One Place I May Never Get To Visit
As a European, I’ve learned much; France loves bureaucracy (the omission of a comma in a document once caused me a delay of years), Spain loves children (always a shock after kid-free London), Italy never shuts up for a second and there’s no Cheddar anywhere (British Cheese Marketing Board, sort it!) but at least history is respected and everyone knows how to cook (I just watched a TV shown which a Scottish family had to be taught how to roast a chicken!).
But the place I most wanted to spend time in was Russia. My mother’s lifelong dream was to visit the Hermitage, and I’d taken Russian to A level at school, but our teacher left just before the long-promised school trip to Moscow. Then one day Putin arrived, and I watched as this mousey little man reinvented himself as some kind of ‘Revenant’-type survivalist, and I got a bad feeling…
Now, having read Peter Pomerantsev’s ‘Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia’, I know I will never go. The political picture he paints, as a TV producer dropping into a madhouse, doesn’t just conform to Orwell’s idea of doublethink, but to an idea of multiple personality disorder so damaging that it can literally make you kill yourself.
As he moves through the layers of grotesque wealth, the vulgar parties and Versailles-like fancy dress balls, the other side – suicides, arrests, murders, bribes and lawsuits – are revealed, and we get a picture of the Kremlin as the perfect alien, replicating opposing opinions and twisting them, burrowing inside protest movements to defang them, rewarding and robbing with the same hand. The lying and liars become so exhausting that you quickly accept the idea of Russia as Hell, only for the next tale to darken the image even more.
Want to put someone in jail? Change a law behind their back. Want to discredit them? Employ them. Want to commit murder? Make them a partner. Pomerantsev’s Russia is a country so fractured from its past that it can only survive by believing in nothing, and thus proving anything.
From death-cults and belief systems to desperate escapes (one pair of sisters become a Jihadist and a prostitute respectively), Russians seek ways to opt out of a moral maze that requires continual reverses of thought. What can you say about a nation that destroys historic buildings in order to replace them with identical worthless fakes while pocketing the funding? (Answer: celebrate it!)
Most disturbing of all is the way poisoned Russian cash has infiltrated the wealthiest parts of London and New York with the knowing coercion of those in power. Before, I had simply drawn the line at visiting the country because of its rampant state-induced homophobia. Now I would not go there because the sickening way in which its corruption reaches down from the wealthiest vulgarians to the lowliest workers.
The book is clearly based on a series of Jon Ronson-style articles, and none the worse for that. It’s a study of a country undergoing continual nervous breakdowns in a world rendered nonsensical by Kremlin edicts. The old maxim that Russia passed from barbarism to decadence without going through civilisation is far worse; it has casually endorsed corruption as a viable lifestyle choice.