I first read Anne Applebaum's column on the beautiful Russian women very quickly - so quickly that my only reaction was, "Oh, how nice it is to read something relatively apolitical and more or less positive about this part of the world."
Natalia Antonova's reading of Applebaum's piece was anything but superficial. Here's just one quote from her insightful and passionate response, posted at Global Comment:
I’m not against beauty culture. I do think it’s been, and continues to be, unfairly used against women - especially those who have no interest in participating. Applebaum’s piece has reminded me of the fact that beauty culture can also obscure the issues of traffickers and other exploiters.
I understand the sort of piece that Applebaum was trying to write. She was having fun. I like to have fun too - and get very irritated when pious wailing about Oppressors and Oppressed overwhelms me, because, not every single damn piece of writing has to be incredibly serious and somber and grave. If it was, we’d all shoot ourselves in the head and let the cockroaches take over.
Yet, if you’re going to rely on ridiculous generalizations, your piece is no longer fun. It’s merely tacky. And, quite possibly, damaging.
While in general I agree with Natalia on most points, I nevertheless have a slightly different take on Applebaum's piece, now that I've re-read it.
Applebaum's married to Poland's foreign minister Radek Sikorski, and knowing this, it's hard not to think of the Polish Plumber hype and other labor migration issues while reading her piece - and especially its last paragraph:
Beauty is a matter of luck, but the same could be said of many other talents. And what open markets do for beautiful women, they also do for other sorts of genius. So, cheer up the next time you see a Siberian blonde dominating male attention at the far end of the table: The same mechanisms that brought her to your dinner party might one day bring you the Ukrainian doctor who cures your cancer, or the Polish stockbroker who makes your fortune, too.
For all I know, Applebaum is doing part of her husband's job here, trying to persuade the folks in the West to be a little bit more optimistic about the recent Schengen Zone expansion.
Because, obviously, there's plenty of pessimism out there.
Take this piece by Mark Franchetti, which appeared in the Sunday Times on Jan. 20 - "Britain is target in Ukraine’s people smuggling bonanza. With most border controls in Eastern Europe now gone, people smuggling has become easy business in the Ukraine."
Here's the first paragraph, a description that, I hope, explains why I'd rather read a dozen pieces like Applebaum's:
Chewing slices of pork fat at his house less than two miles from the border with Slovakia, a Ukrainian people smuggler broke into a grin studded with gold teeth as he predicted a sharp increase in trade this year.
My Global Voices translation of some of the reactions to this piece is here.