It seems that quite recently things looked so promising in Russia.
In my recent columns, I happily noticed that there are quite a few burgeoning signs of freedom in Russia that were impossible even to think of in my time: freedom of travel, freedom to leave the country, or start your own business. I could not believe what I read in the Russian press or interviews with those who openly criticized the regime. However, one suspicion never left my skeptical mind: Was all that for real? Are any of those rights guaranteed by the Constitution — the right to free speech, the right to a fair trial by jury, or the right to bear arms to defend themselves, for example?
All those forty years since I escaped from Russia I was tempted by my Russian friends who like me came to live in New York and were shuttling back and forth to Russia either out of nostalgia or curiosity or on business they opened here: “Come, Lev, just take a look! You wouldn’t believe how much things have changed there. We go back and forth and nothing happens to us. After all, you were born there, you speak Russian, you left behind your friends…”
Our family never even as much as entertained that crazy idea or gave up our unspoken pledge never to look back on that hell we left behind.
Then it became known that Vladimir Putin, after four years as prime minister, would be running as Russia’s president for a third term.
Not so long ago, in March of this year, in one of my columns, I wrote about massive anti-government demonstrations in Russia against the election fraud by the Putin’s party “Edinaya Rossiya,” which excluded Putin’s rivals from the ballot, arrested and jailed some of them and murdered others.
No wonder I was surprised to hear that American President Obama immediately called Vladimir Putin, a “proud KGB spy who spent his entire life learning how to hate and destroy America and her values,” to congratulate him on his party election victory “making no reference to Putin’s documented electoral fraud, his exclusion of rivals from the ballot (even as he jailed and murdered others) or his support for dictatorship and mass murder in Syria” [Kim Zigfeld, American Thinker, April 1, 2012].
On Monday, May 6, I got a call from Mikhail, my nephew, an American artist, whom was in Moscow to attend his mother’s funeral. “Lev,” he said, “you were, as usual, right: things here have changed for the worse. Tomorrow, on May 7, at 12:00 pm Moscow time, Putin will be sworn in as Russia’s president for a third term. You cannot imagine what is going on here: the streets are flooded with security police, the center of the city is blocked by Putin’s special forces; those who live in the New ARBAT Street are prohibited from leaving their homes. The exit and entrance to the Kropotkin and Arbat metro stations have been blocked for the time of Putin’s inauguration so that the passengers have no way to exit or enter them.
People are being detained by special police force all over the city — in the sidewalks, in parks — and thrown into police cars. The entire city is lifeless. Streets are desolate. People are being arrested in the streets all over Moscow; Putin’s police examine all coffee shops and are making arrests. The Pushkin Square and the Arbat by-streets are controlled by Putin’s people carrying posters “Putin Loves Us All!”
I have never seen it happening before. Putin’s inauguration is being transmitted all over the television screens.
In his 33-word inauguration speech, Putin swore to defend the lives and freedom of the Russian citizens. He said the following years will be decisive in making better the lives of the Russian people.
At 12:07 pm, the inauguration ceremony was over, and Putin became the Russian president, likely to be president for life.
Meanwhile the crowd on the Nikitsky boulevard cries out “Putin is a thief!” Whereupon the OMON people surrounded them and 200 people were arrested. The crowd dispersed.
“Well, Lev,” said Mikhail, “you were right — the people here have no constitutional rights, and Putin’s dictatorship is back.”
Lev Navrozov can be reached at email@example.com