Book Review

The break-up of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe by Ghita Ionescu

like a newspaper but a book... from 1965

I don’t quite remember where I found this 1965 “Penguin Special”, but its graphic design and explicit “does what it says on the tin”-style title meant it was a swift “I’ll ‘ave that” from me.

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I’m once again typing a blog on my phone while stood in the queue for the supermarket as, yes, I am still deep within the COVID-19 lockdown.

I’m typing this on the 12th May, but I’m sure that by whatever date I bother uploading this, the situation won’t have changed much. Today, the UK has effectively stated that they anticipate no change before October, though here in Canada there hasn’t been any new news for a while. It will continue, this lockdown, interminably.

I need to get back into the habit of being productive, or at least forward-motivated.

I’d like to get back into studying Spanish, I’d like to try and do some writing work for money like i briefly did for a bit before I crossed the ocean.

I’d like to be writing more poetry, some poetry, or at least polishing and improving and submitting poetry that I have already written. But it’s hard, like, just keeping the reading and the blogging and the cycling and the cooking routines going without trying to overload myself with more. Eurgh.

It’s hard not to stagnate when the world is silent around you. 

My partner and I had [what amounted to] a “meeting” over the weekend about our plans post-lockdown, and for the first time in a while I feel optimistic and hopeful about the future.

I think I think I think I have the makings of long term contentment within it, which is fucking thrilling tbh.

But as it’s just a “plan” and still an indeterminate length of time away, there’s not much point in either getting excited about it or writing poems about it. Lol.

There’s plenty of time for the plans to collapse, and there’s so much pandemic lockdown to get through before there is regular employment and international flights again lol. What a nightmare haha.

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There’s a spoiler in the title of The Break-up of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe, but there’s also a spoiler in an awareness of history. However, this knowledge isn’t helpful, as there’s a deeply unsatisfying lack of hindsight or, really, an end to the events described because in 1965 the Soviet Union still had about a quarter of a century left until its empire would truly be “broken up”.

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I know very little about the revolutions that happened in Czechoslovakia and Hungary and Romania that resulted in the splitting of the first country and the complete governmental change of all three. That “know” is the correct tense, as I still have no idea after reading The Break-up of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe.

This book is from 1965.

It doesn’t even mention the idea of Lithuania, Ukraine etc as colonised states. The Soviet Empire that Ionescu writes about here is solely the empire of influence – whether upheld militarily, economically or otherwise. This book was written and published far too early for any serious repercussions to have happened and thus effectively analysed. 

To write a book about “the Soviet Empire” without mentioning the fact that the Soviet Union itself was an “Empire” far more than a true “union” or “collaboration of equals”.

This is the problem with history being written and published as it is happening.

Yes, the Cold War was a tumultuous period of history and of course journalism is important, but this book has a tone of completion in spite of itself: Khrushchev had recently been deposed, China was on the up, Tito’s Yugoslavia seemed stable from a distance, and though Germany was divided, “democracy” seemed inevitable in all the parts of Europe where it wasn’t already extant. Ionescu presumes the cursed “interesting times” are over. We, of course, know that they weren’t.

Yes, Ionescu was correct in noticing and describing these significant events that would contribute to the complete collapse of the Soviet Empire in a couple of decades, but the break-up hadn’t begun anywhere near in earnest, so the whole book feels – and was – premature.

The Break-up of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe is like a “definitive biography” of someone in their thirties who has no signs of imminent death…

Yes, this material is interesting and informative, but The Break-up of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe is essentially a long-form journalistic essay that likely would have been out of date within weeks – if not days – of publication. 

It’s interesting to read contemporary journalism about important recent history, and a particularly striking element of this book is the casual way in which the Cuban Missile Crisis is referred to, given the Doomsday/”one step from Armageddon” reputation it has gained in the almost sixty years since. Maybe the end of the world wasn’t as close as we have been led to believe?

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Yes, The Break-up of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe has beautiful graphic design and in-depth exploration, but its analyses and explanations are premature and outdated – which I imagine have been the comments of every reader after whoever signed off on the final proofs. 

There’s a reason we have newspapers and news magazines, and why news books have never taken off…

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