Daydreaming is part of the Russian character. We seem to be confident that things can only get better once we replace the ugly name of a railroad station with a new one that sounds quite euphonious. For example, we might rename the railroad station called Bolshaya Gryaz (which stands for Big Dirt in English) that really exists on the railroad linking Moscow and Saint Petersburg, call it Novoe Schastiye or New Happiness and think that life has become better indeed.
Even those working for secret police tend to indulge themselves in wishful thinking like no foreign secret policemen would do under the circumstances. The following quotation belongs to Alexander Benkendorf, head of the secret police under the Russian Emperor Nicholas I: “Russia’s past is amazing, its present is more than splendid. As for the future of Russia, it is far beyond the most daring flight of imagination.”
The bird-like troika symbolizing Russia’s rapid movement in Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls is a typical symbol of the Russian self-deception and self-adoration. In actuality, the other nations do not rush “to make way for Russia.” For further references, take a closer look at the troubled history of Russia’s admission to the World Trade Organization, or entry visa formalities for Russian citizens traveling EU countries.
A slumbering mind gives birth to monsters
The dreamers who came to power in 1917 raised the ideals of a “slumbering mind” to a new Bolshevistic height. They were confident that they could turn on “Lenin’s light bulb” and shed light across the Russian darkness, they believed the world revolution was around the corner, and the “USSR was strong enough to catch up with the U.S.” It is worthy of notice the great expectations related to the collectivization of the village or the exploration of the Russian Far North or the construction of Baikal-Amur Railroad. There were other misbegotten plans including the turning of the Siberian rivers or “corn saga” initiated by Nikita Khrushchev in the late 1950s, which led to a twofold increase in the retail price of meat, not to mention the exploration of the “Virgin Lands”, the area currently owned by Kazakhstan.
Later on, when they proclaimed “perestroika” and “glasnost,” we sincerely believed that we could have caged the bird of paradise after imposing a ban on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and introducing a multiparty political system in this country. Then Boris Yeltsin waved to the Muscovites as he stood on top of an armored personnel carrier during the aborted coup d’etat in August of 1991, and the country plunged into the euphoria of democracy. Then we had the collapse of the Russian banking system in the August of 1998…
There is a poster that makes a mockery of those dreamful years. The poster features a short inscription, made in sturgeon caviar over the background of salmon caviar. The writing reads: “Life is a success.”
Still disregarding bumps on the road
These days we use a different kind of flour for making pie in the sky. The flour comes from a big box labeled The National Projects. The most popular of the national projects is called the affordable housing. We still like to believe that some day “we shall see the heavens studded with diamonds” after the government takes certain steps including “mortgage for the entire nation.” But our pleasant dreams turn out to be yet fit of recurrent wishful thinking on the part of the government. We can find hard evidence to prove this diagnosis by taking a closer and unbiased look at the issue of civil housing in Russia.
Such a conclusion rests on several important factors including developers’ monopoly, a twofold hike in the price of cement, rising prices of construction materials and electricity, ski-high prices for land, and the notorious mortgage rates an average family cannot afford for the life of them.
We just cannot realize that our Russian daydreaming invariably leads to yet another farce, a deception. The majority of Russia’s misfortunes stem from the famous Russian “trinity” i.e. faith, hope, and love – which effectively substitute for hard work, persistence, and exactness to oneself in terms of the authorities and people alike. We would like the authorities to respect our rights. On the other hand, we would not lift a finger to take action and form some truly independent trade unions, which could oppose the state-controlled ones. We level our harsh criticism at the Chinese and Koreans because they take the lands in the Russian Far East by lease. We seem to have forgotten that we let slide the millions of hectares of most fertile lands (the ones formerly owned by collective farms) into total neglect. We want the Public Chamber (set up by the powers that be) to stand up for our rights and interests. At the same time, we are too lazy to go to the polls or take part in a street protest.
Will we ever start working as hard as the Germans do?
We want to lead a better life, we want more prosperity. However, the opinion polls show that the majority of the able-bodied Russians opt to tighten their belts instead of looking for other opportunities to make more money when the cost of living is on the increase. The people curse the oligarchs yet only 9% of the Russians can take chances and start their own businesses. Unlike the migrant workers from Tajikistan or Turkey who travel long distances to find a job and put food on the table, the Russian men would rather stay in some godforsaken village in the boondocks, drinking homemade liquor while cursing the authorities. The Russian media and politicians ceaselessly debate the horrifying consequences of a demographic crisis in Russia. Still, we do nothing to put an end to alcoholism, the main reason why Russia may become extinct. We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of multiparty political system and pluralism as we sit and watch United Russia finish off the last remnants of political parties. The “party of power” actually leads Russia to another era of political stagnation.
Thing can get better only if the people start working hard. Our standard of living will not change for the better once the streets in this country are given new names, or a new “father of the nations” takes command, or a new political system is in place. One of the readers of Argunments and Facts, a resident of a small town near the city of Chelyabinsk, has recently sent us a letter. An excerpt from the letter reads: “It’s a shame that the hardworking Germans are leaving our region. As for the area I live in, it takes just one look to tell a village populated by ethnic Germans from the one where Russians or Tartars live. Both the Germans and Russian villagers share the same land, and live under the same authorities. Yet the German villages are neat and tidy, there are gardens and good roads in the vicinity. On the contrary, our villages look quite different, the roads are simply impassable due to proverbial dirt, and not a single tree can be seen in the courtyard. We, the Russians, keep dreaming of a beautiful garden. But we’re too lazy to make an effort and dig a row in our kitchen-garden plot…”
Translated by Guerman Grachev