Russian Self-Righteousness vs. American, well, Self-Righteousness

I figure any blog related to Russia has to address the conflict in Georgia. Luckily, living in Russia has already begun to give me a look at the Russian side of the story.

Before coming to Russia, our group of American students received many warnings about what was proving to be a touchy subject. The pug-faced Moscow coordinator intoned the need to avoid the topic, relating tales of his own friendship-souring arguments with Russians, who generally feel justified in their county’s role in the dispute.  The conventional narrative in the West glosses over the long-standing roots of last month’s fighting and focuses on Russia’s encroachment upon Georgian sovereignty.

I can say that these admonishments seem to be right on, gauging from my first St. Petersburg acquaintances; the only awkward spot of the many conversations I had with my new Russian friend Pavel was related to the Georgian conflict. The genial amateur musician is studying to be an air-traffic controller and could hardly be considered a rabid flag-waver. But at the mention of my American friend’s Georgian host mother, he said he hated the country, arguing Russian occupation was necessary to prevent Georgian abuses of minority populations.

It’s hard to accept such a view, which smacks of Soviet imperialism and near bigotry. It’s just as hard, however, to support the general American view, which is often just as one-sided. Haven’t we invaded a few countries with the same misleadingly simplistic justifications?

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6 Responses to “Russian Self-Righteousness vs. American, well, Self-Righteousness”

  1. Hi Alec,

    So what do you think so far of my birth city? You remember I am subjective when it comes to the city you are living in now. In my opinion, it is unbelievably educated, cultured, and well mannered. Moreover, as you shall see as the weather becomes worse and worse you will see that St. Petersburgers’ nostalgia, sentimentality, and humor are simply one of a kind. The use of the Russian language by this city’s residents to express their varied emotional states is simply unparalleled. Take advantage of this while you are there by talking to more St. Petersburgers, reading the newspapers, St. Petersburg authors, and simply listening to St. Petersburgers when they speak about themselves, life, and their city, all of which they love but are bittersweet about as well… They are a people that have blended melancholy and humor into a culture all their own. Let me know about your stay more…
    PS, if you want to know, I used to live at the Herzen State Pedagogical Dormitories behind Kazan Cathedral, my father was born on the Petrograd side, and my parents had an apartment on Kanal Girboedova near Kazan Cathedral in the late 1990s. It is an enchanting city that has a charm all its own. Good luck with it and the blog!! Best, Ben

  2. I think it’s good that you are trying to find the Middle Path of Russian issues… Maybe this is what is meant by the idiom “caught between two chairs”. It’s frustrating to see so many people following blindly, one extremity or the other.

    Probably it’s equally good you don’t have to suffer the mountains of political BS in the American papers presently… I’ve consequently sworn to live in the Library or Music Building until the election is over.

    Have you seen footage of orchestral conductor Valery Gergiev’s statements and concert in South Ossetia? Something immediately bringing to mind Shostakovich… Perhaps you can find it on YouTube. “RussiaToday” has possibly posted it.

    – Venya

  3. Ben R –
    I love your birth city. I hope this comes across even though many of my posts are mild complaints — after all, I always say living in Russia is a love-hate relationship. Do you feel the same way?
    I’ll be sure to look out for what you’ve commented on. So far I’m good friends with two Petersburgers (by way of Magadan — I’ll have to talk to them more about their gulag hometown), and I’m always meeting more.
    I, too, live at the Herzen dorm, which is really more of a hotel. Read about their cafe in my post, https://eagleandthebear.wordpress.com/2008/09/07/breakfast-in-russia-to-blaring-beats/.

  4. Ben L –
    Where does “caught between two chairs” come from? Is there a Russian equivalent you know of?
    It’s been hard to follow the American news, with limited time and Internet access. But I can believe they’re espousing the American view like none other. I mean, Georgia started the war, apparently out of Saakashvili’s stupidity. I don’t think most Americans realize this. Also that the two breakaway republics WANT to be part of Russia. I’m no expert, my only point is it’s a complicated issue. Siberian Light did a nice analysis: http://www.siberianlight.net/2008/09/07/russia-georgia-war/.
    Yeah, Gergiev’s concert sounded pretty outrageous. When my American friend told me about it, I too mentioned Shostakovich. Why is it that famous Russian artists often have such pro-Putin, nationalistic political views? I’m thinking of Nikita Mikhalkov and his open letter to keep Putin in office as president. I’ll have to do a post sometime …

  5. Hi Alec: I enjoyed this blog a lot, especially your question at the end. And the answer is “Yes, we have invaded countries with exactly this rationalization, or premise, most recently Iraq, where the ostensible reason for invasion was because Saddam was a tyrant and killing his own people.” This is exactly the same reason that your almost an air-traffic controller friend gave; I can hardly tell the difference.

  6. Ellyn Bullock Says:

    Hi Alec- I love your blog. I just finished a book about St. Petersburg called City of Thieves by David Benioff. It’s about the seige of Leningrad. The author is the cousin of my neighbor and a screenplay writer married to Amanda Peet.

    You’re missing a very tight election with lots of subterfuge and intensity and grand rhetoric and cheating/meanness by the Republicans. My personal choice for Pres/V.P. is Obama/Biden. Are you going to cast an absentee ballot?

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