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13 March 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Moscow Times editorial: Ominous Signs from Yeltsin's Bed.
2. Reuters: Russia Says Bigger NATO Is Dangerous Mistake.
3. Itar-Tass: Start-2 Treaty Must Be Ratified Promptly-Scientist.
4. John Danzer: United States of Russia. (Re: Pain on Nationalism).
5. Geoff Ryan: Re The need for morality/Helleman.
6. Victor Chudowsky: Krasnow in JRL 3083.
7. Ron Laurenzo: re: Reinis/3086. (Post-WWII German example).
8. Gunars Reinis: Reforming Russia (response to Laurenzo).
9. The Guardian: Jilted artists seek solace in ugliness. Starved of
cash and shunned by the West, many in Russia's creative community have
gone to brutal extremes to portray post-Soviet life. John O'Mahoney
reports from Moscow on a flickering of hope.
10. The Guardian: 'This is a time of animal passion.'
11. The Economist: Four versions of Russia's future. A puzzling progress.
Russia's prime minister could take his country in any one of four
12. RFE/RL: Floriana Fossato, Russia: Food Aid To Be Closely Monitored.]
March 13, 1999
EDITORIAL: Ominous Signs From Yeltsin's Bed
It is a telling indication of President Boris Yeltsin's political character
that, sick as he obviously is, he finds no better activity while confined to
the hospital than political intrigue - his first and most passionate love, as
his former staff members have put it.
By inviting Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky and Federation Council
chairman Yegor Stroyev to sit down for a chat, Yeltsin sends the clearest
signal yet that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has gotten under his skin by
eclipsing the president as the central figure in Russian politics.
After all, Yavlinsky and Stroyev figured on the list of potential prime
ministerial candidates passed over in favor of Primakov. Entertaining them in
his hospital suite is a clear sign that Yeltsin is mulling a change in the
government and is contemplating a counteroffensive to restore, if only
partially, his fallen fortunes.
Yet Yeltsin's options are more limited than they were last year when he
blithely fired two prime ministers. Then, he was master of the game. Now, he
is fighting to avoid political oblivion and to salvage the prestige he lost in
the Aug. 17 government-debt default and ruble devaluation.
If he fires Primakov now, he throws Russia into another political crisis. The
exit from that crisis would be not at all clear, and might lead through
extraconstitutional territory that the country managed to avoid in September
when Yeltsin turned to Primakov as a prime minister most of the warring
factions could consent to.
Now he's hinting he might start that turmoil all over again. He certainly
retains the legal power, to do it simply by firing Primakov. He might make a
subtler move by dumping Communist First Deputy Prime Minister Yury Maslyukov,
and thus creating a major headache for Primakov in preserving peace with the
Communist-led State Duma.
At some point, however, those in charge of Russia's destiny need to devote at
least some fraction of their time, effort and political capital to fixing the
country's devastating problems. Let Yeltsin change the Cabinet, or even the
prime minister as he pleases, or let him not change them. But perhaps it's not
too much to hope there could be some solid public-policy purpose behind his
next move - a chance to get serious on real economic reform, even
incrementally, and on a real fight against crime rather than the phony hunts
for scapegoats announced every few months.
Changing governments just so Yeltsin can feel like master of the universe,
without imposing a sense of direction, would be a useless exercise in cynical
Russia Says Bigger NATO Is Dangerous Mistake
March 12, 1999
By Martin Nesirky
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia grudgingly bowed to the inevitable Friday but
said the enlargement of NATO to include Hungary, Poland and the Czech
Republic was a dangerous mistake that could divide Europe anew.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement marking Friday's formal
accession of the ex-Soviet satellites to the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization that Moscow remained opposed to the move and wanted a new
security model for the continent.
``The enlargement of the North Atlantic alliance will not promote a
strengthening of trust and stability in international relations,'' it said.
``On the contrary, it could lead to the appearance of new dividing lines.''
President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman said the Kremlin chief also remained
unhappy about NATO's move.
The Defense Ministry wheeled out its outspoken head of international
relations to underscore Moscow's displeasure.
``We believe the enlargement of NATO is a dangerous and historic mistake
which could have serious consequences,'' Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov
told a news conference.
``European history convincingly shows that as soon as the balance of forces
are upset on the continent, the result is instability in political
processes, conflicts and wars.''
Yet Ivashov mixed hawkish rhetoric with a pledge to continue cooperating
under the NATO-Russia Founding Act signed in 1997.
``Russia agreed to cooperate with NATO and is developing that
cooperation,'' he said. ``But it's a two-way street.''
Both Ivashov and the ministry called for a fresh approach to European
security as a way to counter NATO's focus on defense.
``Europe does not have a concept or strategy for building a security model
for the 21st century,'' Ivashov said. ``That's the tragedy of Europe.''
The Foreign Ministry said Russia was urging countries in the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe to speed up work on a new security
charter for the next century, a long-term project that has been in the
works for several years.
Russia hoped the charter could be signed at an OSCE summit in Istanbul in
November, it said.
In the meantime, Russia would ensure it was able to respond militarily,
Asked if NATO was an enemy, he said no. But when asked whether Moscow
considered it an aggressor, he said: ``Let's see.''
``If military forces move up to our border in the name of peace, friendship
and stability, we will take a suitable step to meet that friendship and
stability,'' he said, with a wry grin.
Ivashov said NATO's military potential was increasing by about 15 percent
with the accession of three new members. Nonetheless, Russia was still
supplying spare parts for Soviet-era military kit and was even prepared to
modernize it, he said.
Russian newspapers Friday covered NATO in detail.
``Russia has essentially resigned itself to the fact of NATO expansion,''
said the daily Sevodnya. ``There's no other option.''
It said many Russian strategists were unable to shake off the Cold War
mentality and could not accept that NATO membership had more to do with
geography and culture than military plans.
Another daily, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, was less forgiving. ''The expansion of
NATO while Russia is embroiled in a major...crisis is a slap in the face at
the most inappropriate moment,'' it said.
Start-2 Treaty Must Be Ratified Promptly-Scientist.
March 11, 1999
MOSCOW -- Sergei Rogov, Director of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian
Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in an interview published in
the Thursday edition of Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, has statedthat it is
essential to ratify the START-2 Treaty as soon as possible.
The scientist said the Treaty "ensures a US strategic offensive nuclear
forces' reduction, synchronous with inevitable --for financial and
economic reasons -- cuts in Russia's strategic nuclear forces".
The START-2 Treaty, Rogov believes, "substantially reduces the U.S.
counterforce strike capability -- nuclear attack means capable of
hitting strategic targets".
Besides, Rogov said, the document "provides a very powerful lever of
political pressure on the U.S., should Washington suddently decide
unilaterally to withdraw from the 1982 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty".
"A refusal to ratify the START-2 Treaty undermines our country's
positions at the forthcoming difficult negotiations with the US. From
this point of view, one cannot agree to Finance Ministry attempts to
play a role, which is not characteristic of it, blocking the passage of
a law on the financing of strategic nuclear forces in the period ending
in the year 2010. Such an attitude only plays into the hands of those
(State) Duma forces that oppose ratification of the START-2 Treaty,"
From: Telos4@aol.com (John Danzer)
Date: Sat, 13 Mar 1999
Subject: United States of Russia
Re: Pain on Nationalism
Will Russia break apart? There are those like Emil Pain who think
it is highly unlikely. Although I am no expert I have yet to see
the evidence that would justify such optimism.
Pain stated that it is more probable that demands to secede would
come ONLY from those who are NOT Russians. This should really be
stated in a more defensible form. "Demands to secede would come
FIRST from those who are NOT Russians." Ethnic differences are
probably the most basic of secessionist motives. However, it is by
no means the ONLY motive. Pain then quotes the "experts" who
assert that "no ethnically homogeneous state in the modern age has
ever fallen apart. There are hardly grounds to assume that Russia
will be the first example of this." This statement can be
discarded simply because it is based on the fallacy that the past
equals the future. But as is the case with most fallacious
statements it keeps one from thinking about what is different about
this particular situation here and now. Is it really hard to
imagine a country stretched across eleven time zones breaking up
into zones of self-interest? There never has been such a huge
Add to this oversized country the fact that there simply isn't
enough money to support its center and its conceivable that certain
regions will decide that it's every man for himself. All the
center has to offer is a share of the responsibility for the debt
that has accumulated through criminal acts and mismanagement. It
would be very tempting to declare independence of the financial
burden that has mired Russia's economy. One reason Russia hasn't
seen a popular revolution is that there is nothing to seize. If
you overthrow Yeltsin he has nothing but an empty bag to surrender.
It is more profitable to create your own center by seizing control
of the land on which you are standing.
Pain then tries to generate some optimism by making a true
statement followed by a false statement.
TRUE STATEMENT- "the country's integrity cannot be maintained by
punitive measures alone".
FALSE STATEMENT- "Russia's law enforcement system is still able to
maintain common legal conditions over a large part of the country's
territory tells us something".
What "legal conditions"? The legal conditions that are being
maintained are similar to the factories that are still able to produce
worthless goods and employ people without paying wages. The
rampant crime at high levels tells you that there is a Potemkin
police force enforcing Potemkin laws.
How powerful is the center as a force in Lebed's case? Lebed can't
clean up Krasnoyarsk because he can't persuade the center to help.
If Lebed could still muster a local militia he could easily set up
his own country and it is doubtful whether the center could get
enough troops mobilized to stop him. More than likely such a
destabilizing move would inspire other regions to do the same. If
Yeltsin were to die suddenly, or should I say complete his dying
process, disintegration would be practically inevitable.
Pain ends by saying that
"the majority of Russians,... have an extremely negative attitude
not only toward the idea of the country's disintegration but also
toward the prospect of its confederalization."
That would be a significant statement if the process were to be
presented as a referendum. Unfortunately when Yeltsin, Kravchuk & Shushkevich
decided to break away and end the Soviet Union it wasn't done
legally through a referendum. That illegal act set the stage for
what is yet to come. Get ready for the United States of Russia!
From: "Geoff Ryan" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The need for morality (In Response to JRL 3082 #9 - Adrian Helleman)
Date: Sat, 13 Mar 1999
In response to Adrian Helleman's article "The need for morality" I would
like to say that in general I am in agreement with what he says.
My specific question is, however, with regard to some clarification of the
following statement: "I blame the Christian churches, .......... for not
teaching morality, except the personal variety." Can Adrian give some
detail on this, is he speaking specifically of the Orthodox or other
expressions of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant) that are not part of
The Salvation Army
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999
From: Victor Chudowsky <email@example.com>
Subject: Krasnow in JRL 3083
Re: George Krasnow & co's "Open Letter on the Russian Crisis" in JRL 3083
Dr. Krasnow's assessment of the failure of U.S. policy toward
Russia under Clinton is on the money; the administration should
publicly acknowledge at the very least that its Russia policy
needs to be re-examined. I just want to briefly point out a few
items worth debating in the remainder of the open letter. My
intent is not to criticize this worthy effort but to raise a few
questions about some assumptions.
First of all, the authors support Stephen Cohen's plea that the
US support any Russian government which "promotes the well-being
of ordinary citizens without abrogating the still-fragile process
of democratization." Is the Primakov government such a
government? How has it promoted the well-being of ordinary
citizens aside from simply not being the Kiriyenko government?
Are we seeing less corruption now? Are we seeing democracy and
civil society blossom? Looks like the same neo-Soviet court
politics to me, where intrigue rules, secrecy reigns, the blame
is passed, heads roll, and the leader gets sicker. Primakov has
also raised the issue of appointing 89 governors rather than
allowing them to be elected - hardly democratic. This will end
what experimentation and autonomy existed at the oblast level,
both positive and negative. Democracy or democratic centralism?
Next, on the issue of the IMF, the authors contend that Camdessus
is "pushing Primakov's government to commit political suicide and
open the floodgates for civil unrest and the final disintegration
of Russia." Whoa! Camdessus is head of a big bank, he is not a
Jesuit, Mongol or Freemason. The IMF is not lending for the
following reasons, in no order: 1) Its reserves are low; 2) It
got "thrown" the last time it made a big loan to Russia; 3) it is
afraid of a future Russian default, whereby Russia joins the
distinguished company of Sudan, Liberia, Somalia and Zaire
(Africa comparisons again - sorry); 4) the usual reasons - tax
collection, unrealistic budget, etc. In 1992, Russia joined the
IMF with open eyes, knowing the money would come with strings
attached; it seems duplicitous of people like Maslyukov to
criticize the policies of the IMF while standing at its door
waiting for dispensation. My question of the authors: why loan
Russia more money, when past lending has proven to be of such
little lasting value? If the IMF is partially to blame for
Russia's current situation, then why ask for more of the same?
And what steps should Russia take to insure that the current
scenario does not repeat itself?
Next, on the issue of linking aid to Russia's foreign policy, the
authors call this unwarranted and proclaim "Russia's right to
conduct its own foreign policy based on her national interests."
At the same time, the authors want Americans to be nice to all
Russians regardless of their politics, teach them anti-trust,
fight their oligarchy, sic the FBI on their criminals, loan them
more money, find the money we lent them before, help pensioners
and veterans, etc. Are we to continue to do so at the same time
they attempt to sell SA-300 systems to the Greek Cypriots, bomb
Chechnya, or issue threats to Baltic countries? Why not judge
Russia on the basis of its international behavior? There are a
number of reasons why the poor US taxpayer or Jesse Helms might
support aid of various types for Russia, but fighting American
hegemony or "gathering of lands" is not among them.
The U.S. private sector is hardly uncreative and unimaginative
when it comes to Russia, but I doubt any US businesspeople are
motivated by the opportunity to fight the oligarchy or give
seminars in anti-trust law. They are motivated by profits, no
more and no less. They'll invest when the conditions are right;
until then they will continue to go elsewhere.
Briefly, I think a certain disengagement with Russia on the part
of the US may be warranted. As I understand Prof. Wedel's book
(I am currently reading it), the aid to Russia fiasco was not
merely the result of interaction of individuals but the systems
and institutions they represent and are a product of. Perhaps
Western institutions, which being institutions are very difficult
to change, simply are incapable of reforming a nation of eleven
time zones, the history and traditions of Russia. Perhaps we
should simply aid in disarmament and not get too involved with
Russian domestic politics and reform. But this should also mean
a significant scaling back of aid and loans, because these always
- ALWAYS - come with certain demands and expectations; and if the
Russians cannot or will not meet these there is little reason to
give. We can certainly continue programs on things like Y2K
problems or exchanges of citizens. I don't have any answers; I
only ask for a dose of realism.
However, the authors of the open letter look at the past history
of US aid, examine its results, and then. . . . ask for MORE!
But this time, please make it a little different. They would
like for Americans to be "magnanimous" while, in George Kennan's
words, allowing "Russians to be Russians," letting them "work out
their problems in their own manner." But Russians have been
Russians for the last 80 years (maybe even longer); now American
subsidies and IMF loans are apparently needed for their
continuing exercise in Slavic self-realization. Is that fair?
What are the ethics of this? Why shouldn't the US demand changes
in behavior, both domestic and international, in return for aid
and favors? All nations pressure one another, and they all act
primarily out of self-interest. Stephen Cohen laments the US's
crusade to "transform Russia into a replica of America." Well,
if we are going to transform an entire nation - especially if it
asks for our help in this transformation - what should we use as
an example? Brazil? It reminds me of a scene in a Woody Allen
film, where Diane Keaton screams at Woody, "who do you think you
are, GOD?" to which Allen replies, "Well I have to pattern myself
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999
From: Ron Laurenzo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: re: Reinis/3086
Gunars Reinis asked if anyone agreed with his idea of rebuilding Russia
the same way the Western allies reformed Germany after WWII.
My simple reply is: No.
Everything that the United States and its allies did in its occupation
zones after the war (abolishing the Nazi party, getting rid of Nazi
organizations, country, putting an ex-dissident in power, etc. ) was
only possible because the allies had decisvely defeated Germany in a war
and occupied its territory.
Many Germans (especially numerous Nazi and nationalists) didn't go along
with those reforms because they wanted to, no matter how much sense they
made. They did it because they had no choice. The victorious allies were
in control and had the power of life and death over the entire country.
There's nothing like a collosal military ass whipping (all major cities
destroyed, millions of soldiers and civilians killed, the economy
ruined, territory lost) to concentrate peoples' minds on reevaluating
their national goals and ideology. In 1945, it was obvious to even the
dimmest German that the old system was kaputt, and a new age was
That is not the case at all in Russia today. And it won't be, unless, of
course, we invade Russia (a troublesome venture with all those nukes
Moscow still has--even without them I think we would encounter some
moral issues about unleashing an unprovoked war) and occupy at least the
western part of it.
Russia's Cold War "defeat" cannot be compared to Germany's WWII defeat.
If anything, I would belabor the old Weimar Russia cliche and say
post-Cold War Russia is more like post-WWI Germany. The post-Hitler
rebuilding would not have been possible in 1920s Germany because
Germany's army was still intact, indeed had not been totally defeated in
the Great War. Germany's imperial government collapsed from the inside
and there was no national soul-searching ("how did we come to this?")
and no one to make the country's elite reevaluate its priorities.
For all the faults a real historian could find with my argument, 1999
Russia is more like 1920s Germany than late 1940s Germany. That's not to
say I expect a Russian Hitler to come to power in Moscow--another story
for another time.
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999
From: Gunars Reinis <email@example.com>
Subject: Reforming Russia (response to Ron Laurenzo)
A resounding NO that sounds like a yes, BUT. Mr. Ron Laurenzo
does not say that the program would not work, only it can not be
implemented, because Russia is not a defeated and occupied country as
Germany was in 1945. It is true that the communists will not voluntarily
give up power, they never have (although Jimmy Carter tricked them in
Nicaragua in thinking that they could win a semi free election).
However, the Russian people can now see for themselves how Germany
benefited from ignominious “defeat” that turned out to be hugely
As Russia slides ever deeper into the abyss, as its cities more and more
resemble the bombed out hulks of Hamburg and Berlin of 1945 even the
deeply embedded Russian chauvinism and “pride” will not forever inhibit
some of them to think : what if? And what other way is there?
The West can not bring itself to save Kosovo, so the Russians will
definetely have to do it themselves. The “help” provided by the West has
been a total failure, not because of bad intentions, but because of
lack of understanding.
It is to be hoped that there are sufficient resouces of brainpower in
the world, especially in Russia, to devise a nonviolent way for
the required changes. Alas, the record to date is not good. The experts
appear to be even more muddled than the common folk. (For proof read the
explanations for Russia’s predicament in the LIST!)
Russia today needs a far more radical change than Germany did in 1945.
At the time German agriculture was virtually unaffected, industry was
controlled by owners and managers who could,for example,produce
gasoline every day while being bombed every night (at the Cologne Shell
refinery). Twelve (only) years of Nazi rule had left the thinking,
morality and behavior of most Germans largely unaffected The money was
devalued once: 1:10 (The $ today could stand to lose a zero). Workers
received their pay every month. One could go on, however, it suffices to
illustrate how much deeper is the hole in which Russia finds itself
Weimar Germany might have been worse than 1945, but it is doubtfull.
For one, its cities were intact, it lost less teritory,and it did not
have to care for some 15 million refugees. But the inflation was worse.
So, the Russians and the world have some thinking to do. Scapegoating
and messianism will not suffice.
How do the Russians come up with an Erhardt, an Adenauer and a McCoy
and put them in the Kremlin (and keep the hitlers painting)?
12 March 1999
[for personal use only]
Jilted artists seek solace in ugliness
Starved of cash and shunned by the West, many in Russia's creative community
have gone to brutal extremes to portray post-Soviet life. John O'Mahoney
reports from Moscow on a flickering of hope
On the northern outskirts of Moscow, in a decrepit Stalin-era tower block,
lies the apartment-studio of the artist Dmitry Vrubel. A single small room
serves as studio, gallery, workshop, bedroom and nursery for him, his artist
wife, and their new baby.
The only evidence of Vrubel's brief spell in the ranks of Russia's best-known
contemporary artists is a modest reproduction of his most famous painting, his
only famous painting. He painted The Mortal Kiss, the gargantuan portrait of
Leonid Brezhnev and Eric Honnecker lustily exchanging bodily fluids, on a
stretch of the crumbling Berlin Wall almost 10 years ago.
With its intoxicating blend of iconoclasm and defiance, it became an instant
post-Soviet classic, a perfect icon for the revolution sweeping Europe.
'It was like we had reached the end of the hunt, that we had captured the men
who built this monstrous thing, and mounted their heads on the wall, like
trophies," says Vrubel.
"'When a painting like this could appear openly on the eastern side of the
Berlin Wall, it was obvious that communism was finished once and for all. It
was a testimony to what could be achieved through the power of art."
A decade of disillusionment later, it is difficult to appreciate the hope that
blossomed under the cultural reforms of perestroika. Not only could artists,
writers and filmmakers suddenly exhibit, publish and travel freely, but there
seemed to be an insatiable appetite for their work.
The deluge into print in the late 1980s of previously banned authors such as
Akhmatova, Mandalstam, Nabokov, Brodsky and Solzhenitsyn pushed the
circulation of dusty academic journals as high as 3 million.
Foreign galleries clambered to exhibit Eastern-bloc art. "Suddenly we were
having exhibitions in New York, Paris, Berlin," says Andrei Chlobystin, a St
Petersburg artist and critic. "Our openings were attended by John Cage,
Richard Gere, Catherine Deneuve, Laurie Anderson. After having no money for my
entire life, I suddenly had a gold Visa card and $50,000 in a Rockefeller
Foundation account. But I thought it was absolutely normal. I thought that
this was how artists were treated in the West."
The euphoria couldn't last long. Many artists were affected just as much as
the general populace by the viciousness of post-communist life: rising crime
levels, the yawning gap between rich and poor, and the collapse of state
Freedom created as many problems as it solved, sweeping away the hero status
of the non-conformist, often revealing work whose only prior achievement was
its existence. The West quickly tired of Russian art.
And the kind of certainties needed to complete a work of art - that street
names would not change or governments collapse overnight - were missing in the
mutating landscapes of the former Soviet empire. "You start writing a novel in
one country," says Moscow novelist Viktor Pelevin, "and you finish it in
The conclusion drawn by some has been startling. "If we knew then that this
was the price we would have to pay," Czech poet and neurologist Miroslav Holub
says, "then we would gladly have put up with not having our work printed and
with not selling our paintings."
Over tea in his tiny kitchen, Vrubel, now aged 38, is reluctant to condemn the
"reforms" of the past 10 years: "In Russia, as always throughout its history,
we seem destined to be stuck forever in some kind of intermediate phase," he
Vrubel's fate is typical of post-Soviet artists. Propelled into the spotlight
as much by political events as artistic merit, he could not capitalise on
sudden fame and, despite continually producing interesting work, faded into
obscurity. He initially sold his works for "embarrassingly low" amounts only
to see them change hands for as much as $150,000.
And he has been struggling to exert his copyright over The Mortal Kiss, which
has been splashed across T-shirts, calendars, posters and postcards, and even
used in an advert for Swatch.
"I'm doing all I can to protect my author's rights," he says. "As for the
rest, it's just business. If an art dealer wants to buy low and sell high,
it's his right. We will just have to learn to play by the new rules."
But the collision between Russian culture and market forces - the "new rules"
- has often produced just one stark result: impoverishment, both artistic and
actual. The film industry has been decimated by cuts in funding. Studios such
as St Petersburg's Lenfilm, which produced up to 40 films a year, have just a
handful in production.
World-renowned institutions such as the Bolshoi, the Mariinsky and the
Hermitage have been so starved of cash that they have been forced to threaten
the government with "cultural blackout" to save their crumbling buildings,
repertoires and collections.
"This is the first time in the whole history of Russia that there has been an
actual policy of disregard for the arts," says Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of
the Hermitage museum. "Even when the Soviet government was selling artefacts
from the vaults of the Russian museum with one hand, it was nurturing culture
with the other."
Lingering Soviet-style cronyism has meant that art for the new era can be
strikingly similar to art for the old. The attempts of Moscow's mayor, Yuri
Luzhkov, to rejuvenate the capital has led to the establishment of a "court"
of artists. Chief among them is Zurab Tsereteli, a sculptor whose work is a
grotesque variation on socialist realism. Tsereteli's most heinous crime to
date is a 200ft statue of Peter the Great, which reputedly cost the government
Attempts to create a truly contemporary culture have led down blind alleys or
towards dangerous extremes. The latest generation of Moscow artists, such as
Alexander Brener, best known for daubing a painting by Kazimir Malevich with a
lurid, green dollar sign, and Oleg Kulik, who has photographed himself having
sex with dogs, are on a crusade to outmanoeuvre the ugliness of society by
being even more ugly and brutal.
Popular heavy metal band Metal Corrosion are openly fascist. Timur Novikov's
Neo-Academic movement is engaged in a battle against "Western" modernism. And
the works of state-sponsored artist Ilya Glazunov depict thick-lipped black
youths carrying off naked white women and bearded Hasidic Jews sipping Russian
"Russia is not in a good state of cultural health right now," says novelist
Viktor Yerofeyev. "Theatre is dead. Music is terrible. Of course Russian
culture is in better health than President Yeltsin, but even so, this is not
its finest moment."
But the disturbing level of cacophony and discord is at least proof of
diversity, and a tiny minority give cause for hope. With his widely translated
novels - Omon Ra, The Life Of Insects and Chapayev And The Void - Viktor
Pelevin has established himself as one of the most gifted writers of his
The financial constraints that prompted St Petersburg's Maly Theatre to tour
Europe in the late 1980s have created one of the world's best ensemble
companies. In cinema, Kira Muratova overcame funding odds to direct one of the
best Russian films of the decade, Three Stories. And the success of director
Nikita Mikhalkov does prove that Russian culture is capable of achieving mass
"This picture should end the constant speculation that everything connected
with Russian culture is in a dire condition," Mikhalkov says of his new #28
million epic, The Barber Of Siberia. "This movie could help Russia, not only
the cinema of Russia but Russia itself. It can help the birth of a national
Just as people pine for the certainties of communist stagnation, there is a
tendency to underestimate the achievements of the past 10 years. The
fundamental promises of perestroika have been granted: censorship of the arts
is no more, artists no longer fear repression.
If these advances can be safeguarded, a foundation has been created for
development. "All I wanted back then was for the abnormality, the unreality
and the idiotism of the Soviet system just to finish," says Vrubel. "I didn't
think about earning a lot of money and I didn't want to live for 300 years. I
just wanted the stupidity to end.
"And it has more or less ended. Now, we can do what we want, meet whom we
want, sell our work. And Russia itself is the same uncivilised mess of right
and left, of fascists and anti-Semites that it was before the revolution.
Everything is back to normal."
March 12, 1999
[for personal use only]
'This is a time of animal passion'
Oleg Kulik is one of Moscow's most controversial contemporary artists. He was
once arrested for biting and injuring gallery-goers during a performance in
which he assumed the character of a dog. His photo series Deep Into Russia
shows him communing with nature and cavorting with animals: 'When this
glorious new post-communist era came along, the first thing that we noticed
about it was that it wasn't really an era at all. It was just destruction,
chaos, mess. We had witnessed the downfall of the old order and the collapse
of the old orientation ? but absolutely nothing new had come along to take its
'As a result, my generation of artists, those of us who were maturing around
'88 and '89, found ourselves completely and utterly alone. There was no older
generation to rebel against, as history had rendered them totally obsolete.
The art of the 'underground' also instantly lost its raison d'etre because it
was no longer underground. Every kind of art was now 'official' and anything
was possible. All that we lacked was a language ? there simply wasn't a
language of culture.
'So we decided to reflect life in the most exact way. This was the time when
base animal passions were beginning to surface, when we saw the birth of the
Mafia, when brutality and aggression became the main social emotions.
'So, in response, we created work that was as crude and brutal as possible. In
the Spring of 1991, before the coup, we spelled out words 'Lenin Prick' with
our bodies on Red Square in front of the mausoleum, prompting the government
to take us to court.
'Then we organized an exhibition where wild animals ? leopards and tigers ?
roamed around the gallery while the audience was in cages.
'Now, ten years on, it seems to me that the Soviet Person has evolved. He is
no longer a mechanical machine, but he is not a real person either ? he is
stuck on the evolutionary level of a dog.
'Russian life is still caught up with animal passions, where there is strength
and energy but often things are done just to demonstrate this strength and for
no other practical reason. Crudity is part of the feeling of freedom. And it
was for this reason that I, through my art, became an animal, a dog. I'm not
trying to be provocative ? I am just trying to be true to life.'
March 13, 1999
[for personal use only]
Four versions of Russia's future
A puzzling progress
Russia's prime minister could take his country in any one of four
SIX months after Yevgeny Primakov became Russias prime minister, several
big questions remain without an answer. Is he a competent manager, inching
carefully in the right direction Or is he without any real vision or
policy, intent just to hang on to power, while trying to edge Russia back
towards the more settled ways of a stagnant past Or is he simply an old
Soviet apparatchik out of his depth in the modern world, bound eventually
to be ignominiously swept away like his predecessors
What does he really think Does he believe in the market Has he, a former
KGB spy, become a true democrat What place does he want for Russia in the
world None of these questions can yet be confidently answered. Indeed, Mr
Primakovwho, according to Russias rough-and-ready polls, would become
president if there were an election tomorrowis proving as much an enigma as
he is a survivor.
Take a look at our diagram, with its measure of competence/incompetence on
the horizontal axis, set against a nice-versus-nasty rating on the vertical
one. The country could go, roughly speaking, in four directions. None is
[diagram not reproduceable here]
Optimists put Mr Primakov in the top left-hand quadrant: Russia will become
like Poland. For the first time in years, they argue, it has a government
with some authority, working more or less in harness with both parliament
and president. The worst of the tycoonsknown as the oligarchs because of
their influence on Russias post-communist rulersare in retreat.
Witness Russias insistence on March 5th that Boris Berezovsky, reputedly
the richest and most powerful of the oligarchs, be sacked as secretary of
the Commonwealth of Independent States, the ailing heir of the Soviet
Union. Witness too the prospect for the first time of an oligarchAlexander
Smolensky, head of a failed bankbeing prosecuted for alleged corruption.
There are even rumours that Mr Primakov will sack two old-sweat deputy
prime ministers, Yuri Maslyukov, a Communist, and Gennady Kulik, an Agrarian.
Another factor pushing Russia into the left-hand squares, if Mr Primakov
has his way, is the curbing of the power of Russias regional leaders. In
recent years they have gained enormous clout. The Primakov-promoters say he
is tipping the balance back to the centre, thereby restoring to the country
a bit of coherence and discipline.
Mr Primakov has been helped by a mild, if perhaps temporary, economic
recovery, spurred by the roubles devaluation. Predictions of famine and
other winter woes have not come true. Industrial production has crept up,
inflation is slowing (after hitting more than 100% last year), tax revenue
is a tad up, the rouble steady, foreign investment trickling back in.
Can Mr Primakov keep it up Having consolidated power, say the optimists, he
will now move faster, reorganise his government and strike a deal with the
IMF, which in turn will bring more credits, like those already promised by
the World Bank and Japan. Much of Russias debt mountain will be forgiven or
restructured. Reform, in short, will continue. And Russiaof late, resentful
and surlymight even show a more friendly and co-operative face to the rest
of the world.
Cue mordant laughter from three different kinds of pessimist. The first,
eyeing the top right-hand corner, believes Mr Primakov has the right
economic ideasor is at least on a learning curve towards thembut no serious
chance of implementing them. Russias problems are too formidable, decay too
far gone. The slight recovery of the past few months is at best fleeting,
at worst an illusion. Public finances are still far too shaky, the state
too eaten up with corruption, the rule of law a fiction. Those who offend
Mr Primakov (greedy tycoons, for example) get clobbered; the plight of
ordinary Russians is as ghastly as before.
After all, capital continues to flow out of Russia to the tune of up to $2
billion a month, a sure sign of a stricken economy. Mutual convenience may
yet bring a limited deal with the IMF, but it will be a mere
sticking-plaster over a festering financial wound. In short, the best that
can happen is that Russia staggers on to the next electionsparliamentary
ones in December, a presidential one by June 2000without a complete
collapse, rather like its ailing neighbour, Ukraine. Right now, this looks
a pretty plausible scenario.
Glance at the lower right-hand quadrant, and things get even gloomier. Here
Mr Primakov is not only incompetent, but nasty to boot. As his policies
fail, he turns more authoritarian. Economic criminals (shades of Stalins
campaign against wreckers in the 1930s) are jailed. The state controls more
prices. Shortages, inflation and a further slump loom. Follow this line of
thinking, and Russia could be a financial outcast by the summer, defaulting
on most of its massive foreign debts.
Politics will get even rougher, tussles with President Boris Yeltsin even
messier. The Duma, parliaments currently quiescent lower house, could lose
patience with Mr Primakov. More regions will go their own way; the country
will continue to fall apart. At worst, there will be a constitutional
crisis, possibly even an insurrection or an attempted coup. For a
foretaste, look at Primorski Krai, a miserable spot in far-eastern Russia
where crass politicians, rampant crime and economic decline have given
people a hellish winter.
The final bit of the political chart looks worse or better depending on
your love of democracy orconverselyorder. Here, clever Mr Primakov is bent
on recovering Russias lost glories. Mr Yeltsin is sidelined, Mr Primakov
perhaps taking over from him in a snap presidential election. Yuri Luzhkov,
Moscows tough mayor, joins the government. Russia becomes more like China:
crony capitalism is entrenched, the world view is authoritarian and
bloody-minded, political freedoms are curbed.
Russia successfully cajoles and bullies more Danegeld out of the IMF and
the West; the economy ticks over; tariffs and a cheap rouble help domestic
industry. Some foreign investors, keener on a big market and a cosy deal
than on the uncertainties of democracy, start coming back. Abroad, from the
Gulf to the Baltics, Russia makes more mischief. Mr Primakovs poker-playing
skills from his KGB years come into their own. The Russian state may never
be able to regain parity with the West, but it can be a powerful and
So which quadrant beckons Mr Primakov has done better, so far, than many
expected. Disaster has at least been avoided. That could go on. But most
signs, and the pressure of events, suggest that his second six months in
office will prove harder than the first. And then not even the bleakest
corners in our diagrams bottom half can be dismissed from the reckoning.
Russia: Food Aid To Be Closely Monitored
By Floriana Fossato
Moscow, 12 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The first delivery of U.S. food
Russia has arrived by ship in St. Petersburg and is being unloaded today.
The U.S. ambassador to Russia, James Collins, is expected to be on hand to
witness the unloading.
Collins told a press conference in Moscow yesterday that U.S. and Russian
officials have worked very hard to create a program that will, in their
judgment, "reach the people intended to be provided for." He said the U.S.
government has set up a broad system to monitor the Russian government's
compliance with terms of the deal.
Under the agreement, the U.S. is to provide Russia more than 3 million metric
tons of food and grain products, worth approximately $950 million.
Russia and the United States initially agreed on the food program in November,
after Russia suffered its worst harvest in 40 years and concern was growing
over the consequences of the August 17 financial meltdown. The program was
delayed partly because U.S. officials sought assurances that the deal would
be tainted by corruption. A similar program in 1992 proved to be ridden with
graft. Much of the aid appeared on sale through black market channels, while
another portion simply disappeared.
The shipment being unloaded today consists of 1,000 tons of seed for green
peas. Interfax news agency quotes Russia's deputy agriculture minister
Alghinin as saying that this shipment will be distributed in the Russian
regions of Mordovia, Belgorod, Novgorod, as well as in the republics of North
Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and in the Krasnodar district.
A second shipment, containing 14,000 tons of corn seed, is scheduled to arrive
on March 17 and other tranches will follow.
A U.S Embassy statement distributed at yesterday's press conference said that
work plans and distribution schedules concerning the deal are public and
found on the internet (at the web site WWW.FAS.USDA.GOV).
The assistance includes gifts and loans aimed to help Russian regions running
low on locally produced food, seed and feed for livestock, and unable to
imports after the ruble lost much of its value last August.
Collins said that approximately one-third of the commodities will come as
and feed for livestock and is to be sold on the Russian market.
Of the remaining two-thirds, some 500,000 tons will be used for direct free
deliveries by the Russian government and some private voluntary organizations
to needy civilians.
The rest, Collins said, will be sold by regional authorities at market prices.
A joint U.S-Russian government working group will determine minimum values for
the sale of commodities by regions and monitor the entire process, including
tracking payments into two Pension Fund accounts.
Collins said: "The fundamental thing we can verify is that [a certain] amount
of grain arrives on a given day ... it will be put on the market at a given
price ... and [we'll know] how much money is to be deposited within 120 days
into one of these two accounts." Collins said Russia's domestic supplies are
running out and the need for assistance to farmers and needy people is now
urgent than ever.
Earlier this week Russian Deputy Prime Minister Gennady Kulik, who is
supervising the deal for Russia, said that the Russian government has done all
it can to avoid corruption. Interfax news agency quoted Kulik as saying that
the monitoring commission including Russian law enforcement officials and U.S.
officials will ensure that the assistance operation is "smooth, transparent
Many Russian citizens and observers, however, are skeptical. Kulik has been
accused of corruption by Russian media and politicians.
The Russian government has selected a number of companies to handle
but failed to do so through an open tender. Roskhlebprodukt, a partially state
owned company that in 1992 oversaw the controversial distribution of U.S. food
aid to Russia, will again be one of the companies handling deliveries. Collins
declined to comment on Roskhlebprodukt's involvement, saying that the question
"should be addressed to the Russian government." But he said U.S. officials
will be following developments:
"If any part of the agreement is not fulfilled, the American side can stop the
shipments at any time."
Meanwhile, first deliveries under a $500 million package from the European
Union are also expected soon.
An EU official in Moscow told Reuters that the first EU deliveries will be of
German meat and that they will arrive by train on March 24. A ship carrying EU
wheat is due to dock in Kaliningrad March 30.
Some Russian officials criticized the agreements, saying they are inefficient,
and risk driving some farmers out of business. Former Deputy Prime Minister
Boris Nemtsov has said that "poor people will never get any visible results
from humanitarian assistance."