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The enormity, and variety, of the tragedies of recent Russian history are so vast that they are all but impossible for us to take in without taking refuge in clich?. Some of us comfort ourselves with fantasies of how these tragedies have endowed Russians with extraordinary depth; others dismiss the Russians as a brutalised race who for some reason-history, geography, genes-attach little value to human lives. Both views can be adopted with equal tenacity by Russians and foreigners alike. And, like all clich?s, both views have some plausibility. I myself find it difficult to visit Russian friends without slipping into…

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