La Russophobe and Paul Goble – Unlikely UNESCO Crusaders

Uncle Volodya says, "What's that - double cheeseburger and large fries? Better have a diet coke with it"

The Russian Flag, soon to top Europe's tallest building

Russian cultural heritage acquired two surprisingly ardent new supporters recently, as evidenced by this article. Yes, La Russophobe and Paul “The Indispensable” Goble have joined ranks with angry residents of St Petersburg who oppose the building of the proposed new Okhta Center. At a designed height of 396 m, it will be the tallest building in Europe when constructed, and will house the headquarters of state-owned energy giant GAZPROM. According to Fortune Magazine, GAZPROM was the world’s most profitable company last year, although it ranked 50th in overall revenue, booting former leader and American energy big-boy Exxon-Mobil.

I’m a big fan of research on topics I intend to discuss, because you learn the most interesting things. For instance, the name of the proposed facility was originally to be “GAZPROM City” – which was a horrible choice for a metropolis that boasts some of the most beautiful architecture in all of Russia. It was renamed the Okhta Center by its designers, Scottish architects RMJM. The new name reflects its proposed location, the Okhta Valley, a “rundown industrial zone situated on the edge of the city centre”.

What? But the article we’re discussing is entitled “Putin is Destroying Russian Culture for Cash”. In my experience, one rundown industrial zone looks pretty much like any other, anywhere. So, no beautiful old Russian heritage buildings will be razed to make room for the Okhta Center? Nope. Historical and cultural monuments? Again, nope. What apparently has the Angry Western and Local Agitators for Russian Culture in Russia so stirred up is that you will be able to see the tower from most anywhere in the city. Kind of like, you know, the World Trade Centre in New York, if it isn’t some kind of sacrilege to speak its name. And, presumably, the monument that will take its place – at a designed height of 541 meters, Freedom Tower will be 145 meters taller than the Okhta Center.

At first I thought, this is testament to American cleverness: no God-fearing American would dare criticize any design project with “Freedom” in its name! But I was wrong. According to the site, “The early designs were ridiculed. When the first cohesive plan came out of the pack it, too, found slews of detractors. New Yorkers are notoriously cranky people, and they took aim at the design. Most had forgotten, or were too young to remember, that the original twin towers were also the subject of much vitriol for their design and expense. It was only after those towers were taken away that the city realized it had grown to love its pair of white albatrosses. But detractors stalled the project for more than a year, adopted celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump as their mouthpiece, and embarrassed the city and the nation by allowing the United Arab Emirates to begin work on what would become the world’s tallest tower while New Yorkers were busy sticking their thumbs in each other’s eyes.”

There are a couple of things that should jump out at you from the American viewpoint; let’s look at them together, and then review them in the context of a couple of Americans bitching about the cultural wreckage that will surely ensue if the Okhta Center is constructed. New Yorkers who criticized the proposed Freedom Tower, we are told, are “notoriously cranky”. This means eccentric. People who opposed the design – presumably because you would be able to see it from everywhere, since it…ummm…didn’t displace anything, are eccentric. Good to know. St Petersburgers, though, who criticize the Okhta project (which looks strikingly similar to Freedom Tower except for the flat top and spike on the latter) because you will be able to see it from everywhere are solid and respectable defenders of heritage. Moving along, we learn that the design of the original World Trade Centre towers was also opposed; by people who, for one reason or another, learned to love them. Is it not possible the Okhta Center might become a similarly-treasured national landmark? I don’t see why not.

In the last complaint, I believe we all can understand what a slap in the face to American pride – an “embarrassment to the city and the nation” – it was to see those sneaky Arabs break ground on the world’s tallest tower while killjoy New Yorkers stalled American opportunity. That’s why, I believe, Russia can’t be allowed to have The Tallest Building In Europe. The biggest of anything is a symbol; of progress, of national greatness and pride. None of those square well with a Russophobic view of Russia.

But this is getting boring; let’s talk about something else. Because it’s my article, I get to decide, and I’d like to talk for a moment about Kommersant. The Indispensable Paul Goble sympathetically cites Kommersant as an inspiration for his newfound love of Russian culture. That’s curious, because Kommersant – once owned by absconded Aeroflot mogul Boris Berezovsky – is currently owned by Alisher Usmanov. Usmanov is chairman and director of GAZPROM investment holdings, a subsidiary of GAZPROM.

That’s boring, too – let’s talk for a minute about Paul “TI” Goble and La Russophobe’s curious advancement of UNESCO’s concerns in this issue. As you’ve probably guessed, I wouldn’t have mentioned it if there wasn’t something odd about it. And there is. Because, you see, the United States boycotted UNESCO for 19 years, only resuming an active role in 2003. Two years later, the United States stood alone in a bitter wrangle with UNESCO members over a plan to promote cultural diversity. The American position? The proposed initiative would limit the spread of American popular culture by restricting exports of its audiovisual products, particularly Hollywood movies and television programs. Did I mention the United States was the only country to oppose this initiative, despite its being sponsored by partners France and Canada and having the shoulder-to-shoulder support of all other members, including the European Union and its then-president – America’s “best friend”, Britain?

The lesson you can take away from this, then, is that UNESCO is an international pariah that unfairly seeks to curb the glorious spread of American culture throughout the world, not to mention interfering with the profitable movie and television industries. Oh – except when UNESCO has some problems with the construction of Europe’s tallest building in Russia. Then, then UNESCO is a crusading regulator against corporate graft and greed, heroically standing in the way of those greedy people greedily building a greedy monument to their greed at the expense of priceless Russian culture.

Just to show there are no hard feelings, and to showcase my diplomacy chops, I have a proposal I think will please everyone: not the least, La Russophobe. I propose the Okhta Center be built according to the current schedule, but that the design be altered to a 396-meter giant letter “M” – the famous “Golden Arches” of American fast-food giant McDonalds.  After all, La Russophobe has been a tireless advocate of the notion that McDonalds represents the best of American culture and values, even going so far as to lecture adored lawyer Robert Amsterdam for failing to advance the Burger Agenda with the expected zeal.

Whaddya say, St Petersburg? Are you lovin’ it?

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10 Responses to La Russophobe and Paul Goble – Unlikely UNESCO Crusaders

  1. Misha says:

    Mark, you’re so right about the noticeable negativity on the World Trade Center (WTC) when that complex first went up.

    The two buildings really had a great visual reach. On Long Island, there’s beach area where the WTC Twin Towers were the only visible sign of Manhattan.

    Every major modern city with a lengthy past has a great historical/cultural tradition which some might see as standing in the way of progress. Others oppose such change (at least in certain instances). The late Paul Klebnikov expressed concern about the manner of some of Moscow’s changing landscape. As I learned from Ric Burns’ (brother of Ken) PBS documentary on NY and follow-up with some elders, legendary developer Robert Moses planned on building a highway thru Manhattan which would’ve drastically changed the makeup of Greenwich Village. A united front from that community successfully defeated Moses’ plan. However, years later, Greenwich Village experienced a reduction from its makeup. Prior to the 1970s, there was an area several blocks south of Central Park South (by where the overly priced 21 Club eatery is located) which was home to several jazz clubs. Sky scrapers have replaced that sight. The tearing down of the original Penn Station (that among other things brought about the latest edition of Madison Square Garden) wasn’t not a cultural improvement from an artistic/architectural perspective.

    New Yorkers stand out with a combo of how many of them generally talk and carry on in a manner that some will find a bit too frank. The last point can be positive if the intent serves as a basis for constructive criticism. Many New York bred people are a bit astonished at how their accent (having varying forms) gets acknowledged by others. As an example, folks raised in the suburbs away from Brooklyn don’t feel their accent to be particularly noticeable.

    As for the two sources of this blog post’s title, there’s a certain predictability at play. Using baseball terminology, one has a good sense of what pitch they will be throwing.

    Care of Austere Insomniac’s Leos Tomicek are these pieces on a recent Russian TV documentary about Chechnya:

    http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1109623.html

    http://www.jamestown.org/programs/ncw/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=4877&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=169&no_cache=1

    One of several examples of the manner in how a given slant will pounce on something expressing another view.

    Of course, the Chechen separatist drive of the 1990s had home grown elements inside that part of Russia. At the same time, there’s no denying the support and sympathy it received from others – whether in propaganda or other forms.

    Concerning the propping of an unsubstantiated and questionable claim that can be viewed as propaganda (having to do with a supposed Russo-Ukrainian plan to put Pridnestrovie/Transnistria into Ukraine):

    http://windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/05/window-on-eurasia-do-medvedev-and.html

    Besides here, where is the critical follow-up?

    http://www.eurasiareview.com/201007064424/differences-over-disputed-territories.html

    http://www.eurasiareview.com/20100527393/haggling-over-the-former-moldavian-ssr-dispute.html

    • marknesop says:

      Thanks so much for the detailed reply, Mike! I used to blame the biased slant on sloppy or nonexistent research on the part of the opposition – classic example, headlining the piece “Putin is Destroying Russian Culture for Cash” when only a couple of minutes on the intertubes reveals that the tower will be built on waste ground in an industrial zone. However, more and more I’ve come to believe it’s deliberate, and panders to an uncritical audience that is unlikely to challenge any claim – no matter how wild-eyed – provided it refers to Russia and is negative. If it were merely laziness, you’d expect to see a trend away from it as embarrassment occurred more frequently. If it’s deliberate, it’s beyond embarrassment and unlikely to ever change. Far from discouraging, I’m optimistic that it will keep me busy!

      I spent a few days in New York many years ago, when I was there with the NATO squadron, and was in general favourably impressed. The best piece of advice I was ever given with respect to conduct in foreign countries/cities was “Mind your own business and don’t look for trouble, and you will markedly reduce your chances of finding it”. Of course, New York escalates “Mind your own business” to a religion, but I didn’t have any trouble at all. I’m afraid I saw only downtown Manhattan, but as I said, it made a favourable impression. Unfortunately, it was also the occasion for one of my semi-regular reminders that I cannot drink tequila, but that’s hardly New York’s fault.

      The WTC towers impressed with their blunt, uncompromising massiveness, but they were certainly not architecturally beautiful. The style of the day for business construction focused far more on utility and strength than style or form. The Okhta Center design is attractive and appealing, and reminds me of the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai. I understand there is some local opposition from St Petersburg traditionalists who want to keep it a city of classical heritage buildings, but progress must happen in any event, and some benefit will be derived at least from visible signs of it. Russophobes, of course, do not give a rip about Russian culture – they merely want to stir things up and promote discord. Speaking of Russophobes, I saw you mentioned in a most unfavourable light on La Russophobe, purely by chance when I was searching for posts illustrative of what I wanted to say. Lucky dog. I look forward to the day when I, too, come in for a blast of bile and vituperation from her; there can be no higher compliment.

      When I have the time I intend to look more closely into the political dimension of her support, as has been pointed out by several commenters. Best regards,

      Mark

  2. Misha says:

    Mark, a common reply from first time visitors to NY is their pleasant surprise at how generally cooperative New Yorkers are on matters like asking for directions. Without meaning to appear corny, this kind of helpful manner was evident on 9/11.

    On another point of yours: as I noted at another one of your threads, some folks prefer lobbing cheap shots from their toilet, as opposed to a more challenging approach:

    http://accidentalrussophile.blogspot.com/2007/08/should-we-be-afraid-of-russia-have-your.html

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/worldhaveyoursay/2007/08/a_new_cold_war.html

    I appreciate your overall take on things, while being of the belief that it’s best to not promote dreck – especially when there’s better material out there.

    I’m more concerned with what people like Leos Tomicek and Carl Thomson think of me.

    A link to some of Carl’s commentary:

    http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/carl_thomson/

  3. Misha says:

    A friend of mine just forwarded to me this link which has some great recently taken photos of St. Petersburg:

    http://drugoi.livejournal.com/3300209.html

    • marknesop says:

      Those are some fantastic shots, Mike. My wife will love them! She has relatives in St Pete’s, and visited there often.

      Lots of construction cranes in the background in some shots. Ever wonder how they get them out when construction is complete? A builder in Hong Kong explained it to me a couple of years ago – they don’t. Only the lifting head at the very top is dismantled and removed. The remainder stays in place and becomes the elevator shaft.

  4. Misha says:

    Gald you liked them Mark. I’ve St. Petersburg familial roots.

    The subject of Russia and photos reminds me of this great collection:

    http://blogs.denverpost.com/captured/2009/10/21/color-photography-from-russian-in-the-early-1900s/

  5. Received your web blog via google the other day and absolutely find it irresistible. Continue the fantastic work.

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