- Interview with Russian philosopher
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Sun Mar 4 14:45:42 MST 2001
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Subject: March Neumaier column - Interview with Russian philosopher
Sunday, 4 March 2001 Daily Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.
COMMENTARY: From Russia with love - Reflections of a Moscow visitor
By: John Neumaier
Marina Doguzhieva of Moscow spent her winter holiday with us in Central
Florida. Much as she loves her native land, she gladly exchanged the
cold for the warm Florida sunshine, as she also did a few years ago. She's
assistant professor at Moscow's prestigious Bauman Technical University,
teaching philosophy and religion. She just turned 40. Besides speaking
and French, she is fluent in English and well acquainted with American
history, music, and literature. (She is very proud of her Russian
of "America the Beautiful".) I interviewed Marina a few days before she
JN: Have there been changes in your life in Moscow recently?
MD: Yes, there was a great change in my life half a year ago when I was able
to buy a room of my own. It's in a *It. [communalka] in the middle of
In the other rooms, I have two neighbors, one with a child, also two cats
which belong to them, and we share the kitchen and bathroom.
JN: If you don't mind my asking, is it all paid for or did you borrow
from a bank?
MD: I still have debts since the room was too expensive for me, but I hope
that in two and a half years I will earn enough money so that I will be able
to pay all my debts to my friends.
JN: How is your job situation?
MD: Like most Russians now, I have more than one job. One is a permanent
position, my favorite and main job as a professor of philosophy at Bauman
State Technical University, but the salary is very low, about $80 per month
now. So I also have a job in a travel agency, where I am a financial
comptroller. Sometimes I do part-time work, making dumplings in a Café. The
travel agency pays me in dollars, which is very helpful, and I get paid in
rubles for the dumplings. And so somehow it's possible to make ends meet.
JN: What about changes in Russia generally? What significant
have emerged in governmental policies since President Putin replaced Mr.
MD: There have been some changes in our country, but it is difficult to
predict in what direction they will take us. I see some not so pleasant
features in our contemporary state policies. For example, we have increasing
control over the whole sphere of human life in Russia, reminding me of
times. I understand it's an attempt to end the disorder which exists in our
country. In this difficult and complicated transitional period, in which new
power structures are replacing the old ones, there is no perfect process.
need improvements, democratic improvements, but we have very strong
anti-democratic traditions. And Mr. Putin, as a former KGB official, knows
only one way to bring order into our situation and that is through
centralizing power and increasing the control over people. I don't think it
is really a fair and correct policy. We also see an attempt - not of course
to stop freedom of speech - but to restrict it. For example, many strange
situations exist involving our oligarchs (you call them tycoons), who live
abroad now, Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky. These cases, which have
economic and political implications, are connected with the issue of freedom
of speech, which the two wanted to expand by using their mass media in
different ways in our country.
JN: Are there any significant differences between the styles of Mr.
Putin and his predecessor Mr. Yeltsin?
MD: Mr. Yeltsin certainly was a more open, more informal, more emotional
person than Mr. Putin. They have very different personalities. Mr. Putin's
character is more reserved and he is more formal. Perhaps his KGB background
has increased these features of his character. So, it's very difficult to
understand Mr. Putin. It was also difficult to understand Mr. Yeltsin
of his unpredictable behavior, but it's even more difficult to make out Mr.
Putin because of his inclination to secrecy, and nobody really knows now in
what direction he wants to lead Russia. Under Yeltsin, in spite of his
failures and mistakes, some of them awful, we had more freedom, maybe more
disorder, but more freedom of speech and less restrictions in everyday life.
JN: Would you comment on Mr. Putin's proposal to the Duma to do
away with the many minor political parties (I understand there are about
150), and to adopt instead a kind of Western European model of a multi-party
MD: It seems to me that this is connected with the above mentioned
restrictions of freedom of people to express themselves, to have their own
opinions, to fight them out in the political arena. On the other hand, we
have such disorder in our political scene, so many people seeking to adopt a
policy that will mean more money, profits, and influence for themselves, not
for the benefit of the people of our country, that it may be necessary to
have more transparent, more pragmatic, more appropriate structures in our
political regime. But it's a process in which it is very easy to cross the
line between so-called order and discipline and the restriction of freedom.
JN: How have post-Soviet policies affected the Russian economy
terms of goods in stores, travel, and living standards?
MD: There are great differences from the time of the Soviet Union. People
more open to world centers of consumption and world standards of living,
particularly European and American. But many want to return to our own
traditions and to our own culture. Living standards have become very low for
most of our people, lower than in Soviet times because of all the disorder
and the destruction of the economy. There is a huge gap between the
New Russians and most of the population, who live way below the poverty
In Moscow, in my own experience, many salaries are quite low. In our
huge country, in our provincial cities and villages, people are even poorer
and live under awful conditions. This is really a problem because the
stability of any society, it seems to me, can be founded only on the more or
less prosperous class of people, the so-called middle class of Western
countries, but Russia has almost no middle class. Maybe our New Russians,
are not very rich, but have their small business, may be called middle
But it is a very tiny stratum.
In our capital Moscow I can see how Western standards of freedom
are in vogue. We have many night clubs, a variety of casinos, very expensive
and fancy restaurants and luxury hotels, making Moscow very similar to any
European capital. But all these entertainments and goods are only for our
rich people, impossible for most Muscovites. And of course we have a lot of
goods of all types in Moscow and in many cities, including American brand
names. We also have a lot of European and Asian goods. But they cost a lot
money and few can afford them.
As for the economy in general, it was almost completely destroyed
our contradictory and not very reasonable reforms. And now it seems to me
that it will be a long road to renovate our economic structure and build a
new political structure, with more democracy and greater freedom for people.
But for Russia, democracy and freedom have historically been like a distant
horizon. Every attempt to develop democracy and freedom in our country
failed. Maybe now we have a chance for a better society and freer society.
(To be continued)
Poughkeepsie resident Dr. John J. Neumaier was president of SUNY New Paltz
from 1968-72 and of Moorhead (Minn.) State University from 1958-68. He is
philosophy professor emeritus of Empire State College, New York City. His
column appears in the first Sunday Freeman of each month, and is broadcast
short-wave station Radio for Peace International, 6.975, 15.050, 21.460.
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