Will There Be a Civil Society in Russia?

I never thought I would see a functioning civil society within my lifetime anywhere in the world. But then I saw it come into existence in Ukraine and realized that it’s a beautiful thing. Now I’m searching for evidence that there can be a civil society in Russia, as well. That is the only hope for Russia, really. When the people of Russia stop waiting for the good tsar and start doing for themselves, this will be the greatest positive development the country has known in. . . well, in forever, actually.

nemtsov bridge
The memorial on the Nemtsov Bridge

After the assassination of the dissident Boris Nemtsov, people created a small memorial at the bridge where he’d been murdered. There were flowers, cards, small posters, candles, wreaths, etc. that commemorated the slain politician. And then, of course, vandals showed up and defaced the memorial. The authorities used the act of vandalism to remove the entire memorial, making the bridge look like nothing had happened there.

So a group of volunteers got together and decided to restore the memorial. They put up their own money and relied on their own effort to do it. And as a result, the memorial is now even bigger and more beautiful than it had been before the act of vandalism. This is the most potent evidence I have seen that not all is lost in Russia. In spite of everything, I want the people of Russia to find their own way and to be happy in a productive way that does not involve invading other countries and seething in rage against the rest of the world.

Of course, the efforts of the volunteers have been greeted with suspicion and even anger. They are now fending off endless accusations that they are only trying to restore the memorial as a way of promoting flower delivery companies. The organizer of this volunteer efforts is swearing up and down that even though he is a Jew, this does not automatically mean that he is trying to enrich himself through recreating the memorial. 

The abrupt entrance into capitalism was traumatic for the FSU countries. All of us have seen our friends, relatives, and neighbors lose face and do some really shitty things to us and each other for the sake of making money back in the 1990s. The result of that experience is that now Russian-speaking people find it enormously hard to believe that anybody can be motivated to engage in any activity by anything other than the desire to stiff others out of a quick rouble or two.

Ukrainians managed to get over this trauma and have organized a volunteer movement that is supplying an entire army and helping out over 1,000,000 of refugees within the country. Let’s hope that the bouquets on the Nemtsov Bridge (as it is now known among the volunteers) will serve as a foundation for the birth of Russia’s civil society.

2 thoughts on “Will There Be a Civil Society in Russia?

    1. It’s like the last 100 years never happened. Stalinism, genocide, the two civil war, the world wars – nothing changed and the Russians are still in the midst of the exact same debates they held 100 years ago. 😦 😦

      This is truly tragic.


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