REVERSAL – Generation P: Edward Crabtree’s blog.
The Day my Dream of a Modern Russia Died.
So, I am
back again, despite lack of popular demand and with a post that I never wanted
appropriate that the first warning of the catastrophe that was to come came out
of the mouth of a xenophobic court jester – one Zhirinovsky. It was sometime in
the winter of the previous year when he said something about Russia becoming
great again and something about war, and this would start around the 22nd
February. The ravings of a moribund loon.
Then in the
January of this year American military intelligence were often being quoted in
the Western press about an imminent invasion of the Ukraine.
It was easy
to shrug this off as panic porn. We had become weary of this since the pandemic
February the 24th came the headline news: Russian soldiers and tanks
were barging in to a neighboring Slavic sovereign territory – and not just to
safeguard Donbass but were heading to Kyiv.
Russians (let alone expats) have since insisted that their home country crossed
the rubicon on this date and became a different country.
For myself, it felt as though all the background noise of Russian life from the past decade – the national exceptionalism and autocratic authoritarianism – which I had been polite enough to overlook, had all of sudden become the foreground. We had entered Sorokin’s The Day of the Oprichnik.
As Russia ranged itself against the West despite all the all too obvious repercussions, a numbness set in across the land. The day after the news everyday small talk became impossible. In the days that followed people scarcely talked about the new war – and if they did it would be to claim, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that it would be a short one.
every morning unwilling to get out of bed, scrolling through as many news
channels as I could find, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, hoping against
hope for some kind of negotiated settlement.
us dark rumours swirled like whirlwind ready to suck us in: soon it would be
impossible to cross all land borders as martial law would be imposed and the
internet would only function within Russia.
These never happened but, then again, many flights out of Russia were no longer available, access to sites such as Facebook became restricted and frightening new rulings were passed making any kind of public discussion of what was happening well-nigh impossible. You could be caged for up to 15 years for even mentioning the war – as opposed to the `Special Military Operation`.
Gazeta, was subject
to threats and had to leave the country. Moscow Ti mes – the
voice of liberal America in Russia – took the precaution of making themselves
scarce in advance. Radio Doszhd was closed down and Meduza could
only be accessed with a VPN. This was not the `developing,` if `managed`,
democracy that I had signed up for. Had I been backing a losing horse for the
last fifteen years?
came the fast forwarding of one unfortunate facet of Russian reality: the brain
drain. Many young Russian professionals decamped to nearby C.I.S countries and
many of my immigrant colleagues got onto the net and booked journeys out by the
nearest exit and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
I did not
join them. I had already invested too much to jettison it all. Meanwhile, I
learnt about my own limitations – that I lacked the guts to join in the
sporadic protests that began to appear on streets near me. As for this blog, I
could think of nothing reasonable to say that would not now be actionable.
like any ordinary Russian citizens, keeping my views to myself. Reassuring
myself that I had not panicked like so many acquaintances of mine, I doubled
down on `Russianness`: I visited the Bolshoi theatre a few times and took in
some ballet and I got around to finishing Brothers Karamazov.
something felt wrong.
Now that my
gag is off, I can tell you what I think about this `Special Military Operation`.
The invasion of the Ukraine represents an arrogant violation of international
law. It is an act of imperialism and there is nothing that the people of the
Ukraine have done to bring it on.
ordeals of the Ukrainian people – the shelling of peaceful cities, millions of
people being made homeless and the executions – have been well documented. Yet
it is not only Ukrainians who have been exposed to needless tragedy. If the BBC
is to be believed then 3, 052 Russian soldiers had been slaughtered as of May
31st of this year (and this number only includes those whose full
names could be confirmed).
has been the inevitable blowback against Russian `soft power` – the very thing
that this blog was so bound up with. Tchaikovsky has been removed from the
playlists of some Western orchestras, Dostoevsky airbrushed out of the reading
lists of certain universities, even the Crufts international dog show
disallowed Russian dog breeds and an American mustard museum took out it’d
display of Russian mustard. The most egregious aspect of these cancellations is
the fact that that from Malevich to Gogol to Vera Brezhneva -many `Russians`
are Ukrainians or have Ukrainian ancestry. Trying to separate Russian and Ukrainian
cultures is akin to trying to remove the egg yolk from a cake mix. As the
French actor, and now Russian citizen, Gerard Depardieu said: `This is a
Furthermore, now that the West seems hell bent on supporting one side in this civil war, it is one where there is an all too real possibility that weapons of mass destruction may be flung around. We have entered The Day of the Oprichnik and may well also end up in the world of Metro 2032 and The Slynx as well.
to be two ways that we can wake up from this nightmare. One is for one side to
vanquish the other. There are many reasons why the world should not want this
way out is for a negotiated settlement and one which would lead to a long-term
ceasefire and a diplomatic peace agreement. This would need a lot of earnestness
and grown up statecraft to happen.
I hope and
pray for this outcome though and also grieve the many opportunities for such an
agreement that have already been chucked away.
My condemnation of the actions of the Kremlin does not mean that I am unaware of the role of the Western military machine in this global disaster too.
Atlantic Treaty Organisation was set up as a response to the perceived threat
of the Eastern Bloc back in the late forties. The latter formed the Warsaw Pact
as a countermeasure. NATO has now 30 member states under its wing and the
Warsaw Pact zero. In 1991 as the Soviet Union folded, and with it the Warsaw
Pact, not only did NATO fail to soften its approach, it began to push its
boundaries out further to the East, covering an eventual 800 miles.
1999 Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic became a part of this aggressive
Then in 2004
Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Estonia followed suit. (Estonia being only
200 kilometres from Sant Petersburg).
Croatia joined up in 2019 as had Montenegro in 2017. But it didn’t end there:
NATO sent troops to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
In 2010 NATO
had begun speaking of a `new strategic concept` and this included in its remit
`out of area activity`. Ignoring the United Nations Convention on the
Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, around 150 US B61 nuclear bombs had been
positioned around Europe by 2012.
of august diplomats such as Henry Kissinger that this behavior would only lead
to further tensions went unheeded.
more and more like a proxy war in which Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are
used as cannon fodder in the long-standing desire for NATO to ensure that
Russia is humiliated.
In the light
of all that, we can be grateful that not all Russians have become zombified by
`Uncle Vova’s` megaphone which is the state media and press which lays out a
diet of bloodthirsty and rash militarism.
As well as the brave rallies which have resulted in sweeping arrests, some of Russia’s Great and Good have made some unexpected contributions. The Georgian heartthrob-crooner Valery Meladze got in early to speak out against the war. He was rewarded by some of his shows getting withdrawn.
On similar lines the bow-tied chat show host Ivan Urgant (think Jonathan Ross) let his feelings be known on this. He too has been taken off air in disputed circumstances and there are unconfirmed rumours that he has since fled to Israel on a permanent basis.
political parties, the disenfranchised liberal club which is Yabloko could be
relied on to critique this foolish vainglory. However, there are also reports
that the much more loyalist Russian Communist Party has experienced some tumult
as its younger members question the official narrative and even talk of
In the rock world, there are some acts that we would expect to nail their anti-war colours to the mast and these include D.D.T, Zemfira and, of course, Lumen. Others have simply gone quiet. The hip-hop genre has acquitted itself quite well with one of its prominent exponents – Oxxxymoron becoming something of a tribune for anti-war sentiment.
Many gestures by `ordinary people` have been small but significant. Someone in my local area of VDNKH (Moscow) went around putting up photographs on walls showing scenes of ruined Ukrainian cities after shelling operations. A man in St Petersburg a man called Alexey Lakhov has been filing complaints with various government agencies for their use of `Z! symbols in public places – and has put many of them on the defensive.
New symbols of resistance have gone viral after being promoted by the internet savvy young. Green ribbons have been tied around the bannisters of public buildings and a `new Russian flag` has gained some traction. This consists of the colours `White-Azure-White` and represents an alternative peace-loving Russia.
For the last
four months I have kept the company of people who have buried themselves deep
into their daily routines, their work, their families, in hobbies, in food and
drink, in books and films and declined to engage with the blood that is spilled
in their name on their doorstep. We were revelers on the decks of the Titanic.
cherished my life in Russia and could with ease have carried on living the way
I was there. What nagged at me was that I was unable to either freely speak my
mind in any public arena, let alone this blog, with impunity. Freedom of speech
became a concrete issue for me.
investing a lot of my rubles in dentistry and packing the rest away in a portable
safe I joined a colleague in taking a fast train to Saint Petersburg. There we
whiled a few days away before catching an overnight coach to the small and
charming city of Estonia. From there I got a Flight to London Heathrow with no
idea of what lay in front of me on the other end, and arrived there in June.
We took our
leave without interference from any of the guards who stopped our coach
numerous times en route. The Ukrainians and Russians who were with us were not
I wish to return to Russia as soon as it is feasible to do so. Meanwhile, the show is not over. I have internet access, some Russian contacts and a backlog of experiences still to draw on.
Lead image: Floridagoodfriday.com