We often hear that
Russians don’t want freedom. That they aren’t ready for it. That they’ve never had it and wouldn’t know how to use it. That all they need is a
strong hand and a stern whip. The people who push such stereotypes prefer to forget the inconvenient facts like the fact that Russia introduced universal suffrage before Britain or Germany or America. And they certainly like to forget that when the Russian
people could actually choose in a more or less free election, between dictatorship and democracy, they always chose democracy. In 1906, when the constitutional democrats trounced autocratic parties in the first Duma election. In a Constituent Assembly vote of 1917,
when Bolshevik usurpers lost to proponents of a parliamentary republic. In the presidential election of 1991,
when pro-democracy leader Boris Yeltsin defeated the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
by 57 percent to 17. That year it took Russians more than the ballot box to gain their freedom. Two months after the
election, in August 1991 hardliners in the Kremlin attempted a coup d’etat
to restore the old ways. The leaders of that coup had everything at their disposal or at least they seemed to. They had control of the government and Party apparatus, the military, the police and the KGB’s overwhelming
machine of repression. All television channels,
newspapers, and radio stations as they had tanks, which
they sent into Moscow. Russian citizens, Muscovites,
who refused to accept that coup were not armed with anything
except their dignity and their determination
to defend their freedom. And so they went into the streets
in their 10s and hundreds of thousands and stood in front of the tanks
and the tanks stopped and turned away. This was my first
conscious political memory. I was 10 years old at the time, too young to join my
father on the barricades by the Moscow White House, but certainly old enough to grasp and understand the lesson of what was happening. That, however strong a dictatorship, when the people are prepared to stand up for their freedom all that strength becomes meaningless. It was a powerful lesson and it will stay with me for as long as I live. Today, as we’re about to enter the 20th year of another Kremlin dictatorship the deck is once again
firmly stacked in its favor. Or at least it seems to be. The regime employs the full might of the state
to bear down on its opponents. The police, the courts,
and the prosecutors use bogus charges to place
opposition activists behind bars. According to the Memorial
Human Rights Center today there are nearly 200 political and religious prisoners in Russia. Here are just some of them. Oleg Sentsov a Crimean film director who protested against the annexation. Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubrovik Moscow teenagers arrested
on extremism charges for participating in an
online opposition chatroom. Oyub Titiev and Yuri Dmitriev,
regional leaders of Memorial Russia’s leading human
rights organization now designated by the
government as a foreign agent. Stanislav Zimovets an activist who participated
in an anti-corruption rally. And Alexei Pichugin the remaining hostage of the Yukos case, who after 15 years is Russia’s longest-serving, political prisoner. State television rails
against Kremlin opponents denouncing us as traitors
and a fifth column. Elections have turned
into a meaningless ritual with opposition candidates
often disqualified from the ballot and voting
marred by intimidation and fraud. For more than a decade now, the Russian parliament has been devoid of any real opposition.
“Not a place for discussion,” in the unforgettable
words of its own speaker. This artificially-created
image of unanimity has been used by the Kremlin to claim
near-universal public support in Russia for Vladimir Putin and his policies.
86 percent, they tell us. Too often, this has been repeated by
international commentators. But it is not true. A government that is
founded on genuine support does not need to jail its opponents,
falsify its elections, or censor its television. The true worth of this
fake unanimity was shown when Vladimir Putin
launched his war on Ukraine and 10s of thousands of people
walked through the streets of Moscow in protest despite the pressure, despite the intimidation,
despite the hysterical propaganda. The long line of Muscovites
who came to say no to Mr. Putin’s war
stretched for miles down the Boulevard Ring, from Pushkin
Square to Sakharov Avenue. And when those of us in front
had reached the end point people were still lining up
to go through metal detectors at the beginning. That march was led by Boris Nemtsov,
the leader of Russia’s pro-democracy opposition who dedicated his life to the struggle for a freer, more democratic, and more hopeful Russia. A former deputy prime minister,
one-time heir to the Russian presidency Nemtsov could have easily chosen to settle for a quiet and comfortable existence under the present regime. Or at least for safety in exile. But he cared about Russia too much
to watch its future being destroyed by authoritarians, kleptocrats,
and so he chose to stay and fight and in the end he gave
his life to that fight. On February 27th, 2015,
Boris Nemtsov was killed by five bullets in the back as he walked home
across a bridge in front of the Kremlin. When all else fails when the threats and
the smears don’t work they use bullets
as their final argument. But we will not be afraid. We know that there are
many people in Russia today who reject the corruption,
authoritarianism, and aggression that have become the hallmarks
of the present regime. I meet these people as
I go around the country as part of my work
with Open Russia a political movement that seeks
to restore the rule of law accountable government,
and democratic elections. Our work is mainly with the young people,
the new generation of democratic activists. Through our training
and education programs through projects aimed at encouraging
political participation and civic engagement we want to empower them and
help them become active and informed citizens. We want to help them gain
the experience they will need when they face the task
of building a new Russia on the ruins of yet another
authoritarian system. As part of this experience-building,
we’re running candidates in elections all over the country.
Not to win, because that is impossible. But to learn how to campaign,
how to walk door to door how to organize local activists, speak at rallies,
and publish newspapers. Like the famed Soviet
pianist, Rudolf Kehrer who spent 13 years in internal exile,
practicing on a pretend keyboard he had carved out of a plank of wood,
just so his fingers wouldn’t forget. We are helping these
activists prepare for the time when they will be able
to do the real thing. And they are the
wiser for it. Many of them have
come under pressure some losing their jobs,
others being targeted by police raids and criminal prosecution,
but they will not back down. We will not back down. We will continue our work,
whatever the obstacles they put in our way. I can speak to this from
personal experience. Twice in the
past three years, in 2015 and again last
year, both times in Moscow I experienced symptoms of severe poisoning,
that left me with multiple organ failure in a coma
in a life support. It was certainly
intended to kill. Both times, doctors told my wife that they estimated the chance of survival at about five percent. The message was clear enough,
but so is my response now for the
second time: you will not see us run,
you will not see us hide you will not see
us give up. As Boris Nemtsov
always said “This is our country, we
have to fight for it.” Of our friends in the democratic world,
we ask only one thing. please stay true to your values. We’re not asking for your support.
It is our task to change Russia and we will do it ourselves. The only thing we ask from you
is that you do not support Mr. Putin by treating him as a respectable and
worthy partner on the international stage and by allowing his cronies to use your countries
as havens for their looted wealth. And please stop falling for that lie
that Russians are somehow uniquely unsuited or not ready for freedom. We are suited. We are ready. And we will get there,
just like you. Over the past
year and a half 10s of thousands of people
have taken to the streets all across Russia
to voice their protest at the pervasive corruption,
the lack of accountability and the sheer arrogance of
the same small group of people that has now been in power
for nearly two decades. These rallies took place in
more than 200 towns and cities, large and small
across 11 time zones from the Baltic to the Pacific. And the vast majority of those
who came were young people university and high school students,
many in their late teens and early 20s. They are literally
the future of Russia. They are the people who grew up
or were born under Vladimir Putin and they are increasingly
saying enough. And there isn’t much Mr. Putin
will be able to do about that. For now, he’s doing the usual. Sending his riot police
and his national guard to disperse, and beat up,
and arrest his own citizens. But they’re not afraid,
and they will be back. Because in the end,
however strong the pressure when enough people are willing
to stand up, they succeed. And then the tanks stop
and turn away.


  • Such a courageous cause! God, please protect the cause of righteousness and freedom, and grant these true saints the strength needed to fight off and justify truth and grant them a reclamation in Russia away from the unlawful and evil doers that now pervert and deceive its people. Well said Vladimir Vladimiravich! Thank God such people exist!

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