As some of you are aware, last week I was traveling in Saint-Petersburg.
I went upon the invitation of a local politics club, but decided I stay several days to explore the city. I haven’t been to SPB since 2002, so this doubled as an opportunity to see how the northern capital has changed in the past 15 years.
As with the rest of Russia, the city itself has certainly changed for the better in all the usual respects. More cars, and far newer ones. Roofs appeared much cleaner and shinier from the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral than in 2002. As in the rest of Russia, virtually everyone who wants Internet access has it (SPB actually has slightly higher Internet penetration than Moscow, for some reason).
That said, whereas I distinctly remember liking Saint-Petersburg more than in the early 2000s, this is no longer the case.
(1) Moscow is and technologically advanced, e.g. it has free WiFi in the metro for several years now, which SPB and other backwards cities like London and San Francisco have yet to adopt.
(2) I greatly prefer acontinental climate to a cold maritime one.
(3) There is a reason Slavophiles have traditionally viewed Moscow as Russia’s “true” capital. The architecture is more authentically Russian. It also tends to be more human-scale. Central Saint-Petersburg is a place of wide imperial avenues, and the grand pomposity of the buildings and palaces, though initially impressive, gets monotonous after a while (in this respect it is actually reminescent of Washington DC).
This is of course a simplification – there are plenty of oppressive open spaces in Moscow too, and SPB has its fair share of quaint courtyards and interesting corners – but as an architectural ensemble Moscow definitely wins out.
(4) The Moscow metro is far more developed, so distances between stations are shorter. This makes Moscow more walkable, especially since SPB is also intersected by a massive river. Finally, although SPB’s bridges are a nice tourist magnet, they can be a pain in the ass for locals who can be cut off from their homes if they don’t leave the bar in time (not helped by the SPB metro closing one hour earlier than the Moscow metro).
(5) Whereas in 2002 Saint-Petersburgers – at least in my limited, one-week tourist experience – were more civil than Muscovites, Muscovites have improved greatly since then, and there is now no longer any difference.
One easy way to test civility is how frequently drivers make way for pedestrians on zebra crossings. 15 years ago in Moscow, it was perhaps 10%, and 25% in SPB. Nowadays I’d estimate it’s about 75% in Moscow, about the same as in the US. In SPB, however, it might be closer to 50%. Still, these are all extremely approximate figures, especially for SPB where I only spent 6 days.
I noticed that many Saint-Petersburgers seem to have a sort of inferiority complex, a lingering resentment towards Moscow at being deprived of their capital. Unfortunately, they have a point. I don’t like it and I think the hyper-centralization that accounts for this is very bad for the country, but the fact of the matter is that least 50% of everything interesting and significant taking place in Russia happens in Moscow.
Moscow is the undisputed political (executive, legislative), economic, and scientific center of Russia.
SPB has some modest share of influence in the political-legislative and cultural sphere (though probably not near as much as Moscow), but otherwise, it is ultimately just the largest gorod-millionnik.
That said, as one person I talked to optimistically pointed out, SPB does have a “marginalistic charm” to it, and she continued, “all the most interesting and disruptive phenomena come from the margins.” If there’s one thing that SPB suffers no shortage of relative to Moscow, it is hipsters.
I was invited to Saint-Petersburg was to give a lecture to a local right-wing politics club about “HBD and its Role in the Alt Right.”
There is a loosely affiliated network of such clubs through Russia in Moscow, SPB, and the bigger cities. (Vincent Law, whom I had the pleasure of meeting, wrote about the SPB chapter here).
This invitation was perfectly congruent with my wider meta-goal of redpilling Russian nationalists on HBD/IQ-realism, so of course I accepted.
My talk itself covered the basics of HBD/IQ:
- The largely separate evolution of the world’s three great races since they split ~50,000 years ago.
- The validity of psychometrics
- The importance of psychometrics, esp. wrt life outcomes and national differences in GDP per capita and other development metrics
- The direction of causality – exceptions (Communist legacy; oil windfalls) prove the rule!
- Why should this be the case?
- FLynn effect: Will immigrant performance converge?
- Would HBD-informed prescriptions apply to Russia? (e.g. immigration policy, positive eugenics, genetic augmentation of IQ)
I was very impressed by the quality of the responses and questions. Many people were familiar with the material, and asked pointed and relevant questions, such as the technical details of how national IQs are calculated, the extent to which emotional intelligence is important, and why US Jews cleverer than Israelis.
Clearly young Russian nationalists are informed, intelligent, and intellectually curious, having avoided the ideological skeletons of the boomer nationalist mindset in Russia (e.g. Eurasianism, “geopolitics,” Heidegger, extreme Orthodoxy, and various other obscurantisms). This is incredibly encouraging for the future.
Many interesting and spirited discussions about the Alt Right, Milo, Karelian nationalism, censorship, and many other weird and esoteric topics followed.
The politics club is only one element in SPB’s nationalist ecosystem, which even extends to having their “own” bars with discounts for nationalists. I would shill them but I don’t know if they’d appreciate the publicity.
The city also hosts the Black Hundreds publishing group, which specializes in republishing Tsarist-era classics as well as modern nationalists authors. I bought two books from each category.
The first was a 1916 edition of Valentin Kulchitsky’s The Code of Honor of the Russian Officer (widely distributed to Russian officers during WW1 because the accelerated wartime training schedule meant that many of them didn’t have time to fully absorb the culture of the General Staff).
The second was Vitaly Fedorov’s (“Africa”) Notes of a Terrorist (in the good sense of the word) – possibly the best war novel from the Donbass to date (an English translation is available on Amazon).
A third major nationalist organization in SPB is the Russian Imperial Movement.
Its nationalism is explicitly based on religion, not ethnicity – you don’t have to be an ethnic Russian to join, but you do have to be an Orthodox Christian. However, they are also considerably more hardcore than the others, having been directly involved in the events in Donbass through their Imperial Legion batallion.
When not delving deeper into extremism and padding my files at Langley and Lubyanka I did the usual touristy stuff.
I traveled to SPB via the Sapsan high speed train, which at 250kph takes about 3.5 hours to get there from Moscow.
$75 normal ticket, $100 business class. The latter has far better conditions, and includes a meal, so it’s worth considering.
Alternatively, you can take the overnight train for $25 or $40 (platskart and kupe, respectively), depending on your desired privacy level.
I stayed at the Katyusha hotel. It’s right next to the Neva River – right past the arch in the photo to the right – and about 200m from the Hermitage. One night there costs a mere $50.
This really brings home the point why PPP-adjustments to GDP per capita are absolutely relevant when gauging living standards. Russian wages might be far lower than in Western Europe, but so are the prices.
In addition to the standard Western fast food chains, such as McDonald’s/KFC, Russia now has many of its own indigenous equivalents. Being a tourist in SPB, unlike in Moscow, I took the opportunity to explore some of them. Teremok is a national chain that features very traditional Russian fare such as common soups (borscht, obroshka, ukha, solyanka, etc.), pelmeni, pancakes, cutlets with buckwheat for prices similar to a MacDonald’s. Even better, though, was the SPB-specific Brynza chain, though it is marginally pricier (right: Cod Leningrad style).
I last had Indian food half a year ago and really wanted to try my favorite national cuisine again. Fortunately, Saint-Petersburg has an excellent Indian restaurant right in the city center called Tandoor. It compares well even with Indian restaurants in London and the Bay Area. A business lunch of yellow daal, spicy vegetables, and butter chicken costs $10. So do most curries (e.g. the vindaloo on the right). The masala chai is also very good. It is run by Russians, though the cooks are Indians.
Note that traditionally Russia traditionally hasn’t had anything spicier than, I dunno… paprika? So you have to order your Indian food very/extremely spicy to get it moderately spicy by British/American standards.
Finally visited the Kunstkamera. It is by and large a standard ethnographic museum, the most interesting part of the exhibit being the original Petrine collection.
I was very impressed with the Central Naval Museum. It hosts a series of huge halls with thousands of naval paintings, ship models, figureheads, guns, munitions, uniforms, and other naval objects, all exhaustively documented and woven into a comprehensive history of the rise and fall of Russian naval power. Unfortunately, there are few English translations.
Visited the Yusupov Palace. TIL they were Christianized Tatars, descended from one 15th century Khan Yusuf.
Petropavlovsk Fortress includes the cathedral where the Russian Tsars since Peter the Great are buried, including Nicholas II and his family, who were interred there in the 1990s. The Russian Orthodox Church objected to burying a person who abdicated the throne inside the main cathedral, so they repose in an adjoining room to the main hall which can be considered a separate chapel.
There are several other separate museums.
One is the prison with its 69 rooms that held revolutionaries. The tour group leader made a point of how horrific conditions were, though in my experience, that’s part and parcel for historical prison tours everywhere. But to the casual eye the rooms sure look spacious even by the standards of modern US prisons, to say nothing of typical jail conditions a century ago. And the sentences tended to be remarkably lenient considering prisoners were often involved in assassination plots, terrorism, etc., which in many other states would have warranted the death penalty. It was surely much more humane than Guantanamo.
There was a museum of the history of SPB from the early native inhabitants who lived there in their log cabins. One room was famous for having been the scene of the sentencing of the Decembrists, of whom five were put to death. This was cited as an example of Tsarist cruelty and caprice in Soviet history textbooks, but come on… this was ultimately a violent mutiny against the sovereign. The vast majority of the plotters were exiled to Siberia for some period of time, or even pardoned. Even many West European countries at the time would have been far less lenient.
One building that used to host a secret rocketry R&D facility in the early USSR is now a space museum. One thing I was struck by was how many people both interested in and technically capable of developing modern rocket technologies there were in the late Russian Empire (starting with Tsiolkovsky, the concept’s father). It seems inevitable to me that there would have been a strong Russian missile and space program regardless of whether the USSR had appeared or not.
I visited the Hermitage. I have been there before, but it is so vast you need to spend a few days to properly see all of it anyway. My favorite room there in the original palace section was Nicholas II’s library. Most of the Winter Palace was for all intents and purposes a “museum,” even when it was still the living quarters of the imperial family (the status signalling problem really reached absurd proportions in the Russian Empire, as in ancien regime France). The library looks like a place where you could actually sit down and get some work or reading done over a glass of red wine.
Popov’s Central Museum of Communications is one of the oldest science and technology museums in the world. Amongst other exhibits, it hosts Alexander Popov’s original radio set. He actually made his revolutionary discoveries slightly earlier than Guglielmo Marconi, but the Italian became known as the inventor of radio in the West because of his greater interest in and success at commercializing it.
I also passed by the Chubais Museum of the Implementation of Democracy in Modern Russia (what a mouthful, even in Russian). As Lazy Glossophiliac commented, “Should have been housed in a 90s-style kiosk store with lots of gaudy advertising all over it.” You had to make an appointment to enter the museum, which I suppose says something about its popularity.
I couldn’t be bothered, having better things to do with my time, such as drinking with the people who will one day kick those squatters out of such a fine building and open a Museum of Autocracy in its stead.