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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Russians in Germany: I have never described myself as Russian

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Among Ukrainian refugees, Russian-speakers are in demand as mediators. But they are not the only ones currently raising painful questions.

Lena Gorelik was born in Russia and has been trying to understand the country for years. © Simon Rush/​unsplash.com

First time, I apologize. Do it uncertainly, stumbling, I can’t find the right words, I also know I don’t have to do this, apologize because it’s not my fault, you get stuck on a sentence that’s too short. I help the Ukrainian woman at the train station, we are still counting the days, it is the fourth day after the start of the war. I already stumble before addressing them because I can only do it in Russian, not in Ukrainian, even though I know that most Ukrainians understand Russian and at least a third of the Ukrainian population sees it as the main language. I don’t know what happened to the Russians in the last few days, if it was at the time that Putin’s troops were killed. Ukraine attacked, it became the language of the enemy, I don’t know if it became a symbol for Russian imperialism, much less for the Soviet one. The woman is older, the wheeled suitcase is too heavy, two bags in her hands, a questioning look. “Can I,” I stumble into conversation, “perhaps be of some help?”

A few minutes later we are surrounded by several people who fled Ukraine, they are happy to be able to communicate, there are already seven of us when someone asks why I speak Russian. “I was born in Russia,” I explain, adding this uncertain apology: “I am very sorry for what Putin is doing.”

I was in Russia I was born, I was never eligible to vote on this, I would like to write “that”, country, I have soft, detailed and painful memories of it, which sometimes smack of childish glorification. For years I have been trying to see the country, to understand it, by visiting, reading, talking, trying not only to do it with my “Western eyes”, like my aunt in St. Petersburg, who for a long time had a Putin calendar hanging on the wall , he accused me. The calendar was there for free, he explained to me as a justification and immediately put in why I didn’t recognize him with my “western eyes” for what he was, at least not a bad guy, and now I don’t know: the calendar is always hanging in your kitchen from six square meters? I know your 20-year-old grandson was sent to Estonia to avoid being drafted into the army and there he is, trying to study digitally.

I have never described myself as Russian and generally preferred to stay away from national attributes. Now I want to apologize, as a Russian, I want to understand, I’m lashing out, I haven’t slept in how many days now, and I don’t know if we all feel like we can’t sleep, or if I’m more sleepless than just Russian. I would like to remove this sentence, perhaps.

Read, read everything about the war, read in different languages. Also read that a university in Milan considered removing Dostoyevsky from the seminary curriculum, read about broken windows in Russian shops and schools in Germany, about children being attacked at school because they are Russian, about Russian artists: inside, who are forced to make a public anti-war commitment before being allowed to act. He reads that Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev’s performances with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra have been canceled despite publicly condemning the war against Ukraine. Read that calling the war as such in Russia can be punished with 15 years in prison, watch the journalists of the last independent TV station in Russia in their last broadcast and their tears, read how they flee to neighboring countries, how from there they describe their desperation, how can I go back to a country that, how can I live with that.

An author of children’s books writes that her aunt recommends that she return home and simply live quietly, so that life in Russia will be fine. He reads the lines of escaped journalists from Doschd, the last independent TV station, they write how pointless their work is, how pointless life suddenly is, and are cheered on by ex-viewers: No, you’ll be on the air again in sometime. Seeing on the news how the Russian police take away a frail old woman holding an anti-war protest sign like so many others, people I know personally in Russia forbid me to talk to them on the phone about the war To talk, out of fear, out of desperation, out of emotions that I cannot put into words in German, or that you cannot or do not want to name. How arrogant, how unrealistic is the Western call for public confession while safe in democracies. Where you won’t be stopped, arrested, or jailed if you object, where you don’t have to fear retaliation from your loved ones, where if you oppose anything you’re just going to get a shitstorm. How perfidious is this demand from Germany, where until a few weeks ago the words cancel culture it still brought with it the accusation of censorship. Now every day is cancelled. Just read: The CineStar group has dumped the Finnish entry to the Oscar because Russian actor Yuriy Borisov stars in the film. It could be said cynically that Russian artists already know that their attitudes are controlled. Incidentally, this exclusion mechanism also plays into Putin’s hands: since the beginning of the war, Russian state television has been particularly fond of reporting on hostilities against Russians in the West.

wladimir putin it is currently trying to destroy Ukraine with all the military means at its disposal; at the same time, unerringly and without military means, he destroys the country he would describe as “his”. It destroys everything that has slowly begun to grow in civil society, democracy and freedom of expression in recent years, it destroys even the smallest personal experience of freedom. Art, culture, literature, music, which are so often credited with being clichéd bridge builders, are deprived of precisely this capacity. Any artistic dialogue, any power that such a dialogue inspires, any belief that there might be a sequel, a post-Putin Russia, is ruled out from the start, although this is no time for platitudes. Now would be the time to build these often-called bridges, because later it will probably be too late. Too late, because Putin talks about “rabble” and “traitors”, which he compares to mosquitoes that one spits out after they have flown into his mouth, and his spokesperson is specific, he mentions clean-up operations. Stalinist rhetoric that sounds even crueler in Russian because it evokes memories, because it is based on traditional fears, on the names of people who lost their families. And who in Russia does not have them, these lost names.

Young, well-educated, independent journalists, artists and scientists are trying to leave Russia: an estimated 200,000 have fled since February 24. Many of them previously signed appeals against the war, are now on the run and those who stayed have most likely lost their jobs and are awaiting further repression. This flight, almost invisible in the West, is understandable and devastating at the same time: those who think about freedom, democracy and the future are fleeing, those who Russia would need for there to be an after, a post-Putin are fleeing. They flee to Armenia, Georgia, the Baltic States, Turkey, they flee, as they say, indefinitely, because they do not want to live in a country where a war cannot be called a war, because they, writes a journalist who worked at Doschd until the last second, already that the Russians feel ashamed.

doshd“means rain in Russian, they were a hopeful rain, a happy summer rain in the midst of state obedience and corruption, now they are drops scattered all over Europe, they have fled after so many years of threats and repression. I am rummaging through my doschd these days -Closet fan t-shirt, cyrillic letters, the pink logo, a Russian pun that only seems sad today: Alludes to the phrase that Doschd would never leave It seems so useless, one of those desperately shareholder Ones To be activities, to wear this t-shirt Just before a train ride, the awkward thought: Really, Cyrillic letters, identify you as a Russian you never wanted to call yourself, angrily brushes the thought aside: definitely paranoid train, read, read another of those infantile equations of Putin with Russia.

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