Provinces Grow Restive
Teachers from Moscow and the Russian provinces were recently invited to discuss the problems of schools on the television talk show "The National Interest." The debate showed just how many worlds apart the urban centers are from the outer reaches of the country.
The provincial teachers spoke about their poverty, how they had not been paid for six months, how children fainted from hunger in the classroom and were unable to remember the simplest of lessons because they are undernourished. Finally they spoke about going on strike.
When one of them admitted that he discussed with the students in history class subjects outside the program — such as the reasons for the disgraceful goings-on in the country — and used the phrase "comprador capital," one Muscovite, a teacher at a private lycee, roundly criticized this as a crime and added that teachers should never, ever bring ideology into the classroom. One might be led to believe that children never encounter ideology in the family, on the streets, in the churches or on television.
In general, for the first time in many years, teachers from urban capitals and the provinces did not understand one another.
When I came to the Omsk region, in which our center was carrying out sociological research, I better understood why this happened. Omsk, and to a greater extent the surrounding regions, are as far from Moscow as you can imagine. Industries lie idle. No one has any money. Television commercials infuriate the hungry people there. A single video player, if such exists at all, will be used by 10 or more families. There is no money for videocassettes. Therefore they buy only what is most necessary. They don't buy comedies of any kind, especially since comedies don't have any part in their real lives.
Some of the young people I met there, many of whom came from families of impoverished and unemployed engineers and scientists, had no use for the film "Pretty Woman," in which a multimillionaire falls in love with a cheap prostitute and gives her diamond rings. They find such tales a joke.
But they did respond to Jean-Luc Godard's "La Chinoise," about a group of Maoist students who organize themselves, create a commune, are self-taught and go on to revolutionary activities such as forming a "revolutionary theater" and engaging in terrorist acts. This film is close to them and understandable. They, too, gather in groups and study literature. Some have started to create their own revolutionary theaters like the Red Roof in Samara. Others join revolutionary rock groups, which can be found all over the country. And buying arms in the provinces is a trifling matter.
Hungry, bitter and, most interesting of all, well-educated, such people from the provinces hate Moscow. "You are growing fat on our account," my colleagues and 1 heard again and again in Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Krasnodar. Moscow and the provinces are not only two countries, but two different planets. In the Krasnoyarsk region we discovered that many people don't have televisions. Or people had them once, but they have long since been broken. There is no money to repair them, much less buy new ones. Thus, the government has lost its last channel of propaganda, because no one has subscribed to or read the national newspapers for a long time. If people read papers, then they are local ones in order that they can find out, for example, if they price of gas will be raised.
Moscow is another world. About 44 percent of the country's taxes are given to the city Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov boasts that 82 percent of foreign investment remains in the capital. But if he were to come to the provinces and see how much we Muscovites, and particularly the mayor, are despised, he would keep silent.
In Krasnoyarsk, on the benches under a monument to the Russian Civil War, a young man, an admirer of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, told us an astonishing story. His parents were constantly fighting because the family had no money. The reason for this was that the only factory in town had shut down. His mother would nag her husband, saying, "What kind of man are you?" But the arguments would begin especially during television commercials showing the latest washing machine or some other inaccessible product. During one such scene, when the young man's mother began to become excited, his father grabbed a hammer and smashed the television screen. The television blew up. This raised a terrible scandal in the family, and the two parents fought for some time. Later, however, peace and mutual understanding was restored in the family.
They now sit together in the kitchen, drinking tea without sugar with pieces of dried sliced bread (there is nothing else to eat) and blaming capitalism for their problems. The son does not even speak to his parents any longer about Che Guevara or revolution. Now, the moment he begins to speak about them, his father responds: "Don't try to teach a teacher. Unlike you, I passed exams in scientific communism at the institute. Understand? You never served in the army and I was a paratrooper. I know how to shoot from anything, including a non-recoil weapon. Understand? When the revolution begins, there won't be any need for long-haired types like you, but people like me — exemplary fighters with political training. Understand?" They did not argue whether the revolution was necessary and would inevitably take place. This was a given.
Thus, the seeds of class hatred in Russia are being sown and a new left is coming into being.
December 19, 1997