Russians. Could they be the nicest people in the world?

The People’s Oligarchy of Russia has been enjoying something of a resurgence recently.

The economy is booming in a way that is so spectacularly manic it could only be Russian.

Mr. Putin has begun to flex his taut little muscles by showing just how indispensible Russia’s natural resources really are.

Russians have even begun to take over some of England’s most celebrated football clubs. Er, I’m sorry, saaacker clubs. Their wealth has bought some of the finest players in the world to the hooligan’s very doorstep.

Yet the majority of the world has never managed to admire, or even accept, a country where the average male still only lives to the immature age of 57.

I don’t know if we can blame Hollywood entirely for this, but I cannot think of a single movie in history that had a sympathetic Russian character, never mind an actual Russian hero. Why should this be?

The Russians are an extraordinarily cheerful and generous people. Mr. Putin and his compatriots simply want to be loved. Please allow me to give you just one example.

Last October, King Juan Carlos of Spain came to visit.

The King is a rather handsome 70-year-old, who managed to con General Franco into believing that he would continue the General’s extremely generous form of fascism once the bald, but rather short, generalissimo ascended to the altar in the sky.

When the general died, the King decided that perhaps Spain had had enough of being ruled by uniformed men with uniform views.

As usual with the trips of royalty, one assumes the main purpose of King’s excursion to Russia was to generate business for Spanish companies.

But the King is a sailing and hunting sort. He hunts across two fronts. Wild animals. And, supposedly, somewhat tamer chicks.

The girls have never got him into trouble. Spaniards are so grateful for his great judgement in the post-Franco era that they are mostly happy if their King has something of a roving, as opposed to Rovian, eye.

But the Russians not only wanted to make him feel at home. They wanted him to feel like a king. A real king. Something Russians know a lot about.


So they suggested the King hunt some bear. Bears are rarely seen in Spain. Although one cannot fail to wonder what kind of Sunday night spectacle it would be if bears were allowed to take on bulls in the ring.

The King was taken to the Vologda region between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Where he duly bagged a bear. History does not record whether he used a Kalashnikov.

You might think there was nothing wrong with this level of hospitality. Bears kill people on occasion, so why shouldn’t people kill bears?

And this is where the true spirit of Russian kindness comes in.

For news has emerged that perhaps the King of Spain might not be the most talented hunter in the world.

His hosts, wanting their guest to enjoy the trip of a lifetime, wanting him to return to his people an even bigger man than he left, couldn’t bear the thought that he could miss a target twice as large as himself.

So his trophy was apparently a tame bear.

Which his hosts had plied with honey. And vodka.

There are those who believe that the Russians used the same methods on President Boris Yeltsin for a number of years. Yet, the former President had the uncanny ability to avoid bullets even when plastered beyond humanity.

Not so with Mitrofan. Which was the curious name of the unfortunate bear. Mitrofan, at the time of his demise, was actually a performing artist. He lived in a nearby fairground and danced for anyone who asked him.

But Juan Carlos was a King, Mitrofan a mere jester. And the Russians have always believed in evolutionary hierarchy.

Can you imagine, for example, that Dick Cheney would ever slip a little roofie into a few local ducks, or perhaps a couple of his friends, so that Tony Blair could return to England just slightly more credible?

So shouldn’t we admire the Russians and understand how it was that the Poles, the Czechs and the Hungarians felt cared for during the heady days of the Warsaw Pact?

The sad thing is that the story has got the King of Spain in trouble. The Spanish have finally demonstrated their republican ingratitude. They are suddenly questioning the Royal Family’s expenditure. They are wondering whether the King and His family have been excessive in their social habits. They have even started to print cartoons lampooning the King’s son.

How could they? He married a television presenter.

Such republican nonsense would never happen in Russia.

Why, when Leonid Brezhnev was the President of the USSR, he too liked the thought of shooting bears. But he was a far worse shot than the King of Spain. Sometimes the vodka and honey wouldn’t work.

So they would tie the bear to a tree. And let the President shoot from point blank range.

If only all nations could be as nice as that.


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