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Freedom Without Justice

At the end of European Communism, there was a widespread, euphoric hope that freedom and democracy would bring a better life; eventually, though, many lost that hope. The problem, under both Communism and the new liberal dispensation, was that those pursuing grand social projects had embraced ideology instead of philosophy.

LJUBLJANA – Lea Ypi’s Free: Coming of Age at the End of History has met with a hostile reception in her home country of Albania, and it is easy to see why. Her self-description as a “Marxist Albanian professor of political theory at the London School of Economics” says it all.

Reading Ypi’s book, I was struck by the parallel between her life and that of Viktor Kravchenko, the Soviet official who defected while visiting New York in 1944. His famous bestselling memoir, I Chose Freedom, became the first substantial eyewitness account of the horrors of Stalinism, beginning with its detailed description of the Holodomor (famine) in Ukraine in the early 1930s. Still a true believer at the time, Kravchenko had participated in enforcing collectivization, and therefore knew of what he spoke.

Kravchenko’s publicly known story ends in 1949, when he triumphantly won a big libel suit against a French Communist newspaper. At the trial in Paris, the Soviets flew in his ex-wife to testify to his corruption, alcoholism, and domestic abuse. The court was not swayed, but people tend to forget what happened next. Immediately following the trial, when he was being hailed around the world as a Cold War hero, Kravchenko grew deeply worried about the anti-Communist witch hunts unfolding in the United States. To fight Stalinism with McCarthyism, he warned, was to stoop to the Stalinists’ level.