Journey of Discovery Russia Early Summer of 2008

Author: Al Lawrence.

My personal odyssey began, as do most, in Moscow; a world class city; unabashedly boisterous, extravagant, garish, chocked with traffic and pollution, awash with oil and gas profits & populated by the neuvo-rich & wheelers & dealers of the new Russia: An embodiment of the old adage “the good, the bad & the ugly” and, all in all, much like any other major city.

After a couple of interesting & enjoyable days, I hoped on a train & took off for the hinterlands of Old Mother Russia, ending up in “the black earth” southwest corner of this vast country.

It was during my first evening in a small village that I first heard the comment “went to bed one night and woke up in another country”: I was to hear that or related comments repeated on several occasions during the course of my journey. Many of these comments were made over cold vodka and in or near hot banyas, and were related to the fact that within a few short years their motherland executed a 180% turn from communism to capitalism, as well as a seismic shift from secularism to religion.

Is it any wonder that many of the people with whom I came into contact were confused, disillusioned, and holding out very little hope for the future. Interestingly enough, in spite of “all of the above”, by and large they approached life with a wry, stoic, earthy good humor, which seems to be the quintessence of the soul & character of the Russian people. They were both engaged & engaging. An expression which I heard on several occasions exemplifies their outlook: “And that’s how we live”.

Resigned, but still determined to live life to the fullest, and by and large they do. It may take two, perhaps three generations for them to sort out the conundrum that they are now experiencing. The people with whom I came into contact were with few exceptions, friendly, inquisitive & outgoing.

The risk is, that historically unaccustomed to freedom & democracy (of a sort), and rife with disillusionment, they may revert back to a more familiar (comfortable) mode, such as some sort of totalitarian government.

Democracy is fragile & must be tended.