Hard Times in Russia

In her nightmarish account of life in Stalin’s Gulag, Eugenia Ginzburg, in a dark cell in solitary confinement herself at the time, describes a young prison warden’s reaction to the screams of a tortured Italian prisoner:

But it continued – a penetrating, scarcely human cry which seemed to come from the victim’s very entrails, to be viscous and tangible as it reverbedrated in the narrow space. Compared with it, the cries of a woman in labor were sweet music… So I only whispered: “What’s the matter with her? It’s terrible to hear.” He shrugged and said: “They haven’t got the guts, these foreigners, they just can’t take it. She’s only just come in, and yet she makes all that fuss. The Russians are different, they don’t kick up a row. Look at you for instance, you’ve got five days (in solitary) and you’re still not crying…”

It’s a good thing Russians can take it. Whether in politics, economics, or war, history has not been kind to them, unless, perhaps, one can construe the sacrifice of 25 million lives to, as Churchill put it, “tear the guts” out of Hitler’s armies and achieve victory in World War II “fortunate.” Now, as France, Germany, and Japan seem to be seeing light at the end of the tunnel, Russia appears to be mired in the recession as deeply as ever. However, one of her citizens has come up with a new twist on an old way of doing business that the rest of the world might do well to take notice of.

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