Kaikki kirjoittajan Marko Nenonen artikkelit

Правда – The Truth

Правда – если у вас нет доступа к независимым СМИ, независимым телеканалам и нет права использовать разные источники для получения информации, то да, без всего этого вы ничего не знаете. Ничего.

The truth: If you don’t have access to independent media, independent TV-channels and the right to use different sources for obtaining information, yes, without all this you know nothing. Nothing.

A Piece of News: The Russian Censorship in Finland

This is a piece of news: Gas station company TEBOIL in Finland, owned by Russian LUKOIL, asked Finnish newspaper Kaleva not to use the word “war” in one of their article (behind the paywall) concerning oil companies. That’s a serious mistake and shows that people in Teboil/Lukoil understand nothing about the free media, human rights and democracy in the west.

It will certainly backfire badly to the TEBOIL in Finland – a company that has seen me, too, among their customers many-many times.

War in Europe – How Do Revolutions Begin

World politics is not only diplomacy or warfare; it is more the silent agency of soft power and sweet power that appeal to individuals everywhere.

Russia is lacking all this soft power – no other nation wants to follow Russian model of governance and politics. Even most of the former Soviet republics chose the European Union or even NATO as soon as they had freedom to make their choice.

A simple question: why did they want to join western democracies, not to Russia?

By starting a full-scale war in Ukraine President V. Putin has lost an opportunity to gain any respect in the western world ever. He will never be a trusted partner for any constructive policies and projects of cooperation. Mr. Putin destroyed Russia’s position in the world.

Indeed, Mr. Putin has ruined Russia’s status at the world arenas for decades.

Most likely V. Putin underestimated the western powers and even more Volodymyr Zelensky. The western world is unwilling to wage a war. Therefore, they did not act militarily. Putin knew that. Yet the western powers have other weapons. It is the economy. They act in a way that increases further the welfare gap between western democracies and everyday life in Russia.

Eventually, this gap will seriously shake the Russian political establishment.

Now it is very difficult to see how all this could be settled and a new optimistic start found. Yet it is something we, the people, are destined to pursue.

At worst, a positive turn in the relations between Russia and the western democracies will not take place until the Putin era has passed. It may not happen soon.

**

I am historian, not a fortune-teller. Yet as a historian it came to my mind that after the Japanese war 1904–1905 it was not the socialist leaders and revolutionaries who stirred up the people to revolt. In St. Petersburg there was one cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church, Father Georgy Apollonovitch Gabon, who was a key organizer of the demonstration.

It was this peaceful protest to which the tsar responded bloodily but which, however, opened the path to the final collapse of the whole Russian empire.

We never know what will ignite the revolt. Restricting political rights, destroying free media, and an oppression of opposition with other ugly means of dictatorial powers, can postpone the moment of change. Yet in history, the change has always come.

Karl Marx said that sometimes in history nothing seems to change for twenty years. Then comes a day when more happens than in the preceding quiet decades.

**

My Russian Diary has been on the sidetrack in my mind since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The blog was aimed to cover general topics like traveling, meetings with the people, history, and culture, written with some positive optimism and understanding.

Then came the war 2014 and occupation, a huge disappointment for me, as it cemented the aggressive, disgusting course Russian political leaders had taken. Up until to that day I hoped that Russia will strengthen the democratic course and would develop an open civic society.

I thought, naively, that the deal, achieved in 1994 between Russia, the USA and the United Kingdom (Britain), could secure Ukraine’s sovereignty as it was agreed. By the way, it was also this deal in 1994 when Ukrainians gave away their nuclear arsenal.

They were promised by the signatories of the agreement to be free and independent.

**

Our world has huge problems, climate change, poverty and pandemics among the most difficult. Even for Russia, Ukraine is surely not the worst problem. Western powers did not threatened Russia, they did not have plans to attack Russia.

Furthermore, people in the western world would not accept that kind of moves.

However, nations – especially small nations – will seek to secure their independence, Finland among them.

V. Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine was a colossal mistake.

**

I liked the time when living in Russia, I liked traveling there, I like the people, and I still have good friends in Russia.

Because of the pandemic I have not seen them for a while. Now it seems that the war prolongs this pause of meeting schedule, as it is not clear if and when one can travel to Russia. Moscow was one of my favourite city.

But, yes, questions arise: How many disappointments one can stand? Why is it so difficult in Russia to create – or even tolerate! – a democratic, liberal society, a civic society?

I’m sorry for all the innocent people, especially in Ukraine but also in Russia, where many will suffer because of the war.

At this moment, indeed, it is very difficult to see how the conflict could be settled and a new optimistic start found. And yet it is something we, the people, are destined to pursue.

When Russia gained a window of opportunity – what was said 10 years ago

Russia has been considered a badly led and barbaric nation. The main reason for these suspicions, however, is the country’s recent development, which strengthens old preconceptions.

A note: I wrote this article about Russia’s relations with the western world, especially Finland, ten years ago, i.e. the year when Dmitry Medvedev was elected President of Russia. The article was published in the Finnish Aamulehti newspaper on 30 June 2008.

It is said that history weighs down on relations between Finland and of Russia. However, Sweden, which Finland was part of for centuries, fought more wars against Denmark than Russia. Sweden even started 15 out of the 26 wars which it was part of from 1554 to 1808.

Best remembered by the Finns are the two wars which Russia and its successor state, the Soviet Union, last started: the Finnish War (1808-1809) and the Winter War.

Finland became part of Russia in 1809. It is ironic that Russia was not attempting to conquer Finland. The war began when Russia upheld a promise to France’s dictator Napoleon that they would try to force Sweden to join the embargo against England. When diplomatic arm-twisting did not help, Russia attacked.

During the Winter- and Continuation War Finns were afraid for their independence. Finnish independence continued, but under fear of a new attack Finland let the Soviet Union influence its affairs in a way that later became a source of shame.

It is rarely remembered that Russia affected Swedish politics in the same way in the 1700s, when Russia occupied Finland twice. Russia even chose its preferred candidate Adolf Frederik (1751—1771) as the king of Sweden.

Memories of the occupations were strengthened by periods of Russification starting in the late 1800s. They were followed by the civil war between the Reds and the Whites in 1918. The Whites interpreted the civil war as a battle for independence, even though Russian involvement in sparking the war was small. A majority of Reds were certainly in favor of an independent Finland.

The Winter War strengthened the Whites’ interpretation of the Civil War. Finland was on its toes for a long time afterwards. In the 1940s, rumors spread about a coup which would be done with Soviet support. There is no undisputed evidence of such an attempt. It does not mean that the Soviet Union would not have wanted a revolution in Finland.

The Soviet Union did not, however, seem to begin organizing such a coup, though it supported the minority of Finnish communist who had leanings towards Moscow. When the country invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, Finns knew what to think.

Preconceptions towards Russia are old in many countries. Still they are no stronger/stranger than suspicions against any other foreign cultures. Foreignness causes fear, and therefore strangers are often thought of as dirty and thieving.

When the English scientist Edward Clarke travelled from Finland to Russia near the end of the 1700s, he believed he had crossed the border of the thieves’ paradise. But what he saw in St. Petersburg surpassed in grandeur anything he had seen elsewhere. ”Nothing mediocre or menial bothered the eye; everything was grand and magnificent”, he wrote in his diary.

Preconceptions rarely have a basis in fact. Serfdom was ended in Russia (1861) before slavery in the United States (1863).

Russia has many things – such as Russian literature and hospitality – that Finns will always appreciate. It is also important that Finno-Ugric people live in parts of Russia.

Russia has been considered a badly led and barbaric nation. Considering that, it is strange that it has grown stronger almost continuously for over 500 years up until the fall of the Soviet Union. The turmoil of the early 1600s and 1900s represented just a temporary break in invasions. Therefore, some amount of patience in pitying our eastern neighbor is in place.

Surprisingly new problems in relations between Russia and western countries appeared soon after the Soviet Union’s fall in the 1990s. Though it was known that poverty and backwardness were extensive problems, expectations were high in regard to political and democratic development. Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin brought hope of change, much like Nikita Khrushchev in his time after Joseph Stalin.

Disappointment in western countries is enormous. Small steps towards democracy were soon reeled back. Reporters are not safe, critics are not safe and the independence of media is not recognized. The justice system is as arbitrary as before, and a majority of people appear to be condemned to eternal poverty.

Images of Russia are not imposed by history. The largest reason for malicious suspicions at this moment is the country’s recent development. It has strengthened exactly those preconceptions that history has left the country.

Russia’s path is most of all a question about values. The lack of democracy does not yet hinder economic growth. The country chooses its partners by comparing bids from Europe and the United States as well as Japan and China.

The Russian middle class also prefers economic and political freedom more often than others, meaning that increases in prosperity can support democracy. The cities’ middle class is still too small to decide the direction of politics in elections. Most of the country’s inhabitants do not see value in letting the media criticize their beloved leaders.

Russia is in danger of being isolated from Europe because of its social model. The Baltic countries and Poland are both suspicious. Even Ukrainians, Georgians and Moldovans are looking towards the west. If arbitrary political rule and both state and anti-state terrorism is the way of the country, neighbors will think to question their own security.

Russia is responsible for these preconceptions. Post-Soviet Russia has lost its window of opportunity to appeal to western countries and especially their younger generations. Through President Dmitry Medvedev the country gets a new opportunity.

Medvedev is not only young for a head of state in Russia but also more European than any Soviet or Russian leader before him. Probably even Medvedev will come to show off his country’s power and nationalism. This is not always wrong or a hindrance, since nations have a right to engage in such displays.

More important is that in addition to bluster Medvedev can also finally change preconceptions that could have been buried with the fall of the Soviet Union.

But all this was written in the time when there was a new window of opportunity. This my article was published in the Finnish newspaper AAMULEHTI 30 June 2008 – indeed, it was ten years ago.

Four days trip to UFA Science Festival

What a person from western Europe might think about Ufa, a city of two hours flight east of Moscow. It is a few hundred kilometres from the Ural mountains’ southern end.

The City centre is, actually, beautiful, with many lovely parks, also on the hills (at the centre) with nice views. Well, they said much was done before the BRICS Conference last summer.

Parks were even poetically beautiful. The city is also clean, even the toilets in the restaurants were clean. Of course, I visited only four restaurants for lunches and dinners at the city centre.

It also surprised me that the food was good (and nice portions), much better than what is usually met in many places in Russian cities and countryside.

It also so happened that the weather was, surprisingly this time of the year, really warm, mostly more than +20 or something. Even evenings were warm.

Autumn leaves on the street, yet a day like in hot summer weather …

People were really nice (also in a very literal meaning of the word) and they were friendly.

(In all, according to my experience people are frendlier in Russia than most westeners think. I noticed from the western media that in one rating covering many countries Moscow people was rated no 1 as a the most impolite and unfriendly city people. I don’t believe it. I think, this time politics has a say in this poll. However, one should not judge individuals because of their government or president.)

Hotel Atola was very comfortable, with nice and friendly reseption staff. Beautiful rooms. The breakfast was hmm quite plain, typical Russian hotel breakfast without niceties, not much fresh, salads or anything of the kind. Yet pirogis (quiches, pies, etc.) and Cappuccino were good.

In the evening this hotel restaurant turned out to be an excellent dinner restaurant, also with good service. I had two starters (green salad, fresh, good taste + aubergine rolls stuffed with something I can’t describe – but excellent, really good!), main course (whole quail, roasted, good + tasty (!) potato wedges) and a dessert (chokolate fondue) with tea (Japanese sencha with a taste of “strawberry with cream”, as it was put in the menu slightly confusingly). The red wine from Armenia, Arame (grand reserva, 2009), was a good wine, close to many full-bodied reds known and liked in western Europe. It was new for me, and I was surprised of it’s slightly mystical softness. A beauty, actually.

I really enjoyed my stay in Ufa.

Possibly I should try the next challenge: Ufa in the winter frost. I was told that it can easily be more than -40 (Celsius), even -50 and the record is -55 of something …

 

Glorious Misadventure – Юнона и Авось в Москве

Once upon a time, Russia came close to conquering North America

At the beginning of the 19th century, Russians had a colony about an hour’s drive away from present-day San Francisco in the US. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Russia became a superpower of the northern Pacific Ocean when it conquered the Ural regions, followed by conquering Siberia. In the 18th century, Russia founded colonies beyond the sea in North America and for a while it governed Hawaii as well.

Russia sold its land in North America to the United States in 1867. But this was only a coincidental twist in a series of events that might just as well have led to the majority of North America still being part of Russia today.

According to Owen Matthews’ book Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America (2013) Russia came close to succeeding in its attempted conquest. The problems that eventually ruined Russia’s attempted conquest of America were disconcertingly similar to the problems that are today considered to be the obstacles to Russia’s development.

The biggest setback was when Russia’s trading company in America, which was governing its colonies, fell into disfavour with the Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. The trading company included many rebels and liberal young noblemen who wanted to reform Russia. The Tzar considered them guilty of the rebellion against him in 1825.

Matthews’ book tells the tragic story of the world conqueror and visionary, Russian nobleman Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov. Rezanov, originally a Tatar, served as the trusted man of three tsars. It is known that some Finns were also involved in the trading company and in Alaska.

The conquest of Siberia and the northern Pacific Ocean was motivated by the tempting possibilities of the global fur trade. In China’s Canton, the most valuable fur pelts cost more than a seaman’s annual pay. The penises of certain animals were also worth a good price per kilogram. They were eaten to gain sexual prowess.

The trade was organised by the state in a very poor, even detrimental, manner. Noblemen were prohibited from trading. The conquerors of the Ural regions, Siberia and Alaska were adventurers who had made their own fortune. They were the oligarchs of their times, and there were a large number of crooks and criminals among them. The law did not protect the local population.

The mightiest man in the east was the King of Siberia, Grigory Ivanovich Shelekhov. He created the foundation for Russia’s trading company in America. His wife (and later widow) Natalia Shelekhova was just as energetic as her husband and managed all kinds of business matters on her own.

Nikolay Petrovich became Shelekhov’s partner. Later on he married Shelekhov’s daughter Anna Grigoriyevna. Rezanov was the person who used his networks to arrange the necessary support from the Court of the Tsar in Saint Petersburg.

Even though the Russians tried to benefit from the long-distance trade of North America and Asia just like many other countries, they failed. Russia lacked a financial system that was capable of supporting large-scale long-term efforts. Merchants were not capable of assembling large enough fleets, and they did not have the ability to maintain extensive operations for years on end.

Even maintenance deliveries could not be afforded. Rezanov lamented over the fact that the colonies were dependent on deliveries from foreign states. He had few ships of his own and even those were in poor condition and managed by a crew that was often drunk.

A third problem was the arbitrary nature of the politics. Unlike in Britain, people with great wealth and the noblemen in Russia were dependent on being in favour with the ruler. When the ruler changed, the favour and privileges had to be bought again. No one had permanent protection for his position provided by law.

Russia’s tale in America ended on an unflattering note. When Russia’s flag was lowered with festive ceremonies in New Archangel – the present-day Sitka in Alaska – the flag got tangled around the pole and it could not be lowered. Only the third man who climbed up to the top of the pole was finally able to tug the flag down, according to a Finnish blacksmith, Toomas Ahllund, who watched the ceremony.

This small detail gains special symbolic significance in Russia’s history. We are unlikely to witness any other flag-lowerings in the foreseeable future. The dispute over the Kurile Islands with Japan still continues. The dispute over the island of Sakhalin also began during the time of the trading company. Rezanov waged a war of his own in the area.

Owen Matthews has written a wonderful story of Nikolay Rezanov and his larger-than-life dreams. During his life, Rezanov lived in the glory of the Court of Saint Petersburg, in the wilderness of Siberia and on the seas of the world. Sometimes he ate from silver plates and drank from golden jugs, and sometimes he went hungry and suffered from the cold. All his dreams came crashing down in the end.

In Russia, the greatness of individuals is seen in how they wrestle with their fate – or the system. It is curious that a rock opera was made about this chamberlain of the Tsar during the Soviet Union. The text was written by the poet Andrei Voznesenski, a student of Boris Pasternak. The show was produced and directed by Mark Zaharov. He was granted the honorary title of People’s Artist of the USSR just before the Soviet Union collapsed.

A rock opera in the Soviet Union – a story about Nikolay Rezanov, the Tsar’s man

Russia is an extremely diverse and contradictory country. The rock opera Junona and Avos (Юнона и Авось) is one example of this. The opera was first performed in 1981, which is before Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberal politics, perestroika and glasnost.

The opera is still shown to full audiences in Moscow. It was broadcast on television in 1983, and it has done tours of many countries. This rock opera, which was apparently the first great rock opera in the Soviet Union, became a cultural symbol for the country’s reformation policy.

Junona and Avos was fitting for a time when the Cold War was loosening its grip and the threat of a nuclear war was slowly receding. It was an opportunity to tell a story about the love between a Russian nobleman and the Tsar’s favourite, Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov, and the daughter of the commander of San Francisco’s Spanish fortress, Conchita Arguello. Love surpassed nationalities, religions and politics. Rezanov was not even close to the ideal of the Hero of Socialist Labour.

The opera’s story is true in its general outlines. The opera’s name is derived from two ships. The word avos (авось) is also used to refer to the playful interaction between a person’s hopes and fate.

One of Russia’s strong qualities is combining different styles in imaginative ways, as they are in Junona and Avos. The symbols of the era of the tsars and the rock opera methods of telling a story are mixed with religious and political imagery, and of course with the joy of love.

For some reason, the censorship allowed a show like this to be presented. Even the creators were surprised as all the eleven other rock operas by the composer Aleksei Rybnikov had been prohibited right from the start.

It is difficult for an outsider to understand where the line between serious drama and parody is drawn. An ultramodern style is intertwined with grand pathos and silly playfulness without any deeper meaning. The symbolism follows the long traditions of Russian soul and culture. The opera also sings hallelujah to love.

But Rezanov’s love did not last. His wife, Anna Grigoriyevna, whom he so deeply loved, passed away in childbirth after seven years of marriage. Another loved one, Conchita, was  left on the other side of the globe. Rezanov died a tired and unhappy man on his way home from San Francisco to St. Petersburg in 1807 in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.

He did not have to see his life’s work and honour destroyed, even though he was already on his way to ruin.

Conchita learned about her groom’s death the following year when a ship’s passenger told her about it. Conchita never married and wanted to remain faithful to Nikolay Petrovich’s memory. In older age, Conchita withdrew into a convent and told her story to a sister in faith.

“I will never forget you – I will never see you again”, goes the opera’s sophisticated pop tune. It has been popular in Russia, just as it was in the Soviet Union.

But this opera is not about nostalgia for the Soviet Union. The show is about genuine nostalgia for the Russian way of life. This is how it was understood even during the Soviet Union era.

***

Junona and Avos (Юнона и Авось) was shown at the Helsinki Hall of Culture on April 25, 2014. (Comp. Aleksei Rybnikov. Text Andrei Voznesenski. Directed by Aleksandr Ryhlov. Choreography by Žanna Šmakova. Aleksei Rybnikov Theater Company, Moscow.) But the show was only a pale imitation of what it is in Moscow at the Lenkom Theatre and Theatre Estrady.

(Translated from Finnish by Elina Sellgren.)

The Great Illusion

A distinguished British political commentator Norman Angell wrote in his ”The Great Illusion” that European states had become so interdependent and so much part of the international trade and commerce that no one would be fool enough as a leader in Europe to start a new war.

He wrote this in 1910 (!), four years before World War I.

”Angell tremendously underestimated the irrationalities and social processes that lead to devastating  outcomes, even when they make no sense.”

That is what Jeffrey Sachs, one of the most famous economist in the world, wrote about Angell’s thinking – in 2005. (J. D. Sachs, The End of Poverty. How We Can Make It Happen in Our Lifetime.)

A Shop for Diplomats and “Selected Citizens” – Back to the USSR

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has a plan to establish an exclusive shop for foreign diplomats and “selected citizens”, i.e. for the members of Russian élite (news from gazeta.ru 10.2. and moscowtimes.com 11.2.2015). Only foreign currency can be used in this shop, to be located in Moscow city centre.

According the the news, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made an official proposal for establishing a new tax free “Beryozka”. The shop will be run by private business men. The government will decide the matter.

Fine. But what do ordinary people think about these kind of plans to secure that the priviledged stay priviledged instead of creating better life for all?

«Такая богатая страна и такие бедные люди.»

If the ordinary people are having it worse and worse and the niceties of life run further and further away, how you should judge the political leadership? Is it enough to praise the warlords? Or is it really believable to blame Americans for all …?

Indeed, now when you can’t get Parmesan for the pasta and when many other goods of modern international cuisine is missing, a new shop, of course, helps those who are invited and cabable to do shopping in the new “Beryozka”.

For me, though, it looks like the shape of things to come – a step back into the queues from the stagnant Brezhnev era. The gap between everyday distress in Russia and the standard of living in the western world is widening again. I feel very sorry for all this.

Russia – where history plays in politics

Russia is really the place where history plays in politics – or with politicians. Too many are disillusioned and look back to the times of greatness whether it was in the 18th century or the Soviet period. Anyway, people are proud of their history. What else they could, ask cynics. I don’t say that, even though the present condition of living is demanding for the most and the future looks unsecure.

If oil prices fall, Russia will face enormous troubles. At the moment oil is the only positive sector in her economy. Yet without reforms even the oil industry will suffer with outdated technology, lack of investments and poor governance.

Slightly exaggerating, it could be said that the Soviet Union collapsed because microchips could not be developed. Mathematicians and physicists were certainly as good as in the USA but they were not allowed to experiment with the limits of the impossible. Creativity lives and flourishes in the heads of independent minds.

Surely, Russia has still huge potential. And it is natural that Russians want Russia to be recognised as a nation with an esteemed position among other nations. People emphasise historical glory to mitigate the contempt and arrogance shown by many western politicians. We can do it again, Russians are saying. Yes, they can.

Westerners themselves feed the anti-intellectual political campaigns in Russia. They like to boast about  their superiority and omniscience.

Yet western politicians forget that their success was not created by this generation of politicians and bureaucrats in the European union headquarters in Brussels or Washington. On the contrary, they are close destroying it. The succes was created by earlier generations.

Unfortunately, relations between Russia and the West are deteriorating badly, especially between Russia and the USA. However, in one area the gap is not widening; it is diminishing. There are great success stories in Russia, there are huge riches in Russia – material, cultural as well as intellectual. There are millions of middle class people – of which many are better off than their counterparts in the West. And as far as I can understand, almost all people in Russia want a decent society that is fair and functions well.

Yes, there are also millions of poor and destitute people in Russia but that is something we also find more and more commonly in the USA and Western Europe. As Westerners themselves very well know, inequality has increased immensely even in the Nordic welfare states starting from the late 20th century. Indeed, the politics of the western powers is getting closer to Russia – but from the wrong direction.

My opinion is that in case Russians can establish modern political democracy and fair legal system, they will easily catch up with the “old and tired” Western Europe, the faltering USA and even China. Especially the younger generations have the drive and energy that is not anymore so often seen in the old Western Europe.

(This was originally published in the old blog 25 April, 2013.)

 

Welcome to My New Blog

Dear old and new readers, it is great that you found your way here! I have renewed my blog and home page – and it took a rather long time and more effort than I expected. However, I was heavily encouraged by the three (!) former readers who asked whether I have finished writing …

Nope, I have not. Later you will also find my old writings here. I am a man who loves books and reading, discussions, food and wines, art, music and theatre. I am also interested in history, esp. history of magic and witchcraft in Europe. Also, the economic and  cultural geography of Europe is a fascinating topic. Russian history and culture is just a hobby for me; I am not a specialist in that field.

As a historian, of course, practically all my work and hobbies – except food and wine – are related to history (as a discipline) and to various cultural issues. In addition to all that, I do some sport (but just for the utilitarian purposes; as working at the desk I need some excersice).

At the moment I am having my second – though not consecutive – sabbatical year in one of the world’s leading and one of the biggest city, Moscow. Yes, Moscow is big. Really big.

Before moving to Russia in summer 2012 I had been here twice – once during the Soviet time and once in the late 1990s.

What a change everytime I came!