Where are the Bellwethers and Bleeding Hearts Now?

The last month of the accursed year of 2022 invites us to attempt to assess it. It was obviously a watershed year that involved the end of an era of relative peace in Europe (yes, the wars in the Balkans were bloody and terrifying, but in 2022 alone, more people have died on both sides of the Ukraine war than did in the Balkans in 10 years), numerous war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, the terror of Lukashenko’s government in Belarus, the collapse of all the post-perestroika pillars of civil society in Russia (Memorial, Novaya Gazeta, Ekho Moskvy, and others), the definitive routing of the opposition, and the disruption of almost all forms of international cooperation. In an interview with Yury Dud, Dmitry Muratov expressed his highest regard for Mikhail Gorbachev’s greatest achievement of “30 years without the threat of nuclear war.” And then he explained that this year, when the threat became real again, he discussed a mathematical model of the consequences of an exchange of nuclear strikes with experts. These specialists took into account both the unavoidable loss of many millions of human lives and the irreparable harm to the environment, which would lead to starvation and extinction.

Listening to this, I recalled another interview with Muratov. During a December 2018 broadcast of the program Yeschyonepozner [Not Yet Pozner], Novaya Gazeta’s editor-in-chief said: “The country is being drawn to war, the topic of war has been laid open… State propaganda is conducting terrifying work.” Muratov already predicted at that time that Russia would even support the use of nuclear weapons, reasoning that “if we don’t get to heaven, NATO troops will be there soon.” Four years ago, there were probably very few people who understood so clearly what awaited the country and the world in the near future. Not because “nothing heralded this,” but simply because they did not want to look the impending horror in the eye. It was much more pleasant to say that there wouldn’t be a war and that if there were one all the same, it wouldn’t be a real war at all, but a “hybrid” one; repressions could be called “pinpointed,” and the persecution of human rights defenders and journalists, “excessive acts.” By lulling our fears to sleep with such academic and fashionable words, we were able to assure ourselves and others that it was important to improve the city environment and call for people to participate in elections for municipal deputies who wouldn’t “put everyone in prison” (but only the best, as 2022 showed us).

It’s likely that the people who said in February 2022 that they “couldn’t believe a war had started” missed Muratov’s statements in 2018 and his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in December 2021. They didn’t pay attention to it, but he was already talking about the inevitable:

“In the diseased minds of geopoliticians, a war between Russia and Ukraine has ceased to be impossible. But I know that wars end with identifying soldiers and exchanging prisoners… If there’s anything I can do in my new capacity to achieve the return of living prisoners of war to their homes, just tell me. I’m ready.”

And Muratov was not the only one to sense the approaching catastrophe. Last year, the young performance artist Pavel Krisevich expressed the mood of the most thoughtful people in the generation born and living their entire lives in the era not of Gorbachev, but of Putin: He came out onto Red Square and, pronouncing the words “There will be shots before the Kremlin’s curtain,” he shot blanks from a modified handgun into the air and at his own head. Krisevich was sentenced to five years in prison for his symbolic shots. When making his final plea in court, Krisevich explained his action as follows: “I wanted to show that Russia is on the border of blank shots and real shots, and, in fact, this actually came true a year later.”

Commenting on his action prior to his trial, Krisevich said that he was imitating the act of suicide, thereby expressing fear of political repressions in Russia.

Like any successful action, Pavel Krisevich’s artistic and political statement goes beyond the scripted language and manifestos of the protestor. His performance is remarkable in that it predicted the upcoming times, even though far from everyone understood this in the summer of 2021. Krisevich perfectly expressed the mood of 2022: desolation, shame, despair, and fear.

As often happens, recognition of the action’s success took the form of a harsh punishment – a five-year prison sentence, which would have been unlikely before 2022.

Only a 20-year-old student at the time, Krisevich explained his need to protest, to speak out on his own against the state system for suppressing freedom: “I would have been consumed by remorse for myself and my own country if I hadn’t helped stand up to the regime, if I hadn’t helped protect people.”

Stefania KULAEVA, ADC Memorial

First published on the Radio Liberty blog

Photo: Vasily Krestyaninov, @pavelkrisevich /Instagram

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