Sunday, January 15, 2017

Russian Behavior at All Levels Rooted in Country’s Poverty, Berg Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Those who seek to explain Russian behavior often point to the country’s history (“a difficult childhood”), Orthodoxy (“an incorrect faith”), the nation itself (“the inheritance of all sins of the past”), an imperial complex (“symphonic or manipulated”), or its long winters in which there is little to do except drink, Mikhail Berg says.

            But a far simpler and more comprehensive explanation is available, the Moscow commentator says, and it is this: “Russia is a very poor country … Traditionally poor, poor from century to century.” And that is the proximate cause of so much Russian behavior be it by the state or the population (
            For example, Berg says, “the surprising number of orphans, unsupervised children, and children discarded by their parents” is something many have offered a variety of explanations for; but “in any case, this is the behavior of people who live in a traditionally poor and socially defenseless country.” The cruelty and inhumanity flow from the fact that Russians are poor.

            To be sure, he continues, “there are countries which are not as rich as Russia but where there are no discarded children,” but they are ones with a different history, a different religion, and a different size. “In general, Orthodoxy is the religion of poor countries,” Berg says, because it provides pomp in exchange for the acceptance of poverty.

             As for Russia’s “cultural traditions,” he argues, these “only seem natural” and rooted in the nation’s past. In fact, most of them are “borrowed” from someone else and then given Russian content reflecting Russian poverty. New Year’s holidays are universal, but Russians behave then as poor people do, eating and drinking to excess because they can’t at other times.

            Despite all the changes in Soviet times, during perestroika, and since 1991, changes that have made food more available for most, Berg continues, “Russia conducts itself as a traditionally poor country despite the excess of cash in the hands of particular individuals.”  And there is no reason to think this will change anytime soon.

            “Poor and hungry are the defining circumstances not only for the beautiful past and the magnificent present but also for the years ahead.” It is something that is in the Russian bloodstream, “along with poverty and the fear of not having enough to eat,” the commentator says.

            Food shortages are thus what the powers that be in Russia have always “feared most of all,” something that remains true even today.  “Hunger in Russia not only moves mountains … but forces its rulers to recall that Russia is Europe,” or at least is European in its aspirations and thus fears this fear of hunger that sets it apart.

            Already in the Russian chronicles of the 11th century, there are stories about the struggle with crop failures and hunger, and precisely at that time, hunger began to be connected in an insidious way with the Russian understanding of freedom.

            “A slave, sent away by a boyar in a hungry time, received his freedom, [as] the boyar had to feed his slaves lest he lose his power over them.” In short, Berg says, “food is a synonym of freedom in the Russian language.” And the lack of food is “the main punishment” that the powers can impose.

             An example of this horror is not so much the Stalinist repressions but the blockade of Leningrad when hunger was truly used as a weapon.  But today, “it is characteristic” that Putin has continued this tradition by imposing his counter-sanctions.  These are “above all restrictions on food.”

            The Kremlin leader “wasn’t able to think of anything more painful” that he could inflict, Berg says.  Possibly Putin was right because as all Russians know, “hunger isn’t a nice aunty.”

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