Our country vastly suffers from…the army. We imply not armaments, which destiny is to protect the country from foreign enemies, but an active service of young men. Here is a typical, alas, situation: a young lad, even a child still, goes beyond the law. Instead of being properly strapped and his parents being fined, he is imprisoned for 2 – 3 years and comes back from the prison having grew a habitual criminal not able to adapt to a peaceful life. The army is half a prison our young men are put into for the only fault – for inability to get out of this very army. Recruits are firstly tormented as «greenhorns» then «demobees» jeer at recruits. After all these horrors a soldier finds himself in a Civy Street having got if not a physical, but a mental invalid with all the ensuing consequences – see above.

I was lucky with the army. I was inducted on June 15, 1967 with a call-up paper served two days ahead. Truth to tell, I prepared to enter an institute. At that time higher education was not patently intended for shirking the army. The idea was subliminal, but by no means it was the foremost point of life.

I was lucky with the army in that I did not find myself put neither in «greenhorn’s» nor «demobee’s» shoes. The point is that my military service started with study in the sergeant’s school (my specialty was – steam boiler operator that led me finally to the Moscow Power Engineering Institute) which was naturally and fortunately free from oppression and outrage upon «greenhorns». I was an old soldier («demobee») for only a fortnight: I was called in the army for 3 years, but an edict concerning transition to a two-year service had been issued soon and I was the first to serve for 2 years and was demobilized (in June 1969) two weeks later those served for 2,5 years had been demobilized.

Another success to me in the army was to be engaged in a real business: on graduating from the sergeant’s school (Gomel Region of Byelorussia) I started working at a military unit as the boiler-house master (New Kazanka Settlement, Ural Region of Kazakhstan – a branch of the well known training ground Kapustin Yar). The boiler-house master – sounds grand: three firemen were under my command, but for a longer time I had to be not their supervisor but an electrician, mechanic, sanitary technician…

Being an institute teacher everyday I face the second negative impact of the army on our present-day life. Many students regard the Institute not as «the temple of science», but as… an effective and inexpensive place of refuge from the army. Such students, truth to tell, have no ability for studies but they could have become good builders, mechanics, tailors, cooks, but… the army phobia drives them to institutes where teachers can’t bring themselves to put them «poor» and to expel from the institute.

It seems to me that the problem of transition to a professional army lies not only in lack of money but in something else. The trouble of our army (and armed people at all: navy, interior forces, militia (police) etc.) is that very rarely its representatives possess two peculiarities essential for their labor. Recruits, as a rule, are conscientious, but they have no professional skills. And gaining experience is frequently accompanied by loss of all that is inherent to inexperienced warriors and has been called at all times by a short but capacious word honor.

The dilemma of honor and professionalism is unexpectedly applied to the most significant Russian event of 2000 – to the presidential election. It is quite reasonable for many people to be surprised on the way a man, being absolutely unknown to everybody just a year ago, could be elected to the Supreme State Post. Some of them therewith consider our electorate to be …at this point words are selected by means of a wide semantic spectrum – from «imbeciles» to «developing electorate». Others allude to public relations men and say that they can create everything from anyone for the sake of making money. Yes, certainly, we would like our president to be, for example, a governor having gained an abundant (successful) experience of ruling over a province (region). The province in which, as Chichikov[1] had said, «you drive as in Paradise»: where you can't pay the traffic policemen off neither by money nor by your appointment[2], where economic activities are the highest in the country and unemployment and criminality – are the lowest et cetera. An election system of a standard democratic country naturally relies on the authority pyramid: presidents are elected from governors, governors are elected from chiefs of local administration and so on. But our trouble is that Russian regional leaders having made something useful for their regions leave a long train of scandals behind them based on the only principle: almost nothing can be made here staying within frames of the law. Especially since these frames don’t exist yet – they are just being designed. Formerly they said that one needs only to say «catch him!» to the law-enforcement agencies and any successful construction foreman or chairman of a collective farm should be sent «to not so distant places[3]». Now the list of «strong business managers» can be supplemented with an expert in a privatization («expropriation» – if you like) sphere. We have thrown so much mud at the governors having only just looked askance at the presidential seat! No power on earth is able to grasp and, chiefly, to conceive a desire to grasp what is true and what is false in election campaigns. The only thing stays clear – gaining an experience is, alas, very frequently accompanied by a loss of honor in our country. Our last presidential elections bear a strong resemblance to a conversation between two hard of hearing grannies from a «shabby» joke. The first granny tells the second one that «today’s cucumbers in the market are just like this (she shows their length) but at five rubles a kilogram, and yesterday’s were just like that but at three rubles, but today’s ones…». The second granny replies: «That does not matter, the main thing is that a man is respectable!»

Let's hope (ask the Lord) we have elected «a respectable man», and an experience – that’ll come. It is essential only not to sit to this notorious swing: «experience – up, honor – down». But a backward motion is impossible and this is the most terrible in the circumstances.

Since we have adverted to «Dead souls» by Gogol, we shall extract a description of… contemporary Russian mass media from the book: «There are people, crazy on playing dirty tricks on their neighbors and sometimes for no reason whatever». <…> «The closer they become friends with anyone the greater they spite him: they set tall stories afloat being so silly it is quite impossible to fabricate something more ridiculous, they break off the engagement or a trade deal». <…> «and that it is why the trick is very frequently concluded with another trick: they are either battered down by boots or…» <…> «And what is the most queer, that is only in Russia possible, after a while they meet their friends having pummeled them and meet these friends as if nothing had happened, and those are, as they say, alright, and these are alright».

The first sign of a standard democracy is the authority pyramid circulating by means of election of specialists, so let’s point out the second one. We would like any publication narrating criminality of a governor to result in an arraignment of this governor or a newspaper editor (and/or an author of the article) according to the law. And now everything goes just like 150 years ago: and those are, as they say, alright, and these are alright. There is a feeling that branches of the authority have undertaken an artful play making fools of electors (readers, spectators, and audience…). But this play, truth to tell, is often finished with «another trick»: he (a deputy, an editor) is either beaten in a porch of his own house or, worse (and maybe better – for whom how), is shot to death.


Translation into English by I.Repkin.

Please send your corrections on spelling and grammar of the text by e-mail: Pat33@mail.ru.

[1] The hero of the unfading poem by N.V. Gogol: «Dead Souls».

[2] Chile is considered to be the only country in Latin America where you can’t pay a policeman off with ten dollars. This is the thing, as some people think, much should be remitted to Pinochet. Lists of countries sorted out to the degree of corruption frequently appear at the periodical press. The techniques used at these calculations are not known. But an approved high-quality method exists – one should try to slip money to a policeman in a new country. If he takes money –that is all, the country is bribable. It remained only to argue about the degree of corruption of the country. But the fact still remains – a honest authority can not stand dishonest policemen and/or vise versa.

[3] To Kolyma, for example.