Putin's Unintended Unity: Russians Globally Unite in Opposition

Russians Abroad Forge Unprecedented Solidarity in New Era

by Zain ul Abedin
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Putin's Unintended Unity: Russians Globally Unite in Opposition
© Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

For decades, Russians have sought refuge from political oppression under both Soviet and post-Soviet regimes. Escaping in vast numbers, they dispersed globally, long preceding the Ukraine conflict. Yet, it's only now that substantial diaspora communities are forming, a testament to the changing tides of Russian emigration.

Brooklyn's Brighton Beach, often seen as a Russian enclave, actually thrives as a melting pot of Ashkenazi Jewish groups from various ex-Soviet nations. The Russian identity here is complex, often marked by a sense of unease among fellow expatriates.

This tension is deep-rooted in cultural norms, epitomized by a joint Russian saying advocating secretive retaliation against disliked neighbors. The impetus for this newfound unity among Russian exiles is the contentious invasion of Ukraine by President Vladimir Putin, coupled with his rigorous domestic crackdown.

This situation has galvanized Russian activists globally, leading to the emergence of robust communities in countries like Germany, Georgia, Armenia, the UAE, Turkey, France, the U.S., Israel, and Central Asia. These communities are not just social gatherings; they're hubs of humanitarian and political activism, with Russians aiding Ukrainian refugees, engaging in charity, and establishing support networks for fellow exiles.

Unity Against Adversity

Remarkably, even affluent Russians in Miami actively participate, offering donations and volunteer services and hosting Ukrainian families. This is a significant shift from the past, where Russians seldom formed cohesive diasporas.

A notable aspect of this mobilization is the Kremlin's labeling of dissenting voices as "foreign agents," a modern echo of Stalin's "enemies of the people." Ironically, this branding has failed to isolate these individuals but has fostered a stronger sense of community among them.

Highlighting this solidarity, over 150 'foreign agents' will convene at the first "International Congress of Foreign Agents" in Berlin on February 3. Organized by Marat Gelman and other prominent figures, the congress aims to provide legal assistance to those persecuted in Russia and support exiles in their resettlement efforts.

This event represents a collective stand against the Kremlin's policies and a platform to voice opinions on crucial matters like the Ukraine war and the impending presidential elections in Russia. The congress, initiated by activists like Alexander Morozov, a former editor-in-chief and current professor, symbolizes the failure of the Kremlin to win over the expatriate community.

Disillusioned with Putin, these expatriates are now at the forefront of advocating for change.

Diverse Resistance Intensifies

The movement extends beyond political activists to journalists, artists, and human rights defenders.

The documentary film community, represented by figures like Vitalij Manski, actively participates in this resistance, illustrating the diversity and depth of the opposition. This collective uprising is not without its challenges.

Skepticism and the need for a structured approach to actualize projects are evident. Yet, the momentum is undeniable, with various initiatives like Zima and SlovoNovo Forum supporting cultural and artistic endeavors among exiles.

The growing list of those labeled as foreign agents, traitors, or fugitives by Moscow only underscores the widening rift. However, contrary to Putin's assurances, this labeling has not deterred but instead united a significant portion of the Russian diaspora.

As the congress in Berlin approaches, it stands not just as a meeting but as a symbol of defiance and solidarity among Russians worldwide. It's a testament to the resilience and determination of those who oppose the Kremlin's actions and strive for a different future for Russia.

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