An exploration of Russia's demographic decline through the life of a dissident priest.
“The Russian nation is shriveling away from within," writes Bullough (Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus, 2010), the Caucasus editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. More Russians are dying than are being born, and they are dying young, often from the results of chronic alcohol abuse. Bullough set out to understand why, examining the life of the nation through the life of a single man, Dmitry Dudko (1922–2004), a Russian Orthodox priest. Sent to the gulag for writing anti-Stalin poems, Dudko was rehabilitated under Khrushchev but became a notorious dissident by preaching hope and trust to people denied both by the Soviet state. Arrested again under Brezhnev, he was broken by the KGB, recanted his opposition to the state and ended up churning out anti-Semitic propaganda. "His fate parallels the fate of his whole nation,” writes Bullough. “Through the twentieth century, the government in Moscow taught the Russians that hope and trust are dangerous, inimical and treacherous. That is the root of the social breakdown that has caused the epidemic of alcoholism, the collapsing birth rate, the crime and the misery." The author attempts to enrich his conception of the connection between Dudko’s history and Russia's lamentable condition by undertaking a pilgrimage to sites significant in his subject’s life: his seminary, the camp where he was imprisoned, the churches where he preached, his homes and his grave. In a vivid, colorful account of his journeys, Bullough starkly chronicles the visible evidence of Russia’s despair in abandoned villages, ruined farms, shuttered factories and ubiquitous drunkenness. Though the author sees some hope in the new generation’s resistance to Putin’s electoral frauds, his optimism sounds like whistling past the graveyard of a dying society.
Part biography, part travelogue, a perceptive, sad and very personal analysis of the decline of a once-great nation.