Демография России (сайт посвящён проф. Д. И. Валентею)
Max Reed


From: Peter Calder Subject: Vital INFORMATION Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2002 
Peter Calder Freelance Moscow

One of the biggest problems that I have with life in 21st century Russia is the inability to obtain factual, objective, reliable and useful INFORMATION.

Here I am not referring to top-secret data regarding issues such as the sources of private income of certain public persons or a catalogue of things missing from atomic weapons’ sites, but rather more simple things, like for example, at what time the train leaves for Kaluga. Nor am I in any way interested in just how badly the transport system needs refurbishing, no, I am more interested in finding out things of a more mundane nature, for example, the timetable for performances of the Old Circus. I am even interested to know precisely where this circus is geographically situated. I am at a loss to explain this personal deficiency of mine, this constant inability to get at the hard facts. Even when I attempt to obtain this elusive commodity, INFORMATION, in my own tongue, from others who are able to respond in kind, the difficulty persists. I am as yet undecided whether the information sought is just not there to be had or whether those that have it are reluctant to share it with me. Could it be plain selfishness or some sort of Slavic perverseness? It seems to me that such material is not readily available to many others also. Well let’s say, the ‘others’ that I am most closely associated with. When pressed for definitive answers to questions that are concerned with getting a grasp on certain facts, there is always this measured vagueness of response. 

I have speculated that maybe those that have INFORMATION have had to gain it by such difficult means that they feel that all others should also be obliged to go through the same tedious means of acquisition as they have endured. I wonder if traces of the former Soviet obsession with secrecy are involved here? Of course, once Russia was a seriously secret place for both foreigners and locals alike. The efforts that the state mounted to preserve and protect its INFORMATION are legendary. There are still many places in Russia today that cannot be easily located by use of the available maps. These are places that were once of such secret importance that their names were not so secretly erased from the face of the map so as to ensure that they were not so readily located by ill intended visitors. Here, the executive branch of those times had in mind visitors; visitors of a spying disposition who hailed from decadent places like America or any of its capitalistic allies. Indeed, here in an earlier period, a little INFORMATION, no matter how casually obtained, could once present a serious threat to one’s health and longevity At the level of international relations however, Russians went to great pains to gather INFORMATION and this was often a painful and dangerous process for all those involved. Sometimes the pain proved to be terminal for some of the players so engaged. 

All of this raises the question of the value of the information that is currently available. Through the many years of totalitarian supervision, the citizens of this country were presented with large amounts of gratuitous information. They were informed through the official organs of the state, of the giant leaps made in economic production on all fronts, even though bare shop shelves and empty larders presented a contradictory suggestion. In the face of record production of useful things like cement and fertiliser, the comparative lack of other equally useful commodities, like for example food, offered further conflicting proof of the value of the available information. They were told in detail of the deficiencies of western society and the shortcomings of the capitalist regimes that were plotting to bring Russia down, from both without and within. Some things were never told out loud though. No one ever received an explanation as to how these corrupt western states managed to prevent their citizens from mass migrations to the USSR without the hindrance of obstacles in the form of barbwire, searchlights, nasty dogs, mines and trigger sensitive border guards.

However, let me expand on this irrational quest of mine to discover the business hours of the Old Circus. When I was a still a child, and even more childlike than I am now, one of the big events in my life was to be taken to the circus. I can still recall the smells and sights of it all. The aroma of fresh horse manure, the smell of sawdust and fairy floss. The beauty of the lady high wire performers with their audacious costumes that my father so approved of and my mother didn’t. Ever since those days, I have been a circusniki. So, knowing of the established fame of the Russian circus, it was not unreasonable to expect that I should have a strong desire to be there in the front stalls, licking my ice cream in spell bound fascination.

The only thing that stands in my way of satisfying this wish is the lack of INFORMATION.

There is a telephone number available for both the Old and the New Circus’s. Don’t bother try it if you are a non-bilingual westerner who wants to spend big money on the best seats, as the service is recorded in Russian. There is of course the Wonderful Web where after some time you may find reference to local circuses. It is not immediately clear however, from my viewing of these pages, which particular times on alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays apply to performances or days of closure. It is possible to buy tickets to these venues on selected Metro stations where itinerant ticket vendors operate, but what should be a simple process always seems to end up for me, as being inextricably complicated by a lack of basic INFORMATION. 

So it sometimes appears to me that my life here is blighted by the insecurity of being severely and constantly under informed.

There are many other subjects that I would like to better informed upon but the hard facts are elusive. I would like to know, just from a purely personal and selfish viewpoint, whether my daily exposure to water, both as a medium in which to bathe and a solution of which to drink, presents me with any statistically real risk of premature death resulting from the malfunction of a major internal organ system. The responsible dispensing authorities of public water, reassure that the local standards are more than acceptable. They do not however specify to whom these standards are acceptable nor exactly how the criteria for acceptability are defined. Others of good and proper qualifications, argue that the water that comes from the tap, as opposed to that which goes into the delivery pipes, is not as acceptable as the average health concerned citizen would accept. Here they have in mind small qualitative deficiencies such as the inclusion of various heavy metals, small, unseen microbial and viral additives and numerous unknown chemicals from polluted origins.

I also have a personal interest in any possible unwelcome biological inclusions contained within the animal protein that might be served to me in either shaslik or other form. It has been reported by the scientists involved, that the only suitably equipped biological laboratory in Russia, has already positively identified cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis or Mad Cow Disease, at its Vladimir premises. The Ministerial spokesman for the relevant department in Moscow has issued a press release saying that no such cases have been found. It’s probably a typographical error of no consequence except for the fact that this condition is transmitted to meat eating humans and results in a brain disease called variant Creutzfeldt –Jakob Disease. This is a malady that presents as a similar condition to Alzheimer’s disease and is rapidly irreversible. Ask the Brits about this and you will discover that over there they have recorded thousands of positives in cattle and over 130 cases in humans, and in an effort to contain it, slaughtered a sizeable percentage of their national herd.

So my preoccupation with the acquisition of facts continues but without outstanding success. I am already drifting towards an inexplicable mental weariness with this project and am tending to forget some of its key elements and features.

What was the name of that disease that my parrot has on Tuesdays? Again?

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