Wednesday 21 July 2010

Dispute between Polonsky, Service, Figes and Palmer settled

The author and Russianist Rachel Polonsky has released this statement:

I am very glad to report that the legal dispute that Robert Service and I have had with Orlando Figes and Stephanie Palmer has now been settled.

This dispute began in mid-April when Orlando Figes denied responsibility for the ten Amazon reviews signed 'Historian' in a circular email to colleagues, and threatened to sue Robert Service for having suggested that he was the author.

I hope it will be clear to everyone (despite some misleading headlines and news reports) that our cause of action was not the pseudonymous Amazon reviews themselves. Our objectives in pressing this case were to recover the considerable costs we had incurred in fending off Professor Figes's legal threats to Robert Service; to gain a contractual undertaking from Professor Figes not to use fraud, subterfuge or unlawful means to attack or damage us or our works in the future; and to require Professor Figes to circulate a formal apology and retraction to all the recipients of his email of 15 April.

I would like to thank most warmly all the friends and colleagues who have offered moral support during these trying months, and to thank our legal representatives, Nigel Tait and Kate Pantling of Carter-Ruck, and Justin Rushbrooke of 5RB, for all their excellent work, decency, and good humour.

Here is Robert Service's personal statement on the affair:

I am pleased that this squalid saga is over. I never wanted to go to law, but the behaviour of Prof. Figes over three months made it impossible to let matters rest. He lied through his teeth for a week and threatened to sue me for libel if I didn’t say black was white. His wife, herself a lawyer, took up his cause and lied that she was the culprit and not he. At the end of the second week he was forced by the incontrovertible evidence to admit that he had written the anonymous reviews posted on the Amazon website. There followed weeks of grinding, needless altercation as he tried to tamp down the wording of his apology and retraction and avoid paying the full legal costs incurred by myself and especially by Dr Rachel Polonsky.

I am grateful to lawyers Nigel Tait, Kate Pantling and Justin Rushbrooke for their help in dealing with this matter. Their expertise and equable discretion are much appreciated. My thanks also go to Dr Polonsky who shared the determination to see off the miscreant and generously shouldered the financial risk of the legal counter-action. Her resilience and decency have my admiration. I relied, above all, on my wife Adele who provided indispensable support in trying circumstances for the entire family.

If there is one thing that should come out of this, it is the importance of giving people freedom to speak the truth without the menace of financial ruin. Thankfully Figes is a rare bad apple in a large and healthy barrel. Nearly all academics hold their disputes in the open. If they get hot under the collar, it is mainly because they feel strongly about the intellectual analysis they uphold.

There is no harm in robust debate. Since my Trotsky biography appeared last year I have had plenty of disagreements with Trotskyists past and present. They object to any shadow falling across the face of Trotsky while I object to their idolatry of him. We haven’t agreed to disagree: we simply don’t agree and have exchanged opinions in full view at meetings, lectures, in print and online. This is normal, even though I think Trotsky’s sympathisers might consider trying to be a bit less grumpy.

Whatever may have been his motives, Figes was not standing up or even crouching down for the sake of a principle. He used his lawyer and his money and lawyers as self-aggrandising weaponry.

Universities in the UK are under all manner of pressures and criticisms at the moment, and it is terrible that Figes has made it easier for the critics to pounce. He has brought shame on that fine institution Birkbeck College. In my view it is inappropriate that a lecturer teaching about the lies in public life in Stalin’s USSR should himself be so menacing and dishonest. I would also question whether such an academic should soon or ever again be trusted to supply confidential, impartial references or reports for research grant-giving bodies.

At the moment I obviously feel sore about the hundreds of hours of wasted time since mid-April, not to mention the unpleasantness that my wife and I have experienced. Despite being asked, Figes has not yet apologised to my wife, only to his own. In some of his statements according to the press he has come close to depicting himself as the victim. Reportedly he put his image in the hands of the public relations agency Financial Dynamics. If this were not so pathetic it would be comical. To do justice to his cavorting would require the pen of a Lewis Carroll or a Nikolai Gogol. Enough already. The game’s up.

Robert Service, 18 July 2010

1 comment:

SusanHill said...

I so agree and am delighted justice has been done. If you and Rachel Polonsky had not been so grievously harmed I would say that Figes behaved childishly. When my children were small I told them that if they did wrong and I found out and they then lied and tried to cover up and blame others, I would be more angry about that than about the original misdeed. If they did wrong and admitted it when found out, the matter would rest. He was clearly not brought up to understand this simple but effective message.
He has indeed brought disgrace on his college and on my old university and on the academic world in general. Being married for 35 years to an academic, few things surprise me now about the general back biting, maliciousness, double-dealing and childish behaviour in that world but as you say, most academic quarrels, even ferocious ones, are conducted in public. Let them shout at one another. But I could give you chapter and verse of instances where I have found out, usually by accident, of ways in which my husband has been stabbed in the back and attempts have been made to betray him by underhand means by a fellow academic. I only wish I could shine the light of day on them.
You have suffered grievously but you are now exonerated and will be fine.
Thankfully, it is not your reputation or that of Dr Polonsky which is now ruined.

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