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In memory of Grigory Pomerants

18 February 2013 

Source: (info
One of the last surviving representatives of the great constellation of Russian humanist scholars, Grigory Pomerants, has died in Moscow. He was a former political prisoner, dissident, "signer of petitions" and war veteran.

Grigory Pomerants was born on 13 March 1918 in Vilnius. In 1940 he graduated from the Literature Faculty of the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature and Art. From 1940-1941 he lectured at the Tula Pedagogical Institute.

In 1941 he applied to the military enlistment office to be sent to the front as a volunteer. He was accepted into the army and was wounded in the leg, as a result of which he was assigned as a writer to the editorial office of the divisional newspaper. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star.

During the war Pomerants joined the Communist Party but was expelled in 1945 for "anti-Soviet conversations."

In 1949 Pomerants was arrested on charges of ant-Soviet activities and sentenced to 5 years in a prison camp.

After his release in 1953 he worked for a few years as a teacher in the Stravropol region, and after being rehabilitated in 1956 he became a bibliographer in the Asia and Africa Department of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

His job in the major library of the humanities gave Grigory Pomerants access to the kind of literature that was next to impossible to get hold of at that time. Pomerants' circle of academic and philosophical interests was extremely wide.

However, the progression of Grigory Pomerants' academic career was constantly hampered by his political beliefs and statements.

After the war he wrote his dissertation on Fyodor Dostoyevsky (whom he revered all his life), but his arrest prevented him from defending it.

Towards the late 1960s Grigory Pomerants became a leading Russian specialist on Zen Buddhism, and this became the theme of a dissertation. But just before he was due to defend it he put his signature to a petition in support of the participants of a demonstration on 25 August 1968 in Red Square against the introduction of Soviet troops into Czechoslovakia. The defence of his thesis was cancelled on a formal pretext.

In subsequent years, right up to Perestroika, he was one of the most prominent figures in the dissident movement, creating a theoretical foundation for the movement and grappling to define the conditions needed for a person to be truly free.

Grigory Pomerants' commitment to his principles manifested itself in the fact that during all those years he remained a consistent opponent of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, defending the values of liberalism against the dissident writer's nationalist ideas.

However, in contrast to the majority of dissidents, who were liberals and atheists, Grigory Pomerants believed that religion and philosophy lay at the heart of man's spiritual life and freedom. These issues were the focus of the famous religious philosophical seminars which he held for many years together with his wife, the poet Zinaida Mirkina. Through his life and his deeds (his war experience and time spent in prison were a significant help to him here), Grigory Pomerants put his own beliefs into practice: a person begins to be released from fear and in the depths of his own "I" finds true freedom.

But this freedom cannot be found in some kind of narrow ideological direction or in an enclosed sector of philosophical thought, but only as part of the whole synthesised spiritual heritage of the East and West, and of world culture.

The leading scientist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov said, "The most interesting and profound reports were the ones by Grigory Pomerants. That was when I first got to know him and I was deeply impressed by his erudition, breadth of vision and "academicism" in the best sense of the word... Pomerants' main ideas were: the exclusive value of culture created through cooperation between all the countries of the East and the West over thousands of years, the need for tolerance, compromise and breadth of thinking, and the wretchedness, squalor and historic futility of dictatorship and totalitarianism, the poverty and futility of narrow nationalism."

Instead, the philosopher advocated deep individual consciousness of one's own personal journey as the only way to make a human being a person: "A person's true personality only begins once they feel the need to move away from the crowd and search for some kind of solid ground for their own personal existence, a solid core, a solid foundation."