WE ARE NONE OF US SAINTS

Some readers from Russia have not been so happy with us westerners telling the story of ‘their’ hero Gagarin. This we can understand. But we want to tell our young people about an achievement that they don’t know so much about. Gagarin’s flight reshaped not just Russia but the whole world of international space and technology.Stalin and his times do play a key role in Yuri’s Day. His achievements were epic, but history is not best served by pretending that he was a saint. For the record: Russia is wonderful! Its space effort was heroic! Communism and socialism should have been very great experiments in reshaping human society. On a global level, we have thrown many of these ideals away too casually. Perhaps the so-called western ‘victory’ in the Cold War was hollow. Certainly capitalism on its own, without the social conscience of a big alternative idea, has created huge failures and injustices.

Cruel events (such as shown in Yuri’s Day, when Korolev is arrested for no reason) can happen in any country, not just Russia. And they are always a tragedy. And yes, ‘our’ western world has also committed many sins of cruelty and murder. Hitler set the standard for industrialised horror and murder. Russians made huge sacrifices and defetated his assault on their lands. Without that victory, western Europe probably would not have been saved from his terror.

The fact that so many of Russia’s great heroes not only survived such dreadful times, but went on to make great victories for Russia is a testament to the human spirit.

We foolish westerners have no doubt made many stupid mistakes in our telling of Gagarin’s story – and for this, we can only say that the form of a short graphic presentation does require some simplifications – but the wider story that we have told is fair and honest, and we never, ever doubt Gagarin and Korolev’s status as heroes!

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