The Breakfast Table

Men and Their Jobs

My alter ego, the journalist turned politician who is the protagonist of my fictional column in the Moscow Times, has lately been advocating swapping the Russian and U.S. presidents. His idea is that Americans will get a president who will most certainly not cheat on his wife, and Russians will get the virile leader they’ve always wanted. He also gets into some tricky wife-swapping territory, but I think he’s got a basic point there.

Speaking of jobs people have–or might have–Reuters had a wonderful item Sunday. Allow me to quote the lead:

“Russia’s former prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko, said on Sunday he was considering seeking a seat in parliament and taking up a job offer to serve as the head of the state savings bank.

Kiriyenko, who headed a liberal reform government for four months earlier this year, has kept a low profile since he was dismissed following the devaluation of the Russian ruble and default on some debt in August. He also spent time on vacation in Australia.”

Now Sberbank (which is not exactly the state savings bank, but I won’t split hairs here), needs a new director because of the banking crisis. For most of the population, the crisis has meant they cannot access their savings even as they melt away in their bank accounts. The one man most apparently responsible for this state of things is Kiriyenko. I would think this was all a joke, but then I thought that talk of appointing Yuri Masliukov, the former head of Soviet state planning, to the post of vice-premier responsible for the economy was a joke. I also loved the way the author of the Reuters item divorced the catastrophes that preceded Kiriyenko’s dismissal from the man himself. And giving his Australian safari equal weight with his four months at the head of the Russian government is inspired.

This item came from Johnson’s Russia List, David Johnson’s amazing twice-daily electronic compilation of Russia stories. Do you subscribe? Not much else there this weekend, except for a rather academic argument about what’s behind Russia’s opposition to NATO air strikes–knee-jerk NATO hatred, vague pan-Slavism or a sincere belief that the air strikes won’t help? How about all of the above, plus the inescapable parallels between Kosovo and Chechnya?

Since I am still in transit, my man source of news is my electronic mailbox. In addition to Johnson’s Russia List, today it delivered six messages from Adem Demaci. He is the “Mandela of Kosovo,” the man who spent 24 (I think) years in prison in Yugoslav times. A few months ago he became the political representative of the Kosova Liberation Army, and soon after that I received the only e-mail message I’d gotten from him until now. It was to inform all journalists and assorted others that Demaci had been advised by his doctor that his health would preclude any and all interviews and public appearances until further notice. Presumably, he had one of those Eastern European politicians’ colds. I never received any further notice, but apparently the moratorium has been lifted, as the current messages contained the transcript of a news conference. Apparently, Demaci supports the air strikes but isn’t wild about Richard Holbrooke, who fails to understand that Kosovo is entitled to more of the right to national self-determination than other nations. That’s really what he said in his communiqué: “more of this right.” Depressing, isn’t it?

P.S. Don’t you have a pager that tells you the exchange rate for tomorrow? My paging company has taken to updating this information every couple of hours, and I feel I’m starting to understand what sports fans feel as they follow the scores on games they can’t watch.