It was in the mid 1990s a British journalist was interviewing a bright, democratically-oriented and often drunk President Boris Yeltsin, who was then little more than 60 years.
“How would you, Mr. President, described the situation in the country in one word?” — asked the reporter.
“Good,” replied Yeltsin.
“And if you add a few words?” — the journalist continued.
I ask people around about the same until within a few days walk through the metropolis on the banks of the Neva. Hell of a cold. But the sidewalks are carefully sanded than in Stockholm.
When I get a chance to talk, I asked this question — the tour of the Museum, the taxi driver that I cheat, the waitress in the cafe, as two drops of water similar to Starbucks, the conductor on the train to Helsinki and some others. “Putin dobro, dobro njet Putin?— I ask for home Russian. — Putin Putin good or no good?”
The results of my poll are shocking.
Remember how he went to St. Petersburg in 2012. It was the fifth or sixth visit to Russia/the Soviet Union since my first trip at Easter 1969. My friend and I were driving and got lost. I lowered the side window and screamed out in the darkness and the darkness: “Please, help me!” And imagine my surprise: eight or nine passers-by slowed down and simple but clear English asked me to help.
That was a big change! Ten or twenty years ago, my cry for help would be regarded as a threat to national security. All hurried to get away. And if anyone approached, he’d looked not at me but at my shoes. Foreigners were seen as a carry diseases, and anyone could get across. Everywhere there were eyes and ears.
But now I have watched a normal, healthy curiosity. Where are you from? Where are you going? To recommend you a good restaurant? Won’t tell you where it is better to go to Vienna or Berlin? We asked whether the direction of developing country. Yeah, okay, dobro.
Our ice time is similar to the cold war need to remember about the successful transformation of the Soviets in Russia, which was held by Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Insulation stopped. The Russians would start acting like Europeans.
Along with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Russia wish I could bring in NATO. The EU was ready to start thinking about when Russia from the point of view of the economy and democracy can take its place in the Union. People began to speak boldly in the press, which became increasingly free. Russian went to the Louvre to admire the paintings and to Courchevel to enjoy winter sports. And it was not the oligarchs, thieves, and representatives of the new middle class, which did not exist in Lenin’s dreams. They eagerly delved into the topic “our President again made Russia great”. Yes, the biggest country in the world again played in the Premier League.
I sat in the car, and my gaze met the gaze of the Russian. He belonged to the younger generation no longer drops his eyes to his shoes.
A change of scenery. Back in January of 2017. If I can make a nice normal residents of St. Petersburg say what they think about the colorless President Vladimir Putin with fish eyes?
To speak about its merits. A lot of them. Vladimir Putin increased the territory of his country, after seizing South Ossetia in war with Georgia and dragged along a big beautiful Crimea without interference from the UN, EU and NATO. And now just a growing war in Donetsk, in Eastern Ukraine.
Putin was the third-a Russian spy in East Germany. His way to the top passed through the city administration of St. Petersburg signed the contract with the local mafia. Putin had nothing on which to build their power — neither military, nor political party, nor the help of colleagues from the former KGB.
“Putin’s power circles is limited to his personal guard,” said one analyst in the field of security.
Probably my interlocutors in Russia could complain about “bad times”. From an economic point of view, all bad. 25 years after the collapse of communism, Russia does not produce anything that would be of value to the world — even t-shirts. Only source of income is oil and gas, and prices are now low. Sanctions against Putin imposed for his invasion of Ukraine, began a painful blow.
“And we have already started to get used to the Camembert and prosciutto — smiles a well-dressed Russians in the train to Helsinki. But now all was as before: eat Kale. Only one cabbage”.
Trade at the border in the Finnish Dies stopped. Moscow Stockmann’s Finnish Board, is a window into the world of Western luxury, went bankrupt. On the ferry from Finland to Stockholm, you can still hear what is the word for announce “tax-free”. But the Russian on Board is no more.
I ask, dobro Putin or njet dobro, but I have no answer. They laughed, staring at his shoes. Muffled, embarrassed giggle.
That same laugh, which I heard from Americans when they realize that you have chosen trump President.