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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Campaign in Far East Treads 'Sinister' Path




These days, here in the Far Eastern Primorye region, I keep thinking of Adam Krug, philosopher, father, grieving widower, and hero of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, "Bend Sinister." And of his former schoolmate, Paduk, once known as the Toad ("regularly tormented by the boys, regularly caressed by the school janitor"), now supreme dictator of the Party of the Average Man.


"Bend Sinister" is Nabokov's 1947 riff off Bolshevik and Nazi totalitarianism. The Russian-American writer was born in 1899 into an aristocratic but liberal St. Petersburg family, and fled following the revolution. After living in Nazi Berlin, he eventually found his way to America.


The novel - tragic, funny and filled with some of the best English prose of this century - captures the essential absurdity of authoritarianism. By what right does the Toad, the odious schoolboy whose face Krug used to sit on, become the supreme arbiter of a nation's life and thought? How, for that matter, did Yevgeny Nazdratenko end up governing a region where the media cannot freely debate his merits and faults?


The most recent example occurred Friday, in case anyone cares. Armed policemen closed Radio Lemma and informed the crowd that the mayor, a Nazdratenko appointee, had ruled protests on behalf of the region's last independent broadcaster to be illegal. Turns out the station was a fire hazard because its staff had a can of gasoline to run a generator whenever the city cut off electricity.


"Bend Sinister" contains some odd implications. Surely, when Lenin rose to national fame, demanding the institution of class terror, some old school chum thought, "Isn't that the geek we used to bombard with spit wads?" Didn't anyone wonder, when Pinochet began kidnapping opposition members, why anyone should listen to the kid who used to torture rats in biology class?


Likewise in Primorye people may consider: When did a former mining boss determine that "sh*t-ocracy," as he calls democracy, was irrelevant for Primorye?


In the past week, there have been developments on the political front as well. Viktor Cherepkov, Nazdratenko's shrewish opponent, was forced out of the gubernatorial race after his campaign manger was arrested, his headquarters raided and his bank account seized. As all power is concentrated in the regional administration, the December elections become increasingly meaningless.


Nabokov describes such an election in "Bend Sinister": "The whole business was extremely confused and it did not matter in the least who won, who lost, but nevertheless the newspapers worked themselves into a state of mad agitation, giving every day, and then every hour, by means of special editions, the results of the struggle in this or that district."