The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.
Author: Paul E. Richardson
Page 4 ( 1 pages)
For the first time since we began publishing this magazine over 20 years ago, the final content of a Russian Life issue was uploaded to our printer not from our Vermont “world headquarters,” but from the Russian heartland.
As I write this, we are deeply immersed in the research, travel, interviewing, photographing, writing and recording of our Children of 1917 project, where we are capturing the life stories and reminiscences (and advice) of Russians who were born in 1917, the year of Revolution (see PostScript, page 64). And, since travel for this project needed to happen in August, just as the issue you hold in your hands was to be wrapped up, final proofed, and sent to the printer, the finishing touches were made while our troika team (Mikhail Mordasov, Nadya Grebennikova and I) were on a 24-hour leg of the Trans-Siberian Railway, en route from Ufa to Novosibirsk.
On the flip side, the day before I arrived in Moscow for this second phase of our project, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his tat in response to the tit just passed by the US Congress: new sanctions for Russian meddling in the US election were met by the ousting of 755 personnel from US embassies and consulates. Since less than 300 US citizens work in these facilities, the deep cuts will likely have the greatest impact on the estimated 1000+ local Russians who work as interpreters, drivers, custodians, etc. to keep the wheels of diplomacy moving.
As it turns out, those wheels have all but stopped turning. As Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said (in a bilingual Facebook post), the US sanctions bill “ends hopes for improving our relations with the new U.S. administration... The sanctions regime has been codified and will remain in effect for decades unless a miracle happens. This legislation is going to be harsher than the Jackson-Vanik amendment.”
Medvedev was referring to the 1974 US congressional act that was passed in response to the Soviet Union’s draconian restrictions on emigration, particularly of Jews. While justifiable at the time, Jackson-Vanik overstayed its usefulness, remaining in place until 2012 – two decades beyond the time when Soviet Russia removed travel and emigration restrictions. Medvedev’s comparison of the two eras and acts is a depressing harbinger for US-Russian relations.
Yet it is where we find ourselves, and it is from here that we must begin our work to make things better.
The first step is not to engage in name-calling and blame throwing for where we are now, but to sketch out a shared vision of our end game. What can we agree upon? What worldview do we share? Where do we want relations to be in 10 or 20 years? Then, from there, we work our way backwards and get down to the tedious work of eliminating, item-by-item, each problem that hinders us from reaching those goals.
A bi-national, non-partisan commission established to carry out this work would be an ideal start.
The Children of 1917 project is teaching all of us involved a thing or two about mortality and the importance of a long perspective. Not a single one of our centenarian subjects has wanted to talk about politics or international relations. Instead, they tell us about family, about survival, about the importance of hard work, and, most of all, about how doing good is the surest path to happiness and contentment.
Would that our politicians heeded the lessons of our centenarians.
Enjoy the issue.
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