Odd questions

Leaving Moscow two weeks ago was a kind of relief.

Fed up with endless talks about Putin’s successor, I was glad to find people in New York being concerned about utterly different questions. In the U.S. they don’t ask "WHO will be after Putin?" but "WHAT will be after Bush?". Do you see the difference?

When our President Vladimir Putin had announced about his intention to become an MP, the political discourse in the country became still more reminiscent of conversations of the mentally ill people.

The problem with these "debates" is that they are utterly aimless. People in Russia never go further than successors’ names, their private life and how they get on with their contenders. We pay too much attention to governmental reshuffles, which in the end of the day hardly tell on the composition of the government, on changes for the better that are never to happen, on status and appointments that turn out to be "technical". Here in Russia we are being fooled by the elections where the victors are nominated and by the victors, whose main trump card is that people don’t know them.

Unlike the Russian citizens Americans are given the list of presidential hopefuls beforehand. And while in Russian the list of candidates is growing larger with every new day, American primaries inevitably shorten the list of presidential hopefuls. It is not a brain twister to figure out the name of the frontrunner. But people in the U.S. are more concerned about politics, not names.

Some finer points are similar, though. In America just like in Russia the candidates in their declarations draw a veil over the most burning questions. What future awaits Iraq? What can be done to overcome the real estate market crises? Will the new president change the immigration policy? Will he choose to reform the expensive and inefficient private enterprise health care system? American citizens would like to have publicly funded Medicare health care system like in Canada, though little has been changed within the last twenty years.

The American presidential wannabes are good at answering such questions in a round about way. But nobody can prevent the citizens, the press, one’s political opponents from raising these questions.

In Russia social scientists are guessing who of the candidates has appealed to the incumbent president. In the US winning at the election is more about getting support of the majority of social groups. How will vote the Hispanics and Black Americans? Whom will support the south and the north?

In Russia the authorities from time to time spring a surprise on people to make them follow the nationwide political reality show. American citizens on the contrary bewilder their politicians.

In the United States one has to consider interest of the minorities. Until recently American politicians have been at home with talking about immigration in front of the Hispanic electorate, racial discrimination with the Black Afro-Americans and support to the Israeli state with the Jews. Along with that one had to comfort the WASP electorate about their future. For decades official politicians in Washington have been trying to incite their electorate reminding people that they know their concerns and hopes and practicing in liberal political correctness coupled with conservative Christian values. And what do they get now? Recent polls show that there are lesser ethnicity-sensitive issues. Latin-Americans are more concerned about health care issues than about distant relatives from Mexico. Afro-Americans simply want to earn more money – there’s no point in speculations about racial discrimination. And the Jews want their children to get good education in the USA. Social and economic issues have come to the fore. These problems unite people depending on their incomes, not the color. Americans await the crisis and want the politicians to come forward with the plan to defuse it. Alas, the American officials simply don’t have such a program just as Russia’s Putin doesn’t have any secret plan to delegate power.

There is no hidden agenda, for here is no agenda at all. And that is not a secret any longer.

The American society wants changes and is afraid of changes. Americans want the politicians to rise to a challenge. The Russian society is also afraid of changes, but doesn’t want to change at all. Russians don’t demand their politicians to do anything about it – people are afraid of the authorities’ reaction.

The Russians think that unlike the Americans they have deep historic roots and intensive spiritual life. That’s why we don’t ask pragmatic questions, don’t try to understand what will happen to us tomorrow and where the conducted policy will lead us. Russians are fatalists, and that explains everything: with all the fatalism of an ancient civilization we accept that little depend on us.

Probably, our pessimism is a wiser position than their overwhelming optimism. Memory of generations of Russians suggests that the changes almost always lead to troubles and initiatives of the authorities inevitably complicate people’s lives. We will remember Vladimir Putin’s epoch as an eventless and boring.

In Russia, when a boring epoch ends dreadful not joyful times usually come.

Eurasian Home, 22 October 2007

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