Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Between the men and the women…

Kim Zigfeld has an interesting article on Publius Pundit which was also covered by the BHTimes. Kim Zigfeld brings us the La Russophobe blog which every day has five or so merciless articles about Russia. I have yet to truly figure out where Ms. Zigfeld gets either her perpetual rage against the Russian Federation or even what the story was on how she started. I guess I need to ask about that.

In any case this week she posted a story about Russia and how statistics have shown some rather negative things about Russia.

    I n 2002, two years into the "presidency" of Vladimir Putin and three years after he became Prime Minister, Russia had the world's third-highest rate of suicide among teenagers and was one of only four countries in the world with a teenage male suicide rate above 30 per 100,000. Recently, with nearly a decade of rule by Putin under its belt, a study confirmed that (based on 2004 data) Russia and its sister state Belarus are in the top three in the world for overall suicide rate in the general population, with a rate of suicide per 100,000 people three times higher than that in the United States.

    Russia also has a divorce rate over 30% higher than that of the United States, placing it in the world's top three in that category as well -- once again right next to sister state Belarus. The Russian divorce rate isn't surprising if you know that Russia's rate of domestic violence is also stratospheric, with one Russian woman being murdered by her husband every 40 minutes for an average of 14,000 such killings per year -- whereas in the United States, with twice the population Russia has, the figure is only 1,200 per year. This means Russia's rate of spousal homicide is nearly 30 times greater than America's, and makes it suprising that Russia's rate of divorce isn't even higher. The explanation may be that it's somewhat difficult to file for divorce when you are six feet under.
When I first got here in 2002 one of the first things I had noticed is that there was in fact a real problem between the men and the women here. I could call it passionate hatred and this would not be too much of an over statement. Pretty much any conversation with men, and this is true especially single men but does not necessarily exclude married men, the conversation inevitably turned towards how worthless women were. According to the line of thought, there was simply no purpose in trying to please them, all they wanted was money and even if you had any money for them, which nobody did, they still would never show you the time of day, much less any respect. The woman on the other hand would go on and on that there were no real men left in the world; all of the good one's had gone a away and all that were left were interested only in getting drunk.

I think the reason why this struck me as being as prevalent as it was is because of how completely opposite this situation was from only five years earlier. At that time, and I am speaking only of Belarus of curse, people were so well behaved and connected that even being any thought of social discord would have seemed absurd. And as far as how men and women were together, well, as far as I could see promenading along the river on a warm summer day seemed to be the height of fashion. And it was not only that they went walking together, it was HOW they went walking; hand in hand, posture perfect- it was like a ballet really. I know you don't believe me but frankly I wish I was exaggerating because it would have made what has become of the place much easier to take.

But why things went from perpetual honeymoon to weekend in Vegas is not so hard to understand. It was the money. In 1998 there was second, massive economic collapse that rocked the former Soviet Union. People lost all of their savings in the banks for a second time, an unstoppable inflation reduced what money people were making to ashes and though property was not particularly touched, there was a time that paying even the 98 percent subsidized prices for hot water and electricity (maybe $20 a month total), was hard to pay out of $25 a month pensions and payments for work- when there was any. Even as recently as 2002, people were only up to $40. This was exactly how much my partners in the bike school were making and my Tanya was lucky to have $60 from the book store.

Before going on I think I ought to stick in here that the "subsidy" that everyone in the west so loves to speak about didn't really kick in until about spring of 2004. The wages and pensions only then started to come up and it wasn't until the summer of 2005 that the landscaping got paid attention to and the potholes started to get filled in. It was also only within the last two years that the stores stopped selling only base necessities and began to offer "variety". They also stopped selling sour cream from a can, ladling it out into bank jars that you brought from home. If one were to check the price of gas and oil at that time, you might find that it was substantially less just before then and a hell of a lot more just after. Having been here fore this uplift is probably why I refuse to look down on Belarus or buy into the subsidy argument at all; I remember helping support a bike racing team without a budget and no bicycle newer than 20 years, I remember living off of my farm when there wasn't even enough money for cooking oil much less a weed whacker. To my eyes, when the money finally started to come, it was spread around pretty evenly.

But if we are speaking of domesticity even the most diehard romantic eventually comes to understand that the ability to at least pay for that bedroom is a bottom line for any sort of marital bliss. This of course is even more true for diapers and formula. You can say all that you want about Putin and Lukashenka, but if there isn’t anybody who can generate more than $3 a day at work, forget about good men or fine women, you would be hard pressed to even find any people. From an outside perspective, especially one where one doesn’t feel this argument particularly themselves, it must be easy to point fingers and make more jokes. But from the inside, when you never know from day to day how you are even going to find enough to eat will absolutely have an adverse effect on one's personality.

A high suicide rate? I believe it. I know that the life expectancy in general for men is less than sixty years here and for a while there it seemed to me to be even less. Imagine if you will, finding yourself at the age of retirement but yet there is barely enough coming in to support a loaf of black bread. What can you do but stay at work? And more, you had to do double duty if you wanted to eat anything but porridge and potatoes. When I say that farming your dacha is a base cultural activity, you understand why.

A high rate of domestic violence? I believe it. Yoked together with a woman who hates the site of you because you cannot be a "real man" and pay for the house, the light or food for the baby is not a situation that runs towards happiness. Stuck together with a drunken idiot who can't keep a job and won't stop drinking up any money he does earn- out of depression, out of hatred, out of isolation, out of misery… Who cannot understand how hard the world was for people here. And even over the last couple of years, when only the slightest rise in the economy came in; when people finally had about enough to eat, when they could afford to buy something interesting and not just worry about the pennies, even then they have to find that they get slapped for it BOTH from Moscow and from the EU.

I am sorry of I am becoming a bit too repetitive but "The Life" is very, very, very hard here. I do agree that the things Ms. Zigfeld speaks of are real and that they are huge problems. On the other hand, I refuse to believe, just as I have since I started writing about Belarus, that it is appropriate to place the blame solely on Lukashenka or Putin. Whether or not you agree that the word subsidy was appropriate, to my eyes whatever profit there was from the oil and gas business was spread around pretty evenly. I hear accusations of corruption all the time but I will need to see some pretty hard evidence that Lukashenka has been squirreling it away before I believe he screwed the country over. This is not to say that the man is a saint: HE IS NOT. But I cannot demand his head as if he was Saddam Hussein just because he followed the genuine will of the people and disallowed carpetbagging and demanded only fair deals from Europe.

It doesn't take a genius to understand the social problems of poverty, but it does take a certain kind of human NOT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT. That the world is obviously not populated by too many of these is exactly and really why the problems persist.

More soon…