Unlike Sovietologists, I do not claim a deep knowledge of Russian history. But I took no pleasure watching vaunted Sovietologists like Condoleezza Rice being blindsided by the implosion of communist Russia. (OK, a tiny bit.)
Nor did I revel in watching as American anti-communists tried to cover their gaffe by recreating a secretly governed, heavily surveilled, undemocratic America.
Nor was I thrilled to watch Russian former communists impose an oligarchic capitalism that threw average Russian people deeper into grinding poverty.
Still, my knowledge of Russia and its people is not even “I’ll take Tsars for $400” deep, but blini-thin, a hybrid goulash of Doctor Zhivago (mostly Julie Christie), Boris and Natasha, and tiny preternaturally pretzel-like gymnasts who never, ever fell off the balance beam. And you knew if they did, it was next stop Siberia.
My history with Russia is fall-out shelter, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and wild man Khrushchev hammering his shoe on a U.N. table. As a child I did not learn about Russia in history class. I prayed for Russia at mass.
Just before the priest concluded the proceedings with, “Go in peace, the mass is ended,” he would intone, “Savior of the World,” followed by the hearty, one-voiced response of the congregation, “Save Russia.”
Russia needed to be saved because they were godless atheists. Every last one of them. My elementary Sisters of Charity used the godlessness of children our age whenever the Lives of the Child Martyrs stories were not having the desired effect on our behavior: “In Russia, children are taken from their families and put in preschool!” “Russian children snitch on their own parents!” and “Russian children eat their beets!”
Like the space race, our belief became quite competitive. Catholicism vs. Atheism, game on. We children were going to twist ourselves into such a belief in God that we wouldn’t have time to be very good in science, math, or nailing our landings. The notion that you could not believe in God was both perplexing and thrilling. I never self-reported.
Turns out that every Russian was not an atheist. Like Christians in the catacombs, the Russian Orthodox Church was underground, just waiting for its chance to come roaring back.
President Putin is now doing his best Emperor Constantine. Imagine! A president using Christian fundamentalists to further his goals.
With the blessing of the bearded clothmen, the former KGB middling man is cracking down on international adoption, domestic dissent, and homosexuality. When George Bush, always a fine judge of character, met “Pootie Poot,” he said he looked into his eyes and saw the soul of a good man. Of course, when Poot looked into George’s eyes he saw right to the back of his head.
In our house of conspiracy theories, we think that Putin protests too much about homosexuality and are filling our own secret dossier on him. When Putin announced he was divorcing his wife of thirty years, the reaction was, “Wait, what? He was married?”
He is always having himself photographed doing manly man things. Medvedev is his boy-toy. The botoxed face of Putin will not countenance deviant SOGI (sexual orientation gender identity) in Sochi’s Olympics.
More refined than his shoe-pounding predecessors, Putin bullies just the same. He taunts by sheltering Edward Snowden at home. He cracks down on the performance artists Pussy Riot, who make our Riot Grrrls look like Wussy Riot. And he asserts his nationalism by promising to rid the world of Syria’s sarin gas.
Trust and verify but save us all.