Friday, May 23, 2003

Sometimes people ask me why I'm so fascinated with Russian culture and politics. For me, it's so self-evidently engrossing that I don't quite get the question: it's a country going through a remarkable and unprecedented transformation. How could you not be curious about the repercussions of a 74-year social experiment in utopia that twisted into a dystopia and finally collapsed? Or about an advanced society grappling with problems of both nuclear weapons and third-world social/health/demography problems? Or the astounding things we'll learn as this strange country embarks on its next social experiment: liberal democracy and capitalism?

But more specifically, I enjoy following the day-to-day events of the supremely bizarre Russian political machine. They haven't been practicing for 200 years as we have, and things are a little rough around the edges. The politicians regularly say things that would have a press secretary here in the states go into cardiac arrest. I appreciate this rawness, and not condescendingly as in, "Oh, look at the funny little Russians trying to have a representative democracy! See how they mess it all up!" No, I enjoy it because it's so very, very Russian. As time goes on, I'm sure the politicians will become more polished, slicker, and evasive. But I hope they don't lose this particularly blunt Russian edge I find so refreshing. Anyone who has been to Moscow can tell you that there isn't much hemming and hawing in Russian social interactions; diplomatic statements, appeasing disclaimers, etc., are a rarity. Never mind the bollocks, here's the Russians. So to speak. So I always have to grin when I read earnest headlines such as this one from Gazeta:
Hangovers Must Not Disrupt Election

The Duma elections due in December this year will be brought forward by a week and will now be held on Sunday 7th. The pro-presidential factions have already submitted a bill to that effect. The most obvious reason for the change is the Kremlin’s concern about a low turnout at the end of the Constitution Day holiday weekend: United Russia’s electorate will be too inebriated to vote; SPS supporters will probably spend the break abroad, leaving only the disciplined Communist supporters to cast their votes.

I'm also glad to see that the failure of communism didn't take the wind out of the sails of big dreamers. Can you fault the Russians for thinking small when you see this?:
(from The Times UK) Putin orders the clouds not to rain on his parade

PRESIDENT PUTIN has ordered fine weather for the St Petersburg summit and 300th anniversary festivities next week, and it is unlikely to rain on his parade. Ten aeroplanes will take to the skies, equipped with cloud-seeding agents in an attempt to induce rain away from the city, allowing holidaymakers and visiting heads of state to enjoy dry weather below.

Vladimir Stepanenko, head physicist of St Petersburg’s Geophysics Observatory, said: “Our aim is to empty all clouds of rain before they hit the city borders.” Such practice may strike awe into the heart of every rain-soaked Brit, but Russians take “cloud-bursting” for granted, having enjoyed its benefits over public holidays since Stalin gave the order to research weather control in the 1930s.

I would like to direct Pres. Putin to my Estrogen Fiesta since it starts tomorrow and it's currently 55 degrees and raining and has been all week. I wanted umbrellas for my drinks, not for my head.


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