Russian immigrants share a love of Seattle, but are divided on politics


Young people from former Soviet Union countries share their impressions of Seattle (Produced by Valeria Koulikova in a UW Communication Dept video workshop)

I’m proud to be one of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Russia and Post-Soviet Republics currently living in Washington State.

I’ve been in Seattle for over seven years now and I’ve met a lot of fellow immigrants. We’ve built friendships and helped each other preserve our cultural values. One thing almost everyone has in common is a love for the Pacific Northwest.

But no matter which country they come from, modern Russian politics have always been a sensitive subject. Disagreements over political issues–especially opinions about Vladimir Putin–have even created tensions between strangers and friends.

There was never much doubt that Putin would come back and run for a third term as president.

But this time around he was not exactly welcomed back with open arms by all of Russia (or the rest of the world). Instead was met with opposition and protests.

After 12 years in power, Vladimir Putin looms large over all aspects of Russian life. Here a cardboard cutout of him is displayed near the Kremlin in Moscow. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

After 12 years in power, Vladimir Putin looms large over all aspects of Russian life. Here a cardboard cutout of him is displayed near the Kremlin in Moscow. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Russian-speaking immigrants in Seattle tend to divide evenly in their opinions of the current Russian government. Some don’t want to have anything to do with their former motherland, if asked, will almost always speak negatively of Russia.

Others, after moving to the US, still care deeply about what happens in Russia and Post-Soviet republics and oppose the current government. They strongly believe that protests against President Putin were a positive thing because they finally gave Russian people a voice.

“I don’t expect that peaceful protests are going to change anything in the short term but they demonstrate that Russian people have changed and are able to openly express their political opinions,” said Sergey Mozharov, a 28 year old research associate at the UW who is originally from Russia. “It gives me some hope that Russia has a chance for a better future and Russian people deserve a more responsible government.”

Then there are those who believe that the protests of the last couple years are not going to help Russia. They think that the country has been through too many revolutions over the course of its history and another one could set back the country even further than the infamous period in the 90s following the collapse of communism.

The opposition leaders are comprised of a blogger, a scandalous celebrity, and a world famous chess player. Would you let your country be run by people who have no idea how a democratic government should be run?

Since 2011, young people have rallied against Putin and the Russian government in a series of protests, but his base of support remains fairly strong both in Russia, and amongst Russian-immigrants in the Northwest. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Since 2011, young people have rallied against Putin and the Russian government in a series of protests, but his base of support remains fairly strong both in Russia, and amongst Russian-immigrants in the Northwest. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Even the people who believe that Putin should step down admit that there is no worthy alternative at the moment.

Some of my friends are very optimistic about Putin’s return. And they’re not just Russians. Aleksandr Dinh, a 20 year old senior at the University of Washington, grew up in Ukraine. His family later moved to Vietnam and a few years ago he came to Seattle to study business. He does not get to go to Ukraine too often but when he does he says loves it.

“Countries like Ukraine still have a lot of potential in the future if government provides a safe and fair environment for business,” Dinh said. “Ukraine has been suffering through multiple costly elections that did not clear out the mess in the nation. Thus, I believe people in Ukraine wish to have a leader just as good as Putin.”

The Pussy Riot scandal, on the other hand, is a very difficult issue to have a clear opinion on. The majority of the people I have spoken to are against the band’s imprisonment. However, they do believe that performing half naked and cursing in a church was out of bounds.

“In my opinion, we can’t put those girls in jail for what they did because it’s not a criminal violation,” said Victor Litovkin, a 31 year-old who moved here from Russia. “I’m not saying they did a good thing; obviously they made a huge mistake in their life. I hope they will understand that very soon.”

Buttons expressing support for jailed punk-activist band Pussy Riot were popular at an anti-Putin protest in Moscow last September. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Buttons expressing support for jailed punk-activist band Pussy Riot were popular at an anti-Putin protest in Moscow last September. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Orthodox Church is a very important part of Russian culture and by desecrating the holy place they have not only insulted religious people but also showed their true moral values. They wanted to get the attention of the mass media and in that respect they succeeded.

Being around Russian-speaking immigrants here, and visiting Russia myself in the last couple of years, it seems that the opinions regarding Putin are split pretty evenly amongst the population, both here and in Russia.

From what I have personally seen, the country is doing better since Putin has come to power in 2000s. I honestly (some might say naïvely), believe Putin has done great things for the country and the standard of living has improved. More people are able to go on vacation, buy new cars, and get a good education.

Are there governmental and civic problems that need to be fixed? Most definitely.

Should he finally step down, let his legacy live and let someone else in power?

Perhaps.

But I do not see anyone on the horizon right now who could possibly take his place and not exacerbate the current situation.

 

Generation Putin, an hour-long radio special on young people and politics in the former-Soviet Union airs Monday, January 28th on KUOW. Or you can listen online here

Valeria Koulikova is a journalism student at the University of Washington. Being Russian and a proud member of the international community of Seattle, she is excited to pursue writing and multimedia career in international journalism.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This was an excellent article. I’d like to interview the author for a similar story I’m doing that investigates the Russian perspective on their regional issues from within the Seattle community. How can I contact the author?

  2. According to the article, Russian-speaking immigrants in Seattle:
    1) don’t want to have anything to do with their former motherland
    2) still care deeply about what happens in Russia; strongly believe that protests against Putin were a positive thing
    3) believe that the protests of the last couple years are not going to help Russia

    Authors, where is my group?
    I love Russia no matter what. I know Putin is capable and deserves to keep this position, leader of the huge and multicultural territory. Who told you that democracy is something that everybody’s goal? Let other nations live like they want and do not judge, do not bother and do not criticize another’s countries regimes. Nobody gave you such rights; there were never ever the world leader competitions; however, you behave like they were and you won them.

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