Wednesday, 29 September 2010

09. June 26, 2009

Dear Mikhail Borisovich!

Let us forget the sport at once. You and I are not competing in rhetorical arts. And our conversation is not meant for an opinion to win, not mine nor yours. It is to restore an internal order, to check our own positions. Perhaps for to change them. This is helpful for any thinking person.

How could there be any kind of vituperation from my side: even your enemies today do not scold against you for the simple reason that you have demonstrated great moral superiority.

You and I completely coincide in the assessment of our state - it is no good whatsoever. Precisely for the reason that it does not serve its country, but feeds itself from it. The kind of statesmen who truly care for the good of the Fatherland has completely died out in our country. To the ground. But when you say that “the state's role in the life of Russia (of Russian society) must be more important than today”, I am reticent. In their today’s enormous power, unprecedented power, they do absolutely everything that capriciously pops into their heads, both in the realm of the economy, and in the realm of political relations with the world. They dispense our national resources without any form of accountability, they pass public assets into private hands and transfer them successfully abroad. How can one further increase the role of this state?

And this is being said by a person who has experienced the cruelty of the state’s vengeance, the incapacity of the law, the complete absence of logic and common sense in actions.

No, of course, the question from my point of view, is in something else: how do we get within reasonable limits what is happening in this country, how to limit the “lawlessness” [62] which you know better than me? What should be done to make laws, good or bad, to exist, how to limit totalitarian power, the tyranny of officials, great and small, their boundless greed and avarice? I don’t know.

Now you, Mikhail Borisovich, you consider yourself a “statesman”. But what is the state? How do you understand it? It is inseparably linked with the concept of law. How will we define it? Like Plato, who understands the state as an expression of the idea of justice under the condition that everything is common for everybody (that is with a ban on private ownership), including wives and children? Like Kant, who argues that the state is a union of a multitude of people under the rule of the law? Like Aristotle, who understands the state as “intercourse, organized for the sake of the common good”? Or like Lenin: the state is “a machine for the oppression of one class by another”?

When you begin to read those archaic books, it turns out that all this is terribly out of date, it’s not acceptable for various reasons, besides of what Vladimir Solovyov [63] says: “The law is a certain minimum of morality, equally binding for all”. It is on this law that a state is built. Theoretically...

These ancients have been thinking about everything for a long time - it’s interesting to read (just do not think that I am such an educated person, it is all, as Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelshtam [64] used to say, “from a tear-off calendar”). And there is also a sense that in our time we need a revision of terminology, that many concepts require new definitions. Even such fundamental concepts as “good” and “virtue”, even they require rethinking. It is difficult at times to determine what is socialism, communism, liberal, conservative, where is the left, where is the right, where is forward, where is backward. I will try to send you a wonderful collection of essays by Umberto Eco, Turning Back The Clock [65], he describes those things perfectly, he’s one of the cleverest people of our time, after all.

Thus, Mikhail Borisovich, your statement that you are a “statesman” (I do not doubt on this, as you said), discourages me completely. One can not be a “statesman in principle”. This statement requires a clarification: just what kind of state are you endorsing? The Platonic? The Leninist, that is the Marxian? Perhaps, ours? And this state’s role should be more?

I too, just like you, I believe that our government doesn’t cope well with its direct responsibilities (protecting the population from war and poverty). It would be nice to make it work better. But how do you imagine the transition from what we have in reality to what you are drawing in the imagination? Neither you nor I are in any way revolutionaries: revolution is a much more frightening evil than bad management. Poverty, misery and general lack of comfort is a lesser evil than sailors smashing chairs in the palace and burning libraries, proletarians looting shops, and rabble killing passers-by in dark alleys. Not to mention the civil war, the companion of revolutions. At this point, it seems, we agree.

But the state is not going to evolve by itself in a direction which seems desirable to both you and me. In just what way will arise, all of a sudden, these “well-working institutions, financed by the taxpayer and working in the interests of the taxpayer”, which over time will even be replaced all by themselves by social structures which are an “element of self-organization and civil service”?

A new Lenin is needed? A new Trotsky? No, here prince Kropotkin [66] and Hertzen [67] are more agreeable to me.

You and I also agree that we both, each in our own environment and with our own capabilities, are carrying out our line of conduct, doing what we consider useful to our society. I can in no way compare my very modest movements with your wonderful, great work, the traces of which I observe to this day, although they have plundered you and cut off your oxygen. Let us not deceive ourselves - to feed the disabled, to provide them with decent living conditions, to deal with millions of homeless children and orphans, to restore order in the health care of pensioners and all other citizens, to ensure an education to a generation that does not want to read books, but that is longing for the little golden calf for the satisfaction of their desires - it’s an obligation of the state, not of philanthropists. But the state itself can’t cope with it, no, it prosecutes any initiative which tries to organize it privately. This looks especially bitter and tragic when the discussion concerns the adoption of children from children’s homes. Without bribes it does not pass. According to the old standards it’s traffic in human beings…

The reason is clear: any intervention by the public immediately highlights the complete and total rottenness of the bureaucracy. It is impossible to catch the “fall guy”, because he shares with his bosses, and they will protect him. The most vivid illustration is the case of Budanov [68]: he is being protected by everybody who stands above him in status, because all this is one company with the same principles and habits. That is, I want to say it is impossible to fix this system. It is impossible to knock it down. It is impossible to replace it. This is our system, it suits everybody. But what is possible? In its bowels some are doing their things INDEPENDENTLY: I know people who do not take bribes. There are few of them, it is difficult for them, but they do exist. I know people who do not steal: there are few of them, it is difficult for them, but they do exist. In contrast to our “honest soldiers”, they are not obliged to follow orders, because they are not waiting for either a supplement to the salary or a promotion. Such people I meet both in Moscow and in the provinces: in libraries, in children’s institutions, in museums and even among doctors such heroes sometimes come across. Only they can slightly change the atmosphere in society.

That faceless evil that is appearing in our country, like mould from the moister, can be resisted only individually. And this is dangerous. It arouses suspicion, anger, envy and hatred. You've probably heard more than once: “Ah, you want to be considered good? To be loved? Showing all of us, around you, what scum we are?”

That’s the kind of society we have. That’s the kind of state we have. Strong, without morals, cruel. How much more of this could one want…

Well, we got to globalization and the crisis. Nobody invented nor advanced globalization - they noticed it, like you can notice a phenomenon of nature: the cooling or the warming. It is, by my notions, a process, it is not subject to control. Of course, one can slow it down, one can advance it, but as a phenomenon of social life on the planet, it is a fact akin to nature. Whether we like this or not is another question. Something can be corrected. But the genie has got out of the bottle, and people will move across the planet, mingle, interact, and this a difficult process.

There are a dying continent, Africa, and what is happening today in Spain and Italy, in connection with illegal immigration, it is very difficult to stop.

Globalization means that neither African countries nor European ones will be able to resolve this problem in a “prohibitive way”, and looking for solutions can only be done together. A few years ago in Florence on the square in front of the Baptistery, Africans struck up a camp. The square drowned in urine and in feces.

But this is not globalization, this is the eternal struggle of culture and barbarism. Along with globalization comes another powerful process - barbarization. And it is in some sense both stronger and more frightening. I also do not like living in Moscow, which has begun to look like Baku or Chinatown, but not because of the large number of Chinese or Azerbaijanis, but because it is actuality becoming transformed into a focal point of barbarism, and a place where everything that resembles culture is being trampled. In my entranceway there are no Chinese or Africans, there are my neighbors dumping garbage near the slop pails, daubing the lift and the walls with large felt-tip pen letters, not even with obscenities, but with the names of football teams. In spring, when the snow melts, the yard is littered with dog shit and empty bottles. The Chinese are not to blame, the Azerbaijanis neither. I, just like you, have fallen out of love with Moscow. A dirty, boorish and dangerous city, and ugly. The last architectural ensemble at the Manege Square [69] is destroyed through the efforts of today’s barbarians. It’s done by the chiefs of the city, not by Chinese or Azerbaijanis.

The destruction of the Manege Square.

Although globalization is also a part of culture, culture still has its own independent language, one of music, visual arts and literature. Thanks to globalization, languages are intermingling quickly, there is perhaps even some kind of new common language being created, in which the letters of the alphabet turns out to be the music of The Beatles, the snack bars of McDonald, Microsoft Word, Spiderman and Chinese qigong exercises. Globalization does not require to sacrifice the precious gems of national culture. National culture surrenders itself.

The place to which you are accustomed to from childhood does not exist anymore and will never exist again. Whether you look for it or not. Our children will create places to live, where it will be good for people. And there will be no longer societies with single cultural roots, except in Iraq perhaps. We are all going to have to make this choice between a multicultural society and an integral, traditional one, like in Iraq or Afghanistan. Perhaps there are some other ways, but I do not know them. Other than buying an island?

Speaking of “honest soldiers”, I rather had in mind that there is no such thing. This is nothing more than a convenient smokescreen. We do live in a state of cynics, and the trouble is not that they have no ideology, the trouble is that they have no conscience. Here, the modern communists have something resembling to an ideology, and the unirussians [70] have the ideology of a “Great Russia”, but at the feeding trough they all behave the same: they push each other aside with their snouts and squelch with appetite.

For equality of opportunities I would be prepared to work together with you. You have already given the opportunity to rise from a very difficult, even hopeless situation to hundreds of children at the Koralovo boarding school. I am a witness to this.

I will end with a joke: Einstein died and stood before the Lord. He says: “Here, I’m dead, now it doesn’t matter anymore. Write me the formula for the Universe.”

The Lord God took up the chalk and wrote. Einstein looked and looked and scratched his head and says:

“But there is a mistake here!”
“Yes, I know”, God answered him.

That's right. We live in a world where a mistakes exists. At the very conception. Perhaps not even one. Maybe you thought at some point that it can be corrected? I'm not so sure.

To finish our conversation: You, Mikhail Borisovich, are an idealist. They never blamed you for this? Yes, yes an analyst, a rationalist, a scientist and a great practitioner, but in this case you are an idealist. You believe that there are in principle correct decisions, and that everything can be worked out. And if something goes wrong, hence, the error is in the calculation.

But to me it seems not to be like this. Life is more likely art than science. There are no common solutions at all, there are only particular ones: at the given moment, for the given situation, applicable to these specific circumstances. And the short-term exact decisions are more important than a comprehensive concept. And all you're doing and saying convinces me that you are all right: with your mind, your heart, your conscience. Happy Birthday!


[62] The Russian term беспредел - bespredel literally means a state of “limitlessness” or “no limits”.

[63] Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov (1853-1900) was a Russian philosopher, poet, pamphleteer and literary critic, who played a significant role in the development of Russian philosophy and poetry at the end of the 19th century. It is widely held that he was Dostoevsky's inspiration for the characters Alyosha Karamazov and Ivan Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov.

[64] Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam (1899-1980) was a Russian writer and wife of poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938).

[65] Umberto Eco (°1932) is an Italian medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, literary critic and novelist, best known for his novel The Name of the Rose. In 2006 he published a series of essays entitled A passo di gambero. Guerre calde e populismo mediatico - translated in English as Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism, on what happened in the world in the years 2000-2005.

[66] Pyotr Alekseevich Kropotkin (1842-1921) was a Russian prince, revolutionary, anarchist, theorist of anarchism, geographer and geologist. He noted among other things, unlike Darwin, that within the same species, there was no struggle for existence. Mutual aid and solidarity appear essential for the maintenance and evolution of each species.

[67] Aleksander Ivanovich Herzen (1812-1870) was a prominent Russian philosopher, writer and publicist. He showed himself fighting for human dignity and individuality, the right of having own norms, independent thinking, own doing, with minimal state interference.

[68] Yuri Dmitrievich Budanov (°1963) is a Russian military officer convicted by a Russian court of war crimes in Chechnya.

[69] Manege Square is a large pedestrian open space at the very centre of Moscow. The square forms a vital part of downtown Moscow, connecting the Red Square with Tverskaya Street. During the 1990s, the controversial Moscow mayor Yuriy Luzhkov had the square closed to traffic and substantially changed. Luzhkovs’s wife, Yelena Baturina, is Russia's only female dollar billionaire. Her construction company Inteko was given many huge municipal contracts.

[70] "Unirussians" are the members of United Russia, the largest political party in the Russian Federation, currently holding 315 of the 450 seats in the State Duma. It describes itself as a conservative, right-of-center party and supports the policies of the presidential administration of Dmitry Medvedev. The party's association with the former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been the key to its success.

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