Editor’s Note: Stephen F. Cohen–a Nation contributing editor, New York University professor and–full disclosure–husband of Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel–is well known in Russia from his many years of visiting that country and his publications there.
In connection with his “Jubilee” birthday later this year, thirty-five of Cohen’s Russian friends and colleagues contributed to a book in his honor, Stiven Koen i Sovetskii Soiuz/Rossiia (Stephen Cohen and the Soviet Union/Russia), which has just been published in Moscow. Contributors include former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who wrote the foreword, and the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Here are their tributes, translated by George Shriver.
‘Frank Conversations Made Us Friends’
When I was told that Stephen Cohen–the well-known American historian, political scientist, and specialist on Russian affairs–was going to be 70 years old, I didn’t believe it. The image of him that immediately came to my mind was of a person full of life and with a great sense of humor, an image clearly in conflict with such a “serious” age. That often happens: the image you have of a person is shaped not so much by his years as by his attitude toward life, people, and his work.
I have known Steve Cohen a long time. We have often met and discussed various historical and political questions. These frank conversations made us friends. His books about Russia have always been distinguished by their timeliness and relevance and by their profound and many-sided study of the subject at hand.
I remember that during the years of perestroika many of my acquaintances were literally engrossed in reading his book on Nikolai Bukharin. Steve’s evaluations of this prominent and complex figure in our history were surprising in their accuracy and consistent conclusions. I remember that this book, which in many respects resonated with the social changes of that time, became a bestseller in the Soviet Union.
But even more significant was his book Rethinking the Soviet Experience. In that book, unlike “traditional Sovietologists” who ignored the contradictory character of Soviet history and in every possible way sought to portray it as “Stalinist” throughout, Steve Cohen gave an objective interpretation of its major stages. As I was reading this book and reflecting on its contents, I thought to myself that I had a great deal in common with the author’s assessments of the various periods and major events in Soviet history.
In his studies of post-Soviet political history, Steve Cohen again showed himself to be a courageous and objective scholar. Particularly characteristic in this respect is one of his most recent works–Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia. In this book, as a specialist and expert on Russian affairs, he spoke out against the direct intervention by American authorities in the reform process in Russia, opposing in particular the official US backing for the destructive Yeltsin policy of “shock therapy.”