Eckermann records of February 25, 1824, Goethe’s words:
I had the great advantage of being born at a time when the greatest events that agitated the world occurred, and such have continued to occur during my long life….Thus I have attained results and insights impossible to those who are born now and must learn all these things from books that they will not understand. Living and experiencing Moscow Russia in its great transition from Communist through perestroika and glasnost, through the collapse of the USSR, into what seems true to describe as “Dollar Russia”, has been such a time of great, historic change. It could hardly be experienced and understood from outside – but it was a great lesson on humanity, on the human condition, from the inside. When this entire social and cultural system changed…when the reactions and positions of people in Russia to its “new world” conditions were necessary – one could see much about, at least, the (mostly) Slavic, post-Soviet portion of mankind and the human being. If the United States of America, so-called “liberal democracy” and “capitalism”, had for example somehow (to speak in standardized, somewhat misleading terms) “lost the Cold War”, and all of America’s people, with their various social positions and levels, etc, had needed to learn Marxist-Leninist, to adjust to the Soviet social powers of blat (“connections”, needed to get things) and the nomenklatura (the ruling elite, with their special privileges, powers, and lives)…if Americans had needed to learn Russian in order to “get ahead” and succeed…to reckon and hide money in their houses in rubles…a window into the human being and world in America would have been apparent, such as has now for about a decade occurred here in Russia. It has certainly been a time of “great events”.
Everything and everyone has had to adjust here in Russia…more or less, sooner or later, delightfully or regretfully, deeper or superficially…in all aspects of their inner and outer lives. I recall when a Russia friend around 1991 asked me what “taxes” are; how an acquaintance around 1994 recounted with dismay of a good friend of her and her husband, who in the Soviet times had passionately discussed Dostoyevsky and the “cursed questions” of life (in the well-known Kruschof kitchens with their proverbial “kitchen philosophy”, as it was called), but who soon came to refuse to even hear mention of such topics, proudly showing his copy of the latest video of Schwarzenegger on a new color TV inside of the newly-remodeled, European-standard kitchen that his new business activities had bought. But such small instances of great changes were merely the new beginnings – and are already today in Moscow passe topics, except for nostalgic moods and minds.
A Scot in Moscow (whose family members are spread around the globe) once insightfully – after the collapse of the Russian ruble in August 1998, and the subsequent closing of many Western businesses in Russia and flight of many businessmen from Russia – said that those who came to Russia mostly for business reasons, i.e. to make money, have come and gone; but that those who came for “romantic reasons” (“romantic” in the sense of adventure and experience, and not merely in the sense now mostly understood in America of amour) are often still in Russia today. This author, who first journeyed to Russia in 1986, after passing through Troy and Constantinople (Istanbul), in pursuit of the ideas of the “sophia” and the Third Rome of Russia, and following the unsolved mystery of the mythical Palladium – certainly is amongst the “romantics”, and thus still in Russia, after abandoning what he found to be the culturally-sinking ship of California seven years ago.
In this time of great “world events” I will attempt to periodically write “letters” to the West, of Russia, not of its passing political and economic problems, scandals, etc; but rather, as it were, of its life, people, culture and mind…with the cosmos of a Dante in mind, and a cultural perspective kindred to Thoreau’s, recognizing however already, as Goethe said to Eckermann a bit later in that same talk:
“…It is not given to the world to be contented; the great are not such that there will be no abuse of power; the masses not such that in hope of gradual improvement they will be contented with a moderate condition. Could we perfect human nature, we might also expect a perfect state of things; but, as it is, there will always be a wavering hither and thither; one part must suffer while the other is at ease, envy and egotism will be always at work like bad demons, and party strife will be without end.”
First published in the magazine „Der Europäer“, Juli/August 2001 (Jg 5 / Nr. 9/10) – American Reflections from Moscow – Great Events, Deep Insights (Letter 1), Stephen Lapeyrous 9/10/ 20.