Russians on Russia

Julia Ioffe reports from Moscow:

I’ve just spent the last couple of days holed up inside Moscow’s World Trade Center for the Troika Dialog Russia 2010 Forum, an economic conference where I was surprised to hear some refreshing honesty from the Russian political elite who made appearances there.

Anatoly Chubais, who heads up the state nanotech corporation and was an influential reformer in the 1990s, said, “We have to admit that we have fallen very far behind.” And by “far” he means about 30 to 40 years. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov was equally harsh. “We need to change our behavior, drive safely and not, as is customary in Russia, haphazardly,” he said. He admitted, too, that the Russian bureaucracy — “an unfriendly administrative system” — is a stultifying force that even the elite has to do battle with, and that social protection is not a public good here. “Even if you have money, you have no sense that the security services will protect your rights,” he said.

Chubais and Shuvalov, two stalwart liberals, largely echoed the tough-love tone struck by President Medvedev in his “Go, Russia!” article in September as well as his address to the political elite two months later. So far, the changes this has produced are cosmetic and superficial, and it remains to be seen how much tough love will turn into concrete policy, but, at the very least, the honesty is extremely, extremely refreshing in a country whose approach to public relations has generally been of the hyper-sensitive and hyper-defensive variety.

Which brings me to my gym TV-watching.

The other day, I saw a commercial for the Sochi Olympics, which aren’t for another four years. It was, well, a rather excellent commercial for the very same reason: it was honest. Summoning up that good old wry Russian humor, the commercial conceded not only some of the more ridiculous aspects of Russian life but pointed out what is perhaps the most absurd part of the already much-criticized boondoggle that is Sochi 2014.

“We are a people of extremes,” the commercial intones, commenting that “we work hard to make our money in the north, and spend it with ease in the south.” The version I saw even makes fun of the 10-day New Year’s holiday that basically kills everyone’s January. “We even celebrate New Year’s for an entire month,” the voice over says — lovingly, mockingly — before admitting to the giant, muffled, white elephant in the room: “We host the Winter Olympics in a place where everyone spends their summers.”

Egads! They admitted it! And admitted that a Black Sea resort town doesn’t need the ski lifts and the ice rinks it will inherit once it’s done hosting the Winter Olympics. And! They even took the smart approach, embracing the mockery with almost as much pleasure as those of us who love Russia take in ribbing this absurd absurdistan.

Click the link to Julia’s blog to view a video of the commercial in question.

7 responses to “Russians on Russia

  1. The author of this blog has a hyper-pathological obsession with Russia and all things Russian.

    Every single article title begins with “Russia” and ends with “Russia”.

    Don’t you have better things to do, you ho?

    Like adjusting your 54DDs? Or offering services on the corner of 110th and Compton?

  2. verniece:

    This blog is the only source of reasonably accurate information on Russia. Kindly name another.

    Putin has been a painfully stupid disaster.

    Jailing successful people in order to steal their business is such an evil thing to do to the people of Russia.

  3. The so called Russian government which presides over this feudal society resembles a Mafia family rather than a democratic government, when the oil money was rolling in “Don” Putin kept his clan happy, they could line their pockets, kick back and enjoy the fringe benefits of their “sauna” life style.

    The populous were thrown a few crumbs from the masters table, enough to keep them “happy” and “content”, they even enlisted the help of another “clan” called the Russian orthodox church, they got fat on the profits, in exchange they chastised the people for being greedy and wanting to much, telling them they will receive their reward in heaven.

    This national self delusion worked during the boom years, and allowed the lazy arsed politicians to ignore Russia’s massive problems,

    In 2008 the bubble burst and Russia’s fragility was exposed for all to see, let me remind you Russia was they only BRIC country that went into recession, and Russia’s decline was shape and brutal and far greater than developed countries who by logic should have been hit much harder,

    Now “Don” Putin and his associates are in a pickle, foreign investment has all but dried up and money has been leaving the country by the cart load, Energy revenue barely covers budget requirement, and the stability fund, the pot of gold that was supposed to solve all problems has been devoured, If a double dip recession hits, Russia may have to raid the state pension fund.

    Now “Don” Putin’s family are unhappy the corrupt covenant has been broken, the daggers are being sharpened, puppet “Don” Medvedev” has managed to gain control of the strings that operate his mouth, two move trusted lieutenants Shuvalov and Chubais are breaking omerta the mafia code of silence. The wolves are circling.

    Soon “Don” Putin might get “an offer he can’t refuse”.

    PS It’s nice to see that even “trailer trash” like gobby Verniece have internet access, careful you don’t hurt your knuckles when typing.

  4. And on top of the other adverse events is the world wide, earthshaking shale gas. Horizontal drilling to access the layers of shale was initiated by one guy who refused to give up.

  5. Verniece, remember “that you can please some of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time.”

    So if the author of this blog upsets you, than I suggest that you don’t read this person’s article/s, as – and I believe I’m not an orphan in this regard – I certainly enjoyed it, for showing up that side of present day RuSSia.

    But on the other hand I would certainly hate for you to influence what I can or cannot read, like the majority of the brain dead morons that reside – and one cannot certainly call it living as we know it in the free world – in evil Czar Putin’s RuSSia, which by the way he rules with an iron fist.

  6. “… and one cannot certainly call it living as we know it in the free world – in evil Czar Putin’s RuSSia, which by the way he rules with an iron fist.”

    Bohdan, you would better add some bluh, bluh, bluh on the moral values of the American democracy to make a better democratic stand in “the Free World”. I love it when the guys like you do it (mentioning moral values). You see American idiocy in its upright position if I may put it so in this case.

    You see Verniece is not an orphan in “this regard” too. Definitely not an orphan.

  7. The problem with people like Chubais and Shuvalov is that they talk the talk but never walk the walk, they say all the rights words but having been in positions of influence where they could really have done something to change things for the better, they’ve in fact done either nothing or even made things worse. That nanotech corporation Chubais heads is a state controlled mammoth that burns through billions of roubles and takes years to develop Russian equivalents of technologies that a Silicon Valley start up would probably have spent a few months on (and I mean the real Silicon Valley here not the Skolkovo or what’s its name thingy ) So despite saying all the right things, people like Chubais are part of the problem.

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