Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wanderers 2014-7-15: Regarding Russia

:: William Brown shares with Wanderers ::

Wanderers is more into STEM than politics, by reputation at least, but we certainly have travelogues, and much about William Brown's presentation was based in first person / first hand experience as a traveler and speaker of the Russian language.  His degree is in Russian language and culture.

William wanted to help us break out of lingering stereotypes some of us might have, left over from the Cold War Era or from the time of the USSR's breakup.  Most of us alive today have no personal memories of WW2 except maybe as children.  One of the two Kyrgystani women in the room was six when the USSR broke up.  She enjoys that sense of independence that comes with statehood and would not surrender it back.  The institution of statehood itself was part of what we were looking at.

The bottom line is that Russia under Putin is embracing its Christian Orthodox heritage in ways never allowed in the Communist Era, meaning huge amounts of land and assets have been returned to the church.  A pent up hunger for religiosity has also fed numerous bigotries, especially anti-LGBT spasms, which is where William's story began, with Pussy Riot, the punk guerrilla protest group, branded as subversive, its members sentenced to hard labor, and used by government spin doctors to put face to, and paint a target on, a younger generation, making it OK for bullies and thugs to exercise their cowardice.  The state tends to look the other way as Russians grow psychologically weaker and less tolerant by the day.

This arc somewhat recapitulates what happened in the USA starting with president Reagan, when religious bigots of all stripes came out of the woodwork and began a long process of dismantling the secular apparatus.  Republicanism rode this wave, but ironically at great cost to the central government, with Washington DC by now a mere shadow of its former self in terms of relevance and credibility.  Religious nuts have enjoyed a more domineering role, which is comforting, especially to patriarchs battling their own inner demons and insecurities, and with a short fuse when it comes to defiance.

Fortunately, the USA's 50 states have a way of specializing and finding a new equilibrium and dire conditions in one area may be offset by corresponding changes in other regions.  I have to think that such dynamics are likely in any large-enough system with any free flow of people and information whatsoever.

Whereas average Russians may be more restricted in their radius of travel than average North Americans, if not for bureaucratic reasons then because of a generic reluctance to venture abroad (again, like many North Americans), terminal closed-mindedness is likely not in the cards for a people of such great cultural achievements, especially in literature and science.

William was clear that he brings some of his own biases to his narrative, as we all do, including yours truly.  He was trained as a media analyst in a military setting and is used to sifting through lots and lots of information in order to synthesize and summarize.  His analysis is therefore cogent, interesting, and based in doing lots of homework.

I was happy to get more of his perspective and hope to someday have more travel opportunities in that part of the world myself, maybe in connection with Python, a computer language popular in Russia and the Ukraine, and both of which host Pycons from time to time.   My visit to EuroPython in Lithuania in 2007 was certainly informative.

:: protest lyrics ::