Oliver, Can We Have Some More?

Having enjoyed the lonesome taiga it seemed reasonable to stay in Russia, and to look at a dying nation, cause and effect, through the people and the regimes.

I came across Oliver Bullough when his first book, Let Our Fame Be Great, was published three years ago.  Then he told us the tales of the Caucasus, the persecution of the Circassians among others.  He took us to troubled spots and painted pictures of Grozny, and Beslan and Dagestan.  He gave us people.

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So when The Last Man In Russia appeared a few months ago I knew I had to find a place on the shelf.  It does not disappoint.

The population is falling, drastically, bucking global trends.  The graveyards are filled with dates of lives that span twenty or so years, some even less.  The numbers of current breeding age are drastic, economic decisions, like in Italy, are limiting families.  But vodka is killing a nation.

Bullough takes us through a society, through the Soviet years from the Romanov destruction, to the Putin years and protests and voting irregularities.

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He follows one man, Father Dmitry, as the Orthodox church met the challenges of those regimes.  And he takes us to the gulag and the camps and the mines; to the Lubyanka and the prisons, from the KGB to the FSB.

On the edge of the Arctic Circle we discover that the great technical clothing of the west fails at temperatures far warmer than those Dmitry suffered in the days when forced labour in the mines meant 12 hours wearing two threadbare layers on a diet of a few hundred grams of bread.  Deaths were plentiful; they still are.

You may remember those news bulletins of the 70s and 80s, dissidents, hunger strikes, Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn.  Bullough brings it all back.

But beneath it all there are huge concerns for the direction of an entire nation in the modern world.  In Britain there 3.6 people of working age for every pensioner.  In America there are 4.5.  But in the Tula region it is less than half of that, at 2.2.  And it’s a slippery slope to nowhere.

What next from Oliver Bullough?  More, I cry, there must be more.

 

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