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Friday, July 27, 2007

On Russian Dementia

Writing in the Moscow Times, Georgy Bovt illustrates the breadth and depth of neo-Soviet dementia:

I recently bumped into a business acquaintance. It would be wrong to call him simply an entrepreneur, since he works for the state. But he isn't a bureaucrat either, since he "privatized" his position long ago, turning it into a thriving business. In addition, various "auxiliary" and "middleman" businesses have sprung up around his position. As a result, he has grown increasingly prosperous and joined the ranks of the middle class -- the dream of so many at the dawn of Russia's democracy.

We often heard that a middle class would appear in Russia, that it would put our lives on the right path, that a democratic civil society would develop, that it would force our leaders to answer to the people for their actions, and that we would finally begin conversing with "civilized" nations using the same civilized and democratic language.

Many people still like to discuss politics in their leisure time. It is interesting to observe how some highly educated and informed people occasionally come up with somewhat bizarre views reflecting a mixture of state propaganda and their own distorted perceptions of the world.

The bureaucrat-cum-businessman mentioned earlier unexpectedly began to explain in detail the "U.S. plot against Russia." Russians everywhere discuss this theme nowadays. Until now, all the talk I'd heard regarding the "U.S. plot" was based on the same old examples: a desire to influence events in Georgia, Ukraine, the CIS and the Baltic states; plans to install anti-ballistic missile batteries in Europe; the ambition to weaken Russia's economy, and so on.

But my interlocutor revealed a very original variation on the theme of U.S. subversion. "Do you know the reason behind Russians' harmful, widespread passion for beer consumption?" he asked me.

"What is it?" I casually responded, expecting to hear the usual lecture on excessive public drinking, which I also find disgusting.

I was wrong. My acquaintance informed me that it was all part of the U.S. plot against Russia. Beer, he explained, contains a high quantity of female hormones. Russian men who get drunk on beer gradually become impotent. That is how the Americans are trying to destroy the Russians.

Rubbish, you say? Well, of course it is. But now I ask you: Aren't the points of contention that have developed in recent months between Russia and the West also nothing but nonsense? The whole problem seems to consist of nothing more than petty arguments over limited and basically trivial questions. The issues on the table include: Polish meat; Polish and Czech installations for U.S. anti-missile batteries; Eastern Europe's various historical grievances; Moscow's policy of "energy blackmail" in response to accusations of authoritarianism by the West. What's more, even global terrorism has become a nonissue.

Are there no other questions that deserve the attention of experts at the highest level? Are no other prospects envisioned for Russia's development than feverishly resolving various micro-crises, one after another?

Matters have really gotten out of hand. Last week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov created a minor diplomatic scandal by publicly stating his displeasure with the way Foreign Affairs, a venerable U.S. journal, had edited an article he wrote. But the journal's editor subjected Lavrov's piece to the same journalistic standards applied to other authors, and was "foolish" enough not to make an exception this one time. Did this require a demarche from the foreign minister of a major country?

The wrangling between London and Moscow over the Litvinenko case has come to resemble the theater of the absurd. To the Kremlin's credit, however, at least they have stopped organizing news conferences for Andrei Lugovoi.

Moreover, Russia and the West have dug in their heels over Kosovo, as if they are deliberately emphasizing their mutual unwillingness to compromise. The Kosovo issue -- and many more like it -- has shown that there is no desire to listen to each other, and the tone of discussion has become increasingly ugly.

Relations between the East and West have grown dramatically more shallow, turning into some kind of propagandistic squabble. This has happened before in human history, when it seemed that international relations had become caught up with utter nonsense acquiring a definite superficiality. That condition remained in force until something major or terrible occurred, which brought everybody back to their senses restored the correct hierarchy of civilized values.

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