Russian women in Poland: Russia is not Putin, Russia is us

As a New Year gift, my brother gave me a set of a Russian patriot: a mug with Putin’s image and the inscription “Crimea is ours”, fridge magnet with a picture of Putin on the tank and words “Everything is according to my plan”, and caviar.

March 1, 2015. It was next to Sigismund’s Column, at the rally in sup-port to Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko and protest against the murder of Boris Nemtsov, for the first time in my life I shouted “Rossiya budiet svobodna!”. We were about three hundred, mostly Poles, but many in-scriptions were in Russian, and the Russian flag was in the middle. From afar, one could think we were demonstrating support to the rebels of the Donbass.

The rally was organized by a group of friends from Warsaw. Mainly Russian women. They call themselves “For Free Russia” association and are unofficial embassy representing non-Putin Russia in Poland.

Masha

March 1, 2014. On Saturday, Russian Senate agrees to the introduction of troops to Crimea. Dozens of people are protesting in front of the Rus-sian Embassy in Warsaw. Almost all of them are Ukrainians and Bela-rusians, but there are also some Poles and a few Russians. One can feel hatred in the air, someone brought a Russian flag with swastika. Sud-denly, a low girl, curly Italian blond, comes in front of the group. A col-league is trying to hold her: “Don’t go, Masha, they’ll tear you apart”. But Masha grabs a microphone and starts talking. In Polish. That Rus-sians capable to reason are ashamed for Crimea, that people in Moscow and St. Petersburg are also protesting, that after the rally we will return home and have tea, and those from St. Petersburg will spend the night in custody.

Nobody made her any harm. On the contrary, people applauded.

– And some Ukrainian grannies hugged me and said that I was brave, – says Masha.

The next day she works in the afternoon, so she goes to Empik book-store, buys a red paper, writes with a marker: “Putin, ya Russkaja, mnie stydno za moyu stranu”, and again goes to the Embassy. There is no-body there already, except for two policemen. They checked her docu-ments, she stood there. – I unrolled the poster so it was seen from the embassy, directly in front of the big window behind which – I know as I go to vote – a portrait of Putin hung. And almost immediately the speaker intercom at the gate started threatening bark in Russian. I show no reaction.

Ten minutes pass, a guy dressed in a suit runs out of the gate. He ap-proaches me in a hurry, wields his hand and shouts: “U nas yest vasha fotografia. Vy yeshcho posmotrite!” Kto vam, bliad’, zaplatil”. He de-manded the policemen to remove me. But the policemen refused saying that the Polish law did not forbid anyone to stand on the street. And it was very nice. This evening, the Ukrainian Right Sector wrote on its website about the only Russian girl in Warsaw, who was against Putin. On Tuesday, I came again, but soon Julia joined me, a Russian girl whom I knew a few years earlier by the Internet, but we could never find time to meet in person. And we stood there together for a week.

One day we did not come as we went sick, so the policeman said: “we were worried already why you weren’t there”. Later we made posters in Polish, such as “Russia is not Putin, Russia is us” and we turned to face Belwederska str. Drivers passing by would honk horns and show V. Sometimes, someone would approach us to make sure we were Rus-sians. On March 8, on the eve of the referendum on Crimea, we were five already.

– All girls?

– Yes. Just once, my colleague Gosha joined us but later he had to leave. So our protest became a protest of young women. One of my friends came with her daughter Maika. Even though I live in Poland for seven years, I know very few local Russian. So I met them. Mainly via posts on Facebook.

– And what are they?

– Most of them thought we were brainwashed. The last day, a couple of Russians around sixty years old approached us. The man shouted: “You are stupid! Crimea is ours! And spat.

Valentina Chubarova – social anthropologist. She came to Warsaw in 2014 for post-graduate studies. Phot. Albert Zawada/Agencja Gazeta

Valentina

– My grandmother got very surprised when she heard about the annexation of Crimea.

How is it? Is Crimea going to be Russian? Whose is it now? – says Masha’s friend Vala Chubarova. – My grandma is not at all Putin’s sup-porter, but all her life she was convinced that Crimea was in Russia. After all, people go there for holidays every year, everybody there speaks Russian. I myself have to keep in mind not to treat Ukraine as ours. Many Russians think it is in a way non-natural that part of the Ukrainians want to speak Ukrainian. You understand, it is something subconscious with us: after all, they can speak Russian, so why do they play fool?

When on Monday, March 3, 2014, Masha Makarova stood in Warsaw in front of the Embassy, Vala, while staying in Moscow, wrote a petition for Change.org on behalf of the Russians who were against the annexation of Crimea. The petition was signed by the tens of thousands of people. At the same time, her private account gathered comments similar to Masha’s. That she hated her own country. And this is something I cannot understand: how can you accuse someone that he hates the homeland, just because he does not want it to be an aggressor.

Vala tries to explain me the point of view of an average citizen of Russia: – it is about toxic love. A Russian thinks: as a matter of fact, Ukraine is ours. How come it does not want to stay with us? It just can-not happen! Where Gogol was born? Near Kyiv. And he described this region as Lesser Rus. Our school read “Sorochinsky Fair” and novels “Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka” celebrate Cossak folklore but are written in Russian. If then no one there thought in terms of ethnicity, why now they had to change?

– Our school read includes “Pan Tadeusz”, the most Polish of the books, it starts with the words: “O Lithuania, my country, thou”. My father was born in Lviv, my relatives lay on cemetery there. And so what?

– And for the average Russian you are kind of weird. My Polish friends told me that recently had traveled from Irkutsk to Moscow and met Russian who had asked them: Why don’t you take now this Lviv?”

– Why should we take Lviv since I can always visit it!

– But you don’t understand, we are the Empire! The Russia’s national asset is that we are threatening! – Vala smiles.

– Russia loves Ukraine like a possessive mother who does not want her child set on his feet?

– No, Russia loves it like a jealous husband. In Russia, there is such a terrible saying: he beats means he loves.

In Vala’s family there was no such thinking. She comes from a family of anti-communist and anti-putinist views. She is a fourth-generation Moscovite. She admits that poorly knows Russia beyond the capital city. However, she knows Poland pretty well as she comes here quite often to work on her PhD thesis. She visited small towns to ask people what they associated with the word “Europe” and “Slavonic nature”, and she discovered an amazing thing for her: unlike Russians, the Poles did not consider their Slavonic nature opposing their European identity. In Russia, saying “I am a European” sounds like betrayal.

The other interesting thing: the Poles do not consider words “power” and “homeland” as equal. This is wonderful, according to Vala. The last presidential elections gave her an interesting reflection:

– What impresses me is that Poles will elect a President, and they immediately stop liking him and want to elect another one. Traditionally, you are very critical to those who hold power. It is fantastic! Someone said about the Americans: “Happy is the nation which can afford to elect an idiot as its president”. It means that the president does not have such influence on our lives. The most important thing is that it is possible to replace him. And the most

I envy you because you have these authentic electoral emotions. You go to the polls and do not know who will win!

Vala met Masha Makarova in Russia earlier. Masha taught her Polish via Skype. She started her postgraduate program in September. After taking the decision to divorce her husband she decided to stay in Po-land. She writes her PhD thesis and brings up her son.

– I used to feel awkward that in Russia so much was going on, people put their lives in danger, while I am sitting here in safe Poland. So I joined Masha. On January 15, under the Sigismund Column to rally in support to Navalny brothers, we stood together. About 50 people came: Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, Tatars, Georgians. On March 1 – 300.

So far, “For Free Russia” is informal committee. Besides Masha and Vala, there are 13 other persons. 10 of them are Russians. Until now, apart from the rally to support Navalny brothers, Nadia Savchenko and to commemorate Nemtsov, they organized rally to demand the release of Svetlana Davydova, mother of seven children, who had been charged with revealing classified information. Recently, on their invitation, Vic-tor Shenderovich, an opposition journalist, writer, met with Varsovians in the Stefan Batory Foundation. However, the most important work of the Committee is editing the page on Facebook on which they translate into Polish articles from the Russian press. The Committee wants to change our way of thinking about Russia as a people intoxicated by propaganda and indifferent to violence.

The Facebook account “Za Wolną Rosję”, May 30, 2015: Anti-American phobia has reached such a level in Russia that the editors of the governmental journal “Rodina” considered true a joke by one American stand-up comedian saying that the senator John McCain had called for a solution of the problem of corruption in FIFA by military intervention. The Russian authorities follow the FBI investigation on FIFA with strong concern as there are indications that the World Cup had been bought by i.a. paintings from Hermitage.


Anna Mirkes is the editor of the Russian language section of the web-portal Culture.pl in the Adam Mickiewicz Institute IAM. Phot. Albert Zawada/Agencja Gazeta

Anna

In February 2015 the Pew Research center published a poll in which the respondents from 44 countries around the world were asked a question: “What is your opinion about Russia, good or bad?” It turned out that the Poles had the worst opinion. Already 81 percent of us do not like Rus-sia. It is about 27 percent more than one year ago. As for the Russians, according to the recent CBOS polls, half of the Poles do not like them. It means that under the influence of the events of 2014, this resentment increased by 8 percent. More than the Russians we dislike only Roma people.

Anna Mirkes-Radziwon also joined the Committee “For Free Russia”. They work together with Masha in IAM. Anna is the wife of a Pole – a friend of mine. We have known each other for several years. Their two sons, 10 and 12 years old, go to Polish schools. Anna is an unmistaka-ble Polish speaker, writes to Polish newspapers.

– Feeling of shame for my country has accompanied me for years, re-gardless of where I live. But I am not ashamed of my language or na-tionality, and being a Russian in Poland does not bother mi. I talk to my bilingual children in Russian and sometimes notice someone’s judging glance on the streets. The youngest son, when he went to his new school in Warsaw, was called “You, Russian nut”. It is normal that children tease each other, but in Russia no one would tease him for be-ing a Pole.

Another example. We have a nice concierge. We’ve known each other for years, we say “good morning” to each other. One day, I heard by chance as he said to someone about me, when I left my tea or some-thing: “That Russian left it”. There is “Pani Ewa”, “that Kowalski”, and I am “that Russian”. You understand, it is like this photographer in Torun I meet every year at the festival, a nice acquaintance. And later I learn that all this time he’d referred to me as “that little Jew”. Recently, Victor Shenderovich said during the meeting in the Batory Foundation, that the Putin’s propaganda people and the European nationalists who play the Russophobia card should be eternally grateful to each other. Because one cannot exist without the other. But first of all I am an-noyed not by the ultra-rights (what can you expect from the insane), but by so-called experts – people from the community of Polish intellectu-als, and even by my colleagues-journalists from whom one may expect a deeper insight. I am irritated by fluency in using well-worn stereo-types, passion for cheap generalizations.

– Can you give an example? – I say.

– A film director made a slushy melodrama about a poor Russian. In the interview, he says: “Russians? I know them personally. They are great, warm people, before it comes to fulfilling the orders. Because, as you have to fulfill the order, nothing matters: you kill with the cold blood, it is nuzhno”. This is the way he sees people and the way he makes his movies. Or there is a reporter, a fearless conqueror of the Wild East who created himself an image of a cowboy-macho. And I want to tell him: in order to write that Russians drink loads of vodka, beat their wives and rip their tripe out, one do not need to courageously ride one’s bike beyond Ural mountains.

– Is he getting it wrong?

– It’s just a half truth. It is as if a known reporter from USA went to a drink-marinated village somewhere in Mazury in Poland and had writ-ten for years how terrifying Poland was. What he does is he writes the truth which has been known to Poles for hundreds of years and they will be happy to hear it again. Because it allows them to feel better.

A Polish documentary filmmaker gave an interview on Siberia. The title of the interview: “Siberia: exotics of cruelty”. Exotics, of course! And he goes: “Siberia is a terrible country, wilderness, people there do not even have where to ease nature. We, the people from the West, could not live there a single day”. I have lived in Siberia half of my life. In my home town, Novosibirsk, there are several universities and Institute for Nuclear Physics which educates brains for the US.

I am annoyed that someone is trying to pour banana oil in others’ ears, because it is catchy. There the barbarians live, and we are the civilized people of the West. A dozen of years ago, in Zakopane my ski instruc-tor, a mountaineer, grabbed his head: “Gee, you are from Siberia? Ap-parently, you people there have nothing to eat!” It is worth biting one’s tongue before repeating such common spiel. Once, long ago, as a young person (when things in Russia weren’t that bad), before intelligent peo-ple, I blabbed something like “maybe Belarusians are not mature enough for democracy” I heard in response: “You talk deliriously as a cow”. Even today, I flash of shame, when I remember.

For me, neither nationality nor collective features are criteria for self-identification. I hate collectivity. I have been allergic to collective marching since my pioneer childhood. When I go to the square in Mos-cow together with the tens of thousands protesters against the Kremlin mob corporation, when I become a member of this committee – it is a bitter and absolute necessity for me.

– What do you think about Poland boycotting the cultural events in Russia in protest?

– The most important thing is to distinguish between what is to be un-der boycott. Calling off the Year of Poland in Russia and Year of Russia in Poland was the right thing to do, because these events had been planned on the state level and would take place in establishments con-ducted by the Putin’s representatives. However, when I learn about an illustrious writer calling off meetings with the students at the RGGU university, it is not right. Because it is exactly students whom she must meet. One thing is Mikhalkov’s festival, the other – Teatr.doc or Sakha-rov’s Center. Unofficial Russia is having hard times now, and needs support. Meanwhile, a prominent Polish theatrologist calls off his par-ticipation in the seminar for young play-writers in the Meyerhold Cen-tre. Probably, he does not know that the organizers are the people from Occupy Abay movement, the Moscow lesser Maydan.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva (born. July 20, 1927), chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said yesterday to Dozhd TV that she was ready to an-nounce a hunger strike to push the Duma deputies to reject the draft law which would enable the prison service officers use in a wider range of physical force against the arrested and convicted in the colonies. Critics call it the “law of sadists”. (Facebook, June 3, 2015)

Masha, the Soviet child

– I saw Putin as I see you now, says Masha. In Russia every year, stu-dents who graduate with honors, are invited to the Grand Ball in the Kremlin. It was 2004, I sat proudly in the first row, with a telephone in the pouch connected to my brother so he could listen to the ceremony live. Putin said to us words which I would certainly never forget: “You are the future of this country”. I can say with no doubt that Vladimir Putin has changed my life. Thanks to what he did, for the first time in many years I really felt that I loved my poor Russia and people, sick and intoxicated by propaganda.

Masha was born in the family of a communist. Her father graduated from the Party Academy in Moscow. It was back in the 90s. He always wore his communist party member ID near his heart. His name was Al-exander, like the father of Lenin’s mother Maria Ulianova. So the name he chose for his daughter was not a coincidence.

– That is why I call myself Masha, not Maria. I was four years old when the communist rule came to an end, but in the television they still run Soviet movies, in school they sang the same Soviet songs, although Yeltin’s reality was throbbing all around. My brother would say that Lenin was not good because he had assassinated the Tsar’s family, so we drew horns on his pictures in the book. When the coup occurred, he fled to Moscow to defend Yeltsin, and I, a nine-year old, wore a badge “Yeltsin’s My President”. In 1999, we all cried by the Christmas tree when Yeltsin said: “I am tired, I am leaving”. And he gave us Putin for goodbye. Putin was a sort of enhanced Yeltsin, and Yeltsin himself went quite worn out by the end of his rule. He abused alcohol, was sick, the corruption went out of control, and everything started to fall apart. But Putin was energetic and fresh. He brought what Yeltsin failed to bring: stability. And now Russians are clinging to it. My brother, for example. But not me.

– Why don’t you?

– Because I got under influence of other people. First, there was poetry by Andrei Voznesenskii, then I met his old friend from Saint-Petersburg on the Internet. We wrote to each other, and he supported the democratic ideas in me. I lost the remnants of affection in Putin af-ter the massacre in the Dubrovka theatre and Beslan. In 11th grade we celebrated May 9th, the Victory day, I wrote in a composition that the title “The Day of National Mourning” seemed most appropriate to me because it was not a victory when 27 million people died. For the first time then I heard I was a traitor. Later, at the University, I met Natalia Kouzina, girl a little older than me but holding a PhD degree, and she made me interested in Poland. For Natalia, it was an oasis of freedom. She told us that in Poland there was some medieval fortress in which the shooting holes had been shaped in such a way that a person shooting was safe and there was no possibility to target and shoot him from outside.

– Is it strange?

– In Russia, nobody would not even care about something like this. The ones who shot have always been a meat shield. Do you know what amazes me in Poland still today? That in the news program “Wiado-mości” or “Fakty” they report about a child who fell out of the window, or someone who froze to death, or a crash of a bus with six passengers. Lately, I felt that when an attack on a “Charlie Hebdo” was held in Par-is. I get to read the information that eight persons have died, and there is an immediate reaction: Only eight? In Moscow, they report only when a hundred people die at once. Or we learn about the death of someone fa-mous. Sometimes, tabloids would write about single murders or acci-dents of ordinary people, but in order to draw the attention of tabloids one has to die in terrifying circumstances, for example, being decapitat-ed.

– Does a family with five kids which dies of gas-poisoning at night have a chance to be reported by the media?

– This will be hilarious.

Anna has no coat

– When I was in the first grade of the primary school, Brezhniev had to visit Novosibirsk – says Anna. – The director said: the most beautiful children wearing nice, colorful coats will greet comrade Brezhniev standing in the first row. I was chosen. I returned home happy: “Mom-my, I am beautiful, I will be greeting Brezhniev!”. And my mother said: “But you do not have a nice coat.”

– So did you greet?

– No, I did not. Eventually, I got immune to propaganda. Moreover, that sluggish, naive Soviet propaganda could not really seduce anyone. It cannot compare to the today’s propaganda which is deceitful and professional. It is run by professionals in brain-washing much more fluent in this craft than Goebbels was. Across Moscow, wherever you go, TV-sets and radio are on. While waiting at the dentist’s, one has to watch crying grandmothers and raped women on the plasma screen. You walk into a cafe for a cup of coffee and there is a radio roaring that banderovites crucified a little boy. “Please turn the radio down” – I say. – I do not want to listen to this”. “But others want to listen” – they answer.

The today’s propaganda is based on demonization of the 90s, a period of difficult and slow transformation which is associated with the wild cap-italism. At that time we had a trend in the media and art called “chernu-kha”- hack and slash. The freedom of speech began and it turned out that in our country we had junkies, homeless, thugs. An average person who earlier had been fed by the tinted image of reality, could have an impression that all these had recently appeared. The world collapsed as the Soviet Union collapsed. And then Putin came and brought the order. But it will not occur to people that the well-being is related to the price of oil. Putin’s demagogues are effective in convincing that democracy equals anarchy. They built a populist myth that only today Russia “gets up off its knees”. I showed children Chaplin’s “Dictator”. There, Hynkel says: “Tomania’s getting up off its knees”. After five years in Moscow, my sons laughed at this together with us.

From the account “Za Wolną Rosję”, Facebook. June 1, 2015: I did not hear that after passing this law, anyone of our elites had adopted a child. However, I heard many times that our elites liked to send their children study abroad – these are the words of a girl participating in a campaign “Orphan Regiment” organized in Moscow today to draw attention to worsening situation of Russian orphans. She refers to the law passed in 2012, so-called Dima Yakovlev’s law banning US citizens to adopt Russian children.

Everything goes according to the plan

Committee “For Free Russia” will soon become a legal person. Recent-ly, they submitted papers to register. As an Association it will be able to apply for grants, for example. In the statutes, the members wrote that they would strive to transform Russia into a democratic country with the rule of law, respecting rights and subjectivity of all the citizens, re-specting the international law, recognizing sovereignty of its neighbors and open to cooperation with the countries of the West.

– You are registering an association, but Putin has recently signed a law on unwanted ngo’s to keep away foreign organizations with critical atti-tude towards his regime. Aren’t you afraid that you may not be able to return home? – I ask Masha.

– I am afraid. But there is no going back for me – she says. – Ever since the death of Boris Nemtsov. After his death, someone added a soft sign to his name – Boris, and got boris’, meaning “fight”. I made the same tattoo on the back of my neck. So now and forever I am always an op-position poster.

– What do your parents say about all this?

– Oh, too bad. This is the saddest thing for me.

– Do you have quarrels with them?

– Sometimes. We fought the most when the Novaya Gazeta published a harsh report about a Russian tankman who had burnt in the tank during the conflict in Donbass. He survived but is left severely burnt, the re-porter interviewed him in the hospital. He told her that, when they come to Ukraine, they knew where and what for they were going, and despite being wounded he still supported Putin, because he thought that, if Ukraine joined UN (this was exactly what he said – UN!) – the UN would deploy missile shields there and threaten Russia. I put a link to this article in my post on “Odnoklassniki”, a social media my parents had their accounts on too, so it led to the quarrel in the house, that all of it was a lie, there were no Russian troops in Ukraine, otherwise they would already be in Kyiv.

– Do your parents also believe you are a traitor?

– They simply worry about me. When I come home we try not to talk about politics. I prefer to rest. The brother stopped talking to me. As a New Year gift he gave me a mug with Putin’s image and the inscription “Crimea is ours”, fridge magnet with Putin on the tank and sign “Every-thing is according to my plan” and caviar. He said it was a Patriot’s set. I laughed that when they come to arrest me I would drink from this mug and say: “What’s up?”. Later I threw it to the trash.

“For Free Russia”, Facebook, May 31: Members of the Solidarity movement – a Russian opposition organization named after the Polish Solidarity movement of the 80s. – organized an anti-war rally today in Moscow. Unfortunately, it was interfered by the activists of the pro-Kremlin movement SERB who had rampaged the Nemtsov’s memorial on the Zamoskvoretskii bridge. The police initially did not react until finally decided to detain five of the attackers, including the leaders of the SERB movement Igor Beketov.

Vala Chubarova

– When will Russia be free? During the rally you told us to shout “Ros-siya budiet svobodna!”, so I guess you have to believe it will be?

– To be honest, I have here swinging feelings – says Vala Chubarova. – Sometimes it seems to me that in a few years it will be normal. And sometimes I think the situation is hopeless.

Vala has a feeling that Russia, before it becomes free, will have to fall apart. Despite Putin’s aspirations to expand, it is going to be much hard-er to stay within the current borders. The biggest problem is that such a collapse will probably lead to a bloodshed. Vala is afraid of it, she does not want this to happen. She realizes the dangers coming from the Northern Caucasus. The politics which Russia has run make it an Islam-ic paradise for terrorists, although so far held under control. The case is so immensely complicated. – In any event, it is very important

that we ensure the good relations with different peoples in Russia in advance. So that we, when all collapses, could be good neighbors – Vala says with a bit of optimism.

Recently, she visited Lviv. She watched the market stalls full of anti-Putin gifts and bought two door-mats with Putin’s image: – When I paid I said “Sir, don’t you think you must have special discount for Russians buying the door-mats with Putin?” Although he did not give me a dis-count but offered me a toilet paper with Putin gratis. For the first time my son saw Putin on the toilet paper. He asked: “Mommy, who is he?” I said:

“This is a bad man, your daddy and Grandpa fight against him. So we do fight him here too, as much as we can”.

Masha Makarova – born in 1987 in Smolensk. Has lived in Poland for the last seven years. Works in the Russian editorial office of the Polish radio, and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

Valentina Chubarova – born in 1986 in Moscow. Social anthropolo-gist. She came to Warsaw in 2014 for post-graduate studies.

Anna Mirkes-Radziwon – was born in 1967 in Novosibirsk. She is the editor of the Russian language section of the web-portal Culture.pl in Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

Original article at Wysokieobcasy.pl