Following the New Silk Road: The Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation
A recent BST-supported project called “Following the New Silk Road” contributes in-depth local analysis on the region historically crossed by the Silk Road and on the development of the New Silk Road Initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. As part of this project, senior researcher and Romanian journalist Sabina Fati traveled through China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania and documented her travel experience. She is currently blogging about her experiences on the Romanian Radio Free Europe website. Her blog entries have been also translated into English and will be posted on GMF’s website. 1) Bucharest-Beijing Via Moscow, or About Russia’s Resilience The Aeroflot flight to Moscow is crowded. You wouldn’t guess so many people are going to Russia at a time when the Westerners are not particularly keen on what is going on there. The flight attendants speak English, too, but only when they fancy it: blondes, wearing bright red lipstick and tasteful make-up, they seem to have been selected for the beauty of their skin and their flawless oval faces. They ask me what I want straight in Russian, a sign that English, as a lingua franca, no longer works from here on in. Even the glossy magazine in the pocket of the seat in front of me is in Russian, and the cover reads “Aeroflot style” in Cyrillic letters. I reply in her language, using the words I learned a long time ago when this language was still taught in school, unfortunately, for ideological reasons. Meanwhile, the captain of the Sukhoi superjet in which I am flying speaks in Russian for a few minutes, then briefly says in English that we are crossing the Republic of Moldova and heading towards Kyiv. For one reason or another, the pilot decided to fly at low altitude, perhaps in order to better see how far the near neighborhood, which should stay under Russian influence according to the historical tradition, is extending. The dapper gentleman on my left shows me the big loop of a river that glitters like a huge mirror: the Dnieper, where the Russians defeated the Germans, who were planning to conquer Kyiv. He speaks in a strong Slavic accent, further explaining how many things Russia has done for Ukraine. “This region is simply ours, it cannot be taken by Europe,” he goes on, as if he had read my mind. “Europe does not want to take Ukraine, but many Ukrainians would rather have their country within the EU than in the Central Asian Union,” I reply. “It is not that simple, as you’d think, because Ukraine won’t be to manage without the Russian gas or our help, and people remember that it was better when they were living together with the Russians in the same country.” Although he was young enough to have lived more years after the fall of the USSR than before, my neighbor seemed nostalgic — not for the former Soviet Union, as he explained, but for “a strong Russia, like it was before Gorbachev blew it up.” As we landed in Moscow, I asked him what he did for a living. “I am a businessman,” he replied vaguely from over his shoulder, and slightly haughtily. I was supposed to wait for four hours here before boarding the plane to Beijing. The biggest duty-free shop in the world displayed a billboard with huge letters: “Only products made in the EU.” The Russian pride is blocked in a kind of consumerism, because Russian men, but especially their women, prefer goods made according to the quality standards of the Common Market. Since Peter the Great, fashion, luxury, and, more often than not, the ideas circulated by intellectuals, come from Europe. Moscow’s new nationalism does not have, however, any connection with the opening made more than 300 years ago, but with the influence that Russia has over territories that no longer belong to it. Dinu Toderascu is a program officer with the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation.
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