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Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Sunday Travel/Literary Section: Pasko on Radishchev

Robert Amsterdam offers another brilliant report from Grigori Pasko, on the road in Russia (RA also offers an interview with Pasko by the German press, translated here; it's an outrage that Pasko hasn't received more recognition from the English-language press).

[In his next several offerings, Grigory Pasko continues his literary search for the real Russia by following in the footsteps of famous Russian authors. This time, his journey traces that of Alexander Nikolayevich Radishchev (1749-1802), a radical social critic inspired by the French Revolution who wrote the scathing 1790 critique of Russian society, A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow. A furious Catherine the Great wanted him executed for treason, but instead sentenced him to Siberian exile, from which he returned only after her death. Unrepentant, Radishchev continued to agitate for reform of the autocracy, earning the wrath of Catherine’s successor. He committed suicide rather than endure another Siberian exile. Grigory’s first stop is Tver, an ancient city northwest of Moscow that gained notoriety in 2005 as the legal address of «Baikalfinansgrupp», a mysterious and unheard-of company that acquired «Yuganskneftegas» in the first of the sham auctions to dismember YUKOS, immediately resold it to the state oil company Rosneft, and promptly disappeared from the face of the earth. - Robert Amsterdam]

The Eyes of My People

By Grigory Pasko, journalist

They were sitting on a bench, not far from the building of the administration of the city of Tver. There were three of them: two men and one woman. It was morning. They were searching for a way to get drunk. I started a conversation with them because a woman sitting nearby had refused to be interviewed, citing a bad mood. They were talking about how life, in general, isn’t bad; that you can’t trust the government in anything; that a Russian has to rely only on himself for everything… Then they asked me for ten rubles for beer.

The look on Pyotr Paramonov’s face (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

One of them, Pyotr Paramonov, a laborer from a construction site (see photo), recalled that the Russian writer Saltykov-Shchedrin had been a vice-governor. Then he sadly added: “There aren’t any Saltykov-Shchedrins any more…”.

I don’t know what the inhabitants of Tver were like in Radishchev’s day, but in my conversations with the people of the city I saw only characters from Erofeev’s opus «Moscow-Petushki». They were just as unhurried, well-read and just as sad. “Everything on earth has to take place slowly and incorrectly, so that humans would not be able to become proud, so that people would be sad and confused”.

Another thing that struck me was the look on Pyotr Paramonov’s face. I had already read about this look someplace… Of course, in Erofeev! “I like it that the people of my country have such vacant and bulging eyes. This instils in me a feeling of legitimate pride… What eyes! They’re constantly popping out, and yet there’s no tension in them whatsoever. A total absence of any sense at all – but then, what power! (What spiritual power!) These eyes won’t sell. They won’t sell a thing and they won’t buy a thing. Whatever might happen with my country, in days of doubt, in days of burdensome contemplation, in an hour of trials and tribulations of any kind at all – these eyes will not blink. They couldn’t care less… I like my people.”

In all likelihood, I would be able to share the optimism of the writer Erofeev only if I had drunk as much liquor as he did when he journeyed from Moscow to Petushki. Or maybe even more.

…I gave them thirty rubles. What else can I do for my people?

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