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KLM Rocks Across Europe!
Santa Claus in Moscow
Television Is a Time Suck
The Reality of Irrelevance
Salute Mayor Luzhkov
Impeachment Happens
I Am Not The Only One...
I'm Back! Did Ya Miss Me?
Chechnya Burning
Weddings in Winter
The Jews Are Here!
Gailyn Goes to Town
Is There a Central Bank?
Santa Barbara is Real
Nick's Thanksgiving in Russia
Den' Rozhdeniya = Birthdays
Those Crazy Expats
It's Just a Few Drops of Vodka...
Elections Are Always Rigged
The Blind Leading the Blind
Good Russian Grooms
You Say 'Boris Berezovskiy' Fast
Too Cold to Care!
Russian Oil Towns
Sneaky Siberian Tigers
Which Way is St Peterburg?
Where am I again? Oh, yeah...
I Love Me Some Vodka
It's a Gosorg Halloween
Hunger Comes to Us All
Why Don't They Just Learn English?!
Post-Crisis, Life Goes On
Is Yeltsin 'The Man'?
Murmansk - Brrrr!
Taganka Hides Her Secrects
These are Communists
It's a Power Vaccum
The Commies are Back
Propaganda is Good for You
You Better Buy Russian!
Sex Ed Soviet Style
Party over, oops outta time!
Russian Healthcare in Moscow
What Russian Financial Crisis?
YE Prices in Russia
The Hungry Duck
Russian Caviar Mafia
Magical Mushrooms
Soviet Street Scams
Bez Dollarov
A Koshka Konspiracy
On The Dacha
The Banking Implosion
Surviving Army Life
Shashleek is Steak on Steroids
Dacha Thinking
Beach Weekend
Dos Vedanya
Hello from Vladivostok
Equality Means Only She Works
Jogging is an Extreme Sport
Russians Have Reunions Too
My Folks in Massive Moscow
Better than Fireworks
Miners Are Real Men
The Russian Mafia is the Roof
No One Smiles in the CIS
One Year Anniversary
Russian Brides Rock
Laura is My St Pete Connection
Change is in the Wind
Chuck Norris' Beverly Hills Casino
The Expat Woman's Predicament
Street Food is Yummy!
Spring Flowers Make June Leavers
The Provinces Are Provincial
Ever Take an Elektrichka?
The English Invasion
Nuttin Like New Money
Rules Are Made to Break
All Black is Russian Fashion
Easter Memories = Easter Dinner
Politics, Russian Style
Theresa Tries to Russify
I Go to Gay Clubs Worldwide
I Hide on Women's Day
New & Shiny: Nizhny Novgorod
Psst! Wanna job in Moscow?
Fili Park Has All the Bootlegs
Web Page Reactions
Take a Break at Dom Odaha
Expat Living in Moscow is Swank
Why Are You Remonting?
They Look Like Telephones...
In Need of a Decent Hairstylist
Smashing Bottles in Red Square


Russia, September 2, 1998

Shhhh! We're Bear Hunting

I'm going bear hunting! Wanna join me?

Where Papa Bear lives
Best bear hunting in Russia

Where Papa Bear lives
The home of the bear
Where Papa Bear lives
Take your pick
Johnson's Russia List, 2 September, 1998

Bear Hunting

By Craig Copetas

A Russian bear (Ursis arctos) is the world's largest terrestrial carnivore. Cannibalism occurs more frequently among this species than among any other animal group. Born with an incessantly antagonistic disposition and an innate ability to camouflage that fact, the bear uses his viciousness as a weapon.

With stocky feet, small eyes, a broad head, and twenty highly curved claws that are impossible to retract, the Russian bear medved will strike without notice and eat his victim completely. Those who professionally hunt the bear within Russia assert that he is far more preoccupied with wielding ultimate power over his domain that with developing strategy. Indeed, amateurs who confront wild bear are warned not to pay attention to his facial expression. A bear's facial muscles are so poorly developed that it's impossible for him to make the expressions that other animals normally use to telegraph their intentions in the wild.

In ancient times, the ancestors of the people who now inhabit many parts of Russia worshiped the bear as a totem animal; he was the object of mystery cults, which sometimes included ritual sacrifice. The bear, through religious creed and deity and the heavenly configuration of Kallisto (the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear), enjoyed exalted status.

Over the past ten days, the world's financial markets have learned much about the Russian bear. To be sure, the use of bear metaphors to describe the ruble without a cause range from 'Russian bears mauling the great bull market' to 'will the bull become a bear.'

But the analogy is slightly flawed what Russians call (ital) tufta (endital): creative misrepresentation. The Russian language has a word for bears that become extremely savage and ruthless: (ital) shatoon. (endital) Ivan the Terrible was fond of setting shatonni on humans for the sheer pleasure of seeing how they would destroy their victims. Later tsars had the teeth of captured shatooni filed down into stumps; dogs were then released upon them, with spectators gambling on the outcome of tooth versus claw. Boyars, the oligarchs of old Muscovy, indulged in the practice of pouring alcohol into muzzled shatooni to observe the outcome.

A special breed of dog, nicknamed the shatoon laika, was later develped to hunt the animal in the wild depths of Russia's northern winter. Today, shatonni are not pursued for sport or by sportsmen. They are stalked and executed at great risk by professional hunters to ensure the survival of the people they would destroy.

Of course, one might well argue that bears are supposed to hibernate in winter. Their dens plush, their bellies lined with green foliage, bears supposedly use this respite to prepare themselves for the challenges of rebirth. Not the shatoon. The very word, in fact, describes a bear of such physiological dementia that nature prevents it from hibernating in winter. Instead, the shatoon roams the landscape, killing.

Shatoon is an expression unique to the Russian vocabulary. During Soviet times, northern Russian villagers and hunters used it as a cautionary noun to describe the apparatchiks who appeared to have been displaced by the perestrokia policies of Mikhail Gorbachev. Since 1991, however, the shatoon has come to represent the corrupt clique of Russian politicians and businessmen who were to have been eradicated by, among other weapons, the intervention of International Monetary Fund loans, the application of Western financial expertise, and the Western world's faith in the charismatic anarchy of Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

In the great taiga, Russia's vast subarctic forest, tales abound of shatooni rishing up from apparent death to devour their executioners. Of course, the Russian language for centuries has been rich in fables, puns and double entendres that reflect the great gulf between dreams of what might be and the harsh reality of what is. Nonetheless, Valeri Sherabokov , a hunter with whom I spent weeks tracking a shatoon some ten winters ago, explained that Russian villagers grieving through financial crisis after crisis then as they do today never considered the bear an enchanting character. The shatoon, Mr. Sherabokov said, will never tell you the truth. He will also never lie to you. 'He will tell you what you want to hear: that he is dead.'

For nearly a decade now, Western leaders have allowed Kremlin fairy tales to lull them into complacency. So as U.S. President Bill Clinton and the IMF miracleworkers arrive in Moscow with more money and ideas to contain the fallout of Russia's economic collapse, they'd be well served to remember the story of the shatoon and the eerie expression of blankness, animation and frustration that passes across the animal's face. Bear hunters warn its countenance has everything to do with magic, and the skill to make people believe in what is not real.

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