ISSN 2330-717X

40 Middle Volga Residents ‘Say No To War’ In New Book

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A new book, “Saying No to War,” assembles in one place the statements of 40 people in the Middle Volga region who oppose Putin’s war in Ukraine. It has now been released in 1000 hard copies by its editors, the journalists of the Ideal.Realii portal of Radio Liberty, and will shortly be freely distributed as an e-book.

Below is a lightly edited version of the English translation of the forward to the book. (The book as a whole is in English and Russian.) It not only explains how and why the book came into existence but also why the stories it tells are so important not only for the peoples of the Middle Volga – the Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Mordvins, Mari, Udmurts, and yes, the Russians – but for everyone:

For generations, the Russian regime has transmitted to the citizenry the following, simple piece of advice: Sit and keep quiet.. Be satisfied with what you have. Don’t get involved in politics. The world will go on. And so that people would understand this simple rule better, the authorities had to crank the wheels of repression in a way that would show anyone who was thinking of protesting, just what happened to others who actively came out against the comfort of doing nothing.

Almost everyone in this book remembers what he or she was doing on February 24, 2022, when the repugnant but usual order of things ceased to exist, when the world that they knew had been destroyed, and plans and hopes that had until then been shrouded in a fog of uncertainty and clouded by a caustic, sour smoke. With this new world around them suddenly possible, they began to fight so that it might become accessible to them too.

In the first days and weeks of the war on the streets of Russian cities, protests took place that might not have been as large as many would have liked, but they qualified as mass protests all the same. Out of their inertia, hoping that they would be heard and that they would be able to change something, people experiencing shock, grief, and worn down from feelings of powerlessness, took to the streets to express their own “no” to the crime into which the regime had decided to drag the entire country.

People went out into the streets to see that they were not alone. Such was the motive for many at the end of February and beginning of March. People drew up posters with simple slogans such as “No to war,” and gave each other high-fives at the protests themselves. Heroes came out, people who knew what threat was involved with even minimal civic activity inside the country, where the information autocracy had changed into a dictatorship. All the same, they decided that conscience and justice are worth more than a fine and stronger than the policeman’s club. 

The protest wasn’t broken, but rather dispersed, and its seeds spread from the central squares of the capital to the streets and kitchens throughout the entire country. It became silent, but more massive. If before people who dissatisfied with this or that decision of the authorities, but who were not ready to go out and demonstrate in the streets could placate themselves with the thought that there are people who are ready to take to the streets “for yours and our freedom,” now, those same people, seeing the futility of these most recent mass actions, began to take action however they could.

Their protest actions were devoid of dramatic clashes with the police. However, because of their very ordinariness they began to reach the consciousness of a greater number of citizens, such as in a post or a repost, through some graffiti on a fence or in the passageway, or on a T-shirt; through a lone citizen, standing on the roadside with a poster reading, “I am for peace,” a now-indictable offense. Under threat of arrest, physical violence, fines, deprivation of parental rights, employer, students and citizens of Russia, chose the path of disobedience, of struggle against an intimidating reality and hopelessness into which the regime had thrown them after February 24.

For the first time in recent Russian history, society has been hit by a shock of this magnitude. Each person has reacted and continues to react in various ways. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of Russians have left the country, separating themselves from their homeland forever, or at least WPL – “While Putin Lives.” More than one hundred million remain and have become divided in their reaction to events … Within this group are the millions of those who have remained in Russia, weakened by the apparent futility of changing anything in the country, or of being heard and taken seriously. These are the people who have stopped reading the news, who have “cleaned up” their social media accounts, or who have retreated into themselves. They feel alone in their grief, that there will be no light in the end of the tunnel, and only a fog looms in front of them. 

But the heroes of this book, some 40 of the thousands protesting the war, are inhabitants of the Volga Region and a few neighboring ones. They represent various social strata, religions, nationalities, various professions, and views. Among them are those who “did not take an interest in politics” until February 24 along with very seasoned politicized individuals. Some of the story tellers want to do right by their grandchildren, others have relatives in Ukraine, and still others have no connection with Ukraine, but they are protesting all the same. 

Some now stage individual pickets. Others post commentary on social media or are attempting to change the minds of their family and friends. And all of this comes for one purpose, and that is to stop the criminal war and steer the country from a path, where the final station is the abyss. They fill the lists of those arrested; they are the ones with their faces pushed into the pavement; they are the ones threatened; they and their families are the ones frightened. (As of the end of summer 2022 there were some 16,000 individuals under arrest throughout the Russian Federation). Some of them are awaiting their prison sentence. The individuals whose life stories are recounted in this book, are all experiencing fear, bitterness, anger, but also inspiration. 

In making a conscious choice to protest, they are transitioning into a stage of active opposition. They are fighting to calm their own conscience, unable to accept what the current regime has brought the country to. They are fighting to show others who oppose the situation that they are not alone. And they are fighting to get those who are for the war and the undecided to think about what is happening. But most of all, they are fighting to overcome fear and impotence. And in this they, the 40 in this book and  many others like them besides are succeeding. 

In making a conscious choice to protest, they are transitioning into a stage of active opposition. They are fighting to calm their own conscience, being unable to accept what the current regime has brought the country to. They are fighting to show others who oppose the situation that they are not alone. And they are fighting to get those who are for the war or the undecided to think about what is happening. But most of all, they are fighting to overcome fear and impotence. And in this, they are succeeding.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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