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[Russia's Summer Heat and Drought] Re: Shevtsova-Kramer (JRL #154)
From Sergei Roy | Aug. 17, 2010 | JRL 2010-156-1 - JRL Home

Man Jumping in Water in St. PetersburgDate: Tue, 17 Aug 2010
From: Sergei Roy <SergeiRoy@yandex.ru>
Subject: Re: Shevtsova-Kramer (JRL #154)

[Sergei Roy, former editor-in-chief of The Moscow News]

As I was reading Lilia Shevtsova and David J. Kramer's August 15 piece in the Washington Post, "The fire Putin can't extinguish" (JRL # 154), I could not help recalling Chatsky's words from Griboyedov's immortal comedy, Wit Works Woe: Poslushay, vri, da znay zhe meru! "Look here, lie, but have a sense of proportion!" Safe in their knowledge that very few Russians read the Washington Post, the two authors really let themselves go, easily outdoing Repetilov, the liar whom Chatsky upbraids. The very first paragraph is a masterpiece that even Repetilov might envy. It vividly describes what seems "like pictures from a horror movie, but they are too real" ­ or are they? Let's hold our noses and look at the paragraph line by line.
"Russians fainting in the subway." In their hundreds? Or just a few that might faint anywhere else? And do people never faint in the subway elsewhere? Never in New York, perhaps?
Ah well, that's just for starters. Next sentence: "People jumping into the city pools and the Moscow River, and in many cases drowning." Tell you a big secret: people jump in Moscow's fountains every single summer, particularly in Gorky Park on Paratroops Day. They also jump or wade into the Moskva (that's the river's proper geographical name), into lakes and ponds in and around the city ­ and quite a few of them drown. I recall a year when there were 400 corpses fished out of the drink in Moscow alone. Definitely fewer this year. Just take a look at the mounds of bottles left by the swimmers on the bank, and the reason for the drownings is perfectly obvious. It's not "the fire that Putin can't extinguish," as the two authors would have us believe; it's the Russians' thirst that no one can.  
Next: "Ambulances racing around a city eerily free of its normal traffic congestion." That is a line that any Muscovite would fervently wish to be true. Not the bit about the ambulances, of course, but the cute phrase about "a city eerily free of its" jams. The line is clearly stolen from some film or novel about a robot-infested, catastrophe-ridden city of the future. Nothing to do with real Moscow as one sees it from one's window, a city with dozens of radio stations reporting "traffic collapse" here and there, at fifteen minute intervals.  Someone's imagination goes right "eerie" here, and that's a fact.  
Take the next line: "Morgues running out of space and corpses piling up on the floor." Have the authors seen a single pile of corpses in a single morgue, or are they just repeating something heard on the proverbial OBS, odna babka skazala, a-certain-granny-said radio station? Of course the vulnerable, the cardiac cases (myself in that number), and many others suffer more now from the heat, and some of them die, like they did all over France when it was hit by a similar heat wave a few years ago. Well, that was Paris, no one said anything about piles of corpses in Paris morgues. Of Moscow, you can say just about anything, the worse the better, and the Washington Post will eagerly print it.
"Hundreds of homeless animals dying of thirst." These hundreds must be carefully hidden by some "eerie" agency. I haven't seen a single dead animal, nor have any of my countless friends and relatives. What one actually sees is kind-hearted aunties and babushkas pouring water into all kinds of vessels for the homeless animals to drink from. Besides, animals are savvy folks, you know. They can find their way to the Moskva or any of the dozens of the city's other waterways. If all else fails, they can use water from the vehicles that sprinkle the city's streets at two-hourly, and at times at one-hourly intervals, on orders from the City Hall.
"Muscovites trying to escape but getting stuck at airports that are scrambling to handle some 64,000 flights canceled or badly delayed because of poor visibility." I am not too well up on local air traffic, but this figure of "64,000" looks too much like the $64,000 question. Makes one wonder if there are 64,000 flights handled by Moscow's air ports in a year. And one inevitably thinks of the Icelandic volcano a few months ago. Putin certainly did not start that fire, now did he, yet plenty flights were delayed precisely because of poor visibility then. That's called force majeure, you know.
"Staff at foreign embassies fleeing." Well, what are we to do about that? It's just the way foreign embassies are accustomed to deal with Russia's citizens, especially the traveling kind. Hundreds of people lost thousands of dollars because German consulate workers shut up shop, and people who had bought tours and tickets could get no visas, with no prospect of getting refunds. Not all embassies acted in this outrageous manner, though. The Bulgarians have allowed people with expired visas to continue staying in their country rather than return to fire-ravaged Russia, and some countries offered easier terms for entry visas.
"A voice on the radio warning: "Surgical masks do not help. The carbon monoxide gas and the burning substances will stay in your lungs forever!" I heard that voice, too, but I also heard plenty of other voices from more authoritative sources urging citizens to wear masks. And you know what? They were right! I wore a wet self-made mask, and it was much easier to breathe with it on than without. I practically felt no discomfort ­ apart from remembering that the last time I had worn such a mask was at the barricades during the Communist coup in August 1991, when we expected to be gassed as we stood up for the cause of freedom and democracy. Apparently including the freedom for Shevtsova, Kramer and their ilk to tell all the lies about Russia they care to invent.
This was just the first paragraph of their skit. It goes on in much the same vein, on and on, a sustained effort at black-washing. Consider this: "Nearly 100 deaths are officially attributed to the fires so far (the real figure is undoubtedly much higher)." I am practically sure that the "real figure is higher," but the official figure is just 50 deaths by fire; the two authors simply could not resist the temptation of multiplying it by two.
Now, one does not expect Shevtsova, Kramer or any of their colleagues in the anti-Putin camp to say anything nice or simply uncritical about his "regime." They will naturally use any pretext, fires included, to say something nasty about him and it. That's politics, and quite all right as far as it goes. But even in politics there ought to be some rules of common decency, however ill-defined. In this case, it's plain revolting to watch the two authors stooping to outright lies. That's not even journalism, however cheap. That's pure propaganda warfare, as prescribed in psyops manuals that Herr Goebbels would be proud of.
Look, I am not a Nashist, not a 100 percent supporter of the Putin regime or whatever you might call the present political setup here. Sure, I deeply appreciate the Putin team stopping Russia's inexorable slide toward being split into a series of quiet colonial dependencies of the West, as per Prof. Brzezinski's scenario (incidentally, a scenario clearly preferable to Ms. Shevtsova and the WP).  That much I just have to say. But, as for a whole-hearted approval for the rule of The 3b's, bureaucracy+big business... I'd say nothing could be further from my sentiments.
In particular, I have nothing but burning hatred for the way Russia's forests, her inestimable boon, have been savaged. The savaging began under the Soviets, with drift floating and with millions of hectares of forests flooded by, and rotting in, those vast water reservoirs all over the country (please read Rasputin's Farewell to Matyora). Actually the pillaging went on in a dozen other ways. I remember spending week after week waiting for a flight out of some godforsaken spot in Siberia, a flight that never came because of the pall of smoke from the burning taiga. Anyone who was around in 1972 will remember the smog that enveloped Moscow for weeks. So someone laying the blame for the present neglect for Russia's forests at Putin's door is simply an ignoramus at best and a political opportunist at worst. Statements like "Prime Minister Vladimir Putin bears direct responsibility for the dysfunctional system that set the stage for disaster" are prime examples of either or both of these unpleasant characteristics.
That is not to say that the predatory attitude toward Russia's forests, deeply rooted in times long before Putin, has not become aggravated in the recent past. Radical liberal "reforms" destroyed much of Russia's economy, from space travel, shipbuilding, aircraft construction down to, and including, forest and wildlife conservation. That is a process that has been recorded in a whole library of books and papers. Federal and local legislation, federal and local governance bodies are fully responsible for the deteriorating situation in this field.
But! There follows a crucial "but." It is not the members of the federal and local legislatures and executive agencies that are starting the fires. In 90 percent of the cases, they are started by what is elegantly referred to as the "human factor."  In plain language, that is people stealing timber, dropping cigarette butts, lighting fires for grilling shashlyk or for any other purposes, smashing bottles whose fragments turn into magnifying glasses, and out-and-out arsonists (some of them caught red-handed). A few years ago, my wife snapped a few pictures of myself as I was trying to put out, with my bare hands, a fire started by some gypsy kids in the hollow of a huge pine-tree. Omitting such facts from one's account skews the overall picture and stinks of politics worse than the smog.
There is yet another side to the picture that the Shevtsova-Kramer duo conveniently leaves out. Apart from the timber-stealing, cigarette-dropping Russians, there are also those thousands who have collected millions of dollars and truckloads of necessaries to help out the fire-stricken people. Believe you me, I am not talking of something I see on TV screens, like Putin promising to build homes for those made homeless by the fires before November or Medvedev telling Big Business to chip in, or else. I am talking of my own nephew who collected a tidy sum of money and a carload of stuff at his office and took it to the firefighters, quite a few of them volunteers. Passing over such facts in silence tells more about the attitude of Shevtsova and Kramer toward Russia and the Russian people than all the rest of their evil-smelling text.
Lastly, Russians have been responding to the heat and fires through their eternal medium, a plethora of anekdoty, jokes, many of them off-color, putting it mildly. Here's one of the more printable variety. A schoolmarm meets a former pupil of hers, now a grown-up man. "Well, Vanya, and how are you doing these days? What are you?" "I am a meteorologist." "Tsk-tsk. And you such a nice, truthful boy when you were at school."
I just wonder if Shevtsova and Kramer ever were nice, truthful kids at school ...

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