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Jul. 30 2010 — 7:25 am | 1,087 views | 0 recommendations | 22 comments

Hello, goodbye

This is my last True/Slant post for, as of tomorrow, True/Slant will be no more. You will be able to read more of my bloggery, if you so choose, at themoscowdiaries.wordpress.com but for now here is my last T/S post.

A debate has been raging here, in the comments section, as well on the blog of Mark Adomanis about what is a Russophobe and what is Russia’s trajectory and do one’s thoughts about the other make one a Russophobe or a Russophile? Addressing the question before my hop to another platform seemed especially fitting.

To kick off the discussion, I wanted to offer commenter yalensis’s taxonomy of a “Russophobe”:

To my mind, the term “Russophobe” mostly involves a constellation of assumptions (stereotypes?) about that person’s political views, i.e., they believe that: (1) Russia was on the right course towards democracy under Yeltsin, but then Putin came along. (2) Khodorkovsky was shafted, he should be released from prison and given his oil company back (3) hopefully during the upcoming Kasparov administration, but (4) none of this matters anyway because Russia is doomed due to low birth rate, alcoholism, and Islamic insurgencies. (5) The thought of Russia’s demise makes the Russophobe feel happy, because Russia has been so mean to the Gruzians and Chechens; however (6) Russians will not go gently into that good night because they suffer from “neo-imperialist” ambitions and want to restore their lost empire, so (7) it is up to the noble West to confront them and keep them inside their shrunken borders…. etc etc
I could rattle off a lot more cliches, but I think everybody gets the point.

I would say it’s a helpful one, except it isn’t. First, there is the fact that yalensis outlines what is basically an alternative political view. How having a different vision of Russia qualifies for hating Russia is unclear except it does reinforce the stereotype — since yalensis went that way — of the Kremlin brute who knows no truth but his truth and sees any alternative view through the sight of a rifle. It also is uncannily reminiscent of the thought process we saw in our mercifully unseated president, George W. Bush, as well as his spiritual heir, Ms. Mama Grizzly.

Furthermore, yalensis offers for our consideration a man made mostly of straw, a collection, by his own admission, of cliches. Because who really believes in the virgin peachiness of the Yeltsin era? Who really thinks Kasparov or his cohort are a realistic choice to lead Russia? And really — and this is a question for all the commenters who accuse me of subterfuge and of preparing the ground for an imminent American invasion of Russia — really who is rooting for Russia’s demise? Who? To be brutally honest: no one in the world give that much of a shit about Russia to actively want America to take over. Maybe you’ve heard about how insular and navel-gazing Americans are? And maybe apathy is a more apt definition of a “Russophobe,” but then it isn’t much of the toothy ogre you’re looking to beat your chest about and make you feel once again to be the fulcrum of world history, is it?

A gallery of agitprop from Seliger, the summer camp for pro-Kremlin youth, really snapped a lot of the comments I’ve seen into focus.

Especially this one:

This is a caricature of Viktor Suvorov, a KGB spy who defected to the West and wrote books about Soviet history as well as its security aparatus. Here’s what the poster says about him:

Way back when he left the USSR and nursed a grudge. Works on the orders of international intelligence agencies. In his books, turns Russian history on its head, calls into question the results of the Great Fatherland War.

It sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Because I’ve seen it here, under so many blog posts I’ve written and in the comments section of Inosmi when they pick up one of my pieces — except without the virulent anti-Semitism.

Julia Ioffe emigrated and has made a career of hating and defaming Russia in order to justify her decision to leave and betray her homeland.


Or, better yet:

Julia Ioffe wants to see Russia fail, collapse, become the 52nd American state so that she really, really feels justified.

A Western colleague last night asked me about my “line” and accused me of hating Russia. (That’s right, the Western media in Russia is not monolithically Russophibic, whatever that means.) It was a stupid question. I don’t have a “line.” I have the news and my sources on the ground in Moscow and when something happens I talk to them and then call it as I see it. If it’s in the format of a blog, I get cheeky and pick only the funny things. The hard work I leave for my published pieces. I don’t hate Russia, given all the friends and family I have living here. And I’ve never had an editor enforce “a line,” have never had them turn down a paid assignment because they didn’t agree with “my line” or wanted something more anti-Putin. I don’t get orders for articles except as vague “Can you write about Phenomenon X?”

It’s just stupid, simplistic, and it brings me to Mark’s very apt question about what one believes is Russia’s trajectory. And despite the nuance of his question, it still boils down to this: if you are optimistic about Russia, you are not a Russophobe. But what are you if you — if you had to venture a guess — were to predict that Russia would continue, like any other country, along a sinusoidal path of ebbs and flows, ups and downs. Does anybody really still believe in linear, Hegelian trajectories? Russia’s path, given its history and its present, is likely to have more height in those highs and more depth in those lows. Steps forward, steps back while time passes and Russia changes in ways we cannot predict, not all of them good. You know, like any country, but more pronounced — and, like any other country, with its aggregate of tiny, hilarious, absurd details I’ve tried to chronicle here. That may not be optimistic, but it sure is realistic. Does that make me a Russophobe?

Jul. 29 2010 — 12:03 pm | 187 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Moscow airport hijacking


Reports this evening that a hijacking has been stopped at Domodedovo airport in Moscow. Yesterday afternoon.

Apparently, a passenger on a Moscow-bound flight from Mineralnye Vody “made demands” of the crew and held up the plane for two hours. One report says this passenger turned to the plane’s captain saying he had “valuable information for the security forces.” The pilot reported the incident to air traffic control who diverted the plane to a special lot. In the meantime, the demander changed his demand: now he wanted to see the security administrators as well as representatives of the media. A fellow passenger felt ill. Instead of medics, though, the airport’s security and FSB boarded the plane and cleared it out.

It is unclear right now who this guy is or how one guy can hold up a plane or why he did this and how an offer of information constitutes a demand or how good of a hijacker he was if the pilot was able to, you know, land the plane exactly where he wanted, or whether this is anything more than the froth of a drunken rant, but Komsomolskaya Pravda reports that a body presumed to have fallen out of the plane [sic] and that police have cordoned off some of the landing/take-off strips and are not letting passengers off their planes on this, the hottest day of the year in Moscow. The planes are stuffy, out of water and even juice.

In short: who knows. More knowledge when I know it.

Jul. 28 2010 — 9:39 am | 94 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment


Smog from forest and peat bog fires can be see...

Image by AFP via @daylife

Y’all, it is so hot in Moscow. There are peat-bog fires in the countryside so the city is choked with a visible, and pungent, white smoke. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve beaten every record ever set since they started recording the temperature here 130 years ago. At this writing it is 97 degrees.

So instead of writing something about corruption or the fact that the budget deficit will be double what the Finance Ministry projected, I will bring you this awesomeness: a music video by comedian Aleksandr Revva under the pseudonym Artur Pirozhkov. (English speakers are free to tune out, as are Russian speakers who don’t get Russian humor.)

And, for context, some of his precious hilariousness.

You’re welcome.

Jul. 27 2010 — 6:46 am | 332 views | 1 recommendations | 22 comments

Plot twist: Battle against corruption produces more corruption

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 18:  Russian Preside...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The Interior Ministry’s Department of Economic Security reports today that as President Dmitry Medvedev’s war on corruption heats up, so has corruption. In the first six months of 2010, the size of the average bribe has nearly doubled, from 23,000 RUB ($760) to 44,000. Since Medvedev was elected in 2008, bribes have quadrupled.


And bribes for bureaucrats who are of middle or low-middle rank have grown faster than inflation.

This confirms what I’ve been hearing from Russian businessmen in Moscow, who complain that visits from renegade tax inspectors, fire inspectors, pencil inspectors have grown more frequent and more brazen, and the size of bribes they ask for, well, see above. Some speculate that it is because the average bureaucrat’s sense of uncertainty has grown, especially if he thinks his money spigot is in imminent danger of being shut off, so they take as much as they can for the long winter ahead. But that is, of course, just the speculation of the people who have to deal with these inspectors.

No wonder even Medvedev admits he’s made no progress on fighting corruption. Quoth he: “Often efforts toward fighting corruption are limited to energetically signing papers.”

via Gazeta.ru

Jul. 27 2010 — 6:01 am | 119 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Real Housewives of Moscow

Studio Portrait Of An Unidentified Woman Weari...

Because you guys seem to enjoy discussions about Russian women and money, I figured I would repost my latest article, from Slate, here. It is about how corrupt Russian bureaucrats use their wives as offshore bank accounts to hide the money they steal, and why that undermines the millions of Russian women not married to chinovniki, and who work for their family’s bread.

A strange thing happened in late June, when the big Russian Internal Ministry bosses disclosed their earnings and those of their family members, thanks to President Dmitry Medvedev’s new anti-corruption measures. The surprise didn’t come from the men: The head-honcho cops were the fat cats everyone assumed them to be, declaring incomes that strangely exceeded that of the president. And the ranks of the obscure upper-middle management fittingly declared modest incomes, usually topping at out around $50,000. A Russian-made car here, a modest apartment there.

But the wifely half of the family disclosures was far more revelatory. There was, for example, the amazing financial statement of the spouse of Viktor Smirnov, the deputy director of the Russian Internal Ministry’s Center to Ensure Operation Performance to Combat Extremism. In 2009, a year in which the Russian economy struggled to get back on its feet after the financial crisis turned it virtually inside-out, Mrs. Smirnov made $500,000. She also owns two plots of land, each about 40 acres. She has shares in two apartments as well as in a housing complex, plus a Subaru Outback, an industrial truck, and a BMW 3-Series, which can retail for over $60,000. What does Mr. Smirnov own? One-quarter of one apartment.

Read the rest here.

via Slate’s Double X

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    Hi! I am a journalist who, for reasons of sentimentality and an abiding fascination with the absurd, decided to live and work in Russia for a year just as the country vies with Somalia for Most Un-Safest Spot for Journalists in the World. I will blog in a death-defying manner, dear reader. That is a promise.

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