Words on Trial: Morality and Legality in Frida Vigdorova’s Journalism

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Reich, Rebecca 

During the Khrushchev period, the journalist Frida Vigdorova charged Soviet society with a moral indifference that expressed itself through evasive language. Such language, she argued, claimed to exercise moral judgment, while in fact enabling both individuals and institutions to sidestep their own responsibilities. As the state enacted legal reforms aimed at raising society’s moral consciousness, Vigdorova applied this critique of language to the Soviet justice system. This study traces the evolution of that critique across her published as well as unpublished writings about legal and paralegal rituals of justice from 1955 to 1963. For Vigdorova, these rituals offered object lessons in society’s failure to combat indifference: evidence that even those institutions that the state charged with adjudicating morality could fall prey to evasive language. Her transcriptive style situated herself and her readers as personal witnesses to that language: a community of listeners gathered in space and time. Long before she produced her well-known account of Joseph Brodsky’s trial in 1964, Vigdorova presented journalism as a higher court that could call society to account.

4303 Historical Studies, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology, 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Journal Title
Slavic Review
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Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES)
Leverhulme Trust (RF-2019-317\1)
Leverhulme Trust