If you think this pun is infantile, consider the source.
For the line indeed comes from an infant, my friend’s 5-year-old son, whom I knew when I first arrived in the US. “You know why they call it Russia?” asked that precocious tot. “Because people are rushing out of it.”
It’s scary to think that little Andrew is in his 50s now, and doesn’t time fly. But his little quip was more in the nature of prognosis than reportage. For very few people were leaving Russia in those days, the odd thousand or two here or there.
Many more would doubtless have liked to leave, but in those days it was difficult. Now emigration is as easy as it’s desirable, and the numbers are staggering.
Just in the past five years, 1.7 million Russians have emigrated. That places Russia third to only India and Mexico in this category, and comfortably ahead of China, Bangladesh, Syria and Pakistan.
Moreover, a recent Gallup poll shows that an impressive 20 per cent of the population would leave if an opportunity presented itself. That proportion grows from impressive to astounding among young people: 44 per cent of those in the 15-29 age group want to emigrate. Almost half.
Most of those who’ve already settled in the US, Britain and Germany cite non-economic reasons for their flight, such as the general political atmosphere, absence of political freedoms, human rights violations and so on, although bleak economic prospects figure prominently as well.
During the same period, the number of emigrants boasting a university diploma or higher has quadrupled, turning this exodus into a veritable brain drain. Such numbers have been seen only twice in Russian history: after the 1917 revolution and following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Actually, if most of those Russians wanted to leave for strictly economic reasons, I wouldn’t find it in my heart to blame them. For another survey shows that 20 per cent of all Russians have no indoor plumbing and over 80 per cent can’t afford what Dr Johnson called “the necessaries of life” – including emergency medical expenses.
In another poll, Russia comes in at 51 out of 56 countries rated for quality of life, behind Pakistan and Egypt. And according to Russia’s own data, 28 million live under the poverty level of $175 a month.
But then, as the billionaire government officials never tire to assure the world, true Russians disdain soulless materialism (until they come to the West, that is, where they’re seduced into it while still clearing passport control).
It’s in light of such data that Putin’s policies, both foreign and domestic, become explicable. In fact, neither the policies nor the reasons for them can boast much novelty appeal.
For every Russian government, from the tsars to the presidents, with general secretaries in between, has relied on oppression at home and sabre rattling abroad to deflect mass discontent into pandemic xenophobia and pride about Russia’s martial strength.
In its maniacal pursuit of ‘greatness’, defined as aggressive brawn, none of those governments had any energy left to pursue goodness; nor could any of them create an economy in which people could support themselves.
Call me a soulless materialist, but I just can’t see as great a 21st century country in which 20 per cent of the population have to brave cold, snow or rain to trudge to the outhouse in the middle of the night.
Putin’s kleptofascist junta has been in power for almost 20 years now, during which time it has stamped out inchoate civic liberties, criminalised the economy from top to bottom, turned global money laundering into a growth industry and divided the population into three categories: those who’ve already left, those who’d like to leave, and those duped by Goebbels-style propaganda into foaming at the mouth and screaming “Our Crimea!!!”
Add to this the regime’s criminality that goes beyond mere corruption, entering the area of rabid foreign adventures, international assassinations (including those with chemical and radioactive weapons), incessant attempts to undermine Western countries and their political systems, constant threats of nuclear holocaust, and only one Russian mystery remains.
How can supposedly clever Westerners, including those who call themselves conservatives, still sing hosannas to Putin, the “strong leader” they wish we had? Oh well, as P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”