PERSPECTIVErnUnder the Ruble or An Idiot Abroadrnby Thomas FlemingrnIt was eight o’clock Moscow time when the overcrowdedrnBritish Airways Jet landed at Sheremetevo Airport. Liberatedrnfrom our Iron Maiden seats—BA seems to have squeezed inrnan additional seat per row—we made our way into the arrivalrnhall, happily anticipating if not a good Russian dinner, then atrnleast something to eat.rnThe barely illuminated hall was already filled with passengersrnfrom other flights, and the Russians had not bothered tornput more immigration officers on duty. We waited, my friendsrnfrom the Lord Byron Foundation and I, and we waited. I hadrntime to study the strange ceiling, fabricated from metal pipes.rnSrdja Trifkovich, the Byron Foundation’s director, said theyrnwere shell casings. Swords into ploughshares, bullets into buildingrnmaterials, I suppose. As we got to the front, we could seernthat it was taking ten minutes for the Russians to check eachrnpassport and visa, examining every page, and writing in thernnumbers by hand. Hundreds of unhappy visitors made no differencernto them. Why should they? Welcome to perestroika.rnWelcome to Russia.rnThe first thing I learned about Russia was that nobodyrnstands in line, nobody makes way for you when you have tornsqueeze by, nobody knows the difference between entrancernand exit, even when they are plainly marked. On my last day,rnat an open-air market, I have only 20 minutes to spend onrnbribes for the family, and as I am standing patiently in the entrancernline, a ticket-taker at the exit motions to me impatiently,rnas if to say, “What are you waiting for? Can you read?”rnThe main purpose of the visit is a two-day conference on thernBalkans War at the Russian Academy of Science, cosponsoredrnby the Lord Byron Foundation and the Institute for the Studyrnof Modern Balkan Conflict (of the Russian Academy). Thernrest of the time is spent in meetings with Russian policy experts.rnTaking nothing for granted, I am never sure of how muchrnis said—^both at the conference and in private meetings—outrnof conviction, how much is cooked up for the consumption ofrnuseful idiots like myself.rnSince my Russian is only good enough to ask directions orrnhaggle over a price, I am entirely cut off from the usual informationrnsources. The newspapers, I can hardly attempt, exceptrnwhen a Russian student is kind enough to digest them for me,rnand the television news is only a series of images: a woundedrn(Russian?) soldier, Chechen fighters.rnThe sullen barmaid in my hotel confirms something of whatrnI had heard about the hostage-takings, but she does not want torntalk about it—or virtually anything. The only human momentrnis her contemptuous laughter when I pronounce the word forrn”bill” as it is spelled. She is throwing us out at 11:45 (last nightrnshe gave me till almost one), but offers to keep the place openrnif I will pay for her taxi, then it is her girlfriend’s taxi, and, I fear,rnbefore we are through we will be getting her mother’s teethrnfixed and setting the barmaid up in a dress shop. It is easier torngo down to the bar in the lobby, where I contrive to have myrncamera stolen.rnThis isolation from news is like going back several centuries,rnwhen the only information was gossip and rumor. I only findrnout the next day that the Russian attack has failed to recoverrnthe hostages, and that Yeltsin has gone back to the bargainingrntable. The Russians I speak with are disgusted. The televisionrnimages of the Chechen crisis arc always in the background ofrnour discussions. More than one Russian, seeing the results ofrnAmerican adventurism in the Balkans, concludes: if NATOrntroops are in Bosnia today, they will be in Chechnya tomorrow.rn8/CHRONICLESrnrnrn