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Monday, February 12, 2007

Svanidze Speaks: Another Original LR Translation

La Russophobe's in-house translator offers a short article from Nikolai Svanidze (pictured, left), whom LR reported on back in June when he announced that Russians were "tired of pluralism" and wanted the state to step in and make their choices for them. Svanidize is the host of a TV talk show known as "The Mirror" on state-owned RTR television, and a bigshot in the network's power structure. He's also written a series of newspaper articles for the Yezehedvny Zhurnal newspaper, including the one translated below. In a February 2000 public opinion poll, only one-quarter of respondents said they watched his show and found it trustworthy. In a November 2002 survey, he was ranked dead last in combined score for interest, agreement and credibility in a group of 12 other TV presenters. In November of last year, he said this to a group of government students in Tatarstan: "On the one hand, Vladimir Putin is popular - it is a guarantee of stability. In my view, however, we should not make exceptions and depart from the Constitution based on the president's rating. George Washington was very popular in his time in the USA. He was reelected for the third term but he died. Now, the United States make no exceptions at elections." Apparently, he was thinking of Franklin Roosevelt. George Washington, of course, could have been elected to a third term but declined to accept it, fearing the impact on democracy in the United States if he did. For his part, Roosevelt was elected not merely to a third but to a fourth term, and gave up power only when, like Stalin, he perished in office, violating Washington's sage advice. Then the Constitution was changed to make Washington's view the law.

LR: How many Russians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

So Fouled Up, It’s Kind of Fun!
Nikolai Svanidze
Yezhedneviy Zhurnal
January 17, 2007

A friend of mine recently returned from a political mob-event in Germany, a “round table” on Russian-European affairs. The discussion with his foreign colleagues did not bring him any great satisfaction. One could say that no discussion developed at all. My friend returned in the sort of mood that was well-described in 1916 by S.L. Markov, the future White Russian general and legendary hero of the Volunteer Army. At the time, Markov found himself surrounded by far superior German forces, and relayed to his commander, A.I. Denikin, “It’s so fouled up, it’s kind of fun!”

There are, it is true, a few differences. No one is attacking us now, we are not surrounded, and no one thirsts for our blood. We don’t need to cling to the frozen earth like a lover, under withering enemy fire. We don’t need to tear ourselves from that earth and, with an “ooh-rah” and an indistinct curse whispered from our fear-dried gullet, stand up for a bayonet charge. Nothing of that sort at all. We have no enemies at all. With the exception of our former friends, but they are not dangerous, inasmuch as they are small and fear us more than fire. We have a different problem. Like Panikovskiy*, no one likes us. The only thing they want is to get as far away from us as they can, as one might view a drunk on the street. It is tough to realize this, and tougher still to come to terms with it. We could, of course, grab them by the lapels and directly, impartially ask them: “Don’t you like me?” Or we could work ourselves up into a patriotic trance and chant that Russia is just getting up from its knees and no one is ready to forgive us for it. We could do this, and we already are. But then, being monsters, they shun us even more. They shun us, like crazy people; you can’t knock sense into their heads. It’s clear they’re genuinely sick.

Of course, all this did not begin this morning. For some years now any discussion of Russia and its problems in western universities and research centers has invited at best a yawn, at worst – irritation. And academic programs devoted to the study of us – from history and economics to arts and literature – are closing. Students don’t want to study Russian, they want to study Chinese. In other words we have already been for some time pushed to the periphery of western intellectual interests. But that was actually a victory. Now it’s much worse. The final straw was the polonium incident. On top of that lay, as if on someone’s order, as if naturally, the incident with Belarus. Time to cash out.

With a complete lack of interest, utterly coldly, they watch as our discussion of the polonium incident is turned upside down. They could care less whether Litvinenko was killed by rogue or non-rogue KGB agents, working for or against Putin. It’s all the same even if they were working for Berezovskiy, or Nevzlin, or the horned devil. It’s all the same. For them, we’re like Chinese, we all look the same. The main thing is -- they’re all Russians. Look at these stupid Russians, in trouble because of their adolescent complexes and stolen billions, now not only have they had a public brawl in the heart of Old Europe, they’ve brought on an investigation using the tables of their own stupid Mendeleyev!** And they think that exactly in this way they are getting up off their stupid knees! Let them stand up, dance around, maul each other with chemicals, and beat their chests all they want, only please, as far away from Europe as they can.

We have made history, in the eyes of the world, with the first instance of nuclear terrorism. And now we are being congratulated by a grateful world. The world is now interested not in our plans for reform or anti-reform, not in our plans for economic or political freedom. All this “sputtering” is seen as categorically unreal, everyone knows it. No one even bothers asking dumb questions about freedom of speech anymore. Even the anti-aircraft missile systems we sold to Iran get only a wave of the hand. Only one small slice of us is interesting – the slice with the oil and gas pipelines. That is because their sick imagination suggests to them that such temperamental, at best unpredictable children, who spit polonium at each other as easily and unnecessarily as school children shoot spit wads, are capable of much more. They’ve gotten up off their knees before, too. For example, to turn off the pipeline. It’s good that we already had occasion to fear them.

And now, Belarus. Right for the groin, so to speak. With that, regarding what is and isn’t Belarus, all our European friends are united. Today it is, tomorrow it isn’t. And suddenly they appreciate the Little Father [TN: the President of Belarus, Lukashenko]. So the issue, of course, is not Belarus and not Lukashenko, but yet another instance of what they consider not playing by the rules. We ask them, of course, in all seriousness, “Who thought up these idiotic rules? We didn’t. We have our own rules. We keep our candy in our sweaty palm and don’t give it out for just a ‘thank you’.” To this, of course, they have nothing to say. They just sit quietly, squint their eyes, and don’t want to hear anything. They don’t trust us. At all.

It just means they have to speed up their transition to alternative sources of energy. And that means that prices will fall to their traditional levels. Wreaking our bright dreams of “Russia – The Energy Superpower.” And this is just the ideological part. In the economic part, serious problems await us, and not way off on the horizon.


LR: Literally, the title of the article ("Так хреново, что даже весело!") means "So full of horseradish, it's even merry!"

*Panikovskiy: a swindler, from the classic novel “The Golden Calf” by Ilf and Petrov. Most famous for pretending to be blind, then picking the pockets of those who came to his assistance.

**Dmitri Mendeleyev: Russian scientist, creator of the first periodic table of the elements.

LR's Translator offers the following observations about the photograph that leads the article (LR has nothing to do with this photograph, it was selected by the Russian paper, but LR added the caption):

The utter idiocy of a guy holding a live electric wire in his hand, trying to figure out how to change the lightbulb at the end of it, while his daft mother or grandmother or wife or whatever looks on, is just too precious to let go. (Maybe a sort of allegory -- all of Russia looking on while their "gebetsi" try to turn Russia into an "energy superpower"?) It's actually the main reason I translated the article, so no one would accuse us of just putting up pictures of stupid Russians to make them all look bad. The article itself seemed a little cobbled together and inverted, with the less significant issue (the spat with Belarus) tacked on at the end and seemingly elevated above the significance of the Litvinenko murder -- I honestly couldn't understand what point Svanidze was trying to make in the first half of the next to last paragraph, even after I read it aloud to myself several times. So I just gave him a very literal translation and moved on. But I also liked his image of people in the west looking at Russians the way you might a drunk on the sidewalk. Conversationally, and in most ways professionally, I'll definitely cross the street to avoid having to deal with Russians. As for Svanidze, I put him in the same category with Vladimir Pozner -- both Soviet-educated True Believers, who quaintly came to believe their own propaganda about the basic goodness of Russians/Soviets, and manage to be genuinely surprised when they show themselves, time after time, to be the exact opposite.

LR: It's not at all uncommon to encounter purely incomprehensible gibberish in the Russian press, even from a high-ranking figure like Svanidze. In fact, perhaps most common, since the culture of cowardice in Russia usually prevents anyone from mentioning the flaws, as in the Emperor's New Clothes. Hence, the poor Emperor ultimately perishes from frostbite.

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