(Let me apologize in advance to my Russian readers for any statements I make with which you disagree, or that may seem outdated. It’s been some time since I have been to Eastern Europe. Please remember that I write this from the prospective of a man raised within the culture of West Virginia, looking out at another culture)
Я говорю на Русском языке, хотя я должен сказать, что не говорю свободно.
I say that for a very specific reason.
I love the Russian people. I love aspects of the Russian culture. As I say, I may not speak the language fluently, but I do speak it after a fashion. I guess it would be put best, that I am conversant, albeit a bit slow. Then on the other hand, my Russian is good enough that for a time my wife and I attended a Russian congregation. Just to give you some idea of where I’m coming from.
Because I say all of that, to say that when I speak on Russian topics I am not completely ignorant. But as I also like to remind myself that it is wise to … attempt to know, what I do not know.
I see the Russians as people. They are not a ‘rival people’ with a ‘rival economy’. In my book (you may see things differently, whatever … get your own website), there is no such thing as a ‘rival people’. Ironic, considering that when I grew up as a young person in the 1970’s, the Cold War was in full effect and Nuclear War with “Russia” or the Soviet Union was a understandable topic of conversation. But I digress. Markets are markets, and people are people. Two separate things, and I separate the two.
I have friends in Russia that I think of quite often. Friends I pray for. Friends I miss. Friends with whom I drank vodka and laughed. They have lives, and children, parents, brothers and sisters. Those are Russian people.
And then there is the Ruble, and econometric data that comes from a specific geographic area, and what this portends for my investment portfolio. In this case, Russia. Those are Russian markets.
Ok, what’s the point here Dan?
At times, within the sphere of financial media and commentary I see this tendency to ‘pick sides’. To demonize one group, and grant sainthood to another. XYZ asset class with ABC economy behind it are the ‘good guys’ and DEF asset class with NOP economy behind it are the ‘bad guys’.
I hate that.
So when I made the comment yesterday, that I do not see how Russia can extricate itself from deep economic woes, in the best of circumstances, in under 8 years? It is important to me personally that this not be seen in the above light. This is no victory, for anyone. I have friends that will be suffering in such economic conditions. I don’t relish that thought and I’ll probably say an extra prayer for them.
But we have markets, and in order to make proper, well-informed, non-biased decisions, I also don’t gloss over how serious the situation is, given the news that is emanating from Russia. For the Russian economy … it’s pretty serious.
And let me finish with this.
Although I love the Russian people, and aspects of the Russian культура / culture that I have come to appreciate? As I said earlier … I attempt to know what I do not know. So I would never say that I “know” the Russian people and culture, or try to proclaim myself an expert on the Russian people. In fact, I at least know enough that if anyone were to try to proclaim themselves an “expert” on the Russian culture, I would seriously question such a statement.
On one occasion, I was sipping tea with an elderly Russian gentleman, discussing our differing backgrounds. At one point in the conversation he smiled and said …
… Let me tell you something Dan. No one can say that they understand the Russian people. Because we don’t understand ourselves, and why we do the things we do. That’s part of what it is to be Russian …
The more time you spend with the Russian people, the more sense such a statement makes.
As a strange piece of complete synchronicity at the moment, I am reading “The Russians” by Hendrick Smith, published in 1976. Although it was written during the Cold War, it is striking to me how appropriate a read this is in the current climate.
A few favorite quotes …
“Beneath the flat surface of society in Russia, as presented by Pravda, a rich and complex life abounds but it totally lacks any means of communication. We are not a “one dimensional society” as Westerners believe. – K. S. Karol, 1971
“Russians have a passion for their countryside. City people, like American urbanites, revel in roughing it at some rented peasant cabin, cooking on a stove tucked out in a shed, using the outhouse in the garden, hooking pots and pans over the weather beaten wooden fence palings to dry. The sun playing through a stand of birches or the coolness of the majestic pines casts a spell. But for a long time I found the open countryside a disappointment. Instead of offering dramatic scenery, Russia is a vast flatland, stretching beyond every horizon to fill a continent, like the open, limitless prairie of Kansas. It lacks the breathtaking vistas of Switzerland, the picturesque hills of Bavaria, or the hedgerows and stone walls that give the English countryside its charm. Russia is plainer, more rambling, wilder, undisciplined.
“I love the well-tended English garden,” a Russian walking companion remarked to me as we passed into a private enclosure outside Moscow one day, “but the Russian garden does something for my soul.”
This puzzled me: Here, behind the green fence was a Russian garden, wild and uncombed. I would not have called it a garden at all, it was just a fenced-in chunk of woodland. Shrubs, trees, grasses grew freely in no pattern, shaped by no hand. And then I realized that this was precisely it’s appeal to the Russian soul. In it’s rambling, wild, deliciously undisciplined disarray, it provided release from their overly-tended, over-crowded, over-supervised lives. Russians need to break the bonds, burst the limits, spiritually take off their shoes and run barefoot …” – The Russians, Russians as People, Page 116, 117.