The Trrinity, Andrei Rublev, 1411 or 1425-27
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
I have known many Russias.
I have been entranced by almost all of them.
My first Russia was about sputnik blasting into space.
In its wake, I took my first Russian lessons,
a pimpled adolescent, many moons ago -
not understanding much about anything
but sensing that Russia would be my lodestar.
My second Russia had me supporting refugees
of mixed marriage from Russia’s rich mosaic,
preparing those who disembarked from the Israel-bound planes in Vienna
for ostensibly fairer parts - the USA, Canada, South Africa and the like -
where their identity might still be an issue, but not a defining one.
In my next Russia I was at NATO
where I participated in discussions
about the meaning of Gorbachev’s ongoing strategic striptease
with a stressed Secretary General.
NATO was not rudderless; it was however confused.
And then I was visiting the country for the first time
representing NATO at one of the initial encounters
where former East-West enemies could meet as ostensible equals,
seeking a dialogue that I thought to be mutually supportive.
This is also where I met a family that would later become mine.
My last Russia is the most challenging one.
It seeks revenge for its defeat in the Cold War
- a gentle one if ever there has been one in war -
a Russia that is militarising
in response to purported Western efforts to encircle it
that champions a passé social agenda as its flag of modernism
that seeks to become the point of reference for all that is Russian anywhere.
This is a Russia
that feels it has wind in its sails
a license to act as it wishes in the former Soviet space
- sneakily to be sure, at least for the time being -
but also beyond its borders, and perhaps even well beyond.
This Russia that I do not love
has embarked on adventures condemned to failure -
of this I am sure.
This Russia will create havoc abroad and at home
as it continues on its treacherous path.
Russians deserve another Russia,
a Russia that promotes the ingenuity of its population
not just that which lies beneath the ground,
a Russia that abandons self-seeking games
for a constructive role in its neighbourhood.
A Russia that looks beyond its region
to find its fitting place in the world,
a Russia that is more about its people
than about its elite,
a Russia that is at peace.