They believe they’re lucky, and those who did not emigrate are miserable failures
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
These candid exposes of attitudes toward their native land of Russians who ‘made it’ to the US gathered by one of them, are a must read.
RI confirms what the author says about himself. In the late 1980s he worked at the first Soviet independent newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, visited ‘hot spots’ of the disintegrating USSR and was getting into some serious trouble. Since moving to the US he has been visiting his former country. Last year he wrote a series of excellent reports from both sides of the Ukrainian divide one of which was reprinted by RI.
The fact that this article was published in Svobodnaya Pressa, a Russian conservative, patriotic outlet is a credit to Rotar’s professional integrity, What he describes is not the whole truth (as any RI follower knows reading contributors such as Eduard Lozansky, Vladimir Golstein, Angela Borozna, Dmitry Mikheyev or William Dunkerley, but there’s more truth to it than RI would like.
I was born into the family of a dissident professor and since my childhood I hated the Soviet system and admired the US. So it’s logical that since the beginning of Perestroika I began working as a journalist for the liberal media and also as a human rights activist, fighting against the totalitarian regimes of the former Soviet states. Alas, after moving to the US as a permanent resident, I note that I have all but denied my previous point of view, having significantly amended it.
“Either cholera, or revolution”
It’s true that most Russians now residing permanently in the US hate Vladimir Putin. This hatred is so strong that it extends to the whole country. For example, when oil prices dropped, Russian-Americans wrote on social networks: “Today I got gas for $2.30 a gallon (3.785 liters). My condolences”. Apparently, these people do not care that the oil price drop hurts not just the country’s elites but ordinary people .
Actually, it would be unfair to say that emigrants are totally indifferent to the life of their compatriots. Rather they have a squeamish compassion, coupled with disdain for the unfortunate losers who failed to get out from this “scary country”. When communicating with American-Russians I get the distinct impression that being a street sweeper in the US figuratively speaking, is more prestigious than being a professor in Russia.
If a guest from Russia says that he feels at home there and is not going to emigrate, he will be met with irritation and antipathy. Because “everyone knows that to have a good life in Russia, you have to be a bandit or a swindler”. Foreigners who prefer to live in Russia (there are such people) are considered as lepers.
“In Russia there is always either cholera or revolution” and the majority of American-Russians take great pleasure in saying this. “Every Russian misery and failure provokes laughter or near delight with him. He hates national traditions, Russian history, everything”, - Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote of Russian liberals, a quote that also characterizes today’s Russian third wave of emigrants.
It’s not surprising that most of these people are trying to completely dissolve into the American melting pot meaning to no longer be Russian. For example, one of my emigrant acquaintances criticized Mexican-Americans: “These second generation immigrants keep speaking Spanish at home. Those who came from the former Soviet Union are more successful: their children already speak English better than Russian! English has become their native language.”. But yet to be fully assimilated Russian immigrants don’t trust these same immigrants from Russia, preferring to deal with “more honest and reliable Americans”.
All empires collapse
According to American-Russians, everything about the USSR was bad. Its achievements in space exploration, and even in ballet or sport were possible only thanks to the “criminal squandering of the show-off totalitarian regime”. They do not sympathize with anyone who is sorry about the Soviet Union’s collapse: “How could anyone be so ignorant? All empires break down. Their time had come!” At the same time, they forget about the fact that Great Britain contains North Ireland, Scotland and Wales, France includes Alsace and the Basque country, and Spain has Catalonia and Basque autonomy. Why could we not save at least one union of Slavic states?
By the way, with all my antipathy to the USSR, after numerous business trips to “hot spots” of the agonizing empire I was forced to admit that there were certain pluses to the Soviet system. For example, there were practically no separatist movements, except for the Baltic states and western Ukraine. People might have disliked communists but the definitely considered themselves as citizens of one united country and people in eastern Ukraine even considered themselves to be Russians.
That’s why I strongly suspect that national conflicts in the former Soviet states were created artificially. The Soviet ethnologist concept of a “united Soviet nation” wasn’t so absurd. The cultures of the different ethnic groups of the Soviet Union became very similar. When I travelled around the USSR, I was considered to be “one of us” everywhere. And personally, I regret that such relationships are now a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, when I shared my reflections with my compatriots in the US, I was accused of chauvinism. By the way, the concept of ‘small Motherland’ is popular among emigrants, who say they can consider their native city or their dacha in the Moscow suburbs as their Motherland, but can’t love the whole country and consider it to be their native land: it’s just bigotry. In fact, this point of view contradicts the relationship of American-Russians to the US, that they love as a state that fulfills their ideal.
There can never be any achievements in the ‘empire of evil’. But even certain Russia successes from the early 2000s, if they don’t provoke the emigrants irritation, make them yawn. They are indifferent to the achievements of their former Motherland: “So what? Take Ireland, for example, it too was a backward country that achieved certain goals. Russia still has a long way to go to catch up with the US”.
One can disagree with my saying that the majority of emigrants from the USSR in the US are not Russians, but Jews, but they are. Moreover, in my opinion (I have a Jewish grandmother), they have a certain reason for looking at Russia not as a ‘motherland’ but as a “step-motherland’. I can prove by my own example that this atmosphere existed in the USSR, where it was shameful to come out as a Jew. It’s absolutely true but does it help Russians to know that Jews have objective reasons to hate Russia?
At the same time, it’s not obvious that Russian-Americans are more patriotic than Jews. Practically all of them are proud to have moved to the US, which they admire. Compared to Jews, they exhibit only indifference to their Motherland. However, lately more Russian-Americans are taking an ‘interest’ in Russia.
Eugene Onegin Ukrainian style
Here we can take the Ukraine as an example. The majority of Ukrainian Jews supported the last Ukrainian revolution. According to the Chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine Yosyf Zisels “the current confrontation in the Ukraine is a choice between European and Eurasian civilizations, and according to historical experience the first is better for Jews”.
However, a number of nominally Eastern Ukrainians, supported Maidan for the same reason (“to live in Europe”). These people didn’t speak Ukrainian and were raised in Russian families. Now, to become European they are ready to reject their cultural heritage. Many of these ‘new Ukrainians’ learn Ukrainian and speak it to underline their distance with the imperial past. “Soon they will read the Russian classics, only in Ukrainian. What’s wrong with that? After all, we read Shakespeare in Russian!” - a friend told me – a Russian-speaking librarian from Kharkov.
Russian-Americans found themselves in a similar situation. The conflict between Putin and the West forces them to choose whose side are they on. It was reasonable that most of them, who see the “advantages of Western civilization” daily, tend to blame the Kremlin.
It’s strange, but Russophobia is much more likely among Russians (maybe like novices) than among Jews. One of my acquaintances from San Diego earnestly tried to convince me that Crimean Russians had no right to decide on the fate of the peninsula because they were not indigenous. The woman even believed that there was a UN declaration that only indigenous people could decide on their system. She told me that Americans – according to the Strugatsky Brothers (famous Soviet sci-fi writers – ed) – are ‘progressives’ and the principal goal of US foreign policy is to bring freedom to ‘barbaric’ countries.
Emigrants don’t like the ‘Soviets’. This term is used in a very broad sense and close in its meaning to the word ‘vatnik’ (“work robe” - a Ukrainian nationalists definition for their pro-Russian compatriots - ed)– a favorite among ‘independent Ukrainians’. A ‘Soviet’ doesn’t have to live in the USSR to be ‘a product of the socialist totalitarian system’. They hate Soviets so much that ethic norms do not apply to them.
“Don’t forget about anti-Russian policy”
Unlike Russian emigrants, ordinary Americans or professionals treat Russia with great respect. They even report that some Russians have special talents.
Unfortunately, even Americans who are friendly toward Russians, still don’t trust Russia. For example, it is thought to be normal in the West that Great Britain and France consider their former colonies to be an area of continuing interest, but the recovery of Russia’s influence in the former Soviet area is treated not just as dangerous, but also inadmissible.
Americans don’t mind Russia becoming an economically developed country but all its efforts to become a geopolitical superpower (even at a regional level) are considered a threat to the security of Western civilization.
This attitude is mostly connected to the fact that the Cold War left a bigger imprint on the American consciousness than on the Soviet people. This can be explained: While Soviet propaganda discouraged the thought that American soldiers could invade Soviet territory, the idea of a ‘Red’ invasion was often discussed in the US. They even rehearsed Soviet nuclear attacks in American schools. Children were supposed to hide themselves under their desks at their teachers’ command.
American mistrust of Russia was fueled by American Sovietologists. After the collapse of the USSR, their financing was considerably reduced, and in order to save at least some of the ‘streams of money’, Russian experts were forced to artificially inflate the idea of danger and the unpredictability of the Kremlin. “Unfortunately, our activity is completely politicized. My advice to you if you want to work in the US: don’t forget about anti-Russian policy”, - an American political analyst told me.
Finally, mistrust of the West in relation to Russia has old historical roots, appearing long before the formation of the USSR. As Rudyard Kipling said ironically: “A Russian is attractive, being the most Western among those Eastern; but if he claims to be the most Eastern among the Western, it is intolerable”.
Source: Svobodnaya Pressa
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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