freedom to speak

At yesterday’s rally outside the Russian embassy in London opposing Russian intervention in Ukraine were – along with the Ukrainians – Georgians, Poles, Syrians, Brits – and Russians. ‘War with Ukraine – Not in my name’ said one notice. “There are lots of Russians here,” one woman told me, looking a bit amazed that I should question it.

There were lots also not there, of course. Hyde Park and Kensington were full of people speaking Russian – strolling, shopping, drinking expensive coffee; enjoying being free to do and say what they want in Britain.

Meanwhile Natasha, who’s Ukrainian living in Moscow, was sitting unhappily in her flat hating herself for being too scared to go to a similar rally in Moscow. Her brother, who’s a photographer, spent weeks on maidan, and was used as human shield by riot police at one point. Natasha told me:

Here it’s dangerous to go to any meeting opposing the authorities. So I’m sitting at home. You’ll just get picked up by the militia. Doesn’t matter if you’re just standing there, or shouting or have a placard. It would kill my parents if something happened to me. And it’s really important that I keep my job here, because who knows what’s going to happen in Ukraine -?

She’s right, of course. All the anti-Russian intervention protesters in Moscow were removed by the militia. The pro-intervention rally went ahead, needless to say.

Whatever you think about Russia and the EU, whether you think the new Ukrainian government is fascist or that the EU is a corrupt bureaucratic capitalist nightmare – here, surely, is encapsulated the reason for all the recent events in Ukraine.

In London, part of the EU, people who are not even Ukrainian feel entirely free to demonstrate on behalf of that country’s right to allow similar freedoms – just as they are free to go shopping or take a walk in the park.

While people living in Russia, whose families are in Kiev or Donetsk or in Crimea where Russian soldiers without insignia are walking their streets, sit at home hating themselves for being afraid to speak out.


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