Russia is (not) the mother of all evil
Is Russia “Mother of all evil”?
This is my 5th visit to Russia from New Zealand and I have a lot of thoughts about freedom of speech and our government(s). Please read this to to end and excuse me that due to lack of time, I couldn’t proof read my English.
1. Free speech
Peter the Great is one of Russia’s most important, on the border of scared, historical Russian leaders: as the Russian Tzar, he left Moscow to build Saint Petersburg (which named after him), he established the relationship with Europe, developed Russia’s economy, science and trade – basically – he the founding father of modern Russia. My blog is not about history, you can read more about Peter the Great on Wikipedia, I want to focus here on this statue which is positioned on Rabbit Island in Saint Petersburg, please have a look:
So this is a statue of Peter the Great done by a Russian artist, and as you can see – it is describing him as some sort of a twisted devil: his body is out of proportions, he has got a very small head and extremely long legs and long fingers. Peter the Great, they say, had a disproportional body, but this statue is definitely an exaggeration of how he looked (pictures of him are available in the museums). I went to see this statue for at least 10 times, and each time I heard Russian people around me complaining that the statue is ugly, and the it is not respecting Peter the Great. They are right: it looks like it was designed to emphasize aspects of Peter the Great which most Russians are not aware of: yes he developed Russia, but the price was huge: millions of Russians were slaved to death and been looted from their assets – via high taxes – to enrich the royal family. In the artist eyes, Peter the Great is a devil.
So please imagine an artist that would describe Queen Elizabeth, or one of the American founding fathers – in a similar way. The British monarch is responsible for the enslavement and killing of millions of people – but I never heard of an artist work which is demonizing them and is displayed in London. The American founding fathers have a load of millions of native Americans which been looted from their land and assets, and millions of white Americans which died in the civil war – but I didn’t see it displayed in New York City. And now to another exciting fact – the location where this piece of art is presented – I took a panoramic 180deg view for you:
“Rabbit Island” is actually a memorial place for the Russian Monarch. Its name is actually “Peter and Paul’s fortress” – Peter the Great built a huge fortress on the Island. The fortress was a front line defence point for Saint Petersburg but it was also used as a jail and a torture place for political prisoners. The royal family built a huge cathedral in the place, and they were buried there. Peter and Paul’s fortress has got not only an historical importance, but also a religious importance: the cathedral is one of the most important cathedrals in Russia as Peter the Great and other royals are buried inside, so some people come to respect the dead with a pray or ceremony. So why am I telling you all this? Well, the above statue is not just placed on the same Island. I took a panoramic picture view for you to see for yourself: Peter the Great which is described as the devil, is sitting on his chair and watching the cathedral, just 50m away from its entrance. Now please show me one culture world wide which will have the balls to take free speech to such an extreme.
Don’t be wrong: lots of Russians were furious when the artists displayed that work and especially because of the location it was placed at. But it is still there, 50 meters away from Peter the Great memorial monument. The equivalent for this would be, for example, if someone displayed Jacinda Arden or Queen Elizabeth as the devil, and would be able to place their work permanently on Parliament grounds. Or if an American artist would be allowed to create a statue of George Washington portraited as say Osama Bin Laden, and place the statue permanently at the entrance to mount Rushmore.
2. Dictation by “what is right”
A true unpublished story. In May 2019 a horrible accident happened in Moscow. A truck driven by a drunk driver drove into a crowd near the red square, and killed 51 people. Russian people were devastated and Vladimir Putin was required to act. Actually, for many years that Putin tried to ban all trucks from entering the Moscow center, rumors said that he feared of a revolution or road blocks sneaking onto the red square, but since truck drivers unions and small businesses lobbies has gained a lot of power in Russia, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin never found the way how to do so. But here is an opportunity – the crowd is pissed off, Putin went on prime time TV and announced the submission of a new bill which would be voted under urgency, and – he said on prime time TV: “since we want to keep the democratic process, our legal and policy advisers couldn’t find a legal way to ban trucks off the red square zone straight away, however – we do publish emergency laws which would be valid straight away and will require every truck driver that wanted to access the wide Moscow zone to apply for a special license. I can already tell you – no special licenses would be approved… and once the new bill is approved by Parliament… the special license option is revoked… you can try to apply… I trust no licenses will get approved… try us!”.
Everyone were happy and the local media was as quiet as usual, they continued to ignore critical political moves and focused on the usual nonsense like the Russian celebrities, food festivals and other events.
You are probably thinking to yourself now – “ah yes, that is Russia, a corrupt totalitarian regime” but actually, this story has never happened in Russia and I doubt if it could ever passed so quietly in the way it was described as Russian people, and the Russian media, are very vocal and extremely critical of such government acts (which unfortunately, are indeed common). This story has actually happened just 4 months ago, and in a different country: in New Zealand. Just be kind enough to replace “Putin” with “Jacinda Arden” and “Trucks laws” with “gun laws” and here you will get the story of what happened in New Zealand just after the Christchurch massacre: the government knew what is best for us and rushed to regulate the gun laws. Since they still had to go through parliamentary processes which take some time, they set several restrictions on gun law permits . The prime minister said, and in prime TV, the words which I quoted above: “you can try to ask for a permit, but we won’t give it… try us”: the words and the actions of a small fascist.
3. Lets joke about Stalin
The Russian government banned the movie “The Death of Stalin” and in the west people were pointing for it as an evidence that the soviet union is alive and kicking in Russia and that the Russian government is pro-communist and pro-Stalin. This is the most ridiculous and offensive claim about Russia which I ever heard of, and I will supply some evidences for that below. But first of all – to my private story.
When I first saw the trailer of this film, I was in New Zealand. It annoyed me a bit, because I studied a bit of history in Israel where Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were very influential. I asked my wife (she is Russian) is she would like to watch it since after all it is about Russia – but once she saw the trailer she was so freaked out that we never really went to see the whole movie: My wife’s family was hunted by the Stalin regime: her great grandfather been murdered during the Stalin time for being “enemy of the people” and her great-grandmother family been arrested for being rich (they owned a cow and a horse – for Stalin it was enough to send you away) and expelled to the frozen deserts of Kazakhstan. They were allowed to get back to Russia only after Stalin died. My grandmother in law is still alive, she is 92 years old and she can still remember how the Stalin regime abused and terrorised the family, in fact, it was so traumatic that she is still living her life like she is still in a Gulag. For most Russians, the “Death of Stalin” movie should be banned because it is underestimating the trauma that Stalin created – and not because they like Stalin in some sort of way. Imagine a Hollywood movie which turns the Nazi death camps into a joke – wouldn’t Israel ban them? Imagine a film that make a comedy out of the ANZAC campaign and ANZAC death toll and portrait it as fun walk in the park – would New Zealand / Australia allow it to be shown? When it comes to Russian history and Russian sacred events, Hollywood is very easy going – but I doubt if they would make a video which portraits Hitler as a black american president which invades to Afghanistan, just as a joke, you know.
Now – lets take the discussion beyond my private story – what is the Russian government view of Stalin? I once visited the Russian Museum for Political History. In one of the rooms, they presented Stalin’s original office: his char, desk, clothing – the authentic Stalin space and his personal objects. If I was a manipulative journalist like the one we employ in the west, I would write “you see, they adore Stalin so much that they keep his office for future generations”. But in fact, the little note on the side which described the items said “this is the original Stalin office, from here Stalin dictated and terrorised our nation…” (comment: I lost the photo of that place, I plan to go on special to that museum to take this picture again). The museum is by the way a government sponsored museum, and is exhibiting items from the Royal times to the time of the collapse of the soviet union. And if you need additional evidences that Stalin is not appreciated in Russia of today, this is how Stalin is pictured by an artist in the Museum for Modern Art:
Another shocking picture in that museum overwhelmed me even more – if you know anything about Nazi history and the soviet union, few countries will allow such an item presented in a main stream museum :
And if you think that the critics of Russian people is just about communism and the soviet union, have a look at another piece of art which displays Yekaterina the great, one of Russia’s most important Tzars in history – and if you find a similar criticism of King Philip, or King George or of any other British royal, please let me know:
4. Capitalism and under cover Communism
We all agree that Capitalism is based on the principal that people can “own” things (capital). But what does ownership mean? Ownership means that you could do with the subject matter all what you wanted to so, right? For example… if I own a book, I could read it, sell it or even throw it to the rubbish. I completely own it, if I really wanted – I could tear our all the odd pages and leave the even pages – just because I like to do so!
So do I own my house? I do own my house according to the records, but unfortunately – I can’t do all what I wanted with it without a permit: I can’t install new windows. I can’t install a new light switch. I can’t break walls and I can’t build a new room. I don’t really own it – I own it conditionally. Same principles apply for lots of other things – cars, land, water,… today the nanny state will even tell you how to speak with your children and what is right/wrong in their education. In Russia, however, the situation is slightly different: people can (in general) do what they want, and how they want (author comment: two exceptions which I spotted: employment laws and women rights). You can find lots of houses (and flats) which were modified – sometimes in a dangerous way, like this light switch which I found in one Russian flat:
Yes it is dangerous – but shouldn’t it be my responsibility if it is my house? Ah! “Health and safety” and “Privacy” – the two magic words which lets the government control you, but do not allow you to get the power which the government has, on us: yes the way it is done in Russia is dangerous and sometimes annoying but we are here to discuss freedom, remember? When it comes to freedom – when the state is a nanny state, it can find lots of excuses why to limit your freedom. In Russia it does not work like that.
5. Welcoming other cultures
Another well spotted difference between Russia and other countries, is how diverse and welcoming they are to other cultures. I found in Saint Petersburg more KFCs and MacDolands shops than I found in Sydney. Then I started to wonder – why can’t I find Russian food chain stores in Sydney, or the US, or in New Zealand, but I could find New Zealand / American / Australian brands everywhere in Russia? You are now smiling and saying to yourself “obviously this guy is an idiot, it is because Russians has got nothing to offer”. Well, the opposite is the truth: everyone visiting Russia is overwhelmed by the cultural offerings especially in food and drinks: Russia has got such creative and interesting chain networks that would beat down any Western or European food chain stores, and easily, Here are some examples:
– kroshka kartoshka: a fast food chain network that delivers baked potatoes with fillings. Basically it is like KFC of baked potatoes which are healthier, and tastier.
– Na Parakh steamed food: they specialise in no oil and no preservatives and natural coloring cooking. Trust me, it is the best food you can get on the planet, super healthy and tasty, and for prices which makes you embarrassed for how cheap it is.
– Brynza coffee: a chain restaurant with variety of food offerings, specialising in Russian Burekas
– Bushe: a premium coffee shop and bakery chain.
6. Control by efficiency
As a young Israeli school student, one of the things the overwhelmed me about Nazi Germany was how organised they were: Israel is a mess, Israelis do not understand processes and organizations, and we are not disciplined nation. In most nations – when the boss is telling you something, you do it. In Israel, you first of all say no, or ask a question – you don’t just follow. It explains two facts about the Israeli culture which can also be seen in the Israeli military: the Israeli military has got a slang call “after me!” meaning – in order to succeed, you need to lead and do by yourself, and not just tell others what to do and by what law. The second interesting fact is what Israelis name “illegal command” – meaning – if someone superior to you is giving you a command which seems “illegal” (like – hurting someone else) – you can disobey, and not get punished. I don’t know of any other culture which has a adopted a similar concept.
New Zealanders, Australians, Americans – has got a very organized society: service is amazing, information is accessible, processes are efficient and transparent. Israel is exactly the opposite: everything goes hard, everything works only if you cut corners. Now back to Russia, I found out that Russia is very similar to Israel, and even worst: it is a big mess.
But sometime a mess is a big advantage, and I will give an example. Russia has got this law that you can visit the country for 90 days each 180 days (like many European countries) and you can’t restart the counting of days by going out from the country. In the last 4 months I was in Russia for 70 days… I am back in from Israel just recently and when entering the border control I was worried that they won’t let me in… I handed my passport and they stamped it for another 90 days allowance even that it is beyond the quota: such an inefficient and inaccurate way of governance wouldn’t occur anywhere else: obviously the system in Russia is not efficient and the laws are more of like a recommendation. It is everywhere you go – and the feeling is sometimes great, sometimes worrying because obviously it has some bad sides too: in our country, the laws are limiting us, but they also sort of protect us from tyrannic and abusive behavior. That is why when ugly politicians like Jacinda Arden or John Key bypass the laws with all sort of tricks, I’m worried. Still obviously our system (and especially the American system) has got some balances that the Russian system does not have: it is very hard to bribe officials while in Russia is it sometimes common practice which can risk people which are on the target of corrupt people. In the end, if you get into troubles, it is still better for you to get into troubles in a country like New Zealand, rather than in Russia. But for that subject I will have to devote another blog item.
Until next time, Poka Poka (bye bye in Russian)