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Friday, February 29, 2008

EDITORIAL: Annals of Russian Ignorance


Annals of Russian Ignorance

The Moscow Times reports that when Russian "president" Vladimir Putin was asked about rumor he has stolen billions from the national treasury, he refused to give a direct answer, responding: "Просто болтовня, которую нечего обсуждать, просто чушь. (It's just blather that isn't worth discussing, just rubbish.)." He then added: "Всё выковыряли из носа и размазали по своим бумажкам. (They just picked it out of their nose and smeared it on their little sheets.)" The MT points out that "the Kremlin translators gave this vivid image a pass, rendering it as: "They just made it up and included it in their papers." So it seems that the Kremlin is not only censoring what the Russian people hear, but also attempting to put blinders on the West.

Russia is a nation that likes to fancy itself erudite, cultured and well-educated. But the truth, as "President" Putin's coarse language shows and as the New York Times recently reported, is somewhat different. Here's how Russia's "education" system got involved in the recent elections to parliament, for instance:
Parents at some schools were ordered to attend mandatory meetings with representatives of United Russia, and the children were used to drag their parents to the polls. “It was the same scenario at all the schools,” a teacher said. “And it was all from the city’s leadership. The school directors were given instructions, and they carried them out.”

Regional officials were vigilant about developments at local universities, particularly two of the largest, Lobachevsky State and Volga State. Students said they were warned not to join marches sponsored by the Other Russia coalition. And they said that before the elections, administrators issued a threat: if you do not vote for the ruling party, you will be evicted from your dorms. “Everyone was frightened, and our group, in full, went and voted, like a line of soldiers marching,” said a Volga State student. Administrators at both universities said the students’ statements about pressure were false.

Yet it did not stop with the voting.

Shortly after election day, several hundred Lobachevsky students were told that they were being bused to Moscow, but the university would not say why. When they were let off near Red Square, they found themselves among a huge throng of people.It was only then that they realized that they had become unwilling participants in a rally sponsored by Nashi, a fiercely pro-Kremlin youth group, to celebrate United Russia’s triumph and to congratulate Mr. Putin.

Putin projects himself as a popular leader, yet he needs to engage in this type of neo-Soviet barbarism in order to win? Russia projects itself as a civilized, educated nation -- yet this is how it conducts the scholastic process?

A Russian commenter responded to the story, which the Times translated and ran in Russia:
My son was taken to Moscow from a university in another city for a United Russia event. Each student was paid about 800 rubles for the trip, I think. They were asked to vote for United Russia, but of course, no one was forcing their hands, and thus were able to vote as they pleased. It's just that the main political competition is represented by a bunch of clowns. The party of power seems to largely encourage this aberration with its own behavior. The students at Lobachevsky University were simply duped with money that the organizers of the trip had stolen.

Putin is completely innocent here (unfortunately). People in Russia have always been forced to go to demonstrations, to vote or to sign some kind of petition. These are the initiatives of local officials large and small, who maintain their thrones, not thanks to professionalism, but thanks to intrigues and brown nosing.
Make no mistake: This commenter is speaking for the vast majority of Russians. Putin runs the "party of power" and it "encourages" this "aberration" but Putin is "completely innocent" of misconduct. Students are bribed to vote and herded around like zombies, but that's perfectly fine since nobody actually put a gun to their heads. Pandemic corruption in the school system? So what, it's always been like that. No need for any type of reform, no need for outrage, not a word about the total absence of any real opposition emerging from the elections, so that now Russia's parliament is a pathetic, Zimbabwe-like rubber stamp.

Another commenter offered a different perspective:
This is an exercise I do with my Russian colleagues and friends regularly, it's called "name the country"; Here it goes: 1) the country has huge oil and gas resources, but lacks the technology and expertise to run the industry. 2) Qualified people flee the country. 3) The government makes it very difficult for foreigners to run a business and work legally(and hire locals by the way). 4) The corrupt and backward education system produces very few quality graduates. 5) Basic infrastructure - water, electricity, airports, health care,wiring,roads, plumbing - is a disaster. 6) The most lucrative career for young girls is either marriage or prostitution (apart from a few smart female accountants) 7) Money from natural resources is hoarded by a small corrupt elite.8)The elites blame western oil companies for the stealing this money.9) The masses are led to believe their country is rich because the ruling elite drive new Toyota Land Cruisers purchased with the stolen money. Answer - it depends. If it is warm outside it's Nigeria, and if it's ice cold, must be Russia.

— Eric Vigod, Sakhalin,Russia (ex-NYC'er)

What's the net result of all this? Well, you get a Russian "professor" of "international relations" telling the BBC that "Gazprom is an instrument of Russian foreign policy, like American oil companies are instruments of American foreign policy." He ignores the fact that Gazprom is state owned while American oil companies are not. He ignores the fact that Gazprom is monopoly, while American oil companies have furious competition. He responds to an accusation in the manner of a small child who is called "stupid" and answers simply "no, you are!" Within the ivory tower that is Russia, or at least the Kremlin, this seems to make some kind of sense, just as was the case in Soviet times.

But from even a little way beyond Russia's borders, the professor stands naked as a jaybird.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is Tower Bolshevik,

Gazprom is state owned. However, I fail to see what one or a few state owned firms relates a ruling class of a country that has a majority of private enterprises to the Soviet Union. Putin isn't nationalizing firms to help the masses of Russia, but capitalism, the interest of the Russian ruling class.