Today I a had a choice between 3 or 4 interesting stories, including one on (alleged) female circumcision in Dagestan. So I probably shouldn’t do Efimova again, but I will anyway, because (a) she says she was misquoted, and (b) Petr Akopov makes some interesting points in his essay. But don’t worry, I’ll get to the circumcision story eventually, maybe tomorrow. Or it could be the one on tractor output and the amazing Russian harvest expected this season.
But first, back to Yulia Efimova. The issue raised by Akopov in his essay, is Russians living abroad, when is this a good thing; and when is this a bad thing. And what is the nature of Russian patriotism? All very interesting questions.
Just in the last few days, Yulia has passed in rapid tempo through 3 stages of historical development:
Stage I: Efimova was the victim of a classic Cold War bullying campaign at the Rio Olympics. “This was a real war,” she stated. “It was like a nightmare. I love to compete, but this was more like a war. It was horrible. I don’t hold a grudge against the Americans for what they said [about me], but I took offense on behalf of Russia. Everything was stacked against [Russia]. This was a global injustice. It was like everything was planned this way. For example, the way they picked on meldonium [as a banned substance] because it never leaves the organism….”
Stage II: CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh, smooth-talking mouthpiece of The Empire and seasoned veteran of the Great Game, scored an unexpected (probably even for himself) coup right there on camera. The interview started out as just a routine propaganda drill, whereby a struggling strawman is presented to the American public, flounderingly struggling to explain “the other side of the story”. To be fair and balanced of course, before being shot down unceremoniously. Walsh: “So, you’re saying this is all political?”
And then: an unexpected gambit. The villainesse du jour, Efimova, after feebly and incoherently (with her stilted English) trying to defend Russia against such stereotypes as “everybody drinks vodka and beer and dopes up” suddenly turns about and starts sucking up to her tormentors right then and there on camera. And throws in some even worse stereotypes against her country: How everybody lives a hard life and nobody smiles. This sort of thing is music to American ears; it confirms the couch spuds in their feelings of god-given superiority over all other peoples on the planet.
Stage III: Back home, the Russian equivalent of couch spuds are shocked and dismayed. On their own side of the propaganda war, they had invested quite a lot of psychic energy portraying Efimova as the Cinderella-like innocent, tormented by her wicked, loud-mouthed and pudgy American step-sisters. And now revealead as a superficial kreakl who disses her own country in return for a bowl of lentil soup and a cheap shot at prime-time fame.
After the fuss and outrage which her remarks stirred up back home, Efimova had to quickly switch her sport from breast-stroke to back-stroke, as she tries to walk back her CNN interview. “I was misquoted,” she claims. “The Russian media twisted my words in the CNN interview. I only said that I was returning to the U.S. to collect my things. I have an apartment there [in L.A.] which is paid up for half a year, and I have to go back to get my stuff. And after that, will be the World Cup, and after that I have to decide where I am going to train — in Russia, Europe, the U.S. Or maybe I’ll just open my own club.”
Misquoted? Well, er…. There is the CNN interview right there, you can click on it and see for yourself. And granted that Efimova is speaking in a language that is not her native tongue, and struggling a bit with her words, but still… It’s pretty clear what she is saying, and her intent is also clear: To ingratiate herself with the Americans. Perhaps in the hope that they will take her back and allow her to continue her training in sunny LA? In which case, the CNN interview was probably not the best choice for such a gambit.
Here is what Akopov has to say about all of this, and the rest of this is just straightforward translation from his essay:
There is really no reason to condemn Efimova. She had been trained in the States, and now it is her decision whether to return there, or back to Russia. Even her words about aggressive Russians and smiling Americans can be written off to her personal experiences. Born in Grozny, raised in Taganrog, then spending the last five of her 24 years in the U.S., this young girl no doubt did experience quite a tough life in the Rostov Province, and then a comfortable one in California. Out of her personal experiences she made a lot of far-flung generalizations. May God be her judge.
The real problem here is Russian society itself. How do we relate to those of our fellow countrymen who live abroad, especially those who bring fame to Russia? It goes without saying that Efimova’s medals are her contribution to “Russian victory”, and she deserves our respect for this, if nothing else.
It is understandable that we would wish for all our Olympic champions, our talented mathematicians, our opera singers, and so on, should live and work in Russia. This is a normal patriotic feeling. But for this to happen, it is necessary that this particular champion, laureate, or all-around talented person, should feel the same feeling. If he feels no love for his country, then you can’t keep him here. It’s another matter altogether when you cannot offer him adequate working conditions, be it scientific research facilities, or training facilities, in this case you place even the most patriotic Russia-lover in an unseemly choice. A choice that each will make, based upon his personal value system.
It goes without saying that our country must create the kinds of conditions where all citizens can develop their talents, not just Olympic athletes or nuclear scientists; and yet special care must be taken for such elites. Such conditions did not exist for the generation of the 90’s, or the 00’s, but slowly but surely they are being created nowadays. All the same, there are some glaring holes, for which there is simply no choice except to live abroad.
And even so, there is no point in forcing everybody to work in Russia, it wouldn’t be right to lock people up in a fortress-country. If there is a desire to make our country better and equal in every way to the (best) foreign countries. Both in quality of life, as well as creativity and work. It is this ambitious desire which makes people wish that Efimova would train in Russia.
The world, naturally, has become small and global, and even just for simple experience it is useful and interesting to work in different countries. Especially when there is something important to be learned. And frankly, even in earlier years Russians never sat at home. Otherwise we would not have been able to construct the largest nation in the world, we would not have stretched out all the way to California and Afghanistan. In the past great Russian (personalities) traveled to Baden-Baden or Rome, in order to write their great books. Not because they disliked being in Russia, but because it was interesting to get out and see how life is elsewhere, to see the works of Raphael, or to be cured by famous doctors. The entire post-Peter (the Great) Russian elite was nurtured in the European spirit, and regarded Europe as the culural and civilizational compass, although already in the 19th century, as a result of closer acquaintance, started to understand the depth of the differences [between the two civilizations].
Nowadays everything is both simpler and more complicated, at the same time. Simpler, because Russia is experiencing a restoration of feelings of self-worth and uniqueness (of culture). More complicated, because, like the rest of the world, Russia is experiencing the extraordinary pressures of the supra-national, global “culture”. In these circumstances one can be the biggest Russia-phobe in the world and live right in the center of Moscow. Or one can remain a complete Russian person while living on the banks of the Thames. Everything depends upon the views and feelings of the specific individual. And one can work for Russia’s interests — for her might and glory — while living at any point on the planet. And I am not just talking about spies either!
[as Akopov concludes his soaring essay with a silly joke]