This Date's Issues: 2271 •
Johnson's Russia List
18 July 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Philippa Fletcher, Yeltsin signs economic decrees
2. Reuters: Russia not seen rushing to bury Lenin after tsar.
3. Moscow Times: Alice Lagnado, Last Tsar's Funeral Spark Little
4. Moscow Times EDITORIAL: True Issue Is How to Bury Communism.
5. St. Petersburg Times EDITORIAL: Decision To Attend Burial Is
More Yeltsin Foolery.
6. Dan Panshin: A View from Another Oblast.
7. House International Relations Committee: Statement by Chairman
Benjamin A. Gilman, Hearing on "The United States and Russia: Assessing
8. The eXile: Tsar Gazers. Press Review by Abram Kalashnikov.
9. Moscow News: Mike Snow, THE ONE. (Re Russian women).]
Yeltsin signs economic decrees before holiday
By Philippa Fletcher
MOSCOW, July 18 (Reuters) - President Boris Yeltsin signed two decrees to help
stabilise the economy on Saturday before beginning a summer holiday his prime
minister said would be interrupted by more work on Russia's shaky finances.
``The president will not, unfortunately have a quiet holiday,'' said Sergei
Kiriyenko, working this weekend along with several of his ministers ahead of a
decision on Monday by the International Monetary Fund whether to grant Moscow
a new loan.
The Fund, whose board will discuss the $5.6 billion credit in Washington,
wants Moscow to implement a package of radical tax reforms and tough measures
to help fill state coffers.
Kiriyenko expressed regret that the State Duma, the lower house of parliament,
had not adopted all the draft laws in the package and said Yeltsin and the
government would try to fill the gap.
This would mean putting off some of the laws the Duma had approved since on
their own they only worsened the budget crisis, he said. He also said one or
two new people would join the cabinet from the regions to help implement the
Yeltsin signed decrees on alcohol sales and precious metals exports on
Saturday after a morning meeting with Kiriyenko, who said he would send more
documents to the president at his lakeside residence.
A Kremlin spokesman told Reuters it was not known how long Yeltsin would stay
in the north western region of Kareliya but noted the president had several
appointments set for August.
The 67-year-old president has been reluctant to leave Moscow in recent weeks
and he cancelled several planned trips amid concern over mounting strikes and
Kiryenko said Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuyev would fly to the troubled
Kuzbass coal mining region over the weekend to try to end a damaging blockade
of the Trans-Siberian railway.
The prime minister, whose cabinet is lobbying regional leaders to back its
austerity measures, said some of them might be brought on board and some
second-tier figures may be fired.
``The programme we are undertaking requires new people to carry out some of
its functions, undoubtedly. This could mean one or two appointments in the
near future,'' he told a news conference in Oryol, 320 km (200 miles) south of
``Our main reserve group of personnel are the governors, deputy governors,
mayors of big towns. Might one or other of the cabinet appointees turn out to
be governors, yes they might,'' he said in Oryol, where he attended talks on
Kiriyenko said he and Yeltsin had discussed in detail how to offset a two-
thirds drop in targeted revenues sparked by parliament's refusal to ratify
several new taxes.
``I think much has been achieved, a lot of work was accomplished last week ...
but the Duma did not approve all we proposed,'' Kiriyenko said in televised
remarks from Oryol.
``Unfortunately this means many measures aimed at easing the burden on
industry will have to be postponed,'' he added.
He said a law to reduce profit tax would have to be put off until September
and another to lower excise duties would also be postponed. If the Duma passed
the revenue-raising measures the government wanted they could be introduced
earlier, he said.
Kiriyenko, in office barely three months, also announced on Saturday a new
three percent duty on all imports in a move welcomed by the Communist speaker
of the Duma, Gennady Seleznyov, as likely to help domestic producers.
It was not immediately clear to what extent the president would be able to
close the budget gap by decrees under the constitution, which gives parliament
the main say on taxation.
But Seleznyov, in remarks quoted by Interfax news agency, said he backed
Yeltsin's plans to issue more decrees to push through the anti-crisis
programme. ``The executive arm should long ago have done this, regulating
concrete measures by decrees and orders within the limits of its competency,''
On Friday the Duma and the upper house Federation Council did approve some
government measures, including the main outlines of a long-awaited tax code, a
cut in profit tax and tighter controls on the production and sale of alcohol.
One of the decrees Yeltsin signed on Saturday set up a state holding company
for the alcohol industry. The other allows precious metals producers to export
their output directly.
The Duma is now in summer recess but Kiriyenko said he hoped it would
reconvene for an extraordinary session in early August to authorise the extra
revenue-raising efforts the IMF wants to see to back its credit, which is
designed to prop up the rouble.
The extra revenues will also help pay off wage and pension arrears to millions
of Russians, including teachers and doctors.
Kiriyenko has made clear the bailout does not solve Russia's problems and has
warned of some very painful times ahead.
Russia not seen rushing to bury Lenin after tsar
MOSCOW, July 18 (Reuters) - Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said
on Saturday it was too early to talk of burying Soviet state founder Vladimir
Lenin despite Friday's funeral ceremony for the country's last tsar and his
Seven years after the demise of the Soviet Union, Lenin's embalmed corpse
still lies in its mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square, where it remains a
hallowed shrine for many Communists.
``Sooner or later the burial of Lenin will take place but we have to show
respect for the feelings of believers, including those who believe in
Communism,'' Interfax news agency quoted Nemtsov as saying.
In the face of stiff opposition from Russia's Communist-dominated lower house
of parliament, President Boris Yeltsin has backed off from suggestions that
Lenin's body should be removed from the mausoleum and buried.
``We must not discuss the issue (of burying Lenin) in the context of the
burial on July 17 of the remains of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II,''
``We have too many conflicts and problems in the country right now to want to
create new problems for ourselves,'' he said, referring to Russia's deep
Nemtsov headed the government committee responsible for Friday's burial
ceremony in the former tsarist capital St Petersburg, which was attended by
Yeltsin, members of the imperial Romanov family and dignitaries.
Tsar Nicholas, his wife and three children were murdered by Bolshevik
revolutionaries on July 17, 1918, on Lenin's orders.
Friday's ceremony, intended to seal Russia's reconciliation with its bloody
past, has ended up highlighting the country's deep, seemingly intractable
Communist politicians condemned Yeltsin's decision to attend the burial of a
man they regard as a bloody autocrat. The Orthodox Church, sceptical about the
authenticity of the imperial bones, declined to give the ceremony its full
Patriarch Alexiy stayed away from St Petersburg and instead led prayers at a
monastery outside Moscow in honour of the tsar, his family, and ``all victims
of anti-religious regimes.''
On Saturday Nikolai Romanov, widely regarded as the current head of the former
imperial family, said he understood the need to tread carefully over the
burial of Lenin.
``The mausoleum is not just a tomb but a historical monument,'' Itar-Tass news
agency quoted him as saying. Romanov also praised Yeltsin's decision to attend
the tsar's funeral, saying the president had appeared ``deeply moved'' by the
For more articles from The Moscow Times, check out their website at
July 18, 1998
Last Tsar's Funeral Spark Little Interest
By Alice Lagnado
Turnout to the royal burial was low, but those who attended were somber.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Much like the ceremony itself, interest in the burial
of Russia's last tsar, which took place Friday in this former imperial
city, has been modest.
The crowds watching members of the Romanov clan and President Boris
Yeltsin being driven through Troitsky Square into the Peter and Paul
Fortress Friday were only three deep. Those who did turn out to watch,
however, took a somber and serious view of the burial.
Mirroring the political debate raging in Russia over the ceremony, some
said the burial was unnecessary, while others believed the government
had missed the chance to use the funeral to expunge the guilt of
Russia's communist past.
"I dreamed this would be like the Nuremberg process, when Germans
understood what had happened to them," said Julia Osipova, 30, a history
teacher, who was dressed in black for the occasion.
Lyudmila Nisanova, 45, a journalist also dressed in black, said she was
sorry she could not get into the cathedral to say farewell to the tsar,
whom she cherished.
"It was a real murder of a wonderful person and an emperor. We are
ashamed of that," she said.
"Why should there be such a big festival? I don't think it's normal,"
said Dima, who did not wish to give his last name, a 20-year-old student
sporting a closely shaved head.
On Troitsky Square, near the entrance by which guests entered the Peter
and Paul Fortress, about 40 people, individuals rather than an organized
group, held up placards and portraits of Nicholas II.
"Factories are closed, people are not getting their wages, so what's
going on with this funeral?" said one of the protesters, Vyacheslav
Marychev, 56, a former deputy in the State Duma and one-time ally of
nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky. "If they are burying the
remains, why have this false festival?" he said.
Members of the public were not allowed into the Saints Peter and Paul
Cathedral, where the burial took place, and most passers-by just carried
on about their business.
Katya, 75, who declined to give her surname, was one person who stood
outside the cathedral and watched the service on a television screen
along with journalists.
Sitting down on some steps, she said she loved the service. "Oh! How
they sang!" she said.
"This is about remembering the tsar's family. They were shot for no
reason at all," she said sadly.
On Thursday afternoon, as a modest crowd stood along the Palace
Embankment outside the Hermitage and the Winter Palace to watch the
funeral procession, people were curious, but not irreverently excited.
There was no clapping or cheering as the motorcade carrying the nine
caskets went by.
Among the crowd was student Alexei Shabalin, 18. "This is happening for
the first and last time in Russia. It's a spiritual step. It's in my
soul -- it's a feeling," Shabalin said, adding that many members of his
family had died in the 1917 Revolution.
"It's an expression of respect," said Natasha Mokhova, 46, a research
assistant at St. Petersburg's Russian Museum.
"I think the burial is important from a symbolic point of view," said
Anton, a 24-year-old English teacher, who declined to give his last
name. "It's the beginning of a healing process. After all, Yeltsin
agreed to go."
"I interpret [the burial] as a kind of repentance, and respect to the
history of Russia," said Alexander Maximov, 65, a journalist. But he was
unhappy about the church's failure to fully back the ceremony. "The
church is playing at politics, and not caring about its own flock," he
Andrei Bulgakov, 40, who makes his living posing as Peter the Great for
photographs with tourists at the Peter and Paul Fortress, said he felt
"positive and loyal" about the burial.
"As children of the Revolution," Bulgakov said, "this period is close to
July 18, 1998
EDITORIAL: True Issue Is How to Bury Communism
The ridiculous snafu over the burial of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II
and his family -- the unseemly posturing over who would attend and who
would stay away and which bones were whose -- has detracted from the one
serious point of Friday's ceremony.
Namely, Russia must learn the terrible lessons of 70 years of communism.
Nicholas II was not a figure who, for himself, deserved the attention
that is now being lavished on him. He was a reactionary autocrat who
committed his fair share of blunders and atrocities.
But the murder of the tsar and his family has come to represent the
destruction by 70 years of Communist rule of so many of Russia's people
and of so many of the ideals that Russians held dear.
The system established by Lenin and perfected by Stalin, which was
responsible for the tsar's death, was one of the most destructive in
Despite the terrible burden of its past and the dramatic revelations
since the glasnost era, Russia has singularly failed to understand what
the nature of communist evil was.
So many Russians were tricked for so long into believing the Communist
system that they have been reluctant to reject its legacy. President
Boris Yeltsin himself, who spoke of repentance Friday, was a Communist
Party boss until a decade ago.
It is thus not surprising that so many of the evils that led to the mass
butchery of the communist era still linger untreated in modern Russia. A
lack of respect for human life was all too evident in the terrible war
in Chechnya. The unequal relationship between the state and its
citizens, which was fostered by Soviet totalitarianism, remains.
Concepts like the rule of law, inalienable and enforceable human rights,
electoral democracy and freedom of religion have failed to take root in
many sections of society.
The discovery of the tsar's remains has provided Russia with an
incredibly fortuitous symbolic means to atone for its past sins. In
laying to rest Nicholas II, Russians can lay to rest the grief of so
many ruined lives and the guilt of so many past sins.
They will have a true shrine at which to reflect on the bitter legacy of
communism in all of them. It should help them focus on avoiding the
appalling mistakes of the 20th century in the next millennium.
As St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev aptly said in his oration
at the tsar's funeral, the fundamental meaning of the ceremony was that
Russians must learn to appreciate the value of human life above all.
St. Petersburg Times
July 17, 1998
Decision To Attend Burial Is More Yeltsin Foolery
AT THE last possible moment, President Boris Yeltsin has decided that he
can in fact squeeze Friday's burial service for Nicholas II and four of his
family into his busy schedule.
It is a decision that should have been made months ago. Instead Yeltsin
hinted and hinted that he would not come, supposedly in deference to the
Orthodox Church's doubts about the authenticity of the remains.
By playing the facile games he so loves to play with momentous decisions,
Yeltsin has fed the festering divisions in Russian society that the emotive
issue of the Romanovs was always likely to bring to the fore.
Such Boris-foolery - apparently aimed at using lightning-like decisions to
make the president seem potent - obviously continues to work its magic on
the Yeltsin court. While underlings like Deputy Prime Minister Boris
Nemtsov could be expected to praise whatever their leader might decide, it
was sad to see the supposedly fractious Federation Council suddenly reverse
its decision not to send an official delegation simply because Yeltsin had
decided to reverse his decision.
But for those outside of the charmed circle of Moscow's Olympian politics,
the president's performance has simply served to spotlight the lack of
principles and breathless hypocrisy that make the average Russian ashamed
of their head of state.
Yeltsin has again played politics with an extremely sensitive and
complicated issue - and all the president's waffling about the reasons for
his decision cannot disguise the calculating stage management that went
into his decision to attend Friday's ceremony.
Yeltsin fired his cabinet this year and declared war on Chechnya in 1995 in
similar, haphazard fashion, to name but two examples. Governing by imperial
whim, while it makes for great theater, is destructive. Russia's woes -
wage arrears, alcoholism, a rising tide of tuberculosis and other diseases,
declining industrial and agricultural production, economic contraction and
financial instability - require patient, thoughtful leadership if they are
to be ameliorated.
However, Yeltsin is incapable of patient, thoughtful leadership, despite
his claims to the contrary. Yeltsin's decision to attend the burial of
Nicholas II was reportedly motivated by a desire to help Russia atone for
the sins of their predecessors, following deep reflection and discussions
"with many citizens."
But the sad fact of the matter is that Yeltsin's idea of "many citizens"
does not extend outside the members of his own court and that the
president's own behavior in this matter and others has done as much as
possible to prevent Russia coming to terms with its most grievous sins,
including recent ones like the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya, or the
killings in the Baltic States in 1991.
If the president is so interested in helping the nation atone for past
sins, why has he made no consistent effort to do so? Why, for that matter,
has Yeltsin's foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov never had to account for
his time as the head of the KGB - the ultimate symbol of the Soviet Union's
But Yeltsin has consistently bungled every chance he has had to assist
Russia in coming to terms with its terrible, bloodstained past.
His rushed attendance at Friday's ceremony will help to minimize the harm
he has already done. But Russia is unlikely to deal with its past until
Yeltsin himself is part of it, instead of being one of the dominant
features of Russia's present.
Date: Sat, 18 Jul 1998
From: Dan Panshin <email@example.com>
Subject: A View from Another Oblast
In early June you ran Scott Ferency's piece, "Some musing and rambling
thoughts from a JRL reader," which prompted me to write the following piece:
A View from Another Oblast
In "Some musing and rambling thoughts from a JRL reader" (article #1, JRL
issue #30, 5 Jun 98), Scott Ferency wrote about Vologda and the need for
Russians "to recognize once again that they are capable and, in fact, do
produce products the equal to or better than Western products." I agree
with Ferency that Russia needs to believe in itself and also that, for a
balanced view, it's crucial to see Russia beyond Moscow (... and St.
I'm just back from a trip to Russia, nine days of which I spent in
Voronezh. It was my third visit since 1990. Voronezh gorod is some 300
miles south of Moscow, and is the capital of the oblast. It's also the
major city (a little more than a million people) of the Central Chernozyom
(Black Soil) region of Russia. Voronezh is a significant industrial city
as well as an important agricultural processing and distribution center.
How's Voronezh doing? Poorly.
We saw a gray, shabby city. Communism is popular in Voronezh. While
America has a Bible Belt, Russia has a Communism Belt and Voronezh is right
in the middle of it. My wife and I visited family and friends, and I
conducted research for a book I'm working on. Conditions are worse than I
found them during my last visit in the fall of 1994: 10% are doing better,
90% are doing worse.
Salaries and pensions are not being paid. "Half the population in Russia
gets by with their gardens," said a friend. The spirit of the people is
grim. Material conditions are bad. There are indeed new shops, and there
are more goods, mostly foreign, in the shops, but the average person can't
Fewer goods are being manufactured in Voronezh. The aircraft plant is
closed. The television receiver plant is closed; it hopes to reopen if the
plant can afford to obtain and introduce Western technology.
We visited a sovkhoz about 30 miles from Voronezh. Compared with four
years ago life on the farm is "no better." The farm is rundown and
agricultural production remains meager -- which is painful to see given the
richness of the soil. "We live like beasts," alcoholism is high, the
workers hate the farm manager.
"What are you proud of in Voronezh?," I asked various friends and
acquaintances. Voronezh ham and Voronezh coriander are high quality, as
are excavating equipment and also bridge building components and
technology. Not much.
Yet the people endure. For all the bleakness, they remain amazingly
good-natured. They are stoic, perhaps resigned, but also almost cheerful.
Their sense of humor (much of it black) persists.
In no way do I intend this as a rebuttal to Ferency. This is just a view
from another province. Have other readers of The Russia Weekly spent time
recently in other oblasts? If so, what are your observations?
Dan Panshin, Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota
499 Wilson Library, 309 Nineteenth Av S, Minneapolis, MN 55455
tel 612/624-1034, fax 612/626-9353
NOTE new e-mail address -- mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
and my other addresses terminate in early October 1998
Date: Fri, 17 July 1998
From: "Gage, Mark" <Mark.Gage@mail.house.gov>
Subject: Hearing on "The United States and Russia: Assessing the Relationship"
Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman
Hearing on "The United States and Russia: Assessing the Relationship"
House International Relations Committee
July 16, 1998
The Committee will come to order.
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
This morning, the Committee on International Relations will take
testimony from several expert witnesses on the state of relations
between the United States and the Russia.
The formal title of the hearing is:
"The United States and Russia: Assessing the Relationship."
Frankly, the relationship between America and Russia is a multi-faceted
It is therefore difficult to envision that any single hearing - or even
a series of hearings - could fully assess the state of our complex
relationship with Russia in this new, post-Cold War world.
I do believe, however, that we can make a fair assessment as to whether
our policies towards Russia are serving American interests.
Indeed, I hope that the Members of this Committee and of this Congress
will have a better idea of whether American interests are being served
by our current policies toward Russia as a result of this hearing.
It is my strong impression that within the Congress there is a growing
concern that - unfortunately - our current policies towards Russia are
not achieving the objectives we have supported and sought.
Rather than economic stability and democratic progress in Russia, we see
an economy close to collapse and a government and society mired in
corruption, and we hear a growing chorus of complaints that democratic
practices have yet to truly take hold.
We see a Russia that could literally descend into social chaos as
government funds intended to pay workers simply disappear into thin air,
leaving those workers little choice but to block rail-ways, threaten to
leave nuclear reactors unattended, and mount protests demanding that
somebody do something to help them.
We hear average Russians repeating nationalist and communist claims that
their economic suffering is all the fault of America - astounding claims
to hear after the United States and others have committed so much
assistance to Russia in so many ways over the last few years -- and now
stand poised to provide a new $23 billion bailout of the Russian
Many Americans note with concern the ever more frequent reports of
Russian commerce in advanced arms and military technology with countries
like China and Iran.
There are continuing allegations from those states bordering Russia that
the Russian government is in the business of undermining their new
sovereignty, sometimes involving the promotion of divisive ethnic
conflict and at other times involving economic coercion.
There is strong concern in the Congress over the Russian government's
willingness to support financially the dictatorship of Alexander
Lukashenko in Belarus --- at the very time that Russia is turning to the
democratic nations of the world for help to save it from fiscal
There are disturbing reports that corrupt or criminal individuals have
'entre' at high levels in official Moscow --- and that the tremendous
amounts of money being spirited out of Russia by their activities may
ultimately serve nefarious enterprises in the United States and
With regard to arms control agreements, Russia either demands revisions
in its favor in existing treaties or refuses to ratify agreements - such
as the START-II Treaty - that it has already signed.
Today, I am certain that our Members will put a series of specific
questions to our witnesses.
Perhaps, however, we should also consider three basic questions:
First, as I have mentioned, are our policies towards Russia adequately
serving American interests??
If not, what assumptions underlying those policies are mistaken and need
to be revisited if we are to get our relationship with Russia -- and
reforms in Russia -- back on track??
Finally, if we provide another $23 billion in taxpayer-supported loans
to Russia in the next few days, will it turn things around in Russia, or
will we simply be faced with fiscal collapse in Moscow once again in the
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a fine roster of witnesses this morning.
Appearing first will be our State Department's Ambassador at Large for
the New Independent States, Ambassador Steve Sestanovich
[ "SES - TAHN - OH - VICH" ].
Welcome back to our Committee, Mr. Ambassador.
Appearing on a large, second panel after our good Ambassador will be:
Lt. General William Odom, US Army-Retired, Director of National Security
Programs at the Hudson Institute.
Mr. Peter Rodman, Director of National Security Programs at the Nixon
Dr. Leon Aron, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Mr. Paul Goble of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
And, Dr. Clifford Gaddy, Fellow at the Brookings Institution's Foreign
Policy Studies Program.
Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you for taking some time to appear before the
Committee this morning.
Date: Fri, 17 Jul 1998
From: "matt" <email@example.com>
Subject: eXile Press Review
By Abram Kalashnikov
If the air over Moscow is feeling a little cleaner to you this week, that's
because one of the more malodorous segments of the city population has
split town. That's right: the foreign press corps has evacuated Moscow,
heading north en masse to lick the petrified coccyx of the late Tsar
Nicholas II and his silly family before their remains are sunk in the
ground, out of the reach of the cameras forever, at this weekend's royal
funeral ceremony at Petropavlovsk.
That the Western press corps has chosen to treat the burial of the Tsar and
his family as a major story should come as no surprise: it is one. Not
because it means anything today, but because it serves as the last chapter
in one of this century's most compelling and portentous dramas. For the
record's sake, anyway, it has to be documented.
Nonetheless, the Tsar story has turned to be the Western press corps's
latest great opportunity to show itself at its worst. Not because its
members chose to flee town to cover the story in the middle of a crisis in
Moscow; the Tsar's burial is a big enough deal that that can be excused on
the grounds of historical necessity. No, it's the WAY the Tsar's burial is
being covered that is infuriating-and what's even worse, you could see the
offense coming from miles away.
Nothing exposes the weaknesses of reporters more effectively than a big
story that is announced far in advance. From the very moment the date of
the imperial funeral was released, reporters all over town started arming
themselves with cliches, loading tired phrases into their journo-holsters
and wetting their eyes with ready-made tears of canned bewilderment and
awe. The Tsar story was so well-scripted that when it came time to cover
the thing, reporters were able to just travel north and shoot their wads
without having to turn up at the actual event. Contrary to popular belief,
going to journalism school doesn't mean not having to say you're sorry. But
it does mean never having to go to any parade you can describe from
Not willing to sell the funeral scene as simply the finish line of a long
melodramatic marathon, reporters are affixing to the Tsar's burial a
plotline that "means something", one that revolves around the concept of
the funeral as an act of "national redemption" or "reconciliation with the
past". A good example of this can be found in a recent story by Carol J.
Williams of the Los Angeles Times, who was so anxious to take the life out
of this story that she started giving her version of it to the world a week
early. Here's her lead from a piece entitled "Last Rites for Tsar Get Low
"MOSCOW-- The funeral in St. Petersburg next week for the last czar of
Russia and his ill-fated loved ones was supposed to be an occasion for
national repentance and reconciliation."
Like most of the Western reporters covering the burial, Williams takes the
line that Russians must demonstrate a renewed reverence for the Tsar in
order to secure "national repentance":
"Instead of the lavish ceremony of atonement for the slain royals
envisioned by President Boris N. Yeltsin, the funeral is proving a fresh
source of friction between church and state."
Some of you may have noticed lately that the Russian state is broke. It's
so broke, in fact, that it is no longer able to borrow enough money to meet
the payments for its last loans. These days, Russia needs to offer people
like Carol Williams's readers 100% yields every five months or so just to
get its hands on any kind of cash to keep the state functioning at all. And
yet, Carol Williams appears to favor the idea of a state-funded "lavish
ceremony" to "atone" for the slain royals.
While a good number of journalists have spent acres of print space weepily
detailing the "national tragedy" of the murdered royals, juxtaposing
touching private photos of the Tsar and his family with the dark tale of
their execution and disposal in a lonely pit in faraway Yekaterinburg (the
Moscow Times went so far as to publish an interview with an elderly woman
who remembered the Tsar's reign and admired him for being a good family
man), neither Williams nor anyone else in the Western press taken any time
to discuss why the Tsar was killed in the first place.
None of the Western chroniclers have discussed Nicholas's rabid
anti-Semtism-the notorious "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" were
distributed on his order, and savage pogroms too numerous to count took
place under his watch and with his approval. And none of these articles
have contained any information at all about Nicholas's ruthless suppression
of free speech, or his vast network of secret policemen, who pursued
idiotic persecutions of writers and artists in addition to political
Contrary to what you might think from reading recent news reports, Nicholas
Romanov was more than just a doomed nitwit who lived in a beautiful house,
took walks in pretty forests, and had a penchant for writing tender (if
ungrammatical) love letters. In his professional life, he was a weak and
stupid despot who was responsible for the deaths of scores of innocent
people both through war and domestic persecution, and he remained
unapologetic about it to the end of his life. In fact, when you think about
it, if anybody in this world deserved to get shot, it was Nicholas.
But you won't get that from Western coverage of his funeral. Normally,
about all you'll get is a broad blanket disclaimer like the following
passage, culled from a February Reuters story about the funeral date
"Privately, some clerics say the church now has doubts about canonizing an
autocrat who remains a controversial figure for many Russians."
A "controversial" "autocrat"-no different, apparently, than Boris Yeltsin.
Now that's an understatement if there ever was one.
A few reporters, of course, have done their jobs when covering the Tsar
story. Will Englund of the Baltimore Sun made himself the gentlemanly
exception to the ignoble rule when he wrote:
"The majority of Russians see Nicholas as a victim but not a
particularly admirable one. He was, after all, head of one of the most
repressive regimes on Earth."
Now, how hard was that? Not that hard. Nonetheless, most Western reporters
prefer to avoid even simple sentences like that and focus exlusively on the
pageantry of the burial, and the pathos of the Romanovs' execution. 70
years after his death, Nicholas's tyranny is being quietly cleansed from
the record, as the storymakers of our generation routinely choose to
feature the Disney tragedy that was his family life over the violent
idiocies of his reign. I can guarantee right now that in the dozens of news
reports that will come out of St. Pete this weekend, passages describing
the spledour of the burial site will outnumber Englund-esque reminders of
the Tsar's record by a ratio of at least ten-to-one.
Why? Because the very nature of journalism dictates that the people who
practice it are likely to be power-worshipping lackeys bent on sucking up
to rich morons like the Romanovs. The ultimate aim of most journalists
isn't to be rich and powerful, but to have access to people who are. They
want to be invited to parties and given keys to the padlock on the family
tennis courts. They want to be liked.
You don't get those privileges by being a sourpuss. You get them by licking
bums. Even ones as old and calcified as the Tsar's.
THE ONE (Elton John song)
by Mike Snow
(from "Moscow News" English end 1993)
with some current editing
A similar story emerges from many foreign men in Moscow. They
first came here in Nov 91, after the coup, left for a while, then
returned. They returned to share in the raw adventure of building a new
world, to make money in the yawning chasms of the post-communist vacuum,
to learn the Russian language and civilization, to bask in the virtual
adulation foreigners (especially Americans) were initially afforded.
They came back for a woman.
Russian girls are arguably the most beautiful in the world: huge
clear eyes, lush lips, fine features, sculpted necks, sweet demeanor,
often trained as ballet dancers or gymnasts from the age of 4. Stunning
beauty is so common here that it isn't even noticed, or acknowledged by
the girls themselves, who're unaware of the power they'd have elsewhere
in the world. Bizarrely, this isn't common knowledge--many countries
have an image of Russian women as tractor driving babushkas, or
steroid-gulping macho Olympians.
Moreover this is a patriarchy; radical feminism haven't penetrated
this far. Here men are considered right unless proved otherwise, rather
than the reverse.
Because of the massive deaths of men from wars and purges, men +
women have reversed roles: here men are the desirable ones, the chased
ones + so display some of the same arrogance and insufferability of
beautiful women in America. (In fact in dealing with imperious,
changeable, careless Soviet + Russian leaders, it was helpful to
consider them spoiled beautiful women.)
May-December (well,Sept) romances that would be frowned on or
considered perverse in the States are normal here, no small attraction
for many foreigners. The spectacular income disparity made foreigners
feel like Monte Carlo rich ($8 avg monthly income in Nov 91), with even
McDonalds being considered a luxury restaurant. Our wealth, freedom, and
exoticness made us hot property to the womenfolk. And Russian men, far
from being bitterly resentful, would invariably encourage and help us in
But things aren't all rosy. One almost never meets any girl over 21.
In one of the strange cultural oddities here, girls think that if they
aren't married by 21, they never will be. So any average 20 year old
girl is often married with a 1 year old child, which they often did just
to get out of their parent's house.. ; or in another cultural oddity.. a
virgin, both equally unworkable. Parents usually exert enormous control
over daughters--having a 20 year old be home by 10 pm makes dating, uh,
problematic. Westerners would often have to settle for afternoon
delights from girlfriends that would do anything but spend the night.
"Russian girls have no sense of their own independence or freedom'"
complained Moscow student Matt Arledge. Married straight from childhood,
girls have fanciful notions of their lives being all set as they defer
all decisions to hubby. Often the husband can't measure up, and both
partners settle into external relationships, something amazing common
here (divorce rates are exploding). Alex, a Russian facial surgeon,
explained, "It's the European way- marriage is for children, not
necessarily sex." Women will often give you their phone number without
mentioning they're married; "It's okay", one wife said when I reached
her husband, "he doesn't mind."
This total dependence was multiplied many-fold as the Soviet system
collapsed (91-2) and people's psychological moorings were torn loose. We
foreigners had to have all the answers--the secrets of money, success,
freedom, happiness.. our girlfriends thought. But we were even more
pummeled by culture shock, pushed through the looking glass into a world
where everything was reversed: the letters N and R, hot and cold water
taps, headlights off at night, old money unsafe, fealty for abuse; where
it took 6 weeks to find toilet paper, 4 trips to buy a train ticket, and
3 months to find scotch tape. Deprived of car, bike, stereo, video,
Western TV or decent movies; swamped by the endless cold, dark, and
melancholy of this strange land, we sometimes struggled to stay afloat.
The fear of people who never had the options of making decisions about
their life, suddenly being forced to, was solid and tangible, but beyond
understanding to a Westerner.
Without routine negative church indoctrination, sex was often
startlingly casual- otherwise timid girls would hop into bed with
amazing speed, sometimes more as an act of friendship than
passion...wonderful, until you realized it wasn't exclusive to you. With
the enormous Russian propensity for alcohol, one wouldn't (necessarily)
try to get girls drunk, but prevent it, since after a couple of drinks-
many Russian girls would seduce anyone. Sex was vigorously suppressed by
prudish Soviet authorities, it's wholesale emergence now is often
unconnected with love, commitment, or even romance. Exclusive
restaurants often have a strip-tease show. Economic exigencies meant a
girl could be a sweet cultured trilingual university student, or a
respected doctor.. and still be a prostitute (though rare). Foreign
visitors found this fascinating, residents frightening, since AID's was
almost nonexistant then, except in "professional" women who dealt with
foreigners. Initially prostitution was remarkably devoid of criminal
elements and startlingly innocent (though I have no, uh, direct
experience). A Swedish nightclub is packed with working girls: every one
a 19-25 year old stunning covergirl, who charged $100-200 an encounter:
2-3 monthly incomes. Even the lack of feminism could be maddening: when
you are carrying 12 liters of juice and she refuses to carry one bottle
because it's the man's job to carry. Women deferring to men means they
defer to whomever they're talking to at the moment, even on a date with
somebody else. In this communal society concepts of loyalty were thinly
or differently developed. At clubs with a date, bathroom breaks were
done fast. And the Russian hunger for a strong domineering leader
sometimes forced us to adopt behavior we'd spent years learning was
chauvinistic. "I was finally comfortable with how I was supposed to act
(being non-sexist), and I come here and all those rules don't mean a
thing", complained an American TV producer that spent 1 1/2 years
pursuing an Intourist guide.
Even when the ability to communicate wasn't a problem, the tendency
not to often was. Steeped in years of secrecy from a prying Party,
Government, and family; women often thought that they had to hide what
they wanted in order to get it, instead resorting to intricate schemes
of manipulation. Penetrating to the truth through the misty multiple
shrouds of mystery often proved impossible or pointless, and marriage to
someone of such opaqueness was daunting.More than one girlfriend would
resist my entreaties for a month till I thought it was over, then come
over for a night of passion, then repeat the pattern. One never knew
what, if anything, one had.
Things have changed in the last 2 years as some Russians have
become rich: the women are definitely cooler and more reserved towards
foreigners; they now realize that wealth and freedom to leave aren't
exclusively foreign phenomena. "Before Russian women were excited by the
Western life-style..it was considered a dream; now this country has
possibilities too," claimed Marina Kondrina, a trader for Shell Oil.
Vlada Gapolsky, a (female) casino inspector still thinks Western men are
more sensitive: "There is more respect between people, and for women...
Russian men think a woman is something you can buy." In truth, Russian
men often treat women terribly; sexual harassment is so common as to be
considered normal (a beautiful girl will often receive several financial
proposals a day), and sexual extortion for jobs and promotions raises no
eyebrows here. After returning I asked a girlfriend who'd become
assistant to a museum director if she had to sleep with him: "Oh, yes,
Michael." Whereas in America, women's attraction to power in their men
is universal, but usually denied, Russians are more honest and relaxed
about it. A friend starting work teaching English at the Russian Foreign
Language Institute had a woman administrator tell him, "Oh, our girls
will take VERY good care of you," with a broad smile. Since girls liked
(+ loved) us because we were kind and respectful compared to Russian
men, relationships were often dazzlingly sweet and wonderful, though
Russian women could be as tough as nails.
"It's all about money," says New York photographer Brian Gonye
flatly about womens' attraction to foreigners, a view shared by some men
who find it a self-fulfilling prophecy. 2 years ago, when they cost $5,
no women had leather coats; now when they cost $200, very many women
do; sartorial elegance has increased 100 fold from the days of shapeless
Soviet plasticware. Because of the isolated economic system, Russian
women often have no sense of financial scale. "They don't understand why
you can't take her to a $25 admission nightclub every week, since all
foreigners have to be rich," groaned an American student."
More than anything, our romances illuminated the awesome span of
the Soviet Empire, and the pain involved in its breakup (and formation).
Born in Kemerovo (Siberia) by Estonian parents, raised in Siberia,
Kokhla-Yarve (Est.), and Leningrad, and having to choose between
citizenship in 2 different worlds that are becoming mutually exclusive;
or born in Kyrgistan, raised in the Caucuses, worked in Vorkuta
(Arctic), and attending school in Moscow; or Moscovite, secure in
remaining at the center of power and civilization, but buffeted by
rampaging inflation, soaring crime, and institutional collapse. Being
here has often felt like a James Michener novel "Empire"
Russian (Soviet?) women seem to have an extra X chromosome,
excessively female in their beauty, warmth, eroticism, arbitrariness,
and toughness. But often cultural differences, historical psychological
trauma, and communications problems seemed insurmountable. It sometimes
appeared rather hopeless, but as Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, "We
need the eggs.".... Of course, look what happened to him.
POSTSCRIPT: Many things have changed since then- most notably
prices, and the level of girl's independence; still most of my
observations still hold. But with the Mafia exporting thousands of
poor girls into white slavery in foreign bordellos, rampant AID's and
VD, and amazing levels of corruption; Russia isn't quite the romantic
paradise I described. Yet it still might be the best place on
earth for women.
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