Reform From Within

Across Serpukhvskaya Street from my apartment is a vintage Soviet-style "Palace of Culture," its blank concrete walls topped by an immense neon sign. Ten years ago it offered lectures on class consciousness to factory workers; now it houses a discotheque, which plays American rock music until 6 A.M. Ten years ago an order from the district party committee would have served as a de facto antinoise ordinance. Now my neighbors and I just use earplugs. The Russian language does not have a word for "privacy," and the average Russian still does not expect to have much control over his environment. The country IS still a place of ubiquitous loudspeakers, which are now available to people who call themselves "biznesmeny" but who actually have more in common with Beltway bandits or Tammany Hall. The inherently collectivist tendencies of rock music fit rather well into this setting: Russia has subjected me to as much compulsory rock-listening—on Aeroflot, in Metro stations, even at the exclusive Menatep Bank—as my college dormitory did in the 1960's.

Anti-Russian bigots are wrong when they claim that Russia was always a lawless state, an "Oriental despotism" having nothing in common with the West. In its deepest roots Russia is of course Western, an heir with us to Athens and Jerusalem. The Kremlin is not the Hindu pantheon. The 19th century saw the emergence here of an independent...

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