Putin might be flexing Russia’s muscles in Syria and Russia in general is acting more like a powerful state in its foreign policy. But internally, culture wise, nothing has changed from the 1990s.
Good luck on your film Evgenia! It sounds so amazing and one of my favorite genres. I am also so looking forward to listening to this new episode with my mom as we drive cross country on my exodus out of LA.
I am in a very close relationship with a Moscow boy who lives in the US now too and you pinpointed the mood perfectly -- the grim black and white portion of life before you get the new blender. We endlessly butt heads over this as he constantly complains about how terrible Russia is because he still wants to believe in the illusion presented of America. I, on the other hand tell him -- well look -- we've got the new blender, but that doesn't mean much of anything with my $50k in student loans and inability to afford a home or have healthcare.
I don't want to pretend to know what life is like in Russia, I just get infuriated by the claim that America is so great cause of these new blenders haha. As always appreciate your reads on this topic and this one particularly makes me feel more sane!
Thank you Evgenia for this thoughtful piece. I'm much older than you, and I have watched the hollowed-out "culture" of consumerism masquerading as "democracy" and "capitalism" spread from my native California into Russia, China, India -- literally everywhere. I have been living for the past 45 years in a self-congratulatory "beach town" with its own branch of the University of California and outposts of Google and Amazon nestled above glittering lifestyle emporia that claim to be successors the funky surf shops of old. It's all a lie here, just like it is in Moscow.
I'm leaving, because I can sell my grossly inflated house to people who think that they can "consume" our non-existent "California beach culture," and have enough to get by in a more rural place -- one still blighted by our hollow consumerism, but less certain of its worth.
As a longtime Exile fan, I'd been telling myself for months now to subscribe, but this free post finally got me. I'm an American russophile who spent several years living in Moscow in the 2010s. All my Russian friends thought I was crazy for choosing to be there, and it was indeed difficult to pinpoint what I saw in their country. The ease with which most of them (mostly young, educated liberals) moved about from job to job, party to party, flat to flat had a hopefulness and determination even in despair that I haven't seen in the US. I have had an equally difficult time explaining any of this to my American friends, who also wondered why anyone would want to live in a cold crumbling gas station where everyone hates homosexuals.
I did want to absorb as much Russian culture as I could while there but was disappointed to find out that most young Russians were more interested in American imports. The first time I was invited to a dance competition, I immediately agreed. Then I asked what kind of dance and was deflated when the girl told me "hip hop". Luckily I also met some Russians who were too old to be influenced by all the American gloss. Thanks for the discussion.
I look forward to the pod on this rainy ride. Thank you for sharing.
Really interesting Evgenia. I look forward to the podcast. Thanks
Thanks, Evgenia! It's is great how you reflect on your experiences and compare with what is going on now. I was always concerned with Westernitis rotting the creativity that Russia really does possess. The Yeltsin/Harvard rape will continue affecting Russia for the foreseeable future by locking in "our" oligarchs--it wasn't given a chance to transition the economy in a more rational fashion, US made sure of that. The Russian students that I spoke with in the `70s, as young as they were, had a very mature long view of change and were betrayed by Yeltsin and his CIA business partners. Personally, I too am sick of all of the kopirofka of western film/tv in Russian productions--Russians (all cultures) should back away from the West's "Capitalist Metronome of Death" that is set at a pace only adolescents demand and endure.
Very interesting - thank you.
After USSR collapse, it is universally reported, there was an economic devastation -- most people savings (usually kept "under the bed" evaporated because currency devaluation. Most people still remember that immense shock.
Has the economy markedly improved after that? How much? Apparently Putin is still widely popular -- is this correct?
I get your main point -- about culture. Since I am not Russian this is sad to hear; I love Russia's contribution to arts and sciences. To try to comfort you -- in the entire East and Central Europe there is a cultural devastation by "cultural" imports (mostly TV/movie) from the US. There is a healthy counter-culture emerging though...
I found this interesting given my usual reading material:
"I even noticed that some people on the anti-imperialist left also think that Russia has a bit of its old Soviet spirit left in it. They think that Putin is out there on the world stage opposing American neoliberalism."
I'm not sure I think that Putin is opposing American (style) neoliberalism, but he's certainly opposing the uni-polar global order that the U.S. is trying to maintain regardless of whether it's resultant of pure personal greed or any other motive.
"In an essay published on his email list Prof. Michael Brenner, a regular reader of Moon of Alabama, gives his answer to our questions:
Biden, long the absentee overseer of Ukraine under Obama, backed a plan to put an end to the secessionist, Russified provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk in the Donbass. It was seen as a way to discipline Vladimir Putin whose interference in Syria and blood-minded actions elsewhere irritated American policy-makers, to complete Russia’s isolation (along with an overthrow of the Belarus government), and to solidify NATO/EU control of the European continent.
Washington expanded its program of arming and training the Ukrainian army arm and militias (including the neo-Nazi Azov battalion), gave President (and ex-comedian) President Vladimir Zielenski the green light to move his military to the contact line, and led an orchestrated denunciation of Russia and all its work loudly reinforced by the ever-obedient chorus of European dependents. Biden himself struck the tone in declaring that Putin was a ‘killer.’ It was classic coercion via military intimidation – although hardly classic in insulting your opponent unless you follow up with a bugle call for attack. The entire project is now in ruins – a miserable failure. The ‘why’ carries heavy – if unrecognized – lessons.
The Kremlin had given clear signs that it no longer was going to turn the other cheek to what it saw as hostile, belittling Western moves. The eastward expansion of NATO right to Russia’s border, the Washington approved Georgian assault on South Ossetia by American trained/advised forces, the color revolutions culminating in the American instigated Nuland coup in Kiev that toppled a democratically elected President, undocumented accusations of meddling in the tranquil waters of American politics, the repeated sanctions, the relentless campaign to sabotage Nordstrom II etc. etc. Those clear signs were ignored, as are all other facts that don’t conform with the self-serving, self-deluding Washington narrative. There, gross misinterpretations of conditions in Russia prevail.
They truly believe that Navalny is the country’s great white hope when in truth his modest support lies only among the liberal intelligensia of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Putin’s popularity, especially in regard to relations with the West, is undiminished. The public fully backs Putin. Moreover, he is at the ’soft’ end of a continuum among political elites - including officials within his government. Hence, his response to the renewed threat to the Donbass was quick and decisive. He deployed 75,000 heavily armed army units with supporting air power to the border while Lavrov stated baldly that any offensive by the Ukrainians would be met with overwhelming force, and that would mean the destruction of the current Ukrainian regime.
The call up of a five divisions strong battle ready force within 10 days, which NATO is unable to match in size and speed, had the desired effects:
The United States and its allies had no counter; they had to back down. Within days, Biden made an impromptu call to ‘killer’ Putin calling for a relaxing of tensions while looking forward to stable, predictable relations between their two countries. That week, Blinken flew to Kiev to bluntly tell Zelenski to call it all off. If that meant throwing him to the ultra-nationalist wolves in Kiev, he always had his comedian gig to fall back on. Great power politics as burlesque!
There was a dawning awareness that contending with a fully aroused Russia, in Europe and elsewhere, was no piece of cake. It followed that the United States should not be conducting all-out ‘Cold War’ with China and Russia simultaneously. Since China was the much greater challenger to American global hegemony, somehow working out a tacit modus vivendi, or, at least, ceasefire, with Moscow was called for. That should have been obvious for at least the past 12 years to anyone with a strategic brain. Instead, American leaders had done everything possible to solidify a Sino-Russian alliance as has materialized in their ‘strategic partnership’ which grows in strength and confidence by the day.
The abject failure in Ukraine (simultaneously with the thwarted attempt to overthrow Lukashenko in Belarus) shook Washington’s unbounded self-confidence enough for it to recognize the error of its ways.
A series of moves in Europe signaled the intention to change course. The announced dispatch of a naval battle group to the Black Sea was summarily cancelled, pressure on Germany to prevent the completion of Nordstrom II was lifted, and the plans for a Ukrainian attack on the Donbass was abruptly dumped. Biden clearly intends next week’s meeting with Putin in Geneva as a crucial step paving the way for a tempering of the hostility that has marked relations between Washington and Moscow. The hope is that the gestures noted above combined with an expressed readiness to work together on handful of contentious issues can mollify Russian antagonism toward the West. That, in turn, could cool its enthusiasm for the strategic partnership with Beijing – making it easier for the U.S. to concentrate on its struggle for global supremacy with China while weakening the latter’s hand.
The ploy is doomed to failure."
Interesting how the image of Russia doesn't match the real country. Plenty of tropes and out dated perspectives. I think in Australia it is probably similar. My country seems intent on following the US and it is depressing now as there's been a rise in anti China and anti Rusia media stories and politicians rhetoric. Also more cases of Asians, especially Chinese facing abuse.
In Australia the media is dominated by Murdoch and middle Australia is susceptible to this aggressive US influence. We have big influence of US cinema not all bad but US cultural and political influence is strong. Many so called liberals seem to be a little too compliant.
It is like some powerful elements want us to return to cold war mentality. Our prime minister is an evangelical. Strange. Also asylum seekers in boats are shoved into detention centres for processing (more prisons really)
I read Pelevin only in English: Homo Sapiens but not sure if translation can capture the irony cultural references. I liked the novel though.
I'd be interested in your and Yasha's review/critique of this film:
"Police Major Igor Grom is known throughout St. Petersburg for his penetrative character and irreconcilable attitude towards criminals of all stripes. But everything changes dramatically with the appearance of a person in the mask of the Plague Doctor. Having declared that his city is "sick with the plague of lawlessness", he takes up "treatment", killing people who, at one time, escaped punishment with the help of money and high status in society. Society is agitated. The police officers are powerless. For the first time, Igor faces difficulties in the investigation, the outcome of which may determine the fate of the whole city."