David Wansbrough

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Why did you come to Russia?

I came to Russia to be among remarkable people: Igor Sid, Gaiewska, Leah Obshadko, Marina and Vadim Petrovskiy, Natasha Kuznetsova, Father Aleksandr, Alyona Migunova, and Nikolai Nikolayevich Drozdov. They, and others, are my friends and warmly give their artistic and spiritual support.

What are the main cultural differences between Russia and the West form your point of view?

As an Australian who was raised in New Zealand I see the negative effects of a world gradually dominated by America. Americans have the right above all else to pursue individual happiness. They have know-how and get things done. But when in the USA I feel the lack of certain simple human rights. The freedom to expect the government to ponder and consider. The freedom to be without piped music in museums. The freedom to go to a Beethoven concert and not be surrounded by jiggling toe tappers (do we need the imposed compulsive nervous physicality of hip hop diplomacy?). The freedom to believe that the USA is not always right, the freedom to turn on a TV and not hear an over groomed evangelist asking me to send in money, and in particular, the freedom to respect people who eshew self advertising, who don’t want 15 minutes of fame because they examine their own lives without bombing others into having a nice day. Thank goodness Saul Bellow wrote about motives, (also a characteristic of Russian literature), instead of filling his books with action.

So you have a geo-political position?

Any answer on geo-political matters will bring criticism from one side or the other. I’m not a Pink Snotty like G. B. Shaw or H. G. Wells. And no side is totally right or wrong. Oswald Spengler, who thought that the next civilization could be Russian, believed that true Russians despise merchants for laying up goods on earth. I love the micro society of the Village of Active People near fields and forests. We care for the soil and are good generous neighbours.

We could examine facts. Has there been any week in the last 21 years when America has not had troops abroad? Have there been any good outcomes? Has Russia until recently crossed its internationally recognized borders in the last 21 years?, (except to enter Georgia for a few days to neutralise planes when American trained pilots bombed Russian troops in Ossetia, and NATO had announced missile bases in Poland, all ordered by George W. after McCain had lost the first debate with Obama). We in the West are in the strange position of opposing democracy. Why not have regional elections to see if parts of Ukraine want to devolve? I am mindful of the people on the ground. And don’t want think tanks far away making decisions on ideological terms. Sane people don’t want violence. Then why has NATO proposed troops in Poland but to increase tension? For us in the West democracy is OK – if it supports our interests. My friend Gennady Jagodin (an ex-minister for Nuclear Science) used to say, “The Thanatos urge gave us a Mutually Assured Destruction policy. We were truly MAD.”

Russia is in need of fundamental reform. Why not bring in low 5% mortgage rates for homebuyers and small investors? Why not have an independent unifying BRICs currency not tied to the dollar? Make the EU buy that currency to pay for gas. Why not bring back the kiosks and vibrant street markets of the 1990s that encouraged individual business initiative?

According to the Voice of America we are fighting for cabbage leaves on the Moscow streets. Really? I am registered in a working class apartment. In the parking lot are better cars than in Pymble or Turramurra, and Russians have a very high level of apartment ownership. Who doesn’t have access to a second home, a country dacha? People moan, but that is universal. Although Australia has just lost a proudly philistine prime minister, how long will it be before we complain that the new one is too cultured and compassionate?

The US of A criticises Medvedev and Putin for playing leapfrog but America loves Dynasties. The Roosevelts, almost the Kennedys, Bush Snr and little W, and, God help us, possibly the Clintons.

I hope that the best of Australia, the feeling of allowing the other the freedom to just be, and the sense of mateship, will recognise similar attitudes in ordinary Russians. Both countries have extreme climates and farmers do it tough. And both nations depend on exporting national resources.

As for me, I like my village neighbours who get together to fix the eroded road. The real Russia isn’t just Moscow. But the atmosphere with guests around tables, in Moscow or Pskov, is wonderfully warm.