Sunday, November 6, 2011

Great Russia

FOR MOST OF THE MID-1980s, I obsessed about, talked to, worked with, and visited Russians. Hard to summarize a complex people in buzzwords, but we might try rich, convoluted, grandiloquent, ruminative, proud, creative, and dipsomaniacal. Working with and among them was wonderful. I was managing the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and one of the Co-Presidents was (and had to be) a Soviet doctor. I never met a real Marxist in Moscow, but I also never met a Russian who didn't cherish Russia and Russia-ness.

Americans have little sympathy for history's losers in general and for loser Russia in particular. The fall of the Soviet Union; the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the expansion of NATO; the collapse of the Russian economy; the rise of lawlessness and gangsterism; the decline in population and life expectancy; the general loss of face – these experiences wounded the famous Russian soul. Russians may hate this or that regime, despise this or that circumstance, but they are consoled by the saga of national greatness. Think of the French after 1871: defeated; amputated; bent on revanche and the re-assertion of the natural glory of the Nation. Russia today is not so different.

The Kaplan Fund is active in the circumpolar Arctic these days, and since more than half of the Arctic Ocean coastline is Russian, one can't pretend to a comprehensive regional strategy without counting with Russia, Russians, and their never-absent sense of history. I'm psyched!

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