Thursday, June 7, 2012

Observations from Russia

I honestly didn't intend to go this deep on my first blog, but I honestly feel that what I have to say is important and applicable not only to my situation (such as it is), but also has application to the real world and to the spirit and memory of those who came before. And so, here goes.

Currently I am in Petrozavodsk, Karelia, Russian Federation. I am here to improve my Russian language skills and to try and understand a little better this nation, this people, that Winston Churchill once famously described as "a riddle, wrapped up in a mystery, inside an enigma." It certainly has struck me that this is not entirely true, but has bits of truth wrapped up inside of it. My time here so far has...honestly not been that much different than if I was in a metropolis in the USA or small, albeit aged, city in Europe. It is a city of roughly 270 thousand people, situated along the second largest lake in Europe, Lake Onega. If the observations made here are generally true in all of Russia itself, then I fear for the Russian people.

After spending over two weeks here already, I can say with assurance that Russia is one of the most depressing and kill-joy nations I have ever visited. There is little humor to be had here, and the humor that is found is altogether depressing, fatalistic, and cynical. Smiles are few and far between, even among the young people. This is a nation that is caught in-between two extremes: the brutal legacy of empire (both Tsarist and Communist) and the materialist energy of the post-modern West. In terms of fashion, the men are still stuck in the 1990s, and the women try too hard to be like "the West", and by that I mean the more sheer the shirt, the shorter the dress, the more make-up that can be applied, the better. It really presents a contrast when to see a more conservative-dressing woman and a "modern" woman walking by each other.
Dilapidated buildings, crumbling sidewalks, gardens and parks overgrown with weeds and dandelions...this is the prevailing sight in Petro. It is a byproduct of a carry-over from the Soviet days: the government spends billions on massive construction products and initiatives while the common people pull long hours to make ends meet. This has been Russia's curse since it's inception: it has never known a democratic form of government, nor do the Russians think they shall ever truly experience one. That is not to say that a democratic government would be preferable in any case, as we can see the effects of "democratic" government in the European Union that is now threatening to crumble any day.
The people are suspicious, serious, pessimistic, and cynical. That doesn't apply to everyone (the young people have an improving, though still grim, mindset), but it is what I have noticed. As an American I can notice the distinct difference even in the way that I walk compared with Russians.
There is a fatalism here, a kind of pervading hopelessness that slowly drowns and embeds itself, like a slow flood or lingering virus, into everything. Perhaps I am exaggerating, but even the Russians who I talk with don't disagree with me on every observation. I firmly believe that this kind of cultural stagnation is a direct result of the long night of socialism and it's logical conclusion, communism.
Today I saw a little old lady standing on the corner across from the apartment where I am staying. Old as she is, she is still there, trying to sell flowers, even as the modern Russian masses walk past. It breaks my heart and I want to just break down and weep. To be utterly honest, I want to give her a hug, but I don't think she'd accept it even if I tried.
Is this the kind of Russia that Pushkin and Chekhov wrote of? Is this the Russia that could produce a reincarnation of such great figures as Dostoevsky, Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Chayanov, Tchaikovsky, or Gogol? Is this the Russia that produced the Kremlin, St. Basil's, Peter and Paul, Christ on the Blood, the Hermitage, and even the great city Saint Petersburg itself? What happened to that vibrant culture? And will we ever see its like again in the country of its birth?
Such questions are unanswerable at the present, because modern Russia is living in what can only be called a  kind of Soviet twilight. It's the same spirit with different faces.
Modern Russia is an example of the consequences of the misuse of that great and noble but infinitely corrupt-able idea of "freedom". Edmund Burke once remarked that freedom itself leads to excess and misuse. What he meant by that is the pervasive idea of "unlimited" freedom, which is the watch-word of the radical and progressive, will ultimately lead to the undoing of freedom itself. If we, as rational beings, reason that we have license to do as we please, which is the argument of a Sadist, then ultimately there will be those who will attempt to manifest their will and impress it upon others. The only other logical conclusion to this idea is utter and unspeakable chaos: anarchy, in the truest sense of the word.
The socialist idea of utopia, of complete "freedom", has been shown to do the exact opposite of what it intended: it enslaved almost half the world and led to the untold slaughter and murder of millions. Even Fascism, Socialism's sibling, cannot make such a claim. But that is not, perhaps, the greatest crime of socialism. No, the greatest crime of socialism is that it kills the soul, not only of the individual, but also of the people and nation, and ultimately of civilization. It is the most abhorrent of barbarisms, and yet it still holds many in thrall of its supposed benefits and good intentions.
The saying "the end justifies the means" can be true, but only when "the means are worthy of the end". If we are to use this rubric of thought, then logically socialism and its associates don't fit the bill. The end (worker's utopia and "complete" freedom) may be worthy, I suppose, but the means to attain it (murder, terror, state control and the loss of freedoms, the death of faith and culture) are certainly not. Time and time again people try to establish a Marxist utopia, and the end result is always the same. If anyone doubts me, they need only to see what it has done to Mother Russia.
I hope that those who read this will consider it carefully, and will draw helpful and thoughtful conclusions from it. More to come in the future.

1 comment:

  1. This is what is happening to the U.S. It's so obvious. Why don't the stupid liberals/socialists see this??