By Paul Goble
Most Russians and even many in the opposition do not believe that they and Russia can change, and this helps keep Vladimir Putin and his regime in power, Yuliya Galyamina says. But it is critically important to convince them otherwise and look for opportunities to make changes even when there don’t appear to be any.
The feminist leader who was among those who created the Soft Force movement in Russia two days before Putin announced his “special military operation” in Ukraine, a group that just held its first congress, argues that only non-violent means can lead to change as violence begets violence (holod.media/2022/11/08/galiamina-interview/).
“Unfortunately,” Galyamina says, “even opposition figures frequently support the use of force. For example, Ponomaryov is justifying terrorist acts and Volkov is backing the firebombing of military commissariats. This won’t change the situation and only play into the hands of the powers who propagandize force.”
At the present time, she continues, Russians “aren’t looking to the future, and that’s the problem. I am very sorry that people who oppose the regime don’t believe in Russia and don’t believe that we can change everything. That is demoralizing” but history shows people can change things and that periods of reaction have been followed by periods of liberation.
Moreover, according to the leader of “Soft Force,” despite the lack of attention more recent positive changes often get, they are happening as was importantly the case during the September elections when opposition figures won in 11 places even though they did not do well in Moscow.
She says she can’t be certain that her non-violent approach will work in Russia just now but she is convinced that no other approach has a chance to fundamentally change things; and in support of that conclusion, she cites the experience of Viktor Frankel, a German Jew who spent time in Hitler’s camps.
He pointed out, she says, that “the first people to break down in the concentration camps were those who thought everything would end quickly and also those who thought there was no way out.” Translated into contemporary Russia, this means that we are “doomed” because Russians believe that “nothing good awaits us and nothing can be done.”
At times like this, Galyamina says, “people break down.” But those who recognize that they can make a difference survive and live to fight on. Sometimes they even win.