At home or abroad – the increased tension in Russia
To go. Stay. To be Russian, to be Russian once. To be here, but be ready for the.
The political struggle that pervades Moscow today has intensely exacerbated a secular tension between “at home” and “abroad”.
There is agony in leaving and desperation in staying.
“Nothing good will happen,” said Maria Baronova, 28 and mother of 5, who has already thought about leaving, but not since she became active in opposition politics – even after being criminally charged with inciting violence at a demonstration on May 6. “I am very Russian. So I better live here.
A year ago, young people and liberals were about to leave, polls and political conversations show, but attitudes changed over the winter when tens of thousands protested, first in favor of free elections, then against President Vladimir Putin. Speaking up and standing up after years of silence has given them hope, and now they are losing it as the authorities relentlessly tighten their grip instead of loosening it.
The forces around Putin made a step-by-step effort to vilify Russians with foreign relations. Opposition leaders visiting US Ambassador Michael McFaul were filmed and denounced on television. Putin himself has said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the signal for opposition protests against him. A new law requires nonprofit groups that receive funds from outside Russia to register as foreign agents. Alexei Navalny, a prominent blogger who recently spent a semester at Yale, has been accused of learning about the revolution there. The Canadian passport image of Piotr Verzilov, the husband of a jailed feminist rocker, has been shown on television and declared as proof that he is trying to tear Russia apart.
Navalny retaliated last week with a blog post, accusing Alexander Bastrykin, head of the commission of inquiry, of having business interests in the Czech Republic, which is against the law for Russian officials and, Navalny suggested maliciously, opened Bastrykin to blackmailing Western agents.
For years, the Russian business elite have been furiously buying properties in London and New York, against the day when staying at home becomes untenable. Russian scientists have scoured the West in search of opportunities. But now authorities are trying to rekindle once again the grim implication that anything beyond borders is inherently non-Russian.
It is a lasting theme that draws its strength from the feeling Russians have of their country of origin. While American patriotism is largely about the founding ideals of the United States, and the Germans’ sense of identity is rooted in ethnicity, Russians derive their sense of Russia from the land itself. The Whites, losers in the early 1920s civil war against the Reds, took small boxes of Russian soil with them as they left. Author Alexander Solzhenitsyn found a home in exile in Vermont, but not a home, and returned to Russia after the fall of his Communist tormentors.
In one important respect, Putin’s government differs from its Soviet predecessor: people are free to go. It is an important safety valve. For anyone unhappy or dissatisfied, the government says, there is always the airport.
Baronova, who was warned of her impending arrest last month in connection with the May 6 protest, and who was released on bail, is certain authorities were trying to scare her away.
“But for what? I don’t see the point,” she said.
After raising funds to help flood victims in the city of Krymsk, she was accused on blogs, anonymously, of stealing the funds. Police, she said, tried to find evidence that she was having a lesbian affair. She received so many death threats that she decided to move, but only to another address in Moscow.
The White Russians, who settled in Paris and New York, tried to create a kind of fake Russia, and Baronova said she just could never do it.
“I don’t want to sit in Brussels and read interesting books,” she said. . “Right now, we’re in the middle of something.”
In 2010, she wanted to leave, but the complications of her divorce prevented her. Now, if she stays, “okay, I can write a good story in 15 years.”
But all of her friends from college, when she was studying chemistry, have long since moved abroad. And in that, she picks up a clue as to why opposition in Russia failed to move on from its exhilarating start with the December rallies.
” We are alone. We are no longer intelligent. It’s the lack of professionalism in Russia, ”she said. “.
One of Baronova’s co-defendants, Anastasia Rybachenko, captured the ambivalence of staying or leaving. Earlier this month, she announced that she was seeking political asylum in Germany, but last week she tweeted that she had spoken out against the idea and that she would return – at some point – in Russia.
Verzilov, 25, is from the Moscow faction of Voina – meaning war – an arts-focused group that stages provocative “actions” against authority. He is married to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, a member of the group Pussy Riot. She has been in prison since March after being arrested along with two other people for moving into Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral and performing a song against Putin. Their trial began on Monday and the three men have pleaded not guilty to the hooliganism charges against them.
Verzilov said he obtained his Canadian passport after spending three years at college in Toronto. He believes the attention the passport has received is an attempt to portray the women in the group in the worst light possible. Their arrest and continued incarceration created a strong backlash of sympathy, so, he said, authorities intend to portray them as extremely anti-Russian and dangerous, acting implicitly on the orders of Canadian interests.
He expects the defamation to turn against him in the end.
“The whole affair was the most vivid illustration of the brutalities to which Putin is prepared to go,” he said. “But he crossed a line. And with every mistake the government makes, they are rushing their own end. The result we are all looking for is diet change.
If that were to happen, then maybe he could be both Russian and Canadian – and it wouldn’t matter.