The False Maps of Maskirovka

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Written: June, 2000

In the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, maps lied. Whole towns were placed incorrectly, omitted altogether, minimized, exaggerated, or distorted. The confluence of rivers, the forking of roads, the damp darkness of tunnels were all subjected to the vagaries of official paranoia. No two maps were alike. Biblically, the mountains were made to dance. Moscow's maps were the most fictional, leading the innocents abroad down the garden paths to blind alleys and dead ends. Such maps were intended to misdirect foreigners and citizens alike and had a most Kafkaesque effect on daily life.

This was but a small part of "Maskirovka" - an open and authorized policy, a conscious decision to subvert language itself, to divert topology, to disinform, to transform reality into an inane hall of mirrors. It was part of the pathologizing process called "Communism" - and it did not stop at maps. Everything was falsified: production figures were inflated, dates were altered, old photographs retouched, alliances and enmities swapped. It fostered a nightmarish state of mind replete with seemingly capricious twists and turns and "Alice in Wonderland" (lack of) logic. With all meaning usurped, language lost both its function and its structure. It metastasized.

The incubus of Communism may have died but it left its demon seeds cocooned in the brains of its unfortunate vassals. The "Maskirovka" is alive and well. All inflows and outflows of information in most countries in transition are considered dangerous. Governments, firms and individuals do their best to conceal and, where they fail, to misinform. Statistics has been elevated above damned lies to a delirious state of Pavolvian mendaciousness. Everything, all over Central and Eastern Europe, is falsely reported - from GDP to the number of workers in the state administration. The IMF, the World Bank, the EBRD and a host of other sanctuaries of smug mediocrity turn a blind eye to what they know to be brobdingnagian acts of skulduggery and forgery of data committed by government officials. Hidden reserves, off budget income, debts ignored - all serve to distort the picture to the common satisfaction of benefactor and beneficiary.

The government, in turn, directs its attentions away from the shoddy accounting practices of the shady businesses that pass for the private sector in most countries in this never-ending (and convenient) period of transition. Business in these shell, mob infested and corrupt countries is engaged more in evading taxes and cooking books - then in pursuing profits and clientele. Parallel, underground systems of production and accounting divert resources from the official universe into the Hades of the black and criminal economy. Money laundering, outright theft, thuggery and mafia-like codes of conduct typify these "enterprises". It is "Maskirovka" embodied at the level of the firm, the hellish manifestation of years of sabotage and hostility towards the state and its avaricious officers.

And then there are the individuals. Lying was often a survival tactic, dissembling - a mechanism of successful adaptation. In the simulacrum that passed for polity, deforming oneself was the only method of staying in shape. To be a denizen of Communism was a profession, not an affiliation. Profitable habits die hard. To this very day, people of all ranks steal from their workplace, falsify their expense accounts, cheat each other with "carpe diem" abandon and, occasionally, with glee. They think nothing of ignoring promises, forgetting their commitments, or violating contracts. They are in a state of war, subject to un-natural selection.

This obscene traffic in lack of probity is amplified when dealing with foreigners.

I have often been accused of spying and resorted to the classical defence of having displayed no interest in matters military. Until I finally understood that reporting what one saw and believed to be the truth is considered an act of treason. Informing the world about the true state of affairs in Russia, Kosovo, or Macedonia was, to Russians, Kosovars, or Macedonians, a deplorable act of surrendering official secrets. This was so even if one's reports dealt with the dairy industry, the state of the telecommunications infrastructure or the relationship between the genders. The "outside" needs to be kept in the dark. CEE and Balkan societies engage in gigantic, informal conspiracies against the "outsiders". An elaborate Potemkin reality is manufactured and laboriously staged to fool each visitor or short term do-gooder. Foreigners who stay longer are expected to conform and assume this bond of silence. Violating it is invenial.

The false maps of the "Maskirovka" adversely effected the efficiency of Soviet produce distribution systems. Likewise, trafficking in wrong data causes misallocation of economic resources and the erosion of that indispensable social glue - trust. Decision making is based on make belief, steps taken backfire, listless inaction beckons. From the kikcshaw economies of Central Europe to the chintzy mob operations that pass for states in the Balkan - innovation, trading, value and capital formation, long term planning, education, infrastructure are all crippled by the off-spring of the "Maskirovka". Without a handle on reality, it is a world devoid of orientation, a path without direction, thaumaturgy gone berserk.

Perhaps this is the ultimate victory of "Maskirovka" - the confabulated political entities that mushroomed after its official banishment. To say one thing and do another - its surest legacy - has become the cornerstone of these post Communist lucifugous beings. To present facades devoid of depth or content - its basic tenet - is adopted with alacrity by both its former adherents and by its detractors in the West. To lie, to falsify, to cheat, to steal - its four commandments - are observed with vehemence all over the vast area it always ruled. Thus, metamorphosed, "Maskirovka" is back. Its vocabulary updated, clad in the new garbs of Capitalism, its new-found ideology, travelling more comfortably in Mercedeses and more speedily through the proliferating and venal media - it suppresses its schadenfreude smirk. It won.

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