Saturday, November 8, 2014


When Mikhail Gorbachev was Premiere of the USSR he first adopted perestroika (перестро́йка), in the mid-80s, along with glasnost (гла́сность) and primarily did so to try and restore a moribund USSR to some kind of economic pre-eminence that it had really never enjoyed, not even under Stalin. To be sure, the power-house that was the USSR had done amazing things, such as improve it's literacy rate from less than 5% to over 95% under Lenin's first five-year plan, even while fighting a civil war with the Royalists; it was Trotsky's magnificent pen and organizational abilities that allowed the Red Army to be built, fight and finally prevail against arrayed enemies sent from Poland and even from the U.S. In an attempt to halt the rise of Bolshevism. But Communism was an idea that took firm root under the hands of Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, et al. and would have remained rather benign had not Lenin died prematurely in January of 1924.

Russian Postage Stamp, circa 1988, celebrating Perestroika in the USSR

Copies of his Last Will and Testament had been distributed to several party members of the Duma and stated simply that under no circumstances should Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, better known as Stalin, be allowed to become Premiere, and preferably, should be reduced to a minor role; in short Stalin was dangerous, narcissistic and given to paranoia. Unfortunately, Stalin found out about the will and managed to reclaim every copy and then to do away with everyone who had possessed one. His long-simmering feud with Trotsky grew to epic proportions and Trotsky was forced into exile, all the way to Mexico City. Not content with having him even on the planet, Stalin had Trotsky assassinated in 1940.

Trotsky, my Russian Blue, not Leon Trotsky, the writer and Bolshevik Party Red Army Leader.

When Stalin died in 1953, his mark was firmly embedded on the USSR. The zeitgeist of the country was one of suspicion of outsiders, paranoia, a deep sense of inadequacy regarding it's place on the world stage and yet, a hatred of anything really new. At least that is how it would seem to a westerner. The reality, I believe was much different. The old USSR and now, Russia is a country of brilliant scientists, poets, artists and critical thinkers. It is also a country of some of the toughest people imaginable. No other country has been invaded so many times. They withstood sieges at Stalingrad and Leningrad. The Nazis made it as close as six blocks from the outskirts of Moscow, before the tide was turned against them. This is the country that lost anywhere between 20,000,000 to 55,000,000 people, both military and civilian, in World War II, while the USA suffered 450,000 casualties. The reason the numbers are so disparate is because, while “official” numbers tend to be lower, independent researchers, over the years, have painstakingly pored back over birth records and talked to surviving relatives, in villages in the west. The other issue is that so many people were also still sent to P.O.W. Camps and D.P. Zones (displaced persons) tended to be rather haphazard in identifying remains, as battle fronts were still fluid. Anyway, I digress.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher, in 1989

This is really about Mikhail Gorbachev and what he said recently on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mr. Gorbachev was “elected” Premiere of the old-style Soviet Union after a series of gray-heads came and went. When Stalin died, Georgi Malenkov inherited all of Stalin's titles, but lost out within the month in a power struggle to Nikita Kruschev. As Premiere, no one dreamed that even with all of his shoe-banging and hollering about “burying the United States in the ash-heap of history” that he was a closet subversive and would allow Alexander Solzhenitsyn to publish his “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” (an un-put-downable little tome about a little prisoner's day in the gulag) and THEN allow it's reprint in the west, where it was an instant sensation (READ IT! If you haven't, it's great!). Well, Nikita remained Premiere from 1955 until 1964, when while vacationing on the Black Sea, he was recalled by Leonid Brezhnev, and in a fiery clash, he was “let go” and basically declared a non-person; he quietly retired to a dacha on the Black Sea and is buried in the Novedevichy Cemetery, not in the Kremlin, although he was a Hero of Stalingrad. His son lives here in the United States, now and is a charming man.

Leonid Brezhnev became General Secretary until his death, and a series of “gray-heads” followed: Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko. Their one constant was Andrei Gromyko, who also worked in concert with Eduard Shevardnadze (who along with Stalin, was also from the SSR, Georgia). Gromyko and Shevardnadze had been around during World War II and had negotiated with von Ribbentrop and were people who really got things done. But, again, I digress. When Gorbachev became General Secretary, in 1985 upon the death of Chernenko, he embarked on a series of reforms with the approval of his Cabinet (Duma).

Still, facing the west, with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proved daunting at first, with the abjurement from President Reagan, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Shortly after that, Mr. Gorbachev announced his ideas for perestroika and glasnost, the two ideas wedded together, essentially meaning “transparency within government and a willingness to open a dialog with the west”. Although this was viewed positively in the west, it became a very hard sell for the Russians; once again, Mr. Gorbachev and his visionaries were battling centuries of suspicion of the west, paranoia and again, perversely a lack of self-confidence on the world stage – even Peter the Great bemoaned the fact that Russians were medieval, as he brought them kicking and screaming into the 1700s, in his effort to join the "enlightenment" then going on in western Europe.

Tsar Pyotr spent 18 months traveling incognito in the west and learned how to build ships and bridges, use telescopes and microscopes and build armies. What he didn't learn, he hired and brought home with him. For several years, he had Dutch and Scottish shipwrights, scientists and astronomers who were part of his vast retinue. Many stayed after his death and they are much written about in Neal Ascher's fine book, "The Black Sea". 

Nevertheless, the wall came down, as both sides really did wish to see this happen. With the fall of Eastern Germany, the rest of Eastern Europe was not far behind. Eduard Shevardnadze resigned and went home, to become Georgia's first ever President and to secure for his former SSR, it's lasting independence. Czechoslovakia broke into two separate states, which they had been under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Poland elected her first president. The Eastern Bloc was no more. Ukraine elected a president, but as a buffer state near Russia, Ukraine, like Belarus and Chechnya are unique. Ethnic Russians have lived in these countries for centuries and as such, they live and speak both Russian, Ukrainian, or Russian and whatever the home country's language is.

This presents a very unique problem for these regions and problems that we, in the west cannot begin to understand. Mr. Gorbachev has recognized this and addressed it today. “We are on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are saying that it's even begun.” This was said at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, close to the iconic Brandenburg Gate.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

Mr. Gorbachev's comments echoed those of Roland Dumas, France's Foreign Minister at the time the Berlin Wall fell. “Without freedom between nations, without respect of one nation to another, and without a strong and brave disarmament policy, everything could start over again tomorrow. Even everything we used to know, and what we called the Cold War.”

President Barack Obama seemed to share some of Mr. Gorbachev's concerns, but I feel that he really doesn't quite get it. Even Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had a clearer understanding of what Russia and her place on the world stage is about. The conflict now in Ukraine is one, that is not about sovereignty so much as it is about appearances. What we perceive here in the west, is not how it really is in Ukraine. The ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians have lived in that region for centuries. As I have mentioned before in my posts, they will feel one way one day about rule or directives from Russia, or a pro-Russian Leader, and then another way, another day. Then, there is Vladimir Putin himself. He will concern himself with Ukraine for a bit, and then get side-tracked by Syria. It was ever thus. Sanctions against Russia will not do anything but cause ill-will and frankly it is ill-will we really cannot afford. We in the west should frankly, butt out. One of the things the Russians DO NOT WANT from us is advice on how to run their internal affairs, and strictly speaking, this is still an “internal affair” even if it does involve another country.

courstesy of:

The perfect map for "busy Americans on the go..." circa 2012, but hey, wait five minutes and it changes, and then changes back, so, this could all be correct, again. The "Commies" part of it is still in play, I believe, and some may have moved farther south to Sevastapol. Whatever. This is a good example for why we should keep our noses and sanctions to ourselves.

President Obama is using a fallacious argument by paying “tribute to the East Germans who pushed past the East German guards to flee to the west”. This is a wholly different situation and Mr. Gorbachev is right to bring Mr. Obama to task. We all want freedom and equality in all nations, but we must look at these situations realistically. Those ethnic Russians in Ukraine are a huge part of the country and they must have a say in their governance as well. That is something Mr. Obama has overlooked time and again. It's time for him to get real; his “shared vision of peace in all nations” is not attainable by his methods. The west must seek an accord with Russia that is acceptable to both parties; not just impose sanctions on a country with no understanding of the real situation on the ground. Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher understood this better than Mr. Obama and they were supposedly more conservative than the current President.

*My second largest readership resides in Russia. I'm not quite sure how that happened, but I am appreciative for that and for each and every one of you. Спасибо

Well, last Tuesday, we put on an absolutely stellar show at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was even better than the concert we had on the previous Sunday. Tomorrow is our last concert of this series and then we say goodbye to Beethoven. . . for now. It has been an exhilarating, frightening and thoroughly enjoyable experience! I've fallen in love with Beethoven all over again, and it's a love that is deep and wide and will never end. There are times in playing certain figures and passages that still take my breath away with the creativity and the depth of his development; from a simple theme to a 16-measure run of 32nd notes, in the celli and violas, that are meant to be tossed off, light as air and are then echoed in the violins. It is sublime in it's perfection and the execution has been as near-perfect as can be. We have done honorable service to Beethoven's and then some; it is as a benediction and such a privilege to play. Our conductor, Mark Sforzini, Music Director is wonderful and under his guidance he has wrought a miracle. I am so fortunate. Next up, Edward Elgar and Enigmas.