If You’re So Smart, Then Why Are You So Poor? Russia’s 1990s Revisited.

 

“We never tried to wake our children up on weekends: the more they sleep, the less they eat.”

-Natalia

Recently, the Russian-speaking segment of the Internet got flooded with personal photographs from the 1990s. I first took note of them on my own Facebook feed. Some appeared expectedly funny—imagine the hairstyles!—others were nostalgic. Yet what seemed like a spontaneous flashmob turned out to be a planned event. In fact, this social-networking experiment was organized by the Yeltsin Foundation in conjunction with one opposition publication.  It targeted the under-40 demographic, but especially those born in the late 1980s-early 1990s, who were too young to remember some of the horrors of that decade. Thus, the purpose of this pseudo-spontaneous photo-sharing was to reshape the memory of a nation about the early years following Soviet collapse. This memory has been overwhelmingly negative: looting the country’s natural resources by the select few, mob violence in the streets, daily hunger, institutional collapse, and national humiliation, just to name a few aspects.

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Mission to Syria

My contribution to the Espionage History Archive on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and Syria upon the latter’s request. The details seem, at times, eerily reminiscent of today’s events, as these excerpts from the memoirs of a Soviet diplomat reveal. It is this kind of mix of history, diplomacy, and intelligence that I find particularly fascinating and, thus, a pleasure to translate!

Espionage History Archive

The Soviet Union’s first ambassador to Egypt, Nikolai Vasilievich Novikov, recounts his pioneering role in establishing diplomatic relations in 1944 with Syria. Novikov provides a rich context to the genesis of Russo-Syrian partnership, describing the geopolitical arena and its attendant intrigues conducted by rival great powers like Britain and France. Novikov’s passage serves as an excellent background to an alliance between Russia and Syria that has regained strategic significance in the Great Game of our own day. 


One hellishly hot day, June 15, when all the thoughts of Cairo’s residents charred from heat turned if not toward the relaxing beaches of Alexandria, then toward a cool bath or a shower, a respectable-looking stranger from Syria showed up at the Soviet Embassy. Met by advisor Daniil Solod, he introduced himself as Naim Antaki, a member of Syria’s parliament from Damascus, and the former Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Naim Antaki

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