pühapäev, juuli 13, 2008

watch out for the poison

When I was on the West Coast two weeks ago I met up with an old friend who was part of our foreign correspondence program in Finland six long years ago.

In recounting how small and intimate Estonia is as a country, I referenced a moment from March where I suddenly found myself in an elevator with Boris Nemtsov and Marko Mihkelson.

"Who's Boris Nemtsov?" he asked.

"He used to be deputy prime minister of Russia, but now he's a critic of the Kremlin," I replied.

"Oh," he laughed. "I hope he didn't get any poison on you."

I thought my friend's comment was interesting because so many of us in "the West" have come to see Russia as an assertive country growing in influence while at the same time viewing our own democracies as weak. The Brits dislike Gordon Brown; the general feeling in the US is that, come Obama or McCain, at least by January we'll be done with W. In Estonia, the people are frustrated with Andrus Ansip. Äripäev put it so well recently:

It’s time for Ansip to take off his pink glasses and show that he still is the authoritarian leader he was during the bronze night. It’s not about how you understand history or whether you’ll offend or insult someone. It’s taking responsibility before voters and citizens who have gave you a job to do.

In this simmering cauldron of political disaffection, the newly elected president of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, looks like a shiny new toy. He's young; he likes Deep Purple; his name means "bear" -- what else could you want? Russian imitation democracy gave him a "mandate" of 70 percent: so he's loved by his people. And yet, even by pairing the words "Russian" and "tea," one does not think of some tasty byproduct of the country's economic boom; one thinks of death by radioactive element.

Everyone is being nice to Medvedev now because they are generally nice to whomever is the new leader in Moscow. But the truth is that the fellow is facing some serious PR challenges. His legitimacy is questioned because of the nature of his election; his independence is questioned because of his relationship with Putin; and the stability of the political environment in his country is questioned, because whenever someone thinks "Russian politician" they think "polonium-laced tea."

It's going to take a lot more than cheesy jokes about rock concerts to spruce up that image. We should remind ourselves of that fact anytime we feel intimidated by the aura of a resurgent Russia.

5 kommentaari:

Kristopher ütles ...

Fear not: Hollywood will keep even ordinary Americans vigilant.

1) Poison doesn't have to be feared. A poison dart can be turned against the shooter, as Indiana Jones demonstrates.

2) Mind control and double agents are far more dangerous.

3) An Eastern Ukrainian (ditto Belarusians, rogue Georgians) can be more treacherous than a Russian.

Giustino ütles ...

3) An Eastern Ukrainian (ditto Belarusians, rogue Georgians) can be more treacherous than a Russian.

I agree, even Saakashvili is increasingly seen as a sketchy character, but the Russians seem to have a monopoly on being associated with poison.

LPR ütles ...

My olfactory Russia associations and memories:

cheap tobacco
unwashed (female) hair
wet asphalt
alcohol breath (accompanied by tooth decay)
overburnt shachlyk
platskart railcar
public toilets
ehxhaust fumes
expensive French perfumes
wet fur coats and hats
partyankas and military boots
public banya
hospital (very peculiar)
sweaty smelling passports
boiled eggs
girl sweat
pool table
bowling alley
april snow


I have more than I can list here.
After all I lived there for some 7 years.

Doris ütles ...

you forgot maikas

LPR ütles ...

I made it sound like I lived in the gutter somwhere while in fact, I was enjoying the so called 'classnyi' lifestyle by average rooskie standards. I was driving a 'inomarka' and the year was 1989.

It was very 'kljova.'

Nothing has changed in Russia. Nothing. And nothing ever will.

Mark Ames never saw Russians thorugh and through.

Maybe when they cripple him he will.