Defeat and Uncertainty: Russia’s new wave of politically fuelled emigration

Defeat and Uncertainty: Russia’s new wave of politically fuelled emigration
Putin's crackdown has lead to a wave of emigrations
By Cameron Jones in London August 12, 2021

This year will go down in Russian history as the start of a new era of political emigration. While waves of emigration from the country are a constant part of the drama of Russian life, today,  for the first time since Soviet times, people are emigrating en masse, not because they do not want to live in their homeland, but because it is too dangerous to be at home.  

Since the state of this year the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin has dramatically cranked up the level of repression on civil society and opposition politicians to unprecedented levels.   

For most of his three terms in office Putin as run what bne IntelliNews columnist Mark Galeotti has dubbed “repression-lite,” but as the key Duma elections loom in September the kid gloves have come off as the Kremlin ruthlessly crushes any dissent. At any given moment, there may be an unwarranted search, a threat against relatives, dismissal from work, expulsion from university, arrest for some "sanitary case", or a smear as a "foreign agent" or a member of an undesirable organisation. Legal protection mechanisms are turned off. Lawyers are deprived of the opportunity to work. The people are increasingly living in fear.  

Without human rights protection and a free media, the country remains exposed. This political terror turns the national drama of Russian emigration into a national tragedy. Young patriots leave. Conformists and those who have nothing to lose remain.

The most obvious victim has been jailed  anti-corruption activist and opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, that was declared to be extremist and banned in Russia. It was closed down at home and its leading members moved to Georgia to continue their work in exile.  

Eight of Navalny's former headquarters chiefs in the regions have left the country, eleven more are on trial. Their crime consists of a desire to change the government via the ballot box - that is, to live in their homeland as free citizens, in strict accordance with the old and new editions of the Constitution.

The activists are followed by employees of the now neutered media, from DOXA through the online news resource Project, as has media resources set up by oligarch turned dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky. More innocent non-traditional social groups, such as the LGBT family who inadvertently starred in the ad for “VkusVilla,” have also elected to emigrate. Others have simply dropped politics and gotten a job instead.  

Option number one is to give up everything you believe in and become like Anton Krasovsky, the host of RT: enjoy life by trying to get a paycheck from the right government agency. Option number two is to form a new generation of “janitors and night watchmen”, to quote the 1988 Soviet song by the band Aquarium, for which a great new programming option has opened up.  

Option number three, the path least trodden, is to continue to believe that people are born free, to act without any guilt outside the legal field individually, as a private person, and risk life behind bars. The fourth and final option is to replenish the new Russian political diaspora in Tbilisi, the saddest people in the world.

Russia does not value its people at all. Many will leave, but with the support of maternity bonuses, those who do remain will give birth to new citizens, with the expectation that these new Russians will certainly not want to be free, and instead will be active participants in the "online voting in elections", will regularly submit their questions to the "direct line" and will have fun at the Tavrida festival. The most popular way to survive in Russia in 2021 is to try not to think about anything and not ask yourself unnecessary questions.

The political struggle this summer, of course, will not end: those who squeeze the best young people out of Russia will have to face a rapidly modernising world without them. As the experience of the 20th century has shown, they will have to suffer a shameful and pitiful defeat in this struggle.  

This article is based on an opinion by Kirill Martynov that first appeared in Novya Gazeta.