Russia


History

People want to have a glorious history, and objective history is therefore unwelcome. From my window in Winchester I could see the massive statue of King Alfred, the Wessex king who had fought off those terrible Danes. American republics made cardboard heroes of their liberators. For the new Russia of Putin, Peter the Great is the symbol of national glory, although Putin has been careful to cover his communist flank by keeping alive the cult of Stalin. In 2003 Putin ordered a review of all history textbooks. He seemed to want to remove allusions to repressions, hunger and other tragic events in modern Russian history which were described in textbooks issued after the collapse of the USSR. Among the historians whose textbooks were banned by Putin is Igor Dulutshy, who charges that Putin wants to glorify and falsify history. We have discussed the role of museums in teaching history. The Battle of Stalingrad Museum in Volgograd is attracting ever larger crowds, more than a million in 2003.

Water?

Randy Black says: "From Cameron Sawyer, we hear a constant stream of positive spins regarding the enormous economic strides in Russia, coupled with his predictions that Russia would overtake Western Europe economically.
It seems that Cameron lives in the economic bubble named Moscow, while much of the rest of the nation struggles with simple things, like no water to drink. From the Vladivostok Tribune: "We have water everywhere around us but our household taps stay dry," Vladivostok residents lament referring to puddles and streams of melting snow in the city's streets and scarce drinking water supplies. About a third of Vladivostok's 600,000 residents have cold water flowing out of their taps only a few hours a day, while some residential districts receive it just several times a week. The city has been without hot water for more than half a year.

Last year's dry summer and this winter's scarce snow are blamed for the lack of water for the city, seven time zones east of Moscow. Another blow came earlier this week when Vladivostok's Mayor Yury Kopylov announced on local radio that the residents could soon be left without any fresh water whatsoever. "According to weather forecasts, this summer will also be dry. Meanwhile, the water we have will last only for one month," Kopylov said. Vice Mayor Yury Molochny echoed Kopylov saying, "Water in ponds in the southern Primorye will last for slightly more than a month," a press release from the city's administration reported. Twenty-six wells have been drilled in Vladivostok to meet the needs of medical institutions for non-potable water, but still efforts being taken by city authorities cannot prevent a swift reduction in water reserves, the press release said.

Vladivostok Mayor Yury Kopylov blamed the water shortages on Moscow and regional authorities and said the situation was not expected to improve. But the regional authorities, including the office of President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the Far East, Konstantin Pulikovsky, said the water shortages were Kopylov's fault, caused by massive water leaks from dilapidated pipes. See http://vlad.tribnet.com/News/upd12_1.HTM. This predicament has been ongoing for many years. Yeltsin could not solve it. Neither can Putin from his palace in Moscow.

Inventors

Alfredo Gutiérrez reports: "When I landed on Tuapse on the Black Sea in 1961 and entered the local Interclub, I heard for the first time about Aleksandr Popov, an eminent Russian physicist and electrical engineer of the XIXth century. He was one of the pioneer investigators of electromagnetic waves, eventually used in wireless communications. Among other things, he began to develop a receiver and was interested in the work of Hertz. Unfortunately Popov was not supported by the Russian government , and it was Guglielmo Marconi who patented the wireless telegraph in 1896.

The Russians Interclubs were drab welcome centers for foreigners, mainly seamen. Among posters of Yuri Gagarin I found a few books in Spanish that mentioned not only the actual work of Popov, but also related him to other inventions, including the submarine. I only know that he taught mathematics and physics in the Torpedo School of Kronstadt. (While there are earlier records of crafts able to navigate under water, I use David Bushnell and Robert Fulton as initial references)

A most controversial issue in that Interclub was jazz. Some locals honestly claimed that jazz was originally Russian music.So much for propaganda!"

Russia and all its glory

From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer disagrees with reports in the West on revisionism in Russian history textbooks: "People, perhaps, want to have a glorious history, but in my experience few Russians really believe that their history is so glorious. They were defeated by the Tatar-Mongol hordes, and lived under the "yoke" for centuries. Even after the lifting of the yoke, the Russians lived under virtual slavery for centuries more -- first under serfdom, then under Communism. There have been bright periods, all too brief: from 1890 to 1914 was full of promise, with rapid economic progress and serious constitutional reforms. But that's about it.

Russians, 100% of them in my experience, are intensely proud of the victory over Nazi Germany, achieved at an expense in tens of millions of dead which is impossible for us to comprehend. They are proud of the victory over Napoleon. They are proud of having put the first man in space. But they tend to consider that all of these achievements were achieved as the result of enormous sacrifices of ordinary people, not the glory of the nation or its leaders. Russians regard their history with a gloominess hard for Americans to understand.

Putin frequently talks himself in public about the repressions of the 1930's and other Communist crimes and atrocities. He is a passionate anti-Communist (he and Alberto Gutiérrez would have a lot in common); hatred of Communism is the one thing that gets this otherwise cold technocrat worked up. So the idea that he would order such things to be taken out of textbooks sounds absurd to me. The case of Dolutsky involves a textbook in which students are asked to debate whether or not Putin is creating an authoritarian regime. See: http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,1122803,00.html <http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,1122803,00.html> .

Dolutsky's book lost its certification, which no one here finds particularly outrageous, or surprising. Imagine if a French state school were found to be using a textbook, bought at state expense, where students are asked to debate whether Chirac is really a fascist or not. This has stimulated a review of textbooks purchased with state money and used in state schools in Russia. It is likely that some guidelines for choosing history textbooks will be set by the state, like we have in the U.S. (except that in the U.S., it's done on the state level). There are currently no such guidelines at all, which I believe is unique among European countries.

I do think that Putin has authoritarian instincts (and therefore Dolutsky's question was fair), and, as I wrote before, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the elections taking place today, the lack of credible opposition, Putin's domination of media coverage. But no wisdom or insight will come from overreacting to relatively innocent incidents such as the Doloutsky affair.

I also object to this phrase: "Among the historians whose textbooks were banned by Putin is Igor Dulutsky " on factual grounds. First of all, no books were "banned". There is no censorship in Russia and no restriction on what textbooks can be bought with private funds (there are lots of private schools in Russia now, incidentally). Dolutsky's textbook did not get a certification required for the book to be bought with state funds. And Dolutsky is not "among" some other historians. The case, so far, is unique. For a critical but more factual account, see Radio Free Europe's article: http://www.rferl.org/features/2003/12/05122003173043.asp <http://www.rferl.org/features/2003/12/05122003173043.asp> ".

RH: Refusing to allow a textbook to be bought with state funds is a form of banning it from state schools. That was the tactic used against Paul Hanna of Stanford. The revival of the cult of Peter the Great is an expression of a search for glory. Is it true that Putin is protecting the memory of Stalin? My guess is that Russians' attitude toward their history is ambivalent. One can find this ambivalence in many countries such as Brazil and Argentina.

Cameron Sawyer and George Sassoon spoke of Slavic gloom. Randy Black comments: "I surmise that the gloom among the Slavs has just a little bit to do with the long history of being ruled over by totalitarian leaders who made it a point to discourage creativity and independent thought among the proletariat. Give them a decade of freedom to regain a sense of control over their lives. This positive evolution of attitude seems very visible in Moscow, in contrast to the gloom that still pervades in much of the Russian Far East and among several of the former republics of the USSR where the local politicos still rule as did the Soviets".

RH. Millions of Americans feel they have no control over their lives as they see corporations outsourcing their jobs. They believe that corporations control the country and that the political machines are kept going by lobbies. Hence the low vote in elections

From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer said: "Russians regard their history with a gloominess hard for Americans to understand". George Sassoon comments: " I think that this gloominess is characteristic of all Slavs. It is particularly noticeable in the Serbs, who are perpetually bemoaning their fate yet doing very little about it. In contrast, I was amazed at the optimism, cheerfulness, and energy of the people when I first went to non-Slav Hungary". RH: Indeed, Russian literature is pretty gloomy. But is it an ethnic thing.? Csn Ed Jajko tell us about the Poles? One must be careful with generalizations. The French say "Les Portugais sont toujours gais", but in fact the Portuguese are imbued with a sorrow known as saudade.

Russia in the 21st Century


Commenting on Larisa Piyasheva, Russia in the 21st century, Cameron Sawyer rightly says that Gaidar was prime minister under Yeltsin, not Gorbachev, although he did play a role under Gorbachev. Cameron praises Gaidar as "the mastermind of the original program of Russian privatization, which destroyed the Communist economy in Russia root and branch in just a few years. It also resorted in wholesale looting of the wealth of the country. When the Russian economy hit bottom in 1998, very few people believed that Gaidar's ideas were right. How much difference a few years make. Gaidar's original idea was that it is unimportant in whose hands privatized enterprises end up in. The main thing is to get them out of state control. If the new owners of a given enterprise are not competent to run it, it will be quickly sold to someone who is.

No one foresaw how deep the economic decline would be which followed the initial privatization of the economy, but in the end the results were very much as Gaidar promised. The main economic problems in Russia from 1992 to 1998 were not the result of privatization, but rather the result of the poisonous monetary policy formulated by the IMF, which created a ruble overvalued to such an extent that domestic manufacturing was practically wiped out. This was exacerbated by a deeply flawed tax system which made it almost impossible for privatized enterprises to pay taxes and still make any profit. As soon as the overvalued ruble was corrected by the ruble devaluation in August, 1998, the Russian economy took off, and has not stopped growing since. When Putin fixed the tax system with a series of reforms in 2000 and 2001, the pace of economic growth increased.

Without Gaidar's radical privatization program, it is doubtful that all of this would have been possible".

Putin: Russia's Choice

It would be difficult to imagine a more timely book than Richard Sakwa, PUTIN, Russia's Choice (Routledge, 2004, pp. 307). Sakwa, Professor of Politics at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, is well-known as a Russian specialist; he is the author of Russian Polirics and Society (which has gone into three editions), The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991, and Soviet Politics in Perspective. This biography of Putin is packed with facts and is not easy reading. It is grounded on a lot of theory, everything from Plato to Samuel Huntington. In his long list of acknowledgments there is no mention of Putin, and it is not clear if he has met him- There is little in the book which could offend Putin, who is described as a man with a sense of humor; today it is safe to make political jokes in Russia. Sakwa says little about the argument concerning the validity of this month'selection, which Putin won easily. Sakwa could argue that this would be outside the scope of this biography. The "Select bibliography" opens with a section "Autobiography and speeches". "Autobiography" refers to Vladimir Putin, First Person. An Astonishingly Frank Self´Portrait by Russia's President Vladimir Putin with Nataliya Gevorkyan, Natalya Timakova and Andrei Kolesnikov, translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick (London, Hutchison, 2000). Presumably Sakwa drew heavily on this.

For WAISers, the most interesting chapter is at the end: 9, "Putin and the world". There is an appendix with a translation by Sakwa of Putin's speech (12/29/99), "Russia and the turn of the millennium", In the "Conclusion" Sakwa speaks of Putin as "the consolidator, the Napoleon (not necessarily on horseback". The final paragraph is ambivalent, so that the book cannot be dismissed as simply promoting the Putin line.

In the "Acknowledgments·" there is an unusual outburst: "The book was held up by Quality Assurance Agency Subject Review and the baleful and obviously ridiculous consequences of the Research Assessment Exercise. Living in an age of Straussian Stalinism in Britain has helped me put contemporary Russian politics in perspective". I am not quite sure what Sakwa means by "Straussian Stalinism", but it is highly uncomplimentary. The whole passage clearly refers to the "peer review" process. Sakwa, a recognized Russian expert, spends years writing a densely documented book, and it is submitted to "peer review" by the university, the Nuffield Foundation (which provided funding) or the publisher. The "peer" knows relatively little about the subject, he may be an enemy of the author, he glances at the manuscript, and then utters a pronouncement whish demonstrates that he has the authority to block or hold up publication. I have seen this abuse so often that I can understand Sakwa's anger. The peer review system is a scandal. In this electronic age, it should be bypassed. A text can be put out in e-book form, and comments will allow it to be corrected or revised. If the reviews are generally bad, the book will sink of its own weight. This would certainly not happen to Sakwa's Putin. Will it be translated into Russian?

The Jews of Russia

Randy Black says: "As far as Russian Jews, there is the "line 5" rule that existed from about 1934 to 1993-1995 in Russia. The new Russian Constitution eliminated it, but it still existed for a few more years until old passports were replaced as they expired. Stalin instituted nationwide registration, including the requirement that you reveal your ethnicity on line 5 of the registration form, which in turn was put into your internal passport that you had to keep in your possession most of the time. Your passport was necessary for everything. It functioned as does a US driver's license and a Social Security card, but it told a lot more about you to the cop examining it than does a driver's license.
On line 5, you revealed that you were Russian, Uzbek, a Jew, and so forth. No matter that you were born in Moscow, if your father was a Jew, you were a Jew, technically not Russian. It gave the dictator and his henchmen the opportunity to discriminate and to regulate a person's movement. That the rule persisted for more than 40 years after Stalin's death puzzles me. The internal passport was also stamped with your "permission" to live in whatever city or town you lived in. Thus, even into the mid-90s, without the right stamp in your passport, you were "an illegal" without the right stamp. The permission to "live" in a city, stamped in your passport in Russia, persists to this day in 2004. Russians are "registered" to live in the city they live in, and if they travel to other cities to stay more than a few days, they must still register with the local cops within three days of arrival". RH: Perhaps Cameron Sawyer can tell us if there has been any change.

Randy Black described the registration requirements in the USSR, including a line on ethnicity. Tim Brown comments: "I don't find most of this unusual at all, and hardly consider it some form of Stalinism. While their systems may have changed somewhat, very similar rules about registering your place of resident with the authorities, obtaining permission to live in a particular house if you wanted to move, the mandatory carrying of a national ID document required for almost any transaction and so forth existed in very single country abroad where I served from Spain, The Netherlands, Israel and France to Mexico, Thailand, Honduras and Paraguay. The only thing I don't remember was their having an entry in their ID cards on your ethnicity, except in Israel. But the others may have had them as well. Most Americans have little or no idea how tightly other countries manage their populations and so we are shocked by practices that to almost everyone else in the world are simply routine parts of life that they hardly even think about".

Rob Gaudet says: " Well, people who move to the State of Washington are required to get a new driver's license from that state within thirty days and, once had, the old driver's license (e.g. California) is hole-punched and ruined.
It seems weird to me but, perhaps, it is somewhat similar to the residency practices in Russian cities". RH: I favor a national registration card, to be carried at all times. It would help in the fight against terrorism.

Ethnicity: Russian

Regarding the concept of ethnicity in Russia, Cameron Sawyer writes from Moscow: "I dont think this question would confuse anyone but Americans. To be a Russian is to be ethnically Russian; just like to be French is to be ethnically French. Russian citizenship is a secondary concept, like French citizenship. Therefore, one may be an ethnic Tatar, Jew, or Armenian, with Russian citizenship. An entirely natural concept to any non-American, just like one may be an ethnic Arab, Somali, Jew, or Armenian, with French citizenship. Ethnicity or nationality has nothing to do with legal citizenship, nor with religion.

An ethnic Ukrainian who marries a Jew and converts to Judaism but who lives in Moscow and has a Russian passport (an entirely plausible case) would consider himself as follows: A Ukrainian, with Russian citizenship, who follows the Jewish faith. In no case would such a person consider himself a Evrai or Jew (a concept of nationality, or ethnicity), or a Russian (also a concept of nationality or ethnicity).

I have a good friend who was born in Kazakstan of a Ukrainian father and Russian mother, but who lives in Moscow and is a Russian citizen; a fairly typical post-Soviet case. He cheerfully refers to himself as a kokhol; topknot, a slightly derogatory Russian term for a Ukrainian (derived from the Mongol hairstyle adopted by Ukrainians but not Russians during the Mongol-Tatar Yoke), although he never lived in Ukraine and has no particular ties there.

Is that more clear? I think in France or Germany the same concepts exactly would apply".

Sad Slaves

From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer said: "Russians regard their history with a gloominess hard for Americans to understand". George Sassoon comments: " I think that this gloominess is characteristic of all Slavs". I asked Csn Ed Jajko (a distinguished representative of Polonia) tell us about the Poles? Ed replies:"Sorry, I'm too depressed to answer ...Forcing myself out of my slough of Slavic despond long enough to reply, I would say that the same trait is found among the Poles. I have no idea whether it is genetic or the result of nurture, but it is there. Among the older generation of Poles and Polish Americans, a favorite song at get-togethers is a sort of auld lang syne whose words translate as "how swiftly the moments pass, how swiftly time passes; after a year, a day, a moment, we will no longer be together; after a year, a day, a moment, we will no longer be together." Then tears are shed. In recent years I have had some limited contact with Finns and Finnish culture, and the depressive trait seems alive and well also in Suomi, even when the Finns dance the tango".

Ronald Hilton -


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