Freedom Speech by Alisa Ganieva at the Boris Nemtsov Forum

Alisa Ganieva is a Russian writer. She was born in 1985 and grew up in Dagestan. In 2009 Alisa Ganieva became the heroine of a high-profile literary hoax when she received the Debut Prize for young writers for her story “Salam to you, Dalgat!” under the male pseudonym “Gulla Khirachev”. Since then, Ganieva’s texts have always received many rave reviews. Ganieva’s first novel “Holiday Mountain” (2013) was short-listed for the Yasnaya Polyana Prize. The second, “Bride and Groom” (2015), made the finals of the “Russian Booker” and “Student Booker” awards for the best novel of the year and was awarded the second prize of the “Russian Booker”.

“I went to school in 1992 in an autonomous republic two thousand kilometers south of Moscow. By inertia we were divided into October Stars and promised to be accepted into the Pioneers in a couple of years. The Soviet uniform was stubbornly kept. My mom rebelled and forbade me to wear a brown dress, saying, “The Communists are gone, stop wearing slave clothes and march in formation. My parents were idealist democrats, but the school wouldn’t give up. Teachers reproached us daily that we were the generation that had sold out for Snickers bars. That children used to be more moral and cleaner, that the sky was blue, and that Gorbachev had deliberately stopped the food trucks at the outskirts of the capital and ordered us to bury the meat in the ground so that Muscovites would revolt from hunger and destroy the USSR.

In ’95, having gone to a village school for a while, I was shocked to see that children still wore pioneer ties, and that teachers were greeted not only by standing up, but also by saluting. I was reprimanded for not wearing a tie, so I got my uncle’s old tie from my grandmother’s house and started ironing it. When my grandmother caught me with the iron, she grabbed the red rag and threw it into the trash in a fit of rage. The impulse was understandable. At one time, her father was dispossessed, all his property, even his favorite trained horse, and thrown into the construction of the October Revolution Canal. He would have starved to death, but was saved by a guard who agreed to give him a piece of mutton chop a day. My grandfather’s father was also repressed and sent on convoy to Siberia, where he perished in hard labor. Grandpa himself was put in jail after he had done an accounting audit at the collective farm and honestly identified embezzlement, which he was not supposed to do. It took a long time to find something to charge him with, and finally they found it: the forbidden in the Soviet Union service for two jobs. The second job, a vigilante, was a stretch, but it, as they say, no one cared. My parents were also under investigation by the KGB: my mother for teaching Esperanto and corresponding with Arabists, my father for anti-state activities. The only thing that saved him was the collapse of the system.

The usual story of an ordinary Soviet family. Almost every Russian household today has at least one repressed grandfather or great-grandfather. And certainly every fifth one was under surveillance. Which doesn’t prevent our people from being fondly nostalgic about their Soviet past and experiencing 1991 as a nightmare and apocalypse. And not at all as a happy maturation of freedom. Our beloved leader and national leader articulated it very clearly: “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.

I would not be at all surprised if he believes Margaret Thatcher’s fake Houston speech, in which she supposedly cheerfully reported on how the U.S. destroyed the Soviet Union. Or that Soviet spies managed to tap into Madeleine Albright’s mind during a secret experiment and read her mind. That “Siberia is too big a territory to belong to one state”. Secretary of the Security Council Patrushev, it turns out, believes it. Ten years ago Vladimir Putin himself used to refer to this very idea – allegedly read by the Chekists – of Albright. He was indignant: “We have heard many times from officials that it is unfair that all of Siberia belongs to Russia, with its immeasurable wealth. To take Texas from Mexico – it is fair, but to farm our own land – it is unfair.

Or, for example, Stalin’s favorite theory about the Zionist conspiracy. It is also, very probably, is not alien to Putin. In these words of Stalin – “World Zionism will try by all means to destroy our Union so that Russia would never be able to rise again” – you may replace “Union” with “Russian Federation” and let it be aired on federal TV channels. It will fit the discourse perfectly.

And you don’t have to go far. The role of world Zionism in our country is played by George Soros, the financier who patronized Russia and whom our president has called a threat to Russian national security. Our talking heads, as you know, have already officially accused him of espionage, of pulling off color revolutions in the CIS, and even of organizing women’s rallies against Donald Trump. I admit that Putin believes in the “Dulles Plan” for sure, too. His Chekist logic is scintillating: “NATO was created as a Cold War instrument to fight the Soviet Union and the so-called Warsaw Pact. Now there is no Warsaw Pact, no Soviet Union, and NATO exists. It begs the question – why?”

We understand everything, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Because the sharks of capitalism have opened their bloody jaws on the pristine spirituality of our homeland. Bourgeois bourgeoisie bollocks and double-crossing spies from enemy NPOs, underdogs from the wild 90s and the burps of savage capitalism, domestic enemies and hired guns of the State Department, pessimists and alarmists, consensus-makers and reconcilers, sleazy falsifiers of history and complete cranks, a rotten-liberal Facebook mob and insulters of the faith, nasty bloggers and retweeters and pest-mongers, national traitors and vile pacifists, deniers of the great restoration of historical justice and low-life worshippers of sanctioned food, corrupt human rights activists and Ukrainian-Banderers, outrageous proponents of homosexuality and other fifth columnists – they all play into the hands of the damned sodomite West! So crush them like rabid dogs, increase vigilance, strengthen the defense capacity of the country, catch up and overtake, imprison and re-imprison…

The iron retro rhetoric of the anti-cosmopolitan struggle is back in fashion. Six years ago, a poll by the Public Opinion Foundation showed that among Russians under the age of 20, 43 percent of respondents revere Lenin and 34 percent revere Stalin. In 2014, Stalin’s rating, as we know, jumped even higher across the country. It is worth going into any bookstore to come across a whole rack of iconostasis of books devoted to Stalin. With portraits of the generalissimo on the covers.

And the scouts are heroes again. A month ago, on the celebration of the City Day in Moscow, people on vacation eagerly donned NKVD uniforms and even performed a performance, arresting and loading passersby into a “funnel,” to the delight of the crowd and the arrestees themselves. And in the House of the Russian Historical Society an exhibition of Kim Philby, a Soviet intelligence agent in Britain, is taking place. Sergey Naryshkin, Chairman of the Russian Historical Society and Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, has already addressed the guests with a welcoming speech, and Philby’s colleagues and students from among the veterans of intelligence have touchingly shared their memories. The exhibition, by the way, is timed to coincide with the centenary of the VChK. That is to say, we are celebrating the anniversary of the chief executioner of red terror.

For crying out loud, why don’t our comrades in the government go further? Why not reinstate the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to combat, say, counter-patriotism? We already have our first offenders. Mathematician Dmitry Bogatov, historian and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev, academician Yuri Pivovarov, filmmakers Oleg Sentsov and Kirill Serebrennikov, director of the Moscow Library of Ukrainian Literature Natalia Sharina… Terrorist, saboteur elements, don’t they?

And how many people have already been sentenced for their nationalist, pro-Ukrainian position… Andrey Bubeev, Alexander Byvshev, Ekaterina Volozheninova, Alexander Kolchenko, Alexander Kostenko, Vyacheslav Kuteynikov, Andrey Marchenko, Alexei Moroshkin, Daria Polyudova, Vladimir Podrezov, Vadim Tyumentsev, Oleg Savvin, Mikhail Feldman and Dmitry Fonarev, Igor Stenin… These villains are guilty of a terrible thing – they posted and reposted pictures, posters and texts about the alleged aggression of a great, spiritually bound Russia against Ukraine, squirming to the tune of overseas puppeteers in a fascist furnace.

And how many contras were captured for disagreeing with the annexation of Crimea to Russia! A recent article on “separatism,” by the way. Journalist Anna Andrievskaya, Lenur Islyamov, owner of the Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR, blogger Rafis Kashapov, Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Ilmi Umerov (this criminal was also forcibly locked up in a mental hospital, according to a good tradition), journalist Nikolai Semena, Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov… They also took a certain Vladimir Luzgin, also for reposting an article in the social network, only as a falsifier of history.

The frontrunners of the punitive production do not forget to mow down the insulters of religious feelings. Among those sentenced under the new Article 148 are Maxim Kormelitsky, Viktor Nochevnov, Viktor Krasnov, Ruslan Sokolovsky, Alexander Razhin… It is a sin not to follow the surrenderers and renegades in journalism, who have not grasped the historical directive of the party. Selling the motherland in the corners. Not only could they be detained, put in police vans and smashed up with professional equipment, but their accounts and messengers could be attacked periodically. The valiant organs already cope with this, but the revived VCK would rush to the forefront of purges with a vigorous enthusiasm!..

The crankiness aside, all of this is scary. The scary thing is that all these arrests (I have cited some of the names in the report made by the association “Free Word”), all these absurd criminal cases remain on the periphery of our consciousness. Society does not hear yet. The people are silent. Even organizations that are supposed to sound the alarm and defend rights and freedoms, such as the Russian PEN Center, have buckled under the party line. Former dissidents have become conformists. And even the educated circles, the so-called intelligentsia, have doubts: “Well, they were jailed, but what if there was a reason for it? But what if they really stole, terrorized, falsified, insulted? And then, so what, a few dozen people at most, it’s not hundreds and thousands. “The only ones who make waves are those who want to propagate themselves in the West, and maybe get themselves a refuge or a grant. But we, the real patriots, we love Russia and are careful of its possible enemies.

I hear it all the time:

“It’s not ’37 to you now, absolutely nothing in common!”

“The decayed, marginalized opposition is just jealous of those in power, so don’t yell at the state!”

“Russians live better than any pre-Potin generation. So don’t go crazy with the fat!”

“If it weren’t for Putin, the American octopus would have swallowed and enslaved us and the whole world. Russia is Europe’s only shield against the beastly monopoly of the United States!”

“We are hated because we are strong!”

“You can’t prove that there were lies under Stalin. Maybe the lies began with Khrushchev!”

“In Ukraine in recent years Russians have been hated and oppressed. Russia just came to save its own!”

“We have no political prisoners.”

“We have no censorship.”

“If not Putin, then who…?”

Yevgenia Ginzburg writes in Cool Route: “In 1965, several young poets and artists were arrested in Kiev and Lvov. On charges of nationalism. It started again in Ukraine – the thirty-seventh began there in the thirty-fourth.” And now history repeats itself. I wonder what this woman, who first suffered communist fanaticism, then prison, two arrests, labor camps, exile, loss of her family, then rehabilitation, a thaw, a burst of hope, and again disappointment, depression, stagnation, would say… What would she say if she knew that the regime she hated would fall, but in a few decades the new Russia would grow cold again. First a fat, rich, gas and oil, with houses for ducks and planes for the dogs, and then a freeze, but already a crisis, default, inflation. Which will also start with Ukraine.

At the end of the pivotal year of 2014, Boris Nemtsov said: “Everyone has to decide for himself whether he is ready for risks or not. I can only say about myself. I am happy that I can speak the truth, be myself and not grovel before pathetic, thieving authorities. Freedom has a high price. For Boris Yefimovich, the price of freedom was too high. But how much more worthy is his happiness to be honest and free, even at the risk of his own life, than the eternal looking back, than the cautiously clamped mouths or the simple-minded ignorance, the unthinking of millions of our fellow citizens.

I come from the North Caucasus, I grew up there. I write prose about it. In a sense, it’s a litmus test for all of Russia. And an outline of the scenario of further events in the country. There are the violent beginnings of totalitarianism and the trampled potential of democracy, but right now, this region is crying out most forcefully about our main diagnosis: the pathological nature of government, which is fixated on the king. The trampling of the most important political freedoms promised us by the Constitution – equality before the law, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of assembly and association. Children of mayors run over people with impunity, heads of republics appoint their friends and relatives to their feeding troughs, sycophancy reigns before the Kremlin and its appointees, journalists are killed without trial. In less than 20 years, about two dozen journalists, mostly editors-in-chief of various publications, have been killed in Dagestan.

Most of the cases are not investigated in any way. Their names have never been heard. I remember that some of the journalists I knew in the capital used to say, “Everything that is done in the Caucasus is none of our business. It’s not even Russia, so to speak. But the North Caucasus is Russia. And the officials there are Russian. And the corrupt kickbacks. And the attitude towards dissent. And the long queues to the prophet’s beard are very rhyming with the queues to the belt of the Virgin Mary. There is, however, an aggravating factor. Access to freedom there is sometimes even more difficult and dangerous. Because in addition to pressure from the state, there is also pressure from society. The pressure of the family. The pressure of the so-called spiritual authorities.

So on one side there are the hairy arms of bureaucrats, and on the other – the long tongues of neighbors and relatives. For example, this year the government of Ingushetia (the Department of Religious Affairs under the head of the republic) allowed wife-beating in accordance with Shariah. At first, of course, one must reassure his wife with a word. If the wife persists, then deny her sex. And if even this measure does not break her, then, of course, beat her. What else is there to do? Everyone has heard about the forced reconciliation of over 900 divorced couples and the persecution of gays in Chechnya.

But this is pressure from above. Pressure from the side is even more dangerous. Groups on the social networks and video groups, where they upload video, audio and photo evidence of girls and, less frequently, of “wrong” guys with their real names and addresses, let their families find out and punish them however they want. Maybe even kill them. And some, unfortunately, get killed.

Or this willingness to inform on one another, to turn them in to the punitive authorities… This summer a Chechen woman who had been arrested by her relatives because she had brought shame on her family for her homosexual orientation escaped. She got into a cab and drove to Dagestan, to fly to Moscow from there. All the documents were ready. But on the way the girl made a mistake – she called her friends who were meeting her to report that the escape was a success. The cab driver, who knew he was taking the fugitive, immediately locked the doors, turned around, brought her home, and handed her over to her relatives. A week later the unfortunate woman died under vague circumstances. It is said that her relatives poisoned her.

Also, when talking about freedom of conscience, not only in the Caucasus, but all over Russia, almost no one mentions atheists or agnostics. About the protection of the rights of non-believers. Perhaps because non-believers are not used to accepting the world as a solved problem, as a set of imposed rules. For the most part, they are tolerant of other people’s points of view, they do not create idols and shrines for themselves, they are not in a hurry to destroy and burn out all those who disagree with them. They are eager to get to the truth, to check and recheck the facts. Also, non-believers don’t like being puppets in the hands of a tyrant. No matter where the tyrant sits, whether on a throne in heaven or in a gilded chair on earth. It’s not unreasonable to become pariahs here.

Boris Nemtsov said: “The task of the opposition now is enlightenment and truth. And the truth is that Putin is war and crisis.” But how to get out of the war and crisis without getting into a bloody revolution like the one that happened a hundred years ago? And how to take the first step – to overcome the past. How to stop looking back in holy awe. How to disentangle our own sacralized history and throw its reviving gods – Stalin, Lenin, Grozny. How to draw the sign of identity between Stalin and Hitler in our many-headed consciousness? How do we reevaluate 1991? And where is the point of the Reset?

Perhaps we will get closer to the answer to this question at this wonderful Forum.