Julia Ioffe, writing on Slate:
One evening in Moscow, Tanya (not her real name) found herself at a dinner table with a group of friends, most of them married couples. One of the men started to tell a story about the coda to a recent guys’ night out. He’d stumbled home the next morning to his wife and two children—a 2-year-old and an infant—to find that he’d forgotten his underwear. Everyone at the dinner table, including the man’s wife, laughed at the story: the hijinks!
Wandering spouses have become a common trope for the women of Moscow. “Men’s environment here pushes them towards cheating,” Tanya told me, adding that, these days, a boys’ night out in Russia often involves prostitutes. Tanya and her friends are young, educated, upper-middle-class Muscovites, but talk to any woman in Moscow, and, regardless of age, education, or income level, she’ll have a story of anything from petty infidelity to a parallel family that has existed for decades. Infidelity in Moscow has become “a way of life,” as another friend of mine put it—accepted and even expected.
There’s sick, and then there’s Russian sick. Julia Ioffe, reporting on Slate:
A strange thing happened in late June, when the big Russian Internal Ministry bosses disclosed their earnings and those of their family members, thanks to President Dmitry Medvedev’s new anti-corruption measures. The surprise didn’t come from the men: The head-honcho cops were the fat cats everyone assumed them to be, declaring incomes that strangely exceeded that of the president. And the ranks of the obscure upper-middle management fittingly declared modest incomes, usually topping at out around $50,000. A Russian-made car here, a modest apartment there.
But the wifely half of the family disclosures was far more revelatory. There was, for example, the amazing financial statement of the spouse of Viktor Smirnov, the deputy director of the Russian Internal Ministry’s Center to Ensure Operation Performance to Combat Extremism. In 2009, a year in which the Russian economy struggled to get back on its feet after the financial crisis turned it virtually inside-out, Mrs. Smirnov made $500,000. She also owns two plots of land, each about 40 acres. She has shares in two apartments as well as in a housing complex, plus a Subaru Outback, an industrial truck, and a BMW 3-Series, which can retail for over $60,000. What does Mr. Smirnov own? One-quarter of one apartment.
In a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine, Russia blogger Julia Ioffe wrote about the Russian teen who created Chatroulette. Ioffe also answered questions from the magazine’s readers in a live chat. Here is the transcript:
JULIA IOFFE: Hello, everyone! Julia Ioffe here, and very happy to be here. Can’t wait to get at some of these questions.
QUESTION FROM ARUIZCAMACHO: Your portrait of Ternovskiy’s first acquaintance with America is very poignant. Have you kept in touch with him? How’s he adjusting to his new country lately?
JULIA IOFFE: Yes, I’ve tried to stay in touch with Andrey, partially because it’s hard to just let go of an interesting person you get to know so well by reporting a story. It was also especially interesting to me to hear how he was adjusting to America given his high hopes for the place. At first, and especially after he got to San Francisco, he seemed to swoon a bit. Then as reality hit—meetings, the need to work and improve the site, the loneliness of turning 18 without your family—he cooled to it and told me that America is just like everywhere else—boring.
Julia Ioffe (who blogs at Moscow Diaries), writing in the Washington Post:
About a month ago, I came home to find an odd e-mail from Alexander Parkhomenko, a man I’ve never met. “Is everything really so bad in Russia?” he wrote.
I have been reporting from Moscow for the past six months, and Parkhomenko had been reading my work. He liked the stories, he said, “but one gets the sense that you were brought back here by sheer force to this hated country, back to the funny, stupid Russians, back to a horrible city unfit for life, and that your ‘love/hate relationship’ means mostly the latter.”
This was not the first time a Russian had attacked me — in an only-I-can-make-fun-of-my-family sort of way — for being critical of Russia, which to many people here is indistinguishable from hating Russia. But something about the way Parkhomenko cut to the central dilemma of my place in Russia shook me.
Because I am back. And — aside from the detail that I now live on the same street, in the same building, where I spent part of my childhood and from which my parents, Jewish refugees, took me almost exactly 20 years ago — I am back in a way that is very easy to resent.
Julia Ioffe reports from Moscow:
Crossing the underground transfer to the Paveletskaya stop on the circle line in the Moscow metro this morning, I found myself swallowed up by a bunch of singing, rowdy youths.
Decked out in red-and-white scarves, they were on their way to Luzhniki stadium for a soccer match where they would cheer for their team, Spartak — thus the red and white. (These, coincidentally, are also the colors of Nashi, the Hitlerjugend-ish Kremlin youth group.)
The kids were warming up in the metro, having warmed up, it seems, with a couple beers beforehand.
Holding their arms out in a V or clapping, the kids sang. And here’s what they sang:
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.