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McDonald’s, Harder and Stronger than Peter the Great

McDonald’s, Harder and Stronger than Peter the Great

Wednesday, 15 June, 2022 - 16:45

As soon as Vladimir Putin likened himself to Peter the Great, Western press outlets began brimming with headlines about his comparison. The Russian president’s suggestion was understood to be glorifying Russia’s historical expansionist wars: what Peter captured from Sweden and other countries, he retrieved and liberated, not invaded and occupied. On top of this expansion, as the master of the Kremlin sees it, is that it grants the expander power and greatness.

The proof is in the fact that the Europeans, who did not recognize Peter’s new territories or the achievements of this expansion at the time, have all come to recognize them today.

Might alone, then, is right.

It was clear to Putin’s critics and supporters alike that what he said about this Russian despot (1672-1725) should be understood through the lens of the ongoing Ukrainian war. Putin’s references to history and historical figures have spiked since the war began. He had been enamored with referring to Lenin, Stalin, and other leaders who shaped Russia’s modern history, sometimes praising and glorifying them and, at others, criticizing or denouncing them.

Putin is much more interested in playing with greats than he is in the sensibilities of the Swedes, Estonians, or any other peoples who paid the costs of Russia’s past glories. In this regard, some observers did not fail to point to Putin’s selective reading of history, part of which is ignoring Peter the Great’s other side, that is, his openness to the world and his admiration for European civilization and culture, which does not concern the Russian president, whose relationship with Europe and the Europeans is on the brink of collapse.

The only thing that matters is the side of Peter the Great that is useful for the new realities ensuing from the ongoing war - a fifth of Ukraine’s territory is in the hands of the Russian forces, who run them through meek local administrations engineered by Moscow.

In all likelihood, keeping this occupied territory occupied will require more of Peter the Great and one-sided references to his reign, just as wars necessitate summing the great figures who have died in order to make the deaths of the small figures easier.

In sum, Putin is not the first nationalist leader to breathe life into dead, indeed very dead, national leaders such that they become very immortal. Symbols from the past can be useful in the present when the present is so haunted by repeats of the past in all its wars and disputes, which multiply and fatten the legacy of living leaders warriors. Thus, all nationalist or populist politicians keep alive an old coffin and keep telling us that the coffin is occupied by someone who continues to live and breathe through them and that today’s glorious actions are nothing but a compliance with the orders of that coffin.

However, something else crept into the splendor of imperial history, leaving a dent whose presence is difficult to deny or keep under wraps. It is something epic-loving nationalists call a menial commodity: McDonald’s fast food.

According to the AFP, the Russians recently opened a Russian McDonald’s to replace the 850 restaurants that had served those American fast food meals after the restaurant chain pulled out of Russia over its war on Ukraine.

The Russians gave their alternative a sentimental slogan: “The name changes, the love remains.” As for Oleg Paroev, its chief executive, he has said that “our goal is that our guests do not notice a difference either in quality or ambiance.” As the Russian McDonald’s owner, Alexander Govor, said that “things will not become worse, this is certain. We will try to make things better,” adding: “We hope that the number of customers will not decrease but increase, especially since the company is now completely Russian.”

Here too, we see a nationalistic tone. Yet, it does not speak the language of greatness but the language of imitation, replication, and efforts exerted to rise to the “enemy’s” standards. This is because manufacturing and claiming to represent Peter the Great is much easier than manufacturing and representing the so-called junk food McDonald’s serves its customers - an epithet pointing to the massive amounts of sugar, salt and fat in this food, as well as its scarcity of protein and vitamins.

But of all that does not negate the fact that the revenues from McDonald’s restaurants that opened immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s made up around a tenth of the restaurant’s business. Sixty-two thousand Russians who had worked there lost their jobs after the restaurant withdrew from the country, a process that was finalized in May.

And unfortunately, every country in the world has a Peter the Great that its living leader plays him to his benefit. As for the American McDonald's, the entire world only has one.

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