If you have had the misfortune of living in the Soviet Union, then the words “Soviet poultry” have already made you pee yourself with laughter. If you haven’t, then I promise you’ll get why it’s funny by the end of this post. You see, it isn’t that hard to find out things about the USSR. All you need is do some research, ask a few questions, talk to people. Unfortunately, Stephen Cohen, whose bizarre and ignorant article about the Soviet Union has been published in The Nation, didn’t take that route. Instead, he wrote a piece that hammers in two ridiculous ideas:
1. When a bear sneezes in the woods near Magadan, somebody in the US must be to blame.
2. Soviet Union equals Russia. The other fourteen republics that constituted the USSR deserve neither to be mentioned nor to be taken into account.
It’s one thing when my freshmen respond to the questions of who won World War II with “Russians!” Cohen, however, is supposed to be a professor of something. I’d expect him to be able to figure out the difference between the USSR and Russia (a hint: you can do that by looking at a map for 30 seconds) and to realize that not everything in the USSR and the FSU happens because of some gaffe by the president of the United States.
The entire article by Stephen Cohen is an exercise in mind-numbing ignorance and intellectual carelessness. And what really bothers me is that many people will read the article and maybe even buy this quack’s books and form their opinions about the USSR on the basis of the egregiously stupid statements he makes. Let me just give you a few examples:
Accordingly, most American specialists no longer asked, even in light of the large-scale human tragedies that followed in the 1990s, if a reforming Soviet Union might have been the best hope for the post-Communist future of Russia or any of the other former republics.
In Cohen’s warped mind, the people to ask this question are some mysterious “American specialists.” What does he care that in 1991, 84% of registered voters in Ukraine came to the polls to vote on whether they wanted their country to become independent. And out of those voters, 91% voted in favor of independence. I cannot recall either such a high turnout or such a degree of unanimity in any US elections recently. And this is just Ukraine. Have you heard about the Vilnius massacre? The conflicts in the Transcaucasus area? Does the word Chechnya ring a bell?
Cohen obviously is not aware of any of these powerful independence movements. Anybody who is at least marginally knowledgeable about the nationalist explosions of the late 1980ies and early 1990ies, would not have written the following:
Nor have any US policy-makers or mainstream media commentators asked if the survival of a democratically reconstituted Soviet Union—one with at least three or four fewer republics—would have been better for the world.
Yes, let’s forget the wishes of the Ukrainians, the deaths of the Lithuanians, the Armenians, the Georgians, the 300-year-long fight for independence by the people of Chechnya. Let’s pretend that none of these colonized peoples have any say in the matter of their own independence. Instead, let’s turn to the US media commentators. These commentators should decide which lucky three or four republics will be allowed finally to be independent and which will be drowned in blood to prevent their independence.
I lived in Ukraine in 1989, 1990, 1991. I saw the faces of the people when the Ukrainian flag was raised. I heard people sing “Ukraine hasn’t died yet” (our national anthem). Nothing short of an outright genocide could have stopped these folks from seeking independence. But what does Cohen care? For him, everything that happens in the world gets decided on the pages of the New York Times.
In support of his uninformed opinions, Cohen turns to manipulating the facts:
A majority of Russians, on the other hand, as they have repeatedly made clear in opinion surveys, still lament the end of the Soviet Union, not because they pine for “Communism” but because they lost a familiar state and secure way of life.
I have no doubt that a few years after India achieved its independence, many people in Great Britain still lamented the loss of the empire. No decent person, however, granted their suffering that they couldn’t abuse and exploit Indians more respect than they did to the joy of Indians who were finally free of the colonial overlords. It would be a lot more honest on Cohen’s part to include the opinions of people from newly independent Republics.
Now let’s turn to one of the most hilarious parts of Cohen’s rambling article:
That kind of nihilism underlay the “shock therapy” so assiduously urged on Russia in the 1990s by the Clinton administration, which turned the country, as a columnist in the centrist Literary Gazette recently recalled, into “a zone of catastrophe.” None of the policy’s leading proponents, such as Larry Summers, Jeffrey Sachs and former President Clinton himself, have ever publicly regretted the near-destruction of essential consumer industries, from pharmaceuticals to poultry, or the mass poverty it caused.
I dislike Larry Summers profoundly. However, the destruction of “essential consumer industries” in the USSR is not his fault. It isn’t really anybody’s fault since those industries did not exist. By way of illustration, let me share with you a well-known Soviet joke about poultry:
An American chicken and a Soviet chicken are lying next to each other at the supermarket.
“Look at you,” the American chicken says. “You are so scrawny, ugly and pathetic. And your color is both yellow and blue at the same time. I, however, look beautiful. I’m plump, pink, and juicy.”
“Well,” the Soviet chicken responds, “at least I died a natural death.”
As anybody who lived in the USSR knows, finding a chicken to buy in the USSR was a rare feat, indeed. When you managed to find one, though, it looked exactly like the chicken in the joke. God, I’ll never forget those tortured-looking blue Soviet chickens. Seriously, blue was their color (after the feathers were removed.) They did look like they had died of horrible diseases. And those were the eighties. Which means that President Clinton was not the one who made them look that way.
In terms of poultry, the nineties were actually a great moment because American chickens started to get imported in the early nineties. They were abundant, plump, juicy and cheap. Many a poor family survived exclusively on those American chickens. But does Cohen care? Of course, not. The actual living reality of all those post-Soviet people is of no interest to him.
I could continue discussing other egregiously stupid statements this pseudo-academic makes in his insulting article but I don’t want this post to last forever. It really bothers me that many people are buying into the idiotic and uninformed opinions of this quack. It is very difficult to maintain an intelligent conversation about the Soviet Union nowadays because people glean their information from such unreliable sources.
Thank you, n8chz, for giving me this priceless link.