"I wrote this letter with hope that it will help you see that there are two groups of people who need your help: the rulers and the grassroots innovators. So far you've been giving money to the rulers. It hasn't helped the people. It is time to try supporting the other group".
by Elena Tonetti, 1998
I'd like to share with you my understanding of Russia and what kind of support Russia needs at this time.
My name is Elena Tonetti. I am a Russian woman who has been living in California for eight years now, happily married and raising a child.
In Russia I was involved in a few grassroots movements which evolved spontaneously among ordinary people to enhance the quality of our everyday life. These grassroots movements all over Russia are the real force behind the true progressive changes in the country. They started about 20 years ago during the Breznev era, and were brewing and boiling until Mr. Gorbachev allowed them to come out from the underground. He was not the one who was making changes. He was intelligent enough to recognize them and to join them to some extent. He found himself in a buffer zone between the rushing avalanche of urgent changes that went out of his control because they were too fast for him, and the power of the conservative government that was resisting the process and doing everything possible to slow things down. Mr. Gorbachev was too fast for them; he was all alone in that conflict of speeds, too slow for one side and too fast for the other.
The reason I'm writing this is that I realized that you have probably underestimated the importance and real power of people's grassroots movements in Russia. The U.S. and European communities have been supporting the Russian government very generously, sending millions and millions of dollars. But the Russian government is absolutely disconnected from the problems of the common people. It keeps cooking in its own juices on slow, and it is not edible yet. There is little hope it ever will be, because it never was. Helping Russian government does not equal helping Russian people.
If there really is an intention to help, the way to do it is through support of grassroots movements and their leaders, who still are giving common Russian people hope, satisfaction, and many ways to survive in spite of everything the Russian government and Mafia do together to make it impossible. There is a very strong network of informal leaders whom people love and trust, throughout the eleven Russian time zones. They work long hours, practically for nothing, running all kinds of seminars, courses, classes, developing new educational and social skills, designing the future of their country. There are maybe a couple hundred of them, - devoted, humble, charismatic, selfless servants of their people. It is through their tireless effort that common peoples' sanity is sustained nowadays. They are the people who urgently need support, because they operate in total poverty. Please remember, I'm not trying to get you into any new expenses; just redirecting the existing flow of money will do.
Since you have already made a decision to support Russia financially, and already are sending millions of dollars overseas, it would make sense to give it to the right people, who really make a difference over there. They are easy to find if there is a person on your side who would put his or her heart into it. I can help you, for goodness sake. I was part of that network before I retired into motherhood and family life. I know many of them personally.
All these years in California I have stayed in touch with my friends in Russia and watched closely what is going on over there. The money that was meant to help to build the Russian economy immediately disappeared into a very few private bank accounts. It would be nice if the recipients at least spent this money in Russia, but no!, they are reputed to be buying castles in France, whorehouses in Asia, real estate in America, and going to dinners in the Bahamas.
Russian bureaucrats have 70 years of schooling on fabricating fake reports. They can show you all the papers on how well they have distributed your money among the underprivileged. It has happened many times already. Maybe it is hard to understand if you never lived there, but Russia doesn't function in the same civilized manner as you expect. Whole airplanes and trainloads of humanitarian aid have disappeared without a trace into the black market. So, please, stop wasting American taxpayers' money to feed the Russian Mafia. There are better ways to use it.
Being a Russian woman, and watching Russia from a distance has helped me to develop a deep understanding of Russian reality. I realize that there is no such thing as an average Russian - there are three average Russians. In dealing with Russia, it is important to know this. The entire population of Russia is divided into three categories:
1)The first are poorly educated, greedy, self-centered power holders (political, criminal and economic) - it' approximately 30%. They hardly know how to speak Russian. I know that Gorbachev looked very intelligent to you, but you couldn't understand what he was saying! All you heard were well-trained translators. His use of the beautiful Russian language was feeding stand-up comedians in Russia for years! What he was saying and how he was speaking was a rich source of jokes; it would be hilarious if it weren't so sad.
2) The second category is the intelligentsia - very well educated, hard working, cultured, kind, honest, smart, romantic, powerless, vulnerable and unprotected. They comprise about another 30%.
3) The third group are the drunk low-lifers. If they are not drunk, they are on a search to become so. They make up about another 30%.
These three categories of people rarely mix; maybe 10% of the population could be described as combinations of the main three groups. Normally, they don't know each other. Mutual disrespect and dislike aggressively keeps them away from each other. There are no common social grounds where they can meet. So, whenever you look at a Russian, he or she almost always belongs to one of these three categories. Each category has its own mentality, language, dress code, etc.
Now I'll describe the first group in more detail. . If somebody were to be paid to design the total chaos and destruction over the vast territory of Russia, they wouldn't be able to do a better job than the Russian government did during the last 70 years. And if I could use a stronger statement I would. It is common knowledge that during the entire 1,000 year history of Russia, its rulers have never been concerned about the welfare of the people. No matter what they say or what mask they put on, their only concern is their own power. Russia has never had a built-in mechanism of protection against this. Even if a person started climbing to the top of the hierarchical ladder thinking of social reforms, by the time he gets up there his character has been transformed into the opposite. The price of success is high. They have to pay with their own hearts and souls to make it to the top in Russia, and they have nothing left of their own humanity by the time the fight is over. It takes a very specific personality for an individual to start that race in the first place. The rulers of Russia never were loved or respected by common people, - only feared, ignored, ridiculed and barely tolerated. So, when an individual decides at an early age to start making his way into the company of political leaders, it is a decision to part with many human values for the sake of social and financial conveniences. As the archives were opened it was revealed that on the higher steps of the political pyramid there exists hazing rituals. They are unnecessarily cruel, designed to check out how genuinely heartless the person is becoming. At this point in Russian history, it is not required to kill your own children as it sometimes had been in the past, but it still comes pretty close to that. Since the revolution of 1917, especially cruel, greedy, power hungry people have been ruling Russia.
Now, I'll tell you a little about the second group - the intelligentsia. During the Breznev era, when every single aspect of social function was in deep crisis, but nobody was allowed to openly discuss it, in an atmosphere of a total shortage of everything, many teams of intelligent, genuine, very well educated, bright people spontaneously formed all over the country to design their own local solutions to the problems that were piling up. Sometimes these teams managed to manifest fulfilling, creative realities in their communities, with the main emphasis on education, health care, cultural and spiritual development. This all evolved in spite of the governments' efforts to prevent it.
Living in Russia now is like walking on quicksand. Everything falls apart faster than most people can adjust to.
Former scientists, engineers, teachers, all sorts of professionals - talented, hard-working, honest people find themselves living in an economic chaos delivered by a social system that doesn't care to use its main treasure and resource, people's ingenuity, and that makes them feel useless and worthless. Their living conditions now are absolutely critical and desperate. Among them, for example, is one of my friends, Larisa Leonova, a profound leader of a non-profit family-oriented 10 year old organization which serves about 30,000 families. Last week she was casually telling me on the phone that they don't even have a computer yet. She is struggling with a few new projects, one of which is to identify all the families in her area that have lost income. The sudden mortality among middle-aged Russian men quadrupled in the last 4 -5 years, leaving families with small children behind. The national and local governments do absolutely nothing to help them, as they do nothing about hospitals and schools closing because there is no electricity or heat, workers not being paid for months, etc., etc. The list is endless. So, Larisa is trying now to organize teenage girls to volunteer their time to baby-sit for these fatherless children, so that their mothers can go to work or take classes. (Same problems everywhere, no?) But in Russia nothing is simple. There is no information on such families - how many, where, how long, etc. There are no computers, no paper to make flyers, no photocopy machines to print those flyers... But there are plenty of highly motivated, caring people with great ideas, energy, and brave spirits; they just need a little help - like with office supplies, for example.
I wanted to tell my fellow Americans about this aspect of Russian life, so we put together a 58 minute video documentary, using archival footage. I have first hand experience because I had the honor of working in a few of these teams in the Ural Mountains, and in Moscow. I am not a politician; I'm just sharing the common sense of a common person, - a woman who is personally very content taking care of her family here in California. But my heart is aching as I see what is going on with my beloved Russia, and I want to do something to help. I've been talking to my friends in Russia yesterday, people are laughing bitterly at the thought that almost 18 billion dollars are promised to Russia again, some of it had been already received. Since then few super expensive personal boats were purchased by Russians in the Mediterranean sea. It's hard to convince struggling people that it could be a coincident.
I wrote this letter with hope that it will help you see that there are two groups of people who need your help: the rulers and the grassroots innovators. So far you've been giving money to the rulers. It hasn't help the people. It is time to try supporting the other group.