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Sergey Letov

Capitals, Province and Emigration

There was a time when we studied algebras in the Novosibirsk Boarding School of Mathematics and Physics. I remember learning the attributes of transitivity, reflexivity, symmetry… The teacher gave a funny example to explain the anti-symmetry in plain terms: A=>B does not mean that B=>A, and if you replace "=>" by the words "love" or "hate", you will admit the existence of anti-symmetrical relations.

In the end of 40s and beginning of 50s some young scholars of Moscow and Leningrad devised to set up a republic of scientists just like was bethought, but never came true, by European humanists. Despite the "Stalinism and totalitarism" such republic of young scholars appeared in the Siberian Department of the USSR Academy of Sciences in the residential area of Novosibirsk academics. The saturnalia of freedom, which followed, led to protesting against the USSR intrusion into Czechoslovakia in 1968, when the clamor was raised by 14 academic institutions and the Novosibirsk University. But the Kremlin sent troops and the troublemakers were exiled to other cities – Omsk, for example. Then, something very similar occurred to me. I was expelled from the boarding school for misdemeanor, which meant religious propaganda (public reading of "Master and Margaret"), wearing long hair and spread of "bourgeois ideology" (records of Beatles, Shocking Blue, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple). Then I decided to leave the republic of scholars and Siberia and settle down in a less Kafkian place. So the appeal of Chekhov's sisters "To Moscow! To Moscow!" was a pretty slogan for me. It is funny that none of my fellow students in Moscow believed in my stories about expulsion in 1974!

To move to the capital (or the Baltic republics) was the only way to escape the idiotism of provincial chauvinists. Thus, Volodya Sigachev and Yura Shevchuk left Ufa in 1986, and Sasha Bashlachev hurried away from Kirov-Chepetsk to live in Moscow. There in Moscow I made friends with composer Leonid Grabovsky, who was expelled from the Lvov Department of the USSR Union of Composers for being "too avant-gardist".

Sometimes I happen to hear that the country people dislike the Muscovites. Probably, more often we see that the people of Petersburg don't feel tender passions for Muscovites, but this dislike seems to be reasoned. The rivalry of capitals is a usual thing for a majority of countries in the world – Milan and Rome, NY and LA, people of Zurich telling jokes of the people of Bern, etc. Pretty often, this is due to the latent feeling of guilt – the people of Moscow are basically out-migrants, those who were gouged out of the solid rack and left to assert themselves and have a chance to smile at their memories.

What is so irritating about the Muscovites in the view of the backcountry? Impertinence, dash, indelicacy, self-conceit. But there are things that are kept quiet and not spoken of. I mean the opportunities that the Moscow infrastructure is ready to offer, higher incomes, intense cultural life.

When we hear about the dislike that the backcountry feels for the Muscovites, there is a deeper context in it than just "periphery/center" or "rich/poor" oppositions. There is most often an essential difference in the lifestyles and value paradigms. The overwhelming majority of Muscovites, who give concerts, perform on stage, make records – I am speaking of what I myself do – are not aboriginal Muscovites, but the natives of Siberia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, which is little out of the way. Aboriginal Muscovites are in absolute minority among them. 5th – 7th generation Muscovites don't as a rule push forward at all. They live in Gumilev's obscuration being preoccupied by their dachas and family problems and reminisce on the days of boyars. Quite often they can teach you received pronunciation – somewhere in Malakhovka, to which Gilyarevsky was a distinguished visitor, one can still hear the words pronounced correctly. In substance, the enmity of a backwoodsman towards the Muscovites is the enmity to his own active constituent, to the people who don't rest satisfied with kitchen talks and loose projects that never come to life, but do something in the concrete. Nouveau-Muscovite of the late Soviet and post-Soviet era reminds me of Athenians in the time of the Peloponnesian War as described by Phukidid. Some pork butcher or tanner would make no bones about leading a non-professional army of Attic public constables and would overwhelm the task force from Sparta, while the Spartan professional warriors had war running in their blood already in childhood and enjoyed no property rights. Certainly, such active and bull-headed approach (and the results!) frustrated the Spartans, and now frustrates to no lesser degree the people of Petersburg and the backcountry. Even makes them sick sometimes…

I often hear provincial musicians squealing – it's all so easier for you, we're poor, we're unable…

And I am asking – who stands in your light? I can't lay account with the declarations that 85% of all Russia's finance is concentrated in Moscow. This money is not at all for cultural purposes. I mean this exists, but a Moscow musician or actor is in no ways affected by the geographical proximity of the finance. So, we would gladly tour "Moscow-Petushki" to Belgorod, Pskov, Velikiye Luki, Tyumen, Tobolsk and Ishim. For you to know – the Tobolsk theater administration was very unwelcoming towards the Moscow company, hid the key to the makeup room (which was common for everybody), broke the door handles…or, maybe, they simply don't use them at all? "Here they came, the Muscovites with a weird performance, which is dark to plain people, with no costumes and setting. And to make things worse, the costly tickets are sold out! And what we had was a Wonderful Hut, the oldest theater in Siberia, a wooden construction of XVIII century. In the times of perestroika a drunken guard set fire to it, and the Drama Theater is now in the Children's Theater building… And you dare speak of door handles!"

We went to Ishim, to Izrailovka and even toured the performance to such "cultural oases" as Kiryat-Shmona ruined by Lebanese guns, village of Ariel invaded by Arabs, or Bear-Sheva, which is known as a town of beautiful women gunners, who, in fact, did not prevent Chechen bandits from appearing on stage during the performance. This is all better than moaning and drinking vodka.

Rome and Paris suggest an argument in support of the living standard independency on the cultural situation. There is no place in the super-hyper-modern European Paris for a "new-wave" music club. It means that non-pop musicians coming to Paris, just like the locals, have no place to play music. They have to take a train to Mauntereuy, which is like going from Moscow to Noginsk or Elektrostal. There in Mauntereuy they have weekly concerts or something. And there are several clubs of the type in Moscow! "Dom", "o.g.i. project", "Pirogi", "Mukha", "klubnabrestskoi"… Every day Tuvins, Australians, Altains, Japanese, Finns or Aiga, Shilcloper and musicians from Petersburg perform in some place – Kolik Rubanov, Lenya Fedorov, Volkov-Trio… The Eternal City of Rome has no poetry clubs, while according to "Literaturnaya Gazeta" there are 11 (!) such clubs in Moscow. And so on and on… They invest hundred and thousand times more to culture in Italy and France than in Russia, let alone Moscow. So, money is a lame excuse, it's not the point.

For an original musician, moving to the West seems a queer undertaking, just like moving from Moscow or Petersburg to Uryupinsk. Emigration means first of all having no opportunity to do your business professionally (I am not talking now of the classical music performers and orchestras). You have to work "somewhere" (waiter, dish-washer, private tutor, shop assistant, radio equipment tuner or, which is the best option, master of wedding ceremonies – this what some well-known musicians, whose names I omit, actually do), and give concerts in the leisure time, just as a kind of hobby. The most exotic example I can think of is a friend of mine, who lectures on Russian culture in the USA. He garbs himself in a Ukrainian embroidered shirt, demonstrates Cyrillic alphabet printed on a sheet of paper, teaches a NO PROBLEM phrase in Russian (NYET PROBLEM – Russian seems to be so easy!) and plays balalaika (made in Germany) singing "Svetit Mesyats".

One can feel with the Soviet emigrants, but those who leave nowadays doom themselves to not having a chance of doing the labor of love. Some 10 years ago during the "Open Music" festival, where I presented the "Russian-Ukrainian project", saxophonist Vladimir Rezitsky dropped into my makeup room to say that he had been awarded a grant in Berkley, but he'd refused to accept that, since he had no idea of what he could do there… He was awarded alone, not the whole of his band of "Arkhangelsk". What would I do? Play at Jewish weddings like Levinovsky and Gurbelashvili?

I once met a former musician of my band, who now works as a driver in New York. He took me from the airport to the city and asked what the news was. I told him that I had just returned from Italy and France and was going to visit Hong-Kong and Thailand, made a dozen of records in different parts of the world, took part in a concert with a well-known performer (as T.C. Elliott would put it – a better musician than me). I asked him when his last concert had been. He said a year ago.

We are witnessing a reverse process – people are coming back to the native land. Igor Butman came back and is having success with "Le Club"; Vadim Pevzner, a documentary stage director and author of funny songs, performed one of these days in the "o.g.i.", "Chinese Pilot Dzhao Da", "B-2". Viktor Lukin, a mysterious originator of the USSR improvisatory music, returned from the States through Nepal, where we had been staying for 10 years. After all, what is so good about being there? For people of Moscow and Petersburg, this is mere idiotism. For the country people, this is admitting their dependence. You come along, get an allowance and dust everybody's eyes. In substance, this means to retire on pension or invalidity… Non-validity…To me it seems undignified. You may come to Moscow, Petersburg or Ekaterinburg and try your hand at something! In Moscow there are at least a million people who do not have any warranties from anybody. These people are the background, which is so irritating for the backcountry. This irritation and dislike to the jackanapes, to the people who don't want to wait for the smiles of fortune, instructions and care from the higher-ups. This is a gregarious feeling of hatred to those who show up from the rack, those who are not like the rest.

And certainly, this is simple envy. 60% of all Russian Internet users are concentrated in Moscow. The prices for computers in Moscow are lower than in South Korea and Hong Kong. New bookshops pop up every day. The traditional standard of education remains rather high. To see that, you should only visit a radio market in Mitino or a computer market like Savelovsky. "So smart you are! Used to play three-d games, now clear up the piles of shit!", an old man would say to a recruit soldier.

Why do some people dislike others? Because they are left behind. A backwoodsman is frustrated, because in a Muscovite he sees who he himself could become, but never became. It's funny, that the image of a modern Muscovite is encountered in modern literature in the form of a "yaroslavets"?))).

So what is it about Petersburg? Why does it dislike Moscow? Everybody likes Petersburg, especially Muscovites. I have never met a person on earth who wouldn't like Petersburg. Leningrad used to play an important part in the unofficial cultural life of the USSR as well as the Baltic republics. They were conductors of "western winds". After 1991, these winds reached Russia and Moscow directly, and Petersburg was no longer "an exclusive exporter". And there was a collapse. It all suddenly disappeared and crashed. Almost all Petersburg rock-musicians spend most of their time in Moscow. Besides, they are paid more than, say, in Germany. Why should you apply to the marginal beggar Russian Diaspora in Berlin, if you may give a show in Gorbushka and be paid several times more? Muscovites adore Petersburg rock, they always did. In general, Muscovites love everything new and interesting, the origin and geography of which are of no importance. If one was born in Kazakhstan, studied in Omsk and in Novosibirsk, got married in Crimea, made a first record in Leningrad and is now living in Moscow, this dogfight between Moscow and Petersburg seems really absurd.

Now let's go back to the emigrants. In fact, emigration is just a backcountry deficient of patriotism, roots and propriety of residence. The people, who didn't come in handy in their own country, gave up everything as lost and went abroad to have bread and butter. They didn't see a lot of things outside their native Zhmerinki, Kherson or Berdichev. And the thing is they wouldn't have a lot of chances outside their new designated area of residence. They would stoically rub along by changing low-status jobs and pant for communication. If they have access to Internet, they would visit Russian sites and forums, write to mail-lists etc. They don't have a lot of contact with the locals, since the Russian emigrants don't like speaking a foreign language. I mean they can perfectly master languages, but speaking them is somehow displeasing, humiliating and inconvenient. This means adopting new cultural skills, but this is difficult and takes so much effort. Russians don't want to make efforts.

They emigrated not to make efforts.

It is worth mentioning that Russian emigrants are very different from other national minorities. For instance, New York has Little Italy, where people, not, though, all of them, but still, speak Italian; Little Ukraine with the Nedilya cafe and Kiev; Harlem; Chinese Channel street and perfectly Chinese Eastern Broadway; Brighton Beach, after all. But when I asked where Little Russia was, they said that Russia cannot be little. In principle. Russians live everywhere, including at maximum distances from each other. Just like in Voznesensky's "Yunona and Avos":

We are little in number,
We are very little in number,
But it's good
That we are apart!

This is not the mentality of a national minority, but of a more global and universal community that seems to have the right. That is why Russians often don't give a damn for the laws and regulations of the place they came to due to some reason, especially if they came for good.

When the Chechens are all for one, the Russians are like in a song:

If you suddenly go down,
I wouldn't save you –
I would make you drown,
I would make you drown,
I would make you drown.

(DK, Sergei Zharikov)

And for a majority of western "pro-American" cultures, "Russian" is practically synonymous to "enemy", "bandit", "mafia". Remember only "Lermontov, KGB official" from a James Bond film! Italy seems to be an exception, they seem to like us more than others. In fact, now that the migration is made simple, and we will soon be able to travel without visas, the countries and localities of the Russian Diaspora, such as Berlin, (and the whole of Germany), Israel, USA and Australia, would gradually become Russian backcountry, just like post-Soviet Crimea, Byelorussia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Estonia. And Moscow will turn into the World Capital.

November, 2003.

Published on November 4th, 2003 Sergey Letov Analytics at Special Radio

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