Join me as I learn more about the Sochi Olympics and other topics of interest about the great country of Russia in my interview with Jennifer Eremeeva, called: Expert Reveals Sochi Olympics Secrets! Besides being very knowledgeable about Russia and fluent in the language, Jennifer has a unique insider’s perspective on Russia, and has written the humorous and highly entertaining book Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow.
Douglas Cobb: Jennifer, as a person who was born in the United States but who has spent several years of your life in Russia, you have perhaps a unique perspective on the social and political outlooks that shape both of these great countries, as well as insights into the Sochi Olympics, which we’ll talk about hopefully in some detail. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview with me, and sharing your insights with the readers of The Guardian Liberty Voice!
First, I was wondering how it is that you were born here in the United States, but that you then eventually moved to Russia. When was it that you learned to speak Russian — at a very young age? Where in Russia do you live, and what is it about Russia that really made you feel that it would be a great place to live?
Jennifer Eremeeva: I actually began learning Russian comparatively late: at age 19. I majored in Russian Area Studies at Columbia University which meant I spent 2 hours a day, 5 days a week in language classes.
I live in the center of Moscow, which is a huge, bustling city.
Russia captured my imagination very early on because of its larger-than-life parameters. I graduated from high school the year Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, and I think we all felt that immense change was coming to Russia. I wanted to be a part of that change.
Douglas Cobb: Sochi seems to be a beautiful city, at least from the bits of it I’ve seen during the Winter Olympics coverage. But, I have heard that there might have been some shady transactions done that led to Sochi being chosen instead of some other location for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Have you heard much about this possibility, and, if so, could you get into it a little here?
Jennifer Eremeeva: It’s clear that the presence of President Vladimir Putin at the final bid for the Games in Guatemala was an impressive display by a head of state who badly wanted the Olympics to come to Russia. Putin has staked his personal reputation on making these Games a success, and I think a big part of that is the very real ambition to take Sochi, Russia’s largest resort city, and give it the injection of capital needed to bring it up to world class standards and create a truly year-round destination.
Sochi is a beautiful city, positioned in a beautiful and bountiful region of Russia. The mountains and the sea did create obvious challenges to creating an Olympic-sized infrastructure in a comparatively short period of time. Some of Mr. Putin’s critics have suggested that too much money has been spent on these Games.
Douglas Cobb: The Winter Olympics isn’t, in comparison with the Summer Olympics, one which America has traditionally won a ton of gold medals, though our athletes do win some, for sure. How does the average Russian view the Sochi Olympics? I have heard the Russian Hockey coach on TV saying that Russia would consider the games to be a success if all the gold medals that they won were just one, in hockey. Do you really think that there’s truth to this, or would you say that Russia would really like to win many more medals in other events, as well as hockey?
Jennifer Eremeeva: The Olympics are hugely important to the Russians! They take immense pride in hosting their first-ever Winter Games, as well as in the very impressive performance we’ve already seen in figure skating, Luge, and speed skating. As you suggest, all eyes now turn to the fight for a gold medal in men’s hockey. Russia badly wants as many medals as she can garner, which will reflect a return to dominance in winter sports, but I think the hockey is on every Russian’s mind!
Douglas Cobb: I know that you were recently interviewed for NPR’s Tell Me More about the Sochi Olympics. How was that experience? Also, you know some behind-the-scenes information about the Sochi Olympics, from what I’ve heard.
Well, being on NPR was a dream come true. I’m a huge fan of public radio!
In terms of the behind-the-scenes information, I’m following a number of my friends with interest. I know many of the “toilet tweeters” amongst the journalist crowd, and I am also very proud of my American friend, Tamara Smith, a Canton, CT native who has lived in Russia for 10 years. She’s an Olympic volunteer and she is handling everything for the French figure skaters. She and her fellow volunteers are putting in 14-hour days and having a marvelous time.
Douglas Cobb: Do you have any anecdotes or information related to the Sochi Olympics which you could share with our readers, Jennifer, that perhaps not many people in the United States have heard about yet?
Jennifer Eremeeva: I think it is interesting to note that, while I certainly don’t approve of Russia’s stance on LGBT rights, I am pleased to tell you that 5 of my gay male friends are down in Sochi as spectators. They report having a whale of a time!
Douglas Cobb: Why is it that Russia seems to want to back up the Syrian regime of President Assad? Is it mainly, do you believe, because they sell arms to them and get oil from them?
Jennifer Eremeeva: The diplomatic ties between Syria and Russia go back a long way and their relationship spans not only military cooperation but trade relations as well. Russia does have a naval facility in Tartus in Syria, which is obviously of concern to the Russian government when assessing how to negotiate its relationship with President Assad’s regime while they remain in control.
Douglas Cobb: It’s been said that Russia has, in general, a large turnout when it comes to voting for the President or Premiere. Would you say that it seems true that the vast majority of Russians support Putin and voted for him, or that many support him, but perhaps the figures about the exact percentage of people voting for him might have been “fudged” to an extent? Rigged might be too harsh a way to put it….and it might be an inaccurate way to put it, as well.
Jennifer Eremeeva: I think that to understand the popularity of President Putin in Russia, its important to put him in the proper historical context. While Western observers and students of Russian history look at the era of perestroika and glasnost’ as a flowering of freedom for Russia, many Russians—particularly those old enough to vote in the last three presidential elections Mr. Putin has run in—experienced these years very differently. For them, this was a time of uncertainty, economic upheaval, and social chaos. You have to try and imagine that you are 40 years old and overnight you lose your social security, your savings, maybe your house, and your career is no longer relevant. Boris Yeltsin was an important transitional figure, but he is not remembered as a strong leader. Plagued with ill-health, often given to bouts of drunkenness, he evoked shame in many Russian minds.
Mr. Putin from the outset presented himself as a template leader Russians were familiar with. Like Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, and even Josef Stalin, Putin presented a strong leadership role and a vision of Russia’s greatness and her special place in the community of nations. Under Putin, oil revenues have filled Russia’s coffers, crime is down, and there is a sense again of stability and predictability to Russian life. The Sochi Olympics are a big part of this moment of Russian revival and renewal. But Mr. Putin faces considerable economic challenges after the Games end – a hangover, if you like, after a big party. It will be interesting to see how he rises to meet those challenges and in which direction his approval rating heads.
Douglas Cobb: What are some of the best or fondest memories you have of living in Russia? If you have relatives there, are some of the good memories about spending time with them, or close friends there, and perhaps going to see historic sites, or spending time in the countryside just having fun?
Jennifer Eremeeva: My husband and I try to get out and about in Moscow as much as work allows. We both love going to the theater and Moscow is arguably Russia’s theatre capital. When I worked as a tour guide, I was lucky enough to see a lot of Russia’s regions, including a memorable trip on the Trans-Siberian railway, which really is an epic journey. I think my favorite place to visit is St. Petersburg – really the most beautiful city in the whole wide world.
Douglas Cobb: I just have a couple more questions for you, Jennifer! I have loved your answers so far!
What is it that you think Russia, as a country, would like to get out of the Sochi Olympics — a sense of renewed pride, perhaps, and letting the world know that they can pull off a major event like the Olympics without a hitch?
Jennifer Eremeeva: For Russians, hosting the Olympic Games in 2014 and the World Cup in 2018 is a source of intense national pride. Hospitality is a big part of Russian culture as anyone who has visited Russia knows. Just as Russians make a big effort to set a groaning table when you visit their home, in a sense, the whole country has got behind the Olympic effort and that’s been nice to see!
Douglas Cobb: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention your latest book, Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow. I haven’t read it yet, but I would like to read and review it for The Guardian Liberty Voice sometime soon.
What is it about, and where can people get a copy of it, and for how much?
Jennifer Eremeeva: I hope you will read it, Douglas, and enjoy it.
I wrote Lenin Lives Next Door partly out of an on-going frustration with the books about Russia one finds at bookstores. As I say in the book, “they are all the color of dirty snow or congealed blood.” They present alarmist views about the country, its past and its destiny.
I have no wish to whitewash Russia’s problems, but for me, it was important to tell another story – about the quirks and foibles that make the Russians who they are. Lenin Lives Next Door is a thematic presentation of different aspects of ordinary life in Russia. Readers will take to the congested streets of Moscow, sit down at a groaning table, navigate the Byzantine health care system, and take a package tour to the Middle East with some middle class Russians.
Douglas Cobb: I’ll wrap up the interview, Jennifer, with asking you if you think that Russia will consider the Sochi Olympics to have been successful for them, and if so, in what way(s). Also, could you tell our readers, Jennifer, why is it that many people outside of Russia seem to know not very much about the country?
Jennifer Eremeeva: That is the 64,000 million ruble question, Douglas, and here I will take the opportunity to say that Russia doesn’t always put her best foot forward in presenting what she has to offer. I point this out at the very beginning of my book: when you drive in to Moscow from the airport, one of the first things you see as you approach the downtown are large, looming statues of soldiers gesturing to you to stop. These are potent symbols of Russia’s hard-fought victory in World War II, but they don’t make you feel immediately at home.
I also start my book by saying that “You have to really want to go to Russia,” and that’s true. If you have a choice for a European trip, of course Russia is appealing, but there is the extra hassle of the visa, travel arrangements are not always easy to make via the internet and so on. So, Russia doesn’t make it easy for foreigners to visit and that seems a shame. Russia has so much to offer the world in terms of art and culture, sports, and technological brain power. What she desperately needs in the next decade is a way to package herself more appropriately.
Do the Russians think that Sochi has been successful? I think we have to hope that they do. They put a lot of time, effort, and of course money into bringing the winter Olympic Games to the subtropics.
Douglas Cobb: Thanks very much, Jennifer, for agreeing to do this interview with me! Your insights about Russia and the secrets you revealed behind the Sochi Olympics were very interesting to hear, and I’m sure that the readers of The Guardian Liberty Voice will be also fascinated by your answers! Das vadanya, for now; but, I look forward to talking with you again, in the future!
Written by: Douglas Cobb