So Fouled Up, It’s Kind of Fun!
A friend of mine recently returned from a political mob-event in
There are, it is true, a few differences. No one is attacking us now, we are not surrounded, and no one thirsts for our blood. We don’t need to cling to the frozen earth like a lover, under withering enemy fire. We don’t need to tear ourselves from that earth and, with an “ooh-rah” and an indistinct curse whispered from our fear-dried gullet, stand up for a bayonet charge. Nothing of that sort at all. We have no enemies at all. With the exception of our former friends, but they are not dangerous, inasmuch as they are small and fear us more than fire. We have a different problem. Like Panikovskiy*, no one likes us. The only thing they want is to get as far away from us as they can, as one might view a drunk on the street. It is tough to realize this, and tougher still to come to terms with it. We could, of course, grab them by the lapels and directly, impartially ask them: “Don’t you like me?” Or we could work ourselves up into a patriotic trance and chant that
Of course, all this did not begin this morning. For some years now any discussion of Russia and its problems in western universities and research centers has invited at best a yawn, at worst – irritation. And academic programs devoted to the study of us – from history and economics to arts and literature – are closing. Students don’t want to study Russian, they want to study Chinese. In other words we have already been for some time pushed to the periphery of western intellectual interests. But that was actually a victory. Now it’s much worse. The final straw was the polonium incident. On top of that lay, as if on someone’s order, as if naturally, the incident with
With a complete lack of interest, utterly coldly, they watch as our discussion of the polonium incident is turned upside down. They could care less whether Litvinenko was killed by rogue or non-rogue KGB agents, working for or against Putin. It’s all the same even if they were working for Berezovskiy, or Nevzlin, or the horned devil. It’s all the same. For them, we’re like Chinese, we all look the same. The main thing is -- they’re all Russians. Look at these stupid Russians, in trouble because of their adolescent complexes and stolen billions, now not only have they had a public brawl in the heart of Old Europe, they’ve brought on an investigation using the tables of their own stupid Mendeleyev!** And they think that exactly in this way they are getting up off their stupid knees! Let them stand up, dance around, maul each other with chemicals, and beat their chests all they want, only please, as far away from
We have made history, in the eyes of the world, with the first instance of nuclear terrorism. And now we are being congratulated by a grateful world. The world is now interested not in our plans for reform or anti-reform, not in our plans for economic or political freedom. All this “sputtering” is seen as categorically unreal, everyone knows it. No one even bothers asking dumb questions about freedom of speech anymore. Even the anti-aircraft missile systems we sold to
It just means they have to speed up their transition to alternative sources of energy. And that means that prices will fall to their traditional levels. Wreaking our bright dreams of “
LR: Literally, the title of the article ("Так хреново, что даже весело!") means "So full of horseradish, it's even merry!"
*Panikovskiy: a swindler, from the classic novel “The Golden Calf” by Ilf and Petrov. Most famous for pretending to be blind, then picking the pockets of those who came to his assistance.
**Dmitri Mendeleyev: Russian scientist, creator of the first periodic table of the elements.LR's Translator offers the following observations about the photograph that leads the article (LR has nothing to do with this photograph, it was selected by the Russian paper, but LR added the caption):
The utter idiocy of a guy holding a live electric wire in his hand, trying to figure out how to change the lightbulb at the end of it, while his daft mother or grandmother or wife or whatever looks on, is just too precious to let go. (Maybe a sort of allegory -- all of Russia looking on while their "gebetsi" try to turn Russia into an "energy superpower"?) It's actually the main reason I translated the article, so no one would accuse us of just putting up pictures of stupid Russians to make them all look bad. The article itself seemed a little cobbled together and inverted, with the less significant issue (the spat with Belarus) tacked on at the end and seemingly elevated above the significance of the Litvinenko murder -- I honestly couldn't understand what point Svanidze was trying to make in the first half of the next to last paragraph, even after I read it aloud to myself several times. So I just gave him a very literal translation and moved on. But I also liked his image of people in the west looking at Russians the way you might a drunk on the sidewalk. Conversationally, and in most ways professionally, I'll definitely cross the street to avoid having to deal with Russians. As for Svanidze, I put him in the same category with Vladimir Pozner -- both Soviet-educated True Believers, who quaintly came to believe their own propaganda about the basic goodness of Russians/Soviets, and manage to be genuinely surprised when they show themselves, time after time, to be the exact opposite.
LR: It's not at all uncommon to encounter purely incomprehensible gibberish in the Russian press, even from a high-ranking figure like Svanidze. In fact, perhaps most common, since the culture of cowardice in Russia usually prevents anyone from mentioning the flaws, as in the Emperor's New Clothes. Hence, the poor Emperor ultimately perishes from frostbite.