A few days ago Lev Shlozberg, member of the council of the Pskov region, stood up and addressed a silent audience. They all listened in awe. He attacked the prevailing mood in Russia, comparing the attacks on “people’s traitors” and the mass patriotic hysteria with the atmosphere in the 1930s under Stalin. And if that was not enough, he continued to expose the corruption in the governor’s office, the deal and tricks that allowed the ruling class to enrich itself and keep the rest of the population in poverty. “These are the real people’s traitors,” he said, “these are the people that ruin our country.”
(full transcript available here).
This amazing clip found its way on Internet and was disseminated like wildfire, people flabbergasted by the man’s courage. Yet only few Western media outlets covered the event. It is already no surprise: the Western media is almost continuously lagging behind in understanding the political events in this part of the world, and still has difficulty to grasp the magnitude of the popular uprising in Ukraine that resulted in a quickly shifting political climate in Eastern Europe and, subsequently, in a deep crisis in East-West relationships.
Few people realize to what level a national hysteria has been created in Russia proper. Rock musician Makarevich, who dared to take a stance against the occupation of the Crimea, is now a “people’s traitor” and might loose all his awards and prizes as a result. A professor at Moscow University was fired for criticizing the occupation, and the colleague who defended him was dismissed as well. Elena Tkach, a deputy in the Moscow city council, has called upon the authorities to take away Russian citizenship from all “people’s traitors” with the words: “People who hate Russia are not entitled to be its citizen. Everybody knows that it is time to punish those who have issued anti-Russian statements in the press and internet… […] Insulting Russia and its people should be completely wiped out…”
What Shlozberg did was truly heroic. Watch his speech, and you will realize the force of his speech. Calm, well-contained, but with clear emotion and passion, he indicted the leadership of his region. His act reminded me of the Estonian Mart Niklus, who I met in 1980 in Moscow shortly before he went to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet to deliver a letter demanding the annulment of the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact. He knew he would be arrested – he was almost sure he would get the fifteen years a court eventually handed out to him. He knew the risk, but he also knew he had no choice.
That same inner determination must have guided Lev Shlozberg when he stood up and told the truth. His courageous stance shows that all is not lost in Russia, and that Khodorkovsky was right when he said at Maidan: “Putin is not Russia. There is another Russia…”
Robert van Voren is Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas and Ilia State University in Tbilisi