Sep/Oct 2018 Current Moscow Time: 12:08:57
25 September 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

How Much Politics

Author: Paul E. Richardson

Nov/Dec 2016
Page 4   ( 1 pages)

Summary: On charges that our magazine has become more political as the years have gone by.


In a world increasingly defined by partisanship, warring camps, and ideological foes, there is comfort in finding oases where politics is not a welcome guest.

Russian Life has never sought to be such an oasis, but we have always sought to keep politics from being a major focus of the magazine. We rarely write features on politics per se, and we keep the political news to a minimum in our Notebook section.

There are two simple reasons for this. First, Russian politics is covered well by many other sources, both in English and in Russian. Second, most political issues are time sensitive, and there are about three weeks between when we put an issue to press and when it arrives in your mailbox. So we could never provide political news in a timely manner.

On the other hand, this is Russia, and there is very little one can write about that does not have a political undertone. In fact, to fail to recognize this element in most topics is to do a disservice to the topic and to you, our readers.

Consider this issue’s features, and you can see how “avoiding the political” would dilute the value of these stories. How can you talk about the Kremlin garage without talking about who the political leaders were and what was going on? How can you consider the situation in Russian arts and music without wondering about if crackdowns on free speech are having an effect? How can you profile an environmental effort in Siberia without thinking about the politics of its funding? How can you explore the borderlands without reference to the state powers that reinforce those borders? And how can you report on Moscow’s redevelopment without understanding the political dynamics at play?

Politics is about the interplay of power and influence, and those things weave their tentacles through every aspect of our world. But the thing is, so do economics and language, history and culture, food and literature.

The point is that we do not avoid politics, but neither do we give it more than its due. As a bimonthly, we focus on the longer view, on providing context and meaning. Sometimes that context is political; more often it involves far more of the non-politicial things I just mentioned, and we revel in bringing them to the fore.

So why am I bringing all this up? Because I recently heard from some readers who said they liked the magazine better when it was less political.

Hm. It may be that the magazine has become “more political” over the 20 years we have been publishing it. But if that is the case, it is because the country we cover has become more political. There is less and less in Russia that is not infused with state funding, influence, or even control (a development, by the way, that is very disturbing to us), and therefore our stories are bound to reflect that reality.

In my first editorial in this space, back in 1995, I noted that our contributors would be “a healthy mix” of both Russians and non-Russians, because, “while nobody knows Russia like Russians, it often takes a foreign eye to help illuminate the full texture of a place, to help it resonate with a foreign reader.”

That remains our commitment to this day, and it is also our control on coverage of “the political.” Because the more diverse our writers’ backgrounds, nationalities and world views, the better chance we have of “getting things right.”

Enjoy the issue, and have a Happy New Year!

To read more, follow the "Purchase Back Issue" link from the full story listing for this issue.