In an office in a darkened warehouse on frozen Dufferin Street in Toronto, mild-mannered business consultant Walter Derzko keys in a code on his cellphone. A secret floor hatch spirals open behind his chair, revealing a pole leading into the depths. Throwing his tie over his shoulder, Walter slides down the pole to the Nutcave hidden below and, behind the wheel of the Battymobile, bursts into the sleeping city on his lonely, neverending fight against the merciless forces of reality.
Seriously – seriously, what are we to make of this (hat-tip to Jesse Heath over at the Russia Monitor)? If Mr. Derzko is to be believed, Ms. Natalia Zubarevich – a Doctor of Geographical Sciences and Professor at Moscow State University who often acts as advisor to several government departments – announced recently that owing to factors we’ll discuss further below, the Russian Federation was doomed to inevitable and inexorable death. As a result, the country will cease to exist, and be broken into independent states. This feeds into a treasured Russophobic dream, which I most recently saw in the comments section of one of Oksana Bashuk-Hepburn’s nasty articles for the Kyiv Post, to the effect that by 2015 Russia will have shrunk to Moscow alone. I won’t discuss my immediate reaction, because it would likely be thought rude and disrespectful. As it probably is when somebody proffers a viewpoint in all seriousness, and you laugh until you have a hard time getting your breath.
Well, Mr. Derzko wouldn’t have just made it up, would he? So let’s have a look at his source for this breathtaking confession. Hmmm…KavkazCenter. I started to get a sense that it was not a reliable, unbiased source right about the point where it said, “…and will be divided into independent states in accordance with subjects and sub-subjects of the current ‘federation’, hated by everybody”. This feeling began to deepen when I noted the Islamic device featured in the header, articles in the events bar which referred to “the Russian satrap in Ingushetia”, the “Parasitic European secret police”, “Secret Italian/French parasites” and the “Parasitic Italian police”. About then, I noticed the posting of the subject article on the site is recorded in “Emirate time”. If you were me, what would you have done next? That’s right – I clicked on “About Us”.
Well, well. KavkazCenter is “a privately run, independent agency that does not represent the viewpoint of any state structures or the CRI government”, that instead represents “the positions of the side defending against aggression – the Chechen mujahedeen”.
Walter, Walter. You’re lending the imprimatur of respectability to a news item, that purports to quote an advisor to the Russian government, that originated with the Chechen mujahedeen. In which the quoted figure allegedly confessed that the state is dying and could not avoid disintegration. I hate to be the one to point it out, but this so closely parallels the ideal state of affairs – not to mention the operational goal – of the Chechen mujahedeen that I have to suggest a degree of wishful thinking has crept into their reporting. Tell you what; if you show me where Ms. Zubarevich actually made that confession, or forecast, or whatever you want to call it, I’ll look at taking you seriously. Because my position, right here and now, is that she never said it at all.
Part of my reasons for that assessment include her uncontestable credentials; she’s a very smart woman. Winner of the International Leon Tief award for achievement in economy, author of several learned works on economics and human development and advisor to a number of government agencies, she could not have arrived at a diagnosis of inevitable death for the Russian federation based on the reasons cited in the article.
Summarized, the four reasons cited add up to a substantial migration to major cities in Russia, leading to growing environmental problems as cities never intended to bear such populations struggle to cope with waste-disposal and traffic crises while infrastructure creaks under the load. Sound familiar? It should. It’s happening all over the world, and a study conducted last year by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded more than half the world’s population of 6.9 Billion currently live in cities. This is not entirely recent, although it is accelerating – in 2005 a British study conducted for Halifax PLC found London had experienced the fastest population growth in the entire UK over the past 10 years. I didn’t read any reports at the time which suggested Britain was rapidly and irreversibly dying as a result, and I suspect that’s because there was nobody stupid enough to draw such a conclusion.
The final reason cited for Russia’s iminent collapse was “ethnic tensions in the Caucasus”. While this is a problem, I can kind of see how it might loom in importance to a news outlet dedicated to support of the Chechen mujahedeen, if you’re fond of understatement. Put another way, it’s a little like suggesting if the state of Vermont decided it wanted to be an Islamic emirate, the USA would fall apart. Come on.
Although Ms. Zubarevich allows herself to be cited by those nuts at Open Democracy too often for my liking, there’s no disputing her intellectual stature. That’s why I’m curious about her contribution to the National Human Development Report in the Russian Federation for 2010, in which she was responsible for chapter 9; Millenium Development Goals and Russian Regions. In this report, Professor Zubarevich cites such positive trends as the halving of national poverty between 2000 and 2008, significant growth in wage levels and improved social support. She points out that gender-related problems in education are “not characteristic for Russia”, and 57% of all graduate and post-graduate students are females. The infant mortality rate declined steadily since the mid-90’s, owing significantly to an increase of state investment in healthcare during the economic growth of the 2000’s. She reported the development of cellular communications in the regions as “remarkable”, although qualifying the statement by noting communications as an ongoing problem. Other areas in which the country needed to improve were environmental responsibility and quality of housing. In Table 9.1, “Divergence in levels of MDG (Millenium Development Goal) Indicators for Russia’s Regions”, all the indicators appeared to be headed in the right direction except the incidence of tuberculosis, which rose slightly, from 83 to 85 per 100,000 people. On the plus side, deaths from tuberculosis shrank from 22 to 17 per 100,000 people.
What I’m curious about is why she went into such detail, probably more than any of her co-authors, when she could have simply said, “Who gives a fuck; the Russian Federation is dying, the trend is irreversible, and it might as well just pick out a sunny spot to be buried. Later, assholes.”
Here’s a tip, Walter. If you aim to be taken seriously in economic and social-development forecasting, stop getting your data from Chechen Republic of Ichkeria militants.
Update: I just noticed, on another review of the KavkazCenter reference, that one of the sidebar stories refers to the Domodedovo bomber as “the Moscow martyr bomber”. Nice. Some company you keep, Walter.