A Russian European’s Story
Herman Achminow, as pictured on the cover of his last book published in 1983, two years before his death.
Born in Murmansk in twenty-one
in a Russia reeling from revolution
-yet once more-
one that would prove victorious.
Grew up in the thirties on the streets of Leningrad,
his parents warned him of a reality so sad
that it is hard to evoke:
children were disappearing on the way from school.
By the end of the thirties,
a decade of unspeakable cruelties,
Herman had become the leader of the local young communists -
whilst his (card-carrying) parents
were dispatched to the gulag -
he never saw them again.
In 1940, Herman was sent to the Baltic Front
where this commissioned soldier would have to confront
the choice between remaining loyal to Stalin
or surrendering to his German nemesis.
Herman became a member of the Vlasov Army:
Soviet soldiers who went over to the enemy,
plotting to destroy Stalin by leveraging Hitler,
calculating that the West would dispense with the German dictator
(a leap in the dark by desperate men that proved half-right or half-wrong, depending on your politics).
The war over, Herman was placed
on a truck returning him to Soviet space.
He jumped off in a Bavarian field
knowing that to continue the journey would mean certain death.
Herman got a scholarship to the UK
where at Oxford he wrote his first full-length essay
in which he described the split in the Soviet Communist party
that four decades later would bring the system down.
I first met Herman
in 1968 when returning from the then
Czechoslovakia, where I had had a front-row seat
on the Prague Spring - and was thirsty for answers.
In Munich, Herman would be my thesis director
but much more for he placed me on a vector
that would make questions of war and peace
key preoccupations for the rest of my life.
Herman was convinced that the only way to prevent
another murderous global event
was to unite the European continent:
this Soviet dissident would become a father of the European idea.
Herman co-founded the European Federalist Party;
while never winning any elections, the EFP
would help move European nations
to a new level of intra-state relations.
Herman’s mentoring, both formal and informal,
was anything but normal,
but owing to our collaboration
I became the first non-European member
of the first all-European party.
Herman is long gone
yet his vision of a united Europe lives on,
inspiring the European unity project to move ahead
defying the notion that its prospects are dead
or so I hope.