Da Russophile, a Year On

As of today, it’s been exactly one year since I started the Da Russophile blog. Although I have been aware of hostile or condescending Western attitudes towards Russia for a long time, reflected in its mass media, I was finally provoked into joining battle by a particularly annoying and dishonest ‘editorial’ on the La Russophobe hate-blog.

This was and remains its motto:

Their Thesis: the Western media tells us Russia is in a death spiral,
its economy is one giant oil bubble, suffers from endemic corruption,
inequality and lawlessness and is presided over by a KGB kleptocrat
dead-set on resurrecting the USSR and launching Cold War II.

Our Antithesis: Russia is a normal country with a booming non-hydrocarbons
economy underpinned by a well-educated and secular workforce.
The Putin administration has affirmed democratic values, worked to improve
human rights and pursued Russia’s national interests abroad.

Your Synthesis: ?

I started off by writing serious ‘core articles’ on Reading Russia Right and Towards a New Russian Century, to demolish some common bearish stereotypes and illustrate how its inherent strengths (natural resources, a well educated population, etc) stood it in good stead for a twenty-first century characterized by economic convergence, technological growth, climate change and resource depletion.

My initial aim to provide a daily or at least weekly Russia news analysis proved too ambitious. I am a cyclical worker, capable of great feats of production over short periods but prone to long periods of idleness and procrastination (one nineteenth-century Russian historian attributed this quality to Russians in general, due to their long winters and short growing seasons). Thus in the end I couldn’t keep up a constant stream of news analysis, unlike the likes of Robert Amsterdam or La Russophobe – it simply required far too much time and organization, stuff I’m not well endowed with, and which doesn’t suit my character besides.

Where I shined, I think, was challenging the conventional wisdom about Russia. Contrarian pieces like Top 10 Russophobe Myths, Lying Liars and their Lies and Faces of the Future (my deconstruction of Russian demographic details, which show that the situation is far from the dire catastrophe usually portrayed by the Western commentariat) remain some of my favorites. I also specifically criticized coverage of Russia’s economy (The Trouble with the Economist) and the Ossetian War (The Western Media, Craven Shills for their Neocon Masters).

Speaking of which, I agree that sometimes my rhetoric is too shrill and detracts from my points (although it does draw attention). This is especially the stake when there is some considerable emotional stake in the issue – I made something like 30% of all original Da Russophile posts during and immediately after the Ossetian War. On the topic of which, Putin summarized Western attitudes better than I can: I’m amazed by their skills at seeing black as white, of portraying aggressors as victims and of blaming the real victims for the consequences of the conflict.

Although there is a real issue of discrimination against Russians in the Baltic countries covered extensively by human rights organizations like Amnesty International (and with which I find easy to sympathize – I haven’t met a single ethnic Balt who wasn’t hostile to my original nationality in real life, and their Internet intelligentsia like Peteris Cedrins or Giustino drip with venom whenever they mention it, barely concealed with a thin veneer of Western civility), on balance my reference to one particular graveyard-desecrating Baltic nation as eSStonia probably didn’t help my argument. Probably one of my bigger mistakes early on was taking my conception of myself as a ‘polar opposite’ to La Russophobe a bit too literally.

Of course, that’s pretty much impossible for me to accomplish. As I recently said to a commentator here, the only reason I ‘defend’ the Kremlin and Russia with such enthusiasm is because of the sheer degree to which it is misaligned or smeared in the Western press – be it out of ignorance or malice. (Although given my experience with Al-Jazeera, I lean towards the latter explanation). Believe it or not, when in the company of Russians too besotted of Putin or Russia’s greatness or whatever, I am often compelled to contradict them by pointing out some of their failures and cynicism or even just for the sake of argument instead of agreement. In fact, to let you on a little secret I think the most acute Russia commentator is not myself, but the likes of Sean Guillory, the people over at Peter Lavelle’s Google discussion group on Russia and perhaps even the eXile guys (jesters are the best at speaking truth to power).

The main reason I am “Da Russophile” in the English language is because far too many Westerners perceive Russia to be some special class of benighted murderous wasteland, whereas in fact I see it as essentially a ‘normal country’ with some admittedly pretty big problems. And since I don’t think a petty thief should be blamed for a murder with no evidence, nor do I think one can be neutral on a moving train (to borrow from Zinn), so I defend misaligned Russia and Putin (and at times Chavez’ Venezuela, and other people Western elites really don’t like but which in reality aren’t that bad, or good). Especially since the presiding judges, juries and executioners – the West – are themselves a bunch of petty crooks. Not that this approach wins any favors from either side…

Speaking of which, I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with many of my readers as well as other incisive and decent Russia-watching writers such as Andy at Siberian Light, Eric Kraus, Sean, etc. Yet there’s been a fair amount of negative, impolite and I’m afraid to say, on a few occasions hateful, mail directed towards me, so I can only sympathize with Andy’s post on What is it with stupid people and Russia?, where he laments the prevalent Russophobe/Russophile dichotomy in discussions about that country. It will be a great day when this dialog can proceed in a mutually respectful and intelligent manner, but this day is far off, not when the (admittedly very popular) La Russophobe blog explicitly states as its mission to ‘expose’ and professionally damage those who seek to ‘justify’ Kremlin evil, and when a three-way discussion between Timothy Post, Craig Pirrong (Streetwise Professor) and myself identified religious zeal, polarly differing worldviews, and Russia’s supposedly historically exceptional path, respectively, as barring any fundamental agreement. Just like in the retarded Internet debates on abortion between atheists and Bible nuts… Let’s hope my pessimistic view is disproved.

Not that I’m a gray humorless sod (I think). I hope I’ve put smiles on a few faces by some tongue-in-cheek posts like <Russia of the Dead and Zen and the Art of Vodka Drinking.

Writing this blog has been a positive experience – it helps clarify and organize my thoughts, and I hope informs or entertains its readers. I also think that it has some real intellectual content and insights, in particularly my work on demography and Russia’s economic crisis. This was the main reason I decided to associate this blog with my name, Anatoly Karlin, when I moved from blogger to self-hosted WordPress at Sublime Oblivion, about two months ago.

This new structure also made it much easier for me to write about other things of interest (i.e. more than Russia). This is not to say that there was nothing of that in the old days – for instance, I had a bout of interest in healthy eating. The problem was that the blog name was, after all, Da Russophile, and so I was under some mental stress to try to associate everything with it. For instance, the main geopolitical and futurist ideas of Towards a New Russian Century, the vital role of education in economical growth explored in Education as Elixir of Growth were too much ‘forcibly associated’ with Russia-watching for them to be truly standalone articles on geopolitics or economics (I plan to rewrite and repost them). My partial solution was to make another blogger blog about six months ago called Sublime Speculations. Separate blogs, unwieldy infrastructure, lots of glitches, no self-hosting…although WordPress has a steep learning curve relative to blogger, in the end it is a vastly superior publishing system.

So now I can spend less time thinking about maintenance, and more time writing.

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