Sep. 12th, 2017

osprey_archer: (books)
I liked Shaun Walker’s The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past, but in a mild sort of way: I finished it over a week ago and it’s already fading out of my mind.

Two things that stuck with me. First, there’s a part where Walker is talking about Chechnya, and comments in amazement on the number of Chechens who serve in the Russian armed forced - even though Stalin deported the entire Chechen nation during World War II, even though Russia has leveled Grozny twice since the end of the Soviet Union.

When you put it that way it does sound surprising. But then, Native Americans serve in the US military in high numbers (I just learned this in Onigamiising), despite having a similarly harrowing history with that institution - and it struck me that perhaps these things seems baffling only if you look at them from a certain angle, if you assume that joining the military is a reflection of burning patriotism or at least some enthusiasm for a country, when really sometimes it’s just a job, an opportunity, maybe the only opportunity for someone living in a marginalized community.

No one thinks you have to have a burning love of McDonalds to start flipping burgers, after all.

The other thing that struck me is the total failure of empathy in the West vis-a-vis the collapse of the Soviet Union. My impression is that the American assumption was that everyone in the USSR would react about the same way as, say, Poland, where the Soviets were viewed as an invading power and their withdrawal caused celebration.

But outside of eastern Europe (which only came into the Soviet sphere post-World War II in any case), most people didn’t see it that way: they saw their own government and way of life collapsing, national purpose and identity crushed, with nothing to replace it but a kleptocratic oligarchy, and meanwhile the West looked on in bafflement and said “You’ve got democracy now! Why aren’t you rejoicing?”

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