May 01, 2019

You Be the Judge

Sometimes a White Russian is just a cocktail.

There is never a shortage of political-cultural land mines on which to trod when one’s brief is to cover all things Russian. And, given the state of East-West relations, the mines are getting bigger and more tightly spaced with each passing day.

Put another way, it is challenging to write about Russia without offending one “side” or the other. Which is why I keep close at hand two letters from readers, both cancelling their subscriptions within a month or so of each other. One found Russian Life to be “highly objectionable and predisposed to an otherwise discredited regime,” while the other insisted that Russian Life was “an organ for the dissemination of anti-state, anti-president, or anti-Orthodox Church propaganda.”

You lose some, you lose some.

Which brings us to this issue.

On page 54, we offer a short travel feature about a unique lake located in Eastern Crimea. Assuredly, some readers will say, “Wait a minute, Crimea is part of Ukraine, why is this article in Russian Life?” While others might say, “Finally, Russian Life is acknowledging that Crimea is part of Russia.”

Yes, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after dispatching poorly-disguised troops there, followed by a referendum of local residents (two-thirds of whom identify as ethnically Russian) that affirmed their support of the action. But, on the other hand, to date just eight countries other than Russia have recognized the annexation, and the UN and the international community see it as a violation of international law.

Those are the facts.

So we are not making any kind of “statement” by running this piece. We run stories all the time about interesting people, places, and phenomena that have a connection to Russia geographically, historically, or culturally. To say that this article is evidence of our endorsement of Russia’s actions in Crimea is like saying our article on Russians in Sumas (page 56) is a call for Russia to annex a part of northwestern Washington state.

On page 62, we present a recipe for a beloved Soviet-era confection, Paul Robeson Layer Cake. While some may judge the chocolate cake, which makes intentional references to the great singer’s dark complexion, to be somehow racist, that judgement is misplaced. The reality is that the cake was created at a time of very different racial and cultural sensitivities, and it was seen then as a way to praise Robeson for his activism against racism, to show affection for who he was and what he dared.

But then maybe our culinary concern is misplaced. When I told a friend about the cake and that some might see it as controversial, he just nodded and said, “Well, the real question is: Is the cake is any good?”

You be the judge.

Enjoy the issue.

p.s. As you will note if you get our free weekly email newsletter, The Russia File, we have launched the electronic version of Russian Life. The entire back issue archive since 1995 is now online, searchable, and readable on any browser-enabled device or computer. All for less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month. Find out more.

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Russian Life is a 29-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

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