“I don’t need to be released. The people I know don’t need to be released either. And if you love, as you say, your homeland, then just stop.”
Homeland is in this case Hong Kong. The quote is from a letter to the editor of the South China Morning Post, an English-language international newspaper there, about people who recently emigrated and today are planning some kind of action around the world with the call to “Liberate Hong Kong.” It seems to be not our story? Yes, just like ours.
Here are a couple more lines from the letter, like: “Do you want to destroy Hong Kong simply because you left it? <…> Enough damage has already been done by radical actions, and a new security law was needed to restore order. It’s time for reconciliation and restoration, for the sake of a normal human life. As for those who left Hong Kong, <…> leave us alone.”
We are not interested in how many people left this territory after the failure of mass protest pogroms in 2019 and the introduction of that same security law (actually, there are not many of them). The situation is essentially normal, in many countries there are both protests and the departure of the losers to emigrate.
But let’s see what Hong Kong and Russia have in common. It seems to be nothing. Although… The past troubles of Hong Kong occurred because some part of its inhabitants could not get rid of the notion that their colonial past (until 1997) made the local population special, different from other China. Was Russia after 1991, if not a colony, then a cultural semi-colony of the West? No, but people who would like to make it that way have existed and still exist.
As for political emigration, Hong Kong has a parallel with Russia – and this is not so much even today as the “swamp winter” of 2011-2012. Although even today “departed” is an acute issue for us. Especially when it comes to people from our literature, theater, show business. Until now, screams are flying after them: you are not a cultural elite, and there were no one before, and now even more so. And the radicals record all or some of them as national traitors.
And here we look at the main feature of the letter in the South China Morning Post. It is calm. No screams, no hatred: just leave us alone, we left – and it’s good.
And this despite the fact that the Chinese as a nation are very emotional, especially when patriotic feelings are affected. This is noticeable even in the emigrants in the third or fourth generations, they may have a very negative attitude towards the Beijing authorities, but they are patriots of the Chinese nation. And here we are reading a letter from a man who does not send any curses to those who have left and does not want anything from them at all.
Returning to Russian affairs: here, perhaps, it is necessary to understand that poets, musicians, actors and others touch upon the most tremulous thing – human emotions. Therefore, resentment at their current actions, statements, and even just leaving with incomprehensible goals is from strong feelings in return: I believed you so much, but you…
No, they are not all “nobody”, many are part of our great culture, the voices of their generation. It just so happened that they were there, and we, fortunately, were not.
Let me tell you a very personal story. Since childhood, I did not like Vysotsky, but I loved Okudzhava. This is understandable: art – it all stands on the consonance of spiritual strings, that is, on style. And for me, it was Okudzhava (of course, among many others) who was the one whose quiet voice soothed, awakened the best, gave strength to move on.
And then there was 1993. And it so happened that I ended up on the side of Khasbulatov and the Supreme Soviet, and not on the side of Yeltsin and his company. I’ve been to the White House, talked to very different and nice people from there. For the most part, as today, he spoke and wrote, he didn’t walk along the corridors with a machine gun, to each his own. And the situation escalated, approaching October 1993, with firing from tank guns at the parliament and many dead around it. To be honest, the fact that I am alive today is called luck, because everything could have gone differently.
And then, at the peak of these events, comes the infamous “letter of forty-two” of our cultural figures – yes, culture; prominent, famous, and so on. This letter is better known under the heading “Crush the reptile.” And among these 42 signatures, I see the name of Bulat Okudzhava.
And so I look at this signature, look and think: what is it? The reptile is me in this case. The man who yesterday sang to me “I will bury the grape seed into the warm earth” today calls on me to kill.
You know, someone after all can be offended by this.
And I was offended. For fifteen years after that, I could not hear Okudzhava’s voice – it just made me spin.
And now these cultural figures of ours, who have left and are saying something like that, they did it to themselves. They themselves made it so that a very large part of those who used to listen to them, now cannot listen. Offended, you know.
You can talk a lot about the relationship a writer, or a musician, or a poet has with his state or society. But the main link here is between him and his listener and reader. They themselves created this bundle, they themselves are now responsible for what they have done.
Yes, but what happened when those fifteen or so years were up? I was going up the escalator from the Chistye Prudy metro station and heard a voice. Not Okudzhava himself – someone just read the lyrics of his songs as poetry. And I heard this: “Let’s live, indulging each other in everything, especially since life is so short.”
And then I forgave him everything. And life became easier. What I wish for everyone else.