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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another original LR Translation: Sidorov on the "Nonsense" of Russian Empire-Building

La Russophobe's translator Vova Khavkin offers the following translation of Kommersant Washington correspondent Dmitriy Sidorov regarding the Kremlin's insane practice of empire-buildling. Sidorov captures it neatly with the phrase: "the Russian Empire, the USSR, and now Russia, have been—and remain—an economically weak, politically backward, yet outwardly aggressive state." That's the same as to say that Russia is a fundamentally irrational nation, bent on self-destruction.

Nonsensical Arguments

By Dmitriy Sidorov

19 April 2007

What makes a great power—when people wear banded-collar tunics and tree-bark sandals, or suits and Italo-Franco-English boots? Or perhaps [when wearing] a banded-collar tunic and stylish footwear? With nuclear weapons or without them? With the trappings of Western democracy or without them? This type of nonsense is worthy of discussion in the Kremlin offices.

People in the United States do not concern themselves with such questions. Nor have they ever posed—or still do pose—such questions to the immigrants coming into this country. I can picture a scene, say, a hundred-plus years ago, at the Ellis Island immigrant processing center in New York.

"Can’t you see, Mordecai Rosenblum, Jim O’Malley, or Lin Sing-Hu, that you are about to set foot in a great country and must be worthy of her greatness? Here’s a list of requirements: You shave off your sidelocks, St. Patrick is no saint, Buddhism is banned, opposition parties—except for those directed from above—cannot be organized. Please read this and sign—or sail back to where you came from."

A nation does not become a great power solely by the will of its government. Just as one cannot convince the world that one nation is superior to another. Even if you tackle this challenge head on rather than theoretically. Many tried, including Hitler and Mao Tze-tung.

What for devil’s sake does it matter how the people, who either inhabit the area where you live, or came to settle there, look like? [Wearing] a frock, a tunic, a gown, kimono, with a turban on their heads, or sandals? This is what makes them feel comfortable, this is what they are accustomed to.

What matters most is what they will—or won’t—do. How the government treats them and whether it will get in the way of their making a living for themselves and their families. And they will think accordingly: In other words, their thoughts will be about anything except for the things that lead to force and violence. And in their majority their offspring will dress just like their peers—because they are born in America, in her huge “melting pot.” What’s so difficult to understand here?

But if one were to pray to one king, one secretary general, one president for a long time or, if you will, enjoy slavery for a long time and consider only one religion to be superior in a multiethnic state, then one would inevitably develop severe mental and ethical disorders.

[Call it an] alienation of democratic principles if you will. Their substitution with make-belief fantasies, but of your own invention! As if democracy may be of second-rate (or third-rate) freshness, like sturgeon in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel.

One cannot get rid of it completely. Or do so quickly in any case. Yet it is possible to cure a large segment of the public—but only if the sane segment of the society tries to exert influence on the authorities who are obsessed with the desire to be in control of everything—from consciousness to profit-making.

On the other hand, where would this sane segment of the public come from in sufficient numbers if the authorities have for all practical purposes crushed one segment of the opposition, bribed another (who sold out with gusto), and created their own [lapdog opposition], while declaring the existence of “democratic values” in the country.

Madeline Olbright, former U.S. secretary of state, advanced a very smart thesis recently: “Existence of real opposition is what defines democracy in a country.”

How would the country’s government risk [implementing] political reforms if its mentality differs little from the views of its communist predecessors? Image Leonid Brezhnev as the head of state where private property is allowed [de jure] but lacks protection de facto, and where it is OK to travel abroad. Do you think that his collection would only be limited to cars?

What makes today’s ideology better than that of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, or Catherine the Great? Of these and other Tsars of All Russia who singlehandedly made the decisions and ruled sway the destinies of the subjects humbly praying for them.

Explain to me the differences between the suppliant letters to any king or general secretary falling into the category of “I Humbly Appear Before Thee Cap in Hand” and Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference in front of the public, or his meetings with the scorned and subjugated oligarchs…

Despite all the lofty words spoken by our rulers, in reality it never occurred to any one of them that it was necessary to create an economically powerful [and] unified Russian state. They have been too busy beating up the opposition, instilling fear, or [pursuing] expansionist plans.

In his famous book “The Great Game” Peter Hopkirk showed that “During four centuries the Russian Empire had been expanding at an average rate of 55 sq. mi per day (about 93.5 sq. km) or about 20 thousand sq. mi per year (34 thousand sq. km).”

One would be proud of such remarkable territorial expansion indicators had the country that was attaching lands at such a rate been economically developed and had it understood why it needed this.

In most cases capture of land was in no way explained by the economic expediency. Rather, [it could be explained] by the political necessity which was not supported by any sound economic rationale. This is not to mention the concept of cultural or educational policy in the captured lands.

What economic gain could justify forcible annexation by the Bolsheviks of the three Baltic States, Ukraine, or the countries of Eastern Europe? Run up the numbers—the expenditures from the USSR budget spent as subsidies to these countries at the time when the population in the “mother country” was on the verge of dying from starvation. Look at Russia’s economy before and after annexation of Finland, Poland, and the Central Asian Republics.

All I am trying to say is this: In a nutshell, the Russian Empire, the USSR, and now Russia, have been—and remain—an economically weak, politically backward, yet outwardly aggressive state.

It’s a no-brainer to set up a hunweibin [Red Guard] gang under the name of “Nashi” [Kinforlk] or support such terrorist movements as Hizbullah and HAMAS, pressure Georgia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan, and keep Armenia on short leash while doing nothing to ensure that the economy, at least domestically, develop freely and without unbearable extortion and corruption.

Take a look at the increase in the living standard in Russia, except for Moscow, Piter, and selected other cities which have become today’s “Potemkin Villages” that one could gladly visit and view the advantages of the “fossilized” economy [based on fossil fuels].

Those who maintain that the world economy is so competitive that entering it is like trying to get into the New York City subway during the rush hour are right.

Reality forces Russia to elbow her way in because the country is seriously lagging behind world economic processes. Yet these wide-swing motions convey only an abhorrent—and not very novel—philosophy of “managed democracy” and trumpet the victory of their mammoth bureaucracy.

It’s like in an old joke: “You can’t smoke in our stairway” said a man to a stranger while relieving himself in front of his apartment door.

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