My Russian friends are all big Putin fans. They adore you. They think you’re the best thing that has happened to Russia in a century. When I ask them why they go on living in Belgium or Germany instead of going back home to strong, manly Vladimir’s strong and manly homeland, they tell me with a wail that “there’s no work in Russia” and “life is really hard, Edwin!”
I must be missing something, because I just don’t get it. There must be some secret ingredient in the Russian character that enables them to admire a man who has been at the helm of the ship of state for a decade and failed utterly to achieve any of those things that people might reasonably expect from a government united firmly behind its leader: things like freedom of movement within the state, freedom of opinion, freedom of ingress and egress, healthcare that delivers health, education that educates, jobs that pay a living wage, housing fit for humans, nutritious food in sufficient quantity, cars that drive reliably and safely, public services that serve the public, a judiciary that protects the citizenry and upholds the rule of law, a police force that does the same, etc., etc., ad infinitum.
Why has this great nation not only failed to provide its citizens with the most basic amenities in a systematic and consistent manner, but also failed to build anything of note in about five hundred years? The Fabergé egg, Sputnik and the Kalashnikov stand as triple exceptions upon a barren plain of misery and unbroken mediocrity in almost all areas of human productivity outside of the arts and the steroid-sponsored world of track and field. Russia has brilliant scientists who do no science (at least not in Russia), brilliant mathematicians who cannot make anything add up (at least not in Russia), brilliant journalists who cannot string an article together (at least not in Russia) without getting mugged or killed, brilliant technicians who can only work abroad, because there are no jobs for them … and yet they all sing the praises of mother Russia, the Cyrillic alphabet, the Orthodox church and even you, dear Vladimir, getting ever more maudlin and sentimental with each passing glass and displaying a tendency to break into patriotic song at the first opportunity.
This is the nation that took a 1940 Opel and a 1972 Fiat and made them not only worse, but also more polluting than could be believed possible. They then went on manufacturing them – inefficiently, poorly, unsystematically and at a loss – for the next 40 years. And you want me to believe that your people can build, service, secure and maintain a vast arsenal of atomic weapons, submarines and dozens of nuclear power plants? Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Putin?
If you can name me a single internationally accepted and recognized Russian brand of anything other than vodka, I’ll eat my hat. Where is the Russian smart phone, or hi-fi system, sports car, brand of clothing, of shoe, of tableware, of bathroom fittings, of fast food, of furniture or electrical goods? Where, indeed is anything exported worldwide from Russia that is neither gas, nor oil, nor over 60° proof … and most of that comes from Estonia or Norway!
Could the nation of Pushkin, Gorky, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky be so run down that they can only export raw materials? Have they become so devoid of finesse through years of grinding poverty, existential angst and communism as to be unable to create anything of their own that the rest of the world might deem desirable, other than 16-year-old top models, tennis players and porn stars? The whole world wants your women, Mr Putin, but nothing else. That’s sad, sad, very sad.
Instead of shaking your non-existent stick in the Crimea, maybe it would be a good idea to look to the Baltic States where your highly significant and wealthy minority of ethnic Russians were recently polled by their own press agency as to their appreciation of your leadership and policies. By a VERY large majority, these ethnic Russians – Russian-speaking citizens of essentially “European” nations (politically speaking) with Baltic roots and a touch of Scandinavian soul – voted to a man or woman NOT to have anything whatsoever to do with you or your grandiose dreams of expansion!
Why? Is it because they don’t appreciate you? No, they all think you’re wonderful, the best thing to happen to Russia since sliced borscht. So maybe it’s because they don’t feel Russian enough? No, they feel totally
Russian: they read depressing Russian books, watch depressing Russian films and TV devoid of real news and listen to depressing Russian music, so why the estrangement? It’s because you’ve been there for a decade, Mr Putin, and you’ve achieved absolutely nothing, leaving the door wide open for them to continue their profitable little business of “import/export”, where the only things being “imported” are European and US consumables into Russia, and the only thing being “exported” is Russian roubles. You seem to have decided that the single way to stem the bleeding is by expanding your borders, right? Isn’t that what it was really about in the Crimea?
Is that what you want to be remembered for, Vladimir: the man who conquered the world just to stop his economy from haemorrhaging to death? It’s a plan, I’ll admit, but not a very good one. There’s a limitation, you see. What do you do when it’s over? What do you do when you’ve conquered everyone and there’s no one left to buy your gas but subjugated people who can’t afford it anymore? To paraphrase Paul Simon: who’s going to be your banker, now that your banker is gone? Think about it, Mr P. … Then give me a call. Trust me. I have an idea. You’ll thank me one day.
© Edwin Drood
, June 2014