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Johnson's Russia List
10 January 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Kurt Porter: RE Language Studies (JRL #2533, #3006, #3007).
2. Robert Coalson: Response to Paul Goble on Russian press.
3. Reuters: Russia denies default, says no assets to be seized.
4. AP: Judith Ingram, Projects Halted in Tatar Republic.
5. Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Aleksandr Vorobyev and Tatyana
"Toward a Tax Amnesty, Via Granny's Mattress."
6. Sovetskaya Rossiya: Interview with writer Valentin Rasputin,
"Stolen Crown." (Rasputin Refutes 'Russian Fascism' Charges)]
From: kurt.porter@DTRA.mil (Kurt Porter)
Subject: RE: Language Studies (JRL #2533, #3006, #3007)
Date: Sun, 10 Jan 1999
I recently attended the American Association of Teachers of Slavic
and East European Languages (AATSEEL) held in San Francisco, 27-30 December
During the conference, university professors discussed a 40%
enrollment reduction in Slavic Language courses. Working in government vice
academia (and not seeing this decline directly), it was beneficial to see
this figure validated by the Modern Language Association's foreign-language
enrollment study in JRL #2533.
Looking at the decline in Slavic Studies/Languages enrollment, it is
pretty safe to say that the days of "Teach it and they Will Come" are over.
I'm not sure that the ideas put forth by Mr. William Kauffman (JRL #3006)
and endorsed by Ms. Kathy Crane (JRL #3007) are the ultimate solutions to
the declining enrollment issue. It should be noted that neither
individual characterized their points as solutions to this issue.
While applauding Mr. Kauffman's ideas (someone needs to find a way
to increase enrollment and advance the cause of Russian language studies),
his ideas could lead to erroneous conclusions by a layman. One possible
erroneous conclusion being that in addition to a couple of regular language
courses, the successful completion of two-three courses tailored to meet
very specific needs will make one a functional Russian speaker.
I discussed this issue with a colleague of mine this morning, Yuri
Boguslavsky. Yuri replied, "Yeah, I want to be a surgeon, but I don't want
to take all those classes and do an internship, just teach me how to use a
scalpel, that's all I need. I want to learn to cut so I can make the big
Just as there is a reason that science and engineering students have
their own tough core courses which they must complete before they graduate
and become scientists and engineers, there is a reason that potential,
professional language specialists (professors, teachers, instructors,
interpreters, translators, etc.) spend the majority of their time in
language classes and in language labs. One must put in dedicated study time
in one's area of aptitude or chosen profession.
I admire Ms. Crane's initiative in studying the Russian language. I
am quite sure that her Russian counterparts deeply appreciate the fact she
is dedicated enough to her job that she has made an attempt to learn a
The bottom line is, if one is involved with joint projects or
missions with a foreign country and needs to facilitate communication on a
wide variety of topics (both technical and non-technical) and "communication
between the parties can make or break an effort to collaborate," then one
should make the investment and hire a professional interpreter.
The above is not stated to dissuade any scientist or engineer from
studying the Russian language. Even rudimentary Russian helps break the ice
at those colorful Russian parties. However, if effective communication is
paramount, it should be left to the professionals. Besides, if the
humanities majors knew there was work waiting for them
interpreting/translating in the science and engineering fields, perhaps
they'd take more language courses (smile).
Date: Sun, 10 Jan 1999
From: Robert Coalson <email@example.com>
Subject: response to Paul Goble, Jan. 9,1999
Dear Mr. Johnson:
I hope that you will consider posting the attached response to Paul Goble's
comments on the demise of the central press in Russia. I have been working
to promote the development of local newspapers in Russia for the last four
years with the National Press Institute and, naturally, have a quite
different take on the significance of this phenomenon. I hope that you will
think that my comments will be of interest to your readers.
Response to "Russia: Analysis from Washington - Turning Away From the
Moscow Press," by Paul Goble (January 8, 1999)
From: Robert Coalson <firstname.lastname@example.org> , director of the Business
Development Service of the National Press Institute of Russia.
Mr. Goble writes with alarm about the fact that Russians are turning
increasingly to local newspapers for information and reading ever fewer
Moscow-based publications. Goble, adopting an argument that is often heard
among Moscow analysts, laments the "fragmentation of what many Russians
call their 'information space,'" arguing that a central press is for some
reason necessary in order to promote uniform thinking among Russians ("as a
guide to developments in the country as a whole or as an indication of the
thinking of the Russian people").
I believe, on the contrary, that the demise of a highly centralized and
easily dominated central press is one of the most encouraging developments
in post-Soviet Russian life. Only local newspapers have any chance of
providing average citizens with the information and incentives that they
need to become actively involved in civic life in their communities. Such
increased participation in public life - from voting to volunteering to
joining civic groups - is a crucial precondition for this country's
transition to a stable, mature civic society. While the central press may
be good at telling Russians what they should think, the local press can and
often does show average citizens what they can do to improve their lives.
It also can and often does turn the spotlight on local problems from health
care to education to the environment, forcing local officials to respond.
Rather than lamenting the downfall of the central press, we should be
thinking about what can be done to empower and enable the local press to
play its proper role in an open society. Goble rightly notes that the local
press is often under severe pressure from local politicians. In every
Russian city, independent newspapers must compete against unfairly promoted
and subsidized state competitors towing the official line. Obviously, this
situation could be corrected in short order if only there were sufficient
political will. Assistance organizations promoting the economic development
of the Russian regions should join with media-development organizations to
demand that Russia do more to establish a truly free and viable local press.
More can also be done to help regional newspapers minimize their isolation.
Russia has already made huge strides in increasing the availability of
regionally based information on the Internet and this information enables
local journalists to look at national and international issues from the
perspective of their communities and to present them intelligibly to their
readers. For links to just a few of the regional newspapers that have come
on-line in the last few years, see the National Press Institute's website
(http://www.npi.ru/NEW/forjour/reg-smi.htm). Exchanges of information among
the regions can play a far more important role in developing and
stabilizing the Russian regions than a pompous central press telling people
what to think. There is still much work to be done along these lines, however.
In November, Irina Khakamada, the head of the State Committee for the
Support of Small Business, spoke to the National Press Institute's annual
national conference of independent regional newspaper publishers. "I have
noticed that the local press - even during the present crisis - is
considerably more optimistic than the central press," she said. "Reading
the local press, you can see immediately that life is somehow going forward
in the regions, that there are businesses that are getting by and even
thriving, that conflicts are being aired and resolved. You notice most of
all that the problems being discussed are eminently practical. If you read
the central press, you see nothing but catastrophe and collapse. You see
nothing but despair and are ready to give up. "
"Even in Russia," she continued, "the press is truly 'the fourth estate.'
If it chooses, it can survive and, what is more, it can set an entirely new
agenda for Russia. But these ideas can only come from [the regional press]
- Moscow is far too conservative." Obviously, the regional press still has
a long way to go. However, with a little assistance and with a lot less
interference from politicians, it will certainly make it.
Business Development Service
National Press Institute
Telephone: +7 (812) 273-2851
Tel./Fax: +7 (812) 272-4672
Russia denies default, says no assets to be seized
MOSCOW, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Russia's finance ministry Sunday denied the country
was in default on its billions of dollars of debt and dismissed local
newspaper reports that Russian assets abroad would be seized.
The ministry said in a statement it had taken a series of ``civilized
to solve its crushing debt problem.
``There can be no question of any declaration of default and the
steps of seizing accounts and property of the Russian Federation abroad,'' it
said. Such interpretations by newspapers were ``inventions from beginning to
The ministry was responding to articles in two local newspapers, which
declaration of a Russian default would lead to government property abroad as
well as the foreign holdings of Russian citizens being seized.
Russia has missed a payment on Soviet-era debt to the London Club of
commercial creditors but argues it should not be considered in default as 70
percent of the lenders have agreed to restructure the borrowings.
However, the London Club says 95 percent need to agree. The Bank of America,
the paying agent for the club, is consulting with lenders on what further
action they wish to take.
Russia owes $17.5 billion in debt repayments this year but has budgeted to
repay $9.5 billion.
Of this, the country plans to find $5.0 billion internally and hopes to
more money from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
As well as the talks with the London Club, it also plans discussions with
Paris Club, which groups sovereign lenders.
It says it already has a deal to restructure domestic, rouble-denominated
and that creditors have begun to swap old paper for the new paper offered
under the restructure deal.
Projects Halted in Tatar Republic
January 10, 1999
By JUDITH INGRAM
The Associated Press
KAZAN, Russia (AP) --
The most fashionable street in this centuries-old town on the Volga River ends
in an abandoned construction site -- all that's left of ambitious plans to
build a sleek subway.
It's a monument to the grandiose projects halted by Russia's economic
Tatarstan's regional government has paid all but the last $500,000 to a
Canadian company for a tunneling machine needed to build the system, but the
project has been put on hold indefinitely.
``We couldn't have started building at a worse time,'' mourned Marat
chairman of the regional parliament's commission on economic development and
The Tatar government missed the deadline in November to repay a $100 million
credit, becoming the first region in Russia to default on a foreign loan. It's
a big comedown for a region that had been determined to rise above Russia's
failing economy by being different.
You won't spy the Russian tricolor in Tatarstan, but you do see plenty of
republic's green-white-and-red flags flying. The region's biggest bank, ice
hockey team and legions of stores all carry the name of Tatarstan's heraldic
symbol: Ak Bar, the white snow leopard.
Four years ago, Tatar President Mintimir Shaymiyev went beyond defiant
gestures and struck a deal with the Russian government to allow the republic
to keep more than half its tax revenues at home. Tatarstan is one of the 89
regions or republics that make up the Russian Federation.
Publicizing its independence and its oil reserves, it managed to attract
foreign investment than any other region, except Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Authorities cleaned up the capital, Kazan, renovating its elegant 18th and
19th century buildings. Gaudy new villas sprouted in the suburbs, and
apartment buildings rose among the rickety old wooden houses and outhouses
that dot the city. The government boasted a minimum wage that was four times
higher than in the rest of Russia.
Tatarstan looked like a success.
Then Russia's economic crisis exploded. The government defaulted on some
in August and had to devalue the ruble. Moscow banks collapsed or halted
operations, paralyzing business across the country; the ruble plunged; and the
prices of imports soared.
The Tatar government promised to keep prices down, but prices for food other
than locally produced meat and milk still doubled and tripled.
The government has far from unlimited resources to throw at the crisis. Oil
profits, which make up more than two-thirds of the republic's budget, are
shrinking as world oil prices drop and the cost of extracting Tatarstan's low-
quality oil increases. The government also spends huge sums propping up
factories that have been more or less idle for years.
Many residents are beginning to grumble.
``People's savings are gone, and prices have gone way up,'' said Tamara
Dmitriyeva, who worked 23 years as a bookkeeper at the KAMAZ truck factory
before being laid off in September.
The crisis is felt most acutely in Naberezhnye Chelny, KAMAZ's company town
about 175 miles east of Kazan. More than half the plant's 140,000 workers have
been laid off over the past five years, and in spite of government loans, the
plant has hardly been working.
Dmitriyeva didn't even bother to take off her fur hat, coat or gloves
entered the town's unemployment center. It was just a quick visit to confirm
what she already knew.
``They only advertise for young people,'' the 43-year-old said before
back into the snow-crusted streets.
Until recently, locals fixed their hopes on the YELAZ auto plant near
Yelabuga, about 10 miles to the west, where Chevrolet Blazers are being
In return for an approximately $68.7 million investment, General Motors
has permission to bring in up to 10,000 Blazers duty-free. The cars come from
Brazil with just the seats and bumpers to be attached.
YELAZ-GM officials are optimistic the venture will lead to bigger things,
including assembly of up to 50,000 Opel Vectras a year. That project would
create more than 600 jobs at the plant itself and inject further money into
the republic's economy by purchasing up to 60 percent of components locally,
said Luis Macaleno, the plant director.
But the economic crisis has cast a pall over the prospect of further
development. Even now, when the joint venture is putting out just 15 Blazers a
day, it can't sell half the cars, Macaleno said.
It's the low-prestige industries that are reaping benefits from the crisis.
Kazan's tobacco company is winning back customers for its cheap cigarettes,
and the Nefis toiletries plant is suddenly thriving.
So is the 45-year-old Kazan Macaroni Plant, where the flaking paint and
in the linoleum floors testify to years of malaise.
Hit with competition from cheap Turkish and Iranian products and what new
director Pyotr Cherepkin politely calls unprofessional management, the plant's
annual output had dropped from 15,000 metric tons to just 3,000 in the 1990s.
But prices for imports rose sharply as a result of the financial crisis, and
in September alone Kazan Macaroni bounced back to production of 1,000 metric
tons. It produced 1,200 metric tons in October.
Cherepkin said the only thing holding him back is the restriction on
food outside Tatarstan.
``Geography is working against us,'' he complained. ``Today, I could compete
in neighboring regions. I could earn great money for the plant. But we're
forbidden from taking our products out -- even though others can bring theirs
As for the plant workers, they are finally getting their salaries on time
in money instead of macaroni.
``Sure, prices are up at the market. But we're finally being paid!'' factory
floor manager Lyalya Sagiyeva shouted over the din of the machines spitting
out spaghetti. ``We have no complaints.''
Today, the loudest complaints about Tatarstan come from those in private
business, who chafe at high taxes and restrictions that obstruct their firms'
stability and growth.
``There's a lot of talk about the potential of small business, but in fact
it's all just words,'' said Kamil Shaydarov, a former Tatar presidential
candidate who makes his living renting out property in Kazan.
Businessmen complain about corruption at every level -- from petty
on the take to the alleged, spectacular misuse of international loans.
Foreign investors say the ``crony capitalism'' that has weakened much of
Russia's economy is even worse in Tatarstan and that more than any crisis has
robbed the republic of resources.
Bureaucrats use their power ``as a route to filling their little pockets,''
``Who needs the subway when people aren't getting their pensions? Teachers
don't get salaries. There's no medicine in the hospitals,'' he said. ``But you
know the people in power are making money: `I give you permission to do some
work, you give me 10 percent -- in cash and in advance.''
Property Declaration Appears To Imply Tax Amnesty
6 January 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Article by Aleksandr Vorobyev and Tatyana Konishcheva:
"Toward a Tax Amnesty, Via Granny's Mattress"
The federal law "On State Monitoring of the Conformity of Major
Consumer Purchases to Individuals' Actual Income" comes into force 24
January 1999. In other words, after 24 January all our major purchases
will be monitored by the state.
At the end of last year our newspaper published a detailed account of
how the monitoring of individuals' income would be implemented. The
editorial office was immediately inundated with telephone calls. It
emerged that notaries had not yet set eyes on the property declaration form
with which they are due to provide the population by 24 January. This form
should, in effect, exempt all previous income from taxation, without any
consequences for the declarer. At any rate, this conclusion may be drawn
from the law. The tax collectors themselves are also still awaiting
official approval of these forms. According to Maks Sokol, chief of the
Tax Ministry's administration for work with individuals, whom we asked for
an explanation, the tax collectors are prepared to agree to the arbitrary
declaration form. Even though the law does not provide for this. But the
right to provide an initial financial history by completing a declaration
form is lost immediately after 24 January. It is unclear what people
should do. After all, the notaries discovered the tax organs'
recommendations only from us.
Let us recall that, according to the law, 24 January is the deadline
for people to visit a notary and deposit all the information about their
property, including monetary property, attaching documents confirming their
ownership. If you have not had time or chosen not to do this, and if,
after the deadline, you try to prove the obvious -- that all your life you
have kept your savings in a jar, fearing that they would get lost in our
beloved motherland's financial-credit institutions; or that your
grandmother's set of 12 chairs contained a cache of money which you have
now inherited -- you may not be believed. And then, farewell, money.
Furthermore, the legislators make it impossible to get around the law,
instructing citizens to keep almost all their funds in a bank. Otherwise,
the funds will not be classed as legally earned. According to the
as-yet-nonexistent declaration form, you may hold on to a sum equal to no
more than 1,000 minimum wages, or about $4,000. You may hold on to more,
of course, but then you will also have to prove that you have paid income
tax on it correctly.
Furthermore, property subject to mandatory state monitoring includes
real estate (apartments, dachas), aircraft, ships, land-based means of
transport, shares, stakes in partnership incorporation capital, state and
municipal securities, and also savings certificates and gold ingots.
Moreover, if you decided to become cultured and bought a small sketch by
Rembrandt or Van Gogh, this too is property on which the state has cast its
However, before the new law has even come into force, sources in the
executive have delighted us with news of new intentions. It is envisaged
that Russians will be permitted to hold on to a sum equal to very few
minimum wages (about $300), and will have to put all the rest in a bank.
In order to ensure that citizens respond appropriately to this initiative,
it has been decided to make amendments to the Criminal Code and the law on
currency regulation with a view to tightening up all monetary transactions
and extracting the population's money from stockings, money boxes, glass
jars, and other receptacles.
However, let us trust to Russian luck and the good sense of our
politicians, who will understand that it is futile to try to take money
from the rich and that there is simply nothing to take away from the poor.
Rasputin Refutes 'Russian Fascism' Charges
5 January 1999
[translation for personal use only]
Interview with writer Valentin Rasputin by Viktor Kozhemyako;
place and date not given: "Stolen Crown"
[Kozhemyako] Valentin Grigoryevich, the topic which I propose
discussing today was brought to the foreground of public attention last
year and is still being intensely pursued. Let me remind you: In early
July Pravda published your highly impassioned remarks about "Russian
fascism." Or, to be more correct, about the meaning given to this
expression by certain political forces and mass media including, as we
know, the man bearing the title of Russia's president. It is well known
that, in his radio address to mark the latest anniversary of the start of
the Great Patriotic War on 22 June -- a day memorable for us all -- Yeltsin
was reduced to frightening our country and the whole world with the threat
of "Russian fascism." In his view, there is nothing more frightening
Meanwhile, I know that a plenum of the Russian Writers Union was held
literally the day before in St. Petersburg-Leningrad, and you were asked
the following question during a meeting with readers: "What is your
attitude toward Russian fascism?" I was told that you replied: "How can I
have an attitude toward something that does not exist?"
It appears that President Yeltsin believes that the threat of "Russian
fascism" has exceeded all possible boundaries and poses the prime threat to
Russia, whereas writer Rasputin is convinced that no such thing as Russian
fascism exists at all. How would you explain this sharp and diametrically
opposed difference of opinions? After all, Yeltsin subsequently repeated
essentially the same words on several occasions. Just a few days ago, the
selfsame thing was said shrilly and with alarming overtones: Political
extremism, anti-Semitism, ethnic intolerance.... He, Yeltsin, is planning
a mighty offensive -- this is what he appeared to be saying. Against what?
Yes, indeed, against "Russian fascism."
[Rasputin] You will not get much out of Yeltsin. He was instructed
what to say and he repeated it. And the instructors sacrilegiously chose
22 June, the day Hitlerite Germany attacked the Soviet Union, to commit an
outrage even against the victims of the war. Millions of people gave their
lives in the struggle against fascism, they claim, and for what purpose?
So as to end up with fascism. Nothing else can be expected from this
people, they claim, it is being tossed from one side to the other by blind
and uncontrollable elements. It has always been dangerous and remains
dangerous today. Thus, responsibility for today's undeclared war, the
harshest and most devastating war in terms of its consequences, is being
shifted on us Russians. The plundered people, reduced to beggary,
slandered, and making enormous sacrifices -- they are to blame. The ones
being killed off -- they are to blame. How could it be otherwise, it is
claimed, seeing that they are carriers of the "brown plague," which is a
danger for all civilized mankind?
This is such gross and primitive nonsense that there would have been
no point in even discussing it, had its malicious grin not been showing
some features that bring to mind newsreels from Germany in the 1930's.
Today's propaganda and the propaganda of the years when Hitler was aiming
for and did gain power in Germany share the same features. Take a look,
take a careful look at the latest orgy, the latest "Reichstag fire": This
is not the way to fend off evil, this is the way to do evil, this is the
way to prepare for a large-scale war.
Fascism is extreme chauvinism, dictatorship of one people over
another. Is there anything at all in our history or in the character of
our people -- supremely tolerant, having made supreme sacrifices, and
supremely beneficially disposed toward other peoples even to their own
detriment -- to provide grounds for accusing them of fascism? Even now,
when they have been robbed blind by reformist rogues, they are reminiscent
of simpletons who, with mouths wide open in amazement, fail to understand
why the thief that robbed them points at them, the robbed people: "No,
here is the thief! Here is the felon, seize him!"
[Kozhemyako] Valentin Grigoryevich, you and I are of the same
generation. We grew up during the Great Patriotic War. Since our
childhood we have perceived fascism as a monster threatening to swallow and
destroy our country and our beloved people. Yet the people who actually
defeated fascism are now being held out to be such a monster! What do you
think, who and why could have conceived such a Jesuitical fabrication?
[Rasputin] You see, fascism as an ideology has nationalist
foundations. There may, in any nation's existence, come a time when -- as
a result of either external setbacks or internal malaise -- it may be
forced to gather itself together and mobilize to defend its values and the
course of its own existence. At the initial stage, this means a defensive
concentration of national forces. But the nature of fascism is such that
this natural desire to protect yourself from degeneration and submission to
foreign elements leads to an ugly distortion of your own values. Fascism
promotes fanaticism and is capable of anything under the guise of strong
national power. Even of transforming itself into the monster of the Third
Reich, the image in which it is perceived today.
Those who are in charge of Russian ideology and are deliberately
sowing confusion are taking advantage of this. This entire ideology can be
glimpsed behind the charges against that very simpleton who, on the basis
of the thief's calumny, is arrested as a felon and a criminal.
The real criminals cannot fail to understand that the unprecedented
plunder of a most prosperous country within just a few years and the
desecration of Russian relics, Russian history, and the very word "Russian"
are capable of generating feelings of injured national dignity and demands
for action. This is an inevitable reaction, this is how it has been and
this is how it will be. But the criminals are not capable of halting,
either -- they have been only too successful in their venture of plunder,
they have gone too far, they have too much at stake. Brazenness and fear
dictate the tactics -- full speed ahead! The feelings of injured national
dignity in Germany after Versailles and the results of World War I provided
a breeding ground for the emergence of fascism. Today Russia has suffered
much more, its defeat is more humiliating, and the sense of injury must be
greater -- providing all necessary conditions for the spawning of fascism.
So, palm off this monster on it and proclaim the danger of it to all and
sundry! They are perfectly well aware that now they are dealing with a
completely different people -- totally lacking any sense of superiority,
humble, unable to exert any influence [ne sposobnyy k mushtre],
undemanding, and with their will weakened. They are aware of this, but
they are actually banking on it: The more brazen the accusations, the more
disagreeable it is to refute them. If everything in "this" country were to
remain unchanged, the image of the vanquished -- in contrast with the noble
image of the victor -- must be depicted in the most terrible and most
And they took it from there: Any national action needed for survival
-- whether a cultural, a spiritual, or a civic stirring -- was invariably
dubbed "Nazi," a sign of fascism. An orthodox icon -- "Nazi," the Russian
language -- "Nazi," our folk songs -- "Nazi." Hysterical, persistent,
maliciously inspired -- it is all fully reminiscent of an endless witches'
Sabbath on Bare Mountain [allusion to Mussorgsky' tone poem "Night on Bare
Mountain"] which has befallen Russia.
[Kozhemyako] And yet all this, despite its absurdity, does have some
influence on many people! In other words, this deafening "propaganda
method" is working, it is being applied in science, in literature, and in
current affairs writing, never mind the notorious Russian-language
television. Some Russians (and this is truly amazing!) have also started
believing that our country either has become or is fast becoming a breeding
ground for fascism -- a threat to all mankind. What do you think, why is
this nonsense influencing people, why do they believe it and accept it
[Rasputin] I must admit that I find this to be the most difficult
question: Why believe it? Why cease having faith in your own heart, in
what you see around yourself, and be almost ready to raise your hands in
surrender as soon as someone shouts "fascist"! Yes, they are duping the
people; yes, they have at their disposal the mightiest means for duping the
masses, they apply the latest duping technologies.... Yet even a calf can
instinctively sense the difference between a wolf and a dog. Yes, Russian
people have been isolated from their teachers, their conscience and their
soul are being perverted and destroyed for more than 10 years now, but what
about some instinct, some instinct at least, never mind some sensible and
independent reflection!... One of our inbred characteristics has always
been the ability to spot any evil deed from afar. How is it possible to
believe people like Kiselev, Dorenko, and Svanidze who are trying to
convince the Russians that Russian fascism exists! They -- these
television broadcasters -- have had everything spelled out for them: How,
why, for what purpose. They profit from every scalp "garnered" in what they
perceive to be a primitive country....
But people find all this difficult to swallow. Otherwise there would
not have been the initially subdued and now already and increasingly open
discontent with the "evil spirits." Nor do they believe the signatories
from the well known ring of "creative intelligentsia" who every now and
again call for a settlement of accounts with us. The people will not fall
for any old chaff. The furor around "Russian fascism" and anti-Semitism is
indecent, it gives itself away. Had there really been any danger of
fascism, the reaction would have been much more serious, as it was just
before World War II. You need no lie detector to establish the truth.
Actually, a danger does exist but you need to look more carefully to
determine its source.
[Kozhemyako] What do you know about the way this "idea" is perceived
in the world? Could the implanting of this idea in the minds of many
people in different countries not become -- and is it not already becoming
-- an effective way to inculcate even greater Russophobia, fan hatred for
Russia and everything Russian, and ultimately prepare for and justify an
armed intrusion [vnedreniye] in Russia? After all, the "peaceful"
occupation is already advancing at full speed....
[Rasputin] It must be assumed that this is indeed the objective of
all this propaganda stir. We withstood the economic ruination despite the
huge losses, we withstood the moral ruination, the resistance is swelling.
So, let us hit the Russian people on the head with "Russian fascism," like
delivering a coup de grace. In order to, as they claim, deliver mankind
from a lethal danger. Time and again the "civilizers" deliver the world
from lethal dangers which, for some unknown reason, stem from the ones that
have been weakened to the utmost by economic blockade and bombing raids --
the Iraqis, the Serbs.... Russia's turn has now come. This is the law of
the predators, the law of criminal rule -- kill off the wounded, the sick,
the emaciated, those who are guilty only of refusing to accept freedom on a
There must be dozens, even hundreds of books about "Russian fascism"
being published around the world today. Including books by Russian
citizens. It has so happened that the leading role in these exposures has
been played by turncoats. S. Kuleshov, former lecturer at the Higher Party
School, compiled some four years ago a booklet entitled "Star and Swastika"
[Zvezda i Svastika] in which, speaking as an expert who had worked to
strengthen the star, he claims that these two symbols of two totalitarian
systems are identical and that the term "red-brown" is justified. Thus, if
we were to go by these writings, there is no escaping the fact that fascism
in Russia has been unavoidable. Fascism is being sought in our history,
isolated instances are given the status of general principles, and there is
plain talk about evil genes. You are right: To what else can this be
attributed if not to timely preparation for sanctions? After all, no one
has yet repealed the decisions of the Berlin Conference (1945) on the
prevention of fascism in any form whatsoever, they could come in handy at
any time. And they could be applied in any way that might be seen as
suitable -- indiscriminately....
[Kozhemyako] The word "anti-Semitism" sounded ominously when uttered
by Yeltsin 22 June, and now it is already resounding altogether menacingly.
And how many speculations are associated with this word! What do you
think -- why is this? After all, many politicians and publications of a
certain hue have reached agreement that anti-Semitism is almost inbred in
Russians. This is the card that they are trying to play increasingly
actively now, both in their offensive against the Russian people and in
their frenzied attacks against the Russian communist party -- even
including demands that it be proscribed. It would be very interesting and
important to hear your opinion on this acute question, which is rendered
even more acute by all possible means. What do your life and your career as
a writer suggest to you in this context?
[Rasputin] Come now, how can you be a fascist without being an
anti-Semite? This is mandatory. This is like a whip being used upon us so
that we do not overreach ourselves and remember our place in the "new
order" which was established 10 years ago.
If you are a Russian, if you call yourself a Russian, and if, God
forbid, you are concerned about the interests of your unfortunate people --
you are an anti-Semite. If you call a Jew a Jew, you immediately become an
anti-Semite for just having uttered this word, because uttering it implies
your having reflected upon it. If you dislike the endless sex and violence
on television, you are an anti-Semite -- after all, television is in Jewish
hands. If you have screwed your face in disgust over a page of Moskovskiy
Komsomolets, which pursues its mockery of your people's sacred relics, you
are an inveterate anti-Semite, as proved by your smirk.
Since we are on the subject, let me tell you how I ended up being
known as a world-famous anti-Semite. Not a world-famous writer, but an
When Gorbachev set up his Presidential Council in the spring of 1990,
he included me in it. I did not refuse. This set alarm bells ringing
among the "progressive" public: Could it so happen that I, a man of some
repute who made no secret of his Russianness [russkost], might start
whispering in the president's ear? Others kept whispering in his ear, it
could not have been otherwise, but just my presence in the Council was a
source of annoyance: A different mug, a different line of thought. It
became urgently necessary to compromise me -- and that was done. U.S.
journalist B. Keller flew into Irkutsk a short while earlier and recorded
an interview with me on two cassettes. A long article on Russian
anti-Semitism, which featured not only me, appeared in the New York Times
Magazine. This publication was urgently delivered to Leningrad and was
urgently read by vigilant citizens, who sent an indignant letter to the
newspaper Izvestiya, asking how a man like me could end up in the
Presidential Council. I was not totally ignored by the Western press and
the "voices," either. Even my publisher in Japan, who had already
concluded a contract for translating my book on Siberia and had paid me an
advance, was scared of doing business with me.
When B. Keller's article was translated for me, it emerged that, on
the most contentious issues, whenever I had said "yes" it appeared as "no"
and whenever I had said "no" it appeared as "yes."
This is how these things work.
Of course, I did ask the journalist for the recording of our
conversation -- he showed me one of the cassettes, the other "could not be
found." But even that one was sufficient to take him to task. What
happened? Mr. Keller vanished, my reputation as a writer was given a red
aura, and this occurrence taught me to look more closely at, and to
investigate more thoroughly, events both in our own country and all over
But let us ask ourselves: Could a similar provocation have been
organized against a well known Jewish writer, could he have been presented
to the whole world as something which he is not?
And there you have it.
There cannot be any inbred anti-Semitism at all in the Russians --
unless their nationality is taken as a sign of anti-Semitism. When Jews are
sharing the same living standards and relations with Russians and others,
there can be no hostility toward them -- we are working together, we are
sharing the same worries. In these conditions, the conditions of wholesale
ruination, it is natural to help one another, and such help has nothing to
do with scratching each other's backs, as it happens in the higher echelons
of power and influence. It is there, at the higher levels, that revanchism
-- gross and blatant revanchism at that -- exists. It is as if one group
of people has been created to exercise power and another to submit, one
group of people being the judges and another the judged, one group of
people being destined for victory and another for defeat.
Do you recall how, back in the 1980's and 1990's, dates for
[anti-]Jewish pogroms were being repeatedly announced? They did not happen
and they could not have happened, but [anti-]Russian pogroms did take place
in the outlying regions of the former Soviet Union. Of whom were the Jews
afraid when they unleashed that deafening noise about the extermination
allegedly being prepared? Were they afraid of Vasilyev's Pamyat?
Nonsense, they were perfectly well aware that Vasilyev was not dangerous,
that soon enough he would make a total mess of things and would vanish into
oblivion. But the noise was needed in order to, as the saying goes, fish
in troubled waters and pull chestnuts out of the fire with bare hands.
When the noise finally died down and the smoke had cleared, the former
state was no longer in existence and the world was presented with the
images of Berezovskiy, Gusinskiy, Smolenskiy, Chubays, Nemtsov, and others
who had seized power. At this point I could cite a multitude of cynical
revelations about that victory, as well as instances of arrogance and scorn
for our people. Who should be afraid of whom? Is it not right that,
whenever there are cries about anti-Semitism, we should be looking for
Russophobia, for a striving for final victory to make sure that not a
squeak is heard from us.
[Kozhemyako] Nonetheless, you probably do not intend claiming that
anti-Semitic feelings are altogether absent in our country today, in any
form and to any degree?
[Rasputin] Does anti-Semitism exist? No, I would not dare assert
that it does not exist at all. The desire to discover it, so passionate
and mighty regardless of whether it is deliberate or not, could not but
have served as a bellows to fan smoldering embers. Seeing that, day in and
day out, you keep hearing the Jews: We have seized power in Russia at
last! We control more than one-half of its economy! More insolence toward
these people!. This engenders neither fear nor submissiveness, it
engenders some quite different feelings. The most hated images in Russia,
with whom the plunder of the country is associated, are the selfsame --
Gaydar, Chubays, Nemtsov, Berezovskiy.... They should have been put away
somewhere at least for a while, so as not to have them provoke the
people!... They are constantly to be seen on the television screens,
offering advice, rubbing salt into the wounds. What has happened to the
Jews' proverbial caution and prudence, to their good sense and their
NTV recently carried a clip showing a "creative intelligentsia" group
headed by Yuliy Gusman, boss at Cinema House, meeting with the Tax Police
leadership. Gusman was screaming aloud for all of Mother Russia to hear,
railing at the leadership because the Tax Police had dared to suspect
Lisovskiy's show business of concealing its income and had raided its
offices. By showing this meeting in its news bulletin, NTV was obviously
admiring Gusman: You tell them! You tell them! Gusman's shouting was
followed by the announcer's commentary: The sides had agreed that the
meeting had been mutually beneficial and had agreed to hold similar
meetings in the future. This should have been taken to mean that the Tax
Police had gotten cold feet, while Gusman had reserved his right to
reappear and show who is the boss -- should the Tax Police persist in
refusing to learn who can and who cannot be suspected.
Do you think that this demonstration of strength went unnoticed? That
it had no effect? It would be strange indeed if one side shouted, mocked,
and laid down the law while the other side remained indifferent.
Anti-Semitism exists, but only in response to crude behavior, as a
defensive reaction, as a suppressed mood that is biding its time. It
swells when Chubays and Svanidze are seen, and diminishes when an honest
politician appears. It could be rashly provoked in the future, but it
could also be eliminated -- if people wish to do so.
[Kozhemyako] Television and the newspapers have occasionally shown
groups of young people wearing arms bands with symbols resembling the
swastika, with their arms raised in something similar to the Hitlerite
salute. Do they not make you feel alarmed and worried? How do you react
[Rasputin] I have already said that there is great difference between
the theory and practice of fascism. The guys whom we see on our screens
are tempted by chivalry slogans and the romanticism of promoting a national
upsurge after a national decline, they seek organization and yearn for
action. The fact that such sincere and noble aspirations actually take
this form is evidence of the crisis in our national awareness, which cannot
offer them an alternative organization.
Russian philosopher I.A. Ilin reflected seriously on fascism, being
the first to discuss its positive and negative aspects. But later on,
after the war, he also warned that fascism has some odious associations and
that national movements should not use this name.
There are terms which completely change their meaning. This is what
has happened with fascism. The swastika, the salute, and its other
attributes cannot be perceived today as anything but symbols of the
Hitlerite machine's brutality. As you know, you cannot wash off a black
[Kozhemyako] There have been times when you, as well as Shafarevich,
Kozhinov, Lobanov, and other eminent Russian patriots, have been
offhandedly described as "fascists." Excuse me, but how can you bear all
this? How do you put up with everything that Russia's enemies heap upon
[Rasputin] That is nothing, front-line reality tempers you. Seneca
said that being disliked by fools is something laudable. Yes, if people had
to deal only with "fascists" like us! Not closing our eyes to our own
people's shortcomings and failings and aware of the talents and merits of
other peoples. But we would never accept -- be it in our own people or in
any other people -- the principle of being "chosen" or "above all," the
right to impose one people's will and taste on others, the expectation of
the world's special gratitude for just being there.
A book which created quite a stir was published in Milan about 18
months ago. It was written by Sergio Romano, a historian, journalist, and
former Italian ambassador to Russia. The book is titled "Letter to a
Jewish Friend" [Pismo k Drugu-Yevreyu] and, as you might guess, deals with
a taboo subject. Romano writes sympathetically about the Jews, the book is
not controversial. There are, however, some aspects which he fails to
understand and warns his "Jewish friend" about their consequences.
The book deals mainly with the genocide of Jews during World War II
and the fact that this genocide has now become the main and almost the sole
occurrence of its kind. "The genocide is no longer an historical episode to
be studied in the light of the special conditions in which this event
occurred," the author notes. "It has become the world's sin against the
Jews, an indelible guilt for which each Christian must seek forgiveness
every day, it has become the central nucleus of 20th century history.
Thanks to this historical perspective, each country and each institution
must be judged according to its role in these events -- so that ultimately,
sooner or later, it finds itself in the dock."
"Paradoxically," the author goes on, "the danger of the new
anti-Semitism lies in this passionate desire of intolerant Jewry TO
CONFISCATE HISTORY, freezing the 'hierarchical' importance of events and
their significance.... Each attempt to confiscate history is invariably
followed by a different attempt, at times diametrically opposite."
And he concludes:
"It is difficult to imagine that the genocide of Jews during World War
II could be forgotten or underestimated. But genocide, just like any other
historical event, is invariably the product of a certain number, in this
case especially inflated, of individual responsibilities, and of historical
context.... There is...an implied belief that the genocide of the Jews is
something more than an historical fact, that it is the collective guilt of
several nations and several religious cultures. Yet this very concept of
'collective guilt' conceals one of the most pernicious ingredients of any
It is hard to disagree with this conclusion.
It emerges that the Jews have turned their national disaster into
business. Germany, being the country which gave rise to Hitler, is to this
day paying huge amounts of money to the State of Israel by way of
indemnity. Even though this state did not exist in Hitler's time. Germany
is not paying the Slav states for the genocide on their occupied
territories. Last year the Swiss banks were intimidated ["strakha radi
iudeyska"] into capitulation and were forced to return money whose owners
are no longer alive. Once again, this was done exclusively and solely for
the Jews. The newspaper Trud reported a few days ago that German concerns
"with a past" have been forced to pay millions in compensation to workers
who had been used as slave labor during the war. But how are these marks
paid out, and to whom? The Siemens firm, for example, received 60,000
claims from people from the occupied countries, but only 2,000 received
compensation. Jews. Exactly the same happened at other enterprises.
Can you imagine the Russians, who suffered most of all from Hitler,
gaining the exclusive right to payment for the sacrifices and sufferings of
their people? Do we lack the pushiness? Yes, we do lack the pushiness
because we do not consider ourselves to be better than the rest. We do not
lack conscience. Once again it is being claimed, and the wind returneth
again according to his circuits: There is the chosen people and there are
the other peoples, the goyim who can be ignored.
So, the question is: Who is the source of the threat of fascism? Who
displays clear signs of racism, radicalism, extremism, and intolerance, who
speaks of his superiority, who considers himself untouchable, whose
pretensions know no bounds?
Romano's "Letter to a Jewish Friend" created quite a stir of
polemics in Italy. The most respected journalist I. Montanelli (he has
repeatedly spoken out against anti-Semitic attacks and his standing is
recognized even among Italian Jews) wrote in Corriere Della Sera: "Alas,
dear Jewish friends. Even if the charge that the entire Christian world is
guilty of collective complicity in genocide -- something that does not
correspond to the truth -- were to be proven, the real danger that a vast
abyss might open up between the two worlds, the Christian and the Jewish
worlds, not only might emerge but is actually emerging, and this abyss
cannot but create preconditions for fresh persecutions...."
May God never bring this about! But may God bring those who are
recklessly creating this danger to the understanding that we all live in a
fragile and increasingly unreliable world, in which nobody should
overestimate his strength and expect impunity.