Russians who disapprove of what their country is doing to Ukraine are a small and unpopular minority.
The boldest champion of dissent, Alexei Navalny, is under house arrest. He and his brother Oleg are awaiting trial for fraud involving the French company, Yves Rocher — which the company has denied ever happened. Pavel Durov, who founded and ran In Touch, Russia’s largest social network, has left the country after being fired from his position. Sergei Guriev, the former head of the New Economic School, the center of liberal economic thinking, fled Russia last year, fearing arrest.
Even with their backs against the wall, though, the liberals are feisty. They press their case that Russia is now hastening its own doom. I caught up with several of them at a conference outside of Moscow last week, organized by the Moscow School of Civic Enlightenment, a non-governmental organization focused on democratic and civic issues. (Full Disclosure: I have been on the Moscow School’s advisory committee for the three years).
They liberals I met were angry — certain that their country was heading for a disaster. They disagreed only about how deep that disaster would be. Some, like Arseny Roginsky, who helped found the Memorial Foundation, spoke of the need to relate current events to Russia’s Stalinist and post-Stalinist past, in which nearly 20 million people died in an atmosphere of repression. For the past determines both the present and the future.
Roginsky bemoaned the fact that his institution, founded to exhume the memories of the millions who perished under the Soviet regimes, has not succeeded in implanting in the contemporary Russian mind the need for memory. Russia, Roginsky said, has “not erected one plaque in Moscow which commemorates the places where mass murders happened.”