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RUSSIA: Heat in Karelia - Russian Capitalist Nirvana (?)

Cameron Sawyer answers Christopher Jones, who pointed out that the people of northern Russia are freezing and that capitalism has not solved their problems: "It is true that the arctic cities of Russia are dying, and the lack of heat is just one symptom of this. But that is only natural these cities were built on socialist principles for strategic reasons and are simply not viable in a market economy. They are thousands of miles from civilization and the logistics of supplying them are staggering. Most of them have no road access at all (trucks can get in only in winter, driving days over frozen rivers) and everything is flown in. Such cities are possible in a socialist economy where the real value of things is unknown and unknowable (one of the reason all socialist economies go bankrupt, incidentally); they are not possible in a market economy where only massive subsidies would do the trick". RH: Argentina played by the capitalist rules, with unhappy results.

Cameron also replies to Christopher on the subject of Chechnya and the economy: "The war in Chechnya is not genocidal, except in the imaginations of a handful of uninformed and irresponsible European journalists. The press in Russia is entirely free and unmuzzled (see previous postings on the subject), not to mention noisy and critical. The Russian economy, left in total bankruptcy after 75 years of socialism, has been remarkably turned around, and is presently the fastest growing in Europe, with billions of dollars being invested annually in infrastructure. Speaking of infrastructure, the roads and bridges in Moscow are presently in better condition than those of Berlin, and Moscow is cleaner, too (not saying much, perhaps). Every bridge over the Moscow River, for example, has undergone capital renovation in the last five years (they were totally decrepit by the end of the communist period), and three brand new ones have been built. The federal budget is in surplus. Personal incomes of average people are rising even faster than the overall growth rate of the economy. Putin is not so much the boy of western businessmen, as of average Russians, among whom he is extremely popular". RH: Whether the handful of Western journalists are uninformed and irresponsible I do not know. Gluksmann seems to be.

Cameron is upbeat about Russia today: "Russia is not a capitalist nirvana yet. The economy is rising from a low base, and there are many problems. Setbacks are possible; even likely. It is not easy to build a wholly new society and economy from zero, from less than zero. But Russia has taken its new course boldly, without compromise, and Putin has done a remarkable job of enlisting practically the entire country on this new course. It is fairly breathtaking for anyone who knew Russia under the old regime. Who could be mean-spirited enough not to wish them success? The answer Fidel Castro and certain European journalists and leftist intellectuals who feel that Russia betrayed the socialist dream. The same journalists and leftist intellectuals who still admire Fidel and Che, by the way, and write admiring dispatches about the wonders of the Cuban health care system".

Cameron lauds Catherine the Great, which Christopher does not: "Catherine the Great was a great ruler, by the standards of absolute monarchs, which means she was no Churchill and certainly no George Washington. But she carried out a number of very beneficial reforms and built good relations with European countries, opening up Russia for trade, finally fulfilling many of the promises of Peter s regime. She is justly remembered as a great ruler" RH: Catherine was the model ruler of the Enlightenment, interested in law and economics. In 1765 she established the Free Economic Society. She promoted the University of Moscow and the Academy of Sciences. However, she did little for the common people. The outbreak of the French Revolution (1789) was followed by the publication (1790) of Aleksandr Radishchev's Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, which denounced the evils of serfdom. Catherine responded with repressive measures which cost her much popularity. Presumably she was called "the Great" because of her two successful war against Turkey, which ensured Russia's presence on the Black Sea. She also participated in the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1792, 1795). I very much doubt that the Poles view her as "Great", which brings us back to our history textbook project. How do Polish history textbooks view her? I question the use of "Great" as applied to monarchs.

Ronald Hilton - 1/18/03