poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

December 31, 2009

С Новым Годом! Happy New Year!

Filed under: Uncategorized — poemless @ 3:47 PM

Will be back from holiday hiatus next week. Until then, enjoy your holiday, my dear readers!

December 16, 2009

Odds & Ends: These are a few of my favorite things Edition

Contents: Kurkov, Kremlin comics and Applebaum’s antics, Democracy and Capitalism and Swiss minarets. Overweight hedgehogs and Barack bitching, These are a few of my favorite things…

“Now get a good night’s sleep, children. For tomorrow we must hike across the Alps to Switzerland, where we will be safe from the Nazis … I mean … the Muslims.”


1. You may stop holding your breath now. Of course I cannot allow the Swiss vote banning minarets to pass unmentioned here, a site borne of Swiss oppression. Everyone and their mother was blogging about it. (“Today, we are all Swiss jihadists!”) But I don’t like to contribute to the noise level or take part in op-ed epidemics. It only perpetuates the phenomenon of knee-jerk reaction + moral authority + Internet connection that has come to replace the profession once known as journalism. It discourages reflection and sobriety. That said, there was some memorable commentary in the days following the referendum. My favorite was from Crooked Timber:

One can only suppose that, having waited until 1971 to give women the vote in Federal elections, and in some parts of the country until 1990 in Cantonal elections, the Swiss are now making up for lost time making good on their commitment to feminism.

And now that my wait is over, I am not here to simply indulge in Schadenfreude for the fallen Swiss. Or to give a lecture on why the banning of minarets is perverse. Or to present another exhibit in my case against this fair (no, really) nation. Or to even wonder aloud with a hint of nefarious intent, “What kind of country, do you imagine, would remain neutral during the Holocaust, but take a firm stand against Islamic symbolism?” No. Rather than lavishing the Swiss or the Muslims with attention, I suggest this story has a much more profound implication that transcends issues of nationality or religion or Europe’s race problem.

The implication is that DEMOCRACY can be totalitarian. Sure, we can blame a majority of Swiss for being xenophobic. Baaad xenophobic Swiss. Whatever. Sometime the majority are assholes. Or in the case of my country, dangerously undereducated. The result is George W. Bush and Swiss minaret bans. Maybe democracy is still the best of all of our terrible ideas, but shouldn’t we be asking, “Why?” Is it because our personal opinions or “values” based on fear, ignorance, greed or any of our most base instincts are more precious than the equal application of rights to all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc.? Is Joe Blow down the street a better steward of our rights than those whose job it actually is to protect them? Do we champion this institution because it recognizes and empowers The People, or because it it recognizes and empowers … ourselves?

Do people even think about these things when they’re mewing about democracy and authoritarianism?

2. Wait, I’m not done with Switzerland! Remember Anne Applebaum and her indignation at the Swiss authorities who had the sick nerve to jail a man who drugged and sodomized a young girl and then fled the police? Taking together all the words in that previous sentence, you would be left to assume that darling Anne must harbor some kind of irrational hatred of the Swiss. (Or an irrational affinity for rapists…) But no! (Must be the latter….) Who should come to the defense of the Swiss minaret ban but the woman who came to the defense fo Roman Polanski?! I see a pattern here. Mark Ames’ new opus, “Anne Applebaum is a dingbat,” tries to explain the WaPo column in which she states:

This decision has been interpreted across Europe, and particularly in the United States, as evidence of Swiss bigotry and rising religious intolerance. But it was not — or at least not entirely. More important, it was evidence of fear, though not fear of “foreigners” or “outsiders” as such. […]

There is, therefore, nothing especially Swiss, or especially isolationist, about the recent referendum result. A similar question, put in a similar way, might well have led to a similar result anywhere in Europe. The growth of the “far right” parties in the recent past is almost always connected to fear of Islamist extremism.

Ames comes back with:

First of all, why’d she leave out the word “racist” or “bigoted”? The criticism wasn’t that the Swiss are Swiss, or that they’re isolationist–it’s that they’re Nazi fucks whose gilded streets are paved with Jews’ gold teeth and African blood diamonds.

Applebaum argues that the Swiss aren’t really Swiss, they’re just regular Europeans. Because all the other European countries would do the exact same thing–so long as we’re talking about a highly qualified conditional reality in which a similar (though not the same) question, put in a similar (though not the same, so now it’s twice-removed from sameness) way– run it through the modal verb tense “might well have led to” … and voila! All Swiss are Socrates!

If that makes no fucking sense whatsoever, then ask yourself the real question here: why the fuck is Anne Applebaum trying to cover for far-right European racists?

Answer: because her husband, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, is one of ‘em.

In fact, Sikorski is the perfect Archie Bunker to Anne Applebaum’s dingbat. Just consider this knee-slapper Sikorski told last November shortly after the election of President Obama:

“Have you heard that Obama may have a Polish connection? His grandfather ate a Polish missionary.”

You get it? Because Obama is black. And blacks, according to Polish bigots, are cannibals. Seriously, it’s funnier in the original Polish, you had to be there–it kills ‘em in Krakow every time–bowls ‘em over in Gdansk.

Wow, the Swiss and Applebaum all in one package. Santa came early! In fact, Swiss Applebaum sounds like the kind of delicious holiday treat I might find at a local European bakery. But lo, what do I find in the stocking hung by the chimney with care?

True story: Anne’s car blew up and she got secret service protection because maybe the Kremlin was trying to off her or something but really her car just malfunctioned and she kept slamming on the accelerator and blew it up!

3. Wait, I’m not done with Democracy! Or rather, Russia’s non-Democracy. Or rather, its general eeeevilness. First, I feel I should weigh in on the death of Mr. Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who perished in prison awaiting trial for tax evasion. Acc’d. the Wall Street Journal’s “Murder by Natural Causes”:

This week Vladimir Putin’s regime proved an even colder and darker place than what a Russian winter alone can offer.
Ethicists may debate when not preventing a death becomes murder. But one doesn’t need a Ph.D. to conclude that the death of Sergei Magnitsky was just that—a state sanctioned murder. […]

Hermitage chief William Browder describes his late attorney as “a healthy 37-year-old professional” when he entered the jail. But being completely cut off from his family, and the physical pressures he endured while in custody, proved too much. Magnitsky made numerous official complaints of his treatment, including a 40-page report to the general prosecutor describing squalid conditions, treatment bordering on torture, and the onset of gallbladder stones, pancreatitis, and a severe digestive ailment. […]

With this new milestone, Moscow consummates the marriage of brutality and revisionism. Contemporary Russia is almost comically weak when viewed from the West, which once feared Moscow would destroy the world. But that doesn’t mitigate the merger of Stalinism with Putinism, nor the tragedy that means for the Russian people.

While denying ANYONE medical care is deplorable, I wonder why it is “murder” when Russia does it and, er, the free market at work when America does it. What’s up with that shit? And if the WSJ is correct … America is a Stalinist country. Just sayin’. And BTW, Dima axed a slew of prison officials in response to the Magnitsky death. Why can’t Barack axe a slew of insurance providers who take the same decision to deny medical treatment to those who need it? Oh yeah, democracy…

It seems I’m not the only one who quibbles with the equation of Stalinism to Putinism. Human rights activists in modern Russia are quick to differentiate between the Communist era and the current regime, citing that the latter is … more dangerous:

Former Soviet dissidents criticized the condition of human rights in Russia under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying their work is more dangerous than in the final decades of the communist regime. […]

While Russians today enjoy many more freedoms, there were “much fewer” killings of dissidents during the communist era, said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 82, who was forced to emigrate to the U.S. in the 1970s because of her anti-Soviet views.

Kovalyov, Alexeyeva and Oleg Orlov, head of the Memorial human rights group, will receive the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought later this week in Strasbourg. Estemirova was a member of Memorial, which documents Soviet-era repression and human rights violations.

Get yer irony on.

While “comically weak” was not among the list of explanations University of California Berkeley undergraduates provided for their negative associations about Russia, the WSJ’s colorful language is certainly illustrative of the PR crisis facing the country these days. Clearly they just need to re-brand themselves. “Multicultural Russia.” ”Eco Russia.” “Resilient Russia.” I’ve earnestly been making this point for a while (no one listens to me!), though I was thinking about it mostly in terms of policy initiatives and less in terms of … branding. When Americans wrap crap in a pretty package, it is branding. When Russians do it it is called a “Potemkin Village.” Apparently some lies are better than others. Hell, even when Russia does make an effort to do something genuinely democratic all anyone talks about it how obnoxiously stage-managed it all is. As if the entire Western political system is not rapidly becoming nothing more than a high-budget made for TV production. Though perhaps it would help if Putin’s set design team were a bit less inspired by the dystopian aesthetic of Zamiatin’s We, “… shining all sky-blue crystal regularity through the glass …”

Unless that’s what he’s going for, of course.


1. If you are not new to this blog, you are well aware of my low threshold of intolerance for irresponsible journalism. I’m also forever fascinated with the phenomenon in which Western cultural institutions become some kind of absurd parable of the Emperor’s New Clothes when they get into the hands of our Russian friends. I mean, it’s just genius how that happens. Anyway, the following story caught my attention the way Reeses Dark candy bars have: two of my favorite things, combined to serve absolutely no benefit to society:

From AFP: British tabloids inspire Russia’s school for scandal:

As students scribble in notebooks, a lecturer draws on a flipchart in what might look like any regular night class — except these are budding reporters picking up tips from the editor of Russia’s most muck-raking tabloid.

The editor of the weekly Zhizn, Aram Gabrelyanov, has opened a tabloid journalism school at the newspaper’s Moscow office, offering classes taught by staff reporters and jobs for the best students.[…]

“Unfortunately no one likes tabloid journalism in Russia. It’s customary to say it’s ugly and unethical,” he said. “I completely disagree. There are two types of journalism: interesting and not interesting.”[…]

How quickly they learn and mimic our bad behavior, like impressionable young children…

“I’d really love to work here,” said one student, Maria Tokmakova, who studies advertising by day. “I think it’s yellow press, but it’s what people need.”

Another student, Ali Shartuni, agreed. “It’s the most progressive (paper) here. It’s like a Western country’s way of working,” he said.

Nevertheless, the criticism most frequently levelled at Zhizn is that it fawns to the Kremlin.

Gabrelyanov makes no secret of the fact that any negative coverage of the country’s rulers is banned.

“My direct order to my journalists, I don’t hide this, is that we don’t write anything about President (Dmitry) Medvedev and (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin,” Gabrelyanov, referring to Russia’s ruling tandem.

“We don’t write and we won’t dig. First because there’s no point and secondly because it’s not needed for the foundations of the state.”

Impressive. Combining the absence of social value encouraged by the Capitalist School with the absence of independence encouraged by the Communist School. What monster has this coupling managed to spawn, I wonder? On the other hand, I’d probably do worse to get a meeting with Surkov.

Gabrelyanov said he consults regularly with a man seen as the Kremlin’s gray cardinal, deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, whom he described as “the cleverest man I know,” as well as Kremlin media advisor Alexei Gromov.

But he denied acting on Kremlin orders. “Of course (Surkov) doesn’t phone me. Why would he phone me to say publish this or that? That’s small stuff,” Gabrelyanov said.

Alexei Simonov, the president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a media freedom group, said Gabrelyanov’s school would teach journalists to impose limits on their reporting.

“I think that Zhizn is one of those newspapers that shouldn’t teach journalists,” Simonov said. “There’s nothing good about this.”

No. There isn’t. And that’s why people like it.

2. Possibly the only people in America who care about poetry anymore are uptight feminists and cowboys.

What? I say that as an uptight feminist.

You know, after that “Who are Russia’s Top Thinkers” nonsense, I’ve begun reading a lot of Pelevin, who came highly recommended in the comments. I’m really enjoying it very much! (“Yellow Arrow” and “Buddha’s Little Finger” so far.) However, I always keep my eyes peeled for more Kurkov. Someone at SRB linked to this little piece in which Andrey waxes poetic on Ukrainian fads, including an explanation of the popularity fo Radio Chanson:

Whenever I get in a taxi, I immediately seem to fall into a world of romanticised crime. In virtually every car the radio is tuned to ‘Radio Chanson’. Its playlists are extensive but homogenous: almost all the songs – most in Russian – concern the tragic and romantic lives of their criminal ‘heroes’, macho Russian types who drink port and vodka – men who value the faithfulness of the women waiting for their release from prison and their ‘real’ male friendships above all.

Why on earth is this music popular? When the Soviet Union collapsed the ensuing democratisation legalised a huge stratum of criminal and ‘gutter’ culture. The songs of the street used to be direct attacks on oYcial patriotic music. That official music is now long buried. In the void, these songs caught on, floated to the surface of social taste and became a lucrative engine of showbusiness. Much of this genre’s repertoire became hits with the middle-aged and older generations in the post-Soviet era.

Listeners’ fondness for these songs is easy to account for. In a country where millions of people have spent time in jails and camps, people identify more easily with prisoners than with, say, security guards or policemen. The persistent distrust of authority has eroded any faith in the criminal justice system. Almost everyone can consider himself hard done by, and this sense of unfairness is the real subject of most of these songs. Hence the rise of a new Russian macho type who, unlike his Western equivalents, is not clean-shaven and wears no perfume but instead smells of sweat. He has a keen sense of justice and is not afraid to defend his honour with his fists. The criminal ballad is a male cult of justice that can express itself in the coarsest tones.

I only mention it because a while back a commenter here mentioned that Radio Chanson was on in every cab he got into too. I respect Kurkov’s cultural insight, but wonder if there isn’t a more obvious explanation. One that involves financial incentive. … Hey, that branding thing just might work if the Kremlin can buy off the cabbies of New York City! Brilliant. Those kids should hire me.

3. Oh the Dom Khudozhnikov…. Or House of Artists for you anglophiles. There are not words to describe the tender place in my heart reserved for this institution. I’m all sentimental about it. There was a kind of bar in the basement where you could get real Turkish coffee, with a casual art galleries above. Gorky Park across the street, Parisian-style art fair along the river embankment, the Graveyard of Dead Monuments around the back. Steps from both home and a Shokoladnitsa. A gem. A true gem.

On the other hand, the building itself is not much to look at. So I’m a bit conflicted about this:

From the NYT: Moscow Cultural Landmark Is Seen as Threatened:

Artists and preservationists are in uproar because Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin has signed a decree that critics say would allow developers to demolish a Soviet-era cultural landmark, the Central House of Artists.

The property houses. among other things, the 20th-century works of the Tretyakov Gallery, including paintings by Malevich and Kandinsky as well as Soviet Socialist Realists. Covering 23 valuable hectares, or about 57 acres, along the Moscow River and opposite Gorky Park, it has long been in the sights of Yelena Baturina, a billionaire real estate developer and the wife of Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov.

Last year, Ms. Baturina unveiled a design commissioned from Norman Foster. It resembles a disco ball sliced into sections like an orange and is known by that name, apelsin, in Russian.[…]

Ms. Baturina presented her apelsin project as a multipurpose complex that would include a hotel, retail space, restaurants and space for a museum.

Officials of the Tretyakov Gallery and the Confederation of Artists’ Unions, which owns the other 40 percent of the building, and leases the land under it from the Moscow City authorities, expressed shock at her announcement. Several months later, after meetings with government officials, they voiced support, saying they would get much-needed state-of-the art spaces, to be built next to the existing structure, which would then be demolished.

Supporters of the Central House have signed petitions, held protests, and packed hearings advertised by Moscow city officials as a forum to take public opinion into account.

Mr. Bychkov, the director of the Central House of Artists, also owns a company called Expo-Park that rents space in the building for popular events. He said in an e-mail message that he would fight on, using a new tactic.

Experience “has shown that it’s senseless to organize campaigns within Russia,” he wrote. “We would like to involve the international art community. This won’t be a political discussion, but an ethical, professional and artistic one.”

The architectural premise sounds cool. I mean, it is an ugly building in its current form. I specifically remember being perplexed that the place set aside as the “Home of the Artists” was so very unremarkable. Someone informed me that “Communism made everything ugly.” But a hotel and shops? And Ms. Baturina? Gah! I’m not a member of the international art community, but would like to know where I can sign up for this cause.

Speaking of exhibits, this month in Moscow will be held an exhibition of reprints of famous drawings of nudes, scribbled upon by Joseph Stalin.

From English Russia (look, it’s been reported in a lot of other places too – it’s real): “Gay” notes of Stalin on the celebs reproductions:

The leader “completed” 19 pictures of such artists as Repin, Ivanov, Surikov, Rubinstein, Serov and others with some notes and drawings made in a red, blue and grey pencil. Thus, on one of them, the generalissimo crossed out the genitals of a nude personage with a red pencil that he usually used to write the names of those who should have been shot. On another one, with a female nude, he wrote something obscene in the Georgian language. On the third – the male nude was “dressed” by Stalin in underpants. On the fourth – next to a nude ancient hero he inscribed: “One thoughtful idiot is worse than 10 enemies. I. Stalin”… On the fifth – in a blue pencil – he wrote: “Is he afraid of the sun? Coward!!! I. Stalin” and the nude itself was crossed out in bold. There is also a picture where Stalin drew underpants on each nude person and inscribed: “Do not sit on the stones with your bare ass! Enter Komsomol and the workers’ faculty! Give out trunks to the fellow! I. Stalin.”

Yes, this is the man who saved civilization from the Nazis. Some have suggested his scribbling doth protest too much and signifies a latent homosexuality. Who cares at this point? The man clearly had major psychological issues, and I don’t think being trapped in the closet was chief among them.

Click here for pictures!

3. Staying on topic, it seems Russia is looking to get rid of its pride. Gay Pride that is.

From Russia Blog: Moscow Outsourcing Gays to Berlin (Kyiv Might Be Better Option):

In a strange twist of history, Moscow has asked Berlin to host Moscow Pride in order to avoid Neo-Nazis (and grandmas) that might want to harm defenseless Satanists. The Commissioner for Human Rights in Moscow, Alexander Muzykantsk, outlined his proposal:

“In recent years, Berlin became de facto the world capital of sexual minorities. Because there are friendly relations between the mayors of Moscow and Berlin, why not an agreement in which the representatives of sexual minorities in Moscow will hold their parade in Berlin with the support of the city?”

Russia Blog cites a Soviet Realist monument featuring a rainbow and handsome, buff male comrades holding hands as reason to relocate the parade to Kiev. Because Kiev is sooo welcoming to sexual minorities, right…

You must by now be pondering the prevalence of latent homoerotica in Soviet aesthetics. Maybe you are thinking, “Aha! So all of this posturing about Russia being a culturally Christian, heterosexual country, about homosexuality being an evil imported by the West along with jeans and Pepsi, it is a sham! Homosexuality was alive and well (ok, not well…) even during the time of Stalin!” Pardon my eloquence, but, “Duh.” In fact, Tolya has translated an article which dates it back to the 16th Century. I suspect even that is embarrassingly naive…


~ The Saddam Channel, airing “mostly a montage of flattering, still images of Saddam” Hussein, has begun broadcasting throughout the Arab world.

~ “Russian scientist who trains seals to carry out military missions has complained that Russia is losing the race against the United States to arm sea mammals.”

Psst. Use octopuses.

~ Watch a fat hedgehog swim around a bathtub.

You know you want to.

~ Obama complains that he “gives nicer stuff” than he gets, pointing to an obnoxiously fine piece of jewelry the First Lady has some nerve wearing on TV in this economy.

Actually, this gives me hope. First of all, I can totally relate. Which is not something I’ve ever been able to say about a President. Secondly, it means he has the capacity for bitchiness & honesty (to which I can also relate). I just wish he’d aim these skillz at the health insurance industry, and not his wife.

~ Deep Thoughts, by Dmitry Rogozin.

He’s filling in for Jack Handy now:

“Internet is a funny thing. Man becomes girl, young guy becomes veteran, liberal becomes Nazi. At the same time everyone is rude to everyone.”

“Their touching care about HR in Russia causes me to feel like when you talk to someone who hasn’t washed their socks for quite a while.”

“Today in Antwerp fine-art gallery saw picture by A.Kabanel “Cleopatra testing poison on prisoners”. It’s genius!”

Good to know where he stands on testing poison on prisoners.

~ Totally stood up by M. Sarkozy, Vova breaks out his trademark sarcasm, remarking, “I wish you could have friends who don’t turn their back on you when you take a more modest job.” Poor Vova…

But wait, are congratulations in order? I can’t say, but if they are, I’d like to see Liudmila go all Elin Nordegren on his ass.


Ok, that’s all for now.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely holiday season!

Comments Policy

December 10, 2009

On Sovokery.

Filed under: From The Archives — poemless @ 5:23 PM
Tags: , , ,

When I began this little experiment (blog) I said I wanted to keep it low maintenance. But no one ever listens to me. Now I have over a hundred comments on one post, spammers, people who may or may not be spammers but annoy me anyhow and requests for interviews. I haven’t even finished my Christmas shopping yet. What on earth makes you think I have time for all of this? (I did accept the interview, however.) Anyway, I fear I have created a monster and must now keep it fed lest it escape into society, searching for prey. Alas, no time to prepare a meal! So I give you some gruel from the archives. God willing, it will keep you savage beasts sated for the time being…

Originally posted April 2008 at European Tribune.

What’s in a name? That which we call a dustpan by any other name would smell as bad.

“You really must write that sovok diary. It’s so true. And all the signposts are there, complete with the Brezhnevian corruption and mediocrity…”


This comment was a response to my remark that I had been planning to write a diary entitled, “America: We Are All Sovoks Now.”  But then I didn’t write it.  And while I was busy not writing it, Matt Taibbi did.   At first I was shivering with ire at the great injustice which had been committed.  How dare he steal my own personal thoughts right out of my head (probably while I was asleep, like a cat steals your breath, because, you’d think I’d notice him if he attempted such a violation while I was awake…) and publish them as though they were his own!  The nerve!  Then I realized that such an explanation relies too much on a phenomenon for which there is no empirical evidence.  So I decided to instead commend him on his awesome powers of telepathy or esp.  But that’s just the obvious explanation and everyone knows that when you are talking about Russia, you must avoid the obvious at all costs.  If it looks like duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, chances are, it is a horse.  You’re just not looking at it right.  You want to see a duck, is what’s going on, and the Putins and Surkovs and Churkins are all like, “Why are you Americans so difficult?  Why can’t you just accept it is a horse and leave us alone?  Why do you think all horses have to look like the horses in America?  Maybe you need to spend more time fixing your own horse problems instead of telling us how to fix ours…”  Then they take some ducks, fix ’em up and sell them to Europeans as horses.  And the Western Press gets all het up about Russia trying to start a Cold War with their Russian duck-horses.  And a handful of us brilliant minds in Russia-Expert-o-Sphere write 10 point articles explaining that Russia has the right to call a duck a horse, and how, actually, Russian horses are a little different than ours, and how the West is really just using this issue to badmouth Russia because we resent how they’ve made all this money off us, and oh did I mention Putin’s 70% approval rating?  Then everyone gets infuriated and someone accuses someone else of supporting the genocide in Chechnya and someone else puts their fingers in their ears and says, “lalalalala. I can’t hear you. lalalalala…” and nothing changes.  

And that is really how it happened.  Two brilliant minds in Russia-Expert-o-Sphere made the same observation at around the same time.  Check it out.  Within weeks there will be an eXile feature story on it, a power point presentation by Dmitry Orlov, and 2 books, both with the same title, both hailed as masterpieces by The Economist, on the topic.  Everyday NPR will air a story on it.  Kremlinologists will rise from their graves and drunken stupors to weigh in on the topic.  “Yes, all Americans are Sovoks.  That’s a given.”  “No, this whole Americans are Sovoks story is overblown.  If the people writing these stories bothered to remember what a Russian sovok is like, they’d realize the current situation in America is hardly comparable.  Yes, Obama has a cult of personality, and that is cause for some concern.  But that doesn’t mean  all Americans are sovoks.”  And a year from now, when there is no news, Moscow bureau chiefs will say things like, “well, we can always do a piece on American sovokery…”

-Poemless!  Shut up!  Just tell us, what is this “sovok” of which you speak?  Is this a Russian horse?  Or duck?  I don’t understand.  I am so confused.  And I don’t even care that you had the same thoughts as Taibbi.  Do you think that makes you some kind of genius or something?  Hmph.

-Look, I am an American girl.  I am really not the person to be asking about these things.  I don’t even understand my own culture.  You think I understand Russian culture?  That’s madness.  Not to mention the fact that the little time I have actually spent in Russia I was getting drunk with intellectuals, and artists!, fer christsakes.  I’m talking about honest to god Intelligentsia.  There is a strict manual of protocol for these people and I am pretty sure they aren’t even allowed to sit next to a sovok on the subway or they lose their Union of Artists card.  I once had the following conversation about a mutual friend who was a Russian dissident writer, a protegee of Allen Ginsburg and Joseph Brodsky, he even had the mandatory bushy Russian Intellectual beard.
A: “What do you think of K-?”  
Me: “He’s brilliant.”  
A: “He’s very cultivated isn’t he?”  
Me: “He’s hot.”  
A: “Exactly.  He spends and hour in front of the mirror each morning, cultivating himself.”  

If you looked up K- in the Who’s Who of Snooty Russian Intellectuals, the entry would read “Has written many love poems, but has certainly never been within 15 km of a sovok.”  There are probably more than 6 degrees of separation between me and any Russian sovok.  However, I did grow up here:

Rite of Passage in Brighton, Illinois

As far as he could tell nearly a week had passed, basing his assumption solely on his neck scruff, bodily odor, and the amount of beer he noted to be left in the refridgerator last night as he half-heartedly searched for a miraculously un-raided morsel of something edible.  Today, he thought, was as good a day as any to bathe and begin experimenting with his newly discovered attitude.  He felt the hard floor beneath his feet as sat up in bed, lazily allowing his feet to fall to the sole clear patch on the floor, a floor otherwise covered in a hodge-podge assortment of abondoned books, papers, and clothing that even he couldn’t remember when had been actually worn.  The weight of his body seemed more than he was accustomed to, partly due to the amount of pot left in his blood and partly due to the fact that he hadn’t been completely prostrate for an unknown number of hours.  Sleep, while a welcomed change in his recent life, did have its way of exacting a toll, after all, he thought.

The languid trip to the shower took him on a guided tour of the house, the self-same house that he was having a harder time feeling at home in.  An eclectic assortment of ill-gotten yard ornaments mingled throughout with empty sacks and packages of snack foods.  An un-noticing cat sat square in the middle of the galley-style kitchen, lazily licking its ass as though it was a pre-requisite to living another day.  The smell seemed different in the house this morning (little did he know it was, in actuality, approaching two o’clock), something he attributed to some form of late-night cleaning binge that had been embarked upon by one of the other residents of the house, most likely out of the desire to present the semblence of responsibility for the special audience of a newly found, and completely un-initiated, girl from one of the nameless nieghboring rural towns that seemed to orbit Brighton in the same way a moth spirals fatally into a flame.  Dishes were done, trash had been, for the most part, placed into the open garbage bag that hung on the pantry door handle.  But despite the noble attempt at bringing order into the house on Edwin Street, the familiar chaos still resided front and center.

He cautiously crept down the basement stairs, using only the diffuse daylight that filtered throught the sheets used as curtains to navigate the empty beer cans and ash trays, ever careful not to wake any potential hangover that could very well be sleeping on the pile of dirty clothes at the landing of the open staircase.  Such had his friends become to him, he thought;  Angry obstacles on his way to bathe.  He couldn’t risk the possibility of having to talk to the likes of anyone that would be found in the house now.  The survival of the new outlook he was trying to foster depended on sheer avoidance at this point.  He knew, as was always the case, that any attempt at bringing about any kind of personal change would be aggressively sniffed out by the residents of this house through even the most subtle of clues.  Bathing without having to actually go anywhere in particular.  Removing used and spent party paraphernalia from one’s room without expecting a new girl’s visit.  Watching news on the television.  Listening to music that was not on the approved list of drinking music.  Requesting silence throughout the house to attempt to sleep a good night’s sleep.  All were signs of some form of inner existence that could foster an end to how things had become.  

What saddened him most about this reality was not the fact that the other residents resisted change, rather it was the fact that he knew his resolve to change could not survive conversation with any of them.

So I guess I’ll try.  Also, that was written by a friend of my brother.  Isn’t he a brilliant writer?  Yes, he is.    

 Urban Dictionary Definition of “Sovok”:

A person who assembles a packed lunch of hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, salted herring, and tea in a thermos, all of which are to be unwrapped in a public place atop a copy of PRAVDA and devoured noisily, preferably while in ones yellowing undergarments, to a combination of anti-semitic palaver, garbled recordings of Igor Sklyar emanating from a rusted red Lada parked by the artificial river, and the putrid smoke of Prima and Belomor-Krai.


  1. A profound and tangled philosophy concerning the soviet hoi polloi and its industrialized, tractor-crushed soul.
  2. One of the faceless masses residing in the USSR or CIS:
  • The vendor in the local meat or bread store with her excessive make up, flamboyant shoes, and a heart full of pure hatred.
  • The burly old men in hats and arms behind their backs pausing to argue about anti-semitic conspiracy politics and the football match, in angered tones.
  • The woman who cuts into a 3-mile long line for imported Czechoslovakian boots, knowing that she will incite a loud, violent riot, while claiming her actions were still somehow fair.
  1. A state of being wherein an objective reality based on complete absurdity and idiocy triumphs.
  2. Soviet trash
  3. The modern Soviet expatriate residing in Brooklyn, New York.
  4. whimit  “Is it man…beast…or sovok?”

Another, from SovokoftheWeek.com:

A 1992 article in one of Russia’s newspapers, Nezavisimaya gazeta, described a sovok as a person with “a crazed thirst for equality, a deep hatred for the success of others, and a flourishing laziness.” As true sovoks, the founders of this site could not have said it better themselves — so we simply lifted the definition without permission and pasted it here…

…here is a short list of the essential Sovok qualities:Sovok: cheap,always mourning for the good old times, most certainly coming from the former/present communist countries (but not necessarily since Sovok is a state of mind rather than a nationality), loud, obnoxious, fond of dispensing advice, pretentious, in love with causes (either Communist, Saving the Whales, Organic Foods Only, etc.), loves to engage in questionable enterprises with a predictable outcome, etc.One does not have to have ALL these qualities at once to be a Sovok.

Take a quiz!

A Modern Day Example.

How “Sovok” looks written in Cyrillic graffiti:

Some ravings of a madman lamenting his lost sovokhood.  … no, really.  Was nuts.

So, hopefully you are getting a picture here.  You’re probably comparing them to some strata of your own society.  Maybe, “East Enders,” or something.  You are probably focussing on the class aspect (or, rather, distinct lack thereof, on numerous levels) or the perverse dedication to Soviet life.  But if you are – you are totally missing my point!  Start over!  

Americans don’t eat herring or belong to collectives or bemoan the demise of the Soviet Union.  Nor are they lazy or possessors of tractor-crushed souls.  (Crushed, yes, but not by tractors…)  Look under the hood of nationality, ideology, social class, … fashion.  And what do we find?  The same fucking engine.  Regardless of the nationality, they are unflinchingly patriotic, not because of national accomplishments, but because, well, why would you not want to be?  Wouldn’t that be bad for the economy, for moral?  Regardless of the ideology, they’ve never seriously entertained anything but the one they were fed as children.  Maybe they haven’t even seriously entertained that.  Or anything.  Regardless of social strata, they are all working class heroes.  Sure “loud, obnoxious, fond of dispensing advice, pretentious, in love with causes, loves to engage in questionable enterprises with a predictable outcome, etc.” is a valid description of most Americans (myself included), but this “sovokdom,” it’s something more nefarious.  It is some weird combination of blind belief in the goodness of and – yet – mortal terror of the powers of your government and fellow citizens.  It is the bliss/shame of ignorance that doesn’t consider knowledge a tool for formulating ideas and opinions but for use solely to establish ones position among ones peers at any given moment.  That can mean not letting others know how much you know or have even thought about something.  It’s caring far too fucking much what your neighbors think.  It is the illusory freedom of submission and acceptance.  It is the idea that if you are a victim of the system, it’s you who needs to change, not the system.  It’s inappropriate humility.  It’s righteous indignation over petty injustices and obliviousness to serious ones.  It’s why the Ivans quarrelled.  It’s Oprah Winfrey.  It’s everyone who makes between $300,000 and $15,000/yr believing they are “middle class.”  It’s Zinov’ev’s “silent acquiescence.”

It’s a community standing around a horse and speaking of it as a duck and no one, no one, saying, erm, guys, that’s a horse, because you don’t want to appear to not be in on the joke – and that’s exactly what they are counting on.

It’s the fear that nothing good can come of trying to change things, based on the fact that you’ve never actually seen any evidence that it can.

These are not the ideals the United States of America was founded upon.  … Neither was the Soviet Union.  America and the Soviet Union were the results of megalomaniacal, (overly)optimistic experiments based on the idea that together we can change the world – make it prosperous and fair!  They sure as hell weren’t the work of people resigned to their own mediocrity and suffering.  And yet, and yet…  Here we are, in the same psychological place where people are resigned to their own mediocrity and suffering in the name of their country.  Why?  Maybe it’s just what is bound to happen when you place too much faith in an ideology and instead of the ideology being the foundation on which you build practical infrastructure, faith replaces the foundation, and practical infrastructure stops getting built.  Invisible hands and dialectical materialism are fun to believe in but they don’t get shit done.  And while Democracy or Communism were supposed to save us (well, no one said it wouldn’t hurt a little), we’re rather broke and hungry and clinging to what shred of dignity we might have left.  What we believe and what is real come driving headlong right into each other and the cognitive dissonance the ensuing derailment creates gives rise to some brilliant absurdist literature and biting satire.  (omg SovLit.com is my new favorite website ever!)  And sovoks.  Lots of sovoks.  

If this were being published by the CATO Institute, I’d add, “The sociological generalization I have stated is intuitively compelling; something like it must be true.”  But really, I have no idea if there is a grain of truth in anything I’ve written or not.  In fact, I have no idea what I am talking about.

Here’s what Matt Taibbi recently wrote:  I don’t know if it is true either.  But it is intuitively compelling.

So instead of talking about the fact that Barack Obama once introduced a bill to give a tax break to a Japanese company whose lawyers donated fifty grand to his Senate campaign, we’re freaking out for five minutes about the fact that Obama’s pastor thinks America spread AIDS on purpose in Zambia. And instead of talking about the fact that Hillary Clinton took $110,000 from a New York food company she later helped by introducing a bill to remove import duties on tomatoes, we’re ranting and raving about Gerry Ferraro’s paranoid ramblings about Obama’s blackness. We can’t keep our eyes on the ball and really think about the serious endemic problems of our system of government because we’re too busy freaking out like a bunch of cartoon characters over silly, meaningless bullshit. And then forgetting about that same bullshit ten minutes later, so that we can freak out all over again about something else later on.

That’s just the way we are, and maybe it’s time to wonder why that is. In Russia they have a word, sovok, which described the craven, chickenshit mindset that over the course of decades became hard-wired into the increasingly silly brains of Soviet subjects. It’s a hard word to define, but once you get it — and all Russians get it — it’s like riding a bicycle, you’ve got it. Sovok is the word that described a society where for decades silence and a thoughtful demeanor might be construed as evidence of a dangerous dissidence lurking underneath; the sovok therefore protected himself from suspicion by babbling meaningless nonsense at all times, so that no one would accuse him of harboring smart ideas. A sovok talked tough, and cheered Khruschev for banging a shoe at America, but at the same time a sovok would have sold his own children for a pair of American jeans. The sovok talked like a romantic and lavished women with compliments, but preferred long fishing trips and nights spent in the garage tinkering with his shitty car to actual sex. It’s hard to explain, but over there, they know what the word means. More than anything, sovok described a society that spent seventy years in mortal terror of new ideas, and tended to drape itself in a paper-thin patriotism whenever it felt threatened, and worshipped mediocrities as a matter of course, elevating to positions of responsibility only those who showed an utter absence not only of objectionable qualities, but any qualities at all.

We’re getting to be the same kind of people. We can’t focus for more than ten seconds on anything at all and we’re constantly exercised about stupid media-generated non-scandals, guilt-by-association raps, accidental dumb utterances of various campaign aides and other nonsense — while at the same time we have no energy at all left to wonder about the mass burgling of the national budget for phony military contracts, the war, the billion dollars or so in campaign contributions to be spent this year that will be buying a small mountain of favors for the next four years. And we… shit, I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore. I’m just tired of this tone that’s always out there when these scandals break, like we can’t fucking stand the existence of this Wright fellow for even a minute longer, not a minute longer! — when we all know that come Monday, or Tuesday at the latest, Jeremiah Wright will be forgotten and we’ll be jumping en masse in a panic away from the next media-offered shadow to fall across our bow. What a bunch of turds we all are, seriously. God help us if we ever had to deal with a real problem.

  1.  Bookmark that page, because over here at ET we’ve been mewing about not knowing where to find Taibbi.  That’s his blog at Smirking Chimp, and it seems to be consistently updated with his writing from RS, etc.
  2.  Er, what he said.
  3.  Taibbi seems to be a bit of a Sovok scholar.  Back in 2001 he wrote, Operation Enduring Sovok.  
  4.  Bookmark that page, because over here at ET we’ve been mewing about not knowing where to find old eXile articles.
  5.  He repeatedly makes the observation that sovoks 1) cannot talk about matters which require much thought but 2) can’t be silent because that might imply they are thinking, so 3) they blab about nothing all the time.  That sounds very American to me.  57 (hundred) channels and nothing on…  Just a lot of people on talk shows and reality shows and op-ed shows giving advice and spewing opinion as if it were gospel.  

-Poemless!  Shut up!  I get it already.  But why should I care if Americans are the new sovoks?  You guys elected Bush … twice.  The fact that you’re a country of dolts is not exactly news, ya know.

-Look – those elections were stolen!  

But here is why you should care.  History is repeating itself.  Yes, there have always been sovokish people here.  But they’re becoming the mainstream, and we are well on our way to this.  Fine, you don’t care.  Well you should.  We have nukes and give no second thought to attacking countries just cuz we feel like it.  Also, when history repeats itself, it’s because we didn’t bother to learn something the first time around.  The lesson we took home from the fall of the Soviet Union was this:

Russia was wrong.  We were right.  Communism can’t work.  Capitalism is the one true path.  You lost, we won, what do we get?

We see names of countries and ideologies and assume correlation equals causation.  But if Capitalist America is sliding on its ass down the same path of conformism, mediocrity, corruption and collapse that Communist Russia was plowing along last century, and which was certainly carved out by numerous empires before them, maybe the who and the what have less to do with our fate than the WHY.  Sovokism isn’t a characteristic of a nationality or ideology, but of a humanity which has forgotten what “dignity” means and why the concept is instrumental in keeping societies operating effectively.

Human Dignity. According to Wikipedia:

At the philosophical level, following Kant, the expression human dignity is used to indicate that persons should always be treated as ends in themselves and never merely as means. Kant presents “dignity” as exactly the opposite of “price”: while “price” is the kind of value for which there can be an equivalent, “dignity” makes a person irreplaceable. Therefore, dignity can be explained as a requirement of non-instrumentalization of persons. According to this anti-utilitarian approach, there is nothing, neither pleasure nor common interest of society or science, nor other good consequences, for which it is morally acceptable to treat persons merely as a means.

A prize to the first person who can tell us what the ideologies of both Communism and Capitalism have in common which might result in the mass production of cultural sovokery.

Comments Policy.

December 7, 2009

Comments Policy

Filed under: Meta — poemless @ 2:45 PM

Allow me preface the following by saying that comments are not only welcome, but encouraged. They make me feel loved, and, more importantly, have the power to inform and enlighten. On a serious note, I am not here to dictate. I write in order to acquire knowledge as much as to disseminate it (… perhaps moreso.) So corrections, dissent and other points of view are invited.

That said, I have an authoritarian streak.

In view of the wild increase in comments here over the past few days (thank you for your participation), I’d like to remind/notify everyone of the house rules regarding comments. (more…)

December 3, 2009

Who Are Russia’s “Top Thinkers” Today? [UPDATED]

… And why don’t we hear more from them?

These are not rhetorical questions!

Top 100 Global Thinkers

Foreign Policy magazine has recently released its list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. It’s a fascinating list of public figures who “had the big ideas that shaped our world in 2009,” FP’s nomination of “the 100 minds that mattered most in the year that was.” Fascinating not for the big ideas so much as for the magazine’s curious selection process.

To give you a taste of what matters most to the editors of FP, Ben Bernanke comes in at #1, Barack Obama places 2nd, Bill & Hillary Clinton tie for #6, David Petraeus makes #8, Dick Cheney is #13 and Thomas Friedman barely misses the top 20 at #21. So many economists appear on the list that one is left to wonder if the editors don’t take their phrase “the marketplace of ideas” a bit too literally. There are also the usual suspects: political prisoners, pop philosophers, Fareed Zakaria. The magazine itself acknowledges that “the United States and Britain are clearly overrepresented.”

From my perspective, it is a curious and problematic exercise to conflate “throwing around one’s power” or “saying stuff people listen to no matter how bloody inane it is” with “thinking” and even more curious to award the honor of “Top Thinkers” those whose stunning absence of forethought sent the whole world reeling into a global crisis. And surely any actually thinking person would find curious the assumption that big ideas carry much weight in the application of policy, compared to things like necessity or greed, particularly within one year of their being thought. Also curious: the complete absence of any Russian on the list. I mean, it clearly wasn’t a terribly exclusive list. Cheney’s up there near the top. Why, in the opinion of Foreign Policy magazine, are there no Russian minds as a great as the former U.S. Vice President’s? It wasn’t lost on FP:

Where Are The Russians?

FP: The Missing: Where have all the Sakharovs gone?

Psst. Check Moscow’s cemeteries.

A generation ago, dissidents from inside the Soviet Union such as Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn drew an enormous global following for their ideas on how to resist the totalitarian state. Today, Russian thinkers are absent from our list. That the Russians are missing may reflect the world’s ambivalence about post-Soviet Russia. If the global marketplace of ideas truly does prioritize those thinkers who come from either very successful or very threatening countries, then the international disinterest in what Russian thinkers have to say is likely because Russia is neither perceived as a miracle economy nor a global threat. Sadly, it’s also true that while the demand for Russian thinkers may be weak, the supply is also far from booming. These days Russia is simply not a major producer of the kind of ideas the world wants to hear. There are no modern Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns. If there were, we’d put them on the list.

So many questions… Why does Foreign Policy magazine get to decide what kind of ideas the world wants to hear? Who publishes the dictionary in which the entry for “World” says, “see: Wall Street?” When will NATO get the memo that FPeratti no longer consider Russia a global threat?

As for our dearly departed Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns, based on the curious criteria FP used to choose who does make the list, we should not be shocked at their curious criteria for choosing who doesn’t. But that the criteria appear to be completely OPPOSITE for Russians and Americans is … well, let’s just say I am brimming with curiosity today! I hate to belabor the “double standards” complaint made by leading Russian, er, uhm, eh… thinkers. But by their own admission, FP only accepts politically persecuted dissidents for consideration as top Russian thinkers, while being a sycophant to the American ruling elite seems to get you top honors. Maybe they should change their name to American Policy magazine? These are astonishingly unfair hurdles placed on Russian contenders, and not simply because real suffering and persecution is demanded of them! (WTF?) The fact that there are no modern Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns may have something to do with the fact that there is NO SOVIET UNION. Writers aren’t deported or kept from leaving the country to accept awards, drawing international attention to their plight. Relations between the West and Russia, while strained, are nothing like the Cold War conditions which turned artists and physicists into unwitting pawns in a global chess game. It’s perhaps not that Russia suffers a dearth of thinkers, but America suffers a dearth of reasons to care about them. What’s in it for us to listen to some mewing poet today? Ne-che-vo. There are still those who oppose the policies of the ruling elite in Russia. However, to qualify for FP’s list, you must “matter,” and because there is NO SOVIET UNION, Russian “dissidents” carry about as much influence at home as, oh, say, American “dissidents.” Someone want to tell me who really has one foot -hell, both feet- stuck in the past, trapped in a sadistic Cold War mindset? If you guessed Foreign Policy magazine, give yourself a pony.

All that said -it had to be said- I did not set out to write about how irrational the editors of Foreign Policy magazine appear, or to take too seriously a quickly forgettable year-end list. For all its faults, the FP list did get me thinking about the marketplace of ideas as it relates to Russia. Someone asked me what Russian thinker I would include on the list. …Uhm… Well, it’s a valid question.

Who Are Russia’s Top Thinkers?

Or two questions, to be precise. What Russians could be on a list using FP’s bizarro criteria? The other, far more interesting question, who are Russia’s leading intellectuals? The answers are not obvious to me; I rely on journalists like those at Foreign Policy to tell me these things! Also, being an American, living in America, I can’t pretend to have any special insight about the intellectual movers and shakers in a far away land. Although I suppose the fact gives me a clearer grasp of their global influence than their compatriots might have. I’ll give it is a go.

Sergei Lavrov/Dmitri Rogozin/Vitaly Churkin: When people say, “Russia demands a seat at the table,” these are the guys at that table. They are fierce and unapologetic, yet surprisingly reasonable. Respectively, they have a household name, an Internet phenom and serious Charlie Rose credentials.

Alexander Dugin: I don’t know if his terrifying and crazy nationalist philosophy is a reflection of or an influence on the current Russian Zeitgeist that has the rest of the world worried, but it appears indicative of it.

Mikhail Gorbachev: He’s the only person I know of who can effectively address US-Russian relations without being dismissed as being in the pockets of either the Kremlin or D.C. And sharp as tacs, I tell ya.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Well, c’mon FP, here’s your persecuted dissident. He’s arguably the one of the most influential individuals when it comes to Russian foreign relations, since a meeting can’t be held without an obligatory mention of his imprisonment. All he has to do is sit in a cell. Instead, he’s writing manifestos about social democracy.

Andrey Kurkov: Brilliant Ukrainian-Russian novelist with a cult following in the West. He’s a thinker, and one of the few who have successfully broken the barrier between contemporary Russian lit and the West.

Dmitry Medvedev: Not just because he’s a leader or cerebral. Because of things like this. If his big ideas don’t bring about real change, it’s only because the rest of the world is stuck in a rut. Influence is questionable.

Nikita Mikhalkov: He’s not just a film-maker. He’s an propagandist/psychoanalyst/nationalist historian filmmaker who has a working relationship with the Kremlin and an Oscar. After the Island and Tsar, Pavel Lungine may also qualify.

Oleg Orlov: Head of Memorial, the organization devoted to documenting the atrocities in the USSR and in Chechnya, championing human rights and democracy, despite the very real danger it places them in. Memorial was this year’s winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Other Russia/Solidarnost (Kapsarov, Limonov, Kasyanov, Nemtsov…take yer pick): Does your political rabblerouser fringy write-in candidate and organizer of political protests have a column in the WSJ? Does the outcome of your local mayoral election cause international outrage? Is a person’s interest in your political career inversely proportionate to their proximity to your country, and hence possibility of being represented by you? These guys are the Russian political David Hasselhoffs.

Lilia Shevtsova: A critic of Putin and senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, people in the West seem to actually listen to her. If her ideas, like that a relationship between the US and Russia based on “common interests and common threats” would constitute objectionable realpolitik (here), are not big enough to be influential, she’s only herself to blame.

Vladimir Sorokin: Sorokin is the kind of bad boy the next fellow on this list wishes he were. Another Russian literary author who has broken through in translation, he is postmodern, dark, depraved, grotesque (for those who watched it at my urging, he wrote the script to “4”), he’s pretty talented too. He’s been targeted by the authorities in the way any dangerous intellectual should be. Every society needs a Sorokin.

Vladislav Surkov: Managed democracy. Sovereign democracy. Tandemocracy. This man has come up with at least 3 new political systems in less than a decade and no one is convinced he’s finished. And you say there are no big ideas in Russia! As the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal” and creator of Nashi, he also wields crazy influence. In his spare time, he writes. Thoughts, ideas, influence. I think he has his bases covered.

I am aware that FP’s list is for the Top Thinkers of 2009, and that some of the figures mentioned above may be more notable for, say, what they did in 2008. For 2009, FP lists Vaclav Havel at #23 for the reason that he “remains fiercely engaged in political debates.” (Impressive. By that standard I should be on the list.) So I’m not terribly worried about it.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your nominations, for both the global heavyweight-type thinkers and the regional intelligentsiia. The latter of which I know positively nothing about. Enlighten me.

Who should we be listening to? Who is shaping the world? What is the state of the intelligentsiia today? Who are the Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns? Or more interestingly, the Mayakovskys and Trotskys? Is is that they exist, but are kept from our eyes bye nefarious powers-that-be (you know, Putin), or are they just too boring to compete for attention in capitalist Russia? Or are the Russian people just rather sick of all the big ideas and the suffering each new one seems to invite?

What’s the real reason there are no Russians on FP’s list? And which Russian “thinkers” would you put in it?

[Update] Burreid in the comments, Scowspi has left a link to an article at OpenDemocracy: “Who is Russia’s top intellectual?” Excerpt:

Culture portal Openspace.ru has recently concluded an internet poll, grandly titled “Russia’s most influential intellectual”. For a project of its kind, the public interest was high. Some 42,000 votes were cast and the site recorded some 120,000 new page impressions.

The top ten according to the voting results was as follows:

Viktor Pelevin, writer — 2133 votes

Daniil Shepovalov, blogger — 1908 votes

Leonid Parfyonov, journalist and broadcaster — 1296 votes (83)

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ex-businessman and publicist — 1274 votes

Konstantin Krylov, journalist and writer — 1267 votes

Patriarch Kirill — 1208 votes

Sergei Kapitsa, physicist and broadcaster — 1048 votes

Alexander Gordon, writer and broadcaster — 1042 votes

Boris Strugatsky, writer — 1023 votes

Eduard Limonov, writer and politician — 917 votes

Pelevin, Khodorkovsky & Limonov made our list, with you contributing the former.

I know nothing about Daniil Shepovalov, Konstantin Krylov, Sergei Kapitsa or Alexander Gordon and will now go educate myself.

Patriarch Kirill is an intellectual? YMMV.

Boris Strugatsky, I suppose, falls into our debate about relevance.

The poll conducted on Openspace.ru invites a couple of interesting observations. First, there are no women in the top 10. Did the cache of the female Russian intellectual die with Communism? Secondly, this is at the very least the 3rd such inquiry within as many months, including mine and FP’s. Is it some meme riding the waves of our interwebs, or is there something about this question that demands to be asked right now? Anyway, all very interesting… And now this post feels more legitimate, having the opinions of actual Russians taken into account! 🙂 [End of Update]

Nominations from the comments:
Boris Akunin, Alexei Arbatov, Dmitry Bykov, Igor Chubais, Viktor Erofeev, Boris Grebenshchikov, Boris Kagarlitsky, Sergei Kara-Murza, Sergei Karaganov,Oleg Khlevniuk,Andrei Korotayev, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Yulia Latynina, Eddie Limonov, Roy Medvedev,Sergei Nefedov, (cliodynamics guy), Dmitry Orlov, Elena Osokina, Serguei Alex Oushakine, Gleb Pavlovsky, Viktor Pelevin, Aleksandr Prokhanov, Arseny Roginsky (Memorial), Valery Tishkov, Tatyana Tolstaya, Peter Turchin, Mikhail Veller, Alexei Yurchak, Igor Yurgens

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