How To Sell Real Estate In Russia

How To Sell Real Estate In Russia

Ok, I’m learning.  But it looks like I’m on to something.

The RBC web-site states that more than 4,000 real estate agencies were closed in Russia over the past year.

There are good reasons for that.  Many parts of real estate service are becoming more automated, making some realtors go the way of the farmer during the Industrial Revolution.  And construction seems to be continuing at a fervent pace, even as average income seems to be holding steady at best.

I somehow became excited about the idea of so many agencies closing.  Not that I wish my competition any ill will (really!), but the idea of a real challenge somehow energizes me more than any low-hanging fruit that just anyone could pick.

This humble blogger’s real estate agency, Expat Flat, has focused mainly on providing rental options for those foreigners who are moving to Moscow for work for a couple of years.  And as we continue this service, we have also begun to think about sales.

You see, my prediction is that as real estate prices fall, property investment will become more attractive to international investors.

But how to attract international investors?  Well, we decided to do what no one else is doing, and start a Russian real estate video blog, in English, entitled “How Much Does It Cost?”

There are quite a few really good Russian real estate video blogs… in Russian.  But as far as I know, this is the first Russian real estate video blog in English.  We aim to make Russian real estate available to the world.

Here is the first episode, highlighting some offices right across the street from the Kremlin:

After putting the video out on YouTube and also the Facebook page, it was cool to get strong positive feedback both from Russia and a few places around the world.

We already have a few more spots lined up for future episodes that we are beyond excited about, but for those of you back home, I have a question.  What kinds of places would you be interested in having highlighted in such a video in the future?  Please comment and let me know.

We would love to show you around Russia, and maybe you will begin to not just enjoy the entertainment value of such a video, but also begin to see the opportunity for investment.

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How To Sing Happy Birthday In Russian

How To Sing Happy Birthday In Russian

Ok, there are actually two ways to sing Happy Birthday in Russian.

The first is something close to what you would expect:

“С днём рождения тебя” (S dnyom rozhdeniya tebya)

Literally translated, this means “With the birthday, to you” and it is to be sung to the tune of the English hit “Happy Birthday”.  Here’s how it goes:

S dnyom rozhdeniya tebya! (With the birthday to you!)

S dnyom rozhdeniya tebya! (With the birthday to you!)

S dnyom rozhdeniya! S dnyom rozhdeniya! (no need to insert the name you Western self-centered indvidualist!)

S dnyom rozhdeniya tebya! (With the birthday to you!)

I honestly have no idea why they say “With the Birthday” or “With The New Year”.  I am no etymologist, to be sure.

The SECOND way to sing Happy Birthday is much more Russian.  Also, the name of the song is something like “I Play on the Accordion“.  Here are the words:

May people run clumsily through puddles
May the water flow like a river down the street,
And may people passing by not understand why
I am so happy on this sad day.
 
And I play the accordion for all to see
It’s a pity that (my) birthday
Is only once a year
 
Suddenly a magician arrives in a blue helicopter
A shows (us) movies for free.
He wishes a happy birthday
And he’s likely to give me 500 ice-creams (as a present)
 
And I play the accordion for all to see
It’s a pity that (my) birthday
Is only once a year
It’s a pity that (my) birthday
Is only once a year

Fortunately, the Happy Birthday song that includes the word “pity” is sung to an upbeat melody:

To add further confusion to a situation in which a nation refers to this as a “sad day” and mentions that we should be mournful since we can not celebrate more than once annually, my understanding is that this song was originally performed by the critically acclaimed Crocodile Gyena.  Here you go:

I sort of feel this explains why Russians don’t smile.

Of course I’m joking.  Russians sometimes do smile. 

And lest I leave you worrying about a magician arriving in a blue helicopter, I can say that there is a third more modern and happily upbeat option.  Here it goes, together with random Russian cartoon footage.  You are welcome.  Now choose which one to sing, the next time you are invited to a Russian birthday party.

American Cafeteria Closed For Lunch

American Cafeteria Closed For Lunch

I walked up to the cafeteria in Perm, Russia.  It was the mid-nineties and Russia was bursting with optimism for the future.  I was bursting with desire for lunch.  Unfortunately, the cafeteria in Perm was closed… for lunch.

That’s when I learned some important words of wisdom: “You can not understand Russia with your mind…”  There are different endings to that proverb, such as “you just need to love her” or “you just need to observe”.  Both of those endings are pretty good, I think.

And so, now after more than 18 years of living in Russia, there are many things I don’t understand, but I still love and observe.

For example, it’s still difficult for me to understand how the short version of the name “Aleksandr” in Russian can be “Shurik”.  Also, the short name for Evdokiya can be “Dusya”, but I digress.  Because in English, we can call Margaret “Peggy”.  So, get over it.

Also, I don’t always understand my wife, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love, observe, and still build relationship with her.  But that’s a different story… right?

I was asked to go on a political talk show on Russia’s NTV channel.  I had received some invitations before and never thought I would go on a political talk show.  Some people think that NTV is a government controlled propaganda channel.  Some people frown upon those people who go on political talk shows in Russia.  Other folks have their views of Fox or CNN.  But I went anyway.

We should look for any opportunity for dialog, even if it doesn’t fit our personal concept of an ideal conversational format.

The political talk show seemed surprised when I shared my view that America has made many mistakes in foreign affairs.  The audience also seemed to like my point that sanctions are pointless and will not change Russia’s politics.

I then explained that Russia is speaking in a language that the American people don’t understand.

A security guard in Russia asked for my paperwork so that he could fill out the forms for my car to be parked in his jurisdiction.  At the time, I didn’t have my Russian license, so I offered to help him fill out his papers.  He said that this would not be necessary since he was studying English to which I could only reply, “Great!”  There was then a long pause, and he asked, so your name is “Driver’s License”?

It’s hard to understand each other when we don’t speak the same language.  Although perhaps the misunderstanding is on a level deeper than Russian or English.

This is what a Russian political talk show looks like:

By the way, America, you also are not speaking to Russia in a language that it understands.  But I haven’t been invited to any American talk shows to explain that important point.  In this instance, my task was to explain how the Russian people could speak to the American people in a way that would be understood.

“Why not form a group of volunteers and show the goodness and might of Russia by sending them to Houston to assist with hurricane relief?”

That’s what I suggested on the Russian political talk show.  I must have explained myself poorly because I think I was completely misunderstood.  They thought I was talking about a government relief program.  I was thinking of Russian businessmen supporting a project, because I think Russian businessmen are interested in improved relations with America.  I was picturing personal initiative not a government committee.

But the fact that I was misunderstood shows that we don’t understand each other.  Will we ever understand each other?  I honestly don’t know.  I was raised, for example, to never expect money from the government, so it didn’t cross my mind to explain that my idea was not a government project.

 

My dear Russian friends, you live in a great country.  Your cultural history and education are beyond anything that I have seen or experienced in America.  You don’t need to have a complex about your nation.

And I have seen many examples of the might of Russia over the past 18 years.  I remember in 1999, I was in a remote village in the Urals and hungry.  There was no store in the small village.  A local village woman pulled a large sack of potatoes out of her underground winter storage.  These weren’t potatoes that she had bought, of course.  These were potatoes that she had grown for her family during the short summer months.  She handed me the sack.  When I started to hand her some rubles she shook her head and said, “Have you lost your mind?”  That’s power, and that’s Russia.

It seems I’m asked almost every day why I chose to live in Russia.  Usually, I just say, “America has smooth roads and everybody is always smiling.  Totally boring”.

Dear Russian Patriots, I would remind you that you live in Russia because you were born here.  I live here because I love it here.

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked if my wife is Russian I could move from Mytischi to Rublevka (if you know what I mean).  No she is not.  The next question (or comment) is always, “Well then, you must be a spy?”

I then say, “Is Russia a great nation?” The answer is always, “Yes.”  To which I reply, “…well if you believe Russia is a great nation, why don’t you believe that someone would want to come and live here?”

Speaking of drivers’ licenses, I have no idea why the American driving test is so easy and the Russian test is so difficult.  For example, in Russia, you need to know what is the correct color of a rear anti-fog light in a motorcycle (and in what conditions you may turn it on).  And then you get a driver’s license that gives you the right to drive a car but not a motorcycle.  These are some of the things that I do not understand.

The sanctions aren’t working, but the USA seems to be following the principle “of doing the same thing and expecting a different result”.

To which I can only suggest that my Russian friends remember that “You can’t understand America with your mind… just love and observe”.  Maybe the American cafeteria is closed for lunch.  Just shrug your shoulders, smile, and don’t take it personally.  And who knows, maybe you will get a new idea, like sending a group of volunteers to America.

Because like with my wife, you don’t have to always understand in order to find new ways to build relations.

Did Russia Meddle With US Elections?

Did Russia Meddle With US Elections?

Probably I shouldn’t blog about politics ever.  And usually I can hold my peace.  Because I believe 99% of it is hype to fill up the time between commercials on the 24/7 news channels.

But I have been thinking about this blog post for a few months now, so here goes.

Did Russia meddle with the US elections?  Here is my answer: I have no idea.  And neither do you.

But perhaps a better question would be “Would Russia meddle with the US elections if it had the chance?”.  Um, well, if given the chance, I wouldn’t put it past them.

And I am quick to add, I wouldn’t put it past the United States of America to meddle with nearly every significant foreign election in recent memory.

The second question would be “what is Russia trying to communicate to America?”.  I will take a stab at that in a moment.

I was convinced Hillary would win.  I didn’t think for a second that Mr. Trump had a chance.  Shows how well I understand politics.  Even with my misguided views, I was invited to do an interview on the eve of the election with Russia’s Rossiya-24 channel.

After the interview, I was heading home on the commuter train when I received a mysterious invitation to “An event at an undisclosed location.  The location would be announced only immediately before the event was to begin.”  I sort of thought that the “event” might include me digging a shallow hole in the woods.  But my wife said, “That’s cool.  You should totally go”.  So, I did.

It’s sort of difficult to describe what the event was.  I guess it was like a pro-Trump/pro-Kremlin election watch party.  The speeches seemed to be very pro-Trump and anti-American government.  But the main idea was a simple belief that Trump was the one who could improve Russia-US relations.  I was asked if I would like to give a speech.  I explained that, uh, I felt that probably nobody there wanted to hear my opinion on Trump. Although I was no supporter of Hillary either.

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This painting was one of the main features of the Trump watch party

It was an interesting couple of weeks around the elections.  It seemed the Russian people were euphoric about Obama’s exit and were convinced that Trump would improve the relations between our nations.

During that time, I talked to a lot of folks.  And I guess I could say this is a list of things, in no particular order, the Russian people would want America to know (now that we have your attention).

Not saying that I agree with all of this, but I think it is helpful for Americans to understand.  Because I have heard many of these points not just from Russians, but from folks I’ve met from many nations around the world.:

  1. Russians want better relations with the United States.  It also seems they want it on their terms, just as America (1st) wants these improved relations on its terms.  Not sure how that is supposed to work, but I believe there is a real desire for improvement of relations.  Even at the awkward pro-Kremlin watch party, I sensed a sincere desire for improved relations, and a real concern for America.
  2. It’s strange for you to be indignant about any meddling in your elections.  No one outside of the United States believes that the US isn’t getting their fingers in all of the pies.
  3. 800 Foreign Military Bases is a slight overdo.  Maybe we could tone it down just a bit… and save some cash!
  4. The price of oil being attached to the dollar is unfair.  That’s a really long conversation.  Google it, if you’re interested to learn more.
  5. America’s democracy isn’t really a democracy.  Elections are controlled by corporations, etc.

And maybe this is the moment when I can mention perhaps the one thing I don’t love about Russia.  That is, I don’t love it when Russia blames America for things.  I don’t love it, because I believe that Russia is a powerful nation, so the actions of other nations shouldn’t affect it.  And in years past when my Russian friends would ask me “what Americans think about Russia”, I would shrug my shoulders and say something like “usually they don’t”.

But now, America, a superpower, and maybe we could say the superpower, is doing the same thing- blaming Russia for its own problems.  Maybe we could pause for a moment and look at ourselves, instead of Russia.  And maybe, just maybe, we can stop pointing fingers at Russians, Republicans, and Democrats.

Because although we are all sinners, if we make a little effort, we might just be able to begin working together again.

The One Word You Must Know To Achieve Productivity In Russia

Who knew that achieving productivity in Russia could be as simple as a one word vocabulary?

I’ve noticed from time to time that America and Russia have different understandings of time and planning.  This actually does not mean that the people of one nation are more productive than the other.  Rather, the triggers for productivity are different.

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If you don’t know the triggers, you might find yourself becoming slightly frustrated from time to time.  For example, if you are a foreigner in Russia and have met with your Russian co-workers in a planning meeting, you might be surprised that the result of the planning meeting is everyone urgently drinking tea, leaving the office to get some kind of urgent spravka of a personal nature, and in general, urgently engaging in every activity under the sun, except applying the action points that were just discussed in the meeting.

At this moment, you might feel lost and sad, and wonder at which point in your life journey, you took the misstep that left you destined for a meaningless existence in The Motherland.

You might then bitterly gaze out your office window at the overcast skies and watch the sleet pouring down on the slushy streets… and then you notice that Russians are working.  And if you watch American news, you already know that Russians are a tireless bunch, manufacturing weapons, hacking foreign political parties, pumping oil out of the ground, trolling heads of state, and all of this in spite of the weather.

And back in your native Idaho or Iowa, you know that people are productive too.  And they are productive after careful planning sessions.  But here you are, all alone, in the middle of Russia, feeling like you must now personally fulfill all of the activities described in said meeting.  Why aren’t your meetings in Russia translating into practical results?

It is questionable whether any meeting is necessary anywhere in the world.  However, long planning meetings in Russia are probably less useful than their American counterparts, and are a complete waste of time if you don’t know the one word you must know in order to achieve productivity in Russia.

Here is a list of the One Word You Must Know In Order To Achieve Productivity In Russia:

  1. Срочно.  Since this is a hastily written blog post on a Saturday morning, I don’t have time to translate this word into English for you.  But urgently learn the trigger of bustling activity and manufacturing in Russia. That trigger word is срочно. Because unless you urgently learn the word срочно and it’s meaning in English, you will be left perpetually and gloomily staring out your office window.  All alone and feeling a sense of urgency.

There is an old Chinese saying that goes something like this:  “Nothing is done in the Soviet Union without the word срочно”.

But here is the rookie mistake that most Foreign People In Russia make when employing the word срочно.  These silly Russian expats think that you should have a meeting, make a plan, and then wait for everything to become hopelessly urgent before waving this magical wand of Russian manufacturing.  Nay, I say!

Instead, you must begin the whole affair by explaining in the most gravest of terms that this work is срочно.  Become emotional about the deadline.  Then watch in amazement as a vigorous flurry of labor commences, unlike anything ever witnessed in the Western world. I’m not kidding when I say that you might even notice that your co-workers will begin to get their friends to help in the task at hand, often absolutely free of charge.

Because Russians work hard, they just generally see that they should apply themselves to what is urgent and brings results… not to what is endlessly discussed.

Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls

Ok, folks.  This blog post has nothing to do with Russia.  It has to do with America.  More specifically, it is related to my hometown of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.  I’ve been able to visit Cuyahoga Falls a few times over the past year, and the city has a plan that is blowing my mind.  [Beginnning rant now]

This is a picture of my dad, taking a stroll on Front Street, circa 1943:

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You see, that’s what people did in the 1940’s on this pedestrian street, they employed the decidedly unique human trait of bipedalism and went outside houses without cars.

Fast-forward to 2017:  The city of Cuyahoga Falls is planning to spend $10 million to transform Front Street from a pedestrian walkway into a two lane road.  This is in an effort to boost local business due to the decline of foot traffic, and also, presumably, because Cuyahoga Falls doesn’t have enough two lane roads.

Probably, I should just go to bed now instead of writing this, but I really have to get this off my chest.

A few weeks ago while in Ohio, I decided to go down to Front Street myself to do some in-depth investigation.  I immediately discovered the problem.  There aren’t enough parking spaces on the parking deck:

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The next issue that can only be overcome by tearing out the pedestrian walkway, is the distance from the parking deck to the nearby shops as is illustrated in this snapshot taken from the parking deck overlooking the bustling market district:

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I feel like I’m revealing an issue of national security when I write on the internet that the distance in the above picture is too far for the average American to walk.

Joking aside, the distance from the parking deck to that store (used to be a uniform supply, I think) is LESS than the distance from the average parking space at Wal-Mart to the entry  greeter.

But you know, sometimes on a windy winter day, I think to myself, “I might just drive down to Front Street and fill my work uniform order right now.  That would sure just hit the spot.”

I mean, call me crazy, but perhaps the issue isn’t the road. It’s people who think 30 yards is too far to walk AND the fact that there are pants that don’t fit right instead of fancy over-priced cupcakes and hot chocolate at the end of this story?

Fortunately, there is a theater on Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls:

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Unfortunately, it didn’t seem there would be anything showing.  Hello, Cuyahoga Falls!  I mean, I understand many of us Fallsites would prefer not to spend our Saturday evening watching a chamber orchestra, or even listening to one.  But don’t we at least have a comedian or two who could put on a show and save the walkway from the mayor’s jackhammers?

Now, I know what those of you who are not from Cuyahoga Falls are thinking.  You’re thinking I’m not telling you the whole story.  You would be right.  I forgot to mention there is a beautiful river next to the street with a boardwalk (for crying out loud, overlooking a series of waterfalls).  I also failed to mention that the parking deck is absolutely free of charge.  Oh yes, there is also a nice fountain.  And there is Metropolis Popcorn and the Whistle Stop.  I mean, I love the Whistle Stop.  I went there like five times when I was a kid and bought some model rockets.  I think it’s super cool that the Whistle Stop is still there.  But it’s not every Saturday afternoon that I need a model rocket, so the Whistle Stop isn’t going to draw my business on most weekends.

As for Metropolis Popcorn, I was too depressed to walk inside.  Probably nice folks.  But I’ve never been sitting around at the house and then thought to myself, “I’m going to go for a drive downtown to eat some popcorn”.  Usually, I’m thinking the opposite: “I’m going to eat some popcorn so that I don’t have to go outside”.  Also, I saw the sign, but couldn’t see the Metropolis.

I think the buildings down on Front Street are pretty cool looking:IMG_0769.JPG

But more importantly, in almost everywhere in the world, cities are tearing out their roads and putting in pedestrian streets.  It’s more fun, it’s healthier.

Yes, Front Street has its issues, but it’s not because of a 50 yard walk from a parking spot.  And these are issues that won’t be remedied by a two-lane road.

I live in Moscow which has a lively city center full of walking streets.  I enjoy the sounds and the people on those walking streets, even in the winter.  It’s a part of the culture both here and in much of the world, and it is a culture that many cities are working to attain.

So, Mayor Walters, I hear you’ve been paying some shiny consultants good money to tell you the difference between a pedestrian walkway and a two lane road.  But I invite you to come on over to Moscow, and I will be happy to give my advice, free of charge.  Please don’t turn Front Street into a motorway.  You can save a lot of money for the city and boost business.  You just need to make bipedalism great again.

 

Can Russia Change?

Can Russia Change?

Have you ever met someone who wasn’t just an interesting person, but was deeply fascinating?  That was my experience when I first met Dmitry Mikheyev.  It was almost by chance that we met, and about 30 seconds into our conversation, I turned on my phone to record our conversation for a video blog (If you speak Russian, you can watch it here).  Although I have only met him once since, I believe he is someone that I can call a friend.

Mr. Mikheyev did mildly scold me, while we were drinking tea in my home, for continuing to speak to him in formal Russian; that is, adding the additional respectful form of his patronymic name, Dmitry Fyodorovich, asking jokingly if it was because of his age.  The truth is, although I don’t agree with all of his viewpoints, I have a deep respect for Dmitry Fyodorovich’s personal history and experience, and I recognize he is someone that I can learn from.

In a time where there doesn’t seem to be an end to tension in international relations, I thought it would make sense to move away from the usual lighthearted content of this blog to present a point of view that is perhaps a bit different than what we would normally read or hear in America.

First, a bit about Dmitry Mikheyev:  He was born in Siberia before being was accepted as a student at the prestigious Moscow State University, eventually earning his Ph. D. in theoretical physics. At the time, he had some questions about the way that the Soviet Union was run and began running a “discussion club” on these topics.  For example, as he explained to my children, “In the Soviet Union, we didn’t have personal property, the government owned everything… including us, and I didn’t like that”.

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Meet Dmitry Fyodorovich

In 1970, Mr. Mikheyev attempted to escape the Soviet Union to the West, but was caught and sentenced to six years of prison in the notorious Perm-36 prison facility “for betraying the motherland”.  In 1980, he found himself living in the United States.  I think for most Americans reading this post, this might seem like a typical story that we read about from time to time in the newspapers, and we might already be thinking “this sounds like our kind of guy”.  But what happened next is what makes Mr. Mikheyev’s story so fascinating.

Mr. Mikheyev soon found himself at the Hudson Institute, advising top US security officials on Soviet-US relations.  It was here that he became disillusioned with America, as he explains it “for Biblical reasons”.  “Christian Americans believe in a devil who can never change, correct?” asks Mr. Mikheyev.  “Well, do you remember what President Reagan called the Soviet Union?  He called it ‘the evil empire’.  We were compared to the devil, and what does that mean?  It means we can never change.”

Let’s take a few minutes to read one of Mr. Mikheyev’s essays to hear about his experience and point of view in his own words.  But before we do, it’s probably worth mentioning that Mr. Mikheyev did not want me to share his thoughts at first.  He said “These are religious thoughts, and I know that these issues can be touchy in America.”  I was able to convince him that although many will probably disagree, and in fact those of you who know me well will understand that there are points here that I don’t agree with, it might be constructive for his opinion to be heard.  So, please read this with the understanding that this is not an opinion that he is trying to push on you.

Why twenty-five years after great ideological victory in the Cold War, Russia is still portrayed as an intrinsically reactionary, imperialist power, a major threat to Western civilization?

Dmitry Mikheyev

 Secularists insist that imperialism and undemocratic proclivities of Russians are “in their blood,” i.e. genetically predicated, while religious fundamentalists believe that Russia has been divinely destined to be an “evil empire.” 

 The decisive moment of my reckoning of the question came on August 22nd of 1991, when the

Soviet “Evil Empire” collapsed. At the time, I was at the Hudson institute, a conservative think tank in Indianapolis. I was ecstatic to see the totalitarian regime taking its last gasp and dying right in front of my eyes. The spectacle of the Evil Empire’s agony didn’t bring much joy to my colleagues though. To my incredulity, they were confused, if not upset. Not only neoconservatives were despondent, liberals seemed downhearted as well.

 For me, the Cold War was over. Russia had shed her empire and abandoned her messianic drive to spread Communism all over the globe. She radically changed her socio-economic system and was now striving to ‘integrate into the ‘civilized’ world. Many of us Russian-Americans were elated and eagerly anticipated a new era in Russo-American relations, a partnership of two great nations. We dreamt of these two countries embracing each other and working together toward a more peaceful and prosperous world.

 Personally, I dreamt of playing the role of a bridge builder between them. I was dismayed to find out however, that American intellectual and political elites, had a totally different take on the situation. In their eyes, Russia remained essentially the same old Soviet Union if only downsized. As General William Odom (director of the NSA during the President Regan administration) argued, yes, the Evil Empire was experiencing a temporary setback, but one day it would recover and get back to oppressing small freedom-loving neighbors. Soon intellectuals and politicians were scrambling to find signs of Russia’s undemocratic drift and growing “authoritarianism and neo-imperialist ambitions” while Cold War veterans were back in the trenches, arguing that the policy of containing and curtailing Russia should continue. Russia’s resurgent aggression had been allegedly demonstrated in Chechnya, in the “invasions” of Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria… next are the Baltic states. Only NATO could save them from the Evil monster.

 So, they kept expanding NATO toward Russian borders. Serbia, Russia’s close ally in Europe, was bombed and dismembered. Separatism and “freedom fighters” of Chechnya and other “oppressed peoples” were covertly supported.

 Here is a cognitive dissonance. Why would a victory over your mortal enemy be so disappointing or even distressing? Think of it. You fought a long and exhaustive war and finally defeated the enemy. Russians surrendered en masse to the ideology of liberal, democratic capitalism. Why would you sit down and grieve and then resume fighting? It took me a long time and considerable effort to solve this cognitive puzzle. Now I seem to understand the mindset of these warriors. My life-long interest in the worldview and mentality of Bolshevism shed light on the fundamentalist mindset. It is this mindset, I believe, that underlines Russophobia and hostile policies toward the New Russia. The roots of the American fear of Russia are much deeper and more generic than Communist ideology or “Russia’s innate imperialist ambitions.” They have religious and existential overtones, and I am afraid they are likely to endure for a long time. 

 In my view, ultimately, three tenets underline the fundamentalist mindset: 1. the good-vs- evil dualism, 2. the doctrine of predestination and 3. apocalypticism (belief in the pending end of the world). Taken together, they explain fundamentalists’ existential hatred, fear, and hostility toward Russia and, I dare say, other Christians as well.

 The polarization of everything appears an obvious and universal rule of the world: plus and minus, pull and push, light and darkness, male and female, left and right. It is tempting to apply this dichotomized approach to living things, particularly humans: material and spiritual, life and death, right and wrong, moral and immoral, beautiful and ugly, happiness and suffering, liberal and conservative, saved or not saved. Scientifically speaking, such reductionism has nothing to do with the real world.  That’s why fundamentalist are so hostile toward science.

 Dichotomization permeates the political philosophy of fundamentalist politicians. Neoconservative ideologue Robert Kagan has admitted, “Americans generally see the world divided between good and evil, between friends and enemies.” President George W. Bush Jr. himself articulated this Manichean worldview in the wake of 9/11 when he proclaimed, “Either you’re for us or against us,” and so did most Republicans.

 For fundamentalists, every political issue– indeed, every disputed aspect of national and international life– is a struggle between good and evil, God and the Devil, Hell and Paradise.

There cannot be a middle ground, a partial solution. Either you are in heaven or in hell. There can be no such a thing as “between,” at least until the final judgment. They see every individual as an agent of either good or evil forces. That is to say that the evil individual is incapable of good feelings and actions (love, compassion, sacrifice). For them, the gray, middle ground is a wicked sophistry, an intentional mudding of waters. This is one reason why they dislike intellectuals. The latter, they think, tend to confuse the ‘gut feeling,’ the infamous common sense. They are “commonsensical” and, in fact, they are afraid of drowning in innuendos, different views and theories. Uncertainties, fuzziness and vagueness are all the Devil’s way of trapping simple folks’ minds in doubts and vacillations. Good and evil don’t mix, or, more precisely, if they mesh, evil prevails. Hence, solutions, they suggest, are binary – more government or less government, more regulation or less regulation, raising taxes or lowering taxes, fighting or flying. Striving for compromises and balanced decisions are seen as wishy-washy muddling through, a sure recipe for defeat and failure. Leadership is associated with resoluteness and decisiveness, not with thoughtfulness. A quick result is valued over an optimal solution; toughness over patience; action over dithering. Once the enemy has been identified, he has to be crushed with overwhelming force. Negotiations with “the evil guys” can only corrupt the pristine souls of the good guys. Fear that the bad guy can outsmart the good guy leads to reliance on brute force, hence, tendency to “shoot first, ask later.”

 They reason that Evil cannot be reformed, only destroyed. Because Russia was not occupied as were Germany and Japan in 1945, only crippled, its evil nature was not eradicated. Hence, Russia will recover and try to reassert her power over former client states. “Forget the Islamic threat, says Robert Kagan, the coming battle will be between autocratic nations like Russia and China and the rest.”

 Why, on earth, Russia and China? After all, China is the world’s chief manufacturer of consumer goods and a major sponsor of American prosperity. Russia is a European Christian nation and the world’s biggest producer of energy, as well as a leading producer of grain and raw materials.  The customary theory of economic rivalry, market and resources driven imperialism, is too shallow and materialistic for those who think in cosmic terms. In the “epic, decisive great battle” with the Devil, only these two powers can field armies mighty enough to confront the forces of Jesus.  And Russia, not China, will lead the way.

 Why? Because fundamentalists are intrinsic racists. They read the Old Testament as justifying the inequality of races. They think that God created different races and people for a purpose, with different roles in the world. The whites are destined to rule, blacks – to be slaves and servants, others — to be laborers. They dismiss Chinese as an “inferior race” lacking the capacity for original thinking, creativity and the leadership potential of a white northern race. These obedient laborers are not strong and creative enough to stand to the superior race of Anglo-Saxons.

 Russians, on the other hand, are white, hardy; they have proven themselves capable of crushing several of the most powerful military forces of time. They are smart and creative, which fundamentalists associate with a stamp of the Devil, and they possess a massive nuclear power. Therefore, only Russia can fulfill the Prophecy — rally, equip, and lead the hordes of God’s enemies. Remember what the former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stated: Russia is “without question, our number one geopolitical foe.”

 The second key tenet of fundamentalism is apocalypticism i.e. the belief in the end-time destruction of the world. Some 40% of Americans say they believe that events described in the Book of Revelation are going to come true. They think that current skirmishes with Satanic forces must one day culminate in the decisive contest — the Battle of Armageddon in which Russia (and possibly China and Muslims) will constitute the army of the Antichrist.

 Logically apocalyptic and good-vs- evil mentality constructs are connected to the same zero-sum logic… the material world (humans included because flesh is material) is so fundamentally flawed (corrupted) that it cannot be improved and must be destroyed.

 I dare to theorize that fundamentalists, such as Jerry Falwell, rely mostly on the Old Testament while the progressive evangelicals – on the New Testament. Fundamentalists hate the progressives’ sympathy for many politically liberal positions, their rejection of violence, militarism and injustice, and blasphemous reinterpretation of the Sacred Scripture.

 According to the fundamentalist worldview, only totally misguided liberals can advocate universal morality, i.e. morality equally applicable to all people and all cultures.

 To them, universal morality is nonsense at best, and a devilish plot at worst.

 Indeed, how could freedom and justice be equally applied to good and evil people or nations?

How could the Devil be allowed to exercise freedom to corrupt, convert and enslave good people? Justice toward evil means injustice toward the good, because giving to some means taking from others. Such conception of freedom means liberation of good people and the constraining of bad ones. The good-vs- evil mentality logically and inevitably leads to double standards – for those who are good, and those who are evil. In dealing with evil the ends justify the means. Love, mercy, compassion, proper procedures and rules…such do not apply to the minions of the Devil; anything short of total annihilation therefore should be regarded as a flagrant betrayal of God.

 Also fundamentalists criticize other Protestant denominations for compromising with Darwinism. Here I suggest that the doctrine of predestination contradicts evolution toward the better of both individuals and nations. Indeed, if individual’s destiny is preordained before he/she was conceived by God, his/her evolution is impossible. Then, again, I see inconsistency here: does God preordain someone to be a thief or a murderer? Or, perhaps, God constantly changes His mind? In short, the doctrine of predestination seems incompatible with evolution: either you believe in the existence of an immutable God’s plan for the world, or God created the world, set the rules, and then removed Himself from it.

 The Cold War standoff had perfectly fit the apocalyptic and good-vs- evil mentality of fundamentalists. There was an implacable “evil other” and the looming nuclear Armageddon.

Clear and simple. Today’s situation is somewhat more complicated. Still, as then, their political belief system rests on phantom primordial fears of global dimensions. In my view, only such paranoia can fully explain why American military expenditures exceed those of the rest of the world.

 

My discovery of the racist, violent, imperialistic, ignorant, conspiratorial and paranoid America was shocking. It contradicted my entire ‘theory’ of American culture and civilization.

The greatest threat to America isn’t the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, authoritarian Russia or Communist China. The greatest threat to peace and prosperity of humanity is fundamentalism, especially Muslim and Christian. It is fundamentalists’ irrational fears and hatred, fanaticism and apocalypticism, their global ambitions and zeal, which represent the greatest threat to the world and America itself.

 Quoting the neocon guru Robert Kagan, America is a “dangerous nation,” and it will remain so until this powerful minority of the American empire is convinced of its supremacy, exceptionalism, and divine right to rule the world.

 Indeed, when a country as powerful as the USA is so scared and angry, humanity is in deep trouble. It has already been dragged into the war of fundamentalists of the three major monotheistic religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), each fighting for its own version of the Heavenly Kingdom.

I am imagining that perhaps some of my evangelical Christian friends might read this text and take some offense, or you might want to shout, “That’s not what we meant!”  Perhaps you want to quote some Scripture and “help” Dmitry understand.   I would understand your indignation.  I am an evangelical Christian, and I do believe in good and evil, absolutely- this has created some friendly, yet serious conversation, that I have been privileged to share with Dmitry Fyodorovich.

But none of that is why I have posted this.  Instead, let’s consider that if we are accusing others of being evil, we are insinuating that we are good.

As Solzehnitsyn famously wrote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Let’s consider how we have come to a point of believing that we are so exceptional as a nation, a thought system that doesn’t fit well with the basic Christian virtue of humility.

Can Russia change?  Of course, it can, and it has.  So has America.  Regardless of your political leanings, you will probably agree that America’s standards and expectations of its leadership have drastically changed over the last couple of decades.  So, yes, we too are changing, but perhaps not for the better.

At the end of the day, regardless of our political or religious leanings, if we don’t believe that our enemy can change, then any pursuit of relationship is a waste of time.  So, America, please know that the world is listening to you right now.  Are you blaming and fearing “them?”  Or will you take a moment to listen, understand, and change?