Roman Nosikov (Russia)
“Is it good that we’re Russians?” asks my four-year-old daughter while I’ve got my nose buried in a news site. “It’s a lot of fun being a Russian,” I answer while I’m nervously scrolling down the page. A headline catches my eye: “Russia to Blame for the War in Iraq.” I blink. It doesn’t help…
I blink again and rub my temples. It’s no use—the article is still there.
British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) head John Sawers said Russia was one of those to blame for starting the war in Iraq, according to the BBC Russian Service. Sawers made this statement during public hearings in London on the circumstances surrounding the invasion of Iraq by Western coalition forces.
According to Sawers, who served as Foreign Affairs Adviser to British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the early part of the century, Russia is responsible for failing to introduce a number of sanctions against Iraq that could have helped avoid the conflict.
I had just been wondering: whose fault was it, anyway? And here the answer was right in front of me! So all that stuff about weapons of mass destruction had nothing to do with it. “Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and he wants to use them against democracy!” I still remember quite well who said that and what the circumstances were. No WMD were found. “What do you mean—there aren’t any WMD?” asked the British and American intelligence services. “We gave them to to Saddam ourselves?!” In my opinion, the simple and natural question “Why?” isn’t appropriate here. It’s an improper question. Because if it is asked, it may turn out that the Russians aren’t to blame, and that wouldn’t work because it doesn’t fit the traditional picture of the world.
Recently, Russia and France began negotiations over the sale of the Mistral helicopter carrier and the transfer of licenses to build three more in Russian shipyards. Georgia and Estonia are in a panic. They don’t care that the Mistral is an ocean-going vessel. Neither country has an outlet to the ocean. But that doesn’t matter. “The Russians have decided to tear down Estonia and put up a bowling alley in its place.[i]”
Nobody cares what Russia and the Russians have to say about it. The Russians are predatory bears with sharp pointed balalaikas and a never-ending thirst for vodka and blood. Besides that, they’re sitting on huge reserves of hydrocarbons, which changes things from light drama to full-fledged tragedy: Russia, in contrast to Iraq, actually has WMD; and it has an air force, so there’s no chance of democratizing it in the near future along the lines of Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. That’s frustrating.
And WMD isn’t the only problem. The two great unifiers of Europe—Napoleon and Hitler—met their end on the broad expanse of our Motherland. The Mongol hordes disappeared here, and the Orders of Crusaders had their hopes for world domination dashed here. How were these poor people able to resist the advantages offered by the conquerors? How were they able to withstand the most advanced war machines of the time? That’s not clear. “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery.” It’s frustrating. What kind of riddles can there be when everything is supposed to be be clear and understandable? Riddles are obsolete; they belong in ancient history. And here you have a walking anachronism staring you in the face and claiming to be real. It’s crazy.
There’s room for hope yet: Russia’s demographics are pretty bad. Russia is experiencing serious problems with alcoholism and drug use, so maybe the mystery will solve itself. Incidentally, about drug use… The American experts that the Voice of America’s Russian Service approached for comments understand Russia’s concerns, but they believe the criticism directed at the United States is unreasonable. In an interview, Ted Galen Carpenter, an expert at the Cato Institute in Washington, said that drug addiction is a problem of demand, not supply. He went on to say that when the Kremlin demands that the United States and NATO countries stop the flow of drugs from Afghanistan, it seems to be looking for scapegoats. He doesn’t believe that the flow of drugs from Afghanistan can be stopped. He thinks it would be suicidal for American policy to try to do that. Drug trafficking makes up more than one third of the Afghan economy, and if the Americans try to destroy opium poppy crops, they run the risk of turning a significant portion of the country’s population against them. Most of the Afghan elite, regardless of their ideological orientation, are involved in the drug trade. According to Carpenter, Karzai and his cronies are involved in drug trafficking.
The Russians themselves are at fault for using drugs. Oh, we’re such a depraved people. But the Americans don’t believe the production of drugs in Colombia to be a problem of demand; on the contrary—they flood the drug plantations down there with defoliants. That’s why it’s obvious that for Americans the difference between an American and a Russian is that if the addict is a Russian it’s his fault, but if he’s an American is Colombia’s fault. When it comes to establishing democracy throughout the world, it doesn’t matter that a part-time democrat is the largest drug trafficker in the world—we can forgive him for that. Especially since he was elected by people who had to place marks opposite symbols for candidates because they were illiterate, and his main opponent withdrew from the race before the second round.
It seems that being a Russian today is just as interesting as being a Jew was before World War II—you’re always finding out something new about yourself. Either you’re directly involved in all of the evil in the world, or you’re under suspicion for it. “The hand of the Kremlin,” “KGB intrigues,” and “the Russian connection” have become a universal explanations for any unpleasant event. The French have a wonderful saying: “look for a woman.” So, in today’s political world, as soon as a politician gets caught in a scandal, all he has to do is start “looking for a Russian” in order to ward off the intense scrutiny of his fellow citizens.
We find it flattering to be considered so important, of course, but we’re sometimes troubled by a question: with all this attention being paid to us won’t we end up the same way as the European Jews did? I’ve seen Nazi cartoons on the Jewish problem. You know, they look kind of familiar.
So, when my daughter asks, “Is it good to be a Russian?” I can’t get myself to give an definite “Yes.” I’m a cynic, of course, but I’d rather not lie to a child. I tell her that “being a Russian is interesting.” When all is said and done, isn’t it interesting to be “a riddle wrapped in a mystery” that will take us an entire lifetime to solve?
[i] A quote from Russian comedian Garik Martirosyan.
Roman Nosikov is a contributor to the Russian ‘East+West Review‘ on-line journal. The article first appeared in Russian in December 2009.