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.





11 comments on “One Place I May Never Get To Visit”

  1. Steve says:

    Hi Chris

    People in the UK think ‘why would they’ attack us, for example, but the Russians don’t think like that, they see an opportjnity and think, not ‘why’ but ‘why not.’ If a few thousand or even hundred thousand people have to die, again just for example, this is not for the Russians a problem.

    The Bulgarians know the Russians and worry about them.

    This doddering old fool Corbyn is exactly the type of idiot the Russians love.

    Russia is all weaponed up, not far to the east, and the Americans care less and less about Europe.

  2. John Griffin says:

    Your opinion.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Since I’m not likely to visit Russia either in spite of trying to learn some Russian via an American telecast at 6:30 in the morning when I was 14 I’m collecting impressions and descriptions from those who have. This is one version I’ve heard before (and Mr. Putin doesn’t impress me, either.)

  4. Vivienne says:

    Russia has never seemed to want to extend its borders west of Eastern Europe. The threat to us I feel was all US propaganda. My father used to take the Soviet Weekly and also a magazine sent directly from Russia during the 50s and 60s and I felt quite warmly towards the country. After Stalin managed to fight off invasions from about 24 other countries following their revolution, he did at least manage to bring the tsarist//serfdom country into the 20th century-( I know his record is far from wonderful) they became a world power and were on our side in the war. Why they were not helped subsequently to become a proper democracy is all to do with the West’s terror of socialism. Now it’s back to a tsarist type state with Putin unassailable-maybe we should have helped Gorbachev more.

  5. admin says:

    Update: A Russian journalist was found shot dead at his apartment in Kiev yesterday, the latest in a series of reporters’ deaths in the Ukrainian capital. The body of Alexander Shchetinin, 54, was discovered by friends who had arrived at his home to celebrate his birthday. He died on his balcony from a single gunshot wound to the head, according to a preliminary police report that labelled the death a suicide.
    Mr Shchetinin had worked for RIA, the Russian news agency, until he resigned in 2014 complaining about interference from the Kremlin with the editorial line. After his departure he grew increasingly critical of President Putin, describing him as a “fascist dictator” and his “personal enemy”.
    His death follows the murder of Pavel Sheremet, another Putin critic, who was killed by a car bomb in Kiev last month. A week before the bomb attack Maria Rydvan, editor of Forbes Ukraine, was stabbed three times in a park but survived.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    This is the sort of thing that destroys any faith foreigners might have in the Russian regime. It seems to take a long time before governments learn that journalists can be their greatest supporters.
    “A single shot to the head.” Have they determined the trajectory? Was the gun there with him? Was there a note? All questions to which we would insist on answers.

  7. Vivienne says:

    Just another assassination with no comeback. Journalists can’t be the friends of corrupt murderers.

  8. Peter Dixon says:

    Pedantic point; it isn’t Russia that ‘moved from barbarism to decadence’, its America in the original quote.

    Russia seems to have absorbed all of the worst excesses of the West while happily treading all over human rights. The Peristroika of Gorbachev was rapidly twisted by Putin who seems to operate like the shape-changing Terminator.

    The fact that Russia can get away with murder (literally) whilst leaving a trail of radioactive Polonium all over London is beyond astonishing; think of the furore if it had been the CIA killing an American.

    Then think about how much Russian money is slopping around London thanks to oligarchs who make Sir Phillip Green look like a shoplifter in Poundland.

    Oh, to get back to literature always remember Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels – exceptional!

  9. snowy says:

    One always has to be very careful with pedantry, much as trying to hammer a squash ball into a toaster; it can rebound spectacularly. [As I have repeatedly learned to my great cost. Still ‘Petards ‘R Us’ do a bulk discount and the points from the loyalty card are helping to soften my discomfort.]

    In Volume 6 of his ‘Histoire des Progrès de la Civilisation en Europe’, from 1841. Hippolyte Roux-Ferrand, ascribes the following to Peter the Great.

    ”… il fit passer son pays sans transition de la barbarie à la décadence, de l’enfance à la caducité.”

    The expression as we now recall it only seems to become fully formed in the 1930s. it even ended up in a poem by Ogden Nash, [with a little poetic tweak to fit the rhyme] .

    ”Once there was one of those witty Frenchmen whose name I cannot for the moment recall,

    Who wittily remarked that America is the only country in history that has passed directly from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization at all,

    A remark which is wittily repeated with enthusiasm frantic

    In the lands on the other side of the Atlantic,

    And is, I suppose, more or less true,

    Depending on the point of view.”

    [Even gently teasing those of a slightly sensitive disposition about being sensitive can provoke a reaction much larger than one had expected.

    Hello, Shay! We are nice really, if a little rumbustious.]

  10. Peter Dixon says:

    Oh crikey Snowy! I’ve got both Georges Clemenceu and Oscar Wilde in my quote books, so Clemenceau was probably the ‘witty Frenchman’ who the excellent Ogden Nash couldn’t recall, and Wilde probably used it because he thought most Englishmen couldn’t read French.

    Also recall Ghandi being asked what he thought about Western civilisation; ‘It sounds like a good idea’ was his reply.

  11. Jan says:

    That mousey little man had previously been a top level KGB man

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