Wednesday, July 22, 2020

People East of Urals May Speak Russian But They aren’t like Russians Elsewhere, a Reality Moscow Fails to Understand, Zhelenin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 20 – “The Far East suffers from all the problems which every other part of the country has,” Aleksandr Zhelenin says, but these are compounded by the fact that that region is “another Russia” in the sense that “although the people there speak Russian, they are ‘other Russians.’”

            But “Moscow has not learned to understand the mentality of residents of the Far East and remains certain that it can dictate to them how they should live,” a shortcoming,  the Rosbalt commentator says, that has left “the Kremlin in a historical dead end,” it doesn’t know how to get out of (

            Zhelenin recounts his own experiences visiting the region and says people there are characterized by two thing not found as frequently in other parts of Russia: a deep commitment to justice that leads to anger when injustice is found, and a self-reliance which both leads them to take responsibility for themselves and to oppose anyone telling them what to do.

            Among the examples of these qualities, he says, was the reaction of people in the Far East to Moscow’s decision to ban the importation of cars from Japan with steering wheels on the right. The Far Easterners saw no problem with having cars from nearby. Moscow responded by sending officials who refused to discuss the matter but simply gave orders.

            The attitudes of the people in the lands east of the Urals reflect their clear understanding of and willingness to speak out on behalf of what they believe is good and bad and their view that Moscow is not the solution but the source of most of their problems, something to be avoided if possible and opposed if necessary.

            The Kremlin doesn’t understand this and so constantly gets itself in trouble with those east of the Urals and reinforces their view of Moscow, Zhelenin says.

            “A significant part of the Far Easterners trace their origins to those who in pre-revolutionary or Soviet times were sent to the region as prisoners or exiles,” the journalist continues.  And unlike those in other parts of Russia, people here know that there is no place further they can be sent, something that gives them a sense of self-confidence.

            In these ways, he continues, “by their origin and mentality, Far Easterners are like the first settlers of the Wild West of America or the first Europeans in Australia and New Zealand, a significant part of which also consisted of adventurists of various kinds and political prisoners whom the British empire sent away from the metropolitan center.”

            “The spirit of freedom, independence, and deep suspicion of the imperial metropolis affects the first, the second and now the third.”

            What has just happened in Khabarovsk could easily be repeated “in any far eastern region,” Zhelenin argues. “In the 1990s, Moscow through the region to the winds of fate.” Some fled it, but others began to look more to China, South Korea and Japan than to Moscow. European Russia became even further away than it was.

            That spirit is understood by people who live there and by those who visit Siberia frequently. But it is not understood by those in Moscow who never go there and view the region as a source of raw materials for their enrichment rather than an important place self-standing in its own right.

            And the people of the region are responding. As one visitor put it, “the Far East goes to South Korea for medical treatment, to China for shopping, and to Thailand for vacations.” It doesn’t go to Moscow for any of these things.

            Because Moscow doesn’t understand, it constantly makes mistakes and makes the situation worse. Its power allows it tactical victories but its ignorance guarantees strategic defeats.  It doesn’t understand that Khabarovsk is not a special case and but an example of a much bigger problem – and so it is making that problem bigger still.

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