This week I invite readers to reflect on the plot of
s play, An enemy of the people, which I once saw starring Sir Ian McKellen as Dr
Stockmann. The play’s theme, exposing government corruption that had dire consequences for the whistleblower, accompanied by furious official cover-ups, became a figure of speech for numerous later dramatic epigoni. For example Ibsen
The specter of the bacterial infection in the town’s spa has been repurposed in various ways as the presence of a great white shark (as in the Peter Benchley novel and then in the movie “Jaws”), a hostile giant squid or a school of people who ate Piranha. All of these dangers, if exposed, can endanger a community
s financial outlook.
Readers may be surprised to know
that, even now,
in certain repressive regimes
, this controversial and incendiary message underlying the story has kept performances of the piece banned. So intense is the fear of some authoritarian governments that just seeing Ibsen
His action and listening to his words could inspire an anti-government uprising.
The aforementioned Dr. Stockmann is the medical officer of a recently opened spa in a small Norwegian town. He plans to publish an article in the local newspaper exposing the bacterial infection in the spa water, the city’s main source.
. The doctor is encouraged in this course by the city newspaper (Ibsen’s equivalent of our social media), whose owners are desperate to discredit the local government.
Yet all parties (except the crusader doctor) gradually come to realize that Stockmann
, if published, means bankruptcy for the community. If he persists, his house is destroyed by the mob and both he and his wife are disinherited and exiled.
s play is not just a polemic or diatribe. There are subtle shades in his portrayal of Stockmann, who rejects what might be considered a sensible compromise course by trying to solve the problems of pollution in private, without shouting scandal to the outside world. In this way An enemy of the people is very much a play
in the sense that it encompasses the type of polarization that has arisen during the current pandemic about vaccination.
At a general town meeting, the audience revolts, repeatedly shouting, “He is an enemy of the people!” dr. Stockmann replies that he intends to stay and make it clear to them “that efficiency considerations turn morality and justice upside down”. He ends by declaring himself the strongest man in town because he can stand alone.
Ibsen no doubt recognized elements of himself in Dr. Stockmann, and vice versa,
after the production of Ibsen
s previous game, ghosts, which focuses on the social consequences of venereal disease in a pre-antibiotic medical system. Ibsen saw himself as someone who consciously took a stand against certain evils, including state-sponsored hypocrisy and bureaucracy.
It is understandable, at the very least, that such an apostle of truth should face public censorship, just as the “awakening” class is already scrambling to suppress or silence opposing voices. But what if someone could be arbitrarily declared an enemy of the people, without demonstrable ones?
I just read the fascinating new publication from Elk and Ruby: Petr Izmailov, from chess champion of Russia to enemy of the people, written by petr
s son, Nikolai, with playing notes from Grandmaster Mikhail Marin. Izmailov was one of the strongest post-revolutionary chess masters, chess champion of the Russian Republic in 1928 and twice victorious over the young Botvinnik, destined to become the first Soviet world champion.
Professionally, Izmailov was a geologist, not a political activist at all. Nevertheless, he was arrested in 1936 during a Stalin purge and executed by firing squad in 1937, without apparent justification. When the angry mob of Dr. Stockmann had lynched, it would have been reprehensible, but still understandable. in Izmailov
In his case, there was no apparent reason for his liquidation. Even the fabricated accusations were a farrago of incomprehensible nonsense, including:
to be a member of a counter-revolutionary
Trotskyist Fascist Terrorist Organization.
As Stalin well knew, such an organization did not exist.
As this book shows, the purges destroyed a slew of the best chess players from Omsk, Tomsk, and Novosibirsk, not to mention the hecatombs of others across the USSR, with no consistent rhyme or reason. As a matter of course, the identities and memories of such victims were erased from the annals and records, and it took decades for them to be rehabilitated and their names restored. For most of them that was twenty years too late, though some satisfaction might be derived from the fact that most of the executioners suffered the same fate, devoured by the same heartless machine whose wheels they had oiled and whose murderous powers they had once wielded. .
How, you wonder, would the future of chess have been if the random Stalinist
Romanovsky, Levenfish or even the young Botvinnik?
Botvinnik’s infamous telegram of praise to Stalin, about sharing the first prize with…
at Nottingham’s Great Tournament of 1936, played a vital role in securing the coming champion
And herein lies a paradox. The USSR clearly identified Botvinnik as an embryonic world early on
: He was allowed to travel and even got a state-sponsored car. But how can the Soviet state?
his ambition to dominate world chess, be reconciled with his zeal in the mass slaughter of so many promising chess talents?
As I have stated so many times in my columns for The articleThe deliberate destruction of memory and the perversion of the true meaning of words are both clear and present dangers to the freedoms of liberal Western society and the Judeo-Christian values on which it is founded. In a month when JK Rowling herself has been barred from celebrating her own work, and when the Colston Four were acquitted of criminal charges after a judge ordered the jury to respect the advice of a super-awake academic, the woking class must be careful with what they wish for. Such fervor by radical ideologues to expose, cancel and destroy their enemies in the name of “the people” often leads to the ultimate destruction of their own country.
In Izmailov’s game, Izmailov completely outplays the youthful Botvinnik, himself the future Red Tsar of Soviet chess: play through it