Today I observed a conversation in Putinger’s Cat Telegram channel chat that revolved about Russia and USSR and the Westerner’s view of Russia being weak, countered by a very good string of arguments by Milana Attison. The topic resonated strongly with what I’ve written earlier in this blog in the following articles about the Wild ’90s:
- Andrey Karaulov: For Russia the 90’s Were Worse Than WWII
- The ”Wild 90s” in Russia, as reflected in people’s memory
- The ”Wild 90s” in Russia, as reflected in people’s memory. Part 2.
- The ”Wild 90s” in Russia, more memories
There were several lines of conversation going at once, but in reality they all boiled down to one thing: countering the centuries-old Western stereotype of bad USSR/Russia.
At first Milana replied to a member Jason, who postulated that everything was miserable in the USSR, based on some second-hand information, yet he did not make a distinction between the pre-War USSR or Russia after the 90’s.
This is what my Russian friend who has lived there his whole life (age 40 or so) says about this:
“She describes the life of a very few elite communist party members in Moscow. That was not how the rest of the country was living.”
He is a great source, who came to the US (or UK) when he was what? 9 years old? He entire schooling was based on the “western view of the USSR”. Who was raised virtually 100% in the west.
And a son of parents, who clearly didn’t make it in the USSR, they preferred the west, emigration from the USSR was a lengthy process – so they clearly hated that country and wanted to leave. And most of them now hate Russia – most of them haven’t been there since the fall of the Soviet Union, they aren’t not citizens of Russia, but they hate it regardless.
So, you got a truly excellent source of overall knowledge of how it was – living in the USSR. The word of the son of outcasts, who left the country when he was 8 or 9 years of age! 👍
Btw, what you quoted is the main, the biggest stereotype from the west, not from the USSR.
And I can bet money on the fact that even his USSR-hating parents got their home from the government free of charge. Graduated from school and a University, having paid zero tuition. And that terrible USSR paid for all of it for them. And I’m sure you will not argue they were “communist party elite”.
If they considered themselves poor, all the power to them. But they are hardly the source of knowledge. Merely an opinion.
And based on THAT you called everyone in the USSR – poppers.
My dad was a pilot. Mom – a music teacher. We lived in province and we had everything we needed for happy life. I had an awesome childhood, youth and only during my young adulthood everything fell apart. With the fall of the Soviet Union. I am one of millions.
And, by the way, the first person I’ve ever seen living in a tent having no place to live and no job was in San Francisco, USA, second day after I came to visit the country.
I’m sorry to the rest of the readers here! Ignorance and arrogance really upset me. I truly believe we all are masters of our fate. We work, we make achievements, we grow as people, as professionals, whatever role we end up in.
And I find it horribly disrespectful to project one (very questionable) opinion onto the entire nation. Such things, when come to my family are unacceptable. So, please, forgive me if I come across stern on the subject.
Jason’s other point was the notion of “Golodomor”, that the USA presents as a targeted extermination of Ukrainians in the 1930s. There are several replies to that.
Hunger happened. Holodomor, that was carried out specifically against Ukraine, which didn’t even exist as a country at that time, is a fairy tale.
Famine happened. FAMINE.
In the entire western and central part of the USSR. In Eastern Europe and in the US. At the same time.
Jason’s reply was:
Uh, no. Actually he’s lived in Russia his whole life and just arrived in the US with his family a few months ago. He’s a lawyer by trade there.
With Milana giving an expanded answer:
Yes, I saw after I posted my response. And didn’t have time to redo it. Besides, all of this still applies to those, who offer their limited subjective opinion and project it onto the entire nation.
As to this friend of yours, the fact that he was 8-9 years old when USSR fell apart still stands. Poverty began then. Not during my childhood and youth.
Second, he is a lawyer, huh? So, is he from the communist elite? So that his parents could afford a private school law degree! Or he actually demonstrated good grades during his high school graduation exam and his degree was paid for by the government?
Since he had to leave, it is 95% he didn’t make it’s a lawyer in Russia, and he thinks he will be more successful in the US. So, is he blaming Russia for his personal failings? That’s who I mostly meet in the US among recent immigrants. 5% of them are liberals, who disagree with the Russian policy, which I do respect. If you disagree with the policy – you are free to find a better place. And this yet one more time proves that Russia doesn’t hold people there against their will. Like a dictatorship would.
The rest 95% arrive to the US, thinking it wasn’t their failure to thrive in Russia, but it was someone else’s fault. And they soon find out that same amount of effort and intelligence is required to succeed professionally anywhere in the world.
Your friend is in his 40s. A law degree in Russia is mostly a BA. Rarely, an MA. He will not be able to practice law in the US until he earns a JD, and passes the Bar Exam. In English. Before then, he will be lucky to work as a researcher and later a paralegal for an American attorney, who needs someone speaking Russian on their staff. So, he won’t be earning hundreds of $$ an hour, like a JD registered at a State Bar. Worst case scenario he will have to work simple small paying jobs, till he gets his degrees transferred and completes credits that are missing to earn him a US degree.
And final, this person’s words doesn’t make true what you said about our poverty.
When we weren’t attacked and sucked into wars, and once we restored our land and economics after the wars, our lives were fine. By all means we were not in poverty, like you said.
Jason’s come back:
Ok, good catch. To be more specific I hold government responsible for famines. The USSR was merely one of them.
To that, both Milana and I chimed in:
Yes. They have made a very wrong decision of selling our grain for hard currency, to rebuild the manufacturing industry destroyed by the world war 1 and civil war. Which was 4 years of sheer destruction of Russia.
By 1930s Hitler’s intentions were clear. He was going to attack. Russia, and then after 1922 USSR hasn’t yet restored, and was squeezed by all kinds of economic sanctions (yes, sanctions go way back. We never had a period without sanctions against our country from Russian Empire, to Russia, to USSR to Russian Federation. Last USSR sanctions were lifted in 2004 (!!!), when sanctions on RF were already imposed)
And the young USSR made a bad decision. They sold the grain, or exchanged it for heavy machinery, factories, etc. they didn’t factor possibility of poor harvest – and it happened in 1932.
And this would be a tragedy and a hard lesson for the rest of our history.
But Ukraine claims that USSR was keeping Ukrainians hungry deliberately. They make it look like their non-Ukrainian neighbors had plenty of bread, but they did not and we’re dying of hunger. And that’s a disgusting and blatant lie. As a matter of fact, the highest number of victims occurred in central Russia, called “Povolzhiye”. It’s a vast territory. Humanitarian aid was being sent there by huge volumes, but it wasn’t enough to save everyone. Yet, those people do not claim they were being killed on purpose. They remember the effort to help them, their kids.
While Ukrainians lie shamelessly that they were picked to suffer based on their ethnicity. Disgusting lie and disrespect to the rest of the 1932-33 Famine victims in the USSR.
My response being:
First, do call this American political tool aimed at Soviet Union/Russia for “golodomor”, otherwise it sounds plain silly (see the post above about Russians doing a run in a -47C degree frost).
Now, as others pointed out, there was _famine_, exacerbated by a recent revolution, prolonged Western intervention into the Russian Civil War, sanctions against the USSR (reminds of Syria, eh?) and the demand by the Western powers that any purchase of technology was paid in grain and not in gold.
In my own family, my great-grand-mother died of this famine. Catch is, they lived in Altai Krai, Siberia.
And to Jason’s “blaming the government” I had this to say:
Then blame the government of the Universe (the God?) for this. Solar cycles are, well, cyclic. Crop failures happen regularly. The political situation, like a revolution, a proloinged Civil Was and sanctions can worsen the situation. Actually, what USSR did with collectivisation, wa to optimise the process of agriculture so that the country was lees dependent on individual farmer’s crop failures – that is, the risk of future famines was minimised.
The next famine was connected to the post-WWII desolation of te USSR. It happened in 1947, and, incidentally, despite that, the USSR was sending a lot of the agricultural produce to help Poland.
Now, I did a little bit of a research for you (a freindly advice – stay way from Wikipedia, especially the English-language segment as it is written to suite the current American needs). In the attached map, which is usually used to illustrate “golodomor”, but, in fact shows the population decline (which is not the same as deaths), additinal “borders” are added to show the location of the ethnic Russian population of that time (this territories were transferred to UkSSR by Lenin only 10 years before that). If the maps were not politically charged to single out Ukraine, they would have shown a similar trend across all of the Southern Russia, past Urals, and also on the territories of Russia that were transferred to Kazakhstan 10 years prior.
At this point Gary Stu joined the conversation
You’re forgetting another group of people. Who don’t like US foreign policy and preferred to live inside. Russia is still too weak to resist pressure. That’s why Russian and Ukrainian people dying. Not Americans.
Milana makes a very good point about the misconception of Russia being weak:
Gary, this is the biggest mistake of the overwhelming majority of the westerners.
You all think we are weak. If we spread our shoulders – there will be no Earth. You don’t understand that Putin is holding back quite a few people in the government to avoid a full out war we are capable of unleashing. We hold ourselves back from emotional “knee-jerk” reaction when Americans, Europeans and Ukrainians with their permission and support are killing our people on our lands.
And you all take it as “weak”. Big mistake! Huge!
General Milley said, Russians can be in Kiev in 3 days. Russians were at Kiev in 4 hours.
Are we technically capable of carpet bombings? Of course! But we refuse to fight like you do. Killing everything that moves, regardless military or civilian and then send in our troopers. Yes, it costs us lives, but it saves tens and hundreds of thousands more in civilian lives.
We don’t have an Albright in our government, who’d kill off a couple million and call them “collateral damage”, and say she’d do it again, if need be.
Is this the show of “strength” for you! That’s fine.
For me – that’s weakness. Being afraid to show your nose above the trench, until the aviation and artillery would burn everything that’s alive. That’s weakness.
To which Gary gives an example based off of one person that he knew:
I’d personally call her actions a failure. She failed to take care of Americans, helped Clintons to sell off american businesses to mostly China. It was weak and evil. And today US reaps the fruits of those decisions. And anyway she relied upon strong economy, strong military and sound financial system.
Russia on the other hand didn’t have a domestic financial system until 2014. It still doesn’t have domestically produced consumer grade chips. Only those military ones. It still heavily relyes on imports, today on chinees ones. And for at least 30 years get its nose pinched when don’t behave. That’s what I call to be weak.
Back in Cali I knew a russian plumber from one of the ex soviet republics. Back there he had some kind of university degree in engineering, and had to work in Russia in construction to feed his family, because his own republic didn’t have work for him. In the US on the other hand, he took a very short training and now making six figures a year. He has a house, 3 cars, RV, paid vacation and pension plan. Very good dude, I can say, who was fucked by his own motherland and made it right in the US.
And don’t tell me about those brain dead monkeys who failed to make Russia strong and now want to kill everybody who sees it. Again it’s a sign of weakness, not strength.
This this Milana gave a very in-depth reply, which actually prompted me to collate that conversation for posterity:
Russia was totally destroyed by 2000. Most of us doubted its survival.
We were unable to even feed ourselves. What do we have now:
After having to buy grain and meat, we are back to being one of the leaders in exporting both: various kinds of grain, meat. In under 15 years under economic sanctions.
We’ve become the only large country in the world that ensured our bio resources to grow – forests, fish among them. The full working timber/lumber industries, and fishing industry – the resources are still going up, instead of being depleted.
Russia is the leader in NPP construction and maintenance. Russia is the only country that produced a floating NPP, no other countries have that technology.
Russia is the leader in subway transportation construction. Also, within the past 10-12 years.
In space, since 2011 and till 2021 Russia was the only country able to maintain launches and deliveries of personnel to the ISS. As of 2022, Russia is the only country that can deliver personnel and cargo to the ISS in about 4 (four) hours.
Russia was the first country to test 5G mobile network, and fully launched it by 2018. Seattle got its 5G only in 2021.
Russia has its own satellite navigation system GLONASS.
Cybersecurity.. well, if we won’t mention Kaspersky and their 400 million customers wordwide.. Let’s say Russia apparently continuously electing American presidents.
Chemistry. All new 6 chemical elements were discovered and isolated by Russian chemists, all happened after 1991.
Physics. Russia now is the only country that has working hadron collider. Russia discovered a new particle – pentaquark, during a 2015 experiment with the collider.
You know, in psychics there is too much to translate – I won’t.
And you are taking about chips? Seriously?
While US military is in a weakened state. Pentagon said so just a few weeks ago, after a huge research done in all the branches. USMC was the only branch that got a passing grade, not flying colors. And this is in the country where military budget is bigger and the the entire budget of the EU?
Had it not been for Elon Musk, US would not be launching anything into the space, but shiny balloons. NASA should be kissing the ground that guy from South Africa decided to move to Cali.
Majority of manufacturing (Mr, Clinton and the leaders that followed) was moved out of the US to southeastern Asia.
The debt by the US is beyond the numbers that have names. Apparently, if the foreign debt would be called in right this minute, every taxpayer in the US would have to chip in at least $50K to cover the interest.
Are you still talking to me about the plumber with an RV and chips?
If Russia managed to get up from ruin under sanctions between 2010 and 2022, where would it be without sanctions and incessant attacks from the west? Please!
America – a country with amazing potential and hard working people is sent down the drain without wars on its soil, sanctions, or any other hardships that would impede its development, other that it’s leadership.
And you are taking about an engineer turned plumber, but lucky enough to own 3 cars and an RV? Is this the strength of the country for you?
Are these your arguments along with name calling of whoever you called “brain dead monkeys”? Then your argument is beyond week!
America right now is more concerned with genders, trans, gay, BLM and whatever else, then it’s hard working people. They hire people to work in the government based NOT on their education, skill or experience, but on their demographics. They are more worried about the likes on their Twitter and YouTube channels than what lies in the future of the people who make it possible for them to be in that government. They actively waste people’s money. They shut down industries based on popular agenda, rather then the needs of the nation and its people. They drag the country into useless wars, that do nothing good for the taxpayers.
And you are talking to me about a plumber and some chips. Good luck with this, Gary. But America deserves much better than this.
And a side note is fully in tune with other testimonials of the period:
By 2000 I was questioning the very ability of Russia to exist. It’s wasn’t just public health. And the 22 years after were a huge challenge. And a lot of work. And a lot more going forward.
My own reply to Gary’s statement above was to a similar tune:
In the USSR everyone got a job according to their specialisation. The guy you are talking about is the victim of the Wild 90’s and the desolation of Yeltsin, when Russia was under direct American control (either via American advisors or through locals educated in the West), sucked for both natural resources and people. It remained such until about 2010. It took Putin the first 10 years to just begin to extricate Russia from the foreign web and to start rebuilding. Making Russia strong was a long process, happening between about 2009 and now (stillnot complete). Something can be broken quickly; rebuilding takes time.
And it is a sign of immense strength to show restraint and to not lash out when you have strength to do so.
Gary Stu said to this:
So you’re suggesting that that plumber should have born 30 years later? It doesn’t work this way. USSR wasn’t destroyed by external forces. It was destroyed because soviet people let it happened, left the country for their children in ruins. I’m happy that Russians managed to work it out. But still Madeleine Albright’s successors very much able to make Russia suffer if they need to. So, I’d say it again, Russia is still weak.
Perhaps, I should stop this conversation, it’s not very productive. And thank you anyway for educating me about current Russian realities.
With a prompt and to-the-point come back from Milana (there were a couple of short back-and-forth posts before it that I am skipping):
I think it would be best.
It wasn’t my purpose to try and change your mind. In warfare, it’s best when opponent believes you are weak.
My hope was, however, you see the world through a different perspective, not with USA being the center of the universe.
I’m not sure what you mean by plumber was supposed to be born and when. I wasn’t suggesting anything about the plumber.
I was merely saying his 3 cars and RV don’t impress, and they don’t constitute his success or strength, or that of his new country.
He has nothing to do with Russia, he is of no consequence to that side of the argument. Russia didn’t fail him. Nor did his birth country. He found his place in life – good for him.
Thank you for the conversation.
And with a tongue-in-cheek conclusion of:
Well, people. I solemnly swear, I will not buy 2 more cars. Because I don’t need 3. An RV could be fun, but I’m too lazy to maintain it! I’ll settle with my summer house, with my apples, and mom’s veggies garden. In weak and poor Russia 😂🥕🥦🥒🥗
There is really not much to add….