|Plain Text - Entire Issue
1. Interfax: Most Russians oppose war in Iraq, poll shows.
2. RosBusinessConsulting: US Ambassador explains why Americans need war in Iraq.
3. RIA Novosti: BY WINNING THE WAR IN IRAQ, BUSH MAY LOSE THE ELECTIONS, SAYS A RUSSIAN EXPERT. (Rogov)
4. Rosbalt: US Visa Policy Amounts to "Cultural Fascism."
5. pravda.ru: American Families Adopt More Russian Children. Americans only deal with the countries, where it is easy to adopt a child.
6. Izvestia: RUSSIA: WHY BIRTH RATE IS DWINDLING?
7. AP: Russian: Funds Needed for Nuke Security.
8. AP: Russia, U.S. May Push Arms Treaty.
9. Interfax: Russian Comptroller: Laws on privatization need adjustment.
10. AFP: Russian court clears writer of pornography charge.
11. Reuters: Old, wistful mark 50th anniversary of Stalin death.
12. Moscow News: Rudolf Pikhoya, Great Leader as a Brand Name. A well-known historian, reminisces ahead of Joseph Stalin's 50th death anniversary,
13. New York Times: Michael Wines, New Study Supports Idea Stalin Was Poisoned.
14. AFP: Chechen constitution will not bring an end to war: refugees.
15. Moscow Times: Pavel Felgenhauer, Withdrawal Is a PR Fudge.
16. Canberra Times (Australia): Ian Warden, Clark keeps eye out for new Tolstoy.
17. The New Republic book review: John Banville, Blastings. (re works of Tatyana Tolstaya)
18. BusinessWeek Online: Olga Kharif, Russia: Playing Catch-Up in Tech.
Most Russians oppose war in Iraq, poll shows
MOSCOW. March 5 (Interfax) - The overwhelming majority of Russians oppose
military action against Iraq, the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center
This information is based on the results of a poll totaling 1,600 people,
which was conducted in late February and early March.
An estimated 93% of respondents said they oppose the bombing of Iraq and
only 3% said they back it. The situation with possible military action
against Iraq is the same: 91% of respondents are against it and only 5% are
for it. Eighty-seven percent of respondents oppose a possible temporary
occupation of Iraq by troops of the U.S. and its allies, and only 6% said
they favor it.
March 45, 2003
US Ambassador explains why Americans need war in Iraq
Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, US Ambassador to Russia
Alexander Vershbow defined Washington's position on the Iraq issue. The
online conference was organized by RBC.
"The American position is clear: Iraq must disarm unconditionally, according
to the UN Security Council Resolution 1441. If Saddam doesn't comply with it,
the United States and our allies are ready to take necessary actions to
defend ourselves and disarm the Baghdad regime," Mr. Vershbow said.
When asked whether a war in Iraq would be a war for oil, he said that the
operation in Iraq "has nothing to do with oil". "It is about weapons of mass
destruction and issues of international law, as it is said in the UN
resolution. If an oil issue was at stake, this goal could be achieved by
simpler and cheaper means," the American diplomat stressed.
"We would reach some deal with Saddam Hussein. We would allow our oil
companies to act, would give them a green light and allow them to make
investments. Nobody can say exactly how much a military operation in Iraq
might cost. But expenses needed for such operation and postwar rehabilitation
will amount to hundred millions of dollars, or even more," Mr. Vershbow
noted. "So, it is not about oil. On the contrary, we want to prevent that
dictators like Saddam Hussein ignore UN resolutions for 12 years and try to
obtain weapons of mass destruction illegally," he added.
Mr. Vershbow also elaborated on what will happen to Iraq after the war.
According to him, the US administration has serious plans on the political
and economic restoration of a post-Saddam Iraq. "A multi-ethnic government
will be created, representative of the entire population," the Ambassador
said. The new government will comprise the representatives of both opposition
forces outside Iraq and forces inside the country. "So, there will be a
transitional period. During the first part of this period, a coalition will
rule the country. At the second stage, an ad hoc international organization
will assume these functions, until it is possible to form a government in
Iraq that would reflect all these ethnic groups," Mr. Vershbow concluded.
BY WINNING THE WAR IN IRAQ, BUSH MAY LOSE THE ELECTIONS, SAYS A RUSSIAN
MOSCOW, March 5, 2003 /RIA Novosti correspondent Pyotr Goncharov/ -- US
President George W. Bush "may win the war against Iraq and at the same time
lose the presidential race." This opinion was expressed by director of the
Institute of the US and Canada Studies Sergei Rogov at a news conference in
RIA Novosti on Wednesday.
Explaining his position, Rogov reminded the audience that three years ago,
"the surplus of the US budget equalled two percent of the Gross Domestic
Product." At the present time, the US budget "has a deficit of three percent
of the Gross Domestic Product, apart from the growing oil prices." The expert
did not exclude that "at the presidential elections in 2004, Bush will have a
deficit in the country's budget of four or five percent of the Gross Domestic
Product. This fact may plunge the United States into a serious economic
crisis." The present situation has been exacerbated by the circumstance that
the Bush administration, not having yet started the war against Iraq, has
already "lost it politically." "The United States has failed to enlist the
unconditional support of the UN Security Council and risks to find itself in
a very serious international isolation," underscored Sergei Rogov.
March 5, 2003
US Visa Policy Amounts to "Cultural Fascism"
MOSCOW, March 5. Over the past 1.5 years more than 60 thousand Russians have
fallen foul of stricter rules on receiving a US visa. This was announced at a
press conference yesterday by Vladimir Didenko, a board member of the
Russian-American Public Visa Council. Didenko said that US consulates in
Russia are carrying out 'a policy of cultural fascism and running a consular
war against the Russian Federation.' A particularly hard blow has been dealt
to Russian scientists, students and businessmen who have studied and worked
in the US, Didenko believes. The psychological and material loss from this
runs into millions of dollars, according to Didenko.
In the light of the situation that has developed, the Visa Council has set up
a programme called 'Russians are leaving America.' The programme's aim is to
help Russian scientists, students and businessmen obtain US visas so that
they can tie up loose ends in America and bring their possessions to Russia,
March 5, 2003
American Families Adopt More Russian Children
Americans only deal with the countries, where it is easy to adopt a child
In 2002 former countries of the Soviet Union, China, South Korea and Latin
American countries became the world leaders on the so-called "export" of
children, who were later adopted in the USA. Most often, American families
adopted Chinese children -- 5 053. Russia takes the second position on the
list -- 4 939 children. Ukraine took the fifth position -- 1 106 children,
Kazakhstan -- the sixth (819), and Belarus took the 14th position on the list
(169 children). According to the information from the US National Adoption
Information Clearinghouse (NAIC), the top five of the list of the states,
whose children were adopted by American citizens, also include Guatemala (2
219 children) and South Korea (1 779 children).
Pursuant to the information of the US State Department, there were twenty
thousand and ninety-nine children adopted by foreign parents in total.
Adoption becomes more and more frequent. In 1992 foreign parents adopted 6
472 children, while in 1997 the figure increased to 12 743. There were 17 718
children adopted in the year 2000. The "export" of Russian children to the
USA has increased as well. Three thousand eight hundred and sixteen children
were taken out of the country in 1997 against 4 348 kids in 2000.
KidSave is one of the largest noncommercial and non-state organizations,
which selects Russian children for American parents. The scheme of its
activity is as follows: they pick out a kid in children shelters, and then a
child is invited to visit an American family. An employee of a children
shelter accompanies a child in his trip to the United States. American
families often set out their wish to adopt that child later. As the people
from KidSave claim, they are not a special agency for picking out children
for foreign parents. As they say, their major goal is to take children out of
their shelters for a while, and to give them an opportunity to have a family.
As a rule, such children are between seven or twelve years of age. Their
chances to be adopted in a Russian family are equal to five percent. About
eight hundred children have been to the United States over three years. As a
result, 95% of them found their new families. Terry Baugh founded KidSave
after she had adopted a Russian child herself in 1997. She was completely
shocked with what she saw in a Russian children shelter. She can hardly hold
back her tears, when she talks about it.
Such geography of adoption is basically explained with legal peculiarities of
adequate countries. Americans do not deal with the countries, if it is hard
to take a child out of it from the juridical point of view. The majority of
African and Mideast countries do not allow foreigners to adopt their
children. The majority of West European countries stick to the same policy.
On the other hand, adoption is the only way out for the children of the third
world. This is the only way that can provide them a right for normal life.
For example, there are 730 shelters for children in all African countries.
There are more than 1.7 million orphans in one African country of Uganda --
the majority of African children live in streets.
According to the American law, only a certain category of American citizens
are entitled to adopt a child. A family couple is supposed to be married for
not less than two years. If a single man or a single woman plans to adopt a
child, he or she is supposed to be over 25 years old. Every candidacy for
adoption should undergo FBI and police examination. The level of income of a
family or a single adoptive father/mother must be 25% higher than the average
income in a certain region. A special social agent is supposed to visit a
house or an apartment of wound-be adoptive parents to see, if a family or a
parent is ready to provide all necessary conditions to a child.
Adoption of a foreign child usually costs up to twenty thousand dollars. The
average yearly income of an American man made up $28 272 in 2000. The average
income of an American woman was $16 190. According to experts' estimates,
potential American families have to spend $25-27 thousand to take a child out
of Russia (plus about three thousand dollars for a trip to Russia).
MiK News Agency
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
RUSSIA: WHY BIRTH RATE IS DWINDLING?
By the initiative of the Ministry of Labor, the
administrations of 10 Russian regions decided to conduct an
experiment to increase the birth rate. According to the polls,
the factors that influence the decision of young couples to
have a child are accommodations and decent incomes. That's why
among the measures that the authorities take or will be taking
in the context of the experiment are: granting the young
families loans for buying apartments with the possibility of
writing the debts off in case a couple has children,
introducing favorable payment conditions for housing expenses,
assisting in the search of highly-paid jobs, and various tax
Izvestia correspondent Natalya KONYGINA asked head of the
Family Sociology Chair of the Sociology Faculty of Moscow State
University Anatoly ANTONOV about the real factors that
influence the birth rate.
Question: Is Russia's population dwindling because of the
low birth rate or high death rate?
Answer: Doctors and biologists claim that it's all because
of the growth of the death rate, therefore, we should
concentrate all our efforts on the fight with this tendency.
They are right - the death rate in our country is appallingly
high. However, in order to fight depopulation only by lowering
the death rate, we would have to make our citizens immortal.
Every year, the number of babies born in Russia is 750-800
thousand less than it's necessary to compensate for the death
rate. In 2010-2015 this figure will increase to 1 million.
Question: Do you agree that the reasons for the dwindling
birth rate in Russia are economic?
Answer: The birth rate is dropping not only in Russia, but
also in the West. Human behavior is regulated by social norms
and values. Until the 18th century, humanity had high birth
rate norms. In the 18th century births became economically
disadvantageous. However, the norms are very inertial, they
always lag behind the changing living standards. That's why
they existed till the 20th century. They are still the same in
Asia, Africa and Latin America, although, by the middle of the
21st century, no country in the world would have the norm of
more than two children in a family.
Question: There is an opinion that depopulation in Russia
started all the way back in the 1970's. Is that true?
Answer: The delay-action mine had started ticking probably
even earlier - in the 1960's. After the Second World War,
humanity experienced a baby boom. It ended in the 1960's, and
everywhere in the world the process of devaluation of the
family and procreation had started. Bachelor existence had
become popular especially in big cities.
Question: Nevertheless, people are still eager to have
Answer: Yes, but according to our research, every 30 years
people start wanting one child less. In the beginning of the
20th century families still wanted to have 5-7 children, but
the revolution, the civil war, the collapse of the economy
interfered with their desire to have many children. In the
1930s-40s people were satisfied with no more than four
children. In the 1960's, the desire to have only two children
started to prevail.
Nowadays, people normally want to have a single child.
Question: In this case, it seems that the policy aimed at
stimulating childbirth - apartments, loans, and benefits - is
worthless? Do we have to change the norms, instead? Promote the
family and possession of many children?
Answer: People certainly respond to propaganda. However,
they do it only while the advertising campaign is under way and
up to a point where they start realizing that it doesn't
correspond to the realities of life. And if we only deal with
promotion without changing socio-psychological conditions, we
won't get anywhere. We must raise the prestige of families with
many children and lower the tax burden for those families at
the same time. Such families must be given a variety of
economic incentives. Have you ever thought about such a
discrepancy when after the birth of a child the state starts
collecting additional taxes for gas, water, garbage, etc. from
a family as if it were some kind of punishment for childbirth?
The government should conduct a policy aimed at rewarding
families with children. The rewards could be small. For
example, if you go to a theatre with the family you would get
better seats. It might sound trivial, but it's still pleasant.
People would start feeling that they are cared about right
away. Government officials should find the ways to raise the
value and prestige of the family together with sociologists and
socio-psychologists because we are talking about things that
Question: And if we do all that, will the norms change in
Answer: For how long they are going to exist, nobody knows.
All we know is that if we start doing something about it today,
we will feel the effect not earlier than in 30 years, may be
Question: What is your vision of the birth rate trends in
Russia in the 21st century?
Answer: We have several scenarios. Let's assume that from
2015 the state will be conducting a real social policy aimed at
rewarding the family and the childbirth (we shouldn't expect
any changes before 2015 because all we'll hear would be idle
talk, anyway). In any case, by that time the population will
drop to 105-107 million. Only from 2051 it will start
increasing slowly and by 2080 it will get back to the present
levels. If, instead of reward policy, from 2015 the government
is going to ban abortions and introduce punitive economic
measures against families without children (there are
suggestions like that, by the way), the population of Russia
will drop to 70 million in 50 years and will never get back to
present levels in this century.
On the contrary, it will continue diminishing. There are other
scenarios between the two above-mentioned extremes, but they
all predict the inevitability of depopulation. In any case, the
Russian population in the 21st century will never number 150
million as it did quite recently.
Question: How many children must an average Russian family
have in order to stop this trend?
Answer: Ideally, we would need 35 percent of families with
two children, 35 percent - with three, 15 percent - with four,
and 2 percent - with five or more. 5-6 percent will remain
childless anyway just because some couples cannot produce
children. Families with a single child should constitute no
more than 10 percent of the population. Another scenario - 50
percent of the families must have three kids, the rest could
have as many as they would want.
Russian: Funds Needed for Nuke Security
March 5, 2003
MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's atomic energy minister said Wednesday that more
funding is needed to beef up security around the country's nuclear
installations, which critics say are only lightly guarded and are vulnerable
to terrorist attacks or thefts of radioactive material.
Alexander Rumyantsev, in a speech to lawmakers in Russia's lower house of
parliament, said the Interior Ministry has cut back on personnel guarding
nuclear facilities, the Interfax news agency reported.
He said his ministry needs $203 million to improve physical protection of
nuclear plants, including electronic monitors. More money also is needed to
continue decommissioning Russian nuclear submarines, Rumyantsev said.
He said spent nuclear fuel would be unloaded from 11 submarines this year,
down from 14 the year before. U.S. funding for the project is drying up now
that many of the submarines that targeted the United States have been
destroyed, he told lawmakers.
Since 1998, more than 100 submarines have been decommissioned, but there are
many more awaiting dismantlement, he said.
At the same time, Rumyantsev said the United States has pledged to fund the
closure of three nuclear reactors in Russia that produce weapons-grade
plutonium, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Rumyantsev said he and U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham would sign the
deal next week, the report said.
The security of Russia's nuclear facilities, including power plants and waste
storage depots, has come under closer scrutiny since the Sept. 11 terror
attacks in the United States. Environmental groups also have criticized
Russia for accepting nuclear waste from other countries for storage and
reprocessing - as permitted under a 2001 law.
Russia, U.S. May Push Arms Treaty
March 5, 2003
By JUDITH INGRAM
MOSCOW (AP) - A top Russian diplomat said Wednesday that the Russian and U.S.
governments may make a simultaneous push for ratification of their latest
arms control treaty - a sign the two countries are searching for areas of
agreement even as they differ over Iraq.
Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov said he and U.S. Ambassador Alexander
Vershbow had discussed trying to coordinate ratification of the document,
known as the Treaty of Moscow, in the Russian State Duma and the U.S. Senate.
``This treaty, notwithstanding all the difficulties of the international
situation, can be put up for ratification in the next few weeks,'' Mamedov
was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. ``We and the United States
have agreed to synchronize ratification of the document.''
Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker later told
reporters in Moscow that the full Senate was poised to begin considering the
treaty ``within the next few hours.''
``It is our expectation that the Senate will vote to approve this treaty,''
Rademaker said, adding he hoped the Duma would as well.
The pact, agreed to by Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush at
a May summit, would require Russia and the United States to reduce their
stockpiles of deployed strategic nuclear weapons by about two-thirds over the
next decade to between 1,700 and 2,200 each.
Vershbow, who was accompanied by an official from the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration, had requested the meeting to discuss U.S.-Russian
cooperation in space after the Columbia shuttle disaster, which has grounded
American space flights.
After the loss of Columbia, Russia remains the sole source of spacecraft - if
it can get U.S. funding to build more - to service the International Space
Russian Comptroller: Laws on privatization need adjustment
MOSCOW. March 4 (Interfax) - The time has come
to revise privatization legislation in Russia, says Audit Chamber
Chairman Sergei Stepashin.
In an interview published in the Tuesday issue of Komsomolskaya
Pravda, Stepashin said he means laws under which privatization deals were
concluded in the past decade. "What was happening in the early 1990s was
of a political rather than an economic nature," he said.
"But if laws were grossly violated, those deals must be revised,"
"However, something different is more important now, that is, first,
the efficiency of handling state stakes in large companies, and second,
involvement in the audit of companies before privatization," he said.
He pointed to the fact that an alliance of Sibneft and TNK oil
companies was prepared to pay from $3 billion to $3.5 billion for a state
stake in Slavneft last December, but they had no serious opponents during
"We have made specific proposals on changing the law. You cannot
disqualify companies [Rosneft] in a court decision two or three days
before the tender - all these procedures should end at least 10 or 15
days before, as in elections," he said.
Stepashin said the presale evaluation of Slavneft by Audit Chamber
experts was just the first test. "Now we are going to scrutinize Rosneft,
Svyazinvest and other companies," he said.
Talking about last year's results of the Audit Chamber's work,
Stepashin said "we brought over 6 billion rubles into state coffers."
Russian court clears writer of pornography charge
March 5, 2003
A Russian court dismissed Wednesday a legal action taken by a shadowy
pro-Kremlin youth group accusing novelist Bayan Shiryanov of pornography and
The case against Shiryanov, the pen-name of Kirill Vorobyev, was thrown out
after literary specialists told the court that his novels "can in no way be
considered pornographic," the writer's lawyer Alexander Glushenkov told the
Interfax news agency.
The prosecution was launched after the youth group Moving Together, which
backs President Vladimir Putin but is not affiliated to any official
organisation or party, last September accused the writer of pornography and
favouring the use of drugs.
Among Shiryanov's novels are "Nizshy pilotazh" (Gutter Piloting), in which he
describes the world of drug addiction, and "Zanimatelnaya Sexopatologia" (An
Entertaining Sexual Pathology).
Moving Together also instigated the conversial prosecution for pornography of
the postmodern novelist Vladimir Sorokin, relating in particular to his 1999
bestseller "Goluboye Salo" (Sky-Blue Bacon), a science-fiction fable which
contains an explicit gay sex scene between clones of late Soviet leaders
Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev.
Sorokin, who faces up to two years in prison if found guilty, has denounced
the prosecution as a return to Soviet-style censorship.
He is supported by many intellectuals and even some government figures have
spoken in his defence.
Old, wistful mark 50th anniversary of Stalin death
March 5, 2003
By Jonathan Thatcher
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Hundreds of elderly Russians lined up in Moscow's Red
Square Wednesday in freezing sunshine to mark the 50th anniversary of the
death of Josef Stalin, many saying they'd happily see someone like him back
Most carried red flowers, their color a symbol of the 1917 Bolshevik
revolution, to lay at the grave of a man who probably spilled more of his
people's blood than any other Russian ruler.
A towering tyrant of the 20th century, Stalin used mass murder, prison camps,
forced migration and grandiose economic plans to force the impoverished and
backward Soviet empire into an industrial powerhouse.
Some historians estimate around 20 million people died under his nearly
30-year rule until his death in 1953.
"Stalin was a great politician, diplomat, statesman and military commander.
The Stalin era cannot be viewed only as a time of repression," Communist
Party chief Gennady Zyuganov said.
The Communists still command huge popularity -- winning 30 percent of the
vote in the last general election -- but as a political force have been all
but neutered by the even more popular President Vladimir Putin.
Party supporters belong mostly to Russia's teeming have-nots, pushed
helplessly aside in the rush into the embrace of capitalism since the Soviet
collapse in 1991.
This week, Forbes business magazine noted Russia has 17 billionaires,
compared to none three years ago. In a country which for three generations
eschewed personal wealth, Russia is home to the world's fourth-largest
collection of billionaires.
But an opinion poll this week showed that just over half the population think
the fiercely anti-capitalist Stalin, a Georgian by origin who once toyed with
becoming a priest, played a positive role in history.
His chief claim to that support was by leading his nation to victory over
invading Nazi Germany in 1945 in what most Russians refer to as the Great
But a quarter of respondents described him as a "cruel, inhumane tyrant,
guilty of killing millions of people."
"Today's revival of Stalin is a result of the failure of democratic reforms,"
the Kommersant daily quoted member of the Academy of Science, Saltan
Dzarasov, as saying.
Some commentators accused Putin -- only the second popularly elected leader
Russia has ever known -- of starting to cloak himself with the ways that made
Stalin so overpowering.
"It depends only on Putin whether we return to Stalin or not," the newspaper
quoted filmmaker Alexander German as saying.
He said Putin was popular enough to create a personality cult. "We are all
For many, the era of Stalin is something to be gazed back at wistfully, a
time when prices were lower and the Soviet Union was a power to be reckoned
with in the world.
"During the war, there was firm belief in our life, every year things got
better, and every year prices came down, every year was better and better and
better, now it is worse and worse and worse," said Muscovite pensioner
SIGN OF THE CROSS
He was among the hundreds who lined up on Red Square where Soviet leaders
once paraded their weaponry, first filing past the waxed corpse of Soviet
state founder Vladimir Lenin whom Stalin succeeded as Communist Party leader.
Outside, beneath the towering walls of the Kremlin, stands the grave of
Stalin along with other heroes of the Soviet past.
One man knelt beneath Stalin's bust, making the sign of the cross -- an
unlikely gesture to a man who dynamited churches and turned one of Russia's
grandest cathedrals into a museum to atheism.
Among the predominantly elderly, shuffling quietly along the square's cobbled
stones, was one would-be acolyte of the dead dictator, 14-year-old Sasha
"He had many sins. But they were justified. He suppressed those who stole ...
who wanted to turn back to the Czarist times. Innocent people didn't suffer,"
he said as he walked briskly off, flower in hand, to join the line.
March 5-11, 2002
Great Leader as a Brand Name
A well-known historian, reminisces ahead of Joseph Stalin's 50th death
anniversary, March 5
Power - the centerpiece of Stalin's legacy - became the main bone of
contention for his associates. At 10.40 a.m., on March 2, 1953, Beria,
Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Malenkov, Mikoyan, Molotov, Pervukhin, Saburov,
Khrushchev, Shvernik, and Shkiryatov, in this order, filed into Stalin's
office. The party leaders were accompanied by I.I. Kuperin, head of the
Kremlin's medical administration, who had been appointed to this position
when it fell vacant in the process of the "doctors' conspiracy," on September
1, 1952; and A.S. Tolkachev, a functionary with the Party Organization
Department at the CPSU Central Committee.
Ten minutes later, Kuperin and Tolkachev left the office. They had plenty of
things to attend to. Kuperin was to organize "public releases about Comrade
Stalin's illness." Tolkachev and the Central Committee staff were, as a
matter of urgency, to summon to Moscow participants in the upcoming plenary
session of the Central Committee. It was clear that Stalin was dying. Before
long the conference in the Kremlin was over. Twenty minutes later, Stalin's
office was empty.
On March 3, all Central Committee members were ordered to come to Moscow for
a plenary session. On March 3 and 4, Lavrenty Beria, deputy chairman of the
USSR Council of Ministers, drafted a memo assigning key state positions and
coordinating it with another deputy chairman - Georgy Malenkov.
At 8 p.m. on March 5, 1953, a joint session of the Plenum of the CPSU Central
Committee, the USSR Council of Ministers, and the Presidium of the USSR
Supreme Soviet began. It lasted 40 minutes.
A little more than an hour later - 9.50 p.m. - the doctors said: Stalin had
A triumvirate came to power in the country: Malenkov, the head of state;
Khrushchev, the party leader; and Beria, the interior minister. Three men
representing the three "powerhouses" in the Soviet Union. Each had his own
power base, his own structures in the state and party apparat, and his own
interests to look after. They got locked in a life-or-death struggle where
victory meant absolute power and defeat meant death - physical (as for Beria)
or political (as was the case with Malenkov and his followers).
Stalin's associates learned the hard lesson in the power struggle - as part
of his political legacy.
Stalin's successors effectively kept intact for decades:
-the administrative system based on the nomenklatura principle whereby an
official was completely dependent on those who appointed him and bore
virtually no responsibility to the lower elements of the command chain, let
alone ordinary citizens;
-the socioeconomic system: "property ownership by the whole people," a
planned economy, and a collective/state farming system;
-ideological and political aims of the state: to build Communism and catch up
with and overtake the capitalist countries, above all the United States;
-foreign policy priorities which combined the principles of "proletarian
internationalism" and "assistance to countries fighting against colonial
oppression" with participation in the Cold War;
-participation in the Cold War and a ruinous arms race.
By a quirk of history, Stalin associates inherited his trademark disdain for
predecessors. A dead leader was not to overshadow the living rulers.
The propaganda apparatus, through inertia, continued to call for the memory
of Stalin - "the brilliant leader and teacher, the great successor to the
cause of Marx, Engels and Lenin" - to be preserved forever. A wide-ranging
program to promote the Stalin legacy was planned. It was announced that a
"pantheon/monument to the eternal glory of the great personalities of the
Soviet land" would be built. It was to be erected opposite the Kremlin, on
the other bank on the Moskva River, on the Sofiyskaya Embankment, or not far
from the Moscow State University skyscraper, on a beeline between the Kremlin
and the Lenin Hills.
The day after the funeral, March 10, however, speaking at a session of the
CPSU Central Committee Presidium, Malenkov criticized the Soviet press,
saying: "We consider it necessary to put an end to personality cult policy."
Pantheon plans were immediately forgotten, as if they never had been.
The out-of-town residence where Stalin had died and where, in the logic of
things, a museum should have been set up, like the Lenin museum in Gorki, in
May 1953, was handed over to the Health Ministry to be converted into a
children's sanitarium. The sanitarium never materialized, but nothing came of
the Stalin museum plan either: It was closed shortly after it was opened. Not
even the publication of a collection of Stalin's works was completed.
Yet Stalin successors did not inherit his entire arsenal. The ruling elite
was dead set against Stalin terror, which had often worked against the top
On April 4, 1953, Beria issued an order prohibiting the use of "barbarous
methods of interrogation." The order demanded that the use of "measures of
physical coercion" against remand prisoners be banned and that "premises at
the Lefortovo and Vnutrennyaya [internal] prisons, organized by the former
leadership of the USSR State Security Ministry, be abolished while all tools
used for torture be destroyed."
And so it went on. A plenary session in the fall of 1964 removed Khrushchev
from office when the party and state apparatus had got fed up with his
reforms. Khrushchev's successor - Brezhnev - proclaimed the well-known thesis
about the "stability of leadership" and "a stable personnel policy," which
meant virtual impunity for the top nomenklatura that was now all but
At this point disagreements between Stalin's successors over his legacy were
The attitude to Stalin began to change perceptibly in the second half of the
1960s with the emergence of neo-stalinism - loyalty to old ideological values
and "ideological discipline" reinforced with the "stability of leadership" -
a thing unheard-of under Stalin. Neo-Stalinism also meant abandoning reforms
since the true socialist values allegedly lay in the past and it was up to
the ruling authority to live up to them.
In 1969, a dispute arose within the CPSU Central Committee Politburo over
whether Stalin's 90th birthday anniversary ought to be marked. Mikhail
Suslov, Pyotr Shelest, Kirill Mazurov, Alexei Kosygin, and Yuri Andropov
insisted that a jubilee article should be published. Nikolai Podgorny, Arvid
Pelshe, and Boris Ponomarev objected to the idea, reminding their colleagues
that all of them were closely involved in "debunking the personality cult."
The former group gained the upper hand.
The article was duly published. In 1970, a bust, made by sculptor Nikolai
Tomsky, was erected over Stalin's tomb. The unobtrusive return of Stalin's
political legacy had begun.
A comparison of two surveys, conducted in 1990 and 2001 by the Russian Civil
Service Academy Sociological Research Center, is noteworthy.
In 1990, Joseph Stalin was named as one of the most unpopular political
figures of the past with a mere six percent of respondents approving of his
performance (as compared to 74 percent in favor of Peter the Great, 57
percent of Lenin enthusiasts, and 55 percent of those who admired Marshal
Eleven years later, 32.9 percent of respondents gave Stalin top marks (with
90.2, 39.9, and 80.8 percent for Peter the Great, Lenin, and Zhukov,
What is the reason for this dramatic change in historical consciousness?
There are several reasons. First of all, the Stalin era is history now. The
violent anti-Stalin charge of the late 1980s journalism lost its focus - the
Communist system. The study of Stalin became not a sign of political daring,
but a routine historical research process and therefore had little public
appeal. Documentary publications about Stalin and his era, amazing in their
abundance of exciting facts and information, are rarely published in editions
of more than 3,000 copies.
Meanwhile, a new myth is being born. The ostentatious, motley, bright
symbolism of the Stalin era, which was created by talented people, still
holds the magic of "the great empire style," titillating the imagination with
the memory of the Soviet Union, a superpower. And so the mustachioed Great
Leader in his marshal's tunic and jackboots is very much in demand - this
time as a brand name widely used by disingenuous policy peddlers and other
New York Times
March 5, 2003
New Study Supports Idea Stalin Was Poisoned
By MICHAEL WINES
MOSCOW, March 4 -- Fifty years after Stalin died, felled by a brain
at his dacha, an exhaustive study of long-secret Soviet records lends new
weight to an old theory that he was actually poisoned, perhaps to avert a
looming war with the United States.
That war may well have been closer than anyone outside the Kremlin suspected
at the time, say the authors of a new book based on the records.
The 402-page book, "Stalin's Last Crime," will be published later this month.
Relying on a previously secret account by doctors of Stalin's final days, its
authors suggest that he may have been poisoned with warfarin, a tasteless and
colorless blood thinner also used as a rat killer, during a final dinner with
four members of his Politburo.
They base that theory in part on early drafts of the report, which show that
Stalin suffered extensive stomach hemorrhaging during his death throes. The
authors state that significant references to stomach bleeding were excised
from the 20-page official medical record, which was not issued until June
1953, more than three months after his death on March 5 that year.
Four Politburo members were at that dinner: Lavrenti P. Beria, then chief of
the secret police; Georgi M. Malenkov, Stalin's immediate successor; Nikita
S. Khrushchev, who eventually rose to the top spot; and Nikolai Bulganin.
The authors, Vladimir P. Naumov, a Russian historian, and Jonathan Brent, a
Yale University Soviet scholar, suggest that the most likely suspect, if
Stalin was poisoned, is Mr. Beria, for 15 years his despised minister of
Mr. Beria supposedly boasted of killing Stalin on May Day, two months after
his death. ``I did him in! I saved all of you,'' he was quoted as telling
Vyacheslav M. Molotov, another Politburo member, in Mr. Molotov's 1993
political reminiscence, ``Molotov Remembers.''
Messrs. Naumov and Brent dismiss Khrushchev's own account of Stalin's death,
in his memoirs, as an almost cartoonish distortion of the truth. With
virtually everyone connected to the case now dead, the real story may never
be known, Mr. Brent said in an interview this week.
"Some doctors are skeptical that if an autopsy were performed, that a
conclusive answer to the question of whether he was poisoned could be found,"
he said. "I personally believe that Stalin's death was not fortuitous. There
are just too many arrows pointing in the other direction."
The book, like most such volumes, paints a chilling portrait of Stalin, at
once deeply paranoid and endlessly crafty, continually inventing enemies and
then wiping them out as part of the terror that killed millions and kept
millions more in the toil that enabled the Soviet Union to leap from czarism
to the industrial age.
Yet modern Russians are torn about his memory. The latest poll of 1,600
adults by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center, released today on the eve of
the 50th anniversary of his death, shows that more than half of all
respondents believe Stalin's role in Russian history was positive, while only
a third disagreed.
By the poll's reckoning, 27 percent of Russians judge Stalin a cruel and
inhumane tyrant. But 20 percent call him wise and humane -- among them the
head of the Communist Party, Gennadi Zyuganov, who today compared Stalin to
"the most grandiose figures of the Renaissance."
Mr. Brent and Mr. Naumov, the secretary of a Russian government commission to
rehabilitate victims of repression, have spent years in the archives of the
K.G.B. and other Soviet organizations.
Russian officials granted them access to some documents for their latest
work, which primarily traces the fabulous course of the Doctors' Plot, a
supposed collusion in the late 1940's by Kremlin doctors to kill top
The collusion was in fact a fabrication by Kremlin officials, acting largely
on Stalin's orders. By the time Stalin disclosed the plot to a stunned Soviet
populace in January 1953, he had spun it into a vast conspiracy, led by Jews
under the United States' secret direction, to kill him and destroy the Soviet
That February, the Kremlin ordered the construction of four giant prison
camps in Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Arctic north, apparently in preparation
for a second great terror -- this time directed at the millions of Soviet
citizens of Jewish descent.
But the terror never unfolded. On March 1, 1953, two weeks after the camps
were ordered built and two weeks before the accused doctors were to go on
trial, Stalin collapsed at Blizhnaya, a north Moscow dacha, after the
all-night dinner with his four Politburo comrades.
After four days, Stalin died, at age 73. Death was laid to a hemorrhage on
the left side of his brain.
Less than a month later, the doctors previously accused of trying to kill him
were abruptly exonerated and the case against them was deemed an invention of
the secret police. No Jews were deported east. By year's end, Beria faced a
firing squad, and Khrushchev had tempered Soviet hostility toward the United
In their book, Mr. Naumov and Mr. Brent cite wildly varying accounts of
Stalin's last hours as evidence that -- at the least -- Stalin's Politburo
colleagues denied him medical help in the first hours of his illness, when it
might have been effective.
Khrushchev and others recalled long after Stalin's death that they had dined
with him until the early hours of March 1. His and most other reports state
that Stalin was later found sprawled unconscious on the floor, a copy of
Yet no doctors were summoned to the dacha until the morning of March 2. Why
remains a mystery: one guard later said that Beria had called shortly after
Stalin was found, ordering them to say nothing about his illness. Khrushchev
wrote that Stalin had been drunk at the dinner and that his dinner
companions, told of his illness, presumed that he had fallen out of bed --
until it became clear things were more serious.
More telling, however, is the official medical account of Stalin's death,
given to the Communist Party Central Committee in June 1953 and buried in
files for almost the next 50 years until unearthed by Mr. Naumov and Mr.
Brent. It maintained that Stalin had become ill in the early hours of March
2, a full day after he actually suffered a stroke.
The effect of the altered official report is to imply that doctors were
summoned quickly after Stalin was found, rather than after a delay.
The authors state that a cerebral hemorrhage is still the most
straightforward explanation for Stalin's death, and that poisoning remains
for now a matter of speculation. But Western physicians who examined the
Soviet doctors' official account of Stalin's last days said similar physical
effects could have been produced by a 5-to-10-day dose of warfarin, which had
been patented in 1950 and was being aggressively marketed worldwide at the
Why Stalin might have been killed is a less difficult question. Politburo
members lived in fear of Stalin; beyond that, the book cites a previously
secret report as evidence that Stalin was preparing to add a new dimension to
the alleged American conspiracy known as the Doctors' Plot.
That report -- an interrogation of a supposed American agent named Ivan I.
Varfolomeyev, in 1951 -- indicated that the Kremlin was preparing to accuse
the United States of a plot to destroy much of Moscow with a new nuclear
weapon, then to launch an invasion of Soviet territory along the Chinese
Mr. Varfolomeyev's fantastic plot was known in Soviet documents as "the plan
of the internal blow." Stalin, the book states, had assigned the Varfolomeyev
case highest priority, and was preparing to proceed with a public trial
despite his underlings' fears that the charges were so unbelievable that they
would make the Kremlin a global laughingstock.
Mr. Naumov said in an interview today that that plan, combined with other
Soviet military preparations in the Russian Far East at the time, strongly
suggest that Stalin was preparing for a war along the United States' Pacific
Coast. What remains unclear, he said, is whether he planned a first strike or
whether the mushrooming conspiracy unfolding in Moscow was to serve as a
provocation that would lead both sides to a flash point.
"I am told that the only case when the two sides were on the verge of war was
the Cuban crisis," in 1962, he said. "But I think this was the first case.
And this first time that we were on the verge of war was even more
dangerous," because the devastation of nuclear weapons was not yet an article
Mr. Brent said he believes that fear of a nuclear holocaust could have led
Beria and perhaps others at that final dinner to assent to Stalin's death.
"No question -- they were afraid," he said. "But they knew that the direction
Stalin was going in was one of fiercer and fiercer conflict with the U.S.
This is what Khrushchev saw, and it is what Beria saw. And it scared them to
The authors say that Stalin knew of his comrades' fears, citing as proof
remarks at a December 1952 meeting of top Communist leaders in which Stalin
began laying out the scope of the Doctors' Plot and the American threat to
"Here, look at you -- blind men, kittens," the minutes record Stalin as
saying. "You don't see the enemy. What will you do without me?"
Chechen constitution will not bring an end to war: refugees
March 5, 2003
With Chechnya's constitutional referendum less than three weeks away,
refugees living in tent camps in neighboring Ingushetia have little faith
that the move will bring peace to their war-torn Russian republic.
"I don't think anything will change after the referendum," said Zarema
Yusupova, 45, who fled Chechnya to a tent camp in Sleptsovsk after the second
war between Russian forces and separatist rebels broke out in October 1999.
The March 23 referendum will put to voters a constitution aimed at
solidifying Chechnya's status as part of the Russian Federation, a step
Russian President Vladimir Putin says will bring an end to the war.
However, many observors have urged Putin to instead open peace talks with the
rebel leadership headed by Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected president of the
republic in polls held after the first war ended in 1996.
"It's not the referendum that will stop the war, but negotiations between the
fighters and president Maskhadov," Yusupova said.
Yusupova lives in a single tent with her husband and children: two sons aged
19 and 22 and a 24-year-old daughter.
The family has a tough time making ends meet, and Yusupova is the only one
who holds a job -- selling used clothing at a local market, bringing in
between 20 and 50 rubles (between 60 US/euro cents and 1.50) a day.
Her husband, who has a mental disorder, gets a monthly pension of 760 rubles.
"Every year, we hope our situation will get better, but there's never been
any change," she said. "Today, we can only count on Allah."
Around 98,000 Chechens live in Ingushetia, 17,000 of them in tent camps,
according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and
polling booths are being set up on the Chechen-Ingush border so they can
participate in the March 23 vote.
While Chechnya's pro-Russian authorities have said that they launched a
massive information campaign to inform refugees of the referendum, many here
said they had not even seen a copy of the constitution and those who did
mostly had criticisms.
"I am under the impression that for the referendum's organizers, the most
important thing is to vote on one article -- the one that proclaims Chechnya
is an alienable part of Russia," said Abdulla, 49.
Many refugees here echoed criticism made by observers and human rights
groups, who have said that a fair vote cannot take place while the war
continues to rage and civilians live under the shadow of federal soldiers.
"How can we talk about a referendum while the war continues?" asked Akhmed,
49, who said he does not plan to vote on March 23.
"It's the people who destroyed my house who will vote in the referendum," he
said, referring to the 23,000 federal troops that are eligible to vote in the
While the Kremlin urges that major military operations in Chechnya are over
and Russian soldiers are merely cleaning up the remnants of rebel groups,
refugees say the bloody war is continuing full-scale.
"What good will this referendum bring when the violence continues?" asked
"The Russians should first take their troops out of Chechnya," she said.
"We are like prisonners here. Masked military men continue to sweep the camps
and arrest our men," said Larisa, who says her brother was found dead after
Some 80,000 federal troops are currently stationed in Chechnya, and Moscow
has announced this week that it plans to withdraw nearly 2,300 troops in the
next few days.
March 6, 2003
Withdrawal Is a PR Fudge
By Pavel Felgenhauer
The Russian authorities have once again announced a troop withdrawal from
Chechnya. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced during a meeting with
President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin that 1,270 men will be sent home this
month, but that the pullback of "surplus troops" will not affect the security
situation in the rebellious republic.
During the televised meeting, Putin asked Ivanov: "How many troops will be
left in Chechnya after the withdrawal?" Ivanov's answer was so weird that
international news agencies immediately began phoning me for an explanation.
Ivanov stated, "30,000 to 35,000 servicemen will stay in Chechnya on a
nonpermanent basis." After some hesitation he added: "They will all be
involved in special operations."
Of course, Ivanov's assessment that 30,000 to 35,000 servicemen are or will
ever be assigned to special operations in Chechnya is sheer fantasy. Russia
does not have that many special service units. It has been officially
confirmed several times recently that there are approximately 80,000 federal
servicemen in Chechnya today. If you subtract 1,270 from 80,000 how do you
arrive at the figure of 30,000 to 35,000?
During communist rule, the number of troops deployed during wars and
casualties were either not reported at all or grossly falsified. The collapse
of communism and the introduction of democracy has not improved the
situation: Today, the Defense Ministry either does not give any figures at
all or crudely miscalculates.
Last month, the Defense Ministry officially announced that from 1999 to the
end of 2002, 4,572 servicemen were killed in action and 15,549 were wounded
in the Caucasus. The same report states that during the first Chechen war in
1994-96, 3,927 servicemen were killed and 17,892 wounded. The authorities
estimate the number of Chechen rebels killed since August 1999 at 15,500.
Human rights activists estimate Chechen civilian losses at 100,000 or more.
The Soldiers' Mothers Committee estimates up to 10,000 federal servicemen may
have died since 1999. The Defense Ministry itself has also produced figures
that do not tally. At the end of 2000, the Institute of Military History of
the Defense Ministry published a book that quotes official figures of 5,551
dead and 51,387 wounded during the Chechen war of 1994-96.
This Defense Ministry book lists 1,624 more dead than other "official"
figures, while the number of wounded servicemen is almost three times higher.
One can guess that the Defense Ministry publicly accepts as "wounded" only
those who became invalids.
A defense minister gives the president and the nation a figure for the number
of troops left in Chechnya after a planned withdrawal with a 5,000-man margin
of error. Maybe Ivanov does not know exactly how many soldiers in Chechnya
are actually alive? (If one adds Ivanov's 5,000-man margin of error to the
4,572 official body count, you get a figure close to the Soldiers' Mothers
Some of the dead may still be alive to all intents and purposes, receiving a
salary and special combat bonuses that can instantly be commandeered.
It is reported that unit commanders in Chechnya often do not allow their
soldiers to write letters to their families or that the letters get "lost."
Families may not know for months (or more) about the fate of loved ones in
The authorities have several times in the past announced major troop
withdrawals from Chechnya. And some units have indeed left with pomp -- only
to be replaced by others almost immediately afterward.
Now 1,270 men will leave, hardly shifting the overall balance. It has been
announced that the 42nd army motor-rifle division (15,000 troops) and the
Interior Ministry's 46th brigade (8,000) will stay in Chechnya as a permanent
garrison. Also, the Border Guards near the Georgian border (some 3,000) will
stay as "permanent" units. The so-called commandant companies will stay --
permanent garrisons in all major Chechen towns and villages comprised mostly
of contract soldiers, other "permanent" federal agents and officers. All in
all, this amounts to an estimated 50,000 in a "permanent" occupation force.
On top of that come Ivanov's 30,000 to 35,000 "nonpermanent" forces, making a
grand total of 80,000 to 85,000 men.
So there is in fact no withdrawal at all or "normalization," only another PR
prank by the Kremlin, while the anti-guerrilla campaign continues as before.
Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.
Canberra Times (Australia)
March 5, 2003
Clark keeps eye out for new Tolstoy
BY IAN WARDEN
If ever a new Tolstoy or Dostoevsky surfaces in Russia, then Professor
Katerina Clark, daughter of the late Dymphna and Professor Manning Clark, may
be the first to see that keenly awaited genius break the surface.
Professor Clark, of course a Canberran (she went to Ainslie School, then
Canberra High, and got her MA from the Australian National University), now
teaches literature and languages at Yale, but is also judge of the Booker
Prize for Russian novels. She is in back in her hometown to give the Dymphna
Clark Lecture at Canberra's Weekend of Ideas, to be held at Manning Clark
House in Forrest this weekend.
Her lecture will be about anti-fascist emigres who fled Hitler's Germany and
the echoes of their plight in some of today's refugees. One of those who fled
Germany, the Communist Egon Erwinkisch, got as far as Australia and, when
authorities wouldn't let him disembark, he leapt from the ship on to the
wharf, breaking bones.
Speaking at Manning Clark House yesterday, the professor explained that the
Booker Prize for novels written in Russian, a different prize from the famous
one given for novels written in English, was established by the same Booker
people to try to give Russian novelists a fillip and they seem to need it.
Professor Clark (her brother Sebastian says that she's probably spent more
time in Russia in the past 40 years than any other Australian, and that her
Russian was so good that the KGB was unable to pick her as a foreigner) said
yesterday that writers in post-soviet Russia struggled in ways that their
popular and distinguished predecessors seldom knew.
'One of the ongoing preoccupations in Russian novels now is the problem of
what's happened to literature in post-Communist Russia,' she said.
'They [novelists before the break up of the Soviet Union] were often
enormously privileged and were paid huge royalties . . . and now they've been
devalued in post-Communist Russia and they're very poor, suddenly.' There was
'a huge existential crisis' among writers now because Russia's brilliant
literary heritage seemed to mean nothing to modern Russians.
The second Weekend of Ideas will take place from Friday to Sunday at Manning
Clark House, 11 Tasmania Circle, Forrest. More information can be obtained by
calling 6295 9433.
The New Republic
March 10, 2003
By John Banville
John Banville's new novel, Shroud, will be published this month by Knopf.
Pushkin's Children: Writing on Russia and Russians
By Tatyana Tolstaya
Translated by Jamey Gambrell
Mariner Books, 242 pp., $15)
By Tatyana Tolstaya
Translated by Jamey Gambrell
(Houghton Mifflin, 278 pp., $24)
Tatyana Tolstaya is an angry woman. She is angry at Gorbachev, she is angry
at Yeltsin, she is positively furious with Solzhenitsyn, and she is not too
pleased with Putin. The things that have happened to her country over the
past hundred years make her blood boil. There are the great calamities,
particularly Stalinism and all that it wrought, against which she rails in
her essays; but, as with all good writers, it is in the details that she is
her most telling. Returning from America to St. Petersburg in 1997, she
notices that the metal balconies have disappeared from the building across
the street, which had once been so beautiful. Wondering what happened, she is
told that one of the balconies had fallen and killed a passerby, and since
the city authorities had no money to spend on repairs, they had ordered that
the rest of the balconies be torn down.
Balconies, of course, are the least of it. Tolstaya's real fury is reserved
for the plight of the Russian people, betrayed over and over again by their
so-called leaders, the czars, and the commissars, Lenin and Stalin, and their
faceless henchmen who could always be depended upon to inform, to persecute,
to tap telephones, to make midnight arrests, to run labor camps, to murder
millions. Yet she is candid regarding how such horrors could have happened in
her country. Reviewing an updated version of Robert Conquest's The Great
Terror, an account of state crimes in the Stalinist years, Tolstaya sketches
the process by which in Stalin's time Russian society, "intoxicated by the
feeling that everything was allowed," first destroyed all that was "alien"
and then, when things to destroy began to run out, turned inward and set to
devouring itself. "Without popular support Stalin and his cannibals wouldn't
have lasted for long. The executioner's genius expressed itself in his
ability to feel and direct the evil forces slumbering in the people."
That was how; the question remains why. Tolstaya despairs of an answer. She
recalls her first English teacher, a Russian immigrant who had married an
American and, believing in the Communist dream, returned with him to Russia
in the 1930s. Both were immediately arrested and sent to prison, where the
husband perished. The woman had screamed at the investigator that she was not
guilty of anything. His reply was that no one brought before him was guilty
of anything. "But why, then?" "Just because," came the answer. Reading this,
I recalled the great Czech scholar Eduard Goldstucker telling me that when he
was arrested by the secret police in Prague in 1951 he inquired what charge
was to be brought against him, to which the reply, accompanied by an ironic
smile, was, "That is what you will tell us."
As her surname indicates, Tatyana Tolstaya comes from a literary family. She
counts among her forebears not only the great Leo but also Alexei Tolstoy.
Her maternal grandfather was a translator of Shakespeare, Dante, and Lope de
Vega, and her father was a noted scholar. As Alma Guillermoprieto writes in
her introduction to Pushkin's Children, Tolstaya's collection of essays, "the
near-sacred family name shielded its members from terror" during the Stalin
era, and Tatyana grew up in relative luxury in her parents' book-filled
apartment. Still, political paranoia was as thoroughly inculcated in her as
in any other child of those dreadful years. In "Lies I Lived," a chilling
fragment of memoir at the end of Pushkin's Children, she recalls how when she
was eight she was playing outside her home when an old couple approached her
and asked the way to the Botanical Gardens. Identifying them as surely
belonging to the "enemies" against whom the state was constantly warning its
citizens, she promptly sent them off in the wrong direction. As she watched
the pair shuffle painfully away, however, enlightenment burst upon her.
I felt an acute surge of shame. Suddenly, in one overwhelming moment--a
moment I shall never forget--the truth was revealed to me. This was knowledge
that comes in an instant, without words; complete knowledge, clear,
indisputable, the kind of moral knowledge that requires no questions or
explanations, the kind of knowledge that transforms an ape into a human
being... And at that moment, burning with shame, I swore a silent oath: Never.
In Pushkin's Children, Tolstaya excoriates her fellow countrymen for their
"blind, superstitious belief in the spoken, and especially in the written,
word." In the title essay, however, a compressed but brilliant account of the
effects of the fall of communism on Russian literature and its readers, she
observes that after 1989 "the word, which had seemed unique and rare, was
published in editions of millions and lost its magical qualities. The reader,
elated at first, was eventually overwhelmed and then disappointed...
Everything was lost, everything was desacralized in one fell swoop." One
wonders if Pushkin himself has suffered under this process of
desacralization, that Pushkin for whom "after his death admiration ... grew
and grew until he himself became, for many Russians, God, tsar, and the
People, an idol, an icon, holy writ." Tolstaya reveres Pushkin precisely
because he stood above the "flat, pragmatic point of view" of the majority of
Russian writers before and after him, who saw themselves as oracles and who
"used the power of their words to address the most important social and
political problems of their day."
In The Slynx, a fiction set in a dystopic future, Pushkin has become the idol
of the tribe, "our be all and end all"; carved wooden "pushkins" are set up
at doorposts and crossroads, and at the end of the book a tribal elder,
condemned to the pyre, is tied aloft to one of these totems as the flames
leap under him. In the introduction to Pushkin's Children, Guillermoprieto
remarks, with somewhat shaky grammar, that "although Tolstaya comes down
squarely on the side of creative freedom, it is as a chronicler of political
events that her own words catch fire." This is faint praise for a writer who
has produced two previous works of fiction and, simultaneously with Pushkin's
Children, her first novel. The books are certainly a pair, each helping to
elucidate the other.
The Slynx is a difficult work to categorize. The jacket blurb calls it a
"rollicking satirical novel," but while it certainly does rollick, and there
is a lot of obvious satire, this description seems both inadequate and
overblown. The book is set at an uncertain point in the future, a couple of
hundred years after "the Blast," when Russia has entered a new Dark Ages. The
wheel has been re-invented, mice are the chief source of food and clothing
and candle wax, and a dwarf czar called "Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe" is in
power. Things could be worse: "after all," a character remarks, "we're in the
Neolithic period, and not some savage animal kingdom." The hero of the tale
is a young man, Benedikt Karpich, "the late Karp Pudich's son, who was the
son of Pud Christoforovich, who was the son of Christopher Matveich, and
whose son that Matvei was and where from--we can't remember, it's been lost
in the gloom of time."
Benedikt is a vigorous chap, none too bright, remarkable only for a consuming
obsession with books; Dostoevsky would have recognized him, and Tolstaya's
greatgranduncle would have preached him a sermon. He lives in the town of
Fyodor-Kuzmichsk--yes, confusingly named, it would seem, after the undersized
czar, or vice versa--around which are "boundless fields, unknown lands. To
the north are deep forests, full of storm-felled trees, the branches so
twisted you can't get through." In these forests lives the fabled Slynx,
which "sits on dark branches and howls a wild, sad howl....If you wander into
the forest it jumps on your neck from behind: hop! It grabs your spine in its
teeth--crunch--and picks out the main vein with its claw and breaks it. All
the reason runs right out of you. If you come back, you're never the same
The Blast has created genetic chaos among the people, or Golubchiks--there is
a rather perfunctory glossary at the beginning of the book--who display
grotesque Consequences: one character has ears under his armpits, another has
grown cock's combs all over her body, while Benedikt has, for a time at
least, a little tail. The Consequence for some who survived the Blast, the
Oldeners, is that they are still alive, centenarians many times over. Nikita
Ivanich, the Head Stoker, is an Oldener, and not only is he seemingly
immortal, he is also a sort of human dragon who can breathe blasts of
flame--a handy knack, as it happens, for his job is to keep the town's stoves
Benedikt marries into the family of Kudeyar Kudeyarich, the chief Saniturion
of Fyodor-Kuzmichsk. Kudeyar, his wife, and his daughter Olenka, Benedikt's
bride, all have claws on their feet, and incessantly scrape the floors--one
of the more grisly leitmotifs of the novel is the little woolly piles of wood
shavings that the Kudeyariches leave all over the house. We are not told
exactly what a Saniturion does, and it is probably better that we do not
know, but Kudeyarich's tasks include winkling illicit books out of the more
literate inhabitants of the town. Kudeyarich enlists Benedikt as his
lieutenant in this task, supplying him with a useful and deadly double-sided
hook meant to be used to snag books and haul them out of their hiding places,
but which inevitably ends up gutting more than one resistant book-lover. In
the end, Kudeyarich and Benedikt together stage a comical, messy, and
murderous coup and set up a farcical people's state, with Kudeyarich as
leader and Benedikt the deputy for marine and oceanic defense. The Bright
Past has come again.
It is impossible to communicate adequately the richness, the exuberance, and
the horrid inventiveness of this book. It must have been a nightmare to
translate, and Jamey Gambrell has done a heroic job. Since the Blast, the
Russian language has been in a process of decay, and in the translation a
kind of Jabberwocky patters throughout the narrative: mushrooms have become
marshrooms, worms are worrums, and the Renaissance has deliquesced into
runnysauce. Scraps of poetry are strewn through the pages, everything from
Lermontov and (of course) Pushkin to Russian nonsense verse and Schiller's
"Ode to Joy."
Despite all the energy and all the excitement, however, The Slynx is hard to
love. As in most allegorical and futuristic novels, including 1984 and Brave
New World, the characters are robbed of substance by the bizarreries amongst
which they must move and conduct their fitful lives. We simply do not care
enough about these unfortunates, maimed and malformed as they are. Even
Benedikt engages neither our full sympathy nor our full reprehension. As for
the satire, one is required to be familiar with more than any Westerner could
possibly know about the minutiae of Russian history and contemporary Russian
life. Consider this exchange:
"You sing so well!" said Nikita Ivanich comfortingly. "Did you study or is it
just natural? Does it run in your family?"
"Probably ... Papa was a dentist," sniffed Lev Lvovich one last time. "And on
my mother's side I'm from the Kuban."
Yes, one gets the hoary old gag about the dentist--but the Kuban?
Reading The Slynx is rather like finding oneself attending a theatrical
performance in a foreign city where one knows the language but simply cannot
get the jokes or the slang or the references. There are pages in Tatyana
Tolstaya's novel that no doubt will have them splitting their sides in Moscow
and St. Petersburg, but they will leave the Western reader glum and
stony-faced, wondering what all the laughter is about.
March 3, 2003
SPECIAL REPORT: EMERGING TECH MARKETS
Russia: Playing Catch-Up in Tech
By Olga Kharif in Portland, Ore.
Striving hard to shuck the communist era, it's proving to be worth the
still-considerable risks for growth-starved U.S. tech outfits
When microprocessor king Intel (INTC ) arrived in Russia 12 years ago, it was
a different country -- literally. Then a part of the former Soviet Union,
Russia was a high-tech desert. Even today, after a decade of selling by Intel
and other tech companies, fewer than 10% of Russian households have a PC.
Says Steve Chase, president of Intel Russia: "We started with no market."
The world's largest chipmaker is glad it persevered. Russia, pedaling hard to
catch up with the West, is now Intel's fastest-growing market -- as it is for
many other tech companies worldwide. In part, that's because Russia isn't
enduring the same economic slump the U.S. is now going through. For the past
four years, in fact, Russia's economy has grown at an average annual rate of
5%. Much of the boost is thanks to sky-high prices for its exported oil and
gas, which account for one-third of gross domestic product. Under President
Vladimir Putin, Russia has become relatively stable politically. And monthly
per capita income has risen 29.5% in just the past year, to $154.50.
FEW HOMEGROWN PLAYERS. All of that has contributed to the country's thirst
for the latest information technology -- from hardware to software, from
telecom equipment to tech services. "After all the macroeconomic and
political changes of the past decade, the infrastructure of this country is
finally being formed," says Sergei Tarasov, head of server seller Sun
Microsystems' (SUNW ) operations in the former Soviet Union. Still, many
basic tech products, such as superservers, printers, and other computer
peripherals, aren't produced domestically, points out Mikhail Novikov, an
analyst with tech consultancy IDC Russia in Moscow. Neither is telecom
equipment for either wireless or landline phone networks.
An increasing number of foreign suppliers -- such as Sun, computing
powerhouse IBM (IBM ), PC maker Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ), and imaging company
Xerox (XRX ) -- are happy to fill in the gap. "In Russia, the technology
business is pretty clean, compared to some other [businesses]," says Esther
Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, a New York venture-capital firm that
has invested in Russian tech companies since the mid-1990s. The rewards have
proven to be worth a little risk. In the past year, software giant
Microsoft's (MSFT ) sales in Russia have grown 80%, while Sun's have doubled
over the last two years. Both cite their Russian divisions as their best
performers companywide in 2002.
That could be just the beginning. Russia's technology market should grow 12%,
to $5.1 billion, this year, according to IDC. Tech pioneers that entered
Russia a decade ago and persevered through the political turbulence of the
1990s and the ruble's August, 1998, meltdown will benefit handsomely. But
newcomers also have plenty of opportunity -- particularly those that sell
enterprise resource-planning (ERP) software, network hardware, and wireless
OPEN WINDOW. ERP software, which puts a company's entire operations at
executives' fingertips, looks poised for explosive growth. More Russian
companies are looking to raise money by floating bonds on the European market
or attracting foreign investment. To do that, they have to achieve
operational and financial transparency, says Alexander Bloch, senior
vice-president and chief information officer at Tyumen Oil. Russian's
second-largest petroleum company in terms of crude-oil reserves, Tyumen began
installing SAP's (SAP ) ERP software in early 2001.
The resulting efficiencies and window into its operations helped Tyumen float
a $400 million Eurobond issue this past January. Those were also major
factors in British Petroleum's (BP ) Feb. 11 decision to merge its operations
in the former Soviet Union with those of Tyumen Oil's parent companies, ALFA
Group and Access-Renova, Bloch says.
Changes in government regulations should encourage further proliferation of
ERP software. In 2002, Russia began implementing Putin's nine-year, $2.5
billion Electronic Russia initiative, designed to connect schools and
government agencies to the Internet. ERP will come in handy for managing vast
amounts of data that will be put on the Web for that project, asserts Laurie
Doyle Kelly, a vice-president at SAP, which has been selling its software in
Russia for 11 years. Also, Russia is starting to mandate car insurance, which
is likely to encourage more financial-services companies to use ERP for
managing huge amounts of customer data, says Kelly. That should be good news
for SAP, Oracle (ORCL ), and smaller ERP suppliers.
TEACHING TEACHERS. The hardware revolution in Russia will likely accelerate,
too, as tech companies come up with inventive ways to sell to a population
whose incomes are much lower than in the West. Intel may have found a
solution. Last November and December, it ran pilot tests in Moscow and St.
Petersburg in which participants could buy computers with down payments --
the way Americans buy cars. One program called for a down payment of $99 and
the other $199, says Chase. The PCs with an initial payment of $99 sold out,
so Intel plans to expand the test to 10 cities this year.
Educating Russia's population to be tech-savvier will also help foster
industry growth. Last year, Intel implemented its "Teach to the Future"
program, which trained 7,000 Russian teachers in using computers and the Web.
This year, it plans to train 20,000 teachers, Chase says. Intel is also
creating four labs in Russian universities to familiarize students with its
technology. Microsoft offers a variety of courses for engineers at companies
that buy its technology. And HP has become a favorite of many local
businesses because, unlike some outfits that offer tech support only in major
cities, HP offers it regionally.
Hardware manufacturers also are benefiting from the Westernization of
Russia's distribution system. Previously, a PC maker had to go to Moscow or
St. Petersburg to buy a load of computer components, then get them on a plane
and guard them so they wouldn't get stolen before reaching the assembly
plant. But in the past year, distributors have begun setting up regional
warehouses and arranging secure transportation. "The market is becoming more
civilized," says Chase.
Remote distribution of tech products pays off in higher orders: Unit imports
of servers grew 80% last year, according to IDC Russia. And while local
computer assemblers still control about 80% of the PC market, Dell (DELL ),
HP, and IBM are grabbing bigger shares.
EUROPE'S STANDARD. Telecom equipment is yet another good market for Western
companies. Mobile-communications gear is among the most in demand in Russia
today, says Simon Baker, an analyst with IDC Russia. In large cities such as
Moscow and St. Petersburg, cell-phone use is nearly as prevalent as in, say,
New York, and now regional wireless networks are being built -- fast.
Last year, Russians bought 1 million wireless phones a month. But U.S.
gearmakers will have a hard time competing in this market, as Russia has
adapted Europe's wireless networking standard, which only one U.S. mobile
carrier uses. That's an opportunity for equipment makers such as Ericsson
(ERICY ) and phone manufacturer Nokia (NOK ), says Baker. Already, Ericsson
is building the wireless network of one of Russia's leading carriers,
That also represents opportunity for IT infrastructure companies like Sun,
whose telecom-related business is its fastest-growing in Russia, according to
Sun's Tarasov. He says high-end and midrange servers are flying off the
shelves as Russia's wireless service providers expand their networks.
PIRACY PERSISTS. Technology services are more of a slog for U.S. companies,
even though Russia's highly skilled engineers aren't particularly adept at
integrating imported products into big networks, says Alex Freedland,
chairman and CEO of Mirantis. The Foster City (Calif.) outfit has helped
companies such as HP and storage maker Veritas (VRTS ) set up operations in
Russia. So far, most global services companies have met with only limited
success in Russia, he adds. "It's difficult for a Western consultant to
convince Russian people to change their business practices," he explains.
Established global players would likely benefit from buying Russian
consulting companies, he suggests.
Some vestiges of 70 years of communist rule remain, adding further
difficulties to doing business in Russia. Software piracy, though on the
decline, remains a huge problem. In the early- to mid-1990s, nearly all
corporations used pirated versions of Windows operating systems. But last
year, that figure dropped to 87%, according to the Business Software
Alliance, a worldwide software and Internet industry association. And Russian
police have recently been cracking down on sales of illegal software.
Finding good salespeople is another challenge. Until the 1990s, entrepreneurs
were considered crooks, says EDventure's Dyson. Chase points out that until
the Russian government changes its laws to allow for easier export of
profits, domestic production of high-tech components, such as chips, isn't
viable. And the country's poor transportation infrastructure makes deliveries
slow and expensive, says Sun's Tarasov.
Still, importers are largely undaunted. "It isn't simple [to do business
there], but it's not that complicated," says Dyson. Now that the pioneers
have blazed the trail, it's mainly a matter of clearing a road to prosperity.