Musings of a Russophile: What is a Russophile?

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The column is about the ideas and stories generated from the 20 years the author spent living and doing business in Russia. Often about conflict and resolution, these tales at times reveal the “third side of the Russian coin.” Based on direct involvement and from observations at a safe distance, the author relates his experiences with respect, satire and humor.

The column is about the ideas and stories generated from the 20 years the author spent living and doing business in Russia. Often about conflict and resolution, these tales at times reveal the “third side of the Russian coin.” Based on direct involvement and from observations at a safe distance, the author relates his experiences with respect, satire and humor.

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Some have called me a “Russophile.” I don’t know exactly what that means. Indeed I do really love the music, the literature, and that indefinable thing in the Russian personality which makes me shake my head at times in sorrowful disbelief—or more often laugh.

My first small encounter with Russia began as a child, when my intellectual sister Winnifred, twelve years my senior, read me Pushkin fairy tales and enchanted me with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. I was growing up on the West Texas desert at a pipeline pumping station through which all the gas flowed that powered the arms factories of California during World War II.  My sister was in college when Stalin was our ally and was drawn into Russian history and culture. The training soldiers marched by my desert house and the tanks roared and I made their lieutenants unhappy selling their sweating men cold lemonade and slices of watermelon. That was my first business.

And on the kitchen wall of this small brick house was a map of Europe with the lines of the Eastern as well as the Western Front sketched with black crayon. I followed Zhukov’s drive on Berlin from the East and Timoshenko’s drive from the South. I would not know Stalin’s vile roll in all this until much later. But this knowledge, fifty years on, would bond me to the old veterans of The Great Patriotic War who guarded our Moscow building off Novy Arbat. They called me “a regular Russian guy,” especially when they learned I was a tanker and blamed the wars on politicians.

That introduction of Russian culture was a slowly germinating seed that grew the best it could in the darkening shadow of the Cold War. My sister entertained me with the music of Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mussorgsky, and Rachmaninoff.  My love of Russian music and writing grew, but the interest in all things Russian did not come into full bloom until the Berlin Wall fell a lifetime later, and I, for reasons I did not fully understand at the time, went to Russia to start a business I knew little about. That is the way life often is.

After graduate school and many years working and trading in Asia, my wife and family had moved to Southern California.

Anxious to get back into international business, events turned me toward Russia. I reasoned that if I was going to knock my head against the wall, there had better be plenty on the other side. With the support of a few friends back in California, I came to Moscow in 1992 and started a telecom company. It was successful and I learned so much about the Russians, the old and especially the new ones. Those friends are still here- in Moscow, St. Petersburg and in Europe and America.

My life in Russia included the 1993 debacle of tanks bombarding their own parliament (next to my office), into the boisterous and economically explosive 1998, and to see a democratically elected (sort of) new president. It was a pivotal time in Russian’s thousand year history. Now after nineteen years of participating in Russia’s struggling entrance into the real world, I begin to look back on my own experience of living and doing business there, and what I learned. It took a while, on the walks home late at night from a concert at Tchaikovsky Hall to my apartment on Smolensky Pereulak. “What makes a Russian tick?” I asked myself. It would take awhile to come to some sort of answer.

I came to Moscow to live for six months and it lasted six years. I had no idea it would take so much money, energy, and patience. I often asked -"Why am I doing this?" The stakes were high, the competition tough and there always seemed to be a surprise around the corner. But what an adventure it always was, and still is. It was an opportunity to prove myself, to overcome some formidable odds, to outlast the critics, to reach a level of excellence that I knew was possible.

But it was the people who kept me moving forward. This was an opportunity I could not let go by routinely.

As much as I love the Russian poets, my favorite is not Lermontov, Pushkin, or Pasternak, it is Robert Frost. I am an American, even if now I may be some portion Russian as my friends say. Robert Frost I understand. In business as well as in life, these words have predicted, and justified, my direction:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

and that has made all the difference.

Maybe you can call me a Russophile.
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Frederick Andresen is an international businessman and writer with a lifetime of intercultural experience in Asia and for the last twenty years in Russia. He now lives in California and is President of the Los Angeles/St. Petersburg Sister City.  While still involved in Russian business, he also devotes time to the arts and his writing, being author of “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia” and historical novellas.

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