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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

DECEMBER 2016

37

FOUR CENTURIES AND THREE DECADES

RUSSIAN

THINKING

BY JUST I N L I F F LANDER

Conversations in Moscow with Russians of different social strata paint a vivid picture

of a country grappling with the meaning of the past quarter-century's upheavals.

Justin Lifflander has lived in Russia for nearly 30 years.

After stints as a contractor at the U.S. embassy in Mos-

cow and the INF treaty inspection facility in Votkinsk,

he spent 20 years as a salesman for Hewlett-Packard in

Russia and four years as an editor at

The Moscow Times

daily news-

paper. He is married to a Russian and received Russian citizenship

in 2000. He is the author of

How Not to Become a Spy: A Memoir of

Love at the End of the Cold War

(2014).

A

t first it seemed tome as if he was

wearing X-ray glasses. Having

purchased a fur hat from Sasha, the

teenage

fartsovchik

(black mar-

keteer) working the Oktyabrskaya

subway station inMoscow that day

in 1986, I earned the right to chat

with him inmy broken Russian.

As he scanned the passers-by

in search of potential clientele, I couldn’t figure out how he

was able to spot the foreigners. “Look carefully,” he explained.

“The facial features, the shoes, the wrist watches, the eye

glasses. …” I began to understand how he chose who should be

offered his

znachki

(pins) or money changing services.

ON RUSSIA

Thirty years later my

fartsovchik

is probably a successful

oligarch. He and his countrymen no longer think they are

“covered in chocolate”—a phrase going back to the Soviet

era meaning “fortunate, lucky, living well”—as they build the

socialist paradise while the West rots on the garbage heap of

history.

Living and working in Russia for the past three decades,

I’ve become acquainted with people from a broad range of

social strata—from government ministers to migrant workers.

I turned to them to collect and distill their insights on how

Russian thinking has changed since the end of the USSR.

The Evolution of

Homo Rusicus

My friend Mikhailovich is a middle-aged entrepreneur who

moved to Moscow from Kyiv as a young man. He believes that

the factors contributing to an individual’s mentality are both

experiential and hereditary.

“Look at the past 400 years. The Romanov dynasty started

in 1613 and lasted 300 years,” Mikhailovich says. “The com-

munists were in power for 74 years, and we’ve been free of

them for 25 years. It is not a coincidence that 75 percent of

the population are content to live under authoritarian rule;

24 percent think like communists—either thieves or despis-

OF

FOCUS