Friday, November 30, 2007

There's one point in La Russophobe's comment that I agree with - and it's the timing of the New York Times' Simachev piece:

[...] First, how you can justify diverting attention from the outrageous decline of democracy in Russia by publishing a piece that could easily have issued from the Kremlin itself is beyond me [...].

I cannot "justify" that. Even if there were no urgent matters to cover in Russia - and there are plenty, of course - one would expect them to run something on Ukraine or Belarus - coal mines, oil spills, you name it - before turning to Simachev, a relative non-newsmaker.

One of the results that a 'Ukraine' search at the New York Times site has landed me today is pretty symbolic:

Here's this brilliant, albeit a bit too laconic, piece:

So yeah, Simachev piece is indeed "diverting attention" - but I can't say I'm surprised: it's always been like this.

Take those "no snow in Moscow in December" stories.

Here's one, from the New York Times, published on Dec. 12, 1996:

[...] There has been no snow in Moscow at all this season, a fact so depressing to average Muscovites that they have trouble even speaking about it.

"It's wrong," said Vyacheslav Sesoyev, 65, the proprietor of a central Moscow sporting goods store. "It's not Russia if it doesn't snow. In the old days we would have thought the C.I.A. did it. The last time this happened was in 1938. I remember it well because my mama cried for the whole month of December." [...]

And here's another one, published in the Washington Post ten years later, on Dec. 20, 2006:

[...] The winter of 2006 has yet to arrive, however, and Muscovites are deeply discombobulated. "I want snow. I want the New Year's feeling," said Viktoria Makhovskaya, a street vendor who sells gloves and mittens. "This is a disgusting winter. I don't like it at all." [...]

As a Kyivite, I am biased, of course: I think it's unfair and wrong that the whole world seems to revolve around Russia, and that even when they do write about Ukraine, they manage to shift the focus to Russia in the end, one way or another, more often than not. Andrey Slivka's Kyiv traffic piece in the Washington Post is the most recent example of such coverage. Part of me thinks that relative obscurity may even be better than the kind of spotlight that's normally available to us.


As for La Russophobe's other points, I think it is barking up at least a couple wrong trees.


How strange: I've just run into another Simachev piece - published in the International Herald Tribune on Nov. 23, four days before the New York Times ran Natasha Singer's story.

Written by Nora FitzGerald, the piece - Moscow Has Hot Clubs - But It's a Cold Wait If You're Not On the List - is more about Moscow nightclubs than it is about Simachev, but still:

[...] At 33, Simachev is best known as an international designer and pioneer of Russia's fashion scene, with a standing place in Milan's Fashion Week. He has captured the imagination of the youth culture here with his ironic, nostalgic celebration of all things Russian - from oil-rich gangsters and absent-minded aristocrats to Soviet cartoons and communist style. A little over a year ago, he decided to open a club in his store and try his hand as a D.J. On Web sites and in alternative weeklies, it is frequently rated as one of Moscow's hottest nightclubs.


Finally, close to 1 a.m., Simachev arrives, creating a stir. His black hair is in a high ponytail with the sides of his head shaved, a look he said is inspired by the Chukotka people in Russia's far east. Hands stuffed in his oversized jean pockets, he greets his guests like a visiting dignitary and makes his way to the small stage. Soon, with a heavy-set security guard standing next to him, he remixes Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, then the Stereo MCs.

"I like to mix '70s and '80s pop with electronic music. My idea is to create a Russian salad," Simachev shouts over the club's din. Part of Simachev's appeal is his retro choices; he likes to mix David Bowie and Kate Bush. [...]

Again, the timing is excellent.

But when I think about it some more, I feel I finally get it: Russian politics is too depressing, pointless and hopeless right now - and drinking, dancing, and partying through this gloomy period may seem like an awesome idea. Hence, Simachev.

Or, how about this: what if Simachev is Putin's successor? And hence all this publicity? Wouldn't that be fun?



  1. As for why Ukrainians are always lumped in with Russians or ignored, I suppose it is sort of like the dynamic between Canada and the US. How many stories do you read about Canada? Of those stories, how many don't mention anything about the US? That combined with the fact that most people in the west couldn’t tell the difference between a Russian, Byelorussian, and Ukrainian. To be completely honest, I have a hard time telling the difference (other than the language thing) and I try to be sensitive to such things. All have basically the same origins, religion, culture, customs, and food. Sure there are variations but they are not that great really. Not like the difference between Poles and Russians, for example.

    Still I think I understand your frustration. I also understand the frustration of Canadians as well. It just one of those things.

    As for why the Western media fixates on stupid, trivial topics? Hell if I know, but they always have. One explanation as far as Russia goes, but probably completely off mark, is that the West still has an ingrained uneasiness of the big, bad Russian bear. As a result, it is comforting to read stories about Russians that show them to be harmless sorts who partake in trivial activities like fashion and going to clubs. That Russian is not just all about things like devdovshina, mafias, war, soccer hools, and just violence in general. I am probably wrong though and just projecting.

  2. Jason, Ukraine differs from Russia far more significantly than Canada differs from the US.

    The more you learn about Ukrainian history and culture, the more you will be aware of it.

    And the only way for Ukraine and Russia to be good neighbors is to respect each other's individuality.