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The Semi-Regular Newsletter

Travels in Russia

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
Shhhh! We're Bear Hunting
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, August 30, 1998

Soviet Street Scams

They even salute like the Hitler Youth Corps!

Johnson's Russia List, Sunday, 30 August 1998

Friday August 28

By Ray Finch

Upon leaving work Friday evening (28 Aug), I thought I'd check to see if there were new signs of economic/political collapse along my way home. I was not disappointed.

While standing in line to buy some rubles at one of the exchange points (the rate was 10 rubles to the dollar), a couple of Russia's finest dragged a young girl out of line who was some 3 or 4 customers ahead of me. She was hurried off to their nearby police car, and they took off down Prospect Mira. No one was sure what crime she had committed, but the conjecture was that she had tried to pass some counterfeit money.

After the crowded metro ride, I visited the market area near my apartment to pick up something for dinner. As I mentioned in a previous epistle, sometimes, there is a representative of the RNE (Russian National Unity) party handing out their semi-fascist literature near this metro stop. Well it must have been some sort of occasion (did they smell blood?), but last night there was an entire squad of these black and leather guardians of Russian purity handing out their free newspaper.

I figured that it might be instructive to watch their promotional efforts, so arming myself with a Baltika No.#3 from a nearby kiosk, I began my surveillance. There were some eight of these blackshirts, and they positioned themselves at key locations (within eyesight of each other) all around the metro-market area. What was truly amazing is that there were an equal number of Russian police/MVD types tacitly watching the RNE marketing efforts. For me (and probably for a certain percentage of Russians), it was difficult to tell which group enjoyed more authority.

After some 20 minutes (and fortified with my Baltika-3; which is actually a very good beer. Not to diverge from the subject, but the empty bottle was quickly recovered by one of the stooped Russian pensioners who supplement their meager incomes with the deposit from these empties), I approached one of the RNE reps, feigning ignorance about the nature of their organization. This True Russian Soldier, who looked maybe 40 (but might have been only 30), politely explained to me the party's platform, which, by the way, sounded like a rather reasonable recipe for fixing some of Russia's ills (i.e. "upwards of 90% of the Russian population is struggling just to get by, and some have not been paid their wages for 6-9 months, while the remaining 10% is living like the nobility of old." He then offered me some free literature and invited me to one of their introductory meetings, where the basic outlines of the RNE's platform could be explained in depth.

I thanked him for the brochures, and told him I'd think about it after reading some of the material he gave me. I was not alone in my curiosity, as most of the other RNE reps were engaged in conversations with the locals. The market place was very busy, and as I began to shop for dinner, it soon dawned on me the reason for such activity. Imagine that at noon tomorrow or maybe the next day, all of your dollars were going to be transformed into monopoly money, and you could nothing to limit your financial losses (like exchanging your money for German Deutschmarks or British Pounds). And since all of Moscow's high-dollar consumer goods stores were closed "for technical reasons," those who had large amounts of rubles were frantically trying to spend them on cheap consumer goods before they were changed into worthless bits of colored paper.

There was a look of distress on the faces of most of the kiosk/shopkeepers. Like the consumer, they also had lost faith in the government's ability to prop up this empty ruble, yet were prohibited from trading in dollars. Soon they would be faced with depleted inventories and stacks of these worthless rubles.

Now, put yourself for a moment in the place of one of these little entrepreneurs. You get up at dawn to set up this shitty little stand, hauling your goods from some garage, and then for the next 12-16 hours you stand out in all kinds of weather selling soap, toothpaste and detergent, maybe making 5-10 bucks on a good day. In the evening, you get to tear down your stand, and haul it away to prepare for another day of "business."

Or how about one of those lucky kiosk-dwellers positioned underground, in a dim tunnel underneath one of Moscow's streets, where all day long (and some even spend the night!) you are trapped in a closet-size cubicle, breathing the fumes of cars and subways, selling imported underwear or beer. These god-awful conditions are not helped by the criminal protection money you have to pay to stay in business.

Now just imagine the hatred and disgust you might feel when you discover that all of your grim labor for the past couple years was in vain, and that you are poorer today than when you began this commercial-prison enterprise.

When you put yourself in these shoes, you begin to see the wisdom and propriety in belonging to a group like the RNE.

Moscow Times February 5, 1999

MEDIA WATCH: A Nazi a Day's a Nazi at Bay

By Leonid Bershidsky Staff Writer

Nazis are bad. Or are they? Let my Jewishness protect me when I say they can be good - in the right doses and when used correctly. After all, what is penicillin if not mold?

When the boys from Russian National Unity, or RNE, marched down the streets of Moscow this week, they did more for liberal and anti-Nazi causes than even Duma Deputy Albert Makashov did with his recent anti-Semitic remarks. To get people to recall how and why World War II was fought, someone has to wear a swastika armband before a few TV cameras.

So here's a little manual on how to use the Nazis correctly.

1. Do not dispel their first illegal march. In fact, assist it by holding off the rain or snow, the way Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov does on major city holidays: The weather must be good for the cameras.

2. Alternatively, if the Nazis cannot get enough people together to stage a march, sign up a bunch of them to try to disrupt your party congress, black- tie reception or soccer match. Look at the publicity some shouting from a bunch of National Bolsheviks generated last weekend for the latest congress of Russia's Democratic Choice, the dogged but feeble liberal party. It is highly doubtful that the congress would have made the evening newscasts without the "fascists" trying to shout down Yegor Gaidar.

The National Bolsheviks' leader, Eduard Limonov, would have ended up in a concentration camp under the real Nazis - if only because he has documented his own homosexual dalliances in his popular writings. But for PR purposes, that is totally irrelevant, and Limonovite Nazis will be happy to help: Like Gaidar, they are not on TV often enough.

3. Blame the police for not dispelling the march/not preventing the disruption to the party congress. Most people think the cops are no better than the Gestapo, anyway. Then get the police to crack down on Nazis, question RNE leader Barkashov and catch the crazies who made a home video of themselves making an anti-Semitic speech against the backdrop of a burning synagogue. (They did not actually burn a synagogue, it was just a video trick, but for PR purposes that's just as well).

4. Immediately arrange for more people with cameras to come around. Start making speeches about how bad Nazis are. Try to be the first one to do that. After that, the speeches get repetitive and the people with the cameras get bored.

5. If you were not directly involved in the previous four steps for some worthy reason, such as a shortage of Nazis in your town, take credit for that too.

Take your cue from Yaroslavl Governor Anatoly Lisitsyn, who declared in the daily Kommersant a few days after the RNE march, "In Yaroslavl, such extremist actions are practically ruled out. For eight years, we have been working actively and we have learned to counteract extremism in its early stages."

6. Keep the press interested. Never let on for a moment that the Nazis are incapable of taking over your town and the rest of the country anytime they want. Get the police to arrest a Nazi wacko a week. But be careful not to exhaust your supply of Nazis.

From the above, it is easy to conclude that there already are some people in Moscow who know how to use the Nazis correctly. Luzhkov is definitely one, and Gaidar is another.

For example, if Luzhkov had just sent in the police before the RNE boys had a chance to start marching, and if the police had quietly arrested those extremists, the mayor could hardly have advanced his presidential campaign by being the first to denounce the rise of Nazism - no one would be frightened enough to pay attention. The same goes for Gaidar's congress: If security people had properly checked the IDs of those entering the meeting, the congress would never have been on TV.

From the perspective of someone who hates Hitler as much as Luzhkov does but who is not running for president, Nazis should be in jail. There should be a law that allows Nazis to be put in jail immediately after they are seen wearing swastikas or giving the straight-arm salute. There is no such law simply because everyone who passes laws in this country is either running for president or a Nazi himself. And the laws that exist are not applied be cause their quiet application has no PR value.

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