Quote #1: "Karamzin said that Russia only has two problems: fools and (bad) roads. If we fix these two problems, we will be the biggest and the best country in the world. But, we still have these two problems and will forever."
Our conversation professor Yulia shook her head as she spoke the words above. She lamented that after a few hundred years, nothing has really changed because the two problems still exist. When she discussed the "fools," she pointed upwards into the air. Later she explained that it was the people in charge--now in the "democratic" government--who were fools. When she discussed the "roads," she referred to how you shouldn't buy too expensive of a car in Russian because the streets will break it no matter what. I tend to believe her.
An anecdote from this previous weekend reflects this simultaneously ancient and modern problem. On Sunday morning, my friend and I ventured to the neighborhood around the Vladimirskaya metro station in order to attend Hope Church (Nadezhka Tserkov'), a Christian church I had found through the English-language newspaper The St. Petersburg Times. We gave ourselves ample time to find the location and arrive on time, but eventually gave up our search.
Why? Because when we finally saw the second-story stained glass windows with a cross on it, indicating the church, we could not find the door to enter. Several times we walked from the alleyway with its snow drifts, hall of mirror-like doors, and random shovelers. For over an hour, we walked from the alleyway doors, out onto the street, turned left at the intersection, and searched along the same building's walls for an entrance door.
During our final search in the alley (entranceway?), we asked a passerby where the church could be. (Translated from Russian.)
"Excuse me, do you know how to get to the church around here?"
Looking quizzically, "What church? There is the big yellow one down the street. It's big. You'll see it."
"No, not the Orthodox one."
"Then what kind of church?"
Sigh. I pointed to the second-story window with the stained glass cross. He appeared to be even more puzzled. Similarly, the problems in Russia are oftentimes just slightly above the natives' heads. Even if you can see the solution, point at it, and seek the path to it, you will not be able to achieve the goal because there are just too many absurd barriers that prevent it.
Eventually we gave up, and went to the international grocery store Lend to buy ingredients for burritos instead. Later on I e-mailed the pastors of the church to notify them that my friend and I attempted to attend church, but were unable to find an entrance. They apologized and invited me to a small group later on in the week.
Quote #2:"Turkish men love Russian women. And Ukrainian and Belorussian. Italian men, also. So Russian women go to Turkey and to Italy illegally. When they get caught, the men try to blackmail them, saying 'We know that you are illegal. You have to do whatever we say.' And well, you know...you know what they're doing."
Our grammar professor Nina also shook her head as she spoke the words above. There was a smirk of disdain. A look of disapproval. A conveyance of "they got what they deserved." After all, they chose to go abroad; therefore, they must have "chosen" to be sentenced to sexual servitude.
The 2009 Annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which issued by the State Department office in which I will be working this summer, listed Turkey as the first (but not necessarily primary) country to which Russian (and Ukrainian) women are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some quarter of a million people have been trafficked into Turkey within the past ten years, most of whom were from the former Soviet Union. Organized crime groups operating in Turkey, whether Turkish or Russian, reportedly earn up to $360 million per year in revenue from prostituted women and girls, or about $750,000 per woman. The women get nothing.
A link to reports from 2001 - 2009 can be found at: http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Nina reminded us that while the West has had some 200 years to democratize, Russia has had only 20. She invited us to be patient with the country lest we fall into the same ideological trap that some Russian have in their desire to leave the former Soviet republic for a freer, more comfortable, and more progressive land. I understand her old-world mentality, even if I cannot and will not agree with the contemporary discriminations.