Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor's Guide to Russia

From "Fyodor Dostoevsky's Letter to the Minister of Tourism," posted in October 1998 by Ray Kroll to Johnson's Russia List, an lone forum for Russia-related discussion.

"A psychiatric ward is infinitely more interesting than a shopping mall."

      S ir, I trust that the events of the last month have finally laid to rest your plans to expand the crystal Kmart palace near the Kremlin. Didn't I warn you that such a construction is not compatible with the Russian soul, nor will it help this country in attracting foreigners? Tourists come to this country not for blue-light specials but for a stiff snort of irrationality. They're bored with comfort and security and want unpredictability, arbitrariness, and, yes, maybe suffering. What would be the point of visiting Russia if you were to root out the corruption, bureaucracy, superstition, and drunkenness? Remove the suffering and you diminish the joy.

      As I've reminded you more than once, a psychiatric ward is infinitely more interesting than a shopping mall. Material happiness is shallow next to the stormy depths of Russian experience. Future transformations ought to remain along the tried and true paths of a roller coaster going nowhere or a madhouse with an elegant fašade. Don't be distressed by the insecure bleatings of those in the West over "who lost Russia." In the eternal scheme of things, the last shall be first; the lost, found; and the poor, rich.

      Besides, it is infinitely more satisfying to live in a mud hut of our own design than in one of their sanitary suburbs. Who is happier, the isolated resident of some opulent nursing home or the old woman selling cigarettes by the bus stop? Russia's contribution to the modern world remains unchanged: the kingdoms of this earth are passing away, and those who put their faith in this world are certain to be disappointed.

      Moreover, as the world's basket case, we provide for unlimited charity among the wealthier nations. Beggar, prodigal son, and sinner, we serve as a stern reminder for the rest of the world that "there but for the grace of God go I." What other country could provide such comic relief, such pathos, such rich material for the evening news? And you were hoping to change this country into an eight-to-five, law-based, Sunday-brunch type of nation. That's a true recipe for desperation.

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