August 11, 2023

People on a shift

Photo by Ilya Varlamov An interesting consequence of the formula ‘Russians don’t like living in Russia’ is that people in general in Russia live as if they were on a shift. After all, there is such a form of work, by the way, quite popular in the Russian Federation – ‘shift work’: people get hired to some distant, most often northern region for, say, several months, they live there in so-called ‘camps’, in terrible conditions they do what they’re supposed to – some really hard work – and they know that after a certain period of time all that will end, and they will return to their home and forget the ‘camps’ like a nightmare. In the old days, among Russian peasants, this was also called ‘otkhodnichestvo’ (stepping away).

So, according to numerous reviews, all these ‘camps’ almost always suffer from some kind of discomfort, facelessness. Because no one puts their soul into them. Everything is typical there, a minimum of amenities, a minimum of some frills. What for? After all, everything there is temporary, no one is going to stay there for a long time, on the contrary, everyone is counting the days, how much they have left to break out of the ‘dead place’. Accordingly, the attitude of the ‘shift workers’ to their villages is purely consumerist: there is some kind of roof over their heads, the most primitive services and entertainment – well, thank God. Ugly, uncomfortable – they don’t care, a couple of months (or years) one can endure, even if gritting one’s teeth. It is assumed that each of the inhabitants there somewhere has a real Home, a truly native place, where all their friends, relatives and acquaintances live, “where we must certainly return with you one day, return one day” (as the old, still Soviet song of the spiritual ensemble Orer went).

However, let’s imagine a whole nation that lives where it doesn’t like it – it doesn’t like it at a deep, internal level. In this case, after all, it turns out that ALL of it lives, as it were, ‘on a shift’! Like – yes, we, of course, are still here, there is nowhere to go – the ‘shift’ must be worked; but THEN we, of course, will leave this place! Or (pause) our children will for sure!

It is enough to look at the vast majority of Russian cities (photographs of this kind, taken literally throughout the Russian Federation – “how miserable, unkempt and scary our cities are” – by photographer Varlamov achieved immense popularity in his time on LiveJournal). Varlamov’s photos evoked such a stormy and contradictory response, since he showed as clearly as possible: almost all of our cities are the same shift camps, with the exception of Moscow and St. Petersburg (and even then St. Petersburg – mainly because of the imperial heritage it inherited).

The paradox of the situation is that it is not clear – where, in fact, our Russian people are going to “one day return”? It’s, like, supposed to ALREADY be home?!

The ‘where’, in fact, is easy to calculate, both from surveys and from literature. The common, as if a blueprint, dream of all Russian people is ‘a house by the sea’. And – certainly a WARM sea! Here is another paradox of our troubled people. In fact – why such a craving for the sea in a purely land bound, one might even say – the MOST land bound, people in the world? After all, the Russian Federation has the largest land area!

And yet: a house by the sea – and that’s it. The irrationally powerful desire to ‘return the Crimea’ is clearly rooted in this craving.

Such a dream is not harmless at all. On the one hand, this is somehow even good, it gives that very ‘worldwide Russian responsiveness’ praised by Dostoevsky. People who do not like it in their country are all the time looking ‘beyond’ and ‘abroad’, they fall in love with England, then France, then America, sympathise with opressed Negroes and Indians, fight for freedom in Africa or all strive for ‘land to be given to the peasants in Grenada’. A Russian person is precisely that Chekhovian ideal of a person who needs ‘The whole globe!’ (instead of their ‘native’ two square metres of earth for their grave). But the motivation is not entirely healthy – this ideal does not need the world so much as to escape from Russia.

And on the other hand, it is precisely from here that the ‘beyondness’ of the Russian people, marked by the mass of researchers and writers, our famous filth and devastation in everything, comes from. And also – the no less famous slack, the ‘that’ll do’ attitude. I remember my youthful impression of village fences in a northern village somewhere in the Tyumen region. The fences wriggled in the most bizarre way and in some places almost lay on the ground, and did not fall completely only because they were supported by stakes of various sizes, also clearly selected according to the principle ‘whatever came to hand’.

It would seem – well, if the fence is already ‘tired’ to such an extent and almost lies on the ground – maybe it needs to be somehow ‘done with’? Refitted again? Updated? A new one made? But no. What for? They propped it up with a stick they picked up somewhere – well, it stands somehow, it doesn’t fall. Then they propped it up again, and again... The spectacle is more and more surreal – but the Russian people, as a rule, are indifferent to empty aestheticism. Is it still worth it? Well, okay, it’ll do.

Russian people unanimously and as if harmoniously do not bother about the places where they and their children live – why bother? Precisely because they perceive everything around them as ‘temporary’, and themselves as ‘shift workers’. Why bother – WE WILL NOT LIVE HERE.

And this attitude is not hindered by facts like those that generations live like this, one replaces another, and everyone remains in the same ‘temporary’ place... It is NOT ACCEPTABLE to speak out loud the fact that ‘my children will also live here’. It’s like talking about a rope in a hanged man’s house. Everyone, of course, admits and even knows that ‘most likely, yes’ – that’s how it is, their children will stay and grow old here, in a provincial or regional centre – but it’s cruel to say so, it’s like talking about a future illness. ‘Staying there’ is a sign of failure in life for a Russian person! Therefore, it’s better to believe in ‘moving to the sea’.

And, in particular, THAT is why the Russian people in the mass are so indifferent to their local elections. And elections in general (80-90% of the population never consistently go to local elections in Russia). The reason is the same, irrational – ‘why bother?’ What difference does it make who the MPs are or how candidates for mayor or governor differ from each other? What is the use of understanding their ‘programs’? Neither the job seekers or the voters give a damn about the ‘programs’. The reason is the same – people are little interested in their shift camp. They are not going to stay HERE, and certainly do not want such a fate for their children.

You ask – what about Moscow? There is Moscow, where cyclopean funds are being poured, even by world capital standards; hasn’t Moscow really gotten prettier under Sobyanin? Here is an example of a city that ‘you don’t want to leave’?!

In fact, Moscow, no matter how many more tens of billions of roubles and hundreds more metro stations Sobyanin lays in it, is under exactly the same curse. It is easy to see that the non-Russian ‘reindeer breeder’ Sobyanin is equipping Moscow to the best of his understanding and in full accordance with world trends... as his own estate. The huge budgets of Moscow are the same sort of landlord whim as is the ‘underfunding of everything’ in other Russian cities, that all together spend less on their improvement than the capital of the Russian Federation alone. The common thing here is that everything happens despite the residents of the cities themselves, who in the mass remain completely indifferent to both the devastation and the ‘Moscow prosperity’.

In some ways, I even want to feel sorry for Sobyanin: he is turning Moscow into ‘the best capital of Europe’ (and even the world!) – not realising that all this is monkey work. No matter how hard he tries, Moscow for Russians still remains a transit city, a ‘springboard to a better world’ – but not the end point. The curse of Russia – its climate and its geographical features – does not compensate – from the point of view of the Russian people – any investment. Russian people don’t like Russia, Muscovites don’t like Moscow. Yes, thousands of provincials from all over the CIS are rushing to Moscow in any way they can – but this does not prevent it from remaining a shift city. A temporary shelter.

Because of the accursed ‘temporality’, democracy does not work in Russia – it did not work even when it was still there. There is no serious attitude to elections.

Because of the same attitude of ‘shift workers’ in Russia, there is no economy in Russia and, most likely, no economy is possible there. ‘Find something to take out, sell for foreign currency and go to a house by the sea’ – that was and is the motto of two classes at once, both the entrepreneurs and the state officials. It makes no sense to do something in Russia for a LONG TIME. The reason is ‘it’s bad here, we don’t like it here’.

And the point here, apparently, is not at all that ‘the pernicious West and Hollywood gays have taught us bad things’. The roots are deeper, much deeper. Bad climate, low-yielding land, little sun, little sun, no roads, cold, mud... It’s strange that people haven’t gotten used to it in a thousand years.

And, as I have said many times, the roots of the SMO are also in this. Why do people, like lemmings, keep going to die in the Ukrainian black soil? – They don’t like living in Russia. What has to be done so they start liking it? Fuck knows.

Slightly edited machine translation.