“Newsreel” – Aleksandr Skidan

Picture 9

A. Illarionov on Russia’s place in the ratings

«Today’s Russia is at the bottom of the world list for quality of the most important state institutions. Our country is ranked 158-159 out of 187 countries for political freedom – between Pakistan, Swaziland and Togo. For freedom of the press we are 147 out of 179, at the level of Iraq, Venezuela and Chad. Russia ranks 123 out of 158 for corruption, next to Gambia, Afghanistan and Rwanda. For property rights it is 89th out of 110 countries, next to Mozambique, Nigeria and Guatemala. For quality of the judicial system – 170th out of 199, side by side with Burundi, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Pakistan. For efficiency of bureaucracy – 155 out of 203, neighbouring Niger, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon and Pakistan. An authoritarian state model legalises violence in society. Russia occupies seventh place among 112 countries for the number of murders per 1000 residents –– between Ecuador and Guatemala, a little lower than South Africa and slightly higher than Mexico. In terms of physical safety overall, our country ranks 175th out of 183 countries, along with Zimbabwe, Sudan, Haiti and Nepal.»

(From a report by A. Illarionov on Russia’s place in foreign ratings.)

When they tell you in plain Russian, in the dry language of numbers
that in terms of
political freedoms and civil rights
Russia occupies 158–159th place –– somewhere between
Pakistan and Togo, ––
what do you feel, a person
of the era of centralised Moscow conceptualism,
of the futures and marketing of sovereign democracy?
Insulted for your nation?
For the great and powerful Russian language, the language
of Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov?
Oh yes, after all it was none other than Pushkin
who wrote to Chaadaev
(and everyone reads this poem in school)
about the debris of despotism. We can recall
others of his sterling works as well, for instance,
the ode “Liberty”, or the last chapter of “Eugene Onegin”,
all sorts of stuff, where the sun of Russian poetry
speaks out unequivocally
on the subject of political freedoms and civil rights.

Lermontov, also in the purest Russian, bade farewell
to the land of slaves and masters, heading off
for active duty in the Caucasus. His bitterness- and
rage-filled lines on the death of Pushkin –– you remember, all of you,
of course you remember––make your heart and fists clench, as if
they were written only yesterday.
And Tolstoy, excommunicated from the Orthodox church, tearing
all and sundry masks from the ruling ideology,
Tolstoy –– mirror
of the 1905 revolution?
And Dostoevsky’s axe, thrown into circumterrestrial orbit,
that same one,
from “Brothers Karamazov” that maids in the deep frost
give their lads to kiss?
And Chekhov, Chekhov with his gallery of melancholics yearning
for a beautiful life
lovely depoliticised intelligentsia
befuddled, disappointed,
toiling away or losing their minds?

You, looking into trips to Togo or Tunisia, Pakistan or Thailand,
reading in your spare time about the standard of living and civil
liberties in developed
capitalist countries and Third World countries,
feeling insulted for your nation, which gave this world
Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov,
have you ever
asked yourself what their heroes are doing?
What are they doing – those badly-paid country doctors
and teachers?
What are they doing – the convicts from Sakhalin Island?
What are they doing – the students in the brothel?
What are the ones attending them there doing?
What are the well-bred officers in “Three Sisters” doing?
Soon they’ll all be sent off to the front, to the imperialist
slaughterhouse, where they will die honourably for the tsar and the fatherland,
in other words,
for the sales outlet, the colony and other geopolitical
and financial interests,
and where they will undoubtedly be wanting
their irreproachable
great powerful noble ––
though in part already grown common ––
Russian language, but also
the dry language of numbers.

(Translated from Russian by Ainsley Morse)