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- , - 20- . - , . Moscow Guardian, - (1992) . .


MOSCOW Guardian

THIS IS A NORMAL LIFE
THIS IS A NORMAL JOB

by Alexander Kushnir
Photo: Sergey Babenko

One summer day in 1992 in the office of the American weekly Moscow Guardian the telephone rang. An American Embassy consulate official in Moscow who made a call to Guardian, extremely furious, called the magazine offensive and recommended to suspend its distribution on the territory of the American Embassy.

At that time Guardian used to be a harmless information weekly, meant for the entertainment of bored western businessmen, having arrived on the crest of Americaniza-tion to conquer the Russian market. The ground that caused that call from on high was an issue devoted to quite an innocent problem: Russian sex.

Long before San Francisco's 1967 Summer of Love, the Tenderloin district became famous for its racy soft-porno acts. And like San Francisco 25 years ago, Moscow's caged women are on the cutting edge of a sexual explosion.

Working-in American way - professionaly, its journalists carried out a total blitz-poll of the Young Generation in the streets of Moscow.

In one month, I've slept with six woman, boasts a 21 -year-old Los Angeles native in an interview.

I cannot imagine myself with a foreigner, confessed a young girl from Moscow. A Russian man speaks about his problems and you feel like you can help him. You can call it the Russian soul.

Butminding the heterogenity of Russian nature, Guardian wrote that a Moscow's Sexual Revolution* sounded a kind of paradoxical - there is a sexual revolution in Russia, but that doesn't mean that every Russian girl will have sex with a foreigner.

Concerning the puritans from the American Embassy, in the following issue they came across An Open Letter to Ambassador Bob Strauss, written by Billy Rogers, Chief

Editor of the publication.

Ambassador!.. I could understand, wrote the Guardian's Editor, if the KGB tried to censor the Guardian... but the American Embassy?

...Your Embassy employee who banned the Guardian might have taken offense to headlines like Bush Saddam - ized... Or perhaps she took offense to Guardian humorist Bob calling President Bush vomit breath. But Ambassador, Bob is a Republican.

After the appearance of the Open Letter the conflict was settled unbelievably soon. John Ohta, the Embassy's Press Secretary, called back to the Guardian and named the recent call unauthorized and unilateral. Guardian was restored in its rights in less than a week.

Well, those rights were not so immense. In the first year of its existence (Fall 91 - Summer 92) the Guardian looked like an ordinary 32-page weekly having distributed together with another English paper Moscow Times in embassies, hotels, western firms, etc. The situation was unique because the articles to both editions were written exclusively by American journalists in Moscow and for exclusively western readers in Moscow. Unlike the notorious Moscow News or Moscow Magazine, these editions had native American mentality, up-to-date view on the local cacophony, real independence from the context and many other things.

It is interesting to know that a certain number of Moscow Times colleagues began the Russian period of their career in... Moscow Guardian. Later, having had some financial disagreement with Vladimir Yakovlev, Managing Director of the publishing house Commer-sant, publishing Guardian, they left the weekly and started a newspaper of their own. Under great financial support from the mighty Independent Press from Holland the detached part of Guardian set up a new paper, Moscow Times.

Being published since March 92 on 16 pages Moscow Times has achieved a good professional level in quite a short period of time. At the moment many western journal-ists in Moscow (including the representatives of the ASSOCIATED PRESS) were distributed among the two editions, and according to unwritten law, no author could write to both of the papers at a time.

So, having divided between the two the local English-speaking information niche Moscow Times and Moscow Guardian stayed afloat - each minding its own interests. Both editions were spread free gaining the main profit from numerous advertisers.

Several months later the Headquarters of Guardian were dumbfounded by the rumours of the possible appearance in Moscow of the third similar newspaper. It was like a thunder in the blue skies. And it meant serious competition.

The Guardian's authorities decided to take a risk. Just in some weeks they invested an enormous sum into the reconstruction of the edition and the weekly turned to a sparkling and colorful 40-page magazine.

All the following events could be easily predicted. Moscow Times faced the newspaper Moscow Tribune tending much to be a leader and making a few steps forward; and some days later after the debut of the latter, a real war broke out between them.

The war was held according to all rules of military art:

showing one hand - right from the paper pages, as well as latently, using some typically partisan tricks. Now ifs rather difficult to restore the succession of the mutual attacks, but in Moscow Guardian's interpretation (which suddenly took neutrality) everything looked as follows:

Moscow Times: The Tribune is a very poor copy of the Moscow Times.

Moscow Tribune: The problem with the Moscow Times is that their reporters don't speak Russian.

While this fire raged, 2000 copies of the first issue of the Moscow Tribune were distributed in the lion's den, the Slavyanskaya Hotel, the then-home of the Moscow Times. They disappeared from the shelves in the course of 30 minutes in a very mysterious way.

Tribune charged theft.

Moscow Tribune: They (the Moscow Times) say they are going to run us into the ground... If they want a dirty war, they'll get it.

In respond Tribune made some inroads to one of the financial fathers of Moscow Times - Radio Maximum. The latter, in return, threatened with a big fine and trial in case if no apologies follow up.

Quite clear, it couldn't go on like this for ever, and after a summit on the neutral territory, very unwillingly, both papers passed to the non-aggression tactics. So, both parties seemed to mind their own interests: Times, being issued almost daily, proved to have a snobbist attitude towards Russia and a conservative one to Europe; Tribune - mostly stated the current events, and from its European point of view mocking at everything in this world (and at some things in the other world as well).

During a shortfall lull Guardian rejoiced life sincerely - through the articles of that very Bob who was charged with using the term vomit for political purposes. Frankly speaking, to Guardian and the rest of the Moscow-American journalists Bob was unique: he had a very subtle feeling of all the surrealism and irreality of the world around, and he could depict everything he had seen very briefly and cute in his easy reading style.

Ahoy! The American journalist is a strong personality with a face of a boxer and a pregnant wife in Texas, with great patience describing his difficult Moscow life. As it turned out, life in Moscow is not easy because of the following:

a) absense of the air conditioners (unlike Mid-West),

b) impossibility to watch Russian movies scored by sexless and weak-willed beings,

c) the work of ambulances. Of course, it is quite effective but only in comparison with the local gas service,

d) unadequate Russian and European TV, which is talking all sorts of nonsense like about European community.

What community? - wondered Bob. - Ha! Brits will always hate the French and French waiters will always hate everybody.

...To positive things in Moscow life you can only refer the marinated garlic, kiosks (the best Russian innovation since marinated garlic), and the possibility to live 24 hours a day in J.K.Jerome's way. Bob is absolutely convinced that way you can pretend to be a Russian communicating with road inspection, state authourities or others... Only in that way you can make abargain with Russian country men buying a foreign car GAS-24.

...While Bob was horsing around waiting for his firstborn, the thick clouds were gathering over the Guardian. Everything started with an interview taken by its Journalists from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party.

Foreigners live great, use our women... and destroy our nation, and all we get are cowboys movies, chewing gum, Pepsi-Cola, and Marlboros, said the 53-year-old Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Foreigners should behave themselves in Moscow so that Russians don't get jealous... Remember, only Russians know how to wage war... Foreigners will read this and fear me.

As it was said in the interview, the leader of the LDP wants to follow in Hitler's footsteps and looks forward to change the globe into his own private domain.

The issue with Zhirinovsky on the cover was named The Player** and his political strategy - a fascist threat. Just before the interview Guardian's journalists questioned about 200 Muscovites. The results of the poll showed vividly how rapidly the popularity of Tartalia of our political scene and the interest to it grew.

In this situation Billy Rogers, who had gone through the hell of the election campaign in Texas, felt his civic duty to warn Russia of the coming rightist revolution. It was in Fall'92, and Guardiandidhis best depicting Zhirinovsky's standpoint and the measure of danger if he ever comes to power. Hurt Zhirinovsky sued requesting $1,500,000 in damages.

Having learned about the action against it, the Guardian strenthed its positions: I'll say it again: Vladimir Zhirinovsky, you Are A Fascist, you Are A Fascist, you Are A Fascist...

Infuriated Zhirinovsky sweared if he ever becomes a president, Guardian will be the first to be kicked out of Russia. This met with unmitigated glee among Guardian writers.

The continuation of this battle didn't follow in 1993. At the same time, it turned out that the new year Guardian saw in with a new Chief Editor.

And again 32-year-old Billy Rogers dived into the abyss of American politics. The main reason for that was the appointment of an old friend of his Bob Krueger to the US Senate.

My relationship with Krueger goes back to 1978, when I organized 15 counties for his ill-fated campaign effort to unseat the late US Senator John Tower. A Rhodes Scholar and former Shakespearian professor, Krueger has intellect and integrity, which drew me to work for him in 1978 and again in 1990 when he won statewide office to the Texas Railroad Commission. A politician more kind and decent than Krueger simply doesn't exist, wrote Rogers. When I was asked to return to Texas help Krueger's US Senate campaign, I couldn't say no.

...Being a professional politician Rogers followed a firm didactic policy in Guardian. Pressing the reader all over, he sincerely thought that the latter should be constantly brought up. He used to do it without compromise but with light irony. The main topics ranged between new Russian stereotypes: OMON, Solntsevskaya mafia, the policy of Yeltsin's cabinet, humanitarian assistance to Russia, etc. A new look on these phenomena enabled different US TV-companies to award Guardian with some epithets like unabashedly American voice of Moscow or sometimes serious, always irreverent - the most widely read publication in Moscow's foreign community.

23-year-old Jason Stanford who replaced Rogers, worked in Guardian before as one of the main writers, and practically in no time he changed the policy of the magazine into a big obtuse angle speaking the geodesist's language. The notorious politics was reduced to a minimum filling in the blanks with sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

Guardian acquired a vividly countercultural character.

It is a typycal Moscow Punk or Moscow Hippies but not Moscow Guardian, said the Russian journalists in amusement when they first got hold of the edition. Guardian's style reminded somehow youth publications like Soviet Screen or Theatre Life of 3-4 years hence. Partly it could be explained by new editor's liking for two very different magazines - the famous Rolling Stone and respectable New Yorker.

Stanford defended his diploma on Emancipation of the Soviet Press, thus being able to combine together the strongest points of both schools of transcontinental jour-nalistism.

To be concrete there are too many vagueopinions and too little actual information in Russian median, thought Stanford.

We in America have perfected the three-second sound bite, which provides pithy, witty quote thought up by some smartass Ivy-League speechwriter, expanded on Bob.

By Spring'93 there wasn't even a shadow from the old Guardian. The Business section was replaced with a huge rubric Around Moscow following the example of Notes from Rolling Stone. And the famous Harper's Index definitely influenced the new Guardian Index,*** in a cultural set you could see the trends and atmosphere of Guardian - Europe from the English paper Guardian.

While preparing the material for Guardian one should bear in mind that we don't work for the New York Times, used to say Stanford at the editorial board meetings anxiously. Our reader should relax - communication should be as simple as possible. And even if we write in a style which the Russians call public, the comprehension and analysis should become absolutely simplified and available.

So, new Guardian's policy has become still more unbound and provocative. The form and the content in the publication now reached a pathological contrast: inside a prestigious glossy magazine there was predomination of boundless and quasi samizdat publishing.

Virtually, we are samizdat publishing to some extent. thought Stanford; that was a sort of true. At that time the magazine's staff included some green correspondents, and the average age of the editorial staff sank to 22. By the way, the most successful! issue of the new Guardian was devoted to the generation of twenty-year-olds - The Glasnost Generation.

Many twentysomethings were teenagers when Gorbachev called for his Revolution from within. Some were still students when Andrei Sakharov died and Hedrick Smith finished The New Russians...

Then Boris Yeltsin stood on a tank, and the walls came tumbling down. While their elders howled, the twentysomethings rose above the rubble, grabbing their chance to make their own decisions.

Freedom and fear. They're growing up in a maelstrom, navigating by new stars, was said in the foreword to the publication about Glasnost Generation.

Obviously very successful) in this issue was the wide choice of its subjects from a student dreaming to become an engineer of aviation and now surviving on occasional earnings to a 20-year-old single mother who has left college and becomes a dealer in a prosperous Moscow casino.

Everything's like in a real life. Everything's true.

Like Russian 20-year-olds, the youthful Guardian was bursting to go into action, too. They have already overcome a light shock from the first weeks of staying in Russia, and that reminds you a legend about a provincial hotel where the guests are told: You can hardly goout from here.

Now they want to see Russia from inside - with its sadist's verses, a dozen of eggs same price each, faded plastic bags... To see with their own eyes, without trusting any articles or stories.

To find themselves without a cent in a robbed apartment, proving once again the fact that even for $ 250 a month you should rent an apartment in Moscow only with a metal door.

Personally handle the matter with the Russian police, bursting into a private party a mile apart from Kremlin without any legal approvals.

Personally drive someone else's car at a tremendous speed without any documents along unfamiliar Moscow's streets risking to run into brutalized road inspection authorities.

1 only brake for Jesus and my wife, one of them will write afterwards.

...They soon got accustomed not to be surprised at anything in this country, din Moscow it's better not to analyze but laugh because it is an extremely merry city, said Stanford. din the USA you can hardly see whafs going on in the streets of Moscow. We also have alcoholics but they don't get shit-faced. In Moscow every day is like Happy New Yeart In the USA leaving a house you can hardly expect any surprises, and in the evening you'll sit at home and have your drink and watch TV. In Moscow you leave for work suspecting nothing and get back ...several days later.

This is a normal life. This is a normal job.

But despite all evident signs of mutations, the youthful Guardian still remains' 100% American with.all the trimmings. McDonald's, feet on the table, Grateful Dead, baseball, Seattle and so on. They sympathize with young Russians and the new trends of the time they see mean that the youngsters earn much more than their parents. As for money, the work in Guardianfor money and forpleasure is combined in perfect harmony. And if they ever stumble, it is only because they grope their way.

April, 93


* Later fragments of the article Moscow's Sexual Revolution were used in the programs of TF1 (the French biggest telecom), EFE and SNA (Spanish and Swedish informational agencies); Los Angeles Times, and Texas Monthly. return

** The materials of the issue were used in the France Press Agency information digest. return

*** theessense of which lies in cute selection of figures (e.g. the earnings of a Russian currency prostitute per hour and Yeltsin's monthly salary) return