Saturday, February 10, 2007

Just finished reading Michael Specter's New Yorker Russia piece - liked it a lot.

Its focus, though, doesn't really seem to be on why Putin's "opponents" are dying - it's more of a summary of the past decade or so, written by someone who has experienced it firsthand (as opposed to someone who learned about it from books and the media, sitting an ocean away).

Still, at times, it seems as if the LRB author, Perry Anderson, and Specter, shared the same notes - or the same assistant: they both mention Pakistan, for example, when they write about Russia's demographic crisis.

Here's Anderson:

In just five years, from 1990 to 1994, the mortality rate among Russian men soared – in peacetime – by 32 per cent, and their average life-expectancy plummeted to under 58 years, below that of Pakistan.

And here's Specter:

Russian males born today can, on average, expect to live to the age of fifty-nine, dying younger than if they were born in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Neither one mentions that in Pakistan booze is illegal, while in Russia... well, you know how it is in Russia...


What Specter writes about the Brezhnev era is nice, but I wish he had taken it a little bit further:

Brezhnev held power for eighteen years as General Secretary of the Communist Party in an era most notable for economic stagnation and human-rights abuses. And yet he has never been more in vogue. A poll taken last month by the daily paper Moskovsky Komsomolets found that “the overwhelming majority of Russia’s people have very pleasant memories of Brezhnev’s era and of Leonid Ilyich himself, who would have turned a hundred on December 19th.” During the Brezhnev years, the decaying state was kept aloft almost exclusively by stratospherically high oil prices.

“Those years are now increasingly called the Golden Age of the great power, which preceded the turmoil of Gorbachev and Yeltsin—theirs was the age of a weak and lost Russia, ended by the return of Russia’s past grandeur under President Putin,” the columnist Sergey Strokan noted in Kommersant.

At least, he doesn't spend pages writing about someone's silly Stalin=Putin theories...


I think that mentioning Victor Shenderovich is really praiseworthy; I hope one day they'll do his profile or perhaps translate something written by him:

Shenderovich is a grumpy-looking former standup comedian whose satirical television show “Kukly” (“Puppets”) aired on NTV between 1994 and 2003. For much of that time, it was required viewing for anyone who cared about politics—a weirdly effective combination of “Saturday Night Live” and “60 Minutes.” Shenderovich was savagely funny, using his puppets to ridicule whoever held power. Nobody was spared, not Boris Yeltsin or Mikhail Gorbachev, and certainly not Vladimir Putin. But Putin does not take well to being made fun of. A few weeks after he was portrayed by a puppet as a nasty dwarf, Shenderovich was out of a job. He now has a weekly radio broadcast on Echo of Moscow and another on Radio Liberty.


Such close attention to Akhmed Zakayev's appearance seems telling - a detail that's more memorable than his words - and the mention of the Chechen people in the same paragraph is sadly ironic, as usual:

Zakayev looks more like a lawyer these days than like a revolutionary; when we met he was wearing a blue suit, a white shirt, and a red tie. His shoes were spit-shined. When Litvinenko died, on November 23rd, Russian prosecutors once again began an effort to extradite him—and also Berezovsky. “Putin won’t stop till every one of us is dead,’’ Zakayev told me. By “us” he meant not only the Chechen people but also those who oppose Kremlin policies, people like Politkovskaya and Litvinenko. “Alexander and Anna were killed to send a message,’’ he said. “I am sure of that.”


My favorite part is on how the fear of Zyuganov in 1996 eventually resulted in Putin - and the role that the media played in this process:

“When NTV was busy reĆ«lecting Yeltsin, when he had two per cent and it magically went to fifty-four per cent, why didn’t you in the West say, ‘Careful, Russia, this will lead to a system you will regret’?’’ Leonid Parfyonov asked me recently. Until two years ago, Parfyonov was the nation’s most influential television host, but he was abruptly fired after a dispute with the Kremlin over the censoring of his Sunday-night political news program. He is now the editor of the Russian edition of Newsweek. “No. We never got that from the West. You all said, ‘Good job. Yeltsin good, Zyuganov bad.’ You prevented the return of Communism as much as we did.’’ That is true, no doubt. But when Russia’s young democrats jettisoned the rules of democracy they also forfeited their independence. That made what came next for the media, and for Russia, possible—perhaps even inevitable.

In Ukraine, the situation was very similar at some point: everyone was scared of Symonenko, a Communist just like Zyuganov, and it seemed logical to elect Kuchma for the second term, because even to the folks in Western Ukraine he seemed like the lesser evil, and then we couldn't wait for him to vanish.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the heads-up on this article. It is tough to get a clear understanding of conditions in Russia sitting an ocean away. It seems most blogs either focus on the positive or the negative aspects of Russian society, and don't really try to balance out their coverage.

    You are one of the few blogs I do trust to give a honest opinion on events. I realize you have your own biases (as do we all) but you seem to be honest about them with your readers.

    One thing that did bother me about the linked article, is that the author obviously knows nothing about firearms. There is no such thing as a plastic 9mm Makarov (they only make them in steel) and the 5.45mm bullet used in the standard AK74 is not illegal to use. It has a hollow space in the tip of the bullet that supposedly allows it to tumble more quickly in flesh, but all bullets either tumble or fragment (or both) when they hit a person.