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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CONFESSIONS OF A RUSSOPHILE: Resolutions for Russia 1999




It's just a few days until the New Year, and time to start rolling out all those tired old resolutions we make every Dec. 31 and abandon by mid-January.


I don't know about the rest of you, but having to write "1999" on all my checks and other official documents is asobering, if not to say frightening, thought. Just one more year until the end of the millennium, with all those insidious zeros, the distinct possibility of a mega-computer glitch and the attendant threat of global chaos.


Russia, of course, has beaten everyone to the punch and gone for chaos early. Who needs the Y2K bug when you have an entire government working to foul things up? What with bankrupting the richest country in the world, calling for, or at least condoning, a vicious, ugly nationalism, and trying desperately to get rid of the president they worked so hard to force on the country two years ago, it has been quite a year for Russia's leaders.


I would love to have a hand in drawing up their resolution lists. Perhaps General Albert Makashov will develop some decency, Gazprom will pay its taxes, and the oligarchs will stop robbing the country blind. Even if they all stuck to their resolve for just a week or two, Russia would be much improved.


For the past few days I have been steadfastly ignoring the news, trying to wring the last bits of peace and good will out of my Christmas vacation. But even in the blessed, well-fed isolation of Scandinavia, things slip through. Norway is concerned about its big, untidy northern neighbor, and is putting itself out to help.


In every food store and in some of the town's most exclusive shops, there is information on how to get aid to Russia's starving populace. For 100 Norwegian kroner (about $15) I can send a food package to Russia, destined, its seems, for the child on the cover of the brochure - a small boy with a dirty face and a cardboard sign that reads, in badly misspelled Russian: "Good people, my mama has died. Please help me."


You see this kid, or dozens just like him, in every metro station in Moscow. He is unlikely to benefit from foreign largess, and probably doesn't need it anyway, since he undoubtedly gets paid by the beggars' mafia that controls his particular stretch of the circle line.


I have tried to tell my friends here that this is not the face of Russia's misery, that it is teachers, doctors, miners and office workers who need their help. The people in trouble have jobs and apartments, modest habits and sensible aspirations, normal people not unlike the Scandinavians themselves.


They are not victims of some natural disaster, there has been no earthquake or volcano, no famine, fire or flood. Just a government that has abandoned its citizens, that has decided not to pay them for their labor, or, in some cases, not to heat their homes as the temperature drops into the sub-zero range.


Try explaining that to sane, sensible, well-fed Norwegians. I feel like a lunatic.


"I just can't think about it," sighed Katya, a young Russian who left her homeland over five years ago. "Russia has always suffered so much. First there was the Tatar-Mongol invasion ..."


Oh no. Here we go with the Tatar yoke again. Maybe I'm just jealous. Coming from a country with very little history to speak of, where most antiques are newer than Russia's modern stuff, I may be envious of a people who can blame present day difficulties on Genghis Khan.


It's a lot more comfortable than trying to assign responsibility a bit closer to home, I suppose. But when I pointed this out to Katya, she objected strenuously.


"If they start looking for someone to blame they will never stop," she said. "Russia will set the whole world on fire."


This is a common refrain, a sort of Incredible Hulk "Don't make me mad, you won't like me when I'm mad" kind of explanation for Russian passivity. Everyone seems scared to death of the possibility of revolt except the one group that should be - the government that is, once again, cheating its own people.


But one of my major resolutions this year will be to stop bashing the country in which I have spent most of my adult life. I am going to start looking on the bright side, if I can find one. So look for kinder, gentler columns - at least until mid-January...