Senior Advisor for peacebuilding NGO International Alert
Larisa Sotieva is a peacebuilding and humanitarian expert with over 20 years’ experience working in academia, research and NGOs in the former Soviet Union. At present, she is a Senior Advisor for peacebuilding organisation International Alert.
Thinking about the legacy of the USSR, I never cease to be amazed at the professionalism with which Communist propaganda permeated every walk of life. Ideology worked on all levels, touching everything, manipulating people's deepest emotions, consciousness and sense of identity.
During a visit to a summer camp for children affected by the conflict in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, I met a boy close to the frontline who had made a drawing of a tree, on top of which he drew a house with a family. When asked why the house was in the tree top and wouldn't it fall down in the wind, the boy confidently assured me 'no', the house is strong and secure. I later found out that this boy's dog had been killed by a landmine.
In the early hours of Saturday 2 April, a military escalation erupted on the Nagorny Karabakh line of contact, on a scale not seen since 1994. While the breakfast news reported on Palmyra, on who is planning to restore which monuments, the disturbing news broke about this old, yet now new conflict, that overnight saw dozens of people killed.
It occurred to me that when he had got on the train, he instinctively gravitated closer towards me, another human being, to share his evening. We humans are social animals, and contact with others is very important to us. Having sat down opposite me, he ate his dinner and enjoyed his daughter's laughter in my company.
I love talking to children. They are so unaffected and they can tell you so much more about a society, and in a much more nuanced way, than famous politicians, experts, journalists, and the like. They are even better than taxi drivers who tend to provide such a deconstruction of the social and political life of their country that sometimes I want to say to them - please, take me back to the airport!
Recently, Russian socio-political discourse has been buzzing on a new topic, widely discussed in Russian society and by experts, but less so by the political elite and by international experts. The topic of discussion is rather significant and serious, and could mark the beginning of a new trend in the relationships between Chechnya and Russia, Chechnya and the Kremlin, and Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus.
When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is read the news. I scan as many sources as I can depending on the time I have available. Many years of doing this have convinced me that nothing is written without a reason. It is as the Russian poet Mayakovsky wrote, that even if the stars are lit, it means someone needs it.
In places like the Vladikavkaz market, informal communities who have no idea what NGOs are may prove themselves much stronger and more dynamic in the defence of their interests than the marginalised NGOs themselves, which Russia attacks in a Cervantian manner reminiscent of tilting at windmills.
I do not want to sound cynical in suggesting that human life has a price. It is priceless as far as I am concerned. But this is a world that is not of my making. It operates according to rules that are sometimes quite absurd, and whether we agree or not, there is a societal consensus that human life, too, has a price.
I have always admired the expressiveness of the Russian language. Popular turns of phrase that have become enshrined in everyday language reveal quite colourfully Russians' attitudes towards themselves and ongoing events. In particular I am struck by the way Russians reflect on failure with easy humour, as captured in the phrase 'they hoped for better, but it turned out as usual'.
The Sochi Olympic Games are taking place in a region of tightly interwoven conflicts, the roots of which lie as much in contemporary military, political and social upheaval and the post-soviet geo-politics as in historical events and their various interpretations among different Russian and Caucasian populations...
10/02/2014 12:10 GMT
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