Reality Warp

Gessen and Quinn-Judge

Reality Warp

Gessen and Quinn-Judge

Reality Warp
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Oct. 15 1998 10:19 AM

Gessen and Quinn-Judge

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Thanks for the commiseration. I know what you mean about undignified deaths. I survived the liberation of Saigon in 1975 and capture by guerrillas before that to fall down a very deep hole on an unlighted street in Vientiane. I seemed to be dropping forever, and the only thing going through my mind was Oh f***. The real damage these jerks here do to me is forcing up my blood pressure. It's disconcerting to realize that for an hour after such incidents I'm capable only of wondering where I can get hand grenades.

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Anyway, I was staring out of my window at 8:45 this morning, enjoying the vista of grotty 1960s apartment blocks and about eight lanes of traffic on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, when the street suddenly went silent and the traffic disappeared–the usual MO when the president or the PM is heading into town. I assumed it was Primakov, as Yeltsin is not an early riser even on the days he rises. In fact it was Boris' cavalcade–eight or so vehicles moving at racetrack speed toward the Kremlin. For the second time running I could not see the naval officers with the nuclear controls, the so-called soccer ball–by some trick of light, their uniforms are often quite visible from my kitchen. Perhaps Mrs. Yeltsin has taken his ball away from him.

Boris' early start has to be connected to the hearings today on the possibility of a third presidential term. It seems amazing that he is still even thinking about these things, but I refuse to believe that a second day of medical disobedience on his part is coincidental. If I'm right, it confirms what Lebed once said about Boris: The only way he will leave power is feet first. Obshchaya Gazeta, a very well meaning weekly I should read more often, meanwhile had an appeal on the front page to Naina Yeltsin to make her husband retire before he made an even greater fool of himself. Very sensible, but I think the Lebed line will win out. I'm not sure that Boris is the only person suffering from reality warp, though. There is a USG delegation in town looking at the state of affairs after the August 17 collapse. They've been meeting government officials all week, and are reportedly quite impressed with the confidence that the Primakov government exudes. They have not, however, had time to get out on the streets.

Meanwhile, Kamchatka in the far East of the country is running out of fuel, and will have lights and heating for a couple of hours a day. Areas beyond the Arctic Circle have not received the food and fuel they need for the winter, and today a man who plausibly described himself as a retired school director from Krasnodar (after too many years in Asia I'm fairly skeptical about pan-handlers) was begging in the underpass below Kutuzovsky. The problem is, of course, that this is all happening outside Moscow. Few foreign governments (and few editors) therefore give a damn.

Over to you.

Masha Gessen is chief of reporting at the Russian newsmagazine Itogi and author of Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia After Communism. Paul Quinn-Judge is Time's Moscow bureau chief.