Why is the "KGB Bar" possible? binary morality and its consequences

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This article asks why a popular bar named after a criminal Soviet secret police organization has not provoked the outrage of the developed world's intellectual and artistic elites, who would surely condemn an SS Bar. It attributes this moral blindness to the Holocaust's centrality in Israeli, German, and American national discourse and the resultant binary morality that ascribes collective innocence to all Jews at all times and in all places and collective guilt to all Germans - and potentially to all non-Jews - at all times and in all places. The moral logic of the Holocaust thus transforms Jews into victims and non-Jews into victimizers; the moral logic and reality of the Gulag transform everybody into both victim and victimizer. The binary morality of the Holocaust insists that all human beings be heroes; the fuzzy morality of the Gulag recognizes that all humans are just humans constantly confronted by moral ambiguity. But because the Gulag's moral ambiguity concerns non-Jews and Jews, the Gulag undercuts binary morality. The Holocaust and the Gulag are not just incompatible moral tales; they are incompatible and intersecting moral tales. As a result, they cannot co-exist. We therefore fail to respond to the KGB Bar because to recognize the Gulag as a mass murder worthy of categorical moral condemnation would be to challenge the sacred status of the Holocaust. Ironically, the KGB Bar is possible precisely because an SS Bar is impossible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)671-687
Number of pages17
JournalNationalities Papers
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Gulag
  • Holocaust
  • Morality discourse
  • National identity


Dive into the research topics of 'Why is the "KGB Bar" possible? binary morality and its consequences'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this