As I was meeting my new acquaintance and English student Pavel Mebert last week in front of his tastefully upscale apartment complex near Moscow State University, I was stunned to learn that he had just lost his job. In fact, fired on the spot -- effective immediately!
Pavel is 48 years old, dapper in appearance, physically fit, and possessed of a radiant, intelligence-exuding face whose ready smile usually contains a bit of mischief. At the moment, however, despite his efforts to remain as light-hearted as possible, the still bright face betrayed a nervous tic which I had not noticed before.
-- Why did you get fired, Pavel?
-- Because I was caught on film at a demonstration organized by the Opposition. The shareholders decided that I must be in collaboration with someone they don't like.
-- Who? -- I ventured innocently.
Pavel said nothing but moved his head in what I took to be a nod of some kind. As if it brought understanding.
-- And that was enough to get you fired?
-- Apparently. The shareholders are prominent Russian tycoons. When they got wind of it, the wanted me out. The CEO tried to protect me, but it was no go. They were assertive.
Until the sudden chop, Pavel had been an important guy -- deputy to the CEO in one of the biggest industrial holdings in this country. Throughout his whole career both in Russia and in the USA, Pavel has always been a major player. He had enlisted me to help him improve his English writing skills, but was always so busy that I could never get in touch with it. I was about to fire him myself! (haha) -- but I discovered that he wasn't just carelessly blowing me off -- he simply was working around the clock. Just too damned busy to connect with me -- but aside from that one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.
Very refreshing, considering the attitude of a lot of alpha-male egoists among the high-rollers here and elsewhere. But especially here, where a simple yes or no is too much to ask, and Silence is either a prelude to -- or synonym of -- Goodbye. Well, maybe Pavel acquired his people skills in California.
We headed inside.
-- Well, surely you will receive a couple months full pay while you look for a new job-- I said consolingly.
-- No, it wasn't that kind of a job. It was a gentleman's agreement. I liked my boss. We were friends. But his hands were tied. If I had asked for compensation or special treatment, it would have made him look weak in front of the shareholders. That's how we do things here. A handshake agreement can be more powerful than a legal settlement. This is Russia. It's different where you come from.
And so, another story with a familiar theme: life at the top in Russia is extremely precarious. One false move and the floor can collapse under you. The sky can fall faster than Adele can sing the lyrics. Of the many fascinating aspects of Russian life which I have observed during my decade here, what probably ranks at the top is the total instability of all things.. In countries such as the US and England, for example, it can take a while to get things done and just as long to undo them. That's because of the democratic 'parliamentarian' system of 'checks and balances' which is designed specifically to keep too much power from falling into one person's (or faction's) hands. The downside of that is the stultifying inertia that comes when one side just wants to nullify the other. It's politics at its worst. It means that Obama could not get anything done, and neither can Trump, no matter what they want or much they shout.
Russia is the dead opposite. Businesses and all their staff and customers, including the very buildings they were in -- just disappear in the dead of night. A central director gets canned, and then a new one comes in and fires everybody. One day you have a great job and career, and the next day you are out on your ass. The Mayor of Moscow has the power to plough up the whole goddamned city, and no one can say a word to this guy.
The moral of the story if you are a 'player'. Be good, watch your back, and, above all, don't get too clever or ambitious -- and you just might remain part of whatever ring of Saturn rotating around the real 'inner circle' you happen to occupy-- maybe you can even reach that final inner circle where the real power is wielded. But if you screw up-- the axe will fall eventually and the Uniforms of the Night will come and get you. "The wrath of the Prince is death" they used to say back in England when Henry VIII was in charge. It has a catchy ring to it, that phrase.
For now, Pavel has not ruled out the possibility that criminal charges of some sort may be levelled against him. For what? He doesn't know either. Criminal charges. This is Russia. And among the other observations I have made over the past ten years, I see that most of these Byzantine laws don't mean anything in the day-to-day, but they are on the books nonetheless and can be applied selectively at any moment. Translated, this allows that anybody who falls out of favor for whatever reason can suddenly be charged with tax evasion, insulting someone's religious beliefs, etc. There is always a law to nab you with if the government needs a law to nab you with.
How, you may wonder, can I be sure that Pavel is telling me the truth? The answer is that I cannot produce evidence, nor do I want to. My blogs go in many directions, and they are ALL based on firsthand experience. I am not a professional journalist by trade, I am NOT categorically anti-government, and I am NOT (unlike a certain newspaper here that publishes in English) driven by underlying Western sympathies to blast the current President or rake the muck (god bless!).
And yet part of me, the better part I feel, tells me that Pavel is being truthful. For one thing, I have watched as this government which I used to praise to the high heaven (dwelling -- as I did when I was first here -- under the pink cloud of actually making my home in RUSSIA -- the forbidden fruit of the Cold War !!) has revealed itself as corrupt to the core, repressive as to the free exchange of information, and utterly uncaring about its people. Again, this is a view formed first-hand, not via any Western brainwashing. I have seen it with my own eyes. I now possess a much more in-depth understanding of Russian history and, while I hardly proclaim myself as an expert, I understand that the basic master-slave relationship, which has always existed between the passive masses and the iron-fisted rulers -- is as true in minds today as it ever was. Fundamentally, there has been no progress away from this mentality. Promises of progress. The illusion of progress. The AFFIRMATION of progress!! NO PROGRESS.
Clearly, the same paranoia at the very top that characterized the murderous Stalin era, dominates the current administration as well -- at least the symptoms are there, even if the results are not (yet) as horrifying. There is no possibility of the current President actually losing the next election. None whatsoever. Whereas Trump surprised the hell out of everybody in America, here it is IMPOSSIBLE. For many reasons, one of the foremost of which is that the very people who most support the current power structure are in fact its most pathetic victims -- except that they are too ignorant to understand this, and too passive to do anything even if they did.
So the question arises out of my own altruistic tendencies: when do these oligarchs and high priests and lofty officials decide that they have ENOUGH MONEY ?? At what point do they cease their manic obsession with keeping power and simply try to leave a lasting legacy of greatness for the nation? Floyd Mayweather is now 50-0. Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Everest "because it is there." I write these blogs, not for money, but because I genuinely wish to reach out to people, to have my voice heard, maybe now and then to touch someone's heart. When do the powerful people of Russia say, OK, we have filled our own pockets to the brim, now let's turn our sincere attention to our CITIZENS? Huh? Are Money and Power the only thing that matter?
And yet the current President obviously fears and distrusts his own people. This is why more and more social networks are being blocked, it is why censorship and the suppression of "undesirable" information is beginning to swallow us.. Just Imagine: the current president is in a position where he CAN'T LOSE -- and he is still afraid. Where is he tonight? Where does he live and sleep? No one knows. But if he reaches for the phone, heads can roll before morning.
It seems that my friend Pavel has been a victim of this tendency among the Russian power elite to foreclose on all expressions of opposition. .Moreover, and herein lies the part of this story that really hooked me -- Pavel left a tremendous job and career in California back in 2000 when the current President gained authority. Pavel looked at the youth, energy, and toughness of the New Guy at the helm, much as Beethoven obviously viewed HIS hero. At first. So Pavel and his Russian wife returned to the Motherland. After all they were RUSSIAN -- they told themselves -- and so they belonged in RUSSIA to lend their weight and support to the energetic new macho guy who had restored order and promised a bright future.
Now he's looking for a job -- in the wink of an eye, he has been excommunicated from the structure of power in which he appeared to be comfortably ensconced. All because he exercised his right as a free citizen to express a point of view alternative to that of the ruling elite. .
So who is 'Pavel'? Tomorrow I will ghost-write his story, the story of a patriotic Russian..
===Eric Richard Leroy===
[Юридическая информация и жалобы на контент]Мнение владельца блога и автора может не совпадать. Владелец блога не несет ответственности за мнение, высказанное в данной статье и готов удалить её в случае предъявления обоснованных требований.