Monday, March 17, 2014

Taking Russia in

Умом Россию не понять,
Аршином общим не измерить:
У ней особенная стать —
В Россию можно только верить.

The mind cannot understand Russia
Nor grasp it by a common measure
It has a peculiar trait
In Russia one can only believe.

This short poem by the nineteenth-century poet Fedor Tiutchev are amongst the favorite and most-cited of poems by Russians, many of whom still value and esteem poetry, distant as that may seem from our mindset.  And there's a lot of this going on in Russia right now, stuff that it's just hard to get.

Russians want to believe in Russia right now.  They perceive that they have been beat down but that Putin can restore the nation to its rightful greatness by swaggering and throwing its weight around.  Actually, it's not so far afield. Chinese nationalism is being stoked by the perceived humiliation of western imperial domination, followed by hard times under Mao and the Cultural Revolution. They are sticking it to the west with fake Guccis and whatever else and a fleet of Audis and snapping up farmland in Africa and Smithfield Hams, they feel they are restoring themselves to their rightful place in the world. 

Moreover, why the hell did we go into Iraq?  Why did Americans back that?  It was because, after 9/11, we felt that somebody else had to get hurt, and Afghanistan wasn't big enough.  Saddam seemed about right-sized.

But, to return to Russia, we threaten them with sanctions.  But Russia's proudest moments in history have been times of deprivation, when they have been brought together by war.  The 900-day siege of Leningrad, the battle of Stalingrad, the Great Patriotic War (WWII) generally, these are greatest hits in Russia.  Russia loves to martyr itself to defeat the enemy from without.

Check out this blog post from 2005.  Russians beat their chests with pride when remembering self-sacrifice.

We are in a bit of a pickle just now.  We can only hope that the westernization/consumerization of Russia has progressed far enough to outweigh their deeply ingrained ascetic tendencies.  Often enough, they prefer swords to plowshares.

If only, however, they had done more birthing of babies.  They are a bit depleted of army-age males, as they have been drinking and smoking themselves to death for some time now.

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