Great Rus­sia's tiny en­e­mies:

Any free in­di­vid­ual in Rus­sia is mar­ginal

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Kateryna Barabash, Moscow

Where free­dom re­mains in the coun­try

We’re creep­ing down night­time Moscow street, care­fully avoid­ing the street lamps and cov­er­ing our faces with base­ball caps. This is our first night­time out­ing in search of jus­tice. Along the way, we grabbed some spray paint cans filled with black paint. Our des­ti­na­tion is the State Road Safety In­spec­tion build­ing, where, on the eve of Vic­tory Day, some­one hung up a huge poster with a por­trait of Stalin and words thank­ing him for vic­tory. It’s the 21st cen­tury on Planet Earth, but one sev­enth of the land­mass ap­par­ently doesn’t know it.

To be hon­est, we’re ter­ri­fied. Es­pe­cially my friend who, un­like me, a jour­nal­ist with no fu­ture, has a solid gov­ern­ment job that he re­ally cher­ishes. “I'll stran­gle you if you tell any­one,” he hisses at me in the dark. But it was he who pro­posed to mete out jus­tice in the night. He also bought the cans with black paint.

The next day, the in­ter­net is filled with in­for­ma­tion and chat­ter about whether or not it was ac­cept­able to honor Stalin like that poster and “the ac­tions of un­known per­sons who spilled black paint all over the Gen­er­alis­simo’s por­trait.” The de­bate gets so heated that the poster is not only taken down from this build­ing but from other parts of Moscow as well—hid­ing the guilt. My moral was this: if you can’t, if you’re afraid of stand­ing up to those in power dur­ing the day, try at least do­ing it in the dark.

Just don’t get into ar­gu­ments with those who sneer, say­ing “So what, noth­ing changed any­way: to­day they took down Stalin’s por­trait, to­mor­row two more will ap­pear some­where else.” In­deed, no the­ory of small is beau­ti­ful re­ally works here. There’s no point in ar­gu­ing with th­ese sour faces: they’re right. You re­ally won’t change any­thing. All that will hap­pen is that you will fi­nally see how ob­vi­ous this is.

There’s no “Rus­sian peo­ple.” It’s just a fairy tale. I don’t know if it ever ac­tu­ally ex­isted, but that’s not even the im­por­tant thing. I think there was some kind of vague com­mu­nity that soviet ide­o­logues called the soviet peo­ple. In one sense it was a veg­e­ta­tive cul­ture, grown be­hind an iron cur­tain, in a hot house, com­plete with val­ues such as col­lec­tivism, all in­vented by those same ide­o­logues.

But as soon as the ide­o­logues swept away, the cur­tain fell and it turned out that the peo­ple that in­hab­its one sixth of the world’s sur­face were a fic­tion. It doesn’t ex­ist. The so­ci­ety fell apart in un­even bits. Some be­gan to wail for all things soviet and con­tin­ued to cel­e­brate Novem­ber 7 and Grandpa Lenin’s birth­day. The next gen­er­a­tion con­tin­ued the work of their par­ents and is now busy car­ry­ing Stalin’s por­trait in all kinds of pa­rades, some­times even par­tic­i­pat­ing in “Rus­sian marches.”

Oth­ers rolled into dif­fer­ent cor­ners in search of in­ter­est­ing and prof­itable work but, hav­ing not found it, gave up and moved away. Oth­ers yet, the most nu­mer­ous part, adapted to the “new re­al­i­ties,” found work, bought an apart­ment, a car and a par­cel of land with a bath­house and bar­be­cue, and are feel­ing ok now. Some of them rail at Putin and his herd. Some of them watch evening talk shows and hate the ban­derites and their Amerikooks. Still oth­ers have thrown out the TV set and fo­cus on theater, mu­se­ums and con­tem­po­rary art gal­leries.

But to­gether, th­ese form one huge class of suf­fer­ing in­dif­fer­ence from whom any dif­fi­cult ques­tion about the present and fu­ture of the coun­try elic­its only one an­swer: “I’m no in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics,” which trans­lates as “I don’t give a fly­ing f….” Such peo­ple are cer­tain that they are breath­ing in rhythm with the civ­i­lized world, although, in fact, they are the foun­da­tion un­der the Putin regime. Such peo­ple don’t un­der­stand what true free­dom is about: they are con­vinced that free­dom means be­ing able to va­ca­tion in Por­tu­gal.

The fourth and last group is small. Re­ally small. Th­ese are the new Rus­sians. Or, if you pre­fer, dif­fer­ent Rus­sians. And if we re­ally want to be hon­est, then they aren’t Rus­sians at all, if be­ing peo­ple of suf­fer­ing in­dif­fer­ence is the foun­da­tion of Rus­sian­ness.

Th­ese peo­ple are from dif­fer­ent age groups, dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sions, and they mostly live in the big cities. That tiny part of Rus­sia’s pop­u­la­tion that de­spises the ma­jor­ity. A truly free per­son is al­ways above cor­rup­tion and al­ways a pa­triot in the pri­mary, oft-for­got­ten and tram­pled sense of the word, be­ing in­tol­er­ant of xeno­pho­bia, im­pe­ri­al­ism and chau­vin­ism. But as time passes, the Rus­sian state is gain­ing strength on a pedestal of cor­rup­tion and pseudo-pa­tri­o­tism.

This means that a free per­son has fewer and fewer chances to be elected to gov­ern­ment in Rus­sia as time goes by, and even to re­main an hon­ored mem­ber of Rus­sian so­ci­ety. True lib­er­al­ism is go­ing un­der­ground, into the cat­a­combs, and its pro­po­nents are be­com­ing marginal­ized.

The mur­der of Boris Nemtsov two and a half years ago on a bridge near the Krem­lin was not just a tragedy: it has be­gun to look like a sin­is­ter in­stal­la­tion dreamed up by some di­a­bol­i­cal mind in the depths of the Krem­lin. The last truly free in­di­vid­ual in the op­po­si­tion, a curly-haired, good-look­ing man who thought in western ways, Nemtsov kept try­ing to build a bridge be­tween the old Rus­sia, sink­ing in a bog of ig­no­rance and cor­rup­tion, and a new, free and en­light­ened one.

He was walk­ing with his back to the Krem­lin and never even made it to the mid­dle of the bridge. A few bul­lets cut short that path for him and for all of those who some­how, through force of will, man­aged to main­tain an op­ti­mistic faith in suc­cess to their last dy­ing breath.

We are apos­tates. We did not even man­age to cross half the bridge and we won’t get any farther. We are the new, dif­fer­ent Rus­sians, piti­ful shards of that na­tion that was con­ceived in 1991 but turned out to be crip­pled from child­hood and died soon af­ter, never hav­ing man­aged to turn its back on the Krem­lin. We go to demon­stra­tions but no one is afraid of us. We dream about Rus­sia with­out Putin, but we are a voice cry­ing in the wilder­ness: no one hears us. And if, for­bid, our cries prove to be louder than nec­es­sary, we will be crushed, ground and tram­pled. We have no il­lu­sions about the fu­ture of Rus­sia.

This fu­ture is now ours, no mat­ter how much black paint we spill on Stalin un­der cover of night. Rus­sia will never be with­out Putin, even if it’s some other nom­i­nal Putin: the ra­tio be­tween the other Rus­sians and the rest, the ma­jor­ity, is far too small. In this place, we will al­ways be en­e­mies, marginal­ized.

Still, I’m not hid­ing the bal­loon with black paint very deeply. Even at night, it might come in handy again.


Af­ter free­dom. Boris Nemtsov kept try­ing to build a bridge be­tween the old Rus­sia, sink­ing in a bog of ig­no­rance and cor­rup­tion, and a new, free and en­light­ened one. He was walk­ing with his back to the Krem­lin and never even made it to the mid­dle of...

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