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Johnson's Russia List
7 February 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AP: Russian Opposes More NATO Expansion.
2. AP: Russia Military: Spying on the Rise.
3. Fred Weir on the political wars.
4. Mitchell Polman: Busse/Ames/Berdy.
5. Adrian Helleman: Teaching in Russia.
6. Steven Shabad: Mark Ames on capitalism.
7. St. Petersburg Times editorial: Who Is Really In Charge of The
8. Moscow Tribune: Lyuba Pronin, he Secrets That Lurk Beneath Moscow.
9. Moscow Times: Igor Zakharov, BOOKWORM: Russian Readers Ignore the
10. Serguei Sossedkine: Literature poll.
11. Frank Durgin: Abel Agabegyan.
12. Peter D. Ekman: $50 billion.
13. Jonathan Weiler: Re 3044-Roazen/Busse.
14. Alice Nakhimovsky: RE 3043-Miller/Literature Poll.
15. Matthew Rendall: The great Russian novel.
16. Claire Hunt: Lally/Ames: Russian folk remedies.]
Russian Opposes More NATO Expansion
By Robert Burns
February 7, 1999
MUNICH, Germany (AP) -- A weekend of cordial talks among allied officials
looking ahead to NATO's 50th anniversary could not hide one mood spoiler:
Led by the United States, NATO is intent on ``destruction of the existing
world order,'' a senior Russian official declared in Sunday's gloomy close
to an otherwise celebratory European conference.
Yevgeny Gusarov, the deputy foreign minister of Russia, told the Munich
Conference on Security Policy that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
should not even think of expanding after it inducts Poland, Hungary and the
Czech Republic at an April summit in Washington.
He said Moscow had drawn a ``red line'' on further eastward expansion of
NATO into lands of the former Soviet Union, such as the Baltic states of
Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. ``Expansion to the east will inevitably lead
to emergence of new dividing lines,'' Gusarov said.
None of what he said was new, but it served as a timely reminder that for
all the self-congratulatory talk in Munich this weekend, the NATO alliance
that was created in 1949 as a bulwark against the Soviet empire still has a
``Russia problem'' years after the Cold War ended.
In his remarks to the conference on Saturday, Defense Secretary William
Cohen did not mention tensions with Russia. ``We intend to continue to work
with both Russia and Ukraine, understanding that there can be no stability
throughout the continent without a stable Russia,'' he said.
Asked on Sunday about Gusarov's advice for NATO not to cross Russia's
eastern ``red line,'' Cohen said the alliance understands Moscow's worry.
But Cohen said NATO will not allow the Russians to stop qualified former
communist nations from joining the alliance if they choose to apply.
``The door remains open'' to other interested candidates, Cohen said.
``It's not geographically confined. Whichever countries wish to become part
of NATO, if they satisfy the requirements, they'll be considered for
membership. There will be no determination made by anyone'' outside the
Cohen recalled that when Germany was reunited in 1990, then-President
Mikhail Gorbachev said the Soviet Union would never permit a united Germany
in NATO. It happened anyway, and the Soviets' fears abated. Russia also
argued strenuously against the current expansion into Poland, Hungary and
the Czech Republic, all of which were parts of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.
``I believe we will satisfy their concerns'' this time, too, Cohen said.
Gusarov also complained about NATO's efforts to reorient itself to what
it calls 21st-century security threats such as terrorism and the use of
chemical and biological weapons. ``We shall not follow indifferently the
development of a concept which presupposes destruction of the existing
world order,'' he said.
A ticklish question yet to be settled is who, if anyone, from the Russian
government will attend the NATO summit to be held in Washington in late
April and hosted by President Clinton.
The first day of the summit is to be the official 50th anniversary
celebration and the welcoming of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. It
will be an institutional birthday party for members only.
The second day, however, is expected to include a gathering of NATO
members plus their ``partners for peace'' -- those Eastern European and
former Soviet states who have been working with NATO on cooperative
projects such as joint training in peacekeeping. Russia is one of these
partner nations, and President Boris Yeltsin will be invited to attend,
Cohen spokesman Kenneth Bacon said
Russia Military: Spying on the Rise
February 7, 1999
MOSCOW (AP) -- Spying on the Russian navy by foreign intelligence and the
recruitment of agents are on the rise, the head of military
counterintelligence said in an interview published Sunday.
The Interfax news agency quoted Boris Pratskevich as saying that agents
are being recruited not only by U.S. and NATO spy agencies, but also by
similar agencies in the former Soviet republics.
``The most dangerous method of intelligence, the recruiting of agents,
arouses special concern,'' Pratskevich said.
Foreign intelligence agencies are using new methods, such as implementing
joint research programs and inviting of military specialists abroad at the
expense of the host.
Pratskevich said foreign intelligence agencies were particularly
interested in the Russian navy and their latest achievements in
shipbuilding and naval technology.
About 400 foreign intelligence officers seeking to recruit agents in
Russia have been exposed since the installation of a special hotline two
years ago. The hotline was established by the Federal Security Service, the
main successor to the Soviet KGB.
Date: Fri, 05 Feb 1999
From: "Fred Weir" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
For the Hindustan Times
From: Fred Weir in Moscow
MOSCOW (HT) -- Bureaucratic war has broken out among
Russia's top political forces, including police raids on the
offices of a leading oligarch, sackings of several Kremlin
officials, revelations that President Boris Yeltsin's
conversations were bugged by a private security firm, and rumours
of mass arrests to come.
Some analysts say the final battle to replace President
Yeltsin may be underway.
"The power struggle is sharpening dramatically and moving
into the open," says Nikolai Petrov, a political expert with the
Carnegie Endowment in Moscow.
"This is likely to continue until the regime in the Kremlin
The crisis began just over a week ago, when Prime Minister
Yevgeny Primakov proposed an innocuous-sounding "peace pact"
between the government, parliament and president.
Under the deal none of the three branches of power would
move against the other until the year 2000, and President Yeltsin
would be given a generous retirement package, including a
lifetime seat in the upper house of parliament and immunity from
prosecution for any crimes committed during his years in office.
"In fact this proposal of Primakov's was mainly directed
against President Yeltsin," says Alexander Konovalov, director of
the Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow. "He was trying
to force the president to pledge not to remove the government.
This guarantee would benefit Primakov, because with Yeltsin sick
most of the time he would have full freedom of action".
Mr. Primakov, 69, became prime minister in September after
financial collapse and political crisis forced Mr. Yeltsin to
seek compromise with his opponents in the parliament.
Over the past five months Mr. Primakov has remained
extremely popular, but has taken no decisive steps to fix
Russia's crumbling economy or settle the issue of who -- or what
-- is to follow the ailing and fading regime of President
Parliamentary elections are due this December, to be
followed by presidential polls in June, 2000.
Mr. Primakov, who is a year older but obviously in better
health than Mr. Yeltsin, has repeatedly denied any ambitions to
win the presidency for himself.
All that may be changing. In recent weeks Mr. Primakov, a
former Soviet spymaster, has moved to put his own people --
including former colleagues from Russia's security services --
into top government, corporate and media posts.
"The peace plan Primakov suggested to the president and
parliament is actually his declaration of war," says Mr.
Konovalov. "Now he is trying to set the terms for how he,
Primakov, will govern Russia".
But the peace deal was angrily rejected by Mr. Yeltsin, who
said he would gladly accept the offer of lifetime immunity but
would never give up any of his power.
"Perhaps Primakov knows something we don't know about
Yeltsin's health," says Mr. Konovalov. "Primakov is a very
intelligent man, and he will not make the mistake of
underestimating Yeltsin. As long as Yeltsin is alive and
conscious he will not tolerate having his authority limited by
anyone or anything."
The Communist-led lower house of parliament, the State Duma,
also scoffed at Mr. Primakov's peace scheme. Duma deputies point
out that, according to Russia's Constitution, parliament cannot
be dissolved while it is has an impeachment case against the
president underway. A special Duma committee has been holding
hearings and preparing a list of charges against Mr. Yeltsin
since last June.
"It's an election year. And the country is in the midst of a
brutal economic crisis. Why on earth would parliamentarians be
interested in political peace?" says Mr. Petrov.
But who was doing what to whom remained difficult to figure
out last week as police raids, firings and accusations of
corruption filled the Moscow air.
Early in the week security agents decended on the offices of
Sibneft, Russia's 7th largest oil company, reputedly owned by
powerful tycoon and power-broker Boris Berezovsky. Mr.
Berezovsky's supporters also came under attack in other companies
in which he has interests, including the airlines Transaero and
Aeroflot, and the television network ORT.
Mr. Berezovsky, one of the most outspoken of Russia's so-
called oligarchs, has long been rumoured to be the Yeltsin
family's personal financial handler. In addition to his vast
financial empire, he also holds a government post, as executive
secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Investigators announced they had found evidence that Mr.
Berezovsky was using a private security firm to bug Kremlin
conversations, including those of President Yeltsin and his
"Winston Churchill once said that a Russian power struggle
was like watching dogs fighting under a carpet. You can't tell
what's really going on until the winner crawls out," says
independent analyst Nikolai Zyubov.
"All we can tell for sure in this battle is that Primakov is
trying to destroy Berezovsky. But where Yeltsin stands, and what
other political forces are doing is still a mystery."
Mr. Yeltsin, currently being treated for ulcers in a Moscow-
area sanatorium, left his sickbed twice during last week's
actions to race to the Kremlin. On Tuesday he fired several top
officials including the Prosecutor General, Yuri Skuratov, who
had ordered the raids on Mr. Berezovsky.
On Thursday Mr. Yeltsin met with Mr. Primakov to discuss
"the need to work out and implement measures to enhance stability
and combat corruption in Russia," according to the Kremlin press
Mr. Primakov has suggested clearing tens of thousands of
petty criminals from Russia's overcrowded prisons in order to
make room for corrupt officials who are "plundering Russia" and
"It is now necessary to fight economic crimes very
vigorously," Mr. Primakov said last week.
Analysts warn Mr. Primakov may be very serious about
sweeping Russia's government structures clean -- of political
rivals as well as corrupt officials.
"Primakov is a man of the old Soviet type. Very disciplined,
strong, honest and patriotic," says Mr. Petrov. "But he is
interested in order, not democracy.
"It's very wise for him to declare war on corruption. He can
remove his competitors for power, and at the same time gain
From: Mitchell L Polman <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, 4 Feb 1999
First off, thanks to Michele Berdy for the warning about fake ATM's. Who
would have thought?!
Somewhere between Sarah Busse's emphasis on morality and Mark Ames'
cynicism (and are ANY of you "Exile" people old enough to actually
remember what Soviet economic life was really like...?) there is a middle
reality as to why Russians are having difficulty adjusting to market
economics. The historic figures that Americans tend to worship the most
are people who were problem solvers, particularly inventors -- Thomas
Edison, the Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell. None of these people
started out with goal of becoming rich. They wanted to improve life for
others and to challenge themselves. You can call it the "Protestant Work
Ethic" (and before Mr. Ames screams...I am not Protestant). I find that
too many Russians are interested in only making themselves comfortable
and that is their main motivation for being in business -- illegal or
legal. I think Ms. Busse is correct when she says that western business
courses exacerbate this problem by emphasizing profit, profit, profit.
The emphasis should be on problem solving, problem solving, problem
solving. Unfortunately, it's easier to discuss these attitudes than to
change them. It's only normal for impoverished people to be desperate
for money anyhow anyway they can get it. Desperation makes it difficult
for people to think clearly. That's not a Russian attribute. It's a
Date: Sun, 07 Feb 1999
From: Adrian Helleman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Teaching in Russia
Edwin Dolan's remarks in JRL #3042/7 deserve a few comments. My experience
teaching at Moscow State University and some other schools both in Moscow
and St. Petersburg is similar to his. This is now my fourth year here. My
wife teaches in the same faculty. Our experience may be limited in terms of
schools and time here, but we can empathize with what he narrates.
Alllow me to share some of our own experiences. In our relatively short
time here we have noticed many improvements. For example, the philosophy
faculty at MGU is better organized than when we first arrived. Some changes
predate the arrival of the new dean, but they have accelerated since then.
Yet there is much that causes us to shake our heads in wonder. The condition
of the university buildings is the most immediately apparent. Anyone who
has had to use the washrooms at MGU comes away shocked, unless they have
also taught in third world countries, as we have. Yet even in this area,
there have been noticeable improvements. It is indeed remarkable what a
little paint and several new toilets can accomplish. And our classrooms
have recently received new desks.
Dolan's remarks about the legacy of the Soviet period is apropos. While our
very best students are as good as students anywhere, we have also had
students who should never have been admitted. Aside from those who get in
because of their connections, there are commercial students who pay for the
privilege. Once they are in, the students know that they will probably
graduate. The failure rate is only 1-2%. As a result some work very hard
and other don't. But in this respect they are no different than students in
all the other countries where we have taught, including Canada. At MGU we
have occassionally failed students, but this was always done in consultation
with our colleagues. We have also reexamined a few students until they
passed. And we have examined students whom we had never met before. If
they are able to pass our exams, however, we pass them. Typically about
half our students turn up regularly for class, which is apparently a high
Both teachers and students are overworked. Our colleagues not only teach
many classes, but they hold down one or two other jobs to make ends meet. A
full-time professor at MGU earned no more than $200 before the crisis
startedin August. At the current exchange rate they are now earning about
30% of that. Students cannot survive on their small stipends, and many are
forced to work. This helps to explain the absence rate in most classrooms.
While certain faculties are more prestigious and harder to get into, all the
faculties experience the same problem. Philosophy may have lost some of its
glamor, but our students still want to get a good education. Some are not
very hopeful about their own future nor that of their country, but they do
come to class regularly. They are often not very satisfied with the
teaching in our faculty, in particular by professors who use outdated
teaching methods and should have been forced out long ago (which happens
occassionally), but they are still eager to learn.
About cheating, we have experienced little such overt behavior during our
exams. We would be naive to suppose that it does not happen in our courses.
We take measures to prevent it, but we realize that these are not
fool-proof. Students will always find a way! On examination day typically
the best students come first, early in the morning, while the worst come
last, just before we are ready to go home. The bright students help the
others, of course, by telling them of what sort of questions we ask, but
since we prepare a long series of questions, and they must pick one
randomly, no one knows what question they will get. Since our exams are
oral, we can supplement these questions in order to check. We warn our
students before the exams that we will not tolerate any cheating. We know
that it happens anyway, but we do try to minimize it. As far a professors
taking payments from students in order to give better grades, that happens,
no doubt, but we have never heard of it happening among our immediate
Our biggest disappointment, perhaps, is that our students are largely
incapable of doing research and writing a paper. Until recently, they got
no instruction and little experience in this, until they finally have to
write the thesis for their diploma. Our faculty now requires the students
to write one paper per year, and some faculties require a paper in every
course. We encourage them to write short papers for us, as well as helping
us in our research. This is a new experience for most of them. For your
information, we are currently preparing an anthology of recent Russian
philosophy, which we hope to have published in English.
A brief comment yet on Sarah Busse's article and the ensuing debate. I
believe that she is right on regarding the need for teaching morality. We
see this need especially in our students. I will not even attempt to refute
Mark Ames, who does not agree with her. He lives in an amoral universe and
seems to be incapable of understanding what she means.
Adrian A. Helleman, Ph.D.
Moscow State University
Faculty of Philosophy
Panferova 5/2, Apt. 172
Moscow 117261, Russia
Phone: + 7-095-138-3675
Fax: + 7-095-936-2297
From: "Steven Shabad" <email@example.com>
Subject: Mark Ames on capitalism
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999
We're the most ruthless people in the world (at least in finance I can say
-- Mark Ames (Johnson 3042)
I have always refrained from challenging any of Mark Ames's pronouncements,
because 1) his writing invariably makes clear that he is the Sole Possessor
of Truth About Russia; 2) I have not been to Russia in a while; and 3) I
would expose myself to Mr. Ames's patented ad hominem attack method. In this
case, however, my instinct to defend one of the two nations against
inaccurate attacks in comparison with the other forces me to put in my two
kopeks' worth (see, Mr. Ames, I'm even feeding you the straight lines -- I
know two kopeks aren't worth anything).
While I haven't been to Russia in a while, I have spent almost 40 years with
Russians, studying them and -- most relevantly on this point -- I regularly
read seven Russian publications. I am not arguing with Mr. Ames's overall
analysis of Russian problems with capitalism, but when he says Americans are
the most financially ruthless people in the world, I wonder if I'm missing
something. Unless I'm mistaken, there have been more than a few -- shall we
say scores? -- of murders related to the development of Russian capitalism.
Even the unsolved, high-profile murders, e.g. Starovoitova, Kholodov,
Listyev -- are widely believed to be related to financial disputes. Maybe
murders don't qualify as "ruthless"? Or maybe Mr. Ames will argue that
against these killings are just a blip against the overall, ethical
background of Russian capitalism? Or should we just understand that this is
another one of his harmless hyperboles?
Sure, we can point out that it's unfair to compare the developmental stage
of Russia's capitalism since it is undergoing an unprecedented transition --
even that the U.S. did not exactly develop peacefully in its early stages.
But to call Americans "the most ruthless people in the world" in the face of
the violence and corruption in today's Russian capitalism, Mr. Ames, is
(dare I say it?) just plain wrong.
St. Petersburg Times
February 5, 1999
Who Is Really In Charge of The Country?
THIS week has seen the resignation of the Prosecutor General, high-profile
raids on properties associated with Russia's most infamous business tycoon and
rumors that the president and the prime minister are in conflict.
Let it be said that in any normal country, at least somebody from the
government would be explaining to the public what is going on. Yet we still
have yet to hear from either Boris Yeltsin, Yevgeny Primakov, former
prosecutor Yury Skuratov or even financier Boris Berezovsky. As always, the
public are left to guess what is going on.
Fortunately the public has lots of practice. The public can see, for
that Primakov is bent on breaking the oligarchy - specifically, on bringing
down Berezovsky. The prime minister is trying to wrest free every major
property Berezovsky controls or influences, from ORT television to Aeroflot to
Sibneft to the president and his family. This is long, long overdue. Primakov
deserves the nation's gratitude and support for this effort.
Even so, there is much alarming in Primakov's behavior - and the public
shouldn't be blamed for thinking it is being flipped out of the frying pan and
into the fire. It is disturbing to see a man who has served decades in the
Soviet spy bureaucracy talk of "optimizing" the use of jails by filling them
with "economic criminals" (a spooky term that sounds like a 1990s version of
the 1930s "wreckers.")
Primakov's rhetoric sets a national tone, and so it's not surprising to see
that the Supreme Court has unexpectedly condemned environmentalist Alexander
Nikitin to years of limbo. And it's hard to imagine spymaster Primakov ever
stepping in to protect Nikitin, even though both men are in their own way the
truest of patriots.
It is even more disturbing to see this prime minister angling to put himself
above the constitution. Amidst a political honeymoon, Primakov nevertheless
feels the need to ask parliament to renounce its power to challenge his
government. Basically, Primakov does not like the idea of ever being
democratically removed from office.
Many wonder if Yeltsin will now sack Primakov. That's unlikely for now,
because Primakov is shepherding the 1999 budget through parliament. But
afterwards, losing Primakov would be no disaster. The Duma won't like it, but
the Duma is about to grind to a halt anyway, as deputies' thoughts turn to
elections in December. If Primakov passes the budget, breaks the oligarchy and
then is sacked, he will have earned that coveted title, "reformer," and with
it Russia's gratitude. His replacement could be anyone - from Yabloko leader
Grigory Yavlinsky to former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov to Moscow
Mayor Yury Luzhkov - and Russia would be better for it.
Feb. 5, 1999
The Secrets That Lurk Beneath Moscow
By Lyuba Pronina
Much has been said about it. Books have been written and "maps" drawn.
Constructors keep bumping into it every now and then when developing Mayor
Luzhkov's projects, and Muscovites blame occasional street collapses on it.
However, officials still feel uneasy when asked about Moscow's underground
city and the special "governmental metro system" or "Metro-2," choosing to
deny its existence.
Diggers of the Underground Planet, headed by Vadim Mikhailov,
king of the subterranean world, claim it's a vast network, some of which they
have been lucky to see, and say it should be used for the good of the city.
Even in Soviet times, when much was closed to the average citizen by the
veil of state secrecy, there were rumors of an underground system and tales of
the almost palatial beauty of the hidden bunkers.
Moscow old-timers speak of Josef Stalin's special metro, which could take
into any part of the city. The rumors stemmed from his ability to appear in
different places within very short intervals of time. For a long time there
have been whispers of a direct line connecting the Kremlin with the government
Residents of Prospekt Vernadskovo have always wondered about the idle
land spanning the way to Yugo-Zapadnaya station, an obvious place to be built
on which has never been used. Commuters from the Moscow region district of
Mytischi, which houses a metro wagon construction plant, have long asked for a
metro line, confident there was one anyway as no one had ever seen wagons
transported by land.
As construction of the metro began in 1930s, drills and crowbars delved a
way down to provide not only transportation but also shelter in case of
bombing, which came in use during WWII.
Kirovskaya station (now Chistiye Prudy) was closed off to house the
headquarters. This was supplemented by a huge network of bunkers of various
sizes and functions -- of which the Diggers have counted over 1 million,
including 64 main outlets -- the largest being under Myasnitskaya ulitsa
(Chistiye Prudy), housing the army command headquarters, and the Ramenki
underground city in the southwest of Moscow.
Construction of the bunker system with its connecting channels was kicked
in 1929 under Stalin's orders, along with the public metro, and was later
branded by people as "Metro-2." According to Mikhailov, the clandestine lines
are not only hooked onto the main metro, but also have access to nearly every
ministry, research institute or plant of strategic importance. There are large
bunkers under the Rossiya Hotel, the White House and the Christ the Savior
Mikhailov, who says he was invited by the Defense Ministry to inspect
the levels of the underground system, says the web is "very dense and covers
most of the city," with bunkers and channels located from 30 to 120 meters
down with "30 percent more efficiency than the bunker system in New York."
The system was built to serve a variety of functions, from simple storage
rooms to grand halls and studies -- with an ever present statuette of Stalin
-- to provide shelter for the party elite in the case of nuclear attack.
Mikhailov remembers how during one such venture he found a door leading to a
huge dining hall, "obviously for people who worked there." Mikhailov says the
system was serviced by as many as 3,000-4,000 people daily.
"Just imagine, they somehow had to get there, so there must have been
transportation, there were enormous food store-rooms, concert halls and even
experimental greenhouses..." Mikhailov tells with excitement.
The officialdom tend to deny the story. However, a special body has been
created to oversee the system -- the 15th Section of the Chief Directorate of
Special Presidential Programs. A spokesperson for the Moscow metro said: "We
do not know anything about underground cities or this )Metro-2.' Maybe it
exists, maybe not, but it has no relation to the public system."
Mikhailov says that with information about the underground tunnels available
to only a few, the ministries "very often themselves do not know what is in
their cellars." He remembers that during excavation works for the shopping
mall on Manezhnaya square, workers came across a wall, behind which was a
furnished bunker. A moment later, a high ranking serviceman came from a side
passage to tell them off in the best language he could. Within half an hour
the bunker was immured and all trace of it vanished.
Russian journalists, foreign correspondents and other adventurous types have
descended into the depths of Moscow's innards, often to find only locked doors
and blocked passages. With the secret construction slowed down by the 1970s,
many tunnels and bunkers have not been used for lack of money and have
decayed, filling with water and rubbish, and threatening to collapse --
raising the potential of more accidents such as last year's collapse on
Mikhailov has a plan to turn the murky underground into a smart-looking
with museums and walking tours and underground highways -- plans perhaps
worthy of Mayor Yury Luzhkov's imagination.
"I have come up with the idea more than once, but as I see it, the situation
has to change first," says Mikhailov, who seriously believes that, if he can
find his way through the maze of city government politics, one day, all of
Moscow will be able to utilize this underground city.
February 6, 1999
BOOKWORM: Russian Readers Ignore the Seasons
By Igor Zakharov
I always thought that booksellers exaggerated the seasonal factor in their
"Summer is a dead season for selling books," they say, "it's good only
But Russia has always had its own way. Our people eat as much ice cream
winter as they do in the summer, and they buy books when they feel like it.
They enjoy the reputation of being an unpredictable people and are proud of
that reputation, especially when there is not much else to be proud of in the
As if to prove the point, both of the top Russian bestsellers of 1997, a
hardcover biography of Alla Pugachova and the paperback memoirs of former
presidential bodyguard General Alexander Korzhakov, were released in early
July of that year.
"January is three times worse than December," is the verdict of book-market
research specialists. They have a point here, considering the number of
holidays and the hangover that follows. But then again, preliminary results
released by the largest Moscow bookstores show an equal number of copies sold
in January and December, and even greater earnings in January.
You might want to participate in the boom if you missed some of the
bestsellers of 1998:
-Russian Classical Literature: No single winner, but many obvious front-
runners, including Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov and other giants.
-Modern Russian Novel: Vladimir Makanin's "Underground, or Hero of Our Time"
was universally praised as the novel of the year.
-Russian Poetry: The collected works of our "Modern Pushkin," Iosif Brodsky,
as well as the real Alexander Pushkin, whose 200th birthday in June publishers
started celebrating more than a year ago; also many celebrated poets of the
-Russian Fantasy: The heroic multivolume saga by Vasily Golovatchov, and
Mikhail Uspensky's humorous trilogy based on Russian folklore featuring a
"Zhikhar," a cousin to the popular hero Ivan-durak, or Ivan the Fool.
-Russian Biographies: Three books about Soviet tragicomic actress Faina
Ranevskaya; two books about the bohemian, enigmatic Lilya Brik, the true love
of Vladimir Mayakovsky, and several new titles about the tragic life of Soviet
bard Vladimir Vysotsky.
-Russian Memoir: Emma Gershtein's "Memoirs," which were awarded both the
Booker and Anti-Booker prizes. It would be only natural to add here Alexander
Solzhenitsyn's newly released reminiscences about his life in exile, but for
some absolutely unpardonable reason the Russian text is not published yet in
this country in book form (chapters appear in Novy Mir monthly), though as
early as December in Paris, I flipped through the book in French translation.
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999
Subject: Re: Literature poll
From: Serguei Sossedkine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The tone of Andrew Miller's polemical comments on Russian literary
preferences (JRL #3043) reminded me the style of dusty Soviet textbooks
on pre-revolutionary Russian literature. Back then, every author was
evaluated primarily from the perspective of his political views. The
author's literary achievements were of secondary nature.
It seems that Mr. Miller follows the very same methodology in his
evaluations of Russian readers' choices. Somehow, writer's opposition to
Soviet regime (or lack thereof) becomes the major criteria of his
literary accomplishments. Talent, creativity, content and style seem to
matter as long as they serve the higher goal of fighting the Soviet
authorities. Mr. Miller openly disapproves of Russian reading tastes,
laments the lack of progress "towards more liberal, honest and
enlightened society" and, finally, predicts the imminent collapse of
I have a different view. In my understanding, MK's Russian literature
poll reflects evolving cultural and political diversity of contemporary
Russia. Although most people seem to prefer (or remember?) the authors
they =had= to read in the Soviet high school, others have expanded their
reading list with previously prohibited names and titles. The best news
here is that quite a few people are still reading, despite their daily
fight for survival forced on them by present economic conditions.
It's true that Russian reading preference list could have been more
diverse and balanced. And it would not hurt us, Russians, to know our
history better. But is it really =the= reason for Russia's shrinking GDP
and declining population?
I remember asking my first American date a very innocent (from a Russian
perspective) question: "Who is you favorite American author?" After a
terribly long pause my friend, a senior at a liberal arts college, said
very softly, "Shakespeare..." To my complete embarrassment she was
serious!!! Later, I recounted this story to my male friend who is a
college graduate. He started laughing like crazy and then said,
"Shakespeare?! Isn't he an Italian or something?" I hope he was just
Now the question: How come the S&P500 almost tripled since I asked my
American date about her favorite American author?
Calvin Theological Seminary
Grand Rapids, Mich.
From: email@example.com (Frank Durgin)
Date: Fri, 5 Feb 1999
Subject: Abel Agabegyan
This item, I think, will be of interest to the economists on
your list. It is my translation of an item reported on this
morning's Russian Electronic "Obzor Trsentral'noi Pressi" It
concerns Gobachev's former chief economic advisor
Feb 5. 1999.' As reported in Kommersant -Daily :
"Yesterday the Moscow procurator opened an investigation into the
activities of the Rector of the Academy of Economics (ANKh) Abel
Aganbegyan. He is suspected in the misuse of his position and
illegal involvement in entrepreneurial activity. He is suspected of
transferring buildings belonging to the Academy of Economics to the
AOA (stock company fd) Higher School of International Business.
What triggered the investigation was the report of an audit by
the Accounting Chamber (This is the equivalent of our
General Accounting Office-GAO) The auditors discovered that a
large part of the property the Economics Academy was privatized
without the approval of the government. 99.1% of the property of
the Academy is now owned by the stock company "Higher School of
international Business", the president, and one of the founders of
which, is Abel Aganbegyan. Quite curiously, that property is now
being rented back to the Academy"
From: "Peter D. Ekman" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: $50 billion
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999
The strangest story I've ever seen about Russian was reported on the
front page of Friday's Moscow Times and in an AFP report (JRL 3044-#3). Yes
- stranger than the giant arctic octopus or Mayor Luzhkov's rainmaking
$50 billion (actually $37.3 billion plus odd change in Dmarks, yen,
francs, and pounds).
Former Head Prosecutor Skuratov has accused the Central Bank of sending
this money overseas to be managed by an unknown company. Why is $50
billion strange? The Central Bank has never had $50 billion in reserves.
Maybe it had $20 billion one time - now it's about $10 billion. $50
billion is more than enough to pay all foreign GKO holders in full. $50
billion is enough - if the Central bank actually had it- that there would
never have been a need for the GKO market.
There's a huge mistake here. Perhaps the money was deposited and
withdrawn several times and Skuratov has counted the same money 20 times
over. Maybe somebody just added a couple of zeros to make a nice round
number. Maybe it's 50 billion old rubles.
In any case, any money sent overseas by the Central Bank would be too
much. The idea of Central Bank reserves being flight capital seems absurd.
Nevertheless, throwing out an obviously unreasonable number like $50
billion can only confuse and enflame the situation.
Many strange things are happening in Moscow now. I can only guess that
they are related to Primakov expecting to be shut out by the IMF.
Primakov's proposed stability pact (i.e. power grab). The blowing up of a
small Nazi march into a national crisis. The new corruption campaign, The
political and legal attacks on Berezovsky. The Presidential tapes (when
will they make the newspapers?). The statements by Primakov and a
Presidential aide that a whole laundry list of ministers would NOT be fired.
It looks to me like the dermo is about to hit the fan.
Date: Fri, 05 Feb 1999
From: Jonathan Weiler <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 3044-Roazen/Busse
Concerning the discussion about Christianity and development, I think Matt
Raozen is right to point out that it is worthwhile to distinguish between
traditions of Christianity if we are trying to draw a link between them
and developmental paths or, why Russia is so screwed up? But, it seems
like, underlying this discussion, is our old friend, the
all-good-things-go-together argument. In this case, the fact that we have
wealthy, pretty well functioning capitalist states in the West, where
respect for formal rights (to varying degrees) is relatively good, we
identify root causes of that felicitous combination. An old favorite is
Protestantism. The problem is that when we examine, with any degree of
historical scrutiny, how these countries (England and the US in
particular) became what they are, we are forced to reckon with
extraordinarily violent histories. Therefore, it may be that some version
of Weber's ethic was consistent with, or even engendered a particular form
of investor-oriented, entrepreneurial, deferred-gratitude capitalism which
Weber identified. And, it may also be true that subsequent to the
development of that successful form of capitalism there emerged democratic
movements which reigned in the beast. But, this is far from the same as
saying that christianity produced capitalism AND some reasonably humane
form of democratic governance. Historically, the two are quite distinct
processes, even if we accept the implicit ideal-type we use to describe
western liberal democracies today. And, speaking of Weber, ideal-types
were to be used for certain useful analytical purposes, not as
descriptions of reality.
Date: Fri, 05 Feb 1999
From: Alice Nakhimovsky <Anakhimovsky@MAIL.COLGATE.EDU>
Subject: RE: 3043-Miller/Literature Poll
This is a response to Andrew Miller's posting about Russian readers (3043).
He might have wept less had he had some knowledge of the works in question.
Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, even in its initial censored publication,
is impossible to construe as a satire of religion. As for "Ilf and Petrov"
- the correct order for this very famous pair - it is hardly their fault
that Miller never heard of them. A generation of Russians -- at least --
had their novels virtually memorized. Knowing this might lead even someone
without much background in Russian literature to suspect that the books were
not exactly "lionizing" the Soviet state. A little research into "Aesopic
language" and its role in Soviet culture would go a long way into explaining
why all three authors were so well loved for so long.
Date: Fri, 05 Feb 1999
From: Matthew Rendall <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The great Russian novel
Andrew Miller's account of VTsIOM's survey on literature (JRL 3043)
is interesting but his conclusions are very odd. What is surprising in the
fact that a quarter of Russian respondents declined to specify the greatest
Russian novel of the twentieth century? I'd have trouble doing so myself.
I could name the novel I like the most (yes, it's *The Master and
Margarita*) but the best? That requires (a) considerable self-assurance
concerning one's own knowledge; and (b) a conviction that absolute
standards exist in literature (i.e., that a "best" novel exists at all).
Besides, with any poll anywhere, some respondents will have trouble
answering. My impression from the polls I've seen is that you could ask
"is the moon made of green cheese?" and three percent would respond "don't
know" or "zatrudniaius' otvetit'."
Miller's conclusion that these answers demonstrate a totalitarian
mindset is even more peculiar. What would he expect if you asked the same
question in the U.S.? Some would say "The Scarlet Letter," some would say
"Pet Semetary" or "Dilbert Drowns in the Water Cooler," and you can bet a
quarter would reply "don't know." (Literary statisticians, am I right or
As far as Stalin is concerned: He was immensely talented, one of
the great machine politicians of the 20th century. Just as Hitler was a
brilliant orator and political tactician. It was because they were so
talented that they were able to murder so many people.
From: "Claire Hunt" <email@example.com>
Subject: Lally/Ames: Russian folk remedies
Date: Fri, 05 Feb 1999
Voodoo is more widespread than most Americans think, but it's safe to
assume the Caribbean practice hasn't reached as far as Moscow.
Most Russians don't have chicken claw fetishes or routinely stick pins
in cottonwool effigies of their enemies. But, like most Easterners,
they are privy to a rich lore of natural remedies for any number of
common ailments, much like the ones outlined in Kathy Lally's "Moscow's
Flu War Means Breath-taking Measures."
Anyone who's spent a significant amount of time in a Russian household,
with its cupboards stocked full of medicinal herbs, hand-picked at the
dacha, knows to what extent Russians, especially Russian women, still
rely on time-honored, natural treatments for anything from flu to
This is not always dictated by economic necessity. The recent interest
in alternative medicine in the West has proven that many folk remedies,
derived from natural, easily accessible ingredients found in every home,
do the trick. They have nothing to do with superstition. Rather, they
are rooted in scientific fact.
Hot liquid - such as tea - does soothe the throat. It also flushes
toxins out of the system. Garlic (like its cousin, onion) is
universally touted as a miracle cure, both for its pungent properties
and the potent antibiotic it contains. And yes - even the sweat and
bacteria in a worn pair of socks can produce vapors strong enough to
clear nasal passages.
What most unfortunate dependants on limited Western medicine don't
realize is that so many of the relatively new, chemical drugs
manufactured by a billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry were originally
derived from simple remedies that had already been in use - in cultures
around the globe - for centuries. Russians love honey, and for good
reason: Not only is it an excellent salve for wounds, when ingested,
the sugar in it coats the throat and stifles coughs - the exact same
soothing relief provided by sugary "Hall's mints," for example.
Drugs like Tylenol, Coldrex and Theraflu contain pretty much the same
beneficial ingredients found in a lot of traditional folk remedies that
boost the immune system and help a person get through the flu. They are
also larded with harsh, abrasive chemicals that can potentially rip up
your stomach lining, disrupt your sleep rhythms, and even kill you.
Mark Ames asserts that Russians don't dare point out Westerners'
over-reliance on orthodox medicine, such as ineffective vitamin
supplements. As a matter of fact, they certainly do, and often, when
faced with a choice between a well-marketed Western drug and the cure
they grew up with, Russians will invariably opt for the natural way.
Their wealth of babushka folklore is to be envied. The
explosion in alternative medicine studies, institutes, and literature
observed in recent years in the West points towards a serious deficiency
in modern, orthodox medicine. Americans in particular - as
practitioners of the single most unhealthy lifestyle in the
industrialized world - are slowly catching on that treatments such as
homeopathy, herbal supplements, aryuveda, and Chinese medicines not only
work well, they work better. I'd be willing to bet Lally's
"Baltimore-area readers" were more intrigued by her recent piece than by
Primakov, and that many were grateful for the insight. Folk remedies,
and a more holistic approach to health in general, are at last gaining
recognition in the West as neither primitive nor regressive, but as more
enlightened - even advanced.
Surely Mark Ames, of all people, would not argue with the assumption
that Russians are more responsive to their bodies' needs than
Westerners. This is not to say that Russians are any healthier. Recent
reports exposing their country's environmental devastation shows they
are not. But all the over-priced, imported chemical drugs in Europe and
America can not combat grotesque levels of pollution - not to mention
debilitating emotional stress - any better than can honey and garlic.
The symptoms of an everyday nuisance like the flu, however, ARE easily
treatable, and you don't need a thick bankroll to do it. Russians know
this, and when they exhibit a conscious preference for tried-and-true
methods over harsh chemicals, they are not backwards, unlearned, or
savage - they're right.