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Two Minds

Author: Paul E. Richardson

Jan/Feb 2016
Page 4   ( 1 pages)

Summary: Most Russophiles are of two minds on Russia these days, struggling to reconcile the Russia they love with the one they hate.


As I write these words, I am trying to reconcile two divergent Russian realities.

The first is the overwhelmingly positive collection of impressions, experiences, and interviews Mikhail Mordasov and I gathered over the course of our month-long Spine of Russia trip ( in October and November. We were received well (with one notable exception), the travel facilities were beyond commendable, the food superb, and the people and places we profiled endlessly fascinating. In short, it reinforced all the feelings of affection for Russia I have accumulated over the 30 years I have been following and writing about this country.

The second reality is the collection of overwhelmingly negative impressions of Russia that for the past two years have been lingering front and center in the news and on the world stage: sanctions and counter-sanctions following the Crimea annexation and war in Ukraine; Russia’s antagonism with many nations along its western borders (Georgia, Ukraine, Turkey, Estonia); the crashing ruble; the evaporation of a free, independent media; the use of courts as political weapons; the division of society into “patriots” and “traitors”; the relentless accumulation of Russia’s wealth into the hands of a connected few.

And now this. Yesterday, December 12, was Constitution Day in Russia. A small collection of peaceful Muscovites sought to exert their constitutional right (Article 31) to demonstrate and protest what they felt were illegal incarcerations and the state’s violations of citizens’ rights. But, because their tiny demonstration (there appeared to be more photographers than demonstrators) was not “sanctioned,” the demonstrators were roughed up and detained for things like holding up signs demanding the freedom of specific prisoners. In one case, a middle-aged woman was roughly dragged away for silently holding up a copy of... the Russian Constitution.

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