Monthly Archives: May 2014

Merely a fleshwound!

Recently I was reading an article on Voice of Russia and I noticed these headlines in the sidebar.

-Weaker rouble could entice more companies to set up shop in Russia

-Weakening rouble viewed as prudent decision

-Weak rouble to trigger growth of local industries

Since maybe a couple weeks ago, the ruble started to rebound from its alarming low of over 35 to the US dollar. At present it’s just under 35.  Of course this is never a problem for publications like Voice of Russia! Weak currency? It will attract more companies to Russia! They certainly aren’t concerned about issues like private property rights, visa restrictions, sanctions, or corruption.  No if the ruble is 35 to the dollar it must mean that everything is really cheap!

This is pretty typical of a lot of the state-sanctioned Team Russia journalism. When there’s a problem they cannot deny or deflect attention from with an inaccurate comparison to another country, the only tactic left in the toolbox is pretending that whatever misfortune has befallen Russia is really an advantage, and those arrogant Western countries will be sorry!

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Basically, if a nuclear reactor had a meltdown and wiped out an entire Russian city, Voice of Russia would be writing about how unemployment in small towns is down, or how people are becoming more mobile, or perhaps how Russia is taking a proactive stance against a potential threat of over-population.

Then you’ve got headlines in a similar vein like this one:

-Russia can switch to payments with India, China in national currencies crushing dollar amid sanction

Yeah, we’ve been hearing that for months. In fact you can probably find the same threats that are several years old. It’s just like how the Russian government, in response to Visa and Mastercard pulling out of certain Russian banks, claimed that it already has its own electronic payment system which can replace the two credit card giants.  Okay. Where is it? Why weren’t they using it years ago? We keep hearing all these claims about advances which will give Russia more clout in the global economy but we don’t actually see them.

 

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The Good Stuff

Over the past  week or so I’ve been thinking about how most of the posts on this blog could be construed as negative, to say the least. In part that is totally logical; the blog is dedicated to fighting distorted press about Russia, whether that press is biased against or in favor of the country.  A lot of my entries deal with the delusional rants of “Team Russia” fanatics who try to present Russia as some kind of great rising empire emerging from the so-called “crumbling” West which, oddly enough, still enjoys far higher living standards in spite of said crumbling.  On the other hand I have dealt with many hysterical “anti-Russian” articles, but even in those cases, for the sake of honestly, I’m compelled to report negative facts about Russia. In other words, no, Putin is not “killing people,” but here are actual problems the sensationalist author could have written about instead.  So even in defense of Russia, some entries naturally come out negative.

The other major factor behind this phenomenon is that I have an innate aversion to those expatish-sounding articles which paint Russia as a magical, mysterious wonderland, dropping in little Russian cultural references every other sentence so as to display my “authenticity.” When I read one of these articles where every other word is “kvas,” “borscht,” or “babushkas,” along with numerous shoehorned references to Master and Margarita, I just can’t take it seriously. It’s amazing how that style of writing affects people; one time I was having a conversation with an expat writer and he was actually dropping Russian references even though we weren’t really talking about Russia.

The last factor is a matter of privilege.  Russophile expats often love writing long lists of why it’s so great to live in Russia, often directed at Russians who express an interest in emigration.  Why would they want to leave when it’s so wonderful here? What these writers often ignore is that they don’t live here like ordinary Russians. Aside from having the ability to leave the country as they please, they are typically paid far more than the average Russian, even for the same work.  This isn’t exactly as unfair as it sounds. There is usually a reason for the gap in pay, even if it is based on factors outside of people’s control. In any case, there are many advantages to living in Russia which I am hesitant to count because they are connected to these privileges of working abroad.

So in case you, the reader, are wondering why I don’t spend more time talking about positive things in Russia, those are the conditions which shape the tone of this blog. It’s not intentional. For this reason, I have decided to implement a sort of affirmative action and periodically post something genuinely positive and informative to the reader interested in experiencing Russia. So without further ado…

Good things about Russia: Part I

The Moscow Metro

I come from a city which is in infamous for it’s shitty public transport system. As a result, I tended to admire any city with a subway system when I was younger. Now I’ve both visited and lived in many cities with subway systems and while many of them may have aspects which are far superior to those of the Moscow metro, the Moscow metro always wins hands down in any thorough comparison. The main advantages it has are price, frequency of trains, and the fact that its network is so extensive, covering most of the city. But let’s look at a little comparison based on other cities’ subway systems. I hate to sound like an expat writer here, but the Moscow metro is the Kalashnikov of public transport systems. It may not be the prettiest, but it works no matter what.

New York

I have never used the New York subway system, but I know plenty of people who have used it regularly and their complaints are numerous. For me the tipping point was when I was participating in a comments section where many New Yorkers were describing their subway experiences.  One woman made a reference to flashers on the subway. Another woman related her story. I casually asked them if this was a regular thing, because the way they wrote implied that it was. Another female New Yorker informed me that it was quite common and related her last unfortunate experience, when a late night passenger sat starring at her, apparently masturbating.

Now plenty of Muscovite women have tales of sexual harassment on the metro, but what they report simply doesn’t compare to the stories I’ve heard about New York’s subway system. Obviously exhibitionists must exist in Russia, but it seems to me that a lot of scumbags here at least observe a certain unspoken agreement that the sanctity of the metro must be preserved. So many people depend on it that the city would degenerate into chaos. For that reason, they somehow manage to resist their compulsion to whip their dicks out in public. Question their motives if you must, but that’s good enough for me.

Prague

In contrast to New York, where I have no experience, Prague is actually the foreign city I know best as I lived there for roughly half a year. I don’t remember the Prague metro ever being crowded, but there are only three lines and trains are not as frequent as Moscow. Prague’s system also has a strange paradox because unlike most transit systems, you don’t need a ticket just to get in. You buy tickets which you can validate in various places, including the station entrance, but if you’ve already done that you just walk right down to the platform. Fares are enforced by plainclothes inspectors who ask to see your pass or a valid ticket. It’s pretty rare, but sometimes they will be standing by the exits from a station platform randomly stopping people.  This creates a situation whereby if you spend any amount of time in Prague without being stopped by an inspector or passing through a random ticket-checking patrol, you inevitably understand that you could have been riding for free the whole time.  Yes, there can be heavy fines for riding without a valid ticket or pass, but that’s only if you get checked. As far as I can remember I had been riding trams and metro trains in Prague for at least a month before an inspector asked to see my ticket, which means that whole time I could have ridden for free. Kind of a dick move there, Prague.

Istanbul

As far as I know, Istanbul’s metro system is relatively new. I only used it one time during the three times I was in Istanbul.  I liked the wide train cars, the fact that you could change lines without going up or down any escalators, and the fact that special color-coded stickers which look like footprints can be followed to the other station when transferring. On the other hand, the system didn’t seem to cover much of the city, at least when I was there. In Istanbul’s defense, this is not exactly a city you can go digging up left and right.

Beijing

Beijing’s stations look super-modern, and I was impressed by what seemed like rather spacious, modern trains. Beijing stations also have special glass panels which help channel traffic on and off trains, as well as force would-be suicidal people to find other means of offing themselves. The main disadvantage of the metro is the fact that you have to x-ray any bags before entering. That and the confusing ticket system where you have to keep your ticket to get out. Shanghai’s system was a little bit more annoying, as far as I can remember. The shocking thing about the Beijing metro hit me the  first time I experienced the Monday morning rush. Prior to that, I had been surprised to see that the metro didn’t seem unusually crowded at all.  That Monday was different.  Imagine being in a tunnel, shoulder-to-shoulder, chest to back with hundreds of people, wall to wall. At transfer stations, this slowly moving mass of people is controlled by a sort of traffic light system, whereby one tunnel full of people has to periodically wait while another one empties into the other station.  The Moscow metro can get ridiculously crowded on a daily basis, but I’ve never seen anything like what I saw that morning.

Boston

The T is the first subway system I ever rode on, so it holds a special place in my heart. Having said that, I was in Boston in 2012 and the infrequency of trains and the price seemed really noticeable. That and you can be run down by the trains in Park Street station. The Moscow metro has truly spoiled me.

London

All British people I know share the opinion that the London Underground is essentially the public transport equivalent of Adolf Hitler. I found the fare system ridiculously complicated and the trains were apparently designed by hobbits.  Also I learned that when you hear “mind the gap,” they really mean mind that fucking gap. It’s not even a gap, it’s a goddamned cliff. Also instructions in London often tell you to “alight” at a particular station. I do not “alight.” I’m not a fucking butterfly.  The only advantage the London Underground has over the Moscow metro is the fact that it is in London and not in Russia. That’s it.

So there you have it, folks. Other subway systems may possess an advantage or two over that of Moscow, but in the end the Moscow metro either wins because it simply has more advantages of its own, or because that other system also has a glaring flaw, be it frequent station closures or an unusual preponderance of public dick-wavers. For the time being, the Moscow metro conquers all.

The ever-expanding web of public transport.

The ever-expanding web of public transport.

See, this is why nobody likes you

In case you haven’t heard the news, Ukraine’s new president is basically an oligarch equivalent to Willy Wonka, who was instrumental in founding Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and who also greatly assisted the party bloc of his opponent, Viktor “Orange Revolution” Yushchenko. Great job, Maidan! You fucking nailed it.  The topic of today’s article, however, is not the utter failure of the Maidan movement on every conceivable level, but rather a Russian article I recently read in response to Maidan’s victory over Yanukovych. I just saw the article today, but it is still timely and it illustrates a very important topic I’d like to tackle. It is called “Letter to an Orange friend,” “orange” being a reference to the Ukrainian opposition, which apparently some still associate with the 2004 Orange Revolution, AKA “The Revolution that didn’t do Shit.”  Obviously I’m not going to translate the entire article, but I will present some key parts in English to illustrate the point I want to make.

"You LOSE! You get AUSTERITY! Good DAY, Sir!"

“You LOSE! You get AUSTERITY! Good DAY, Sir!”

I was first intrigued by the article, because I thought it was going to be an honest, constructive letter to a hypothetical Maidan supporter who is not necessarily a raving right-wing nationalist, but just that ordinary person who was pissed off at Yanukovych and who wanted to see him go no matter the cost.  As I read through the first few paragraphs, however, it was clear that it was going to be one of those articles, or better said one of those rants. Now if you don’t know Russian and you don’t have experience discussing politics here, you don’t know what “those” refers to, so allow me to explain.

It goes something like this. Russian wants to rant against some former Soviet nationality. It doesn’t matter if its their “Slavic brothers” like the Ukrainians or non-Slavic nationalities like Uzbeks, Tajiks, or Georgians. With the most condescending and patronizing tone, they remind the target of their rant how great they had it under the USSR, or in the case of this article, the Russian Empire. Typically no distinction is made between the two.  The story is that Muscovite Russians selflessly endeavored and bled to give these people various “gifts” for which they were ungrateful in 1991. Basically it’s the equivalent of a right-wing American telling black Americans that they should be grateful for slavery, or better said a British person lecturing India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan about how great they had it when they were the jewel of the British empire.  The difference being, however, that in the US or UK views like this are often met with sharp criticism, often all across the political spectrum. In Russia they are mainstream and encouraged.

Aside from the utter lack of empathy with other peoples, this kind of attitude is never directed inward, at Russia. Russians are never to blame for throwing away everything they accomplished under the USSR, whose advances and accomplishments far outstripped those of the Russian Empire. No that was all just Gorbachev’s fault.  Every time I read one of these rants, my automatic reaction is, “You see? This is why nobody likes you.” This explains the gap between perceptions of Russia in the decades after 1917 and post-Soviet Russia. After 1917, red “Russia” was an inspiration to workers, colonized peoples, anti-fascists, and left-leaning intellectuals the world over. However naive the reader thinks those people might have been, the undeniable fact is that it gave the Soviet Union major currency in world affairs for roughly five to six decades, and it did inspire progressive political change during that era. There were times when “Russian” was associated with progress, equality, anti-racism, etc.  Post-Soviet Russia, on the other hand, advocates none of those values or at least does so in the most superficial, hypocritical ways. Hence today Russia’s only friends in the diplomatic arena are countries which have some kind of beef with the US or EU. These are alliances of necessity and little more. As far as foreign support, post-Soviet Russia tends to attract religious fanatics and a handful angry, bitter alienated Westerners.

This kind of rant is particularly irksome to me, not just because of my theoretical Ukrainian heritage but because it always lumps any Ukrainian who fails to fall to the floor in praise of Moscow as a worshiper of Bandera who wants nothing to do with Russia. In reality, there are many Ukrainians who are proud of their heritage yet did not support the Orange Revolution or Maidan. Some, perhaps a majority of those in Eastern Ukraine actually prefer to remain as part of Ukraine and identify as ethnic Ukrainians. The idea that the Ukrainian identity must be tied to the West Ukrainian nationalist mythology which draws a sharp, arbitrary line between Russians and Ukrainians, and which considers the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic an “illegal occupation” while the non-existent state declared by Bandera’s followers is considered legitimate, is ultimately an idea owned by Ukraine’s nationalists. They want this to be the case, and no doubt they are angered by the idea that many people self-identify as Ukrainian while simultaneously rejecting nationalist delusions.  Unfortunately, however, events in Ukraine have shown that there are many Russians are more than happy to cede the Ukrainian identity to the nationalists, because they hate the idea of an independent Ukraine and Ukrainians as a separate people and culture. This kind of attitude and the propaganda associated with it largely explains the increase in nationalist popularity over the past few years.

Getting back to the article, here is the translated line which set off alarm bells.

“In principle, after the fall of the Soviet Union Ukrainians broke off one of the best parts of the Russian Empire.”

Okay couple problems there, buddy.  First, it says “Ukrainians” broke off that part of the “Russian Empire.” Indeed, there was a movement for independence in Ukraine like in many other Soviet Republics, but this ignores the role Russians played in the break-up of the USSR.  I guess that’s totally fine though, because Russians are never responsible for their own actions. Yeltsin. Gorbachev. Those two guys wrecked everything.  The second obvious mistake is that he writes “Russian Empire” when in fact Ukraine was known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and was a part of the USSR. These days many Russians have a huge problem understanding the difference between the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. At this point, many people on both sides of this issue might scream,  in an annoying and shrill voice, “But the Soviet Union was like a Russian empire!” No, not initially. Not until WWII.  The Bolshevik movement was anti-imperialist and anti-Great Russian chauvinist. This is one reason why it won the civil war in spite of the extreme odds arrayed against it.  This is why, though it might seem unbelievable today, there was a time when Poles and Balts looked upon the Communist movement with great sympathy, because it was the Bolsheviks who renounced all territorial claims of the Tsarist government.  It was only due to political reality and the ongoing wars which later set these people at odds with each other.  It is often claimed, hilariously by both modern Trotskyites and Russians with Eurasianist leanings, that Stalin reversed this internationalist policy and favored Great Russians, but the facts just don’t support this. At best you could make that argument after WWII, but it’s hard to pin that entirely on Stalin as opposed to an organic response to more “patriotic” propaganda during the war, plus many of Stalin’s speeches during the war continually make references to the multinational character of the USSR and how this multinational character was a source of strength for the USSR. Here’s an excellent example, taken from Stalin’s radio address of 3 July 1941, in response to the German invasion of 22 June.

“The enemy is cruel and implacable. He is out to seize our lands watered by the sweat of our brows, to seize our grain and oil secured by the labour of our hands. He is out to restore the rule of the landlords, to restore tsarism, to destroy the national culture and the national existence as states of the Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Esthonians, Uzbeks, Tatars, Moldavians, Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanians and the other free peoples of the Soviet Union, to Germanize them, to turn them into the slaves of German princes and barons. Thus the issue is one of life and death for the Soviet State, of life and death for the peoples of the U.S.S.R.; the issue is whether the peoples of the Soviet Union shall be free or fall into slavery. The Soviet people must realize this and abandon all complacency; they must mobilize themselves and reorganize all their work on a new, war-time footing, where there can be no mercy to the enemy.”

Note that he names the Baltic peoples right after the three major Slavic nationalities, and also he mentions Tatars, which never had a union republic of their own.

Also there’s another aspect of claiming Ukrainians broke off the best part of the empire. Russians today will complain about what Ukrainians allegedly got from them, yet if you look at ethnic maps from 1918 you will see that the Ukrainian population expands well over the borders of the Ukrainian SSR, both north to the area around Kursk, Belgorod, and Voronezh, and also east toward the North Caucasus.  This was not forgotten during the Soviet time, as the government of the Ukrainian SSR actually requested the transfer of much of that land from the RSFSR(now the Russian Federation) to their own republic.  It’s also worth noting that in the 19th century Ukrainians spread eastward into the Russian empire so that in the Soviet era they made up the largest minority in the RSFSR. The Ukrainian SSR actually claimed that it represented all Ukrainians everywhere, and therefore sent out Ukrainian teachers to majority Ukrainian communities as far flung as Siberia and Kazakhstan.  You might ask what those Ukrainians who migrated east were doing for all that time. Well they were building things and developing the country, of course. But none of that matters to today’s Russian flag-wavers.

Back to the article, the author then goes on to list some of the industry and development the generous Russians bestowed upon Ukraine. This includes industrial development such as the Antonov aviation factory and nuclear power stations, none of which were built by the Russian Empire. It also includes resources like coal, metal, and even the Black Sea coastline, also not put there by the Russian Empire.  Moreover, the actual work of Ukrainians in these mines, these development projects, in re-settling areas formerly belonging to Tatars after the destruction of the Crimean Khanate is utterly ignored. The selfless Muscovites just lavished “presents” on these lucky people. How dare they not appreciate them!

The author then goes on to say(again, translated):

Ukraine has historically been the most inhabited and developed part of the empire. As mentioned in the famous film, “And forge, and Granary, and Health resort.”

First of all, the line he is quoting was about the Caucasus, not Ukraine. Furthermore its source is a Soviet comedy film. Let that sink in for a second. He claims that Ukraine was the most inhabited and developed part of the “empire,” though we don’t know what he is referring to because like many Russians he doesn’t distinguish between the Russian Empire and the USSR. The population claim may be true, but I don’t see how that is relevant seeing as how contrary to popular Russian opinion, more people doesn’t necessarily mean “better” in terms of development. India’s always had far more people yet it still suffers from crushing poverty today.  As for most developed, if he’s referring to the empire I’m calling bullshit. Most of Ukraine at the time was rural and not very developed at all. Outside of maybe Moscow and St. Petersburg, I should think the empire’s Baltic(including Finland) and Polish possessions were probably the most developed. Ukraine was certainly one of the most developed union republics, but that’s another story, and one largely written by Ukrainians as much as Russians.

I want to include one more line which demonstrates how condescending and ridiculous this kind of rant is.

In short, when 23 years ago Ukrainians broke off from the best part of the USSR (including donated Crimea), all the nations of the former empire with black envy thought, “That’s a lucky Khokhol, so lucky!”

See the “donated” Crimea part? This is exactly the shit that drives me up the wall.  Today’s confused “patriots” love to pick and choose what parts of their history they want to glorify. When it comes to winning the Second World War, they’ll defend the USSR against the slightest criticism, even those which are valid. When it comes to the internationalist policies of the USSR or those policies which favored non-Russian citizens, they curse the Marxist state. Had the Crimean Tatars not been deported, the Crimean ASSR(Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic) wouldn’t have been abolished. Had this been the case, even if Khruschev hadn’t transferred this ASSR to the Ukrainian SSR, it still would not have been part of the state which became the Russian Federation, i.e. it wouldn’t have become part of “Russia.” And in that alternative scenario, the Crimea probably would not have acquired such a large Russian majority, if even a majority at all, as many of those people came in post-deportation.  Lastly I should point out that the occasion for the transfer of the Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR was the 300 year anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav, seen as a gesture of friendship and brotherhood between Ukrainians and Great Russians. Yeah, so much for that brotherhood today.

pereslavl

There is also the very important issue of the Second World War. Contrary to common myth, far more Ukrainians sided with the Soviet Union than the nationalist collaborators.  If they weren’t fighting in the Red Army, they fought as partisans. In other cases they were slaughtered en masse by the Nazis or their collaborator auxiliaries, and it’s safe to say that people executed by the Nazis en masse were not complying with their demands.  The majority of Ukraine, in fact I will go one step further and just say Ukraine, fought for the USSR. And for that reason it lost 16% of its population due to the war. That’s 3% higher than the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic(today’s Russian Federation). Only 3% more, you say? Well keep in mind that because Ukraine was practically the main battleground for most of the German-Soviet War, it also suffered due to the destruction of resources and infrastructure. The country had to be entirely rebuilt after 1945, and the people of Ukraine did it. And one more thing. Belarus lost over 25% of its population in the war, and its collaborationist movement was far smaller than that of Ukraine.  Any Belorussian has more than enough justification to lecture a Russian about sacrifice.  And finally, on the matter of collaboration, Great Russians were by no means excluded from its ranks. Among the various Russian fascist collaborator formations were Cossacks and White emigres who longingly dreamed of the restoration of the Russian empire, much like Russia’s “modern patriots.”  One wonders which side the latter might choose had the Germans rolled into their village circa 1941. Would they continue to fight for the internationalist, socialist, and multi-ethnic USSR? Or would they, holding their current views, willingly take up arms on the side of the German “liberators?”

You see a person like me has no problem acknowledging that the Ukrainian SSR was probably the greatest Ukrainian state to date in terms of standards of living and other important indicators such as “not having thousands of your women forced into literal slavery as prostitutes.”  Where I differ from these Russian imperialists is that I acknowledge that this republic wasn’t some present handed down by enlightened Russians in Moscow. In fact it was really the work of Lenin, basing his nationalities policy on Stalin’s theories. Lenin could claim heritage from between five and six nationalities, and of course Stalin was a Georgian.  One wonders how our Russian letter writer would react to a Georgian berating the Russians for destroying the country  that Stalin built, and demanding thanks for providing them with their greatest modern leader. No doubt that’s when we’d see people like the author don the liberal mask and start crying crocodile tears for all the Russians that bad Georgian repressed. Wouldn’t you know, his grandfather was in a gulag too! I don’t doubt this because I see it all the time in Russia, in the media, or in public statements by politicians. When Stalin “won WWII,” something he never suggested, by the way, he’s Russian.  When it comes to mass repression, he’s not Russian, and by the way my grandfather suffered in a Siberian labor camp.  Nobody ever says their grandfather was a barely literate NKVD official in a far-flung province who possibly sent people to their deaths on the flimsiest of evidence. Ever the victim, never the perpetrator.

To be fair, some of this attitude is a natural reaction to the naive, delusional, and sometimes violent nationalism of the late 1980’s and early 90’s. Sometimes Western liberals set my teeth on edge when they praise Gorbachev, Perestroika, and the fall of the USSR as a “bloodless” democratic revolution. It was not bloodless and it wasn’t democratic either. In some cases, union republic nationalism could be seen as a reaction, however naive, to a Soviet Union which seemed to best serve Muscovite Russians better than anyone else. It’s not entirely incomprehensible that some of these states figured there might be some advantage in going it alone, and in some less viable republics that no doubt made the population vulnerable to con men making unrealistic promises. It’s also true that in many union republics, the population spurred on by nationalism persecuted their Russian neighbors. The problem is that Russians who write rants like this act as if all Uzbeks or Tajiks are responsible for what some of their people did back in the last days of the USSR.

Another factor motivating this reaction may be the tendency of pro-independence nationalities to pick and choose what parts of the Soviet legacy they wish to keep. Some of them refer to the USSR as an illegal, illegitimate “occupation” of their state, whether that state really ever existed or not post-1917. At the same time, they wish to claim certain things from the USSR as their rightful inheritance. Georgia provides a good example, in the sense that in the last days of the USSR the Soviet Union was said to be an occupying power, and the only valid constitution was considered to be the last constitution of an independent Georgian state from the time of the Russian civil war. Yet it seems that the Georgian government is happy to invoke Soviet law when it lays claim to Abkhazia and South Ossetia and when it tried to deny them the right to secede. In the Soviet system, union republics like Georgia were to have the right to secede while autonomous republics like Abkhazia were not. One would think that declaring Soviet law and borders invalid should apply to all parties, but of course some people want to have their cake and eat it too.  The “occupation” theme was also invoked by many Ukrainian nationalists, and this can be seen in the program for the far-right party Svoboda but also from more “liberal” figures like Yushchenko. The want to declare the Ukrainian SSR an invalid occupation, yet truly doing that would mean ceding large parts of the country to Russia and Poland.  Putin has actually made references to this in recent times.

Of course, as I alluded before, Russians can also be guilty of playing this game. They want to celebrate Victory Day, a victory of the Soviet Union, but they also want the territories of the old empire. They want to celebrate Gagarin, the first man in space, but they also want to turn their current state into a practical theocracy where religion has the weight of state power behind it. And while many Soviet nationalities wrecked their republics by demanding independence without first considering the full consequences, Russians let their own country fall into chaos for blue jeans, cosmetics, and brand name products. The Ukrainian “patriot” needs to take a good hard look at what Ukrainian, or more accurately West Ukrainian nationalism has actually given Ukraine since 1917 and decide if it’s really a good idea to let those failed ideologues dominate and monopolize the Ukrainian identity. But the Russian also needs to look inward as well, to ask whether 23 years of right-wing “patriotism” has actually gained anything for Russia.

There are a few more points I’d like to cover after everything I’ve written here today.  First, when it comes to the popular tide of Russian nationalism and imperialism, I think Putin’s recent reminiscing about the Russian empire should send a message to Western liberals who see the USSR as evil incarnate on par with Nazi Germany or at least something very close to it.  Putin is often accused of trying to rebuild the Soviet Union, but his comments serve as a reminder that the Soviet Union was a very different state, and incidentally one which was much smaller by comparison.  Throughout the Cold War and even to this day, many Westerners have either romanticized the Russian Empire or at least viewed the Bolshevik revolution and the Soviet Union as some kind of illegitimate state. Putin still garners ridiculous amounts of criticism merely because one time he remarked that the fall of the USSR was a tragedy.  Having seen how the West reacts to the USSR, and how it tacitly accepts the idea that it was in fact, a different type of Russian empire, Putin must surely think that it is better to idealize the Russian empire instead. This of course, does not mean to suggest that Putin is actually going to try to restore the empire. Even if he wanted to he can’t even come close. But the problem is the continued promotion of imperialist ideas and how it affects life between Russia’s many nationalities. Poor national cohesion weakens a nation, and Russia has serious problems with inter-ethnic strife. Problems which the government does little to combat, unfortunately.  In a similar vein, it would be nice if, when ethnic Russians in former Soviet republics do suffer actual discrimination, the media could do more to acknowledge it instead of pretending as though their persecutors are really underdogs just because Russia is a far larger state. The fact that Russia is a big country doesn’t mean that Russian living abroad automatically benefit from this in any way.

Next, I know some people are going to bring up American or European imperialism in our modern world as a type of counter to what I’ve said about Russian imperialism. Let me just smack that down by pointing out two things. First, America and Europe clearly don’t give a fuck what a country’s government does so long as it keeps trade barriers low and accedes to their economic demands. The fact that both factions gave their approval of a protest movement with such a big fascist element is proof positive of this. America historically has denied being an empire, because particularly from the 20th century onward, being an empire is not seen as a good thing. Throughout the Cold War the USA and USSR routinely accused each other of being empires, each denying their opponent’s claim that they were an empire. Post-Soviet Russia doesn’t do that anymore. All kinds of fairy tales are promoted, claiming that the Russian Empire was just on the verge of overtaking Britain, the US, and Germany when that damned First World War started. Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Chechens, and other nationalities are reminded how much the Muscovites gave them. The American empire does not lecture its client states as to what they should believe about their history or identity. Implement the neo-liberal economic policies, open your markets, and you can teach your schoolchildren that your people are descended from magic elves if you want.

That difference is very important because you can see the effects with Euromaidan. No non-nationalist anti-Yanukovych coalition with a more realistic view of the European Union was able to form. Russians helped ensure that because as soon as the protests started, a bunch of morons started screaming, “You want to go to the EU? Fuck you then! Go to Gayropa! Gay gay gay gay gay gay!”  This is coming from the same people who say that you’re their “brothers.” Right.  In this sense, we can imagine Russia as that socially-awkward neckbeard who falls in love with every woman who smiles at him. “She’s beautiful! Everything about her is perfect! I love her voice! Her eyes! I’d treat her like a princess! What’s that? She has a boyfriend? That slut! She probably thinks I’m too nice. She prefers dating douchebags who will just abuse her and cheat on her!” In some cases Russia goes through this scenario several times, each time there is a chance that these people like the author will learn from their mistakes and try a different approach, but thus far I haven’t seen it.

 

Pictured: Post-Soviet Russia.

Pictured: Post-Soviet Russia.

A more effective approach, international pickup artistry, if you will, would be to say to these republics, “Look, we realize that things didn’t work out between us. But if we’re honest, we did accomplish a lot of great things together, and those are the things we should focus on instead of tallying up historical wounds and defining ourselves by what we are not. We recognize and respect your independence, and acknowledging our common roots isn’t a threat to that. You should really leave that early 20th century nationalism where it belongs, in the dustbin of the early 20th century. And we should do the same with our own nationalism. We are separate, but we need each other, so it is in our interest not to perpetuate idiotic rivalries which serve nobody.”* And for fuck’s sake- learn some empathy! When someone of a former Soviet nationality talks about discrimination they might have suffered, sometimes personally, due to their nationality, don’t start screaming about how many hydroelectric dams “you” built in their republic. Think about those Russians in Latvia or other former Soviet republics and imagine what it is like for them.  Don’t like nationalists abusing you or denigrating your language? Don’t do the same. Golden, fucking, rule.

Lastly I realize there will be some readers who read this and who will claim this is “anti-Russian.” First let me advise you to fuck yourself. That goes doubly for those of you who are not even Russian.  And while you are in the process of fucking yourself, peep this. My views on this topic can be directly traced to some people who created this thing you might have heard of called the Soviet Union. If you don’t like them, you don’t get to claim any of the accomplishments of that state.  No 1 May, no Victory Day, no Gagarin. Stick with your tricolor and go dig potatoes or something to help you experience what life was like for people like you in the Russian empire. If you’re a real stickler for realism, smack your head against a hard object until you forget how to read and write.  Yes, my views seem very contrary to what is dishonestly peddled as “patriotism” in today’s Russia but you know what? That shit has been promoted for 23 years now and what has it got this country?  There’s a reason why the main answer to this question is “spiritual values” and not something like “state of the art infrastructure,” “some of the best standards of living in the industrialized world,” or “a technological powerhouse.”  And the main reason why this imperialist, “patriotic” bullshit is actually harmful to Russia is because it is so damned predictable. I knew from a few lines in exactly what this “letter” was going to be. Russia keeps playing the same card and the West is on to it. They’ve been onto it for decades now, stretching back into the Cold War. If the Russian government tried something radically different it would throw all those Western Russia experts into a panic. They wouldn’t know what to expect. No, readers, I am pro-Russian, much more so than many so-called Russophiles. I am pro-Russian because I care about the welfare of all peoples of Russia, the majority, the working people. I’m pro-Russian because I believe in the abilities and mental facilities of these people and I don’t think they need some father figure or a troupe of pseudo-intellectuals telling them what to believe. So that’s my message to the detractors. Oh right, don’t forget to fuck yourselves.

To the everyday reader I apologize for the length of this rant. It can be difficult for the uninitiated to understand, as you need to spend a lot of time on Russian social networks and other sites to familiarize yourself with the sentiments expressed in that letter. For the Western reader, keep in mind that yes, we still have these condescending types in our own countries and we need to call them on their bullshit.  Also, Westerners should lobby their representatives about the growing problem of nationalism in Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine. There is nothing your politicians can do about this particular problem in Russia, but now they can influence Ukraine. Furthermore, whatever your feelings about politics in Russia, it does not excuse or negate fascism in another country. Fight as you can. Nationalism in one country just breeds nationalism in its neighbors.  And Russians, again, I realize hearing some nationalist sentiments provokes serious emotions but think before you react instead of lashing out like an angry teenage girl. Russia needs more friends among nations, real friends, not those who flock to her side because they have nowhere else to go. Take off the fedora, shave the neckbeard, improve your image, and get confidence. Go get’em, tiger! I mean bear. I mean, two-headed eagle.  No, bear. People like bears. Go with the bear.

 

 

 

*This pitch applies to countries you used to be in a union with only. Do not attempt this speech when talking to a woman. I am not responsible for you getting pepper-sprayed.

Spinsters

Recently I was reading this story from Reuters, which is actually the second part of a series from Reuters. To make a long story short, a plan was made to improve Russia’s healthcare system by rapidly building a bunch of modern hospitals throughout the country.  As is typically the case with these projects, it went ridiculously over-budget($700 million) and didn’t deliver what it promised.  Nothing about this is surprising to me, but stories like this catch my interest mainly because I wonder how the pro-Putin “Russia is rising while the degenerate West is crumbling” fanatics would spin this.

On the face of it, spinning a story like this would seem impossible because it’s so straightforward. A certain amount of money was earmarked to build X amount of hospitals. After a series of almost comedic blunders, $700 million was spent and the mission was not accomplished.  You’d think that Team Russia would have some trouble trying to claim that non-existent hospitals actually exist.  Also, given the circumstances which led the project over budget, even if you try to claim that corruption and stealing had nothing to do with the missing money, the only thing you have to fall back on is gross incompetence. In other words, if you insist that there wasn’t any stealing involved, then you’re basically saying all that money was pissed away due to idiocy.

Now they could try to spin this by claiming that Putin really had nothing to do with the inner workings of the project, or that these people responsible may have stolen the money but Putin didn’t know about it or really isn’t their best friend or whatever.  Okay, fine. I’ll buy that for a moment. But I have to ask, why can’t Mr. Savior of Russia from the 90’s and Gays exercise any control over these people?  I mean if he is such a great leader who is by no means authoritarian even though Russia needs an authoritarian leader,  why can’t he stop this kind of theft and incompetence from going on right under his nose?  This is a pretty simple project.  You say to the people responsible, “I want X amount of hospitals in these places by this time and this is your budget. I want every ruble accounted for on a quarterly basis. If there’s a discrepancy you can’t explain expect to be indicted and facing 30 years in jail.”  See that’s something a leader like Obama literally can’t do because of separation of powers. Putin can do this, but he never does for some reason.  So how is he this great leader who is improving Russia and bringing order, again?

My guess is that there are two ways apologists would spin a story like this.  One is to claim that Reuters is a Western media source and therefore nothing they report can be trusted(unless they report something negative about the US, of course). This explanation doesn’t hold water. The media company clearly attempted to interview the people being accused, giving them the opportunity to tell their side of the story.  I’m not saying silence implies guilt, but giving the subjects of the investigation the opportunity to speak dispels the idea that this story was really cooked up by the CIA.

The other way is to find an example of a boondoggle project in the US or some European country and then declare that this is the equivalent.  I’ve seen at least one American Team Russia fanatic claim that the Wall Street bail out was a massive example of corruption. That’s not exactly an invalid argument, though it is an example of what I and others call “legal corruption,” but it fails for the following reason. In America, if the US government wants to build say, a highway, they are going to get a fucking highway. Yes, the project could go over budget due to unforeseen circumstances and possibly some shady dealings with contractors, but in the end we’re going to have one hell of a highway. Libertarians and Republican quasi-libertarians love talking about how wasteful and incompetent the government is, but this is the same government which is easily able to construct military bases all over the world. I’m not saying that’s good, just that they get the shit done.

In Russia your standard big government project goes way over budget and provides little value. In my first years in Russia I would look at something like the lack of trash cans in many public places, for example, and think “Why don’t they just make an initiative to provide more trash cans?”  It just seems so simple. What will really happen though, is that any such project, as modest as it might seem, will go over-budget, and then provide something like half of the planned number of trash cans.  After a few years of reading various stories about missing money and failed government projects, you learn to suppress that reaction.  You think, “Why don’t they…ah fuck it.”

In the end the Putin cheerleaders can deny and spin this in whatever delusional way they see fit, but reality doesn’t conform to their worldview and eventually the bill is going to come. This is especially important in light of the annexation of the Crimea, because now it is Russia’s responsibility. The cheerleaders may point to this recent gas deal with China as an accomplishment, but China is well aware of Russia’s troubles and this whole deal will most likely provide China with a number of pretexts for the annexation of territory in Siberia at some time in the near future.  And when that happens, who will Russia turn to for help? America and Gayropa, of course, whose ambassadors will be hard-pressed to conceal their laughter as they pronounce their refusals to help Russia in its dispute with China.

I guess in the end they’ll spin it in the way they usually do, by stamping their feet, gnashing their teeth, and screaming about Russophobia, liberals, Westerners, and anti-Russian propaganda. In their bizarro-world logic, pointing out these problems constitutes an attack on Russia.  Wanting these problems to be solved is “anti-Russian.”  For me at least, it’s not even about Putin. If Putin decides to stop supporting populist nutjobs and actually tackle these issues, if he comes down with an iron fist not on protesters or opposition media but rather businessmen who rip off the Russian people, I’ll be one of the first to applaud him.  This blog has a consistent record of giving the man all the credit he is justly owed. The issue is that I don’t see him doing that. In fact I don’t see anything even close to that happening.  And to be honest I don’t see any serious alternative candidate who has a solution to these problems. That candidate doesn’t even appear on the horizon for me. The clock is ticking away. If things do not turn around, Russia is in for a nasty future, one which might be worse than the 90’s. It is largely the phony “patriots”, be they from Russia or of the imported variety who rode into the country on the Rejected & Buttmad Express, who will be to blame.  They were the ones who attacked and smeared everyone who shined the spotlight on Russia’s problems, which in fact were weaknesses in its foundation.  Rather than demand that those weaknesses be shored up, they simply denied or pointed out that other countries had the same weaknesses.  At least we’ll have the entertainment value of watching them flee the country that they claimed was “rising” for the “degenerate crumbling” West.

Vignette: Inappropriate sentiment

One of the things that struck me when I first moved abroad was the very noticeable abundance of t-shirts with random collections of words on them.  To be fair, I was never really very fashion-conscious in America, but it seemed to me that most of our t-shirts had things like the brand name or maybe just some kind of graphic design on them. Once you move to abroad, and particularly to a place in Eastern Europe, you start noticing a lot of Chinese knockoff clothing covered with nonsensical words and phrases.  These days I understand that even in the US one finds name brand clothing with the titles of random, non-existent surf clubs on them, but go to a market full of knockoff clothing and you’re like to find a t-shirt which reads something like MALAYSIAN UNDERGROUND DISCO COCKFIGHTING CLUB EST. 1978.  Obviously after over 8 years of living abroad I’m pretty much used to this and generally ignore it. That is until yesterday, when something caught my eye.

In the Moscow metro, people who are in a rush walk, run, jump, or tumble down the left side. Those who are resigned to merely stand and enjoy the descent stay to the right. Violate that rule at your own peril.  Anyway, I’m going down the left side and as I do, I  see a man wearing this shirt with a massive green pot leaf on the back. Superimposed over the pot leaf was a long quote, at least a paragraph, in English. Now that alone is odd; weed typically doesn’t merit citations.  But what really struck me was the part of the quote I managed to catch as I rushed past him. It read:

“In order to win, you must constantly struggle…”

Once I reached the platform at the bottom of the escalator I suddenly took that quote to heart. In order to win…constantly struggle.  Then I ask myself- Is this the kind of sentiment we normally associate with weed? Can one imagine Ghengis Khan, surrounded by his warriors, taking a long toke off a pipe and then imploring them to sack a Chinese city without mercy?  Can you imagine Churchill saying, “We shall fight them on the beaches. We shall fight them in the fields. We shall fight them…on the beaches. Wait…Why are we fighting the Germans again? I thought we beat those guys. Oh maaaaan!

"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty. And bear so ourselves so that if the British Commonwealth and her Empire were to last for a thousand years...wait...wouldn't it be cool if the British Empire lasted 1,000 years? And, like, there's be flying cars and shit? That would be awesome. "

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty. And bear so ourselves so that if the British Commonwealth and her Empire were to last for a thousand years…wait…wouldn’t it be cool if the British Empire lasted 1,000 years? And, like, there’s flying cars and shit? That would be awesome. “

No, constant struggle to achieve victory without regards to the costs is a sentiment which simply does not go with weed.  I’ll tell you what it would go great with. Crystal meth, or cocaine. Of course in that case the shirt would have to be considerably bigger to fit all the words. Yet however inappropriate the juxtaposition of this sentiment and weed may be, I think the shirt does send a powerful message, once properly broken down. First, you must constantly struggle to win. Second, if you find the time to rest at any point during your constant struggle for victory, smoke weed. Well played, t-shirt!  Well played.

 

 

The Voice of North America – Russian-backed coup averted!

Welcome to The Voice of North America, your source for North Americanist news.  Today, more than 100 protesters were arrested at a demonstration outside McDonald’s HQ in Illinois.  Good sources of information suggest that the protesters were actually paid by the Russian Foreign Ministry, in an attempt to overthrow and destroy an important spiritual icon of America and then, presumably, the government itself.  Luckily, rapid reaction by the local police put down the protest and managed to parry this insidious threat to America’s burger supply.

If the Russians manage to overthrow Obama, whatever puppet they install will give away all our burgers to Russia.

If the Russians manage to overthrow Obama, whatever puppet they install will give away all our burgers to Russia.

McDonald’s, as every normal, healthy person knows, is an American symbol, an icon of our national idea. Eating Big Macs and Quarter Pounders is an American tradition, one which must be preserved at all costs.  Of course there are those who claim that McDonald’s food is unhealthy, and they are constantly trying to shove their propaganda down our throats. They even have the nerve to claim that not eating McDonald’s food is completely normal! President Obama, in his infinite wisdom as the father of our people, has thus far done nothing to suppress these propagandists, possibly in the pay of the Russian and European governments, but if he did we would certainly approve. In fact I’m sure most Americans would approve.

An American Hero - Respect tradition. Respect the clown.

An American Hero – Respect tradition. Respect the clown.

Some(Russians and their supporters) might say that arresting the protesters violated their Constitutional right to free speech and free assembly, but I would remind them that such rights did not exist in the Soviet Union, nor did they exist in Nazi Germany or the Ottoman Empire. Try having a little protest for better conditions in the Ottoman Empire and you’d learn to appreciate American freedom.  Also I don’t see any protests like this in North Korea, do you?

The protesters traitors, again obviously paid by the Russian government, are demanding a 15 dollar an hour wage. Clearly they are lazy and don’t want to work.  These are socialist ideas, imported by Russia after 1917.  Anti-American critics say that these companies don’t pay a living wage, but what do they expect? Should they get their own yachts too? These protesters really just want to move to Russia, where they think that everyone makes minimum $100,000 a year and owns a mansion.

“Living wages” are just another attempt to infiltrate American society with Russian and foreign ideas. The Russians simply can’t understand the deep, spiritual connection Americans have with their burgers.  As the North Americanist philosopher Thomas Franklin wrote:

All peoples have their own national spirit, a national soul, if you will. The American national soul is encapsulated by the burger. The Russians can never understand this. They have a totally different mentality. They can imagine life without burgers and simply do not understand why we need them. They want the whole world to be the same, detached from any spiritual connection with burgers.  But we Americans resist this, and even the entire world if need be. We will not let people rob us of our spiritual roots, our spiritual burgers. And that is why it is right to imprison vegetarians.  

Around the world, many nations criticize McDonald’s and reject our burgers, even though they have access to them. Some say these nations are healthier than America. Anti-American journalists, paid by the Russian government, claim we have a problem with obesity and even childhood obesity. If this is true, why can we find photographs of fat Europeans, Russians, and even Chinese people?  And so what if we are obese? Must all the world be thin? If need be we will eat nothing but burgers and grow to 300 or 400 pounds if we must, because eating burgers is America’s national soul and our historic mission as a nation.

See? There are fat people in Russia too! There are fat people everywhere! America doesn't have a problem with obesity. This is just Russian, anti-American propaganda.

See? There are fat people in Russia too! There are fat people everywhere! America doesn’t have a problem with obesity. This is just Russian, anti-American propaganda.

No Debate

Recently I was saddened to see a link to an NPR story with a simply idiotic title- Hero Or Villain? Historical Ukrainian Figure Symbolizes Today’s Feud. That might not seem so idiotic  until you realize the figure they are talking about is none other than Stepan Bandera. Of course if you had clicked on that link and noticed the famous photo of the Bandera memorial march from Euromaidan you’d already know that. That’s the funny thing about Maidan and its supporters; they swear up and down that their movement had nothing to do with nationalism, but when you catch them promoting nationalism it’s totally fine because “Bandera was just a patriot who fought for Ukraine.”

Ed, the author of a remarkably funny and insightful blog called Gin and Tacos, has often criticized the American media two-sided approach to many issues which really aren’t debatable. In the media’s eyes, the opinion of a scientist and a former disc jockey turned pundit are presented as evenly matched in a debate on climate change.  A mother with her own blog is considered qualified to give a dissenting opinion about vaccines, all for the sake of “balance.”  For me I’d say what is problematic is how “balance” is often granted on issues which aren’t debatable, while the concept is thrown out the window altogether when there really is a debate. If the run-up to the Iraq invasion is used as an example, we can see how little the media was concerned about balance and opposing points of view on that matter.

I propose to solve NPR’s little quandary as to whether Bandera was a hero or villain, since they can’t seem to decide in this matter of a man who founded an indisputably fascist organization which was responsible for bloody pogroms as well as the virtual total destruction of 100,000 Polish civilians in Volyn, among other acts of terrorism stretching into the early 50’s.  Are you listening, you pack of fuzzy sweater-wearing, stereotypical, “respectable” liberals?  The answer is:

Stepan Bandera was a villain.  

I don’t give a shit whether “many Ukrainians see him as a hero.” Putin still gets taken to task for saying that the collapse of the USSR was a tragedy, a statement which is indisputably true, and yet in Eastern Europe and only in Eastern Europe, a fascist and outright Nazi collaborator merits a “debate.”  Okay, perhaps not everywhere in Europe. I’ve yet to see the Ante Pavelic or Josef Tiso debate, but in light of this story I should ask why not? Hell, why not have a debate about Hitler? To many people on the Stormfront he was a hero who defended his country from Communism, right? It’s the post-modernist era! Every opinion is equally valid!

As is typical for this sort of article, the age old statement “history is written by the victors” is trotted out.  Funny they don’t apply that statement to the whole war, in defense of Nazi Germany and other fascist states.  There certainly are people who do; they’re called Holocaust deniers.  Victors’ history is something we should keep in mind, particularly when reading contemporary accounts, but it’s not an automatic reset button you can press to turn your collaborator into a hero.

Once again I reiterate and go further. Stepan Bandera was not a Ukrainian hero, he did not “fight for Ukraine,” he contributed nothing to Ukraine or Ukrainian culture but bloodshed and division, and he helped opened the door to the most destructive calamity Ukraine has ever faced, i.e. the Nazi invasion. The Nazis destroyed not only the Ukrainian people, but all the things they worked so hard to build.   I don’t care if the Nazis got upset with him and put him under arrest for a period of time.  That only means that he was as stupid as he was evil.  Mark my words the Ukraine will never be able advance into the 21st century until it finally manages to sever Ukrainian pride and identity from this defunct, backward nationalist movement from the 20’s and 30’s.  In the words of Oliver Cromwell- “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” 

If the reader wishes to do more research into these questions, I highly recommend reading these two papers, found here and here. In the mean time, I’ll be looking forward NPR’s latest debate:  “Lead paint: Dangerous or Delicious?”

 

 

Additional links to articles on Bandera