Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
It was during a walk through my American hometown with a friend from Moscow when I first felt the wide chasm separating the Russian and Western mentalities. During our suburban stroll, we came upon an old vacant house that had been up for sale for months. The owner had died and apparently there was nobody in the family to take care of the property. The lawn looked more like a wheat field, with crazy weeds and wild flowers sprouting up in strange places.
I was just about to explain why the property was such a mess when my Russian friend exclaimed, "You know, this is my favorite yard in the neighborhood."
I started to laugh until I realized that my friend was absolutely serious.
How strange, I thought. While the other houses boasted finely manicured lawns, with grass so perfect you could practice your golf putt, this uncultivated jungle - complete with mouse holes and a beehive - got the best reviews.
About a month later, the house was sold. No sooner had the moving vans departed then the landscapers pulled up to the curb. The lawn was de-weeded, sprayed with chemicals, and given a military-style crew cut. The diehard dandelions - the archenemy of every American gardener - had all been vaporized. The hedges were trimmed into perfect squares and rich black mulch was spread underneath them to give an accurate border at the grass line. To the dismay of my Russian friend, the verdant vegetation had been transformed into an immaculate American yard, complete with the Stars and Stripes fluttering from the freshly painted porch.
I will always remember my Russian friend's opinion of that overgrown lawn, which became for me a metaphor for Russia itself: On the surface, it may seem cluttered, disorganized, haphazard, and perhaps even a little bit dangerous. After all, even weeds are considered flowers in Russia, and in the summertime children wear tediously woven diadems of dandelions.
"Even if I do not believe in the divine order of things" exclaimed a Dostoevsky character, "the sticky young leaves emerging from their buds in the spring are dear to my heart; so is the blue sky and so are some human beings..."
My first impression of Russia was one of unbridled spontaneity, a soft anarchy of sorts, where rules and regulations seem to take a backseat (without a seatbelt) to the human spirit. This will come as a bit of a shock - if not a breath of fresh air - to many westerners.
The culture shock is immediately apparent on the wild drive from Sheremetyevo airport. The drivers all seem to have studied from different driving manuals and the only reason for the presence of the road police, as far as I could tell, is to pull over the foreign sports cars.
But even on Russian roads, there is an underlying order to the chaos that the western mentality can barely perceive. The drivers in Russia, for example, cut each other off with a brazen disregard that would explode into road rage on American highways. Russian drivers heed the maxim, "nature abhors a vacuum." In other words, if there is an opening, the Russian driver will fill it, be that on a sidewalk or wherever. Yet, fastening your seatbelt is considered an insult to the driver.
And then there are the notorious Russian queues, a phenomenon that deserves serious anthropological study.
In America, when you go to the doctor's office, for example, you take a number and have a seat in the waiting room. When your number is called, the doctor will see you. Pretty straightforward. In Russia, you walk into a riot, ask who is last, and tell that person to hold your spot and then go shopping or something. You return about an hour later and hop back into line like nothing happened. This drives Westerners nuts. Then (then!), while all this is happening, or not happening, people are attacking the gates from other directions, with all kind of plausible and not so plausible explanations.
Yet, in the midst of this chaos, it seems the Russians truly enjoy the lively debate, the human friction, the feeling of being on the edge of god knows what.
Across the Russian capital, the sound of lawnmowers and the smell of cut grass are becoming more common. Grass is sprouting up everywhere. A woman I know even replaced her lush garden at the dacha with grass seed.Yes, the weed whacker of Western rationalization is slowly making headway against Russian impulsiveness; I just hope it does not supplant what makes Russia so unique.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Cheney's speech raised a lot of questions and a lot of debate, but no one asked one of the most obvious questions of all: Why did Cheney choose to flaunt his hypocrisy in everyone's faces? Why not try faking it, the way most Western leaders operate when they mix righteous words with rapacious policies? Why didn't Cheney choose to put a bit of space in between his speech attacking Russia's record on democracy and his visits to the despotic Central Asian states?
Or put another way, what if it wasn't a mistake. What if the blatant, insane hypocrisy WAS the real message...and always has been all along?
So it was a huge risk for Putin to cozy up so closely to America post-9/11. He went out on a limb, made a bold move against his own powerful base, in the hope that the benefits of a mutually-supportive relationship with America would in the end prove him right and make him, and Russia, stronger.And at first it looked like he might be right, as America was undergoing Pootimania.
But then America won the war in Afghanistan much more easily and quickly than we or anyone else thought. And that war victory went to our heads. Suddenly, we decided we didn't need Putin's help anymore. In fact, as the Newsweeks triumphantly declared, we didn't need anyone's help anymore. America was not just a superpower, it was a hyperpower, perhaps the most powerful (and benign) empire that the world had ever seen.
On December 13th, 2001 after it was clear that Afghanistan had fallen to our allies Bush announced that America was unilaterally withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.
Putin went on national television, clearly stunned and weakened, calling Bush's move a "mistake." It was a painful broadcast, egg dripping from his face. I've never seen Putin so clearly bitch-slapped before or since.
I remember being shocked at what assholes we'd turned out to be. I couldn't understand why Bush didn't wait even, say, two or three months, at least for the victory dancing to settle down in Afghanistan, maybe throw Russia a bone or two. What was behind the timing?
I contacted a good friend of mine in the Defense Department to ask him why we chose to withdraw from the ABM treaty in such a time and manner as to maximally embarrass Putin for having sided with us. Why didn't we wait?
My DoD friend seemed surprised. "We didn't even consider the effect on Putin," he answered. "We only considered what's in our own interest, which is to withdraw now. Besides, we got rid of the Taliban, that was a favor enough for the Russians in our opinion." At the time, Russian anger over Bush's decision to start building a missile shield was dismissed as old Russian paranoia, a holdover of Cold War thinking. Russia had "nothing to worry about," we said.
Democracy isn't about voting. It's about serving America's interests. And serving America's interests is more tightly defined a serving the interests of the oil oligarchs in Houston, where Cheney spent the previous ten years. In fact, it's even more simple than that it's personal. America's interests are Cheney's interests. Il est l'etat. In that sense, Putin is indeed a genuine menace. And that's what makes this Cold War so different. Whereas the last one was a mortal struggle over two different systems, this is a struggle between two short, balding, bloodless men, and the oil other people's oil that made them as powerful as they are today.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Another mysterious Putin’s joke nobody could decipher. A year ago when talking about Polish president Kwasnevki – who said, “
I think that making a law kicking out foreign NGOs and disallowing foreign money is a pretty good step towards tightening down on a country's civil society.
How did she/he come to such ludicrous conclusions? Didn’t “free and unbiased” press write about it?
The law was about making NGO (not only foreign NGOs but all of them) activities transparent. It means stating where your money comes from and on what exactly projects you spend the money. What kind of activities should a foreign NGO lead that the possibility of openly and honestly answering the question, “Who gives you money?” is regarded as “kicking out” of the country. I bet Owen would never find a single newspaper article in the “free” press that simply stated these facts.
Another good example of “free” press objectivity is covering Russian-Ukrainian natural gas conflict. I bet nobody gives me a single link to any article from any “respectable” Western news source that mentioned the following facts:
- Since 1996 Russia stopped supplying natural gas to Ukraine SIX times. Reasons? Bad debts and gas theft. The usual period of no supply was 2-4 days. Ukraine was wriggling but paying. Also it never siphoned off European gas from its pipes. “Free” Western press wasn’t even noticing those conflicts. The last conflict was different because Ukraine started stealing European gas. In the absurd world of “free” press Russia was accused as an unreliable partner and as a blackmailer.
- Ukraine asked Russia to introduce market prices on gas not the other way round.
- Negotiations with Ukraine started in March and first Russia asked for the price 130 (to be bargained down).
- Ukraine sabotaged negotiations. Putin, Medvedev and Miller told about it many times but “free” press didn’t hear them. E.g. Gazprom delegation could come to Ukraine for a PLANNED round of negotiations just to find out that NOT A SINGLE high ranking official is in Kiev by the time – too busy. Gazprom was asked to talk with interns.
- Ukraine passed the 2006 budget based on $65 per 1000 m3 prices. When Gazprom said, “Hey! We didn’t agree on that price!” Ukraine immediately started a PR campaign – “Evil Russia uses gas as a political weapon! It revenges for Orange Revolution!”. I call this “OJ Simpson tactics.”
- And at this point the “well covered” scandal began. Ukraine says, “We have the budget and we won’t change it. Agree to $65 – you have no other choice”. Gazprom, “Our price is $130. This is a subsidized price as Europeans pay $230 for the very same gas.” Ukraine, “Ok, ok. $70 and this is our final proposal. Take it or leave it.” Gazprom, “We will stop gas supply.” Ukraine, “You won’t dare. We’re pro-Western now. Europe and America will punish you if you doing that.” Gazprom (really mad), “Ok. Our previous proposal is nil. If you don’t want privileged price then you should pay market price. $230, that is”. Ukraine, “Bloody murder! Blackmail! Intimidation! Imperialistic pigs! Mr Bush, please defend us from the tyrant!”
- January 1, 2006. Gazprom stopped supplying gas to Ukraine. Ukraine did what it never did before – it started stealing European gas.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
They (Russian leaders) dream of restoring the Soviet Union to all its crumbling, dysfunctional glory. They dream of seeing the United States under a red flag (seriously). Communism is a latent virus in Eastern Europe, but forces are bent on seeing it become active again.
I grew up under communism and its harsh, vicelike grip on my country. Drinking Coca-Cola was prohibited.
KGB forced us to drink Pepsi.
Watching Hollywood movies might land you 12 years in a Siberian gulag.
On the other hand selling videos with Swedish hard porn could get you maximum 5 years in an ordinary prison.
Reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn? You might as well drink arsenic the next morning and get it over with.
I personally run out of arsenic when I was reading Solzhenitsyn with my friends. That’s why I’m still alive.
A schoolmate of mine showed up one day in a pair of new Nike sneakers. For the next three weeks, he was mysteriously absent from school. The local police took him in for days of questioning.
Soviets were fighting competitors of Adidas (that was produced in Leningrad), you know.
Torturing journalists. Killing opposition voices. I remember listening to the Soviet-scrambled Voice of America in a musty, dank basement, afraid we would go to jail. Cars stopping in the night; KGB officers in black leather coats branding Kalashnikovs, taking innocent people away in the dark.
Those KGB officers also wore chains, high heel boots, runes tattooed on their foreheads. They also spoke with heavy American accent. Almost forgot – watching those KGB officers might land you 12 years in a Siberian gulag.
Do gambling-crazed, oil-rich, nightclub hopping Russian citizens really yearn for their ignoble past?
Tsotne Bakuria is a former member of the Georgian Parliament and visiting scholar at George Washington University. George Washington University is definitely in a very poor state. How can anyone explain why they recruit scholars at mental asylums?
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
The fact that Cheney uses Putin’s phrase is ironic. This very phrase ‘sovereign democracy’ made Russian liberal democrats and US-sponsored NGO’s simply mad. For example, Nemtsov said that if there’s any attribute before the word ‘democracy’ then it’s not democracy but dictatorship. Carnegie Endowment in Russia was thundering that the idea of ‘sovereign democracy’ is dead for a hundred years already. One liberal from Novaya Gazeta even further – democracy today could not be sovereign because the Civilized Democratic International Community decides what is democratic and ‘sovereign’ countries should obey.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
It has seemed like old times lately, what with the United States and Russia taking potshots at each other like the Cold War adversaries they once were. No one welcomes a return to that era, but let's put the blame squarely where it belongs -- on the shoulders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In his state of the union speech this week, Mr. Putin lashed out at the United States for criticism over his human-rights record. Instead of denying it, he adopted the ''so's your old man'' defense by claiming the United States is in no position to criticize anyone on this topic.
Delirium! Putin didn’t even mention the US in his speech. Calling his sarcastic remark about ‘comrade wolf’ who knows whom to it “lashing out” is not just over-reaction. It’s clinical paranoia.
Friday, May 12, 2006
After the Soviet Union collapsed, some hoped that freedom would encourage Russians to multiply, but the dislocation and insecurity of the era have had the opposite effect. So the Russian population continues to dwindle, at the rate of 700,000 a year.
Mr. Putin proposes to address the problem with a wide range of subsidies and financial incentives, along with improved health care, a crackdown on illicit alcohol, improved road safety and the like. These are all useful goals, but they've been tried before, to no avail.
Perhaps another approach would be to see whether the population could be increased through improved democratic institutions. If corruption and greed among the elite were curbed somewhat, and if Mr. Putin started worrying less about throwing Russia's weight around and more about allowing a greater part of the population to share in the country's governance, riches, debates and dreams, maybe the drinking and poverty would give way to larger families. There's no guarantee, of course, but unlike the measures Mr. Putin outlined, this approach has never been fully explored.
Right! Nothing encourages unprotected sex and sobriety more than participating in elections or taking part in a democratic rally. Especially when it is hosted by Ms. Novodvorskaya. Did Mr. Editor offered this piece of advice to European nations? Seems like Albania was the only country that listened to him.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Rabinovich and his pet sheep are walking in the woods. Suddenly they fall into a deep pit. A minute later a wolf also falls into the same pit. The scared sheep starts bleating. “What do you mean – baa, baa, baa?” – says Rabinovich, “Comrade Wolf knows whom to eat”.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Dick Chaney came to
What do we learn from such verbal maneuvers? First, that
Second, we learn that
Third, we learn that
American political system was based on the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment. Two hundred years ago educated public sincerely believed that power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely. So the system of check and balances was introduced. Nowadays
Thursday, May 04, 2006
There's always a standing bill of indictment against Russia, although the details continually change. In 2001 the Washington Post warned that Russia would default on debt repayments; the Kursk sinking prompted reflections on the "callous disregard for human life" of Russia's leadership (Knight 2000); in 1997 Kissinger was complaining about Russia's "refusal" to demarcate its borders; no Russian leader had ever left power voluntarily and neither would Yeltsin, warned Stephen Cohen in 1994. Most charges prove ephemeral or false - nuclear tests in Nova Zemlya, the Security Council as the "new Politburo", war over the Black Sea Fleet - but others come up again and again. Some charges have validity. The war in Chechnya was certainly very brutal. Putin has centralized power and tightened control over the media. But, when these charges appear on the bill of indictment, they appear without context. The Russian army is brutal in Chechnya not necessarily because it wants to be, but because bad armies are brutal. And, despite "fabricated rumors of a Chechen-al Qaeda nexus" (Washington Times, 2002), we know better. Nor do we hear as much about "unresolved" (Guardian, 2000) apartment bombings when there have been so many jihadist bombings of nightclubs, railway stations, tourist resorts and mosques. Putin is centralising because he (and, be it clear, most Russians) agree that the 1990s were frighteningly chaotic. A centralised media is not desirable but neither was the media of the oligarch wars. Too many governors were the pawns of local hoods. Putin does have reasons, good or bad, for what he does: saying "tight-lipped 47-year-old KGB staffer" (Guardian, 2000) or "Andropov redux" (Gaffney, 2000) is not an explanation. When Brzezinski last year stormed that Moscow refused to repudiate the Hitler-Stalin pact, it wasn't just "nostalgic efforts by Vladimir Putin to restore Moscow's control": no country will assume responsibility for historical malfeasance when it knows the next step will be reparations claims.
While charging Putin with bringing back the "Soviet anthem" (Wall Street Journal, 2000), the fact that all the other state symbols were lifted straight from the Tsars was not mentioned. This is not argument, it is advocacy. The essence of the charge sheet style is that the conclusion determines the evidence. Take the everlasting assertion that Russia is naturally imperialist: this is the oldest of the charges - experts "knew" that Gorbachev would never leave Germany - and as time moves on, the accusation remains. The format is the same: Russia's so-called nostalgia for empire is asserted (Jonathon Eyal in 1993, Pipes in 1994 and 1998, George Tenet in 1997, Paul Goble 2000) and examples are filled in as needed: "democratic Georgia" today, the Baltics yesterday, Germany the day before. As the troops leave one country, another place is found to prove the point. The "energy weapon" is deployed against contumacious neighbors like Ukraine (but be careful not to mention that Gazprom is raising the price for "friends" like Armenia and Belarus, too). The charge predates Putin ЁC in 1993 The Economist decided that Georgia's independence had been already snuffed out and the energy wars have been going on since 1991.
Rarely, however, is it pointed out that Russia's neighbors are more independent each year and that Russian troops are leaving them too. Or that while Ukraine needs Russian energy, Russia needs Ukrainian pipelines to move its gas to those who actually pay for it. The boot here is actually on both feet. "Imperialist Russia", it is clear, is a premise, not a conclusion. The repetitive bills of indictment have a cumulative effect - people forget the alarums that never came to pass but remember the underlying message that Russia is a menace. Why try to take an objective look at the whole of Russian reality when "traditional Russian imperialism" (Kissinger, 1997) is all you need to know? A great deal of opinion in the USA and the West has been shaped by the continual drum roll of warnings, accusations and indictments. Eventually the message gets stuck in: Russia is an enemy.
Putin hires a Western PR company to help improving Russia's image in the world. Absolutely hopeless. I think it's better to forget about "image problems" and go our own way. Собака лает - караван идет.
It's easy to laugh at Russia and the Russians when it comes to history. What other than a giggle can a country expect when it acknowledges only the sweeter bits from the cupboard of the past? How is an educated foreigner expected to swallow amusement when a state prefers legend to fact?
I have chuckled at everything from Poltava to perestroika in my Russian life, and I shamelessly laughed out loud at their Victory Day for more than a year. On May 9, Russia celebrates a Communist victory over fascism and the end of the Great Patriotic War, what those further west call World War II and consider to have ended on May 8, 1945.
Giggling about how stupid Russians celebrate their Victory Day is a personal problem of Josefina. She might probably laughs like mad looking at Jews commemorating Holocaust but why was it necessary to share the fun with thousands of MT readers, more than half of them Russians? Josefina at least could check some facts before writing. Great Patriotic War is a part of World War II and we mean by the name only the war between Germany and the USSR. Germany signed the Instrument of Surrender at midnight May, 8, 1945 when it was already May, 9 in Moscow. World War II ended September, 2, 1945 with the surrender of Japan. May, 9 is not a “Communist victory” over fascism. It is a victory of the USSR over Nazi Germany.
But Victory Day is not simply a day. Victory Day is a concept, an occasion that seems more like a national or maybe state brand. Its influence and force in everyday reality can easily be measured by taking a walk through any average-size Russian town, where the image of Victory Day meets you everywhere. Here in Omsk, the new Metro Bridge was renamed the "60 Years of Victory Bridge" when it opened last fall, partly because there is as of yet no existing metro. The biggest park is called Victory Park, and there are Victory Streets and countless Victory memorials that all in one way or another honor the triumph in the war.
It was at this hysteria that I giggled heartlessly for almost an entire year, until I realized why this day has the overly tense feel that it has. The Soviet Union left very little behind that inspires joy, pride and patriotism, and maybe, maybe out of 70 years, all that remains is one good day.
Needless to say – for every Russian Josefina’s words are blasphemous. I’m not going to start rants about 20 millions people who died fighting German Nazism. I can only add that the fact that these words are written by a Swede make then even more blasphemous.
Swedish schoolchildren today are taught that Swedish criminal “neutrality” during the WWII was not a shame but a good thing that helped so many Swedes not to be killed or wounded. Swedes valued their precious lives so much that they behaved as cowardly whores: letting German troops through their territory, selling them iron, signing anti-Jewish laws. Swedish government even censored press – all anti-German remarks were banned. They could anger Hitler. But the moment Sweden realized that Germany is loosing the war it started wagging its tail, licking hands of the Allies and barking at Germans. I imagine Josefina’s grandparents giggling and laughing in 1945. “We are so smart! Those silly Americans, Brits and Soviets lost so many people but we survived and even made a lot of money. He-he-he.” Ласковый теленок двух маток сосет.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
The source of Kim F’s psychological problems certainly lies in her childhood. She was bred up by a very authoritarian, rigorous and stern Parent. In her childhood there was no place for love, for self-reliance or for feeling of confidence. Kim’s attitude towards power, as symbolized by her Parent’s figure, is ambivalent. On one hand there is always one power she hates and another power she worships. She is filled with severe loneliness, feebleness, spite but at the same her craving to rule over minds of other people is limitless. This irrational thirst for power and desire to be loved is what makes an authoritarian personality. It is not yet clear what exact roles Kim’s parents played in forming her personality but the fact that the object of her irrational hate is hard power autocratic Mother Russia and the object of her love is soft power theocratic Father America gives us some better understanding on the subject of role structure of Kim’s family.
Distinct forms of this mechanism could be found in the striving for domination and for submission. In everyday life this mechanism manifests itself in masochism and sadism. Let us start with the analysis of Kim F’s masochistic tendencies. At the core of masochism lies the feeling of inferiority, feebleness and insignificance. Kim F. always provokes other people to insult her and then finds immense pleasure in desperately fighting back provoking yet more abuse and humiliations. It comes as no surprise that Kim’s favorite poet is Mikhail Lermontov – a romantic Russian poet whose masochistic behavior was the major cause of his tragic death at the age of 27. Kim F. is fascinated with Lermontov’s poem “Mtsyri” that tells the story of a youth who run away from monastery, spent several days fighting for his life in the wilderness, started a hopeless fight with a mountain ounce and was mortally wounded by it. Kim F. associates herself with Mtsyri when she goes on with her personal crusade against Mother Russia.
It is evident that Kim F. is neurotic. In her fight with the Evil Empire her rhetorical instrument of choice is reductionism. She singles out some fact about life in contemporary Russia and makes broad generalizations on the “evilness” of Russia in general. This is not surprising as she approaches her own health in exactly the same way. Kim F. believes that she is a very sick person. She views one cough as a sign of TB, stomach pains as a sign of ulcer and headache as a sign of meningitis. Such neurotic phobias also manifest themselves in Kim’s hate of her body or of any human body in general. She is horrified at Myskina photographs in GQ that she calls soft porn and the idea of Russian banya disgusts her immensely. Most probably Kim F. is obese or unhealthy anorexic. It is also possible that the fear of human body is a result of strict religious education in the childhood.
Masochism in Kim’s personality comes together with sadism that is not at all surprising. Sadism is just another side of inferiority complex and utter loneliness. Kim F. enjoys abusing and humiliating people as it makes her feels stronger, smarter and more significant as she actually is. The rationalization of her sadistic behavior is simple, “Every means is right when you fight people who support the Evil Empire”.
At the same time Kim F. is incredibly sensitive towards flattery. She meets every commendation with almost childish joy and happiness. In case nobody cares Kim F. can indulge in self-flattery.
We could not help but notice that Kim’s severe depressions became less frequent and less severe as she started blogging. Blogging is definitely a perfect means of sublimating the patient’s irrational fears and phobias. Blogging makes Kim F. famous - Fame and Glory is what she values above all as they are evident proves of the person's Power.
We wish Kim F. well and ask all bloggers she comes into contact with to support the treatment of the patient by satisfying her sadomasochistic needs in the virtual reality.