Writer and historian

MEDIA

The Daily Mail

Victor visits Budapest

Victor Sebestyen in
The Daily Mail

Buda and Pest come together to make Hungary's enticing capital a unique short-break destination.

Hungary
The Times

Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union by Vladislav Zubok

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

Was it inevitable? If Gorbachev and Yeltsin hadn’t hated each other, the Soviet Union might not have imploded.

Soviet Union, Book Reviews
The New York Times

The Lenin Plot by Barnes Carr

Victor Sebestyen in
The New York Times

Did the U.S. try to assassinate Lenin in 1918?

Lenin, Book Reviews
The Times

Berlin Wall: What went right? Let’s not forget the great gains of 1989

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

George Orwell’s observation that “all revolutions are failures” has often been borrowed by commentators and historians during this 30th anniversary year of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolutions in central Europe that marked the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Berlin, Communism
The Times

The Light That Failed by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

Why Eastern Europe went bad. The rise of toxic populism in the old Soviet bloc is explained in this convincing analysis.

Eastern Europe, Book Reviews
The New Statesman

How Vasily Grossman became a thorn in Stalin’s side

Victor Sebestyen in
The New Statesman

As Putin’s Russia glorifies its Soviet past, Grossman’s urgent, questioning voice needs to be heard again.

Stalin
The Times

Hungary: A Short History by Norman Stone

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

The dark heart of Europe. A country of extremes, Hungary has had a significant influence on world history.

Hungary, Book Reviews
The Times

Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy — a nuclear nightmare told minute by minute

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

Told for the first time, the extraordinary story of the Chernobyl disaster — an explosion 10 times more radioactive than the Hiroshima bomb.

Book Reviews
The New Statesman

Red Famine traces the shocking history of Stalin’s war on Ukraine

Victor Sebestyen in
The New Statesman

Anne Applebaum shows beyond doubt that the famine was man-made and ordered for clear political reasons.

Stalin, Ukraine, Book Reviews
Netflix

The Bolshevik Takeover

Victor Sebestyen in
Netflix

Victor's appearance in the Netflix documentary "The Russian Revolution"

Lenin
The New York Times

The Book Review Podcast with Marc Maron

Victor Sebestyen in
The New York Times

On this week’s podcast, Sebestyen talks about “Lenin”.

Lenin, Book Reviews
The Times

Orban: Europe’s New Strongman by Paul Lendvai

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

The rise of Hungary’s nationalist leader is a sign of what’s to come in eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe, Book Reviews
The Times

St Petersburg: three centuries of murderous desire

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

Chaos and cruelty have dogged St Petersburg ever since its creation.

Lenin, Book Reviews
The Spectator

China Mieville's take on the Russian Revolution is wonderfully dated

Victor Sebestyen in
The Spectator

October reminds me of the Marxist histories of my youth - except it’s rather better written...

Lenin, Book Reviews
The Evening Standard

Revolutionary art at the RA

Victor Sebestyen in
The Evening Standard

How the Bolshevik leaders betrayed the Revolution.

Lenin
BBC Radio

Russian art and revolution

Victor Sebestyen in
BBC Radio

As the Royal Academy unveils its huge new show of work produced in Russia between 1917 and 1932, Anne McElvoy and her guests - the film maker and actor, Dolya Gavanski, novelist Charlotte Hobson and thehistorians Stephen Smith and Victor Sebestyen - assess the role played by artists in the revolution and the relevance of their paintings, sculptures, films, books and music today.

Lenin, Radio
The Guardian

Steve Bannon the Leninist

Victor Sebestyen in
The Guardian

President Trump's chief strategist proudly admits "I am a Leninist". So we should worry...

Lenin
The Spectator

Public joy and private panic

Victor Sebestyen in
The Spectator

A review of The Last Empire: The final days of the Soviet Union, by Serhii Plokhy. Newly unearthed material sheds fresh light on the dying days of the 'Evil Empire'.

Book Reviews, Soviet Union
The Spectator

A Pole's view of the Czechs. Who cares? You will

Victor Sebestyen in
The Spectator

A review of Gottland, by Mariusz Szczygiel, a profoundly funny book about how one copes with tyranny.

Book Reviews
The Spectator

Gavrilo Princip - The Trigger by Tim Butcher

Victor Sebestyen in
The Spectator

Gavrilo Princip – history's ultimate teenage tearaway. A review of The Trigger, by Tim Butcher. A triumphant and original account of the man who shot the Archduke.

Book Reviews
The New York Times

The New Cold War That Isn't

Victor Sebestyen in
The New York Times

If one is to believe the newspaper headlines and TV talking heads, we are in the midst of “a new Cold War” as a result of Russia’s decision to seize Crimea. Perhaps for many people on both sides of the Atlantic the comparison is comforting: After all, the real Cold War was the last war that America and the West “won,” or seemed to have won. But it is seriously misleading.

Vladimir Putin
The Sunday Times

Revolutionary Russia 1891-1991 by Orlando Figes

Victor Sebestyen in
The Sunday Times

Orlando Figes’ bestselling A People’s Tragedy, first published nearly 20 years ago, is one of the most compelling of all accounts of the Russian Revolution. Figes ended his story in 1924 with the death of Lenin, which, he reckoned, seemed like a good idea at the time, as did many other historians of the subject.

Book Reviews
The Spectator

What price freedom?

Victor Sebestyen in
The Spectator

One of the best-known contacts for many Western reporters covering Poland and the Solidarity protests of the 1980s was Konstanty ‘Kostek’ Gebert. A fine journalist who usually wrote under the name Dawid Warszawski, he seemed to know everyone in Warsaw, liked to talk late into the night about ideas and gossip, wore his vast learning lightly and had an invaluable gift for putting complex issues into broad perspective.

Communism
BBC Radio

On Eastern Europe

Victor Sebestyen in
BBC Radio

Andrew Marr discusses Central Europe from the Soviet occupation to membership of the EU. Anne Applebaum looks back at what happened when the Iron Curtain came down after WWII. Victor Sebestyen and Helen Szamuely disagree over the benefits of European integration after 1989. And Mark Mazower explores the chequered history of international government, and the vision of harmony at the heart of the European project.

Eastern Europe, Radio
The Times

A message to Putin: remember the Plastics

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

A band of long-haired psychedelic rockers locked up in the 1970s proved a catalyst in the fall of Soviet communism. “The band’s lyrics have nothing to do with music or art and seriously threaten the moral values of society,” the chief prosecutor declared portentously in a crowded court room. “They display extreme vulgarity and their words expose anarchy, decadence ... and cause a negative influence on the lifestyle of our young generation.”

Vladimir Putin
The Times

Russia's strongman suddenly starts to look weak

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

In Russia one of the biggest hits on YouTube is the dramatic scene in November when Vladimir Putin was booed at a martial arts contest. As he entered the ring at the Olympic Stadium in Moscow to congratulate the Russian winner of a bout against an American, cheers turned to catcalls.

Vladimir Putin
Prospect Magazine

Threat to Hungary

Victor Sebestyen in
Prospect Magazine

In the last 18 months, nine European governments have lost power: Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Greece, and Romania.

Hungary
The Times

He wanted 'dull', but Orbán is becoming a dictator

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

The Hungarian Prime Minister I knew was a fun-loving firebrand. Now his democratic deficit is a threat to the EU.

Hungary
The Times

Leave it to the Russians to bring down Putin

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

Moscow’s leader is a corrupt bully. But it’s not worth starting a second Cold War over him.

Vladimir Putin
The Spectator

City of the dead

Victor Sebestyen in
The Spectator

Russian officials today, much like the Soviet authorities of a past generation, encourage a cult of the Great Patriotic War. In the national narrative, this was their Finest Hour, still invoked on significant anniversary days as an example of heroism and sacrifice by politicians such as Vladimir Putin.

Communism
The New York Times

The K.G.B.'s Bathhouse Plot

Victor Sebestyen in
The New York Times

The plot was hatched at a bathhouse in downtown Moscow. At midmorning on Saturday, Aug. 17, 1991, the head of the K.G.B., Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, summoned five senior Soviet officials for a highly secretive meeting that he told them would be vital for the future of the U.S.S.R.

Mikhail Gorbachev
The Sunday Times

Apricot Jam and Other Stories by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Victor Sebestyen in
The Sunday Times

Themes of tyranny and brutality run through this collection of stories, published in English for the first time.

Solzhenitsyn, Book Reviews
The Sunday Times

Moscow, December 25 1991 by Conor O'Clery

Victor Sebestyen in
The Sunday Times

Nobody saw it coming — this superb account re-creates in vivid detail the passing of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. So many moments are instantly identified as “the day the world changed” that it is easy to forget the relevant date — or indeed the event the label is supposed to describe. But it is no hyperbole to tag Christmas Day 1991, when Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as the last leader of the Soviet Union and the Red Flag was lowered from the Kremlin, as one of those dates. Very likely, future historians will judge it to be far more significant than 9/11.

Communism, Book Reviews
Prospect Magazine

Afghanistan : How to end a war

Victor Sebestyen in
Prospect Magazine

President Medvedev has offered to help the west’s faltering Afghan campaign - but both parties must heed the lessons from the Soviet army’s disastrous withdrawal in the 1980s.

Afghanistan
The Times

It's not easy to get troops out. Ask Gorbachev

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

In his Cabinet room, the leader was exasperated by the latest reports of casualties in Afghanistan. “We’re in ... but how to get out racks one’s brains,” he told his generals and political colleagues. “We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for years now and if we don’t change our approach we’ll be there another 20 or 30 years. We have not learnt how to wage war there. We had a clearly defined goal: to get a friendly regime in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, Mikhail Gorbachev
The Sunday Times

The Road by Vasily Grossman

Victor Sebestyen in
The Sunday Times

An outstanding collection from one of Russia’s greats who dared to write against the wishes of the authorities.

Vasily Grossman, Book Reviews
The Sunday Times

Encounter by Milan Kundera

Victor Sebestyen in
The Sunday Times

Having had Rushdie and Coetzee defend him, Milan Kundera’s reflections on other writers shed some light on his own tricky past.

Book Reviews, Milan Kundera
The Spectator

Before and after the Fall

Victor Sebestyen in
The Spectator

No one here (I mean in Britain, not perhaps in the columns of The Spectator) likes to read anything nice about the Germans. So I shall warn you that there will be some praise for Germany in this review, mixed with the usual level of bashing. If the very thought of this shocks or appals you, I’ll do that rare thing for any journalist and suggest you turn the page and move on to something more comforting.

Berlin
The Times

Vaclav Havel: the unlikely leader

Victor Sebestyen in
The Times

There’s one sound I shall never forget about the revolution that bustled the Communists out of power in Czechoslovakia 20 years ago: the jangling of door keys. Every night for a week, crowds gathered in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. At regular intervals, thousands of people in unison waved their keyrings above their heads. The noise echoed throughout the city, signifying to their hated communist masters: “Go home, here’s your key. It’s time to leave.”

Vaclav Havel
The Guardian

The Berlin wall was the real 9/11

Victor Sebestyen in
The Guardian

The heady events in Berlin in 1989 had far more impact than the rise of Islamism. Today is the real 9/11. This is not meant as a quibble about dates. Future historians will remember 9 November 1989 as far more significant than that terrifying day in September eight years ago. Countless long-forgotten events have been marked in headlines as the day we shall all remember. But nobody can doubt that the world changed on that wonderful night in Berlin.

Berlin
The New York Times

Transcripts of Defeat

Victor Sebestyen in
The New York Times

The highly decorated general sat opposite his commander in chief and explained the problems his army faced fighting in the hills around Kabul: “There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another,” he said. “Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize.

Afghanistan
The New Statesman

How not to end a war

Victor Sebestyen in
The New Statesman

Mikhail Gorbachev called Afghanistan “our bleeding wound”. Why hasn’t Nato learned from the Soviet Union. In May 1985, two months after Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he sent one of his cleverest generals to Kabul on an urgent, secret mission. The name of General Zaitsev is unlikely to be well known to today's Nato commanders, but perhaps it should be. Back then he was the Red Army's most senior military planner and logistics expert, and Gorbachev ordered him to provide an honest answer to the question: can the USSR win the war in Afghanistan? He returned to Moscow swiftly with a simple answer: no.

Afghanistan, Mikhail Gorbachev
Prospect Magazine

The accidental hero of 1989

Victor Sebestyen in
Prospect Magazine

Twenty years after the wall fell, Mikhail Gorbachev is quietly celebrated in the west, but shunned in Moscow. Yet in both places his reputation rests on his failure to reform the dying system in which he truly believed.

Mikhail Gorbachev
The Sunday Times

The Red Flag by David Priestland

Victor Sebestyen in
The Sunday Times

In the 1980s, the Polish economist Bronislaw Kaminski used to make an observation that confused liberal, leftist and even some conservative intellectuals in the West. Communism, he argued, was not a good idea implemented badly, but a terrible idea implemented surprisingly well.

Communism, Book Reviews
BBC

Laying claim to Hungary's 1956 revolution

Victor Sebestyen in
BBC

Hungary is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the uprising against the Russians. Victor Sebestyen, whose family left Hungary when he was a young child, has written a book about the 1956 uprising. He says that despite the passing years, there is still an uneasy relationship with Russia.

Hungary