Wednesday, May 5, 2010

War and Peace / Война и Мир

Yesterday afternoon a student in our group went for a run near the university. A few blocks into his workout, he shuffled to a halt in front of flashing lights and roped off poles. Through the spectators and police in the area, he could see that there had been a very serious accident. A car was wrapped around a telephone pole. Shattered glass sparkled on the dirty St. Petersburg street. Yet something was not right. Despite the usual characteristics of a car crash (from which 30,000+ people die annually in Russia), today was different. Right there in the street, sprawled on the ground was a "severed hand in an ocean of blood," as the student described. Immediately, others commented on his Facebook status about the incident. Of those living abroad, their responses were of shock and disgust. Of those living in Russia, their responses were basically, "Only in Russia" or simply, "Russia."

Today we watched a clip of the news in our razgovor ("conversation") class. There is was again on the evening news. A bloody glove with part of the wrist hanging off. A crimson-stained jacket of the zhertv ("victim") next to the crash. We all cringed during the clip, even as it was being fast-forwarded. Our professor, a very traditional Russian woman, was horrified by our desire to watch the recap. Explaining that one of the students saw that in person yesterday, she exclaimed, Bozhe Moy ("Oh my gosh!") and continued fast-forwarding as if to erase the images from our minds.

Instead, we took notes on the segment that we were intended to watch, a longer look into the repetitsya ("repetitions") for upcoming 65th anniversary of the end of World War II, or Victory Day, in Russia. Streets have already been decorated extensively with banners, advertisements, and the like, similar to our Christmas season preparations. Orange and black striped ribbons flutter on the antennae of cars. Veterans receive a plate of cookies instead of higher pensions. Millions are spent on updating technika ("technique")--the vast array of tanks, machinery, armed soldiers, and missiles that were once a part of the familiar military demonstrations in the Soviet Union, and yet again, have reintroduced themselves in the Russian Federation.

The fundamental question is whether these months of preparations, parades, and celebrations are to honor the veterans and other notable "defenders of the Fatherland," or it is to show the military might and prowess of a once world power. As we discussed today with our professor, we lean to the latter.

After all, Russian school children cannot even name who "won" the war, why it happened, and why they are celebrating it this weekend. Again, what is more important? The minds of the next generation that may revolutionize the current problems of Russia, or the Soviet-style tanks strutting down streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg this weekend?

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