HARRY PYE’s POSTCARD FROM LONDON
NIGHT ON EARTH
ENCOUNTERS WITH POWER
MY VIDEO COLLECTION
SEDIMENTS OF SPACES AND STORIES
INTERVIEW WITH ANDRES EHIN
When I was in Paris in November 2005, I happened to watch a programme about Solženitsõn on a French TV channel. The old man presented his detailed understanding about Russia, reaching the conclusion that Russia belongs to neither east nor west. He concluded that Russia is something completely different, something separate, isolated and unique. Just like China or India. Solženitsõn himself is currently flirting with present authorities, belonging passively to the group of people close to Putin. When he met Putin and his wife asked whether Vladimir Vladimirovits would save Russia, Solženitsõn interrupted and said in a resigned voice that only god would be able to do that. Putin, of course, left the question unanswered. Ernst Rifgatovits Muldašev, a Russian ophthalmologist and academician, states that Russia is surrounded by negative aura – the past values have been destroyed. The only thing that the communists were afraid to destroy completely was knowledge. Knowledge was necessary to carry out „the world revolution”.
During the last 15 years, the Russian mass media has vigorously disparaged the old communist negativism; however, it hasn’t yet discovered how to conduct positive and creative work.
Meat market in Bezhetsk.
Nearly all the presidential candidates, representatives and other forms of authority have been acknowledged due to their criticism of the past, not based on their platform. The negative aura stays. Muldašev continues, “When freed from the communist burden and thus apprehending liberty, every other Russian becomes a thief, because there is a negative psychological aura hanging over him and he is not prepared to work creatively without strict discipline – something he had grown accustomed to during the communist years.”
Cemetary in Astrahan, where Lenin’s grandfather is buried. Photo: Toivo Tammik
A dirty stairway has become the symbol of Russia. When an international camera crew was visiting the widow of the commander of the nuclear submarine “Kursk”, they showed the repulsive stairway of the house this top military officer lived in with his family. In his analysis concerning the troubles of Russia, Muldašev adds that in Japan it would be unthinkable to use the lift as a toilet. There’s a positive psychological aura hanging over the Japanese. In Astrakhan, people who worked in Sahhalin right after World War II, told the following story: the Japanese equipment of a packing plant had to be turned into scrap metal and replaced by a Soviet one, because a Japanese prisoner nick-named Jaška, who formed the maintenance staff, died in an occupational accident and the Russians were simply unable to keep the equipment running.
Russia is inevitably moving towards total dictatorship. The question is how enlightened the dictator and his confidants will be and whether they can create motivation in the nation to persevere. The present situation, which consists mainly of taking oil and gas from the ground and selling these to the western countries, is not very promising. The Russian economy is formed according to the following food chain:
- oil and gas are taken from the ground,
- these are sold to the western countries.
- The money is distributed between:
a. The so-called “new Russians”, who enjoy the support of the Kremlin;
b. Military structures and border guard;
c. Loyal citizens (war veterans, railway workers, etc.) – in the form of compensations and benefits;
d. The Russian Orthodox Church, which co-operates with the state.
- The military, border guard and loyal citizens must be able to sustain at least 1/6 or 1/7 of the planet in such a condition that it would be possible to excavate more oil.
This rather one-sided economic model may work for some time and the richest and most influential people in Estonia are affected by it. There is no economy in Russia in the common sense of the word and Moscow – St Petersburg is not Russia. Agriculture, the disappearance of which in Estonia has been blamed on the right-wing government, is virtually non-existent in Russia. The collective farms are gone and there are no new owners, with the exception of some oil companies. Local enterprises are usually put to death quickly with the help of taxes. The so-called “oligarch” is not an economic genius, who has created an effective mega-structure, but a privileged person, who gets his share of the oil money as long as he follows certain rules of the game. When he ceases to be obedient, he has to be impoverished and possibly put to prison for a long period of time.
Going to Russia is nice and exciting, but also exhausting. One of the most powerful and enduring symbols of Russia is the Volga. Based on the observations, which were made during the examination of the fish resources in the Volga – ordered by the tsar – the Estonian-based scientist Karl Ernst von Baer formulated the Baer law that explains why rivers in the northern hemisphere wash mostly the right and the ones in the southern hemisphere the left bank.
Fish reservoir on the river Volga in Astrakhan.
With the exception of Moscow and St Petersburg, the centres of which look orderly, there is chaos and indifference in Russia. Neither western nor eastern laws nor mentality work in Russia – Solženitsõn is right about that. The only structure that has been revitalised is the Orthodox Church: buildings are being renovated; monasteries and chapels built with the support of the state as well as private donators.
In 1856, after spending a lot of time in the wide expanse of Russia and observing the fish resources of the Volga, Karl Ernst von Baer wrote in his diary, “Nach langen Reisen im Innern von Rußland sehnte ich mich sehr, das Ausland zu besuchen…” Or, “After lengthy travels in the Russian inland, I felt a strong yearning to go abroad.” We can only agree with him.
Toivo Tammik is an architect who lives and works in Tallinn and manages the architectural office “Ansambel”. See also his articles “Estonia as Great-Tallinn. Deus absconditus” in Epifanio 1/2005 and “A Mad German” on page 22 of the current issue.