A Traveler’s Impressions from Western-sanctioned Russia (Part 1) – by Eric Arnow

A Traveler's Impressions from Western-sanctioned Russia, Part 1

MOSCOW/SEVASTOPOL – After the West’s fall-out with Russia over the status quo in Ukraine, Eric Arnow, from Boston Massachusetts, a lay Zen Buddhist and travel writer whose ancestors came to the USA from various part of the Russian Empire, thought it would be “a good thing to see for himself what is going on, meet and make friends.” What he found was a very different, non-Western view of world history.

by Eric Arnow

WITH all the tension in the world today, I wondered what to do.

My grandmother told me that only her sister and her cousin escaped from the horror of Europe in WWII, across the USSR, to Palestine, everyone else died. The Nazis could easily have defeated England, and Europe would be a very different place.

The iconic Saint Basil's Cathedral in Red Square (c) Eric Arnow
The iconic Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square; (c) Eric Arnow

We are often told that “America won WWII”.

What we are not told is that Germany attacked Russia in June, 1941, six months before Pearl Harbor.

We are not told that over 20 million Russians died between then and May 9th, 1945, when the German army finally surrendered.

We are not told that Germany lost the war, at the gates of Stalingrad, when the German army surrendered, and Russia counterattacked and went all the way from deep in Russian territory, to Berlin.

By contrast, the US attacked on D Day, 1944. We lost 400,000 dead, not 20+ million, and aside from Pearl Harbor, US soil was never touched. America lost about 3000 killed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Russia lost over one million people in Leningrad alone.

The Russians were attacked by 222 divisions. America faced only 11 divisions, of a severely weakened German army.

So in recognition and gratitude, and in the face of Obama’s petty refusal to attend the 70th anniversary of that May 9th Victory, I decided to go to see for myself what is going on there.  It is important to note that in the parade, Russia’s military was joined by China’s and India’s as well as several other countries, and I think 25 countries sent delegations. So if you think that Russia is isolated, and that US policy towards Russia is working, think again.

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Poster, 70 year anniversary of Victory; (c) Eric Arnow
Poster, 70 year anniversary of Victory; (c) Eric Arnow

When I arrived at my inexpensive hostel in Moscow, the pretty young English speaking woman at the front desk said, jokingly, “So you are American, did you bring a gun with you to protect yourself from us monster Russians?”

The 70th anniversary was a very big deal. There were posters everywhere, and that victory is a national holiday, like our 4th of July, complete with fireworks and parades. And why not? What Russia went through in WWII makes our Revolutionary War look like a walk in the park. This was not just about getting rid of the King of England; it was a matter of national survival.

Heck, if by some miracle, we European based invaders suddenly disappeared, the Natives whose land we really did devastate, would be as happy as the Russians were, to have defeated the Nazis.

While in Moscow, I went on a couple of walking tours, to the Kremlin, the Lenin Library, the fancy shopping district, and interestingly, the Moscow subway, or Metro, many of whose stations are decorated with mosaic ceilings, sculptures, chandeliers, and so on. On one of the tours, a man approached and asked if anyone wanted to go to the Bolshoi Ballet.

A Famous Church inside the Kremlin; (c) Eric Arnow
A Famous Church inside the Kremlin; (c) Eric Arnow

It was expensive–$80 for one of the worst seats in the house, high up on the top balcony, and way off to the side, you had to lean over the rail to see the full stage. I thought, how could I NOT see the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow of all places. The house was packed.

As I made my way around Russia, you might imagine, people were curious and surprised to see an American, since there aren’t that many around. Not too many English speakers either.

However, people were friendly.

My first dinner, I went to a cafeteria style very popular restaurant, where I could point to what I wanted. No menu needed. When I saw what was offered, I felt like I had gone to my Nana Goldforb’s house, or maybe dropped into a Bar Mitzvah.

The food is very similar to the Jewish home cooking that my grandmother served. Pickeled herring, soups, chicken, were a reminder of my childhood. I even saw Homontaschen, the traditional Jewish three cornered pastry everywhere.

There are a number of museums but unfortunately, I had no guide, so it was hard to get around to see everything. But fortunately, my hostel was right near the center of Moscow, so I could get a good feeling for the city.

A poster with Putin winking and the symbol of Russia (like the American Eagle), winking. Caption I think says, I am a friend of Putin; (c) Eric Arnow
A poster with Putin winking and the symbol of Russia (like the American Eagle), winking. Caption I think says, I am a friend of Putin; (c) Eric Arnow

There is Kremlin, with its iconic cathedral, Saint Basil’s, and many Churches which have reopened since the USSR discouragement of worship ended. Most people are very patriotic; there is a lot of nostalgia for the days of the USSR. and lots of Hammers and Sickle are around. However, Stalin has been more or less discredited. Lenin, less so. On the other hand, some people still credit Stalin’s leadership in defeating the Nazis.

There is also quite a bit of controversy about his rule, whether we are told in the West the true story or not, in full.

He was quoted as saying that Russia was 100 years behind Western Europe and America, and that if Russia did not modernize in 10 years, it would be crushed. And an attempt was made to crush Russia, more than once.

(Published with permission by the author)

[CONTINUE TO PART 2]