- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

A recent issue of the London Observer published an interview with the great-granddaughter of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Tatyana Dostoyevskaya, 63, is her name and she lives in the kind of late 19th century poverty her ancestor, one of the greatest novelists of our time, described so piercingly in "Crime and Punishment."

Mrs. Dostoyevskaya's abode is a second-floor hovel in a St. Petersburg suburb where she lives with an unemployed son and grandson on a monthly pension equivalent to $31.15. She is one of six direct descendants of Dostoyevsky. The other three are her brother, a free-lance taxi driver, his son and grandson.

As I read the interview, I recalled Dosteyevsky's great novel, "The Brothers Karamazov," in which the Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus imprisoned in a cell:

"But let me tell Thee that now, today, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet… . In the end, they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, 'Make us your slaves, but feed us.' They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together."

And that 19th century message in the days of the czar is what the leaders of the 2lst century Russian Federation by their actions are telling the Russian people: You can have democracy or you can have bread but you can't have both. And it appears the Russian people are getting the message loud and clear.

Yet how can it be that Russia has a Third World economy and little prospect of any near-term improvement? This is a country with so much still untapped mineral wealth and natural resources, inhabited by a highly literate population and achieving elites in the arts and sciences, a country freed at long last from the incubus of central planning and a crushing dictatorship.

Not often discussed is the future of the Russian population. Professor Murray Feshbach of Georgetown University has written in The Washington Post: "If demography is destiny, then the destiny of Russia for the next 50 years is appalling."

In midyear 1990, the population of Russia was 148.3 million. Today the U.N. estimate is 146.4 million. By 2015, Mr. Feshbach expects the population will be between 131 million and 138.4 million. Present statistics and projections on fertility rates could see a Russian population of 80 million by 2050.

Looting of the economy under Boris Yeltsin and now under Vladimir Putin seems to be unstoppable. Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov said corruption "threatens the country's very existence." In a country without a true rule of law and respect for contracts, corruption becomes endemic. Ignored is Dostoyevsky's warning: "Neither man nor nation can survive without a sublime idea."

The question that haunts the air is this: If all this is known, why is nothing being done to stop a decade of rot? Putting it more bluntly, is nothing being done because of a deliberate decision to demonstrate to the beleaguered Russian people two propositions: (1) the end of communism never meant the beginning of plenty; (2) everybody was better off under Communist Party rule because people were at least paid on time and they received their pensions regularly. If the Russian people had no freedom, at least they had bread.

In one of the last scenes of "The Brothers Karamazov," occurs this fearsome passage:

"Our fatal troika dashes on in her headlong flight perhaps to destruction, and in all Russia for long past men have stretched out imploring hands and called a halt to its furious reckless course. And if other nations stand aside from that troika it may be not from respect, as the poet would fain believe, but simply from horror. And well it is that they stand aside, but maybe they will cease one day to do so and will form a firm wall confronting the hurrying apparition and will check the frenzied rush of our lawlessness, for the sake of their own safety, enlightenment and civilization."

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