In December 1564, Ivan IV took himself off into exile. From the remoteness of Aleksandrova Sloboda he wrote two letters to officials in Moscow, one announcing his abdication, the other stipulating that he would return to the throne only on condition he be granted absolute power. There were positive aspects to Ivan’s rule, especially in the earlier years, and “Fearsome” rather than “Terrible” might be a better rendering of his popular designation, and yet there is something wretchedly Russian about those obtuse boyars pleading, in the end, for Ivan’s royal restitution. Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face and even more so David Satter’s It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway do nothing to disabuse us of the notion that Russia as a whole remains clueless when it comes to addressing the most basic principles of democracy and the rights of the individual.
To keep reading the article, click this link: