Q: Is the Russian monetary situation improving?
– Julian Sanahan, Dublin, Ireland.
A: I would say that the ruble has been pretty stable in the past year. If the exchange rate to the dollar today is about 28 rubles, it was practically the same a year ago. Our rate of inflation is less than it was previously; however, it is still 18-20 percent a year – which means there is a slow, creeping rise in prices. The housewife feels this. For three rooms and a kitchen, I pay $6.60 a month; that includes rent, heating, hot and cold water, garbage disposal and more. Exactly a year ago, I paid only $4.20.
You will say that's next to nothing for an apartment in a house that is literally drowning in greenery. However, don't forget that our average monthly wage is $86, that the average teacher's wage is $36 and the average doctor's wage is $47, though many earn much less. Figures like these may be boring to read about, but they shed light on many aspects of our life.
Q: What are you going to do with the Kursk submarine?
– Julian Sanahan.
A: They say we must not leave an atomic reactor at a depth of 100 meters because if there are cracks in the reactor as a result of the explosion, erosion may lead to radioactive leakage and that's what we must avoid by all means. To raise the submarine will cost us $80 million. We already paid the Norwegian Regalia platform $6 million to raise the 12 bodies. Do we know the reason why the Kursk sank? There was a roundtable discussion of admirals and naval officers, and they came to the conclusion that most probably it was hit by a missile from the aircraft-carrying cruiser Peter the Great and not by any foreign submarine.
Our submarines have collided 11 times since 1972 and not one sank. It was also said that if it had hit a WWII mine, it would have been like a mosquito biting the rear end of an elephant for the mighty and sturdy Kursk. The Netherlands and Russia have started an international fund headed by a former foreign minister of the U.S.S.R. and a Dutch former defense minister. One of the members is Hans Dietrich Genscher. There have been 500 projects proposed to raise the Kursk, and they have finally decided on one.
Q: In the early '60s I remember listening to "Moscow Mailbag" at my home in Pennsylvania. The rumor was that the woman who read the news was from Pennsylvania. Can you comment on this?
– Rob Trappen Arnold, PA, U.S.A.
A: The woman who read the news and sometimes the questions to this program was Annabelle Bucar, who came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A fine woman if ever there was one. She was a person everyone loved. And I'm not saying this just because she passed away over a year ago. After the war, she worked at the U.S. Embassy, married a singer from the operetta theater and soon joined our staff. She had something like nine sisters and two brothers in the States, all pretty well off. She visited her home only a few years before she died. When she first came to us, she was always accompanied by a bodyguard. Many years later, she told me, "I don't know whether they were guarding me, or seeing to it that I did nothing wrong. In other words, keeping a 24-hour eye on me."
Q: Is there official discrimination against Jews in Russia?
– Alec Azar, Toronto, Canada.
A: I have not heard about discrimination against Jews. This did take place in Soviet times, but not now. What we witness today is open anti-Semitism coming from Gen. Albert Makashov, a member of parliament; from Nikolai Kondratenko, former governor of Krasnodar Krai; and from top officials in the city of Kursk. I heard Makashov airing his views at a meeting. This was televised several times. Unfortunately, nothing is done about this. The former governor of Krasnodar not only spoke in an anti-Semitic way, but wrote articles on the topic. He said Russia, at one time, was run by the Tartar-Mongols, then during the war by the Nazis, and now by the Jews. He used a very derogatory word. It's sickening.
In past years, we have had Jewish graves defiled, explosions in synagogues, synagogues burned down and explosions in the Jewish Cultural Center, whose director was knifed by a 100-percent crackpot. If you could only read the interview he gave. There is an engineer in the house I live in who talks anti-Semitism every day of his life. I asked him, if we were to expel all the Jews to Israel, would our economy and our politics improve? No response. There are bastards in all nations. If we were to take a poll as to which nation has more slimy people, corrupt individuals and just plain bastards, I don't think the Jews would come anywhere near the top.
(Joe Adamov is host of the Voice of Russia radio station's "Moscow Mailbag" program, from which these letters were taken. E-mail Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.)