The Breakfast Table

Sadists and Maoists

Actually, Alba loves British International, which she has been attending for just over a month. I was pretty impressed when I sat in on a class on parents’ day, but then I’m easy to impress: I attended Soviet schools, where we wore dark brown woolen uniforms, had to keep our hands crossed in front of us on the desk at all times, and had to stand up to speak–when allowed. My school was supposed to be progressive, which meant that they let us write with ballpoint pens instead of fountain ones. We are talking the 1970s here. Anyway, a mixture of Evelyn Waugh and Hunter Thompson sounds to me like it could be fun.

I just logged on to the Slate site to see whether they preserved your spelling of the word maosochism, which I thought was brilliant. Yes, I think that’s precisely what’s behind former Soviet army men’s love of the Afghan terrorist.

The phenomenon of the Afghan veterans deserves to be explored. They are overrepresented at the extremes of society: the generals are in politics, while the lower-ranking officers and enlisted men are the population of prisons and homeless shelters. Both options seem to me like expressions of a particular inability to adjust. Speaking of homeless shelters, an article in today’s Vremia MN, the summer’s addition to the daily newspapers roster, said that people who don’t have Moscow residence registration are turned away from the city’s homeless shelters. I found the article interesting in part because it’s rumored that Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is about to add Vremia MN to his burgeoning media empire. On the other hand, the story didn’t note that the shelters also turn away anyone who is clearly ill–anyone who has symptoms of TB or skin lesions etc. In other words, most homeless people. So during Luzhkov’s frequent clean-ups, the police pick the homeless up, keep them in detention for the day, then let them back out into the street under the cover of night.

The residence registration system is, to my mind, the most potent legacy of the Soviet Union. OK, possibly it comes in second after the cabinet of ministers. It is still illegal in most Russian cities to hire someone who is not registered to live there. All social services, including health care and education, are provided according to residence registration. And this registration is difficult to obtain even for people who buy property in the city–and virtually impossible for anyone else. In June I attended a conference for representatives of Russian battered women’s shelters. During one of the workshops it slipped out that all the shelters serve only women who are registered to live in their city. “We have a lot of migrants and refugees in our city,” said a woman from the Siberian city of Tiumen. “They tend to have a lot of problems at home, so if we served them too, we’d be overcrowded.” And that was before the crisis, when some people and some towns felt like they could afford to do something for their fellow human beings–as long as they are registered.

Obviously, jet lag makes me cranky. Good night.