waited for Heydrich.
As he rounded the hairpin bend in his open Mercedes, Gabcik fired a shot. Unfortunately his gun jammed, and Kubis therefore lobbed a hand grenade. The car blew up but didn't kill Heydrich. He was terribly wounded; he was rushed to hospital. But these two incredible heroes after an amazingly exciting kind of flight wind up being greatly helped in their flight by an incredibly woman called Marie Moravcova, who finally got them to this crypt underneath Prague with the rest of the parachuters, where they hid.
But tragically, one of their gang who wasn't in the crypt, decided to go for the reward, and he was the collaborator. He actually told the Nazis where Marie Moravcova was. They went to her apartment, stormed in, that while they were searching the apartment she takes a cyanide pill and of course the Nazis go and blow up the crypt. And the assassins then very bravely commit suicide with their last shots.
But this is the most amazing story, and of course Madeleine Albright is so full of admiration for these heroes. And she says: My own reaction is to feel distain for the outright traitors and unrestrained admiration for the heroes who chose bravely. As for the many who kept their eyes averted and their mouths shut, doing all they could to avoid involvement, I feel neither respect nor any sense of superiority. But placed in the same circumstances, would I have shown the courage of a Madame Moravcova? As much as I would like to think so, I can make no such claim.
INSKEEP: A question we can all ask of ourselves. Word of Mouth from Tina Brown. Tina, thanks very much.
BROWN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.