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Johnson's Russia List
21 January 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Moscow Times: Melissa Akin, Duma Skeptical of Funding Proposal.
2. Reuters: Russia Stays Afloat, Yeltsin Escapes Surgery.
3. Austin Forsyth: The Primacy of Culture (Re: Vail (3019) on Will (3015).
4. Nicolai Petro: Novgorod: A Russian Success Story.
5. Dale Herspring: A Modest Question. (Re democracy).
6. Victor Kalashnikov: 'Blin Lincton.' (Re Kukly).
7. Ivilina Dimova: Hallmark Entertainment Networks.
8. Reuters: RUSSIAN CRISIS HAS HELPED ENVIRONMENT. (Interview with Viktor
9. Reuters: New Russian Envoy to Washington Takes up Post.
10. Globe and Mail (Canada): Geoffrey York, They battle the bottle and work
for walrus. Siberia's beleaguered Inuit rely on old skills to help them
U.S. cousins wonder what's on TV tonight.
11. Moscow Times: Andrei Piontkovsky, SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Piqued 'Elite'
Wastes Chance In Iran Clash.
12. Anonymous: Experience with police in St. Petersburg.
13. Miriam Lanskoy, Re Will/Waring.]
January 21, 1999
Duma Skeptical on Funding Proposal
By Melissa Akin
The Russian government expressed interest in U.S. President Bill
Clinton's offer of an extra $1.7 billion for disarmament projects, but the
State Duma cast a suspicious eye Wednesday and again condemned Washington's
policy on the Balkans and Middle East.
In Tuesday's State of the Union address, a traditional speech to
Congress at the beginning of a session to lay out presidential legislative
priorities, Clinton urged that financing for Russian disarmament
initiatives be raised from $2.5 billion to $4.2 billion over the next five
First Deputy Prime Minister Yury Maslyukov, who has been pushing his
former colleagues in the State Duma to ratify the START II disarmament
agreement, called the proposals "very much timely," Maslyukov's spokesman
Anton Surikov said.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking at a news conference with
visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, said his ministry would "be
ready to study such proposals attentively."
"Pre-existing corresponding programs, including the so-called Nunn-Lugar
programs, have been successfully implemented for quite a lengthy period of
time and have proved their usefulness," Ivanov added.
The money would likely come under Nunn-Lugar, which partly finances
destruction of nuclear weapons under the earlier START I agreement, and
particularly subsequent verification.
But Duma sources said the money wasn't likely to grease the wheels for
ratification of the START II agreement, which is a top priority of the
Clinton administration's Russia policy.
With Secretary of State Madeleine Albright due in Moscow for talks with
Ivanov next week, resentment of Washington is steadily growing in the Duma,
parliament's lower house.
Deputies' hackles have been raised by the announcement of sanctions
against more Russian institutes suspected of transferring missile
technology to Iran - despite complaints from Russian authorities that no
evidence to that effect has been offered - as well as by NATO threats of
airstrikes against Yugoslavia, a Russian ally.
The slip in relations began in December, when the Duma had been just
hours away from ratifying the long-awaited START II treaty, which slashes
each country's warhead stockpiles and missile numbers, before the U.S.
announced it had bombed Iraq.
Russia wasn't warned, the UN Security Council wasn't consulted and the
Duma was so furious that it refused to consider the document.
Aides to key pro-START II deputies say the treaty will likely remain
untouchable for at least the next several months, despite promises from
Maslyukov, who is highly influential in the Duma, that he would renew his
efforts to get it passed.
Deputies' aides said they were looking into Clinton's address, but one
said he suspected any new funds might come with conditions that would be
difficult for Russia to accept, or that the money would go to U.S.
contractors rather than cash-poor Russian institutions themselves.
The Duma on Wednesday voted to condemn U.S. sanctions against three
Russian institutes, announced last week as part of Washington's fight to
cut off Iran from new weapons technology. The statement was authored by
Yabloko Deputy Vladimir Lukin, a former Russian ambassador to Washington.
Russia Stays Afloat, Yeltsin Escapes Surgery
January 20, 1999
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia avoided bankruptcy and Boris Yeltsin escaped the
need for surgery Wednesday but neither the country nor its leader was yet
out of the woods.
The London Club -- a group of commercial banks to which Russia owes $32
billion -- voted not to call in its loans even though Moscow missed a
payment of $362 million on Dec. 2.
Such a move -- all but tantamount to declaring the country bankrupt --
could have opened up Russia to legal action, including the possible seizure
of some of its assets abroad.
``I can confirm that creditors in fact decided not to demand the
immediate payment of London Club debt,'' said an official at
Vneshekonombank, Russia's main foreign debt paying agent.
Yeltsin also won a reprieve, his from doctors at Moscow's Central
Clinical Hospital where he has been undergoing treatment for a severe
stomach ulcer since Sunday. They said his condition was improving and that
he would not need surgery.
Tests on the 67-year-old president using a fiber-optic probe passed down
his throat showed the ulcer in his stomach had stopped bleeding, swelling
had reduced and the patient was recovering, Yeltsin's press secretary
Dmitry Yakushkin said.
He said the president was up and moving about in his hospital room and
was working at a desk.
Yeltsin has already had to cancel a trip to Paris next week that the
Kremlin had hoped would mark a political comeback. He has spent months
marginalized by ill health while his ministers have wrestled with a
profound financial crisis since August, when the last government halted
payments on some debts.
The prognosis for talks with a visiting International Monetary Fund
delegation was also mixed at best. The Fund froze credits to Moscow after
the crisis broke five months ago.
The government's economy supremo, moderate communist First Deputy Prime
Minister Yuri Maslyukov, told a newspaper the mere fact that an IMF mission
was visiting Moscow was a sign the Fund had not abandoned Russia to its fate.
If Russia does not receive some sort of deal from the Fund to help it
wriggle out of $17.2 billion in debt payments due in 1999, the ruinous
declaration of default may be all but certain.
Russia plans to finance only about $4.5 billion of that tab itself and
must persuade the IMF and other creditors -- the London Club included -- to
help keep it afloat.
But IMF officials said last week the government's draft budget was both
unrealistic in its optimistic expectations and timid in its attempts to
sort out the country's finances.
It said Moscow's plan to cut value added tax -- one of its few reliable
sources of income -- was reckless.
Maslyukov acknowledged that the Fund and the government remain far apart
but he defended the budget's plans.
``The IMF insists on tripling the primary surplus of the budget, which
can be done only by completely dismantling the budget and emaciating the
social sector,'' Maslyukov said.
Russian industry clearly needs stimulating. Output fell 5.2 percent
between January and December 1998, the State Statistics Committee said.
Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told a news conference the Russian
Federation would pay its debts in the first quarter and hoped to achieve
some kind of agreement, though not a new aid package, from the IMF mission.
``We have compiled a clear plan for revenues for the first quarter,
regardless of talks with the IMF,'' Zadornov said.
But he added: ``We think it is possible to have a certain agreement by
the start of February.''
Yeltsin's illness has prompted new calls for him to resign or hand more
powers to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who already oversees Russia's
The prime minister kept to his schedule despite Yeltsin's ailment.
Wednesday he was in Kazakhstan for the inauguration of President Nursultan
From: "Austin Forsyth" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The Primacy of Culture (Re: Vail (3019) on Will (3015))
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 1999
I subscribed to this list after reading that you had set it up because you
had the feeling that many Americans did not have a very good understanding
of what is going on in Russia. Reading Jim Vail’s missive (3019) on George
Will’s Primacy of Culture piece (3015), I had that same feeling.
Will catalogues some of Russia’s problems and concludes that because Russia
has a series of what he calls cultural deficits, the trappings of a modern
government and economy are not enough to ensure Russian development or
Vail, in response, makes four points: American progress is less pervasive
than one might think; Will’s definition of culture-as-behavior is not a good
one; American morals are not all they are cracked up to be; the Communist
ideal of equality was perhaps better than the American ideal of
Fear and misty eyes make comment about this country prone to hyperbole and
simplification. I would like to expand on the idea that Russia suffers from
a moral vacuum that hobbles its attempts at real progress and refute at
least the last two of Vail’s points. I ignore the first two.
On a superficial level, it is hard to argue with the proposition that
Russian culture is resistant to progress. Why did Peter find it necessary
to flog the boyars? How many thousands of Old Believers committed suicide
while resisting a matter of fingers? Why did Russia have a monarchy into
the twentieth century? Why were there lines of grandmothers in front of the
churches of every major Russian city yesterday, the Orthodox holiday
‘Kreshenye’? Each case shows deeply held ideas, however irrational.
The current situation is different. Russia’s faltering progress in turning
their country into one where democracy, the rule of law, and basic human
rights are respected is due not to a conflict of conviction, but due to the
absence of constructive conviction. Put another way, fundamental flaws in
Russian civic culture -- the way they behave in society -- are getting in
the way of the Russian reform. This limits outside influence.
I’ll make some sweeping generalizations about Russians gleaned from nearly
seven years of living here. Many Russians are operating in a moral vacuum.
Their version of self-interest is far from what Tocqueville would have
called "properly understood". There has been little in their experience to
show that the truth is the best policy, especially when dealing with
officialdom. They are at heart anarchists: though they may stop at a
stoplight, they inwardly resent whoever put it there. They expect
corruption from their bureaucrats, who oblige them regularly. In search of
the heavenly manna of federal budget money, they have bled their government
dry. When faced with an injustice, Russians are with a few exceptions
(Nikitin, Sakharov) more inclined to find a way around it, or live with it,
than to protest against it.
Where an American says he climbs the mountain because it is there, the
Russian says that the smart man avoids the mountain rather than climbing it.
A professor of mine once defined integrity as being able to profit, without
risk of being caught, from doing the wrong thing and doing the right thing
anyway. That is a good Russian definition for “stupid.”
Most Russians today have no moral compass: certainly not the Orthodox Church
with its intimidating imposition of a Byzantine bureaucracy of holy men,
saints and apostles on the relationship between man and God. Not any
political party, for sure. A few have leftover Soviet working-class morals
of humility and the love of work, but they are few. Some others are
fortunate enough to have strong moral influences from their families, but I
think it is exactly the strongly moral families that were so decimated by
Stalin and his like.
These tendencies impede the development of a normal country. Corruption
saps government revenue and distorts commercial decisions, making a mockery
both of the _solidnost_ of government involvement in the economy and of the
potential benefits of the invisible hand of competition. The constant
search for an easy way out often distracts Russians from doing things the
right way the first time because it is harder, more likely to be taxed
perniciously, or even dangerous. Bitter experience has virtually
conditioned civic initiative out of them. Voting from conviction is
unusual at best.
This is not to say that there are no good and moral Russians: most of us
know some. Nor is it to say that there is nothing good about Russian
behavioral culture: their friendships mean more than do American ones; their
creativity and lateral thinking is enviable. Their public stoicism is
admirable, though so pervasive as to be problematic. But a lot of what we
call the Russian Mafia has roots in nothing more insidious than an organized
lack of principle. This fundamental problem cannot be addressed with any
amount of IMF money.
Vail claims that people are people everywhere, and that what is called
bribery here is dressed a little differently and practiced all the same in
America. Rubbish. Even the softest PAC money would be hard-pressed to
build a summer home in the countryside. It’s been a while since a member of
Congress was killed for his commercial interests. Can you imagine one
used-car dealer in charge of 40% of America’s TV market share? Embezzlement
happens in America: there was a case in my hometown last month where the
accused cut a plea bargain. How many Russians have been convicted of the
An anecdote might serve to illustrate my point: an American I know wanted to
bring his Russian mother-in-law to the States for Christmas. His wife
argued for the creation of a myth that would convince the American Embassy
to give the mother-in-law a visa. The American chose to present things as
they were. The Embassy rejected the application. Instead of resubmitting
the application with mythical incomes and the like, the American appealed
and prevailed. We Americans approach our bureaucracy with the assumption --
mistaken or otherwise -- that it can be made to respond. That is part of
our civic culture.
Vail seems to prefer the Communist ideal of equality to the American ideal
of individual rights. If there were such idealistic Communists, they did
not last much beyond 1937. What the Communists were trying to achieve was
power, and they succeeded in that. In the process, however, they deprived
their nation of a generation or two of its finest men and women through
civil war, famine, terror. World War II did not help: their achievement in
defeating Hitler is something few Americans understand and one for which we
owe them. But it was a very expensive victory, and it warped their civic
culture to this day.
In light of everything they have been through, can we judge Russia’s civic
culture? Can we compare it to America’s?
We can. A nation’s civic culture can be judged on the achievements it
affords: economic prosperity and political stability, popular
enfranchisement, personal freedoms and others. Those achievements can be
compared to those of the rest of the world. When you do that with American
and Russia, you will certainly find places where America is lacking. But in
many more places, you will find that the everyday actions of millions of
Americans -- like the ones who support Vail's Center for Humanitarian Aid --
make America a nicer place to live for virtually every single one of its
That comparison points to how we might change Russia: not with government
programs, not with IMF money, certainly not in anything like 500 Days.
Russia can make real progress by building a better civic culture: not an
American one, but a better one that will provide some future generation of
Russians with the foundation they need for the rule of law, democracy and a
functioning market. We Americans can help in limited ways, and we should.
We should encourage local democracy, civic activity, community action to
solve local problems. Not out of some superiority complex and not from some
pulpit, but because it is the right thing to do.
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 1999
From: "Nicolai N. Petro" <email@example.com>
Subject: Novgorod: A Russian Success Story
Perhaps some JRL readers will be interested in the following. I have just
completed a 35-page report for the National Council for Eurasian and East
European Research (NCEEER) entitled, "The Novgorod Region: A Russian
Success Story." It traces how foreign investment, local self-government,
and civic activism have combined with a creative use of local historical
symbolism to foster a strong foundation for civil society in the region.
Anyone interested in receiving a copy of the text by e-mail should contact
me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Be sure to include the word "Novgorod" in the
If you'd like to receive a free copy via the U.S. postal service, please
contact Kimberly Righter of the National Council at <Kbrnceeer@aol.com>, or
by phone at 202-822-6950.
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 1999
From: Dale R Herspring <email@example.com>
Subject: A Modest Question
Patrick Armstrong has raised an interesting point. Fifty years ago, few
would have imagined the existence of viable democracies in Germany and
Japan. It would be wrong to rule out such a possibility.
Having said that, however, I would argue that the difficulties facing
Russia are considerably grteater than was the case with
Germany and Japan. Both had political cultures that were hostile to
democracy in 1945,but both also had lost wars and were at ground zero.
Both also were occupied by victorious powers who were determined to make
them into functioning democracies. While one can argue that Japanese
political culture did not change as much as German political culture did,
I don't think there are many who would argue that either polity is not
The problem for Russia (said with tounge in cheek) is that Moscow has not
lost a war, and does not have anyone occupying the country with the power
and a plan to make the country democratic. If we assume that the Russians
will be left to their own devices to figure out what kind of a political
system they will have in the next century, there is no reason to believe
that it will necessarily be democratic. It may be, and there are those of
us who fervently hope that it will be, but there is no guarantee.
In any case, I would argue that as far as the future of Russia is
concerned, the outcome is very much in doubt. The situation is too fluid
to know where it is headed. In fact, one of our problems is that the
situation is so fluid that one can argue for a whole series of possible
outcomes depending on what one wishes to see at the end of the tunnel.
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 1999
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Victor Kalashnikov)
Subject: 'Blin Lincton'
Jean MacKenzie's reflections (Moscow Times January 19,
1999, JRL 3022) - even if some hints of belated New Year
mystification are detectable - may bring a good illustration
for the perception/misperception debate.
I polled several other Russians, and neither they nor myself
interpreted the recent 'Kukly' edition the way
First, there's nothing for an ordinary Russian ear there in
the 'Klin Blinton' what might provoke to the so much
sophisticated double-meanings and relations. Maybe our
Freudian associations go a different path here, but 'Klin'
implies absolutely nothing in this case. There's only a
sound play there bound rather to stress the 'Blinton'
morpheme which, in turn, suggests hardly something worse
than a link to a 'pancake'.
Yes - the 'blin' emerged initially, to a degree, as an
euphemism for 'whore' in Russian. But today it means
predominately - let's say, to 80% - as much as 'dash it!' or
'damn!'. I'd like to admonish against overreaction on
Moscow streets (or in some local offices) upon that word
being used in conversation with you.
Otherwise, American President's honourable name provides
a number of further opportunities for manipulations in
Russian. So, new outbursts of creativity remain possible.
The idea of poor 'Klin's' interrogation in an NKVD cell was -
I agree - below general 'Kukly' level. Still, most local
viewers hardly would perceive so much of maliciousness in
it. It only attempted to black-humorise upon the fact - clear
for any Russian - that 'our guys' would manage the
process, like that running now in Washington, in a much
more simpler and 'effective' manner than all the so frightful
lawyers in America do it. In other words, your political
culture against the ours. American impeachment against
the Russian one etc.
There are, of course, several very serious issues raised in
Mr. MacKenzie's article as well. But they belong rather into
a different debate.
Date: Tue, 19 Jan 1999
From: Ivilina Dimova <email@example.com>
Subject: Hallmark Entertainment Networks
Hallmark Entertainment Networks is a cable broadcasting company which
is seeking to expand in Russia. As we are entering the Russian market
we will need to be aware of the current media climat in the country.
Marketing research, media programming and planning,and advertising
windows shedules will be among the categories that we need to be
assiated on by Russia-based consultant who are familiar with the
environment. We expect that Russian interests and habits do not
coincide with the American. Therefore, suggestions about local
particularities will be extremely helpful when we launch our campaign.
We consider opening a local office in Russia so that we can have a
close observer on the spot. I understand that this is a very loose
discription of our intentions and the services we are seeking for, but
the lack of specific information about the Russian media market
requires starting with a big list of companies that identify
themselves as "media consulting" and then narrow it down to serve our
INTERVIEW - RUSSIAN CRISIS HAS HELPED ENVIRONMENT
By Adam Tanner
January 18, 1999
MOSCOW - Environmental conditions in Russia have improved
in recent months because of the fall in industrial production
since the August financial crisis, the country's top ecology
official said on Monday.
"Under the present economic conditions, the fall in production
has inevitably led to less pollution," Viktor Danilov-Danilyan,
head of the state committee for the environment, told Reuters in
"Preliminary data for 1998 shows that the amount of air, water
and other pollution has fallen by several percent in each
category," he said.
Russia inherited one of the world's bleakest environmental
landscapes with the Soviet collapse in 1991 following decades
of heavy industrialisation with little concern for ecology.
But a drop in industrial output in the past decade has meant
cleaner air and water. Danilov-Danilyan said industry now gives
off 35 percent less air pollution than in 1991, and 15 to 18
percent less water and other pollutants.
Still, the country faces vast environmental problems that rarely
receive proper funding or the attention of top officials, he said.
"The president hasn't given any attention to this problem in
recent years," Danilov-Danilyan said. "If you judge by the state-
of-the-nation annual reports the number of references to
environmental problems has shrunk every year since 1993."
"By 1998 it reached zero. It was not mentioned at all," he said.
Despite the ailments of President Boris Yeltsin, who checked
into a hospital on Sunday with a bleeding ulcer, the Kremlin has
still generated initiatives in other public policy areas.
"Of course, I would like top government officials to devote at
least as much attention to environmental problems as in
Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan, because our
environmental problems are much more acute," he said.
The environmental official listed a long series of woes affecting
Russia's air, water and soil, making about 55 to 60 percent of
country "ecologically unacceptable".
"The greatest health threat comes from the low quality of the
drinking water," Danilov-Danilyan said. "One third of all drinking
water does not correspond to health guidelines."
"It's a big source of illness to the population," he added.
Cleaning the water supply system would cost Russia about
$200 billion, funds far beyond the reach of a government unable
to pay all of its foreign debts or its state workers.
Air pollution makes major cities such as Moscow dangerous,
mostly because of automobiles which are in poor condition and
use low-quality fuel, Danilov-Danilyan said.
Another looming danger comes from the area around the Mayak
nuclear waste reprocessing centre in the Ural Mountains, where
a lake poisoned by radiation risks leaking into nearby rivers and
water supply in coming years if measures are not taken, he
Forest fires caused record damage in the Russian Far East in
1997 and 1998, he said, largely because of human factors and
lack of preventive measures.
One study found that half of all illnesses in the Siberian city of
Perm in the Urals were linked to the environment. Danilov-
Danilyan said about four or five percent of illness nationwide
stems directly from environmental hazards.
New Russian Envoy to Washington Takes up Post
MOSCOW, Jan. 20, 1999 -- (Reuters) Russia's new ambassador to the United
States, Yury Ushakov, formally took up his post on Tuesday amid renewed
strains between the former Cold War foes.
Ushakov, a 51-year-old career diplomat, replaces veteran Yuli Vorontsov,
who is retiring at 69. Ushakov is due to present his credentials to U.S.
President Bill Clinton on Friday.
His departure for Washington comes on the heels of U.S. bombing attacks
on Iraq sharply condemned by Moscow, which last month briefly recalled
Vorontsov in protest.
Last week relations took a further blow when Washington announced
sanctions against three Russian scientific institutes it accused of helping
Iran, which the United States considers a rogue state, to develop nuclear
and missile programs.
Washington also threatened to limit launches of U.S. satellites aboard
Russian rockets unless Moscow halted its alleged cooperation with Iran.
Russia denies the U.S. charges.
"Our relations are going through a tricky period, a complicated period,
but nevertheless America for us has the greatest importance and everyone in
Moscow understands this," Ushakov told NTV commercial television before
Ushakov returns to Moscow on Jan. 25 for a planned visit by U.S.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
In a statement announcing Ushakov's departure on Tuesday, the Russian
Foreign Ministry said it hoped Albright's visit would help put U.S.-Russian
relations back on a firmer footing.
It commended Ushakov, who speaks fluent English and Danish, as a seasoned
diplomat with extensive experience of working in the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
But the ministry also expressed concern at what it termed U.S.
willingness to circumvent the United Nations' Security Council at times in
order to get its way on the world stage.
"This essentially puts into jeopardy the whole system of international
relations in which the United Nations plays the key role," the statement
Moscow has criticized U.S. efforts to bypass the U.N. Security Council --
where Russia and China often oppose Western initiatives and have the right
of veto -- during the crises in Iraq and in Yugoslavia's troubled Kosovo
Date: Tue, 19 Jan 1999
Subject: They battle the bottle and work for walrus Siberia's beleaguered
From: Geoffrey York <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Globe and Mail (Canada)
They battle the bottle and work for walrus
Siberia's beleaguered Inuit rely on old skills to help
them survive. U.S. cousins wonder what's on TV tonight.
Tuesday, January 19, 1999
Sireniki, Russia -- The frigid waters of the Bering Sea were tranquil, and at
midmorning the sun emerged suddenly, a brilliant red ball of flame on the flat
It was a rare winter morning of calm weather for the Yupik Inuit hunters of
Sireniki, a village in the Russian Arctic -- a perfect day to hunt walrus and
But before they could carry their aluminum boats past the frozen whale bones
and beached icebergs on the shore, the hunters had to pay homage to their true
masters: the Russian Border Guard.
The rules have not changed. To hunt, the people need permission from the
soldiers, who are no longer controlled by the KGB but still patrol as though
the Cold War had never ended.
The documents and formalities at the border post can take hours. And if the
hunters fail to return by the promised time, they can be grounded for three
Although the Soviet-era restrictions continue, the old blanket of financial
support has crumbled. Officially, the hunters are still employed by a state
farm, another Soviet relic. But they haven't been paid in cash for more than
three years. Instead, their compensation comes, sporadically, as whale meat or
"We are proud of our life and our traditions," said Sergei Gorbunov, 51, one
of the older hunters. "When we harvest the first walrus or the first whale of
the season, it is a great joy for our people. We want to pass on our
traditions to the younger people. We want to have 14- and 15-year-old
apprentices. But their parents don't allow it, because there is nothing here
Sireniki's isolation has made the village one of the world's last links to an
ancient northern culture. But its people, unpaid and forgotten, are struggling
to defend their precarious existence against new threats: unemployment,
alcohol and crime.
The taciturn and grey-haired Mr. Gorbunov embodies his people's link with the
He is one of the few who still make umiaks,the traditional walrus-skin boats
of the Arctic whale hunters.
He shows visitors the wood-ribbed skeletons of the village's two umiaks. But
their carefully fitted walrus-skin shells are securely guarded behind
padlocked doors in a building with an alarm system. It is an essential
precaution against the growing epidemic of alcohol-fuelled crime in Sireniki.
While the ancient northern skill of umiak building has almost died out in the
rest of the world, the Inuit of Sireniki continue to craft them, stretching
the skins of two female walruses tightly across the wooden ribs of each boat.
Only an umiak is light enough for the hunters to drag out of the Bering Sea
waters and on to the ice floes in the winter when the ice becomes thick and
On calmer days, they prefer the aluminum boats that were donated to them by
their affluent ethnic cousins in Alaska, only a few dozen kilometres to the
east but financially in a whole other world. While the impoverished Russian
Inuit villages don't even have running water, the Inuit in the oil-rich
Alaskan town of Barrow enjoy satellite television and an average household
income of almost $100,000.
Sireniki is one of 39 aboriginal villages in Chukotka, a tundra peninsula at
the eastern extreme of Russia's vast Siberian territory. Chukotka's eastern
shore, the Bering Strait, is the crossroads of continents -- the ancient
bridge between Asia and the New World. About 13,000 years ago, archeologists
believe, this was the immigration route of the Asian people who became North
America's first human inhabitants.
In the modern era, Chukotka was one of the last regions on Earth to be mapped
by Western explorers. For centuries, it was a blank space on world maps. As
late as the 18th century, it was more mysterious to Westerners than the heart
Yet throughout this time the Bering Strait was criss-crossed regularly by the
Yupik hunters of Russia and Alaska who belonged to a vast Inuit culture
stretching 10,000 kilometres from Chukotka to the Canadian Arctic and
As the Russian and American empires expanded and became powerful rivals in the
19th and 20th centuries, the ancient bridge was replaced by a Cold War
In just a few hours in his boat, Sergei Gorbunov can reach his Yupik relatives
on an Alaskan island, who speak exactly the same Inuit dialect as he does. Yet
he was prohibited from making the short trip until 1991, when the Cold War had
Less than 50 kilometres east of his village is the U.S. border and the
International Date Line. The hunters of Sireniki will be among the first
people on the planet to see the dawn of the year 2000. But they will be among
the last to see any advances from it.
About 50 per cent of Sireniki's young people are unemployed. By some
estimates, more than half of its 600 people -- from teenagers to elders -- are
alcoholics. The village is so impoverished that only the pensioners, with
their meagre monthly pensions of about $30, are getting any regular income.
The village's medical clinic has no heat, forcing its staff to abandon it at
night. Shortages of medicine are so extreme that the local doctor often asks
the mayor to phone everyone in the village to see whether anyone can lend a
Sireniki's shops have run out of basic staples such as potatoes and tea. Until
a winter ice road opens, they are dependent on provisions from occasional
helicopter flights. Fruits and vegetables are virtually unheard of. This
month, the village gratefully accepted a delivery of Canadian humanitarian
Fortunately, the village has a stockpile of three tonnes of walrus meat in
storage -- enough to last until April. But the walrus hunt is hampered by
shortages of fuel and ammunition. The hunters don't even have enough nails to
repair their boats.
Sireniki has made several futile attempts to generate revenue from commercial
ventures, but its isolation and the high cost of transportation have conspired
The village's fox-breeding fur farm was shut down last year after heavy
losses. It has a stockpile of 700 sealskins that could be turned into
clothing, but a nearby tannery has closed.
When the village built a small factory to process walrus fat into soap, the
building was damaged by high waves. It has 200 walrus tusks in storage, but it
lacks equipment to carve them into handicrafts. Instead, it hopes to barter
the tusks for a supply of tea and tobacco from the nearest town.
Of necessity, Chukotka's aboriginal people are returning to what is perhaps
the only viable industry here: the traditional whale and walrus hunt. Last
year, they formed the Chukotka Association of Sea Mammal Hunters, which
represents about 400 hunters in 28 villages. And for the first time, they
persuaded the International Whaling Commission to grant them a quota to hunt
bowhead whales, the giant kings of the Arctic waters.
Two of the 60-tonne mammals were killed in Chukotka's waters last year,
including one by Sireniki's hunters. They were the first bowheads harvested by
Chukotka's aboriginal people since the 1950s (although they have been
harvesting more than 100 smaller grey whales every year).
For the hunters, it is an arduous and dangerous life. When the Sireniki
hunters killed their bowhead last year, they were standing on an ice floe
about 40 kilometres from the village. Often on blustery days they can hear the
noise of the distant walrus herds, and must decide whether to risk a journey
in small boats through the high waves. "When we see the walrus coming and the
waves are high, we have to take the risk," Mr. Gorbunov said.
The hunters still follow many of their ancient traditions. Every autumn, when
the first frost arrives, they travel into the mountains for a ceremony at an
old gravesite. During hunts, they toss a piece of bread or meat overboard to
share it symbolically with the sea.
But the village's last shaman died about 10 years ago, and nobody has replaced
him. The younger people have begun speaking Russian instead of the Yupik Inuit
The hunters cannot say whether their way of life will continue. In the short
term, they still depend on the dwindling subsidies from the regional
government. "We could survive, if it wasn't for the alcohol," Mr. Gorbunov
said. "We hope for better times."
January 21, 1999
SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Piqued 'Elite' Wastes Chance In Iran Clash
By Andrei Piontkovsky
Finally, it seems, our political class has found that elusive unifying
Russian idea it has been so anxiously seeking - anti-Americanism.
"They want to punish us for having our own independent foreign policy,
for the creative sorties of Russian political thought, for the bold notion
of a strategic triangle of Russia, India and China," runs the current motif
of articles in the country's leading liberal publications.
But Russia has already seen to its own punishment for what can at best be
described as ill-conceived idea of a strategic triangle, receiving an icy
rebuff from the Chinese government the same day the idea was voiced.
Moreover, as is the case in any normal state, U.S. policy is driven not by
some urge to punish or encourage, but above all by its national interests.
And if Russia is to effectively protect its own national interests, it
would do well to have a realistic rather than mythological idea of the
interests of the other players on the world stage.
Denying radical regimes and movements hostile to the United States access
to nuclear and missile technology is increasingly emerging as the leading
priority of U.S. foreign policy. It is debatable just how much the real
threat has been exaggerated by the Americans, and whether this concern is
not just some kind of national phobia, but that's not important. The point
is that this concern exists and is an area of great sensitivity for the
For this reason the United States has negotiated long and hard with
Moscow with the goal of ensuring that Russia's technical cooperation with
Iran at a state level is discontinued, and that tougher control is imposed
on private Russian companies and institutes working in this field.
Formally speaking, Moscow's legal position is watertight. The
construction by Russia of Iran's first atomic power plant in Bushehr is
being supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the
education and training of Iranian students and post-graduates doesn't
violate any international agreements. But everyone knows that the interval
between the completion of the first working Iranian reactor to completion
of the first Iranian nuclear bomb will be no longer than the time it took
to progress from the reactor Enrico Fermi finished building in Chicago in
December 1942 to the first nuclear detonation in Alamogordo in July 1945.
It all boils down to the United States asking a big favor of Russia in a
sphere that means a great deal to it. Accordingly this gives Russia an
opportunity to initiate a serious dialogue about mutual strategic interests
like, for example, the broad application of Russian missile defense systems
and technology in projects under way for the defense of Europe and other
regions from possible terrorist missile strikes.
However, a large and growing section of our "political elite" gets great
satisfaction just from making things difficult for the United States,
thereby softening the blow of Russia's defeat in the Cold War - a defeat
sustained by the members of that same "elite" - and compensating slightly
for Russia's unenviable position today, for which those same people are
These are understandable and maybe even justified feelings, but the price
of this pique could be truly enormous. Who, after all, can guarantee that
deadly weaponry might only fall into the hands of people like Osama bin
Laden, seething with hatred for the United States, and not the warlord
Khattab, who is no more kindly disposed toward Russia?
Subject: anonymous please
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 1999
I feel a bit stupid about the following incident, so please don't put my
name or e-mail address on it.
A while ago there were some stories on the St. Petersburg police robbing
foreigners. My story is not as dramatic - but I think that it will show
people what a force for "law and order" Russian police are.
About 2:30 pm today (Jan 20) I left the Yugo-zapadnaya metro station, and
two people tried to shove "free" lottery tickets into my hand. This is a
well-known scam - to win the big prize you have to put up some money of
your own, and then the con-men take off with it. A well-known Duma deputy
got caught in this scam last summer, according to several news reports.
A few steps later. I saw the second act of the scam being played out. A
woman was holding a small wad of bills (with a $100 bill on top) in front
of her, and earnestly talking to her victim, surrounded by several
on-lookers (or confederates). After walking by, I figured that I had to do
something, so I went back, told the group that some thievery was going on.
I was immediately pulled away from the group and I told the man to let me
go or I would call the police. At that point the victim started calling
for the police. There was a scuffle over the money (not involving me).
The man who got the money ran away behind a row of kiosks followed by the
victim. There was nothing left for me to do, so I went on about my business.
An hour or so later I returned to the metro station, and the same group of
con-men were there, handing out the same lottery tickets. I told them that
they should leave or that I'd call the police. They started yelling at me,
so I immediately called the police. Several police were nearby, about 7 of
them came and surrounded ME. A plain clothes policeman (I suppose) came up
and grabbed my coat. The last thing I remember was telling him not to
touch me and asking for his documents.
I should point out that it seems clear that the police were being paid to
protect the con-men.
I woke up in a police car with a big lump on my head, and my head
swimming. I gave them my US drivers license and a xerox copy of my
passport and of an expired visa (my real visa is up-to-date, but at home.)
They took me into the Yugo-zapadnaya police station (across from Archangel
Michael Church). Told me my visa wasn't valid and threw me into a cell. I
asked for medical help, a translator, and the American embassy. I asked
everybody who walked by the cell - perhaps 50 people over 3 hours. After
about an hour I did get medical help, but the doctor just looked at me and
said that I was O.K., and back into the cell. After a couple of hours they
started asking for money (at first $50) and telling me that I'd have to
sign a document and pay before I could leave. I told them that I couldn't
sign any documents without a translator or pay any bribes.
After about 3 hours (quitting time for the con-men?) they said that the
fine was 8 rubles 40 kopecks (about 30 cents) but that I'd still have to
sign the documents. I paid, signed "don't know" on the required 5 places
on the document, and got to leave.
Well it was certainly stupid for me to get involved in other people's
business in a place like Moscow. I don't think that I'll ever call for the
police again here! I'd guess with such good police protection the con-men
will be at the same place for several days (NE exit of Metro
Yugo-zapadnaya), so if you don't believe this story feel free to check out
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 99
From: Miriam Lanskoy <email@example.com>
The spread of liberal institutions "is not enough to rescue Russia, and
many other nations, from the consequences of their cultural deficits."
"Sometimes I think that the greatness of Russia has always been to keep
before men's eyes the tragedy of man's existence, especially man's
inhumanity to man." Philip Waring
Reading the George Will thread, I am struck by the similarities between
the current debate and the Slavophile/Westernizer controversy of 1830s
The intellectuals and officers, who revered Alexander I and hoped that he
would adopt liberal institutions and make some progress towards the
elimination of serfdom, were deeply disappointed when the tsar, who
triumphed over Napoleon and granted a constitution to the Poles, utterly
failed at modernizing Russia's political and social institutions. That
bitterness was the source of the Decembrist revolt and tsar Nicholas's
subsequent repression of Russia's intellectual life.
In 1837 Petr Chaadayev, formerly an officer in Alexander's army and a
member of one of the Decembrist societies, published his "Philosophical
Letter," and described the situation as follows: "a great prince led us
to victory from one end of the Europe to the other; when we returned from
this triumphal march across the most civilized countries in the world, we
brought back only ideas and aspirations which would result in an immense
calamity, one that set us back half a century. There is something in our
blood which repels all true progress. Finally, we have only lived, and
we still only live, in order to give a great lesson to a remote posterity
And what is Chaadayev's way out of this mess? To cleave to the West -- in
his case, the Catholic church. Every westernizer/liberal/democrat since
Peter I has envisioned the improvement of Russia's moral and material
condition through an amalgamating with the West. That is their defining
characteristic. They want to "join civilization" (Yel'tsin circa 1991)
or zhit kak lydi.
After the publication of the "Philosophical Letter," the author was
declared insane, the journal was closed, and the publisher was exiled to
Siberia. As it turns out, the autocratic institutions have had some
impact on culture.
The Slavophiles responded to Chaadayev and twisted his ideas. They
located Russia's defining spiritual virtue in the serf commune and
insisted that this clutch of slaves would deliver Europe from imminent
moral collapse. That was the authentic Russian institution, the supreme
achievement of its civilization. They idealized the "lesson" over which
George Will writes that liberal institutions-- a free judiciary, basic
freedoms, a limited representative government -- are necessary but not
sufficient. Sufficient for what? Turning Russia into England? He is
absolutely right -- liberal institutions are not sufficient to turn
Russia into England. But are they sufficient to put an end to hunger and
malnutrition? Even in the outlying provinces? Supply rations to soldiers
and pensions to the elderly? Protect democratic activists from thugs?
Given where Russia is right now, that would be quite sufficient.
And speaking of culture, why do I have to use Chaadayev to defend
liberalism against George Will?
Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology & Policy (ISCIP)
at Boston University