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Foale   Vanity Fair   14-Oct-1998   Loathing Russian culture
"It's a handful of powerful men controlling everything." C. Michael Foale
C. Michael Foale was the fifth American astronaut to live aboard the once-Soviet, but today Russian, space station, Mir.  Below is a description of the conclusions concerning Russian culture that he reached while living in Russia.

The relevance to Ukraine is that because Russia is Ukraine's most important neighbor, it is necessary to understand Russia; and because Ukraine is similar to Russia, Ukraine possibly shares this same cultural characteristic.  Also, perhaps this characteristic has made a contribution toward the gangsterization of Russia and Ukraine.

A Russian self-awareness of the particular trait described below is demonstrated in the Russian film Private Life (Chastnaya Zhizn, 1982, directed by Yuli Raizman).  The hero of the film is a senior government official who loses his position to his own younger protégé, and later has this protégé explain to him that the old system of docile subordinates bending to the will of their leader needed to be replaced by subordinates capable of thinking independently.

Moving to Star City [the Russian spaceflight center outside Moscow] in November 1995, he resolved to become the first of the Americans to truly integrate into a Russian crew.  His four predecessors had all been treated as guests.  The biggest barrier to forging solid relationships with the cosmonauts, everyone agreed, was poor Russian-language skills.  Early in his training at Star City, Foale noticed how at the end of a long day the other Americans returned to speaking English with their friends and family.  Not long after, he decided to refrain from speaking English whenever possible, even at home.  He spent every spare minute reading and speaking Russian, even buying Russian children's books to read to his kids.

Foale soon became known as the most Russianized of the Americans.  The more Foale learned about Russian culture, however, the more he loathed it, at least the old Soviet power structure.  "I hate absolutely hate the Russian Communist culture of male power and control," he says today.  "This doesn't go back 80 years, to the revolution.  This goes back thousands of years.  It's the same culture, of a Russian male oligarchy.  Their culture hasn't changed.  It's just evolved.  It's a handful of powerful men controlling everything."

Foale thought he glimpsed the legacy of this system at work in the space program.  At the Russian Mission Control Center in northern-Moscow suburbs known as the TsUP, which the Americans pronounced "soup" the flight controllers at their brightly lit consoles were the unchallenged masters.  Their slaves in space were the cosmonauts.  That was the word Foale began using.  Slaves.  The cosmonauts were slaves.  (Brian Burroughs, Letter From Space: All Heaven in a Rage, Vanity Fair, November 1998, p. 132, excerpted from Dragonfly: NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir by the same author, to be published in December by HarperCollins.)


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