I’ve been reading a lot about Eastern Europe over the past year or two in the hope of getting a better understanding of events in Ukraine, as well as the socio-political consequences of the invasion on Russia itself. Newport Library has purchased several of these books lately. And I’m afraid that after all that reading, I can’t say I’m much closer to understanding the Russian psyche.
Some of the causes for those feelings of bewilderment are brilliantly described in film-maker Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart Of The New Russia. Born in London of Russian emigre parents fleeing Communism in the 1970’s, Pomerantsev moved to Moscow several years ago to work in Russian television.
While researching subjects for “reality” television shows, Pomerantsev stumbles into and out of the terrifying weirdness that is modern Russia. He attends lavish parties thrown by oligarchs who fly in inmates of provincial insane asylums to read their life stories aloud to wealthy Muscovite party-goers. He interviews the female students of a Moscow school for snagging oligarch sugar-daddies. And he travels to the countryside to attend ultra-nationalist biker gang rock concerts, complete with live recitations of Stalin’s speeches before 250,000 cheering fans.
It’s all too surreal to believe.
Little by little, the bizarre and the pathetic, the vulgar and the vicious, acrete to form what the author comes to understand as the essential schizophrenia of life in Russia. Under the Tsars, Russians had to lie, cheat and steal in order to survive. When the Communists took over in 1917, Russians traded one pathology for another. And when perestroika eventually brought Vladimir Putin to power, the Russian people traded, and lost, one more time.
At once terrifying, heart-breaking and riveting in a voyeuristic sort of way, Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible led me to the depressing conclusion that nothing in Russia is going to change any time soon. Nevertheless, it makes for fascinating reading.
You can reserve Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible here.