Riding the Moscow Subway with the Ceausescus

ceausescus“Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. Nicolae Ceausescu looked after his health. The family of the Romanian Communist Party’s general secretary was especially proud of their bathrooms, equipped with gold faucets, shower, and sinks, their swimming pool and day spa, their home movie theater, and their greenhouse with exotic plants. Peacocks roamed the premises…” Photo courtesy of Tatiana Tanja Yarikova

Tatiana Tanja Yarikova
Facebook
January 16, 2020

Many trains in the Moscow subway are decked out thematically. There is, for example, an Oleg Tabakov train with pictures of him in every car, photos of him in various roles in the theater and cinema, and so on. And there are many other oddly themed trains. No one pays them any mind anymore. Yesterday, however, I found myself on the “Health” train on the Ring Line for the first time. There were pictures on the walls of pumped-up athletes and champions, and of Brezhnev and Khrushchev for some reason. And, believe it or not, of CEAUSESCU! Who comes up with this stuff? Who gets paid money for this nonsense?! Maybe they can stop prettifying Moscow?

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Eighteen Years Down the Drain

putin elections
“RT in Russian @RT_russian. Central Elections Commmission: Election of Putin will take place in March 2018, ru.rt.com/7a7j.”

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
September 13, 2017

They say that today the time the leader has spent in office has drawn even with Brezhnev’s eighteen years in power. Eighteen years. Of course, it’s a relative figure, since Putin spent six months in the role of prime minister under Yeltstin and another four years as prime minister under Medvedev. But we realize that these premierships can actually be included in the overall Putinist period in Russian history.

Many people remember the Brezhnev period with nostalgia, arguing it was the Soviet golden age, when the country’s standard of living and power undoubtedly grew. Many people think something similar about Putin’s time in office, and not without grounds, of course, if we look at GDP figures, numbers of privately owned cars, and numbers of rockets launched in Syria.

But the Putin and Brezhnev periods have been similar in another respect. Beyond the superficial prosperity, these eighteen-year periods were and have been times of political and moral degradation at home. They were decades the country lost as stepping stones into the future, in terms of establishing a (post)modern society capable of changing and progressing painlessly. The Brezhnevian stagnation inevitably led to a colossal crisis and, ultimately, collapse. I don’t know what the outcome of the Putinist stagnation will be, but we can say for sure there are new troubles ahead for the country, troubles whose growing signs we observe daily.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in St. Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Thanks to Mark Teeter for the spotting the “blooper” on RT in Russian’s Twitter feed. Translated by the Russian Reader

Between the Ages of 17 and 25

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Since Putin couldn’t smash Aleppo with his pal Bashar Assad, he is now going to provoke all-out war with Ukraine. Or he is going to play at provoking all-out war. Either way, he is going to have some fun.

In 1939, the Finns likewise “provoked” Stalin into invading Finland. Meaning that Stalin pretended to be provoked, and then went in guns blazing, getting three hundred thousand Soviet soldiers killed or wounded in the process.

There are oodles of serious problems with the Russian economy, which Putin shows no interest in solving, because really solving them would involve the self-liquidation of the  current elites. Although pumping up defense spending and, hence, the military-industrial complex, which is what he has been doing in the past few years, has been a temporary patch on some of those problems, of course.

It is funny and sad that Russians themselves don’t get tired of this merry-go-round, but they seem to be sinking ever deeper into various species of emigration, internal or actual, or what they themselves call a “second childhood.”

It is even funnier that Jill Stein, presidential candidate of the US Green Party, could believe she was doing the work of peace or “anti-imperialism” or whatever she thought she was doing when she dined with Putin in Moscow or that she could imagine the “crisis” in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine was caused by anything other than domestic Russian politics or, rather, the snowballing contradictions spinning off the tiny, eccentric orbit inhabited by the country’s president-for-life in all but name and his retinue of oligarchs and FSB veterans.

Anyone who thinks the Kremlin’s policies are a rational or predictable response to the “international situation” or the bad deal Russia allegedly got when the Soviet Union broke up is a complete fool or a bought-and-paid useful idiot. You can be traumatized by the “bad things” your parents did to you (unless they really were bad things) for only so long.

When, however, you have reached the ripe enough age of twenty-five, as the new Russia has this year, it is time to stop telling stories about your bad upbringing or how you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.

In other words, this is all about the dead end Putin and his pals from the FSB and the Ozero Dacha Co-op drove the country into when they decided they would run Russia like Tony Soprano and his crew ran whatever they were pretending to be running in the fictional TV New Jersey.

Putin has flagrantly and criminally misruled Russia for seventeen years as of August 9. That is one year less than Brezhnev reigned as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. But Putin, to all appearances, is fit as a cello, unlike Brezhnev was in 1981, the year before he died.

Ugh. Happy new year.

Thanks to Comrade MT for the felicitous line about the cello. Photo by the Russian Reader