Staunton, June 17 – No Russian is surprised to learn that Soviet-era archives are more accessible in Belarus, which the West routinely calls “the last dictatorship in Europe,” than they are in Russia, a reflection of underlying weaknesses in Russian society that mean it will not become part of Europe for at least a generation, Anastasiya Kirilenko says.
In a cri de coeur explaining her decision to emigrate, Kirilenko says she did so not because of a particular fear that she would be a target for repression by the security agencies but rather because she sees even among those who oppose the Kremlin characteristics that will preclude modernization and democracy.
“While reading old newspapers from the 1990s,” she says, she found that even “liberally inclined” Muscovites supported the Stalinist propiska [residential registration] system, that they viewed any criticism of the regime as the work of the communists, and that they felt there was “no alternative” to whoever and whatever was in power.
In part because of such attitudes, she continues, “already in the 1990s, Russia became a mafia state with power resting on violence” and which was going along a very different path than that of the West.
Even those who defined themselves as opponents of the regime were part of the problem. “Criticism is about collective responsibility for the future of the country, but the Russian liberal has been involved in an eternal search” for someone who will lead them and when he or she doesn’t appear remains “disappointed. Or even not disappointed.”
“The Russian Maidan, a self-organization of citizens, in [Moscow’s] Chistye Prudy in 2012” was staged not so much as the launch of an effort to change the regime but with the sense that the most important question was when the authorities would suppress it, Kirilenko continues bitterly.
This desire for a savior rather than a willingness to take responsibility is coupled with “fatalism and an unwillingness to know the truth,” she says. “No one is shocked that the archives of the Soviet special forces are already more open in Belarus than they are” in Russia – except perhaps the West where many people do not want to face Russian realities either.
Even now Russians do not want to acknowledge the terror-famine directed against the Ukrainians – they insist “even in liberal circles” that “Russians also died” in it, just as some in Africa blame Israel for its problems because the world talks “more about the Holocaust than it does about slavery.”
But underlying this shortcoming and a variety of others she lists, Kirilenko says is that “the word ‘solidarity’ (‘brotherhood’) is something from Mars” for Russians. If anyone has a problem, that is his not the community’s. And “if not every defender of human rights is capable of recognizing a gay as a human being, then what can be hoped for among ‘the people’?”
Overcoming all this is not going to be easy or quick, she says. “Now is not the time of dissidents; the KGB has already responded.” But what is saving the regime is not a lack of information about its crimes or the work of the organs, it is “the Soviet-Russian mentality” of imperialism, fatalism, a willingness to inform, and the absence of a willingness to take personal responsibility.”
Under those conditions and given those prospects, it is hard to say, Kirilenko concludes, what is the right choice – to adapt, to be willing to serve time in jail, or “to work normally in the West” and thus ‘save oneself.’” When the most thoughtful people in a country have to ask such questions, that country is in trouble, however powerful and much-deferred-to it may be.