Politics / November 29, 2023

Russian Fate: A Memoir I’ll Never Write

“Russian Fate: A Memoir I’ll Never Write”

From the archives and files of Stephen F. Cohen.

Katrina vanden Heuvel
Stephen F. Cohen Russian Fate
Russian Fate cover illustration, fragment from the painting Eternal Russia by Ilya Glazunov. (Sergey Scherbina)

Dear Gena and Friends,

I wish I could be with you tonight as you remember Steve. I will visit Moscow soon.

The world is a less interesting, less dynamic place without Steve. He would be outraged by the savagery of the wars engulfing our world, and the senseless deaths of young and old.

Steve lived his own way, by his own rules. He was a maverick, a great and courageous scholar. Charismatic, a rebel, self-styled provocateur, a revisionist, with strong democratic convictions—a small-town boy who always understood there were alternatives. After all, he grew up a Jew in the south, in Kentucky! He knew life was complex—not black and white but rather gray or multicolored.

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He was a loving friend to all of you gathered tonight. He was truly and always interested in your lives and thinking—and I always loved that he—and then we—had such truly eclectic friends.

I know how very sad he would be to learn that Tonia has left us. She was always so kind to us, loving to me, Steve, Nika. Spirited… May Misha and Kirill keep her memory strong.

Anna Larina, Bukharin’s widow, was Steve’s mother; the Bukharin family—Yuri, Nadya, Misha, Kolya, Eka, Kirill—his family. And all of you were his family in different ways; he followed you—your lives, your work, your families—he was there to assist and learn as needed. And of course, he was always grateful for all of your friendships.

His relationship with Gorbachev was a cornerstone of his professional and personal life. After all, for more than a decade Steve had believed a great reformer would emerge—in a system that was reformable.

He loved Andy and Dusty, and our beloved Nika. He was there for all her big events—from preschool to law school, and though he missed her beautiful wedding, his strong presence was felt!

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There was a reason The Chronicle of Higher Education called Steve “the most controversial Russia expert in America.”

He understood that dissent had its price. And in that spirit, Steve wanted someday to write his memoirs—he filed away in boxes and even parts of our apartment’s rooms! Materials and papers he would some day use to write about his life—and fate. Sadly, Steve never had time to fulfill his plan, his intention. But this book, which Gena has devoted extraordinary time and attention to, is “a memoir of a kind.”

Deeply grateful for it, Gena. And for continuing Airo’s contributions to Russia and its history and fate. I wish to pay special thanks to Dima Muratov for organizing this and previous dinners; Ira for her superb translation of archive materials; and of course Steve’s great friend Tanya Baeva; and his friends Ira Kliochnikova, Katia Egorova, and Leonid Dobrokhotov. And thanks to Alan kasaev and Lev Dyugaev and Vladimir Lukin and Aleksandr Gelman

Let me close with a few words about Steve’s afterlife—and keeping his work and stance alive. He always valued mentoring young students and those of all ages; he was often too generous with his time and advice.

Indiana University will next year establish an endowed professorship in Steve’s name in history and Russian studies, and five fellowships in Steve’s name are set up at NYU. Through ASEEES, there are six annual fellowships—and also through ASEEES, the Tucker-Cohen Dissertation Prize

You may remember there was a nasty battle over accepting Steve’s—our—funding for ASEEES fellowships: The board protested Steve’s views on Ukraine.

In end, there was a fight, but what won was the belief that even if many or some key people opposed Steve’s views, he had right to speak and to support future scholarships.

Like you, I miss Steve every single day—I think of what he would say, do, write, I think of our long and remarkable life together, especially years and times in Moscow.

I know he sends love to you all, as do I, and he would say: Onwards, there is no alternative!

A manuscript of Stephen F. Cohen’s memoirs is available to read in English and Russian here.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editorial director and publisher of The Nation, America’s leading source of progressive politics and culture. She served as editor of the magazine from 1995 to 2019.

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