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Johnson's Russia List
27 October 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Kremlin creates hard-working image for Yeltsin.
2. Christian Science Monitor: Judith Matloff, Amid economic crisis, Russia
sees revival of Soviet-era jargon.
3. International Herald Tribune: Stephen F. Cohen, American Dogma Doesn't
4. Elena Sokova: If You Have Digestion Problems, Do Not Read Russian
Newspapers Before Dinner.
5. Messenger-Courier (Kentucky): Boris Kagarlitsky, Cost of maintaining
U.S.-friendly 'stability' in Russia is going up.
6. RFE/RL NEWSLINE: "MONICAGATE" IS BAD FOR RUSSIA.
7. Jamestown Foundation Monitor: THE ANTI-LUZHKOV CAMPAIGN CONTINUES.
8. Obshchaya Gazeta: Liliya Shevtsova, "Primakov Could Take Over the Game:
It Is Bad That He Is Not Doing So."
9. Toronto Sun: Matthew Fisher, Their broken dreams. (Life in
10. Moscow Times: Jean MacKenzie, CONFESSIONS OF A RUSSOPHILE: Old Riddles
for New Russia.
11. Interfax: Chernomyrdin Says Blaming Foreign Investors 'Dangerous.'
12. Reuters: Stanislavsky's Moscow theatre celebrates centenary.]
Kremlin creates hard-working image for Yeltsin
By Elizabeth Piper
MOSCOW, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin's allies rallied
behind him on Monday, portraying him as capable of working hard despite his
decision to cancel a trip to Austria on doctors' orders.
Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Yeltsin's press secretary and the deputy head
of the Kremlin staff were all shown on television dismissing fears over
Yeltsin's health and saying he still had his grip on power.
``I spoke with Boris Nikolayevich by telephone several times today...He is in
very good working condition,'' Primakov told reporters during a visit to a
``I think that doctors have just recommended to the president not to fly now
but he is working.''
He said he would meet Yeltsin on Tuesday before he flies to Vienna for a
Russia-EU summit to get his ``final instructions.''
Oleg Sysuyev, deputy head of the Kremlin administration, said in an interview
with commercial NTV television that the president was not so ill that he
should be considered incapable.
``He's in a combative mood,'' he said, altough he added that the president
might start a holiday as soon as Wednesday.
Presidential press secretary Dmitry Yakushkin told ORT television Yeltsin had
been working on Monday.
``I saw him on Friday when he was talking with journalists, and he talked very
clearly...This morning he worked on documents,'' he said.
He said Yeltsin's decision to agree with doctors' demands to cancel Tuesday's
trip to Vienna was not an easy one for a man who often defies doctors' orders.
``We talked today on the telephone...It was not an easy decision for him,''
Despite his problems, Yeltsin would continue to work during his holiday and
would probably stay at one of his residences just outside Moscow, he said.
Yakushkin said a recent bout of bronchitis and overwork had brought on ``an
asthenic condition, which is expressed by unsteady arterial pressure and
increased tiredness.'' Asthenia is a catch-all medical term meaning weakness.
Yakushkin acknowledged that the president had not followed doctors' orders to
rest after be returned early from a trip to Central Asia earlier this month
because of bronchitis.
That trip was supposed to show him in command and to silence calls for his
resignation, but had the opposite effect.
No new pictures were shown of Yeltsin on Monday.
Yeltsin has been seen in the past riding a snowmobile or playing tennis. He
now appears mainly in snatched pictures of him at Kremlin meetings, often
sitting and sometimes saying little.
Christian Science Monitor
October 26, 1998
[for personal use only]
Amid economic crisis, Russia sees revival of Soviet-era jargon.
By Judith Matloff
MOSCOW -- Comrade, just when you thought it was safe to talk about
globalization and privatization, forget it. Dig those Communist-era pamphlets
and posters out from the bottom of the closet. Soviet jargon is back.
The rise in government of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, an old-time
apparatchik, and his team of Communists and sexagenarians has resurrected
rhetoric that most Russians thought went out with the 1991 collapse of the
These were people who as red-scarved Young Pioneers, the Communist equivalent
of the Boy Scouts, were weaned on talk of collective farms, the evil
bourgeoisie, and the imperialist West. With the old crowd back in power, older
Russians are hearing with renewed frequency the buzzwords of their youth that
had disappeared from common speech, such as "cold war" and "nationalization."
Margarita Volovikova, with the Psychology Institute of the Russian Academy of
Sciences in Moscow, says such a backward linguistic glance is typical human
behavior during times of social stress. "Using old language is like seeking an
island of stability," she says. But she adds critically: "If our leaders had
been more intellectual they would have chosen the language of Pushkin,
Dostoyevski, and Tolstoy instead of Communist Party documents."
Some of these nostalgic word combinations seem pompous, untranslatable, or
downright unnecessary. For instance, some critics ask, why should the new
government speak of a "presidium" instead of the simpler "Cabinet"? (For those
unfamiliar with Soviet history, the presidium was the executive committee of
the of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1952 to 1966.)
The Communist-favored "people's" has resurfaced too, as in "The people's
military-industrial complex" (defense industry), a phrase Mr. Primakov has
unearthed recently. He has taken Soviet-speak even further by exhuming the
long-forgotten potrebitelskaya cooperatsia. The phrase has deep resonance for
those who remember the days of Stalin and his successors. It means literally
"cooperation in the sphere of retail trade" - or the process by which
specially authorized state officials could buy farm-grown food from private
individuals. In addition, simple apples and potatoes are now "the produce of
Another old chestnut which slipped off an official's tongue recently was "NATO
soldiery." This expression was contained in a speech about tensions with the
alliance over Kosovo, fanning old Western anxieties about a revived cold war.
Political commentator Leonid Radzikhovsky believes these politicians are
demonstrating an inability to change, in language as well as policy. "The
return of these old clichés reflects the mentality of these guys. During the
democratic era they had difficulty finding other expressions," he says.
Even those who are not die-hard Communists are playing the politically correct
word game. Moscow's populist mayor, Yuri Luzkhov, was recently heard to utter
the slogan: maximalno polnoye udovletvoreniye potrebnostei ludei ("maximally
complete satisfaction of the needs of the people").
The phrase epitomizes the Leonid Brezhnev era, when it was used to emphasize
that the Communist Party embraced the Russian people. Some observers say the
words give credence to rumors that Mr. Luzhkov hopes to cozy up to the
Communists ahead of the presidential elections planned for 2000.
International Herald Tribune
27 October 1998
[for personal use only]
American Dogma Doesn't Help
By Stephen F. Cohen LATimes
NEW YORK - Ever since the U.S. government began an inherently doomed crusade
seven years ago to transform post-Communist Russia into a replica of the
American system, it has been only a matter of time before that missionary
arrogance led to disaster and clamorous shouts of ''Who lost Russia?''
Fifty years ago, American politicians and media asked the same question about
China, with malignant consequences. The immediate result was virulent
McCarthyism, the enduring consequence a political ''mainstream'' as narrow and
barren as a dry creek.
The question about Russia must therefore be answered before it, too, becomes
cancerous. The collapse of Yeltsinism - those U.S.-backed, shock-therapy,
monetarist policies that have helped bring about the worst economic and social
devastation ever suffered by a modern country in peacetime, indeed its virtual
demodernization - is also the collapse of the Clinton administration's Russia
But this does not mean that Bill Clinton, his advisers or the United States
lost Russia. If by that is meant squandering prospects for democracy,
prosperity and social well-being, it was President Boris Yeltsin and his
''radical reformers'' who lost Russia. Nothing and no one forced them to
impose America's ill-conceived prescriptions on their nation.
But America is in danger of losing something equally important in Russia - its
moral reputation. In the name of Mr. Yeltsin's purported ''reforms'' since
1991, the U.S. government has closed its eyes and heart to the suffering of
the great majority of Russian families, the same ones whose fate it so
lamented when they were the Soviet people.
The Clinton administration is now compounding the sin by protesting the new
Russian government's desperate attempt to change economic policy in order to
prevent a still greater human catastrophe. The International Federation of Red
Cross and Red Crescent Societies has warned that as winter rapidly approaches,
millions of Russian lives are endangered by shortages of food, medicine and
heating, and has called for a humanitarian aid campaign. Mr. Yeltsin may have
lost Russia, but America is losing its soul there, and even its vaunted
For the first time in history, a country laden with nuclear weapons and
reactors is on the verge of complete collapse, its economic, social, political
and military institutions nearly in tatters. Almost every week brings new
reports of the disintegration of Russia's nuclear safeguards. If it continues,
as now seems likely, the West will be confronted with an unprecedented peril,
certainly one larger than any it faced during the Cold War.
President Clinton, who swore to uphold both America's values and its national
security, can no longer do either, only cling to discredited dogmas about
''staying the course'' in Russia.
The writer, author of the forthcoming book ''Rethinking Russia,'' contributed
this comment to the Los Angeles Times.
Date: Mon, 26 Oct 1998
From: CRES@miis.edu (CRES)
Subject: If You Have Digestion Problems, Do Not Read Russian Newpaper
If You Have Digestion Problems, Do Not Read Russian Newspapers Before Dinner
Elena Sokova, Senior Research Associate and former librarian of the Center
for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Monterey Institute, recently returned to
her native Russia. She prepared these notes on the current situation there on
October 22, 1998.
One of Mikhail Bulgakov’s characters, Professor Preobrazhenskiy, once told his
colleague that reading Soviet newspapers before dinner causes a decrease in
appetite and poor digestion. His colleague replied that no other newspapers are
available. Well, said the professor, then do not read any. If you rephrased his
idea to fit modern Russia, it would probably go "Do not read newspapers or watch
TV, ever." But if you want guaranteed nightmares, I highly recommend watching
with Sergey Dorenko on ORT or with Olga Romanova on the Stolitsa channel. You
will not only get a list of negative events for the day, but the news will be
recounted with such a tragic voice and gloomy face that you may start looking
around the house for something to hang yourself with.
Seriously speaking, journalists and newscasters know their audience well
to predict that generally bad news will be believed more than good news and, in
particular, that Russians are more likely to believe bad news from the mass
media than good news from the government. When you multiply all this by a
Russian belief that "there is no smoke without a fire," the results can be
If you go back to the peak of the crisis and analyze newspaper reports and TV
broadcasts from those days, you can see that too often, mass media served as a
fuel for the crisis. I do not want to say that it was the media that created the
crisis, but it played quite an impressive negative role in escalating it and
promoting it to the level of panic. They can argue now that they were just
predicting the events. In many cases, however, they created them.
Consider a few examples. If a TV news program shows lines in front of currency
exchange offices and suggests that you need to take care of your wallet, what
would you do? You go out and do not see any lines yourself—not in your district,
not downtown—but you conclude that there are probably lines somewhere else and
you would be wise to do something before you see the lines in your neighborhood.
Your neighbor thinks the same way. The result? The whole neighborhood stands in
This was a game played both by Russian TV and by CNN (which, after the 1993
shooting at the parliament, enjoys a special status in Russia).
A newspaper announces that the city has only a week's worth supply of food
You have your doubts about the accuracy of that statement, but it makes you stop
and think. Just in case (and keeping in mind the food shortages in 1990-92), you
run to the nearest grocery store and buy everything you need and do not need for
the next few months. Of course, you are not the only one who reads newspapers
and who lived through 1990-92. Your neighbors do the same, and the result is
everyone to see: empty shelves and more panic. Empty shelves do not necessarily
mean food shortages, just that everyone is buying so much food that the store
cannot refill the shelves at the same speed they are being emptied.
And, of course, the dollar is falling, prices are rising, and imports are
blocked by economic and financial instability. Store shelves look decent again
today, but there is a fair chance that they could have looked decent all along
had it not been for the panicked buying in late August and early September.
Of course, newscasters and journalists can watch the events with satisfaction
and claim that they did, indeed, predict things correctly. There are lines in
front of currency exchange points and empty shelves. The only question that
remains is why do they call this prediction? This is just knowing the national
psyche extremely well.
The mass media can be a dangerous weapon. Those who plan to use it to show
others their ideas or scenarios should be very cautious. It is hard to stop a
rolling snowball, but stopping an avalanche is plain impossible.
The recent reports on the President’s health and calls for his resignation,
which were the hottest topic of newspaper headlines and TV programs, have
abruptly cooled down. Even his Central Asian visit, which showed that Yeltsin
has serious health problems, did not receive the customary dramatic
interpretation. Some newspapers published speculative articles about the
possible diagnosis of Yeltsin’s illness, but the vast majority of the media
downplayed the subject, avoiding a hysterical tone. Do they really think that
the President’s health is reasonably okay? Do they think that health is not
grounds for early resignation? (I do not speak here about his actual state of
health, which remains unknown, but rather about the political implications of an
honest assessment of his health.) It could be the case that mass media have
suddenly realized the danger of starting an avalanche and do not want to cause a
new one. But it is equally, if not more, possible that this is just not the
right time for this theme and they are still waiting for the signal to go ahead.
The mass media in Russia is often called the fourth branch of power. The three
other branches are quite powerless currently, each because of its own problems.
This situation puts an additional responsibility on journalists and news
commentators as well as on political leaders who speak to the public. The
country would be grateful if at least one branch of power were to use common
sense and act in the interest of the state.
By the way, today President Yeltsin announced that Russia is on its way out of
the crisis. I am looking forward to reading the comments on this statement in
30 August 1998
Cost of maintaining U.S.-friendly 'stability' in Russia is going up
By Boris Kagarlitsky
No president in the history of the United States, including President Reagan,
has done Russia as much damage as the present occupant of the White House. Now
he's off to Russia to yet again support his friend, Russian President Boris
When the 12-year reign of the Republicans came to an end in 1992, many
Russians hoped things would change for the better. To Russians who were
dissatisfied with Yeltsin's policies, it seemed natural that a president from
the party of Roosevelt would exercise a restraining influence on his Russian
counterpart. They thought he would act as an ally of those who were calling
for more humane and cautious economic policies.
But within a year President Clinton had given his blessing to Yeltsin's 1993
overthrow of the Russian Parliament and to the bloody vengeance which Yeltsin
dealt out to those who resisted his coup.
During a meeting in Canada, at a time when thousands of innocent people were
dying in Chechnya, Clinton listened approvingly as Yeltsin commented about
"terrorists in black balaclavas (knitted caps)." Nor did Clinton hide his
support for Yeltsin during the 1996 presidential election campaign.
Bill supports his friend Boris to this day, in spite of the fact that Russia
is reeling under a tremendous financial and political crisis and in spite of
demonstrations and strikes throughout Russia demanding Yeltsin's resignation.
Clinton is going to Russia to stress yet again that America is on the side of
Yeltsin and the "reformers," although these "reformers" have brought ruin to
our country and are despised by the bulk of the population. While Yeltsin
changes his prime minister yet again, Clinton repeats the same mantra:
Personalities don't matter, but the reforms should continue - the very same
"reforms" that have produced the current crisis.
Even the people at the top now admit that Russia is in really bad straits. To
carry on as before has become impossible. The country's most lucrative
resources have been seized and divvied up. The financial system is falling
apart. Investors are rushing to gather up their money and get out of the
Meanwhile, the Yeltsin regime is agonizing. Yeltsin is hastily reorganizing
the security forces. Newspapers are reporting that the successor organizations
of the KGB are investigating the labor movement, opposition activists,
environmentalists and other dissidents. A federal guard is being set up to
suppress possible mutinies in the armed forces. The police are being
instructed in how to combat strikers.
It is not only the Yeltsin regime that is in crisis, but also Clinton's
policies toward Russia. America has supported the regime in Moscow, given it
money - mainly via loans from the International Monetary Fund - and dictated
its economic strategies. Even the IMF, however, is not exactly brimming with
cash. The fund's directors are seeking additional contributions from donor
countries, above all from the United States. And here is the paradox:
Conservative Republicans do not want to give money. Clinton will once again
have to try to persuade Congress to shell out money in order to "support
reforms in Russia."
There should be no illusions. This money will be used to further a single aim:
keeping the present regime in power. But the cost of supporting "stability" in
Russia is rising all the time. It's the same as in a taxi: The farther you go,
the higher the fare. And the financial resources of the United States are not
Western politicians and financial institutions are not passive onlookers. They
bear full responsibility for what is being done here. They gave their
agreement to the key decisions that led to the crisis. The current policies
are being cleared with them as well.
The further the United States allows itself to be drawn into the Russian
crisis, the more trouble it will have extricating itself. The crunch could
come when Clinton is no longer in the White House and Yeltsin no longer in the
Yeltsin has an astonishing gift for clinging to power. But sooner or later,
the Russian population will settle their accounts with his regime. No
government lasts forever, and the American politicians who have put their
stake on Yeltsin will eventually realize this. As Russians say, however long
the string, it has an end somewhere.
When that end finally comes, people in both Washington and Moscow will have to
answer for the decisions they have made.
Boris Kagarlitsky is a sociologist who lives in Moscow, and is the author of
"Square Wheels: How Russian Democracy Got Derailed."
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 207, Part I, 26 October 1998
"MONICAGATE" IS BAD FOR RUSSIA. The impeachment of U.S.
President Bill Clinton would be disadvantageous for
Russia, "Noviye izvestiya" concluded on 23 October.
Clinton, according to the newspaper, continues
conducting a policy that is "very advantageous for
Russia, if not pro-Russian." It added that U.S.
congressmen's criticism of Clinton's "amoral behavior in
his private life" invariably includes attacks on his
policy concerning Russia, saying that he "granted Russia
piles of money and gambled on a sick president." The
newspaper also predicted that if Clinton is impeached,
"the Gore-Primakov Commission will go downhill at such a
rapid pace that many Russian enterprises, particularly
those in the defense and space industries, will be
carried along with it." JAC
Jamestown Foundation Monitor
26 October 1998
THE ANTI-LUZHKOV CAMPAIGN CONTINUES. "Itogi" gave a chunk of its airtime
over to several strong critics of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a likely
presidential contender who wants to create a "centrist" political coalition.
Last Tuesday (October 20), during separate speeches to a trade union group
and to the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Luzhkov
attacked--not for the first time--the "young reformers" of previous
governments, including Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar, for "monetarist"
policies, privatization and creating a "pyramid" of GKOs, Russia's
now-defunct short-term treasury bills. These policies had wrecked Russia's
economy, said the mayor, who called for criminal investigations into
privatization and the collapse of the GKO market (see the Monitor, October 21).
"Itogi" ran an excerpt of an interview with former Vice Premier Boris
Nemtsov, in which he compared Luzhkov with Communist leader Gennady
Zyuganov, who has reportedly been courting the Moscow mayor for a political
alliance. "Both believe that only a giant, all-powerful bureaucracy can save
the country," Nemtsov said. "Both believe that vulgar state regulation--the
granting of licenses, quotas, permissions, the total control over
business--is the country's salvation. Both, wittingly or not, oppose those
who know how to conduct entrepreneurship independently. Primakov, however,
will hardly be able to accept everything Luzhkov says. The mayor's advice is
largely dictated by short-term political considerations, not political
calculations. Including the endless attacks on Chubais, who long ago moved
into the shadows and is busy with the problems of electricity." Nemtsov's
comments were followed by those of Chubais, the former economics and
privatization tsar who now heads United Energy Systems, Russia's electricity
monopoly. Chubais, in essence, accused Luzhkov of economic illiteracy.
That "Itogi" is now giving Chubais a platform from which to attack Luzhkov
is ironic, given that in the fall of 1997 the program, along with others on
NTV television, exhaustively covered the scandal involving a US$450,000 book
honorarium that Chubais and several allies received from a publishing house
connected to Uneximbank. NTV was founded by MOST-Bank and is partly owned by
Gazprom, both of which have been hostile to Uneximbank, which won big in
Chubais's privatization program.
Primakov Course of Action Recommended
Obshchaya Gazeta, No. 41
October 15-21, 1998
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Liliya Shevtsova: "Primakov Could Take
Over the Game: It Is Bad That He Is Not Doing So"
The all but universal support for Yevgeniy Primakov at the
time of his appointment has been replaced by a just as universal
cool skepticism. Meanwhile, the new prime minister is coping
splendidly with the role for which he was hired. This is the role of
guarantor of the political truce and custodian of
the keys to the presidency in the event of early presidential
elections. Primakov is operating within the framework of this role
perfectly successfully--he is equally distant from all political
centers, comports himself equally steadily with all, and does not
evince personal ambitions. As far as his cabinet is concerned, it
also fits perfectly within the formula of political
compromise. Under conditions of stability, this government
could calmly function for as long as you like. The President would
spend his time at the dacha, the Duma would amuse itself, and the
cabinet would get on with day-to-day administration.
But it is wholly a question of the fact that we have a
qualitatively different situation here today. It is more than the
fact that the economic crisis continues, an election race is being
superimposed on top of it. There have as yet been no instances in
world practice of the successful cure of an economy in the period of
an election contest. After the change of power is another matter.
Whatever the case, Primakov the conciliator simply does not fit
within the logic of the present development. A truce is needed only
by the President, for whom this is a way, albeit quite humiliating,
of extending his political life. For everyone else, on the other
hand, struggle and opposition are the best form of self-assertion.
In this situation Primakov will have increasingly to serve as the
President's protective umbrella. The cross-flow of
real power to the premier is not happening, it is simply being
dispersed. Contrary to certain forecasts, Primakov not only is not
facilitating the onset of a transitional period but is
merely extending the death-throes of Yeltsin's rule.
Even recently it seemed that we could freeze the present
situation: The President would visit the Kremlin from time to time
and show signs of life, the premier would compensate for his
absence, and we would thus quietly make our way to the year 2000.
Now it is obvious that the absence of a center of power is
accelerating the disintegration of the fabric of the state. The fact
that on 7 October the local authorities took charge of the
demonstrations indicates that the demolition of the executive chain
of command continues.
A vacuum of power has a tendency to fill. It should not be
hoped that there are no prerequisites for coups here now. The
breakdown of the political regime is ideal soil for the restoration
of such traditions, in an even more appalling form, possibly.
In this situation Primakov is confronted with a dilemma:
Either to abandon his conciliatory function and switch to a strictly
aggressive policy, consolidating power and assuming all
responsibility for the political and economic course of the
transitional period, or to continue to play the part of security
screen for the fading regime. Primakov has twice
already had an opportunity to stake a claim to implementation of the
first scenario. On the first occasion he could at the time of his
appointment have demanded of parliament that it sign a political
agreement, approved by the President, that afforded him a breathing-
space at least until the parliamentary elections. In the desperate
situation in which both parties were endeavoring to escape from the
clinch, Primakov's demands would have been met. Primakov, though,
requested, with the intellectual's breeding, nothing. It is possible
that he did not anticipate the truce ending the very next day
following his appointment and his cabinet coming under attack from
Primakov had a second opportunity to take real responsibility
for the way out of the crisis on the threshold of the 7 October
protest actions. Considering the panic that had arisen at the top,
he could have demanded of both the President and the Duma additional
powers recorded in a corresponding agreement. Even in his first
program appeal to the people of 6 October, he could still have told
the truth about the real state of affairs and have asked for
society's support for his involuntary hard-line policy. Even the
fact that Primakov appealed to Russians instead of Yeltsin afforded
him an opportunity to bank on the role of national leader. Primakov,
though, confined himself to lulling assurances, which reassured
hardly anyone. In addition, he even exposed himself, making promises
that the government cannot yet fulfill.
Yet to halt the crisis and strengthen authority there needs to
be a display of political will. We are talking about stringency in
respect to the banks, to the regions, to the Duma--to all who are
lobbying for group interests. The consolidation of power presupposes
something greater also. After all, the essence of our crisis is the
hopeless conclusion of a whole era. This era was connected with a
particular economic policy, but, strictly speaking, with the present
organization of power making all of society dependent on the sneeze
of one individual. We should hardly demand of Primakov what was done
formerly by Khrushchev and Gorbachev, a line drawn beneath the
previous regime, that is. But he could at least determine the
reference point of the change. In an atmosphere of the utmost
anarchy, when the President is helpless and lives in a world of
simplistic notions of what is happening around him, the premier has
the right and the duty to identify his position both on questions of
economic revival and a revision of the Constitution. He should say
honestly how the burden of escape from the crisis is to be
distributed and on the support of which groups the government will
Can Primakov turn this page? Of course, doing this now, after
several weeks of uncertainty and deliberate leisurely pace, will be
quite difficult. But if Yevgeniy Maksimovich sincerely aspires to
change the situation and at least halt our common downward slide, he
will have to change himself and disappoint those that summoned him
to the White House. Yes, of course, the pretension to consolidation
of the power center will not bring him a quiet life. But lacking the
principal levers of power, Primakov is condemned, and even a monthly
change of team would not save him. And, most important, Primakov's
failure under conditions where there are no candidates for the role
of shock absorbers, merely candidates for other roles, could trigger
a process of upheavals such as we would not very much care to see,
as they say.
We should not comfort ourselves with the fact that society has
not matured to the point of a mass explosion. It is today becoming
estranged from all political institutions--this is far more
dangerous than the traditional discontent with the authorities.
Discontent contains within it also a certain hope of the possibility
of an improvement in the regime. A society that has turned its back
on authority and that is united on the basis of its rejection of and
scorn for it signifies a potential threat of coming destructive
events. The fact that the entire Russian ruling class has already
been pulled into an election race is significant also. But this is a
race without a precise distance and with an unclear result, which is
keeping us all in a state of suspended growing uncertainty.
The simultaneous change of both branches of power could be the
sole solution that would end this senseless running in place. But
simply Yeltsin's resignation could merely save the quasi-monarchical
regime and reproduce the present conflicts with the participation of
new players. So the more important task is the transformation of the
regime such as to limit the powers of the President and to
strengthen the government, but to prevent here a possible warping in
favor of a populist parliamentarianism.
In a situation where the field for maneuver is so narrow,
Primakov has, possibly, been given a historic opportunity--having
created a strong government, to thereby influence the formation of
the future regime. Perhaps this can be done by a politician from
within the system, in the lifetime of the creator of this regime
itself, what is more? Why not? All successful transformations have
been accomplished not by revolutionaries but by reformers from the
old ruling class who have found within themselves the boldness to
Primakov will not accept this, many people say, and they cite
telling evidence that they are right. But we have at least defined
the alternative that the premier has. It exists and is even
perfectly realistic, if only because the political field is
fragmented and the main forces have not yet consolidated. This
situation could prove a blessing for those who are capable of
pursuing reform. Spanish Premier Adolfo Suarez, who ascended from
the old Franco elite, began under far from the best conditions. At
least Primakov is not menaced by the constant threat of a military
The first thing that Primakov needs to do if he does not wish
to remain in the role of doorman is to seek the signing by
parliament of a political agreement or a revision of the law on the
government, which would allow him to feel more confident. He would
then have an expanded field for maneuver in economic decisionmaking
also and he would, possibly, exchange his "compromise cabinet" for a
"breakthrough cabinet". Whether he can take advantage of this
opportunity or whether his indecisiveness merely accelerates the
process of the devaluation of power, we will see very soon. But what
price might society have to pay for another unsuccessful
October 25, 1998
[for personal use only]
Their broken dreams
By MATTHEW FISHER (74511.357@CompuServe.com)
Sun's Columnist at Large
TYUMEN, Russia -- The post-Soviet landscape in this unhappy corner of the
Urals doesn't look much different than it did under communism.
Much of this city of 670,000, which is as far from Moscow as Saskatoon is
from Toronto, looks as if it is permanently stuck in the eye of a hurricane.
Scores of ancient, sagging wooden homes look as if they have been on the
brink of collapse for decades. After the first snowfall of the autumn, great
pools of mud create quagmires everywhere.
Dreary petrochemical factories on the outskirts of Tyumen spew plumes of
toxins into the sky. A huge iron statue of Lenin dominates a square near the
The only hints of new economic life in Tyumen are the grandly named World
Trade Centre and the Turkish-built Quality Hotel. But the trade centre was
locked up tight on a recent weekend and the nearby hotel had its usual 10%
As the regional centre of an oil-producing territory, Tyumen seemed set to
become a boomtown when the oil industry was privatized by Boris Yeltsin. But
that's not how it has worked out.
As elsewhere in Russia, most of the billions of dollars earned from local oil
have found their way into the pockets of a few shadowy local gangsters and a
slightly larger, but equally shadowy group of Muscovites. Although surrounded
by fabulous wealth, those who live in and near Tyumen haven't received even a
tiny share of it. In fact, most of them haven't been paid at all for as much
as a year because most local factories, businesses and the local
administration say they are broke.
Nobody seemed to know what the unemployment rate was although there was
general agreement that it had become much higher since the dollar appreciated
150% against the ruble in mid-August. When asked for a figure, the usual reply
was: "If you include all the people who still have jobs, but don't get paid
anything, almost everyone in Tyumen is unemployed."
"I don't know what they're waiting for. I don't know why they continue to go
to work, but they do," said Alexei Golomedov, a clerk who was to be laid off
by the Quality Hotel in two days because business had fallen to almost nothing
since the government and the banks refused to meet their foreign and domestic
debt obligations nine weeks ago.
Like many Russians his age, Golomedov, who is 24, has given up on his
"All I want is a life without the Mafia and with a little stability," he
said. "I speak French and English, so I'm thinking of emigrating to Canada."
Famine remains an ominous but apparently realistic forecast for many isolated
centres to the north and east of Tyumen. But this city is on a main rail line
and the relatively well-stocked local market is full of collective farmers
from former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
The difficulty for the farmers is that most people in Tyumen don't have any
money. But few will starve here because almost everyone here has a vegetable
This is nothing like the capitalist dream that Alec Bakayev, 35, envisaged
for himself, his wife and two children. A truck driver who lost his factory
job during the last years of Mikhail Gorbachev, Bakayev and his wife borrowed
seed money from loan sharks so that his wife could become what Russians call a
Every few weeks Svetlana Bakayeva flew to Turkey on a charter flight to buy
$5,000 of cheap clothing and household goods that she sold in Tyumen for a
modest profit. With this profit and another loan, Alec bought a Lada, which he
uses as a taxi.
But the flights to Turkey stopped abruptly when the ruble plunged, leaving
the Bakayevs with a small mountain of unsellable products and an outstanding
$4,500 loan with 10% interest compounded monthly.
"Those we owe the money to are 'serious' people, so we'll sell the car if we
have to," Alex said grimly. "As it is, the car only brings in enough money for
"Life is pretty hard for us. We can't afford winter clothing for the kids and
thinking of how we will educate them if they want to go on to higher school
has become a nightmare. But if a person wants to survive a crisis, he can find
a way, as our parents did in the war. The key for me is to not become so
depressed that I start drinking."
October 27, 1998
CONFESSIONS OF A RUSSOPHILE: Old Riddles for New Russia
By Jean MacKenzie
We need a few new handy cliches to pigeonhole Russia. The old "mystery inside
a riddle wrapped in an enigma," or whatever it was that Winston Churchill
actually said, is really too hackneyed to do the trick. Poet Fyodor Tyutchev
has also been overworked, with his "Russia cannot be understood with the mind"
routine. It helps if you can recite him in the original, but even that gets
old after a while, and non-Russian speakers think, rightly so, that the quoter
is just showing off.
I have a few standard remarks on the subject, but most of them are not
printable. I am now on vacation, though, out of the pressure cooker of Moscow
into the sterile comforts of Scandinavia, so I have plenty of time to
The problem is I just don't understand Russian any more. The country in which
I have spent the majority of my adult years is more unfathomable to me now
than it was 10 years ago. This could be the beginning of wisdom, but it feels
like the onset of a nervous breakdown.
At one point most of us thought we knew where Russia was going. There would be
progress, slow but steady, toward a bright future of democracy and riches.
Russia was emerging from the deep-freeze of the Soviet years, casting off
paranoia and anger to take its rightful place among the family of nations. All
of this tired old ideological chatter about the decadence of the West and the
moral superiority of Russia was just a product of that silly Marxist-Leninist
dogma, and, given the chance, Russia would abandon it with alacrity and
Boy, were we dumb.
We saw only what we wanted to see f Russia hopping the express train to
capitalism and democracy, the fast track from gloomy stagnation to neon-lit
prosperity. Now the dream has died, there is, as yet, no new self-deception to
take its place, and Russia and the West are looking at each other in mutual
But this year's disillusionment may be just as big a mistake as last year's
boosterism. Russia is not that simple. A mystery inside a riddle wrapped in an
enigma, to coin a phrase.
I am no specialist on the fine points of relativity, but Albert Einstein
surely had Russia in mind when he spun his theories of time and place.
There is no single age or even dimension that can contain this country.
Or maybe H.G. Wells would be more to the point. Russia seems to have been
scrambled in a time machine. But instead of going back to the future, we're
heading forward to the past.
Take a look at Yury Maslyukov, first deputy prime minister in charge ofwhat is
optimistically called the economy.
The steely gaze, the jowls, the Gosplan rhetoric f how did he get to be the
wave of the future? In what other country could the "young reformers" become
the old guard overnight? I was just getting used to smooth-talking, Armani-
clad officials, and all of a sudden we're back to lumpy suits and really nasty
ties. Are we in the Gorbachev years? It feels more like we've landed in deep
Brezhnev-land, complete with a lurching, rambling leader and impenetrable
But then you take a look at the Russian press and realize that you're in
never-never land. Can you imagine anyone in the 1970s publishing a magazine
with acover showing the country's leader pickled in a jar of formaldehyde?
Itogi, the magazine in question, is very fresh, very funny and very cruel. And
as long as editor Sergei Parkhomenko is still at large, there is hope for
Political analysts say we're back in 1917, with a hated monarch on the point
of abdication and the Bolsheviks waiting in the wings. Economists say we're
heading for 1970s Argentina.
So where does that leave us? Standing in the shadow of St. Basil's, perhaps,
with the ghost of Ivan the Terrible. Or Yury the Terrible, to name another
Moscow sovereign with a yearning for power and a taste for dotting the
landscape with unusual buildings.
Maybe it's time to stop trying to figure Russia out. It always confounds
expectations. The other day I had caught a cab to work, piloted by a homespun
"Any country could get rich given our resources," he said, more proudly than
otherwise. "But to have it all and still be poor, now that takes talent."
It makes no sense to me. But then, as I have been told, Russia cannot be
understood with the mind.
Chernomyrdin Says Blaming Foreign Investors 'Dangerous'
Moscow, Oct 22 (Interfax) -- Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin
on Thursday [22 October] branded as "dangerous and ill-considered" attempts
by some Russian politicians to partly blame foreign investors for Russia's
"If people put their trust in Russia, put money they earned into it
and then lost it, it's big trouble, a tremendous problem that our state
should deal with," Chernomyrdin told Interfax. "Therefore, dilettante and
mocking statements which at times come from the left camp of Russian
politics are absolutely out of place.
"One of the priority tasks is to complete the negotiations with
investors as soon as possible and draw up mechanisms to enable them to get
back at least some of the enormous amounts they have lost. In effect, the
prestige of the Russian nation is at stake. The search for solutions is a
complicated, delicate and laborious job," Chernomyrdin said.
Quite a few Russian politicians are using accusations against foreign
companies to attain "their own immediate goals," the minister [as received]
said. "Their careless, often unprofessional assessments harm both the
government and foreign investors, impeding the negotiation process."
Stanislavsky's Moscow theatre celebrates centenary
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The cream of Russian actors and a star-studded
audience gathered on Monday to celebrate the centenary of the Moscow Art
Theatre, one of the most influential theatres of the 20th century.
Actors and other performers sang, danced and delivered eulogies to the theatre
that was founded in 1898 by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-
Danchenko and brought Anton Chekhov's plays to prominence.
It also helped launch the careers of writer and playwright Maxim Gorky and
innovative director Vsevolod Meyerhold, and put into practice Stanislavsky's
revolutionary acting methods based on making performances more realistic.
``Without your theatre, the history of national culture would be
inconceivable,'' President Boris Yeltsin said in a message read out on the
stage by a Kremlin aide.
``It defined the development of 20th century theatre, enriching it with new
Yeltsin awarded medals to the theatre's senior figures and reclusive writer
Alexander Solzhenitsyn made a rare public appearance earlier on Monday to
unveil a monument to Chekhov.
Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar-winning film director, paid tribute to the theatre
at the celebrations, attended by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and other
ministers, politicians and cultural figures.
``My mother brought me here when I was a little boy and told me to watch
because I might never see such great actors again,'' Primakov told ORT
The theatre enjoyed worldwide influence based on its principles of respect for
the author's intentions, rigorous training to analyse and express character
truthfully, and the subordination of the individual's performance to the
Chekhov's ``The Seagull'' was a hit at the theatre in 1898 after failing in a
production in St Petersburg. The theatre went on to give premieres to
Chekhov's other main plays -- ``Uncle Vanya,'' ``Three Sisters'' and ``The
Gorky's career began with the theatre's productions of ``Lower Depths and The
Philistines'' in 1902, and Meyerhold began his theatrical career as an actor
in the theatre's troupe.
The theatre's influence has waned but its impact on world theatre has proved
The celebrations took place in the Chekhov Art Theatre, one of two factions
left after a split in 1987. The commemorative events will move on Tuesday to
the Gorky Art Theatre across Moscow which is home to the other faction.