Unknown Territories, part 3
“In spite of” is a phrase that could be used over and over throughout M’s tale of his experiences in post-apocalyptic Ekaterinburg. For example: “In spite of” the complete disintegration of a mono-maniacal system of government that powered and controlled all of Russia’s internal organs, in spite of that: the country as an entity still exists. No mean feat. The old body is dead but the spirit lingers on?
They are just stubborn out there, I like that. There must be something in the psyche of the population that refuses to let an inconvenience such as total political collapse kill their homeland stone-dead around their bleeding ears. I’m not saying it was easy. Perhaps it’s just a case of having to survive, what’s the alternative, exactly? And we know what desperate times call for: in this case Americans, such as M; brought in to share his expertise in the creation of a stable, functional housing sector. Because, let’s be frank: you need that.
M did emphasise the social, coping-strategies and the camaraderie of those he met who functioned meaningfully, by finding ways and means to take their minds off the predicament (and the regime) in which they found themselves.
A constructed, alternative “now” set at considerable psychological distance from the political scene seemed to work. Even though it’s in your face, you focus your gaze beyond and just survive in it without looking at it. This separation may well have been a crucial boon in “pulling through” after the collapse. As a member of the populace you’d never really “drunk the Kool-Aid” (as our American chums say) in the first place.
A digression. Even now, I still get a distinct impression from those who lend me their insights into contemporary Russian life that this distance still remains, who’d have thought it? Politics, for most, is reportedly something that still happens ‘over there’, to those others (not us) who choose to soil themselves by embracing it, wallowing in it, drinking it in. From street level it has been described to me almost as a special career-path reserved for the fundamentally evil. In fact: it’s so overtly acknowledged in this respect that it may as well be presented as such by the school Careers Officer (if they have such things). Or so I hear.
But back to Ekat’ in ’95. One of the most remarkable aspects (in a list of remarkables) is that by the very nature of the expiring Soviet structure, there was never a back-up plan, right? No alternative political method or party was ever allowed to exist within Communist territory. Here in the UK, we could (and can, and frequently do) grab another shade of political beige off the shelf once the petty bickering gets too much. Not so under Communism. It was either that or a gaping vacuum.
As M puts it: it was a “traumatic change for a dependent culture”, the replacement, re-evaluation and often devaluation of all that was once taken as absolute and ever-lasting. And this was not only happening outside your window but within the very fabric of the lives within. The evaporation of prestige for instance. Status erodes. The value of a person’s position within a system only applies whilst that system is intact. The currency may not transfer or may devalue in conversion.
As with a “man of science” that M knows well; left feeling marginalised and “taken aback” with the advent of consumerism. Who could blame him as a tasteless greed-orgy and power-scramble overtook the old gods. Who would have thought it? Science is important right, more so than cheap hamburgers?
And, after the enforced all-for-one, M reports on the fractured each-for-their-own. People in power now exist for themselves he says, they are not there to affect change. Why would they? They are doing all right by the situation as it stands. The question is: did the events in post Communist Russia create this, or just reveal it?
Next time: Unknown Territories, part 4 Careful what you wish for
[Photo by Rulix RG]