Yana Djin - Essays


Moscow News
September, 2000

           The Russian writer, Vassily Aksenov wrote that “emigration is like going to one’s own funeral”.  The content of one’s identity is emptied out and an immigrant is no longer himself, but just an empty shell to be filled anew.  
           Although Aksenov’s observation bore a despairing note, I believe that the above predicament is not so tragic in light of  what most of us are full of. Considering our content from the latter perspective, we have no choice but to spill ourselves and look for new fillings from time to time. 
Emigration, one would think, should assist one in becoming an ever-transforming vessel. Separated from one’s “native swamps”, an ?migr? leaves behind his native prejudices and becomes an observer in the “new incarnation”. 
          Actuality, however, begs to differ. One does not need to look too far: let us glance at immigrants from Russia -- a group  which, statistically, is the most educated out of all the newcomers to the United States. To get an idea of what the average Russian immigrant “believes and breathes”, leaf through the pages of the major Russian language newspaper in America -- Novoye Russkoye Slovo (The New Russian Word). Despite what its name might suggest, the only thing “new” or original about this paper is the tireless consistency which requires its practitioners to be as ignorant today as they were, say, a year ago. As for the “word” part, it is also misleading if we understand the latter in the biblical sense. The message that is sent out through its pages is not only remote from its biblical example, but it is prejudiced and mean-spirited. Let us, ignore the constant eye-sores -- the oversized announcements of funerals, weddings, bar-bat-mitsvas, each of them depicting their “heroes” in close-up decorated by the single-faceted words of well-wishers, sympathizers and the like. If they could only leave the unfortunate “heroes” out of the public view, or, at least, dedicate a separate page to them, the editorial staff of the NRS could merely be dismissed as “provincial”, “unprofessional”, “primitive”.  
           As much as I hate adjectives, I can not do without yet another -- “greedy” -- for, I think, the latter, in case of NRS management, supercedes the others. They get a big chunk of money from these “family” ads and, thus, relegate taste to the background. So, don’t be surprised when you see a snapshot of Hillary Clinton on page one with a life-size photo of some Rayechka and Semyen Popik right underneath, announcing their golden anniversary. NRS, which, incidentally, celebrated its 90th recently, considers that to be a norm because it is a “business solution” and its owner, Valery (or Lawrence as, for an unexplained reason, he is called by the local aborigines)Vainberg is, first and foremost, a “businessman”.  But let’s get back to the “word” part -- to the message that NRS sends out daily to fill its readers’ empty shells. You don’t have to go through the painful chore of actually reading the articles: simply look at the headlines. 
           Those should be enough to justify my position of calling the paper “ignorant”. For instance:“ Gore and Lieberman Fight Against the Private Sector”. Whose “brilliant” idea was that? Gore and Lieberman are an integral part of the private sector and not only do they not fight against it but they are going to get elected because they bought into it and are bought by it. This well-known fact makes this headline inaccurate and whoever coined it, is probably old enough to realize that ignorance is a fault, not an excuse. The same issue sports a letter from one of its readers who begs the Russian community of NY not to vote for Hillary because she “is really calling for a Socialist Revolution in America”. 
           It is not surprising that NRS is catering to the tastes of those that feed it: in its case ultra-radical conservatives. But even the most ultra-conservative American newspapers attempt to distort facts more tastefully -- in the sterile, all-American way, when you know you’ve been hit but you don’t know where. NRS is more straightforward: it hits you right in the nose -- its format and its content is so suffocatingly provincial that you are left with a feeling that someone locked you in one of Brooklyn’s stores where it stinks of pickled garlic. Lest the reader assume incorrectly that I am an enemy of garlic or those that love it most -- the Jews, let me share a personal note: as a descendant of rabbis on both sides of my family, I find it more to my taste when Jewishness is expressed through deeper values.
             Here’re some more facts: the recent incident in Ryazan where Jewish students were subjected to despicable racial attack was featured on NRS’ front page as a “Pogrom”. In fact anything which has to do with Russia is especially misconstrued: if you believe the NRS, most women in Russia are prostitutes, most men bandits and those in between -- anti-Semitic. One of the paper’s regular commentators, Vladimir Kozlovsky, recently expressed the opinion that the reason America’s popularity fell in Russia is due to the complex of inferiority the latter feels towards the former. If anyone should and does feel this complex, it is NRS’ readers and writers who nurture every occasion to “splash the gates of their homeland with manure”. It must justify their existence. Otherwise, how can we explain the stupid hatred that they feel for Russia?  In rare cases where they reprint an article worth reading, usually from Moscow newspapers, it looks like a lonely outcast. 
            Zhvanetsky’s recent plea to the press is a perfect example. Too bad that the NRS staff didn’t take it to heart. Otherwise they could find at least one “happy” person in all of Russia and stop being so maliciously joyful when something there is burning or exploding. Now, dear reader, after a scant glance at NRS, it is time to forget it because after all, they don’t know what they’re doing. If they did, they’d be dangerous.

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