The Czar of North Moscow
During my first trip to Russia, I watched kids lined up in front of the new McDonalds, and old couples still holding hands, and lovers smooching, and ladies, arm and arm, strolling wide boulevards in Moscow. I wondered how many megatons of fissionable nuclear warheads in the United States were pre-programmed to land on this scene. I returned Russia a year later, six months after the Iron Curtain of Communist isolation fell. Boris Yeltsin had just survived a tank siege from the old regime in front of the Moscow White House, the first time a information black-out was foiled by the Internet. The nation was officially a free democracy. Regardless of the optimism for a free market future, most Russians were embarrassed that their national experiment had fallen apart in front of the whole world. Dislike of the government doesn’t negate national pride. Ask anyone in the coffee shop.
One day in Moscow I saw a clip of the US President, George Bush Sr. on TV. He made a joke about Yeltsin’s drinking. They played it all day, to my embarrassment.
“This is not good,” I thought. “This is a proud people. They can’t wait to put the cold war behind them. Some day a strong leader will rise up and offer Russians the respect as a world power. It won’t be a Godless Communist regime; the Church will be part of the new culture. But the guy could still be a bad-ass. There are lots of reasons to go to war. We Americans should give this emerging nation more respect.”
Vladimir Putin showed up ten years after I made this.