The Grand Russian and Soviet Chronology

Welcome to my attempt at building a thorough chronology of events leading to the Russian Revolution and beyond. I’ve created it for my own edification, so some may view it as overkill. However, the list gives you a very clear idea about how people and events weaved together over several decades to form what became the Soviet Union. I have collected the data from various websites that I tried to credit at the bottom as well as notes from my ongoing reading. I hope it helps you as much as it helps me. Continue reading

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Russian Elections 2011: Not Much Ado About Something

Duma Elections 2011

Almost two weeks ago, some interesting events took place in Russia that caused much of the West to take pause. Russia’s Duma election returned surprising results where the majority party, United Russia, took a shellacking, and gave many people a thought or a hope that something had finally changed in Putin’s Russia. Peter Robinson, of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” fame excitedly asked if Russia had, at last, begun it’s march toward the West. I decided to write about this situation after I talked with several of my Russian friends in order to get an inside glimpse of what was really happening.

My conclusion is that something significant did happen, however, it will not produce the change that we typical Westerners crave for our Eurasian brothers. This is evolution and certainly not revolution. Vladimir Putin will win the presidential election in March and will still hold the reins of power for the next six years. If all goes well, he could even last a total of twelve years, but I won’t let myself get on such an untenable hook as Russia’s future. Continue reading

Six Years Gone By

Nizhny Novgorod

. . . the capacity to wish and to do – to throw oneself headlong into a bottomless abyss without knowing why or wherefore.

                                                              – Leo Tolstoy

I’m home now.  It’s been six years.  I think I did just what the quote from Leo Tolstoy said above.  People ask me why I did it, but I don’t truly know.  I found something I wanted to do and I acted upon it.  I was too excited to notice the abyss.  Now that I look back on it, I’m thankful I was naïve.  After all, I got away with it in the end.

I moved to Russia on August 23, 2004.  Intel Corporation sent me there to set up a Marketing Center in a regional city called Nizhny Novgorod.  I lived there for nearly five years, quit my job, and then moved to Odessa, Ukraine for just over a year.  I want to tell you about those six years.

I’m really writing this for myself.  That’s the target audience.  I want to record this chapter in my life since it has just ended and I’ve had time to reflect.  If you can tolerate self-indulgence, keep reading.  If not, that’s okay, it’s not for sale anyway. Continue reading

Meeting Strangers

Gorky Sea

I’ve met many interesting strangers in Russia.  The vast majority of the experiences have been very positive.  In 2005, I met a delightful stranger that captures the essence of the “typical” Russian.  I went to the Gorky Sea, a large reservoir outside Nizhny Novgorod, that acted as the regional getaway since Soviet times.  On short notice, hotels are usually full, so locals rent out rooms in their apartments.  Boris negotiated one of these deals, and so we boarded in an infamous Soviet apartment building, our host, an elderly babushka.  Her apartment was big enough to host another couple in the room next to us.  There, a husband and wife, likely in their fifties, settled in for the weekend.  The meeting happened in typical fashion.  They noticed Boris and me speaking English and then fascination bolted out of the gate.  Once introduced as an American, the husband was simply stunned.  He’d never met an American before and was elated.  Again, in typical fashion, he insisted on drinking with me as a sign of welcome and friendship.  His gold teeth shimmered in the dreary room.  Within seconds, I heard the familiar “thump” of a bottle of vodka set on the table and the clinking of the shot glasses.  I feel I’m barely exaggerating that if I met a Russian in the middle of a desert, he’d have that bottle and glasses ready at any moment.  It was Boris’ translation that please me the most.  He said, “I’m not even able to translate how excited this guy is to meet you.”  How can you feel any more welcome than that?  Continue reading

Estonians

I know I said that I would not include the most commonly known jokes from Russia and the Soviet Union in my posts, but I did have to record one that was told to me the most often while living in Russia.  As typical in most societies, jokes often focus on particular ethnic groups.  Since Estonia was part of the Soviet Union, it was the target of many jokes.  Somewhere, somehow, Estonians gained a reputation as being slow-minded.  Some say it is the style of their native language or the way they speak Russian.  It could also be fairly random as Polish jokes developed in the U.S.  Nobody knows why they became so prolific, but there they were.  Anyway, here is a classic example of an Estonian joke.

An Estonian stands by a railway track. Another Estonian passes by on a handcar, pushing the pump up and down.  The first one asks: “Is it a long way to Tallinn?” — “No, not too long.”  He gets on the car and joins pushing the pump up and down.  After two hours of silent pumping the first Estonian asks again: “Is it a long way to Tallinn?” — “Now it is.”

The Garbage

Russian Garbage

While living in Russia, I fought innumerable culture wars, but there was always one that stuck out the most.  One of the first “Dave vs. Russia” battles was my constant frustration with garbage.  Coming from a pristine Portland and moving to Nizhny Novgorod was like the Prince of Bel Air moving in with Sanford and Son.  I don’t think there was anything that incensed me more than the garbage in Russia.  Ask any of my Russian friends.  They’ll roll their eyes, breathe a deep sigh, and say, “yes, that was Dave’s greatest torment.”

My first visit to Nizhny Novgorod was in 2003.  I stayed there for five days, having no idea at the time that I would end up living there for five years. If I only knew!  After touring the city for those days, I built up a simple, succinct testimonial: “Nizhny Novgorod is a shithole.”  Everywhere I went… garbage. Continue reading

Russian Hospitality

matryoshka
Matryoshka

 

Russian hospitality has always impressed me.  There are so many wonderful stories to tell.  I wasn’t sure how I’d be treated as an American once I reached our former Cold War enemy.  Would they look at me suspiciously or with resentment?  It was a cause for concern upon my first visit.

I traveled to Russia three times as a tourist before I moved there for professional purposes.  Each type of purpose provided similar but distinct attributes.  As a tourist, I was lost at sea most of the time.  I didn’t know where I was going frequently and the language barrier was stultifying.  However, whenever I reached even the grimmest of outposts, a Russian seemed to swoop in and rescue me.  Even when the moment wasn’t grim, I experienced tiny yet magnanimous gestures of kindness.  It surprised me honestly, but then again Russia is full of surprises.  It did not take long to dispel the concern of being American in Russia.  In fact, I often received generosity BECAUSE I was American.  I can honestly say that I was treated better as an American in Russia than I was in Germany and the U.K. Continue reading