Mar. 13th, 2014

ibidbroascele: (Wounded Angel)
Doubtless all my readers will have been awaiting with baited breath my commentary on the situation in Russia. Well hardly but I am going to write something anyway.

I was surprised when Putin went into the Crimea, perhaps foolishly because he has in the past called it effectively a Micky Mouse state but I thought the proximity to the EU would frighten him off. I was wrong.

2 weeks ago on Sunday 2nd March I went to the centre of Moscow. Why? Because there was a demonstration against the invasion. As my flatmate and I approached the square it was empty and we wondered if it had been called off. There were a few other folk but certainly no more than usual - but then I noticed the police vans and a woman with a Ukrainian flag in her coat. More people came in. I have been to a couple of demonstrations in Russia before but here there were no parties under a banner. Mostly the opposition in Russia is organised on party lines and people tend to stay with their tribe, chanting their own mantras during these things but here was a disperate mass of people who had only one simple thing to say 'no war'.
And for this people were arrested. I witnessed no violence, no behaviour among the peaceful protesters which would have outraged no one in calmer times. the police were swift and while not brutal, certainly not friendly.
There were light moments. At one point the police tried to arrest an elderly lady and NTV tried to record this but the crowd pushed them down.
About an hour in the crowd had grown so large that different groups started yelling and confounding the police who were going for people who were yelling  - but then they started targeting randoms instead. I had already been told once to go but when the cops grabbed a man who was just standing there not one metre away from me I got scared and left.

The Russian government has been selling the tale that they are there to protect the oppressed ethnic Russians of Ukraine and Crimea and the oppressed Russians of Russia have been buying the line. The Kremlin has been using the half truths in the way it does so well to justify its actions by emphasising the fact that many in the new cabinet are fascists (and certainly I am no fan of the new government and am convinced only of their determination to fuck up Ukraine without the Kremlin's help) and that the EU and US have been funding the opposition for years (no doubt true but what about Putin and Yanakovitch???.

Putin's actions have won him great popularity - not that he needed it riding high on the tide of the olympics. And yet, and yet the senseless arrests that I saw do not fit in with this. The arrests to me indicate the actions of a state desperate to cower people. Putin has long been a master of divide and rule - that there is no viable opposition in this country is testament to that. In this country fear has always been the means by which power is maintained.
But Russians must admit their role. Yesterday i was talking with a Russian friend and I said that in my opinion Russians were profoundly individualistic. For the most part they don't feel as though the rules don't apply to them and that there is always the sense that 'it is someone else's problem - I will not take responsibility' and she agreed. I know some people who honestly believe in the restoration of the monarchy. One of the things I love about Moscow - the devil may care sense that the world will end tomorrow so let's all have some fun - is not really the healthiest way to go.
Democracy, the social contract, relies on the willingness of the citizen to deal with rules and engage with the issues and I don't think most Russians are. Perhaps it's a defence mechanism, perhaps it is the national fatalism.
Perhaps it's simply due to the fact the country is too damn big. If a small country like mine can be divided into 2 nations then what about this one? Historically the Russian peasantry didn't really relate to Rodina but to their local community and the only unifying factor was the Tsar so perhaps it remains true. When it is completely unaffordable for many outside the capital to travel to the cities, when Muscovites would rather go on holiday to Turkey than Sochi because it's cheaper, is it any wonder there is a profound national dissonance? Is the KGB tsar the only thing to unify the people?

I am frightened about the current situation. I am worried about my savings and my status as a semi legal migrant worker. I am worried about a new cold war. But my strongest feeling is actually one of pain. Despite everything I love this country. I love the madness, the disorder, the stillness when the snow falls, the old women selling flowers at the metro, the cheeky guys in improvised lada taxis, the drunken abandon, my friends, (some of) my students, my colleagues, the chatty woman at the fruit stall who is convinced that despite all the evidence I know Russian. I love them, I love this.
And it hurts me to think people are having the truth distorted. It hurts me to think that the world is going to tar all Russians with the same brush - the exasperating but deeply lovable people I live among. It pains me to reflect that these are the ones who will bear the brunt of sanctions and boycotts rather than the rich fuckers who will get away with murder as ever. They deserve better.

I hope this is the beginning of the end for Putin. I wonder if he is going to overreach himself and if people will begin to question him, especially if sanctions bite. But being a pessimist i doubt it, so all I have to do is mourn for my beloved Russia which has been so good to me.

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