More great Remnick on Russia

5 Aug


The man just keeps pumping it out.  This week’s New Yorker: probably best all-around account of the Putinshchina and turn away from ‘democracy’ and the West that has been put out there so far, Letter from Moscow: Watching the Eclipse,as told through the story of American ambassador Michael McFaul.  On his early student days at the end of Soviet times:

“There are people who encounter Russia and see nothing but the merciless weather, the frowns, the complicated language that, in casual encounters, they hear as rudeness, even menace; and there are those who are entranced by the literature and the music and the talk—the endless talk about eternal matters. McFaul was attuned to this particular kind of Russian romance.”

Extensive, even in including the new Orthodox nationalism:

“The imagery of Putinism, with its ominous warnings against political chaos and outside interference, has long been in evidence. All you have to do is watch television. In 2008, state television broadcast a cheesy docudrama called “The Destruction of an Empire: The Lesson of Byzantium,” which was hosted and produced by Tikhon Shevkunov, a Russian Orthodox priest whose church, the Sretensky Monastery, is just down the street from Lubyanka, K.G.B. headquarters. Shevkunov, who has known Putin for many years, is widely rumored to be the Russian President’s dukhovnik, his spiritual adviser. The film purports to be a history of the Byzantine Empire’s fall at the hands of the perfidious West, and not, as scholars have it, to the Ottoman Turks, who conquered Constantinople in 1453. The film is a crude allegory, in which, as the Byzantine historian Sergey Ivanov points out, Emperor Basil is an “obvious prototype of Putin, the wealthy man Eustathios is a hint at the jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, while Bessarion of Nicea is easily associated with another tycoon, Boris Berezovsky,” and so on. Shevkunov’s film was, in effect, about the need to resist Western influence and to shore up central authority in Russia.”

And some optimism:

“In the long run, I am still very optimistic about Russia and Russians,” he [McFaul] went on. “In my two years as Ambassador, I just met too many young, smart, talented people who want to be connected to the world, not isolated from it. They also want a say in the government. They are scared now, and therefore not demonstrating, but they have not changed their preferences about the future they want. Instead, they are just hiding these preferences, but there will be a day when they will express them again. Putin’s regime cannot hold these people down forever. I do worry about the new nationalism that Putin has unleashed, and understand that many young Russians also embrace these extremist ideas. I see it on Twitter every day. But, in the long run, I see the Westernizers winning out. I just don’t know how long is the long run.”

Wish I could say I’m that optimistic.  But take time to read it.  It says it all.



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