Today finishing off this interview, in Komsomolskaya Pravda, with Russian political dissident Alexei Sakhnin. Alexei’s interlocutor is reporter Darya Aslamova who met with Sakhnin in a pub in Stockholm, Sweden. Sakhnin had just finished recounting his rise and fall within the Swedish establishment. As an anti-Putin dissident who had fled from Russia rather than face arrests after the Bolotnaya riots, Sakhnin was more than welcome in Sweden. However, in his greenness, he didn’t realize, at the time, that like every Russian dissident since the time of Prince Kurbsky, emigration extracts an ideological price.
In 1564 Kurbsky became the first official Russian political emigre by defecting from Russia, whilst blowing raspberries back out his ass in the general direction of the tyrant, Ivan the Awesome. In return for asylum in the West, Kurbsky was expected to support the geopolitical goals of his hosts: the Livonians, Poles, or whoever the heck those people were, wearing those great dog-cone ruffs around their necks! Anyhow, the template was set in stone and the rules have never changed since then. Sakhinin, being young and naive, just didn’t understand how the game works. Sakhnin, as a communist (with a little “c”) and a leader of a small communist fringe party, opposed the Putin government from a principled position — i.e., the Russian government is bourgeois, capitalist, serves the interests of the oligarchs, yada yada. He thought the Swedes would respect his sincerity. But in Sweden, it isn’t enough to be anti-Putin; and even the most sincere political beliefs will only buy you a shot of whiskey, not much more.
The Swedish establishment, in truth, didn’t care a fig about Sakhnin’s “leftism” and would not have held that against him, necessarily. However, they did expect him to follow the Westie Party Line in every single molecular detail. Like, he was supposed to be pro-Maidan, pro-Ukrainian Nationalist, anti-Donbass, anti-Crimean Reunification, etc. There was a long laundry list of things he was supposed to be pro- and anti- and he would have been expected to write op-eds on these issues for the Swedish press, all the time supporting the “official” view. This would have made him a successful political emigre just as, if truth be told, Prince Kurbsky ultimately was.
Where we left off in the interview, Darya, like a blunt little brat, pointed out Sakhnin’s obvious failure to “blend into” Swedish society: “Then you are screwed, my friend!” And Sakhnin was forced to agree with that assessment: He can’t stay in Sweden, where he has been branded as a “GRU agent” for telling the truth about the Ukrainian nationalists; nor can he return to Russia without possibly facing jail time for his participation in the Bolotnaya riots.
Darya: Now, I actually understand Poles. We (Russians) and Poles have shared several centuries of mutual contempt and war. And with all of that, I can sit at a table with Poles, drink a glass of vodka and sing Russian songs together. But the Swedes? They have a lot of explaining to do. They assisted Hitler, despite their so-called neutrality. They carried out military tasks for Germany, they provided Germany with raw materials, ores and metals. While Russian was running rivers of blood in the struggle against fascism, the Swedes were growing fat on their neutrality, and then bragged to everyone about their supposed “economic miracle”! And who paid the price?
Alexei: The grandfather of the current (Swedish) king wrote inspirational letters to Hitler. Rah Rah, march on your Holy Crusade against the Jew-Bolsheviks. The Swedish bourgeoisie always looked (favorably) upon Germany, and sent military convoys there. (After the war) painful public discussions were held on the theme, why did we support Hitler? During the war, the government of National Unity, which was headed by the Social-Democrats (!) – compiled lists of Swedish communists. Around 4000 communists were interned in camps. And this was a supposedly neutral country, not a party to the conflict! They even carried out trainings, to prepare for a German invasion.
Darya: I get all of that. But why such hatred for Russia?
Alexei: At the beginning of the 19th century, Russia took Finland away from Sweden. This is a tabu subject for discussion within Sweden, but the wound is still sore. During the Soviet-Finland war, the Swedes had a slogan: “Finland is our business.”
Darya: But in any case, after World War II, Sweden took to socialism, more than any other Western country. It would seem like the USSR should get some credit for that.
Alexei: True. The Social-Democrats came into the government, the Swedes won the right to deep social reforms, but, paradoxically Sweden became even more anti-Soviet than the American conservatives. During the Cold War, Sweden became the most “leftist” country both in its social structure and ideology, but at the same time redeemed itself with the harshest and most principled anti-communism. The local Communist party were a constant threat in the elections, and they had a powerful secret weapon: the USSR.
Darya: So, did the Swedes actually spot our submarines? I have a new acquaintance here who declaimed, with foam on her lips, how her grandma had seen the stern of one our submarines (popping out of the water). So I ask her: How did she recognize it? Was it waving the red flag above the waves? Russian loudspeaker blaring? An inscription: “USSR” on the side? No, she replied. But it looked different from the Swedish submarines. My grandma knows her submarines.
Alexei: Yeah, they’ve been spotting our submarines since the 1980’s. This is the third time that they claim to have found one, but then a careful analysis shows that the boat doesn’t really exist. Some source in the naval service will declare that he will find the submarine. Then the media hysteria starts. One newspaper published a photo of a fisherman who allegedly signals to the Russian sub from the shore. And he turned out to be an ordinary pensioner who lives in his summer cottage and fishes. So he’s browsing the newspapers and sees the headline: “The Russians are here!” And he sees his own photo, standing on the shore in his raincoat. The poor guy almost had an embolism. He runs into the editorial office of the newspaper, they send him away. He runs to the police to file a complaint: “I’m a normal law-abiding guy…” The case faded away, but left its mark.
[Darya and Alexei finally leave the pub and catch a smoke out on the chilly street corner.]
Alexei (in quiet, wistful voice): I’m homesick here, Darya. In Scandinavia, the totalitarian mentality is very widespread. Have you heard about the Law of Jante? They had a writer named Aksel Sandemose, he wrote a book called En flykting krysser sitt spor (A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks), which introduced the Jante Law. The story takes place in the fictional town of Jante, where people live under a series of laws which do not recognize a person’s right to have a personality or any individuality. These are the laws: Don’t think that you’re special; don’t think that you’re smarter and better than the rest of us; don’t laugh at us (in other words, self-irony is excluded as well!); don’t think that you have anything to teach the rest of us. And the final law is just precious: Possibly we know a thing or two about you!
Darya (quietly, after a moment of silence): So, have you found any work here?
Alexei: My career is over. I am no longer to be a journalist. [Smirking]: But I have found some proletarian-type work. I clean up and cook in a refugee center. They don’t pay much. I feel sorry for these African guys. They are not going to find any friends, or a job, or a girlfriend here.
Darya: What about you? Are you going to stay here and clean toilets for the migrants?
Alexei [looking Darya straight in the eye]: I am going to return to Russia no matter what. I live and breathe Russia every minute of the day.
Darya: Will you return even if you have to go to jail?
Alexei: I’m ready to pay, if they find me guilty. So, please write that in your article about me: I want to come home!