Press release Jan Michalski Prize 2017

Montricher, November 22nd 2017

The 2017 Jan Michalski Prize is awarded to the French writer Thierry Wolton for the three volumes of Une histoire mondiale du communisme [A World History of Communism], published by Grasset.

The jury praised “the immense and comprehensive achievement, which represents the first attempt to give a global vision of communism as it unfolded around the world; a historical investigation supported by impressive documentation, based on numerous, meticulously analysed sources, in which the writer takes the unique point of view of an individual defeated by history at the centre of the account.”

Born in 1951, the French journalist and essayist Thierry Wolton has published around twenty works, most of them devoted to international relations, including Le grand recrutement (Grasset, 1993), Rouge-brun. Le mal du siècle (Lattès, 1999), Le grand bluff chinois. Comment Pékin nous vend sa révolution capitaliste (Robert Laffont, 2007), Le KGB au pouvoir. Le système Poutine (Buchet-Chastel, 2008). More than ten years of research were needed to complete three volumes of Une histoire mondiale du communisme [A World History of Communism]: Les bourreaux [The Executioners], Les victimes [The Victims], published in 2015, and Les complices [The Accomplices], published this autumn (Grasset).

Thierry Wolton delivers a work of more than three thousand pages, carefully documented, presenting the complete account of an ideological and political phenomenon which hugely influenced the course of history, and affected it to an unparalleled degree through its grip, its spread and its duration. The communist system, and its rare and powerful totalitarian mechanism, governed a third of the world’s population in thirty countries, across all continents, throughout the twentieth century, not to mention its impact and influence outside the borders of established communist regimes.

How could the great promise of these theories give rise to so many human disasters – repressions, violence, famine, purges, imprisonments, deportations, and gulags…? How and why has this utopia been exploited by a logic of senseless, deadly and pervasive terror? How was this tragedy facilitated by widespread political and intellectual blindness?

In order to give an understanding of the communist era based on available facts, the author has assembled an impressive collection of primary and secondary sources – interviews with direct witnesses, memoirs, archives, extracts of books and past and present international studies – all analysed and put into perspective to create an entirely innovative full picture. Only this, “allows one to grasp the extent of the communist phenomenon in its multiple dimensions, political, social, human, even spiritual – and to measure its universal malignancy.”

Three complementary points of view are presented in Thierry Wolton’s approach, which places the human experience at the heart of historical action. The first volume, Les bourreaux [The Executioners], follows the chronology of the capture of power by communists across the globe; the second volume, Les victimes [The Victims], deals with the consequences suffered by people living under the domination of Marxist-Leninist regimes; and the third, Les complices [The Accomplices], deals with the complex relations of the rest of the world with communism: the role of the various communist parties, the attitude of political leaders, intellectuals, businessmen and the possibility of being seduced by this ideology.

In this undertaking which is unprecedented in its comprehensiveness, Thierry Wolton provides a wealth of enlightening material to understand communism fully and to consider its heritage, however painful we find it. Apart from the historical panorama, Une histoire mondiale du communisme [A World History of Communism] also looks at the present day, drawing possible lessons for the future. As “the danger of an ideology that shapes its own instruments of domination remains relevant”, he writes.

The winner of the 2017 Jan Michalski Prize, Thierry Wolton will receive a reward of CHF 50’000.- as well as a work of art by Joseph Czapski, chosen especially for him: Pas toucher, 1977.