Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Would You Like Pelmeni with Your McShchi?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – One of the more notorious if somewhat humorous aspects of high Stalinism was Moscow’s effort to claim that Russians invented baseball, the radio and other things that all too obviously came from abroad as part of a campaign to boost Soviet patriotism and undercut any positive feelings about the West.

            Now, in an echo of this, Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed developing Russian “fastfud” on the basis of national cuisines, something that he suggested could “compete with McDonald’s,” help the Russian economy, and most important allow Russians to stand up to the West (

            But in yet another confirmation of the well-known dictum that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce, Putin’s proposal may have exactly the opposite effect he intends, not boosting a common Russian identity but rather promoting the identities of distinct ethnic groups within the country.

            Putin made his proposal Monday in response to a question about Osetian pirogi at a meeting with legislators. He said that Russia has many remarkable cuisines, adding that it was necessary to develop their production because they were “better in quality than in [many] fast food places.”

            “You,” he said, “if you will think about this can create at the regional and municipal levels suitable conditions for such small and mid-size businesses by giving certain preferences.” One must be careful about that, but “nevertheless, this can be done.” 

            There are already non-Russian groups pushing for exactly that: In Tatarstan, for example, there is a network of TatMak restaurants which serve Tatar food (, and the Russian president may have no problem with that.

            But the Kremlin leader may have problems if, as has already happened in Chuvashia, local activists demand that Chuvash food be given pride of place even on Russian trains when they pass through that, in local schools, and in Chuvash cities.  If others do the same, such steps would do little to promote a common identity.

Instead, as former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin suggested, Moscow may be trying for something better but things in  Russia will tend to turn out like they always do.

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