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Orlov the Great, &c.

On a Soviet dissident, a Russian political prisoner, a market economy, the language of Trumpism, a double-dotted Nobelist, and more.

Soviet physicist and dissident Yuri Orlov at the French ministry of foreign affairs in Paris, 1986 (Dominique Dudouble DD/CMC/PN/via Reuters)

On a Soviet dissident, a Russian political prisoner, a market economy, the language of Trumpism, a double-dotted Nobelist, and more

Yuri Orlov was less famous than Andrei Sakharov, but like him: a brilliant physicist who sacrificed his scientific career to stand for human rights. Orlov has now died at 96.

He was born in Moscow seven years after the Soviet Union, in 1924. He served as an officer during World War II. As the years wore on, he became increasingly bold in his dissidence. He was at last arrested in 1977.


For nine years, he endured prison, labor camp, and internal exile. He went through terrible ordeals, physical and mental. In 1986, Gorbachev released him to the United States in a prisoner swap.

Arriving at JFK, Orlov said, “Oh, dear friends, I think you can understand I experience very complicated feelings. I have left my homeland. I’ve left behind people who are still in prison. In fact, I probably feel guilty in regards to them. Why am I here, and they’re there? On the other hand, I am very glad I have begun a free life.”

Not long after, in 1987, I saw him at a forum at Harvard. It was gratifying to be even in the same room as this man. I believe I shook his hand but can’t quite remember. I like to think I did. I’m not sure at this remove.


He lived out his life as a professor at Cornell. In recent years, I tried to contact him, for an interview, but could not reach him. It is on people like Yuri Orlov — utterly brave, decent, and selfless — that human freedom and dignity depend.

• Here is the opening of a Reuters report, published on September 29:

A Russian court abruptly handed Yuri Dmitriev, a historian of Stalin-era crimes, a 13-year jail term on Tuesday after overturning an earlier sentence on charges that his supporters say were fabricated to punish him for his work.

Oh, yes. There is no doubt. Three years ago, I wrote about Dmitriev, here. This case is Soviet — classically Soviet — at its core.

For about 20 years now, the Russlandverstehers (Russia-understanders) and Putin apologists have said to me, “Today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union, you know!” I know. But does the Kremlin know?


What they have done to Yuri Dmitriev is, again, classically Soviet — nasty, diabolical. Evil.

• A week and a half ago, the president of the Ford Foundation tweeted this:

In a recent interview, I used the term “tone deaf” inappropriately & out of context from its literal definition. I am deeply sorry for using this ableist language & apologize to the millions of people with disabilities and the disability community.

There’s an expression, “too stupid to live,” and I sometimes wonder whether it is true of our society.

• “Pope: Market capitalism has failed in pandemic, needs reform,” reads a headline. I’m not sure that anything so good and beneficent as a market economy has had worse PR. People need to explain and defend a market economy — a free economy — because its opponents never rest, no matter how bad the record of socialism, statism, collectivism.

That same article says the pope “rejected ‘trickle down’ economy theory.” I half smiled, half grimaced. “Trickle down” is one of Thomas Sowell’s least favorite expressions. (We have discussed this in podcasts.) It makes his blood boil. No advocate of a free economy has ever said “trickle down.” This is a phrase invented by its defamers, and apparently it is ineradicable, which is vexing.


• “La donna è mobile,” goes an old song (an aria from Rigoletto). “Woman is fickle.” People in general are fickle. I hear some people say that Joe Biden is not visible enough in this presidential campaign. He is not out and about enough (pandemic or not). He’s not on television enough. These same people have almost certainly complained that politicians are in our faces all the time. They won’t leave us alone. They demand to be front and center in American life.

We conservatives used to fault President Clinton for “the permanent campaign.” He never stopped campaigning, we said. There has to be a time when campaigning ends and governing begins.

Donald Trump, of course, has held campaign rallies throughout his presidency. And yet I have not heard conservatives complain about “the permanent campaign” in the last four years. C’est la vie — la vie tribale.


“The bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, the baby at every christening.” Some people have to be these things, and politicians are especially guilty. I could use more modesty in politics — in our constitutional republic. Personally, I see enough of Biden (not to mention his opponent). Don’t you?

• Twice yesterday, Trump called Kamala Harris a “monster.” That’s interesting. If he can call a U.S. senator a “monster,” surely he can find a cross word or two for Putin, Kim, and the rest. “Scoundrel,” maybe? “No good-nik”?

• To Bob Woodward, Trump described his chemistry with Kim — the dictator of the most monstrous state on earth: “You meet a woman. In one second, you know whether or not it’s going to happen. It doesn’t…

Jay Nordlinger

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