By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor, Moscow
The dollar and English language are, to a very large extent, global legal tenders and lingua franca, but not in Russia. The Russians have an unspoken but visible hatred for both the dollar the English language, and this has become a manifest culture in their land and way of life.
The first shocker we received when we landed on Domodedovo, Moscow aboard the magnificent Emirates’ Airbus Industrie A380-800 from Dubai, was the realization that the Russian customs officers could not communicate with us in English. This kept us at the airport for more than three hours. We furnished the officers with all necessary and unnecessary documents for our clearance – international passports, visas, Fan IDs, boarding passes, baggage claim cards, etc., but they kept shaking heads and speaking to us and amongst themselves in Russia.
By the grace of God, one of them who spoke haltering English came, and we told him we had been there for more than 3 hours, about only an hour less than the time it took us to fly from Dubai to Moscow. The man spoke to his people and then turned to us and said: “The law is, print electronic, Fan ID, wear it, neck.”
It took us another half an hour of drama of exchange of sign language, trying to decode the information the sparingly English speaker had given to us. By another grace of God, we came to the knowledge that the problem was that we did not print, laminate, and wear on our necks electronic-chipped card copies of the Fan ID papers the Russian embassy in Abuja had issued us. The man took us to another section of the customs where our Fan IDs were printed and laminated with inbuilt electronic chips. We hung the Fan IDs on our necks and returned to the clearance point. Without waste of time we got cleared.
Soon, another shocker came. We wanted to buy things – SIM Cards, recharge cards, other things. We had dollars but, “sorry. Dollar? No.”
“You don’t accept dollars? What do you accept?”
Off we went in search of rubles. It was while we were searching for Russian Rubles that those sent to come and pick us from the airport to our hotel, Numera, at Leninsky district, Lenin Street, Moscow, came. They called off the search for Russian Rubbles and we followed them to our hotel.
At the hotel, everywhere in Russia, the story, the problem was the same – no to dollar, no to English language. Sign language and other non-verbal communications became the lingua franca. Men had returned to the primitive stage of existence in a land as developed and civilized as Russia, primarily due to language barrier.
The hatred for dollar and English language by Russians is not just on the surface. It has become entrenched in their culture and formed solid pillars of their ideological war with the United States and Europe. Russians have never stopped complaining that Americans and the west want to dominate the world, and they realize how strategic a power language, legal tenders and other cultural values are in selling alien ideas to a people and persuading them to abandon their own.
But glasnost and perestroika (openness), two official policies which Russia decided to adopt, after the collapse of the USSR and its Iron Curtains, have never really had any depth. Closed door culture and system of ideology, however, is part of the history, present, and perhaps future of Russia.