When I lived in a communal apartment on Nekrasov Street, a man nicknamed Vitek was my neighbor for a while. The other neighbors did not like him, because he was a “new guy.” A factory worker, he struck a rather coarse pose among the other tenants of our “Ideally Maintained Apartment.”
In the evenings, Vitek got into the habit of eating a bowl of cabbage soup or borscht in the kitchen, washing it down with a quarter-liter bottle of vodka. Then he would go to bed. He would get up early in the morning and head again to the factory, returning home only in the evening.
At the weekend, he would not show his face in the kitchen. A pot of soup was brought to his room, where he “would do his thing,” as a famous satirist put it.
Sometimes, Vitek liked chewing the fat about life. He mainly did this with me, since no one else talked to him.
“Do you know,” he would ask me, “the difference between the intelligentsia and the working class?”
He went on without listening to what I said.
“How many days are there in the intelligenstia’s week?”
“I don’t know. Seven?”
“That’s right: seven. You go to the movies, you go to the theater, you watch television. You think Vitek is stupid? That he doesn’t see anything? He sees everything. There are only two days in my week, you see, Monday and Friday. And then it’s suddenly Monday again.”
My point is that today is Saturday.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for his kind permission to translate and publish his feuilleton on this website. This is his sixth contribution to our salmagundi.
A Circus, Psychopaths, and a Great Power: We Found Out What You Associate Russia With Guberniya Daily (Petrozavodsk)
June 14, 2016
On Friday [June 10], on the eve of Russia Day, we asked what you associate our country with. We suggested more or less decent answers and waited for the results to roll in. Ultimately, we learned that many of you associate our country with “a circus,” “psychopaths,” and “corruption.” And also with Putin. We got the impression that the respondents lived in different countries: some had it all bad, while others, on the contrary, had it all good. That is why a serious discussion, numbering over a hundred comments, broke out below the survey. So let us have a look at what many people associate Russia with.
First, the results of the survey:
As you can see, the answer “Putin” came in first place, “Bears, balalaikas, and vodka,” second, and “Birch trees,” third. It was in the comments that things got complicated.
Here are just a few of your answers (the original spelling and punctuation have been preserved):
I would like to associate it with birch trees. But, alas, I associate it with Krushchev-era blocks of flats [khrushchovki] and Brezhnev-era blocks of flats [brezhnevki] ))
With a complete lack of prospects for a decent life.
A country where happiness is forever in the future.
Where can I answer “with a total f–ing mess”?
With beautiful girls
With bad roads and a country where it is extremely hard to find a good job (even with a university degree)
The Motherland, just the Motherland
With a slave mentality, neo-feudalism, the lack of a future, vatniks,* and a huge ego trip about its “greatness”
Recently, only with “seagulls,” cellos, and Panama hats . . .**
alas, I feel like splitting from here like Peter the Pig, a typical post-Soviet space with khrushchovki and rutted roads and yards that have not been repaired since Soviet times
With people who work and earn less than a living wage.
With corruption, drunkenness, and parasitism . . .
Motherland, history, childhood, family . . .
Minus all the sarcasm and crap written [here]. MOTHERLAND to me is MOM, CHILDHOOD AS A YOUNG PIONEER, THE COMMUNIST YOUTH LEAGUE, BIRCH TREES AND LAKES, SAYING FAREWELL TO KINDERGARTEN IN THE VILLAGE OF SNEZHNOYE, AND THE SIMPLE PRIDE THAT I AM A RUSSIAN
With a strong country!!! And Putin.
Strange that nearly everyone answers in the present tense.=) Or is that how we should answer? Then, apparently, I didn’t understand the question. The country is ancient and large, with a difficult destiny and history. Loving the Motherland . . . in my view you love it no matter who rules it. True, then your love manifests itself differently at different times. What you cannot take away from it is the natural beauty and the people . . . The people in this country are still good. The times are often complicated. But you can get through them by looking at the beauty of nature and the spiritual beauty of people.=) Something like that.
To answer simply and cornily, Russia is the place where I learned to walk and talk. But to answer the question from the viewpoint of a person who is a citizen of Planet Earth: Russia is a multiethnic, multi-party country. It has become the rage in Russia to say what one thinks about Putin, about world politics and foreign policy. I am afraid it will soon become a ritual, like the morning conversation about the weather among the English.
Kickbacks and dog and pony shows.
With the permafrost.
* vatnik = “Russian patriot and nationalist (An outspoken follower of Putin, who aims to compensate his meaningless life by glorifying the motherland. This insulting term derives from the name of an iconic Soviet padded uniform jacket issued during WWII.” Source: Multitran.ru
** A reference to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika (his surname means “seagull” in Russian), recently reappointed to another five-year term despite substantial allegations of corruptions against him and his family, and cellist Sergei Roldugin, implicated as Putin’s bagman in the Panama Files.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up