Seth Bernstein is an Assistant professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow where he specializes in the history of Soviet politics, culture and society. He’s the author of Raised Under Stalin: Young Communists and the Defense of Socialism published by Cornell University Press and the English translator of Alexander Vatlin’s Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police published by the University of Wisconsin Press.
Queen, “Flash,” Flash Gordon, 1980.
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By Sean — 4 weeks ago
Guest: Yasha Levine on Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet published by Public Affairs Books.
By Sean — 7 years ago
There’s a lot of ways to measure the economic health of a country: per capita income, wealth, inequality, employment, poverty level, etc. The list is virtually endless. Another way is by measuring the average amount of meat a person consumes. Yes, meat, that juicy, protein filled delight, the consumption of which is a testament to people literally living off the fat of the land. Sure meat consumption can’t be reduced to wealth. A lot of other factors go into it too–culinary culture, religion, geographic location, climate, to name a few. Still per capita meat consumption statistics do seem to correlate to a population’s economic status.
Slon.ru reports that yearly per capita meat consumption in Russia is 63 kilograms per person. A respectable number compared to the rest of the world, but a good 40 to 50 kilos behind other meat-centric peoples like the Americans and Western Europeans. But where Russia’s carnivorousness places in global statistics isn’t the real point. What’s more revealing is how they compare to past Russian consumption.
As Slon.ru notes, the Putin years have witnessed a meat boom. In 1999, Russians consumed an average 41 kilos of flesh a year. That has shot up by 20 kilos in the last ten years. In this sense, whatever one says about Putin, he has brought home the bacon. Nevertheless, there are important regional differences. Assuming that the statistics collected by the Ministry of Health approach an accurate estimate, regional difference can be quite stark. For example, a person devours 99 kilos of meat in Kalmykia, while only 31 kilos in Dagestan. Or while the Ministry of Health says that the normal consumption of meat is 70-75 kilos a year, only 16 Russian provinces meet this norm. Only four regions average more than 80 kilos: Kalmykia, Moscow province, Yakutia, and Sakhalin. Slon.ru has provided a province by province breakdown.
The statistic that I find most interesting, and revealing about post-Soviet Russia is that while meat consumption has increased dramatically over the last ten years, it still falls short of the USSR peak of 69 kilos in 1989. A few other interesting things to note are that meat consumption rose a dramatic 10 kilos from 1985-1989, the perestroika years. Also, there were no statistics between 1989-1995, a sure indicator of the collapse of the Russian state. But when measurement of meat was resumed in 1995, consumption had plummeted to 50 kilos per person. It bottomed out in 1999, after the Russian economy crashed and burned, to around 41 kilos. Finally, meat consumption leveled off in 2008 when the economic crisis hit Russia, but began to rise a year later suggesting a strong recovery on an everyday level.
And this is what I find so revealing about these statistics on meat consumption: they paint a picture of how the average Russian experiences the economy on an everyday level. In a world where we are fed abstract figures about GDP, stock market percentages, or monetary rates, the stats on meat are refreshing because they return the economy to where it matters most: people’s bellies.Post Views: 2,083
By Sean — 13 years ago
Three news items appeared this week that concern Russian nationalism: the Nashi camp in Tver, the Russian government’s earmarking of 500 million rubles for “patriotic education” and the group of nationalists trying to get the Moscow courts to ban Jewish organizations. These three incidents all point to what I call in very mild terms the general redefinition of Russian national identity. In harsher terms these three signal the potentially scary growth of Russian nationalism.
I’ll first deal the attempt to ban Jewish organizations. This has been going on for a while now and would probably be ignored if Russia didn’t have such a long and strong history of anti-Semitism. The case involves the Russian translation of a Jewish text called the Kitsur Shulhan Arukh. The Kitsur is an ancient religious text that gives elaborate rules about Jewish daily practices of the self: mostly about washing, eating, and clothing. The Russians who’ve brought the case to court claim that the text spreads hatred because it calls Christians “worshipers of idols.” Moscow Rabbi Zinovy Kogan admits that there are some “incorrect passages” but they hardly spread hatred toward Christians or Russians for that matter. The most comical aspect of this story is that those who are bringing the case to court is claiming that Jewish organizations foment ethnic hatred and anti-Semitism. Huh? That’s right you read that correctly, Jewish organizations spread anti-Semitism.
The Moscow prosecutors apparently saw the absurdity of this issue when they dropped the investigation whether the Kitsur spreads hatred. That didn’t deter the unidentified Russian nationalists. They brought an appeal to the court I hopes that they reexamine the case. This whole issue would probably just fade away if it didn’t actually have some real support. In January, 19 Russian lawmakers signed a letter that accused Jewish organizations of fomenting hatred, citing the Kitsur. Mikhail Nazarov, a historian and writer is quoted as saying that any politicians who “support the principles” of the text should resign.
Statements like Nazarov’s would also be easily dismissed if other recent events around the issue of Russian nationalism didn’t rear its head. This week the Russian Government earmarked 500 million rubles to promote “patriotic education.” The Patriotic Education Program for Russian Citizens, which spans 2006 to 2010, seeks “to prepare the strategy of developing the personality of the Russian patriot” and “prevents attempts to discredit or deprecate the patriotic idea in the media.” The Program will do this by printing pamphlets on “correct reproductive behavior,” developing patriotic video games, producing cassettes and CDs of patriotic songs, as well as launch a Fatherland Program on television. But before everyone gets all hot and bothered about the Russian attempt to instill “patriotism” among mostly young people, keep in mind this figure: The United States will spend $88 million in 2006 to promote “democracy” in Russia, while the Russian government will only spending 77 million rubles (around $2.75 million) on patriotism.
While the Patriotic Education Program for Russian Citizens might be a bad throwback to the USSR, I’m afraid the pro-Putin youth organization Nashi might pose a real concern. I’ve already mentioned their “commissar” training camp in Tver. I wanted to touch on the Nashi camp again to point out some of its similarities to the old Communist Youth League in a 21st century key.
Nashi seems to have some pretty strong institutional support. According to a Moscow Times report, land for Nashi’s Seliger Camp was donated by the Tver governor, who gave 2 hectares, and the Russian Orthodox Church which handed over five. In return Nashi members helped restore the nearby Nilova Pustin Monastery. At the camp, Nashiisti chopped wood, visited the camp internet caf?, read the Nashi newspaper, Nashi Izvestia, swam, ran, and sang songs. The Moscow Times article provides an interesting picture:
“Soviet-era songs drifted from the main stage in the center of the camp, where the commissars gathered at 8 a.m. They stood at even intervals on an enormous grid of plastic strips. Young people who had birthdays that day were called to the stage and congratulated, then most of the group left for the daily five-kilometer run. Two circles of young women performed aerobics for the eager lenses of photographers.”
The future Nashi “commissars” also listened to lectures about new ideas, politics, and the future of Russia from politicos of United Russia. The deputy head of the Putin Administration, Vladislav Surkov addressed the crowd. Surkov’s speech set off a litany of rumors about what other important figures would visit Camp Seliger. Rumors, fueled by hope, also spread about a possible appearance from Vladimir Putin himself. There was no Putin, but the hope among Nshi young members shows desires if not the cult of Putin’s personality.
But what does this all represent? What is Nashi and what will they become? It is too early to tell. Perhaps this quote from Svetlana Kalinina, 19 year old “commissar” from Yaroslav, gives some indication:
“I know they call Putin an authoritarian in the West, but the Russian people have always needed a strong leader. Its part of our character.”Post Views: 509