July 01, 2019

People Like Us

People Like Us
Summer Dacha Scene. Vitaly Mohylenets

The features in this issue have something in common.

In one story (Hogweed, page 54), we explore the pernicious effects of a Soviet agricultural experiment to use a Caucasian plant for northern silage. In another (Precious Water, page 32), we learn that relocating Merino sheep from the mountainous Caucasus (or perhaps Spain) has had a devastating effect on the local topsoil of Kalmykia.

Both scientific failures were rooted in well-intentioned plans to solve a problem. But by transplanting species adapted for one environment to an entirely different locale, an invasive species was created, with disastrous consequences.

Meanwhile, our northerly journalist (Siberian Colors, page 46) learns that the eyes of a photographer differ greatly from those of a painter. And, in the wonderful story by Darya Grebenshchikova (page 42), we are reminded how, no matter how hard you try, you can’t recreate a past event.

We humans, Earth’s most adaptable species, just cannot seem to get past the notion that we can harmlessly adapt this to do that.

“A house that’s also a car? Why not?” “A phone that’s also a computer and a mailbox and a compass and…? Sure!” What could go wrong?

This is where my head was at when I read a news item this week in which the Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, told a gathering of Russian expats in the US that, “We need to join efforts to counter Russophobia in our genuine desire to facilitate the improvement of Russian-American relations.”

A fine motivation, certainly, but here’s the rub: Russophobia tends to rise or fall in response to actions of the government of Russia. You don’t, for instance, generally see Russophobes created as a result of reading Chekhov or Tolstoy, or because of a less than enjoyable meal at a Russian restaurant.  And because of that, you can’t counter Russophobia by making people love Russians (even expat Russians) or Russian literature or culture.

People like us, by which I mean hopeless Russophiles, get this. Because we know that our affection for things Russian must be separated from what the country’s government does or does not do. Every government does bad things and good things. And if Russophilism (or nationalism) blinds you to that, leading you to argue that everything Russia does as a state is good and justifiable, well, you are not a Russophile, but a dupe.

In point of fact, Russophiles like us are among those best placed to offer constructive criticism about what Russia is doing in the world. Because we have a grounding in its history, culture, language, etc., that allows us to bring perspective and context to what can often be rather emotional, knee jerk debates.

So, transplanted Russians in the US will not solve the problem of Russophobia here. It would be better to investigate what circumstances are causing Russophobia to rise, perhaps even by consulting with native Russophiles, who have the long-term interests of Russia (but not necessarily those of any temporal government) at heart.

Enjoy the issue.

The End. Or just the beginning?

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