In the heady days of 1992 after Russia's new leader, Boris Yeltsin, declaimed that the secret KGB and Soviet archives should be open to scholars and publishers, Jonathan Brent, the editorial director of Yale University Press, flew to Russia to secure the rights to publish selected material from the archives for YUP's Annals of Communism project. Brent's memoir, Inside the Stalin Archives, according to Martin Walker for the New York Times Book Review, reveals as much about the grim realities of post-Soviet life and bureaucracy as it does about the archives themselves.
Through Yeltsin’s wretched early years of poverty and dislocation in the 1990s and through the sleeker but more menacing times of Putin’s oil-enriched restoration of traditional authority, Yale University Press has published more than a score of important books. It has recently published newly discovered stenographic records of some 30 Politburo meetings in the 1930s and ’40s, and it is working on Stalin’s personal archive.
Brent is among the first to stress that none of this could have been achieved without the brave and honest work of Russian archivists and scholars in the Soviet period and after. He relates one haunting anecdote of a respected and elderly historian who just two years ago published a straightforward study that included the historically true statement that Red Army troops had occupied Lithuania even before Hitler's invasion of 1941. Officially threatened with the loss of his apartment and pension, and retaliation against his daughter’s career if he dared repeat such allegations, he tells Brent: “It is a return to the 1970s. There is nothing to do about it.”