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Russian history expert Martin Malia dies at age 80

– Martin Edward Malia, a leading specialist on Russia who taught at the University of California, Berkeley, for more than three decades, died on Friday (Nov. 19). He was 80.

Martin Malia
Martin Edward Malia
Malia, an Albany resident, had recently suffered from pneumonia and a series of infections. He died at a convalescent hospital in Oakland.

The professor, who joined UC Berkeley's history faculty in 1958 and retired in 1991, continued to write during his retirement and to enjoy public recognition among scholars for his body of work.

UC Berkeley professor Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, also an historian of Russia, said Malia was an "outstanding and now very popular historian, occupying a leading position in the present international discussion of the collapse of the Soviet Union and what that collapse means historically and for the future. (He also was) a brilliant writer in Russian and European intellectual history."

Malia's major works include "Russia under Western Eyes,"(1990), which The New York Times Book Review called "the most insightful book published in any language to date on Russia's place in European intellectual and political history."

His other works include "The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917-1991" (1994) and "Alexander Herzen and the Birth of Russian Socialism 1812-1855" (1961), widely regarded as a masterpiece.

Yuri Slezkine, a UC Berkeley professor of history and Russia specialist, noted that in addition to his remarkable books, Malia wrote numerous insightful and highly influential articles on the changing situation in Russia. He was a contributor to the New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Review of Books and many academic journals.

Malia generated international controversy when, in 1990, he anonymously published the article "To the Stalin Mausoleum," which predicted that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev could not prevent the dissolution of communism.

History would prove him right, but at the time, the article — published in a scholarly journal and excerpted in the The New York Times and elsewhere — generated wide attention and speculation about the authorship, as it was published under the name "Z". Some wondered if a high-ranking Bush administration official had written the article in an attempt to influence policy. Ultimately, Malia acknowledged authorship.

UC Berkeley colleagues could not say with certainty why he chose to publish the article anonymously, though some suggested it may have been done to draw wide public attention to the article or perhaps to protect sources.

Born in Springfield, Mass., on March 14, 1924, Malia served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He received a bachelor's degree in French from Yale University in 1944 and a master's degree and Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1947 and 1951.

He was an assistant history professor at Harvard from 1954 to 1958 and while on leave from Harvard was a special assistant for Russian book acquisitions at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., before joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 1958.

He earned numerous prestigious awards during his career, including Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships.

"His work and his (Catholic) religion were the most important things in his life," said Beverly Bouwsma, a close friend.

Malia was completing a book on comparative revolutions, exploring the American, Russian and French revolutions, just before he died.

Though he was considered somewhat controversial earlier in his career, Slezkine said, Malia later felt vindicated when his predictions of the Soviet Union collapse proved true. He also lived to see a new generation of Russian scholars that was truly inspired by his work.

"Things kind of came together in the end," said Slezkine, "and he was very grateful."

Malia is survived by a niece, Deborah Croarkin-Sverdlow, of Rock Hill, S.C.; and four nephews, Paul Croarkin of Ashburn, Va., Richard Croarkin of New Canaan, CT; and Thomas Croarkin of Fairfield, CT.

Memorial services will be held in December, arrangements for them are pending.