Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky
“THIRD ROME” OR “THIRD WORLD”?
“Two Romes have fallen, but the third – Moscow – stands,
and the fourth there will not be”
Monk Philotheus, 1510
Yes, we’re Scythians! Yes, we’re Asiatics,
With slanting and avid eyes!
Alexandr Blok, 1918
Firstly I’d like to ask readers to remember at least one Turkish painter. Or a writer. Or an architect. Or an artist. Or a film director.
Isn’t it difficult? Isn’t nobody remembered except Architect Sinan (the 16th century)?
Well. And an Indian one (except Nicholas and Svyatoslav Rerikhs)? Isn’t it also difficult?
And a Chinese one? And a Middle-Asian one (not from the territory of former USSR, but, for example, from Pakistan or Iraq)? And, for example, at least one painter, artist, writer, film director or architect from Nigeria or, perhaps, Burkina Faso? It is even more difficult...
But let’s look aside of art of Asian and African countries. Let us speak about Russia.
The foreign policy progress of Russian Government seems to be impressive. The country has already been affiliated into a great number of the most authoritative international organizations (seemingly into “G7”, which has accordingly become “G8”). The membership in “World Trade Organization” is just around the corner, and then it is not far from “European Community” – of course, if Russian Government will be able to refuse of empire ambitions, to give freedom to Chechnya and to stop threatening the world by atomic weapons.
It may seem that a bright way to the equitable membership in the world civilized community is opened for Russia. And then, as with a wave of a magic wand, all components of European life will appear – high salaries and pensions, high living standard, effective health protection, good ecology, low levels of corruption and crime, good roads, clean streets...
Properly speaking, ten-fifteen years ago, when Soviet power was falling, hopes were no less bright. And, really, a part of that hopes is realized – in Russia nowadays there is the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, election campaigns etc., and even shops are filled up with goods like in the West.
But has Russia because of all that become closer to Europe – at least for a step, for a half-step? The whole “capitalistic” world is filled up with goods – shops are full in India and in Indonesia and in Kenya. Constitutions of all countries guarantee the freedom of speech, and there are independent newspapers even in Zimbabwe.
But why are we looking for examples so far – in Africa? Here is our nearest neighbor – Turkey. The country, where thousands of Russians every year acquire a tan at sunny beaches of Antalya, Kemer and Marmaris.
Turkey declared itself a European secular democracy as early as in the beginning of the 1920th, at that the “enlightened dictator” Kemal Ataturk went in “Europeanization” so far that prohibited not only for women to wear veils, but also for men to wear baggy trousers and fezes. In Turkey, there was no Communist ideology, no “full and final victory of Socialism”, no “industrialization” or “collectivization”. In World War II, Turkey advisably kept neutrality, letting both German and Soviet ships pass by its straits. Turkish shops were always filled up with various goods. Elections always were democratic – at least outwardly. And even now, when the “Islamic” party has come to power, all that remains unshakable – and will remain undoubtedly. There is no doubt that Turkey will sooner or later be affiliated in EC.
But will then in “non-resort” areas of Turkey become less dust? Less beggarly huts? Less theft, corruption, criminality? More social guarantees? Will there be less traffic jams in Istanbul and Ankara? Will Turkish cars become more ecological and competitive? Will Turkey turn from a resort appendage of Europe into a full member of European Community? Will the image of “average Turk” as of an ignorant master of harem, making low bows in a dark mosque, disappear? And the image of Turkish millionaire as an oligarch of mafia? And, at last, will the world know about at least one modern Turkish painter, writer or architect? At least in the foreseeable future?
And now I would like to ask similar questions about Russian Federation. So, if it is affiliated in all prominent Western organizations, will there be less dust in Russia? Less poverty? Less theft, corruption and criminality? More social guarantees? Will there be less traffic jams in Moscow and in Saint-Petersburg? Will Russian cars become more competitive and ecological? Will Russia turn from a raw-charge appendage of Europe into a full member of European Community? Will the image of “average Russian” as of a dirty alcoholic, making low bows in a dark Orthodox church, disappear? And the image of Russian millionaire – as a stereotyped “new Russian”, i.e. as an oligarch of mafia? And, at last, will the world know about at least one painter, writer or architect of the “post-Soviet” generation? At least in the foreseeable future?
May be, both in Turkey and in Russia it is possible to find dreamers who answer “yes” to all these questions. And the comparison of Russia and Turkey may even cause bewilderment of many readers. Really, how can it be? Russia is nevertheless a “Great Power”, and Turkey is a country of “Third World”...
But let us look how that concept – “Third World” – appeared. In “Cold War” time (50s–80s of the 20th century), the USA, Western Europe, Canada and Japan were called “First World”, the USSR, Eastern Europe and China – the “Second”, and all the rest – the “Third”. And all this “rest” (including Turkey) was characterized by low living standards, by economical, technical and cultural backwardness, by the absence of any weight at the international arena...
And the “Great Power” – the USSR – was estimated all over the world. Unfortunately, people estimated it because they were afraid of it. And an interesting paradox appeared: though it is impossible to consider that estimation as valuable, people of the whole civilized world watched closely at everything, which took place in the Soviet Union, felt with dissidents – heroes of defending of human rights, hated their oppressors, were ready to stand in queues to look both at the official soviet ballet and at exhibitions of “Underground” painters, who had escaped from the USSR... “Thanks” to this situation, the whole world knew Joseph Brodsky, Ilya Kabakov, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Mstislav Rostropovich. Exactly the whole world, not only narrow groups of connoisseurs of either kind of art.
And when “Second World” fell and only the “First” and the “Third” remained, a reasonable question arose: where is the former basis of “Second World” – Russia – going?
The estimation of the USSR was based on fear, and Russian Federation lost it immediately. And thank God – the “estimation”, which was based on submarines and ballistic rockets, deserved that.
But, may be, the humanity within the last decade got some new reasons to estimate Russia and to perceive it as a country of “First World”, but not of the “Third”?
Let us enumerate theoretically possible reasons for the real (not declarative) affiliation of Russia into “First World”. That reasons are economy, social sphere, culture and arts.
Well, I think that it is unnecessary to tell that the majority of Russian factories “died”, and the production of others if non-competitive at world markets. It is also unnecessary to tell about beggarly pensions and no less beggarly salaries of state officials. Culture – if we have in mind cleanness and order in streets, it is also, to put it mildly, discouraging. If we consider science, education and health protection, here the decay is also evident – relative to Soviet time and, moreover, to the countries of West. Corruption and criminality in Russia are also generally known – the concept of “Russian mafia” has passed into a proverb.
And everything foresaid refers Russia to the “Third World”, not to the “First”.
But, may be, great Russian art remained? Art in its widest understanding, which includes literature, theatre, cinema, architecture, painting, graphics and sculpture?
Since Stalin’s time the Soviet power related to art as to an “ideological front” and paid great attention to it. Many creators were raised, many – expatriated, many – exiled, many – executed. But, as it is well known, it is impossible to expatriate or kill art, and the result was inverse: increased attention of the whole soviet society for problems of art. And since the whole world watched everything, that was happening in the USSR, closely, the attention of the soviet society meant the attention of the whole world. We have already spoken about Joseph Brodsky, Ilya Kabakov and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Of course, they are most well known, but the world was worried by the destinies of Varlam Shalamov, Vasily Aksenov, Oscar Rabin, Vladimir Nemukhin... Against the background of common interest to Russian art, even Ilya Glazunov and Alexandr Shilov had a considerable success in international tours. It is clear that Communist ideologists “slipped” them into the West to create an alternative for “Underground”, but Europe and the USA were ready to accept everything originated from the USSR.
In other words, an enormous “PR” of art from the USSR took place. Of “soviet” art, of “anti-soviet” art, of “neutral” art... In brief, of all that is called now as Russian art.
And the Government of Russian Federation would have been able to use those stupendous achievements for a very long time. And those achievements would have been able to serve for many decades to the image of Russia as a country of “First World”, not of the “Third”.
In the 1990s, the films of Tarkovsky, Ioseliani and Abuladze passed by the country and the world. First “Russian Sotheby’s”, “Art-Myths” and “Art-Maneges” were held. Architect Alexandr Skokan built the “european” building of Moscow International Bank on Prechistenskaya Embankment. It seemed that soon, very soon foreigners will travel to Russia to watch not only stereotyped Arbat with “Matreshka” dolls, but new art of new Russia. And that art will be, as before, met in the whole world with triumph.
But at the same time, in the 1990s, sprouts of absolutely another appearance of Russian art, step by step, began to shine through. It is impossible even to call that appearance “Asiatic” – there is Asia, and then there is Asia. After all, Japan is also in Asia. Let us say so: Asiatic appearance in the worst sense of this word. Or more precisely: the appearance of “Third World”.
And in the end of the 1990s, the “radical turn” took place, and enormous funds from the state budget were spent for the support of just that “art”. For monuments like eclectic giant “Peter I”, for the incentive of fruitless “traditions of Russian Realism”, for the construction of monstrous buildings like so called “Patriarch” near Patriarchal Ponds, for personal museums of Zurab Tsereteli, Alexandr Shilov, Ilya Glasunov and Alexandr Burganov... In brief, the state – firstly secretly, and then frankly – began to support creators who “make beautifully”, i.e. pompously, lavishly and tastelessly, in the eclectic “merchant style”.
Of course, there is a temptation to accuse the major of Russian capital Jury Louzhkov and his daring team of all that happened, to say that they knowingly disfigured Moscow – the face of Russia – by tasteless monuments, merchant-stylish buildings and personal museums of their favorites. And to calm at this, saying that the subjective factor has worked. For example, if Major Louzhkov had been more intelligent, if his artistic taste had been better...
But there is also the Federal Government in Russia. Is it all the same also for the “federals”? Doesn’t it matter for them that the last chance for making Russia a country of the “First World”, not of the “Third”, is missed? At that, art is not aviation or automobile industry, it doesn’t need so big investments... Or there is also a subjective factor? Of all Russian leaders and their advisors?
Too many subjects, who form the subjective factor, turn out to be. May be, this situation is nevertheless objective? May be, it is really impossible to deceive nature? May be, if economy, social sphere and culture of Russia are historically doomed to “Third World”, Russian art also slips there?
Unfortunately, that is actually so. Titanic efforts of state and society are needed to withstand that process, but there are no such efforts and they are not foreseen. Today there is absolutely another priority – the highest possible and immediate profit.
Jesus Christ said: “Lay not up for yourself treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matt. 6:19-20).
But who does listen to Christ today? The Russian Orthodox Church trades in cigarettes and alcohol drinks, Russian Government – in oil and gas, Moscow Government – in sites for construction, and Russian people... One person in this, another in that. And that ones, who can not trade, receive beggar pensions or no less beggar salaries from the state budget.
But there is one problem. If after some world economic crisis it turns out that Russia has nothing more to trade, will “First World” help the country, which shows nothing in spiritual sphere and makes no contribution to the formation of the world civilization? Will Europe help “Russian mafia”? Help the country, which doomed its culture to extinction? Help the country, where everything will be stolen in each case?
Or the Government of Russia will decide to frighten the world by nuclear rockets again? It will be scarcely possible – Russian fundamental science is not in much better situation than art, and contemporary rockets can not be built without it.
May be, then it is worth to listen to Christ and to think – at least sometimes – about “treasures in heaven”?
But it is so attractive to earn money – and more, and more, and more! And faster, and faster, and faster! And then – “Let it be a flood after us”. Today it is much more popular to quote Louis XV than the Holy Scripture.
So, the domination of the “merchant style” and the “souvenir kitsch” in art, together with poverty, absence of social guarantees, criminality and other features of “Third World”, has an objective perspective of historical triumph in Russian Federation.
Of course, creators of genius were born, are born and will be born in Russia. But such creators are born also in Nigeria or Zimbabwe. And where do they disappear later? At best – they move to “First World” or retrain, because in “Third World” only “courtiers-scoundrels” are able to earn their living by arts. And at worst – geniuses are simply eaten. Fortunately, recently more often in a figurative sense.
That is the fundamental difference between “First World” and “Third World”. There art lives, and here it dies. It dies itself – without any state persecutions, without “loud” crimes, without noisy scandals, without purposeful destruction of culture of “small nations” (as formerly in Turkey), without crushing of pictures by caterpillars (as formerly in the USSR), without breaking of musician’s fingers (as formerly in China), without throwing poets into concrete mixers (as formerly in Argentina)...
The process of dying of art in “Third World” is absolutely objective, and persecutions, however paradoxically, are only an obstacle for it. In this case, waves of protest arise in “First World”, actions for protection of persecuted creators begin... And when everything is on the sly, when everything is “peace and harmony”, there seems to be nobody to protect.
And as a result, the civilized (furthermore non-civilized) world doesn’t know any painter, any architect, any writer from Turkey, China, Nigeria or Iraq. Salman Rushdie with his “Satanic verses” does not count – he became famous as an oppositionist, on the wave of common interest to “Islamic revolution” in Iran. That is the case when persecutions became an obstacle for the objective process of dying of Iranian art. The same situation took place in the USSR with Solzhenitsyn and Brodsky.
And when there are neither wars nor revolutions nor “acts of God” nor bloody dictatorships, “First World” doesn’t remember about the “Third” at all. May be, sometimes it happens to come up – for example, “Thank God, we’re not in Russia”... May be, sometimes some Western fanciers of exotic trips visit Russia and are horrified by Tsereteli’s statues, by the kitsch in Shilov’s Gallery and on Krymskaya Embankment, by houses of “Louzhkov-style” with turrets of reinforced concrete, by the destruction of architectural memorials, by the impassable mud, by traffic jams, by old smoking cars, by spitted streets and staircases, by the bribe-taking road police, by an unimaginable quantity of policemen, alcoholics, vagabonds...
In brief, visiting foreigners drink Russian Vodka, stare at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra, buy “Matreshka” dolls and leave, horrified with Russian realities.
In Turkey, there are at least some resorts of European level. Russia does not have even that. So, may be, in the proximity to “Third World” we have already “surpassed” Turkey?
Most likely, by all economical and social characteristics – already yes. By art, thank God, not yet. Solzhenitsyn and Kabakov and Voznesensky and Rostropovich and Rabin and Nemukhin are still working...
But let us look at things sensibly: one more generation will change, and great Russian art will complete with Turkish by resonance in the civilized world. Or even with Nigerian. Russian art will become for “First World” nothing but exotics. Like “Matreshka” dolls in Arbat.
But then Tsereteli’s statues and Glazunov’s pictures will look quite harmoniously. And Major Louzhkov, saying that our society hasn’t yet grown for understanding of so called “Moscow style” in general and Zurab Tsereteli’s works in particular, does everything to make it “grow”. To put it more precisely, to make it degrade. “Louzhkov-stylish” kitsch is perceived much more simply than true works of art: everything lies on the surface, everything is bright, clear and pompous.
“Enter ye at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13).
And in “Third World” (in its logical limit) it is generally simple to live: you are responsible for nothing, you can just sit under a palm-tree and eat bananas. It is unnecessary to go far away. It is also unnecessary to study, unnecessary to work. The life complies with a phrase of a well-known soviet film: “Stole – drank – into a prison!” But it is even unnecessary to go to a prison – isn’t there corruption in “Third World”? So, steal and drink, only don’t forget to share with authorities...
And for living in “First World” it is necessary to work properly. And to study very many things, including the perception of true art. After all, art is the most important part of national culture, and it is impossible to build a civilized society without culture.
For example, if culture is destroyed and people since childhood have no idea about honor, conscience and decency, then theft in such society is objectively invincible (it is impossible to set a policeman to every potential thief). In its turn, if there is mass theft, there is mass non-payment of taxes – really, what to pay for, if everything will be stolen by state officials? And beggarly pensions and salaries in budget sphere are the consequence of that. Including beggarly salaries in “force structures”, which are to stop theft. Consequently, corruption in these structures is invincible, otherwise they will not survive physically. And then the struggle against theft becomes more and more poor, bigger and bigger part of national wealth is stolen, less and less taxes are paid, pensions and salaries become lower and lower...
So one of “magic circles” called “social relations” is locked. And the root of all these circles is culture. Human life begins from education, and in the same way, the life of society begins from culture. And every state, which pretends for membership in “First World”, must firstly pay attention to enlightenment, not to petroleum production. To the propaganda of cultural and moral values. Let’s say so: to the missionary work.
But, as we have already seen, in Russia there are no real actions in this direction and they are not foreseen. Actions neither of the government nor of commercial structures nor of prominent political parties.
Consequently, for the time being, so called “Third Rome” is objectively doomed to “Third World”. By the level of culture, economy, living standards and crime Russia is doomed to be at best near Turkey. And at worst – near Philippines or Nigeria.
And if somebody was not in Nigeria, I shall tell, because I had an occasion to visit it some years ago.
This country is one of the biggest world exporters of oil – like Russia is. Nearly a hundred million people live there – almost as in Russia. In Nigerian main city, Lagos, there are more than ten million inhabitants, i.e. like in Moscow. In the center of Lagos there are many skyscrapers. Bright advertising hoardings are everywhere. There are a great number of showy road junctions, shops are filled up with goods, there are many restaurants and clubs, in streets there is a number of expensive cars. Democratic elections, the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom of conscience – in Nigeria Christians, Muslims and Pagans have equal rights... In brief, almost everything is like in Russia, only the subway has not yet been built in Lagos: there are some problems with soils near the ocean. No matter, some time the subway will also be built. And there are even museums in Nigeria.
But, in spite of declared democratic freedoms, the country is ruled by the military junta for many years. The skyscrapers in the center of Lagos are surrounded by fences with the barbed wire, and near them there are slums. Both central and outlying streets are jammed with hawker’s stands and filled up with the carrion garbage, smells are unimaginable. Ragged beggars are everywhere, and in suburbs, the majority of children has bellies swollen of hunger. It is extremely difficult to drive in Lagos, because in roads there are cracks and pot-holes, and traffic jams are for many hours. It is impossible to bath in the ocean, because on the water there is the oil membrane. It is dangerous to visit shops, because you may be shortchanged or thieved. At nightfall, the city becomes empty without any curfew: if you go on foot, you may be robbed by gangsters, and if you drive, you may be robbed by road police. If a human was killed, perished under a car or died of hunger, his body would lie in the street until police doesn’t occasionally find it, and before that people would simply walk or drive around – nobody would pay attention. It is not a big deal – a dead body in a street! There are much more “interesting” performances – for example, on a city beach of Lagos, since it is impossible to bath there, showy executions are held. Sometimes – the slow death by shooting, sometimes – by burning...
Do you want to live in Nigeria? I don’t.
Sergey Zagraevsky © 2003
The Original was published in Russian in the periodical Reference book “The united Rating of Artists”, Edition 7. Moscow, 2003.