Good Russians And Where To Find Them5 min read
Who are “the good Russians” and where do they come from? Why do they want to establish a “passport of a good Russian”? And why does this idea contribute to further splitting the already feeble Russian opposition?
To grasp this phenomenon, we need to go to Vilnius. On May 20, the city hosted the II Anti-War Conference as part of the Free Russia Forum, created after the start of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. Its organisers and speakers were well-known political emigrants: chess player Garry Kasparov, businessmen Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Evgeny Chichvarkin, former Deputy Prime Minister Alfred Koch, and others who have been living in exile for many years.
The speakers proposed the creation of a special document to identify a “good Russian”. According to Garry Kasparov, to obtain such a certificate, one needs to sign an anti-war declaration first. The declaration has not yet been released, but the plan for it is to feature three points:
1) the war in Ukraine is unlawful;
2) Putin’s regime is not legitimate;
3) I/we recognize the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
In theory, a signed declaration gives access to the document, referred to as a passport, and this passport gives access to the benefits blocked by the recent sanctions.
The initiators think that this document is necessary for finding a modus operandi with the Western authorities to solve the problems of those Russians who are against this war and are struggling from double sanctions: repressions in Russia and numerous limitations abroad.
Hell is paved with good intentions
So, are the good Russians only those who have the opportunity to sign this unofficial document invented by Garry Kasparov in the hope that the European authorities will someday recognize it? What about the rest of the Russians? And what about those activists who have decided to stay in the country in order to promote anti-war initiatives from within, and not from a privileged position in Europe?
It seems that noble, at first glance, intentions have turned into another form of segregation among the Russian opposition. The “passport of a good Russian” phrase quickly went viral and turned into a meme. People actively criticise and ridicule the initiative. As much as it is clear that Putin’s henchmen did not like the idea, neither did large parts of the Russian opposition and Ukrainians.
The discontent was envisaged in statements issued by the opposition. They openly blame all those who stayed in Russia, not realising that “mere mortals” may not have the opportunity to flee. You either escape the country and are thus deemed good, or you stay and bear double guilt for all of Putin’s crimes, even if you are an anti-war activist in the anti-war movement.
Unsurprisingly, this false dichotomy pitted people against each other. Such ideas incited even more quarrels between Russian politicians residing in Europe and the people of Russia. Two warring camps formed. Those who decided and managed to leave Russia after February 24th and those who chose or could not leave are opposed to each other now.
The idea of the passport did not correlate with dropping the imperial mindset of some opposition leaders despite their long residence outside of Russia. For example, at the Vilnius conference, Evgeny Chichvarkin said: “Russians will save the Turkish economy and the collapse of the lira only because they flooded Istanbul now.”
But still, what are they, those good Russians?
Only those Russians who have left the country will be able to sign this declaration because, for those who are in the country, the benefits of this signature are doubtful, and the potential costs are very tangible.
Economist Maxim Mironov said: “Many now want to leave, but only those who are relatively wealthy by Russian standards can (whether wealth is measured in money or in having an international profession). Poor people, and even the majority of the middle class, cannot leave Russia for economic reasons. Hence, a “good Russian” is, foremost, a rich Russian.”
The initiative comes from a group of politically prominent and financially successful men who left Russia many years before the start of the full-scale invasion. Many of them seem detached and far from understanding the realities of contemporary Russia, in which half of the people not only cannot afford a ticket to another country but also have no savings at all.
Additionally, there is the old expression “good German” that comes to mind. That is what American soldiers in post-war Germany ironically called the Germans, who, according to them, “knew nothing” about the crimes of the Nazis: they worked honestly, raised children, and defended the country from enemies. This similarity makes the phrase “good Russians” seem even more gloomy.
A unifying strategy is needed
In these new, ever-challenging conditions, there is a need for alternative coping strategies. In the case of “a good Russian passport”, it seems that egoism has prevailed. As much as solving the practical problems of the Russian immigrants needs to be on the to-do list, the priority should be stopping the war and helping Ukraine. It will make sense to look into this issue only after the victory of Ukraine.
The case of the passport points to another important phenomenon: the Putin regime is so strong partly because of the Russian citizens are extremely disunited. In times like these, introducing such a controversial idea is only helping the Kremlin pursue its policies.
Now more than ever, the Russian opposition and those who are against this war need to unite around similar ideas and priorities. Doing so will allow them to direct all resources to the same aims – assistance to Ukraine, distribution of anti-war materials, and civil resistance to Putin’s regime within and outside of Russia.
Only time will tell whether Russia’s diverse and segregated opposition will be able to find common ground. Perhaps drawing conclusions from this “passport of a good Russian” initiative will turn out useful in this regard.