Walking across Tiananmen square I remembered my last tour in Russia …
Excerpt from the book Andrei, Fira and Pitch (2016):
Moscow. The main impression is that Russia has fallen into a malignant perpetuity. It seems that this is the “special path” the country is taking. Throughout its harsh history the same cycles repeat themselves stupidly and mechanically.
Short periods of reanimation and thaw are then replaced by gloomy periods of reaction when the principle component in public life is its oppression and suffocation. Nobody can or wishes to learn from past mistakes. Modern Russian society is treading water, rotting and bruised. But with leaden stubbornness it does not wish to look at itself, to pull itself together and rise even one step higher. Russia does not wish to return to objective reality; it prefers to befuddle itself with renewed, but painfully familiar myths that are rotten to the core.
It is impossible to watch Russian television because it is, without metaphor or hyperbole, a Witches’ Sabbath. Absolutely ALL the characters on screen have visible horns, tails, snouts and hooves. Avaricious, obtuse physiognomies, red slug-like lips, grabbing hands and the eyes of witches and vampires. They are special, national bogey monsters, not something from Goya’s engravings or the paintings of Bosch. They are post-Soviet glamour. The moral stench that is mentioned in Dostoevsky’s short story, Bobok, has filled Moscow in its entirety. It emanates from Russian “politicians” and “comedians”, and their banal public. People are not living; they are functioning in malignant perpetuity, like robots. There are robot pimps and robot whores. A bestial passion for profit hangs in the air like an axe.
There is no real meaning in contemporary Russia. No big idea. THE KINGDOM OF EMPTINESS. Thoughts and ideas have left, together with the people who had them, or they have been chewed up and spat out like chewing gum waste. There is nobody to talk to and nothing to talk about. The feelings and reactions of the overriding majority of Muscovites are on the most primitive level. People are engaged in satisfying their needs. They are superficial, vulgar and evil as hardened crims. The lives and pain of other people is of no concern to anyone. Love, care, attention, mutual respect and amicability have abandoned these people’s reality. The cosmic coldness of modern Russians chills to the core. The jaw drops at their effrontery.
I was walking round the Boulevard ring road late one evening. I looked into the eyes of passersby. What did I see there? Loneliness, hopelessness, intoxication with the pointlessness of existence and a brainless readiness to risk their lives. As well as imminent death from drink or drugs…
Beautiful naked female forms in the windows of the night clubs and discos of the centre of Moscow. Hookers dance and draw the punters in. There are dead smiles on their doll-like, rubber faces. They stretch their lips wide in front of a client in order to gobble him down, swallow him and then spit him out of their bellies and raze him from their memories.
The image of the new Moscow that has been built up over the last ten years is extraordinarily similar to its contents. It is of course not New London, not Paris, New York or Madrid. It is still the same old Potemkin village, blue bloated face, a bit of lippy and a covering of cheap blusher. Clothed in hollering stations. Everywhere and everything is vulgar, vile and fake, from the main replica cathedral along the replica boulevards and up to the replica sky scrapers.
The last romantic corners of old Moscow, which served as my constant source of inspiration in my past life, have all been destroyed or desecrated.
The architectural effrontery and lack of talent made my physically unwell, I felt nauseous. New Moscow is the embodiment of lack of talent, boorishness and the mental retardation of the rampaging louts who have got their hands on power! The city of Moscow no longer exists. It is Disneyland. A fairground ride of lethal anarchy. Freedom as interpreted by idiot gangsters, like at Gulyai Polye. A den of thieves. The mundane passivity of the post-Soviet masses is depressing, along with their mob-boss elders. The most terrifying phenomenon in life in New Russia, however, is the artistic intelligentsia. They are obese and stupid and have sold out, hook, line and sinker. They have trampled all that was humane within them in exchange for awards and undeclared cash payments from the KGB and the crime lords.
I always used to be offended by Rachmaninoff. In an interview in the 1930s an American journalist asked him if he missed Russia. He replied, “Russia no longer exists.” Until very recently I thought that Rachmaninoff was wrong. It is only these most recent concerts in Moscow in 2010 that have made me realise that he was right.
Despite all this, I did notice several lovely, familiar faces from old times among the concert-going public. How have they survived in this crazy cesspit, at this licentious carnival of modern Daddy Makhnos? I imagined that in the cavernous halls there were tiny streams of life trickling through, and that people came there to breathe, away from deafening reeking reality.
The main mass of Muscovites have adapted to the lack of atmosphere in the megapolis. They like the putrid ambiance of captivity. They are incapable of living at liberty, in the fresh air. Nine hundred years of self-enslavement, followed by another 100 years of communism have left their mark. Liberated bondmen yearn for the lash of a whip. Old cons want to get back behind bars. The intellectuals who stayed behind long for the stools in the kitchen, rubbed smooth by sitting backsides. To have a giggle, drink a bit, tell a few jokes…
I flew to Magadan! It was an Aeroflot plane, a Boeing I was pleased to see. My relief was premature, however. Inside the aeroplane it was as cramped as a bad dream. The passenger in front lay on my legs for the whole flight. The seat was as narrow as a monkey’s bum.
It was impossible to squeeze into the toilet. The flight lasted eight hours. I reclined the seat. The passenger behind me yelled, “What do you think you’re doing?”
I roared back in response, “Complaining about your Aeroflot!”
As we approached Magadan I could see cheerless hills covered in snow. How awful it was to die here! There was a poster: Welcome to Kolyma, the Golden Heart of Russia!
Well, into the Heart I go! I walked through the streets. The people here seemed particularly primitive to me. On the faces of almost everyone I passed there was some indication of hard drinking. Puffy, worn-out, grey faces. Blurry eyes. Everyone drinks in this cold, Golden Heart of Russia. Even the staff at the Philharmonia. It seems that any other way is impossible. Many people in the streets have thuggish faces. Even young girls.
But, what a miracle! Even here the concert-going public was pleasant and nice. My concert. Comprehension, passionate success and tears of happiness.
The director was Jewish, happy and drunk. Aha, I thought, someone I can talk to! I was wrong. All that was left of the Jew in him was the wisdom not to interfere in anything except his own business. We spoke about the memorial project (in memory of the victims of political repression). He squirmed and pulled a contemptuous expression.
“Whatever for? How much can they keep banging on about that? Anyone who comes to see us in Magadan immediately starts talking only about the dead. We’ve had enough requiems! Let’s live and have fun!”
I see, I see, Mr Director, I thought. The unspoken order from above has reached even the Golden Heart of Russia. A new song to an old tune. The Soviet Union wasn’t all that bad. The most successful manager in Russia has directed it all. The Spiritual Father of today’s Great Pretender. Well, you can drink and have fun, dance on the bones of your ancestors. Just do it without me.
I came down with pneumonia in Magadan. Perhaps it was caused by indignation?
Before leaving I went up onto Krutaya Hill. Perched on top stands the Mask of Sorrow, a 15-metre concrete monument by Ernst Neizvestny. Instead of a face it has a cross, instead of eyes it has a hole, with a prison cell inside. Newly-weds come up to the Mask of Sorrow. They do not come to mourn, however, they come to drink. The dogs need an excuse to clink their glasses, and a post to lift a leg against.
Our guide explained, “These concrete blocks symbolise the camps.”
She was interrupted by a cracked voice, “Why don’t you tell foreigners that 67 per cent of the prisoners in Kolyma were criminals? Only 33 per cent were politicals. And this monument is a lie, nothing but a waste of money to bullshit the foreigners…”
The voice belonged to a young man with an ugly face and sallow complexion. He was wearing a long, smart overcoat, with a childish knitted balaclava on his head. He was tall. He counts people in percentages, the bastard… Is he a goon? A far-right extremist? No, he’s an ordinary modern young Putinoid, brainwashed by the new propaganda. He’s a worthy son of a moronic father informer, the grandson of a prisonguard and great grandson of a commissar in a dusty helmet. He spews out the sort of bubonic loathing of all humanity that was rife in Soviet times.
In Yaroslavl I was unwell when I played my concert, but I enjoyed it. I played Mozart and Prokofiev, for music lovers who have not been annihilated by the new era. It was a full house. Happy faces. Even a few Muscovites made the effort to come; I noticed a number of familiar faces. Good for them! I so wanted to embrace them all with my music. To take them away from there for ever. Tears again. Happiness.
After the concert there followed four miserable hours in the car. A fever. Finally I was back home on Nikitsky Boulevard. I couldn’t breathe I was coughing so much. I barely manage to crawl to bed. East, west, home’s best. Not a bit of it! There were cars roaring outside the windows. I couldn’t open the little top window as the smell of exhaust was unbearable. From upstairs, as though from the sky, came the never-ending din of a pneumatic drill and the infernal wine of an electric drill; the sounds of refurbishment. Plaster fell from the ceiling. It seemed to me in my feverish delirium that the ceiling was falling down and the sky was crumpling. Judgment Day. My illness developed complications because of the racket. Moscow coughed and spluttered. It was the city’s cough that was ripping my throat and bronchial tubes.
The nouveaux riches have sucked up enough money and are renovating their glamorous homes. The New Moscow scum hopes to shut itself off from the world behind marble walls. From the world, from reality, the past and the present. You can’t shut yourself off from destiny. Something tells me that payback time is not far off.
There was no reality, only noise. Rumblings, filth, people with frenzied faces. It was stifling. It never used to be so stifling at Nikitsky Boulevard. This had nothing to do with being ill. My body and soul were stifling, and my mind. Being at home had not helped. The hell of Moscow’s oblivion reached me even here, although I lived here for so many years. I had prayed with thousands of hours of practising, sanctified the rooms and the walls with the music of geniuses.
I turned on the television. On the Nostalgia channel they were showing famous performers from the Soviet stage, from Bernes (Where does Homeland Begin) to Sofia Rotaru (Be Happy, My Earth). Then they started playing Soviet newsreels from the 60s and 70s… Party conferences, people’s deputies, medals, eminent miners and milkmaids, presidiums…
A cosmonaut mumbled something patriotic from orbit, front-rank workers reported to the people and the Party about the progress of socialist emulation…
The announcers broadcast like psychiatrists putting their patients into a deep, hypnotic sleep.
Headstrong tractors crawled across the screen, stern victorious soldiers marched, sweaty steel workers produced record cast iron smelting, the engines on snow-white IL-62 airliners rumbled richly, and capable stewardesses smiled shyly…
A gleam of gold and the wonderful Friendship of the Peoples fountain sent its crystal jets into the heavens…
The criminal experiment to produce a “new humankind” succeeded. Many Russians never came out of their Soviet coma. Hundreds of millions of human experimental subjects were turned into primitive, biological dolls, and produced multiple offspring…
It is no surprise that more than 50 per cent of the population of Russia wants to return to the USSR, while over 70 per cent believe Stalin was a “great leader” and dream of a “firm hand”. Having undergone multiple selection in the Michurin technique, and three generations of lobotomy, people are unable to live beyond the walls of the clinic.
Rozanov was right, “Lenin and his henchmen are so brave because they know that nobody will judge them, as the judges will have been eaten.”
I looked on the Internet where the best Russian commentators publish their analytical articles. Many of them write about the “points of no return”. Somebody thinks that the turning point in the history of Russia was the disbanding of the NTV channel, someone else believes it was the sinking of the Kursk, others that it was Beslan, or Nord-Ost… They all round off their critiques along the lines of, “One more step, and we will be on the brink of catastrophe!”
I have long been sick of this “brink”. What are you talking about? What points of no return? What edge of the abyss? How much longer can you keep reassuring yourselves? How much longer can you keep lying to yourselves?
Russia has been buried under a layer of blood-soaked lava for the past hundred years. The lava is now filling up the last burrows, holes and caves where the contemporary Russian Nestors and Avvakums sit. The Russian apocalypse has exploded Russia, and it will be more than a century’s wait for any green shoots of Russian culture.
Up until New Year 2011, everyone was eagerly discussing the TRIAL of two men. These two men retained their pride and dignity, which is why they were in court. Like two Gulliver’s, they looked in amusement from their glass cages at the Lilliputians scurrying around them.
The “best brains” little realise that this is no trial, but the latest in a string of criminal gang rapes on all of us who grieve over what is left of our homeland…
One great “brain” insists that the crooked leaders should be banished from the country on a “ship of thieves” in order to cleanse the country of filth. The brilliant commentator forgot that it is not a ship that is required; rather a gigantic ark into which the vast majority of the mutilated population of the Soviet Union need to be stuffed…
I was quietly exultant on my way to the airport. I was not upset when the girl at the check-in desk had a little fit of hysterics over the additional kilogrammes in my luggage. I ran the 30 metres with my shoes off to the metal detector, out of breath, in a bit of a lather. I almost fainted, barely able to wait for take off.
“Gutte morga, Grützi” sang our beautiful, polite SWISS air cabin staff with their welcoming smiles. They were congenial from the heart, not as part of their job. There was a white cross on the red tail of the plane, with no masks of the killed and tortured.
All around me were people. I heaved a huge sigh and fell asleep. We landed in Zurich, the sun was shining. It was warm. Smiles. For some reason I didn’t want to see it all, and knew that my soul was back there. What was here was nothing but the husk. Till the bitter end I will keep going back to my homeland. I shall die with the thought of its renaissance in my mind.
Link to the book Andrei, Fira and Pitch by Andrei Gavrilov