The Exile, Issue #181, 25 December, 2003
I have just finished reading a Russian book Bayki Kremlevskogo Diggera (Tales of the Kremlin Digger), and I enthusiastically recommend it to all Russian-speakers who want to understand Russia. Elena Tregubova was a Kremlin reporter for the Kommersant newspaper, and she describes her numerous meetings with Putin, Voloshin, Chubais, Surkov, and Nemtsov. The book is thoroughly authentic, and people that run Russia come alive. If we still want to know “Who is Mr. Putin”, and we do, this is the book to read. This is one book that urgently needs to be translated into English - it is that important and that good.
The series the book comes out in is called “Trash”; but then the book’s publisher, Ad Marginem, publishes the best books in Russia, so no wonder this particular “trash” is a golden nugget. By contrast, others name a series “Enduring Masterpieces” and proceed to publish trash. This book is a runaway bestseller in Russia, and I am very happy that it is: Russians deserve to know their government, and it has never (never!) been described better. The book is trashy all right, it is a chatty, Kitty Kelley style tell-all, but we are fortunate that it is so: we need thousands and thousands of Russians, and not just a few stuffed shirts, to read the book. This book alone may do more to educate Russians about the country they live in than all the USAID-funded programs combined.
Elena Tregubova,who has lost her job because of this book, and her publisher, Alexander Ivanov, just fresh from being harassed over the publication of Vladimir Sorokin’s Goluboye Salo, deserve our admiration as well as unwavering support should they become subject to any mistreatment. Elena Tregubova in particular is nothing short of a hero.
I liked the book so much I needed to give myself a few minutes to calm down before attempting to pin down why this book is so important to us. Well, here goes.
There once was a Homo Sovieticus, a human-like creature very different from us. Now we have a Homo Post-Sovieticus, Homo Putinus (”HP”), if you like, which is a human-like creature that also is, unfortunately, very different from us. What are the main differences?
A westerner (”W”) thinks that one should work productively, and profit from one’s productive labor. HP thinks that one should profit from controlling, intimidating, or “screwing” someone else. Anyone who cannot tell the difference between Bill Gates (who created the world as we know it) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky (a master thief who never created anything) can by called a Homo CNNus, a dangerously delusional person who is convinced that the world strives to be nice.
When we consider Putin’s economic reforms, we will see that correct and long overdue economic measures (such as an introduction of a 13% tax rate) are completely overshadowed by HPs’ urge to screw someone as the only known means to get subsistence. Fortunately, Russian soil can be “screwed” for free oil, but then the oil oligarchs has to undergo the “dekulakization”. I imagine that those who smuggle cigarettes to Khodorkovsky (what could that be, a $1000 a pack?) need to give up a part of their loot as well, and on and on it goes down the food chain; this is how the Russians live.
There are productive and creative people in Russia; actually, there are such people in the millions, but the problem is that HPs are in power, and producers are their pray, forced to give up what they have created by means of taxes, intimidation or control.
A producer consumes a small part of what he earned and invests the rest. An HP consumes as much as he screwed a producer out of, and it is never enough. That is why Russia is so insatiable for Mercedes, while the production equipment is so old. A producer would rather walk than to buy a Mercedes that costs as much as a machine tool he needs.
Hence, the producer and the HP have very different moralities and very different economic behaviors. A producer is a win/win, cooperative person; an HP is a lose/lose person capable of appearing extremely friendly while he is trying to figure out where your wallet is. A producer respects other person as a source of creativity and a consumer of his product. An HP sees another person as a carrier of a wallet that he wants to have. A producer sees a crew of the Kursk as young lives tragically cut short. HP sees this tragedy as a loss of his weapon of intimidation.
Why is it important? The economy of Hong Kong can grow on a barren rock, because Hong Kong is populated by producers, and thus the growth potential is limitless. In Russia, the economy can grow only as long as the HPs can continue to extract what they did not produce, and that imposes certain limits and creates certain dangers.
Many people noted that SPS ran a seemingly suicidal advertisement: Chubais, Nemtsov, and Hakamada frolicking in a posh executive jet. And here is where Tregubova’s book comes in: it shows, time and again, that Chubais and Nemtsov are absolutely honest! And so is Putin, Voloshin, and Surkov! And how about Gaidar? Again, absolute honesty and integrity! And each of them would ask you, “Why is it that destroying people’s lives, stealing millions, and bragging about it is “immoral” or “embarrassing”? Is not it what you suppose to be doing?” See, Chubais (or Putin - makes no difference) have a strict moral code: be strong, do not pick your nose, wear good clothes, shave cleanly, etc. The main commandment states: “Do not steal more than the leader allows and be completely loyal to him until he shows a weakness” For example, Chubais may now be sorry about “loans for shares” scheme, such as “Not to Khodorkovsky, but to Kokh or Mostovoy! Not 5%, but 6%, or even 7%! Not to Cyprus, but to British Virgin Islands!”. These are genuine regrets, but these are regrets that are strictly within the framework of “screwing” not within the framework of producing or enabling to produce or causing unimaginable harm to humans.
We cannot understand the history of the 20th century unless we understand this distinction. Here is another example: Josef Goebbels and his wife poisoned their eight young children before committing suicide themselves. Thus, Goebbels chose for his family exactly the same fate as he managed to give to millions of victims of Auschwitz. Why? Because he simply did not believe that human beings deserve to live if they are somehow imperfect. Jews did not deserve to live because they were Jews, but Germans also did not deserve to live once it became clear that they were defeated. Note that there need not be any kind of logic here: as only LIVE humans think, and the death -worshippers are not LIVE humans. Goebbels did not think that killing humans was immoral, exactly as I think that killing chicken is immoral. Goebbels did not think that death was bad, and that is why the SS wore a skull and bones emblem as opposed to a bunch of flowers or a Mickey Mouse.
Putin, Chubais, or other Russian leaders are presented in Tregubova’s book as strong, accomplished, likable personalities. They are pleasure to be with, indeed I wish I knew them! But they have one particular trait that made it impossible for me to become a part of their team (and God knows, I tried): it is that they honestly do not think that human beings deserve a consideration, and I think otherwise.
Do we need to really understand Russia? I do not understand Thailand, and I enjoy it nonetheless. But Homo Putinus is a different species, and if you do not understand them, they will make you totally confused. It is like giving a little crocodile as a pet to your toddler. Look at these cute little paws, this lovely tail, those amazing eyes! Nice gift! But this is a cro-co-dile, for God’s sake! One more second and the toddler is without a finger! To understand Russia once and for all, you should start by reading my book (sorry to be so immodest, but name another book that claims to explain Russia as I am desperate to find one). My book is called Russia As It Is: Transformation of a Lose/Lose Society http://matthew-maly.ru (it has a Russian version as well), and then read Tregubova’s book to see many samples Homo Putinus, so different and yet so alike, in action.
Once you read these two books, here is a question you should ponder, “Twelve years ago, there was a revolution that seemed to have swept death-worshippers from power. Who were defending the White House, bringing down the statue of Dzerzhinsky, celebrating freedom on the streets? The Russian people, full of hopes, dreaming of joining the rest of the world: And whom do we have in power now? A charming gentleman that argues very convincingly that freedoms are somewhat disruptive. And we still have an Unburied Corpse gracing the Kremlin’s Red Square.