Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Doldrums, Old Patterns

Hi, the Diary is back. I've been away, traveling to Western Europe and North America, soaking up new cultural and gastronomic experiences and enjoying the decadence of low prices and efficient services -- what else is the West worth? It's been a refreshing break, and now I've returned to my problematic motherland just in time to commemorate the first anniversary of the blackening of the White House.


On Monday Oct. 3, I paid visits -- for other purposes -- to both Ostankino and the former Comecon building by the White House. The TV center was surrounded by guards fully armed with loaded kalshnikovs, but not a single protester was in sight. At Presnya, a crowd of about a thousand people, about 10 percent of it being correspondents and cameramen, wallowed peacefully in the street between the two infamous buildings, listening to somebody making speeches through a bad microphone.


Why is the opposition so calm and small in numbers these days? Life certainly didn't get any better in the past year, nor did the present regime make any deviations from its thoroughly vicious politics.


I can see one psychological and one economic reason here. Psychologically, Russians (especially after Soviet times) are very obedient to their bosses. The two previous outbursts of mass protest, in both 1991 and 1993, occurred when there was a real split in the country's governing structures, so both sides could claim that they were supporting the bosses, but only the good ones. Right now the power in the country is quite monolithic, so the opposition doesn't feel like a "counter-power," but rather like a "dissident" movement, which was never a popular identity in Russia.


As far as the economy is concerned, mass support for the opposition was always based on people, who a) are very poor and subsequently angry, and b) have plenty of time to kill, so they can participate in endless manifestations of their anger.


The core of protesting crowds always contained pensioners, joined, in smaller amounts, by non-professional idle youngsters, unemployed workers and clerks, and some military men. Now, in the past year, this very human contingent has found a new pastime: queuing around banks and investment foundations such as Sergei Mavrodi's firm MMM, squeezing out their small dividends.


This has made them: a) slightly richer; b) much busier; c) much more dependent on the government; d) much closer to bloody capitalists. So, in a way, Mr. Mavrodi and his like at other get-rich-quick investment funds such as MMM have done more to soothe political pain, by getting millions of frustrated citizens involved in engaging money games, than Yeltsin and Gaidar with all their nice, but shallow promises.


Anyway, one year later, what have we got? In October 1993, I named one of the Metro Diaries "Welcome to the New Stagnation Era," -- and nothing since has proven me wrong or tempted me to change my mind on that judgement.


Now, we have the national leader, whom people regard with great irony -- just like old Leonid B. -- and whose antics are successfully keeping the whole world amused. We have the President's apparatus instead of the Central Committee -- housed at the same location, by the way -- and the new nomenklatura, which is as shameless, corrupt and gleefully unrestrained as the old one was.


Other things too ring familiar. We don't have freedom of speech when it comes to serious matters like organized crime and top-rank corruption. Referendum results are forged, human rights violations ignored, zillions of rubles are thrown away on patriotic propaganda (farewell, Moskva swimming pool, it's been good to jog around you).


The most striking similarity between this and Brezhnev's era of stagnation, though, is the attitude of the people. They absolutely don't give a damn, being totally preoccupied with matters of everyday life and material survival. Unlike the Brezhnev era, though, you don't have to pretend to show interest. That's good.


A note. I'd like to ask all foreign correspondents who often use Metro Diary as a source of stories, opinions, etc., to quote it properly and give all respective credentials.


You know, this is not Itar-Tass or something and I don't have to remain anonymous.