reede, november 03, 2006

Stuck in 1987

We went to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn yesterday to stock up on Russian foods that have been adopted by Estonians en masse. I am not sure at what point Estonians started eating sibeeri pelmeenid, but they do, or at least my wife does. My favorite kinds are the ones from Georgia. They have a hint of the mediterranean in them. But Slavic food - to me - seems intolerably composed of three ingredients - fried dough, meat, and cheese.

I remember we ate cheap when we went to Slovenia, and the food was the same style there. In neighboring Italy you would have pasta malfalda with big yummy slices of potent garlic cloves, lightly soaked in fine olive oil. But in Slovenia it was Tseburekk - fried dough with some cheese in it. I was told by our Slovenian friend that this was really Albanian food - imported from that mystery country with the scary red flag. But I think he was lying. Because when I was in the Czech Republic I was greeted by similar fare - smazeny sir (fried cheese). This has led me to believe that the early Slavs didn't like vegetables - unless, of course, they are mashed up and stuck inside a blintz.

In Brighton Beach though I saw a gentleman wearing a sweatshirt that looked sort of like the one up there. C C C P. Those are the cyrillic letters that represent the long-dead country called the Soviet Union. Of course today we have other ways of referring to that country. They call it the "former Soviet Union," like "the artist formerly known as Prince" - the only thing is that Prince was still Prince, and the Soviet Union broke up. The Soviet Union is as much a couple as Tom and Nicole. It's over. Yesteryear's news. Benifer. Reese and Ryan. Madonna and Sean Penn. Compleat!

Still, the NATO summit in Riga is supposed to be a big deal because it's on territory in the "former Soviet Union." But I'm sorry to say that once you get there, you'll be let down. There'll be no hot Soviet spies with killer thighs waiting to strangle you. Brezhnev won't be there either because he's dead. Memorial rallies and sweatshirts aside, the "FSU" as it's called by people that call most of the eastern half of Europe the "CEE" is about as relevant as a sweatshirt. It's a living memory, but just a memory. And it's one memory that will die with my generation.

Sad to say, when I saw that guys sweatshirt, I was taken back to 1987 when I saw the Living Daylights starring Timothy Dalton as Bond. There were real nefarious Cold War Russians in that film and others of the genre with names like Kostov and Rostov and Bostov and Sostav. They were usually fat and had beards, but you still felt they had the mental will to break the arm of whomever pissed them off. And so you really wanted them to lose, just as much as you wanted Rocky Balboa to kick Dolph Kundgren's ass in Rocky IV.

That was a long time ago. In 1985, I played Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA on my record player in my room. We may have still had a rotary phone. Bill Clinton was just a young punk governor in Arkansas. Schwarzenegger was an actor. Ronald Reagan was president. Paris Hilton was playing with My Little Ponies. Corey Feldman had an acting career. Do you see what I am getting at?

But I am still reacting to symbols and people are still using terminology like the last 20 years never happened. What was it about that time that has allowed us all to continue on in this Groundhog Day-like stupor where people still talk about the Soviet Union like it means something? Where I still react to clothing bearing the insignia of a dead country? There is something strange in all this, as if we have not truly accepted the New World Order in our hearts and we cannot really believe that the old Cold War is really over.

And imagine, if I still get the 1987 shakes when I see a CCCP sweatshirt, how do our foreign policy elite, most of them deep in middle age, see the world? How do they react to goosestepping Soviet war parades in Russia or the sight of Putin standing beside a hammer and sickle? If I am this far gone in backward thinking, at what year did their minds stop registering change?

20 kommentaari:

La Russophobe ütles ...

I think you are a bit confused. Perhaps you need to get out of the house or read newspapers a bit more.

The leader of Russia is a proud KGB spy. He has wiped out independent television, abolished the election of local officials, arrested and sent his leading rival to prison in Siberia, poisoned the pro-US candidate for president in Ukraine and attempted a coup d'etat in Georgia. He's attempted to use energy blackmail to undermine the government of Lithuania, continues universal conscription into the Russian army, and sends massive quantities of weapons and financial support to rogue states like Venezuela, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Cuba.

It might be true that the old USSR is gone, but the new USSR is here. Losing 1 million from its population every year, Russia is on pace to outdo Stalin's gulag archipelago.

Giustino ütles ...

It might be true that the old USSR is gone, but the new USSR is here. Losing 1 million from its population every year, Russia is on pace to outdo Stalin's gulag archipelago.

The USSR was ideologically part of an international communist movement. It was founded as such in 1918 and supported communist countries from Cuba to North Vietnam.

I think we should just call the Russia of today what it is - the Russian empire. Putin's empire no longer cloaks its language of interference in the communist terms - remember the Estonian nationalists were "fascists" and those who resisted the Red Terror were "counter revolutionaries."

Today, Russia is just about Russia. If we must talk about Russian power, the communist USSR metaphor has lost its potency. It would be perhaps wiser to compare him to Alexander III - the tsar who attempted to create a homogenous Russia and despised foreign influence.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I made some nice sauerkraut yesterday - with caraway seeds and paprika, more Hungarian than mulgikapsas, but in that range of things.

I see "former Soviet Union" much less frequently now than in the nineties, although it's not uncommon to have people ask me if Estonians speak a Slavic language.

It does seem like the American government hasn't left the Cold War, but they've largely forgotten about Russia and are moving on to seeing Islam as the Evil Empire.

CKR

Anonüümne ütles ...

I think every reference to Estonia I have ever read in the newspapers has included the words "former Soviet republic," and I don't expect that to change anytime soon. This includes the recent article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal regarding payments to couples to have children.

While I think it is important that Estonians do treat the Soviet Union in such a manner (particularly to counteract the misperceptions of some in the US and elsewhere), I think it is unreasonable to expect people to pretend like the SU never happened a mere 20 years after the fact. Should we also forget World War II because it happened 50 years ago?

Giustino ütles ...

I think it is unreasonable to expect people to pretend like the SU never happened a mere 20 years after the fact. Should we also forget World War II because it happened 50 years ago?

I've never seen a story about Ireland that reads "the former British territory" or a story about Iceland that reads "the former Danish island."

I wonder how long it took for people to drop the "used to belong to this country" rhetoric.

Anonüümne ütles ...

very dull blog by an illiterate person, probably...

Giustino ütles ...

very dull blog by an illiterate person, probably...

I've finally made it in the blogosphere!

B. Kriplur ütles ...

"I wonder how long it took for people to drop the "used to belong to this country" rhetoric."

I completely agree with you concerning the "Former Soviet" tag that is always applied to Estonia. It gives people the wrong idea. However, I thought your post was saying that we should act like the Soviet Union never happened at all.

Oh, and congratulations on receiving such a wonderful Anonymous insult.
-The first anonymous poster.

Eppppp ütles ...

Totally irrelevant, but - who is Dolph Kundgren? Dolph Lungren´s left neighbor, I guess? ;)

oliver ütles ...

About the CCCP shirts... I still don’t know for sure if the red CCCP sweatshirts that so many members of the Russian Torino 2006 Olympics team wore under their uniform were actually part of the official uniform or not. They all looked the same, entire hockey team wore them, as did some skaters. Even American figure skater Johnny Weir who is "trying to be a Russian" wore it (a gift from a Russian female figure skater)
Today we have a president of Russian Federation who thinks that "collapse of the Soviet Union is the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century" and "there is no such thing as a former KGB man"... Russian politicians talk about restoring Russia’s former strength and positions... I don’t want (am scared) to imagine what kind of former times they are referring to. First thing that comes to mind is the 2005 Victory Day parade in Moscow and arriving trains (big portraits of Stalin in front) with veterans. My friend has just returned form Moscow and he described exactly the same sight like in 2005 - red flags and soldiers in Soviet uniforms practicing for the parade dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the parade Stalin held in 1941.

oliver ütles ...

I started to worry if I misunderstood my friend or he misunderstood what he saw...
No, it’s right there
Lenin + CCCP
and another one
And the reason Stalin held the parade on November 9 (annually) is that it’s the memory day of the October Revolution (1917). The day the Bolsheviks finally got what they wanted. Oh happy day! Over 70 years of death and oppression - tens of millions people murdered, starved to death, deported, entire cultural/military elite of many countries (especially Russia) destroyed, occupation, russification and so on. I guess all this doesn’t matter – after all... it was the regime that defeated the fascists.

Scary, super scary...

Giustino ütles ...

I guess all this doesn’t matter – after all... it was the regime that defeated the fascists.

They are fascists. Especially today. Putin's mission statement is the same as Mussolini's. He wants one thing: to make Russia great.

Just because you wear red instead of brown doesn't make your actions different. Hitler's plans for the Baltics were the same as Stalin's. Both were incoporated into the reich/union then colonized in order to make the empire "more homogenous."

I wonder what those Russian kids think about the costume parties that Putin keeps on throwing. Because that's what it is - a costume party. Maybe they celebrate Halloween a little bit later in Russia.

Anonüümne ütles ...

When my mother (born in 1958) saw the 2005 parade on TV, she was seriously scared. It reminded her exactly of the Soviet time parades and she started to talk about that how Estonia is tiny and if the Russians come, there is no point to fight back anyway etc. I was totally "WTF!?" about that opinion and not the Russians made me scare but my mum thinking like that. My opinion is that Estonia should answer to any Russian aggression or threat to sovereignty. We didn't in 1940, Finland did. I'm not speculating whether we would have succeeded or not (probably not, although with possible Western (oh, and dare i say Scandinavian, although Sweden was just trying to save it's own ass)assistance, who knows). But now we WILL NEVER KNOW, which is worse in my opinion.

Giustino ütles ...

My opinion is that Estonia should answer to any Russian aggression or threat to sovereignty.

Estonians in general strike me as pessimists. But I think the country would be easier than thought to defend.

All you have to do is park some NATO destroyers in key harbors (Saaremaa, Sillamäe, Kunda, Tallinn, Paldiski, etc.) and turn Narva into Stalingrad.

The West is fortunately united - there's no competing British and German interests - and so keeping supply lines open to Estonia would be possible.

Estonia should increasingly tie its questions to not just NATO and the EU but with its strategic partners like Finland and Sweden.

Russians view Finns as friendly, but Estonians as hostile. Why is that? What are they doing that Estonia could do to shift the "eye" of Russia elsewhere.

Anonüümne ütles ...

There's the "tiny" problem of Pskov and the surrounding region which has the population of Estonia+, including a huge military base. Plus strategic missile sites near St. Petersburg. But yeah, given that Latvia won't fuck us over, we could withstand some kind of an attack, ofcourse we would actually need REAL tanks for that, and fighters for air superiority.. or well at least to try. Right now we have 2 training fighters :D

And the Russians don't look as Finns as a threat because well... Finland didn't break up from Russia giving the slight doubt that there's something wrong with belonging to Russia. Russian politicians aren't actively lobbying about Finland's minority problems with Russians either.. because there are none. And well after the Winter War, Finland has had no serious bone to pick with Russia.

Giustino ütles ...

There's the "tiny" problem of Pskov and the surrounding region which has the population of Estonia+, including a huge military base. Plus strategic missile sites near St. Petersburg. But yeah, given that Latvia won't fuck us over, we could withstand some kind of an attack, ofcourse we would actually need REAL tanks for that, and fighters for air superiority.. or well at least to try. Right now we have 2 training fighters.

Russia has lost every campaign for Estonia where it had to fight multiple enemies at the same time. That's how Sweden won in the 16th century and that's how Estonia won in the 20th century. Involve Russia in a multi-front war with multiple alliances and it will lose.

In the southeast, the city of Pskov could be another nice "Narva"-like situation. It would be important to keep them occupied with fighting inconsequential battles. I don't think Russia would commit to a lengthy, expensive war, just for the sake of Estonia.

Giustino ütles ...

Russian politicians aren't actively lobbying about Finland's minority problems with Russians either.. because there are none.

Everyone thinks it would be a loss if Russian were permitted to be used as a regional language in Ida-Virumaa alongside Estonian. But Narva is a Russian-speaking city, as much as Aland Islands are Swedish speaking.

If Noarootsi can have its own "Swedish-Estonian" identity then obviously some towns in east Estonia can have their own "Russian-Estonian" identity too.

I think this will eventually happen as the Estonian-speaking population grows and feels more confident about its future.

At the same time, people should realize that Russian-speakers are at a disadvantage, just as ANY minority ANYWHERE is at a disadvantage.

There is this reality in Estonia known as the Estonian-speaking majority. Some 70 percent of the population in Estonian or Finnish and even more speak Estonian as a second language. It's the majority language - the language of business, the language of education, the language of government.

That's just how it is. That's life. Even if they made Russian a second official language - and there's no reason to do that - they'd still be at a disadvantage, because they'd be competing in a job market where seven or eight out of every ten guys is functional in the majority tongue and they are not.

They'd be, in other words, a handicap and would need their own personal translators to do a job that the Estonian-speaker could do without all the fuss.

Things are going to change even more in Estonia as the population ages. The younger under-25 generation probably has limited Russian skills. This linguistic safety net - of being to rely on the native Estonian-speakers fluency in Russian from the Soviet era - is going to slip away.

So I can see moves for the advancement of fluency in Estonian among the population while safeguarding the concerns of the Russian minority. These aren't mutually exclusive agendas.

Helmut ütles ...

If you want more info about NATO summint in Latvia, visit my site - www.i-latvia.eu - i've got some useful info and facts if you're coming to Riga in November. Big event, yeah!

Anonüümne ütles ...

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Matjaz ütles ...

"But in Slovenia it was Tseburekk - fried dough with some cheese in it. I was told by our Slovenian friend that this was really Albanian food - imported from that mystery country with the scary red flag. But I think he was lying."

Actually, J. it's Burek and its origins are to be found along the coast of the aspiring EU candidate, however not a member yet(if ever for that matter). Yes, you guessed it, it's Turkey. However, a thorough look at the owners backrogounds of Burek-shops in Slovenia would tell you Albanians do it better. Give my love to epp an M.