Will humanity in ordinary Russians prevail?

People often ask me which of the several cities around the world that I have travelled to, I like the most. I find it difficult to name one. However, when I reframe the question as “the city that I have been most surprised by” invariably Moscow comes to the top. Let me explain:

First, I must explain my job- I have travelled around the world to study people, cultures and social imagery. The purpose of my travels is to help my clients discover opportunities for creating value in local communities by studying people’s realities and imagination. I call myself an ethnographer of social imagination and a design activist.

In February 2013 a research project took me to Stockholm and Moscow. I wandered around the cities, had conversations with strangers, visited their markets as well as cultural landmarks and conducted interviews with families in their homes.

What fascinated me about Moscow was its people. I realized that my mental model of Russia was constrained by my limited exposure to the history I had read and media propaganda. Whereas, when I visited Moscow without any political agenda, and had heart to heart conversations with ordinary families, I realized how much damage political rhetoric does to our understanding of the world and humanity.

I met some amazing people in Moscow. I also had the opportunity to visit the Strelka Institute, a school of urban and social design, that is known to encourage students to learn social transformation through urban design. A speciality of this institute is its Strelka Bar, that is known as the coolest bar for the creative community of Moscow.

During that project, I made two trips to Moscow and Stockholm and met ordinary people. Their cultures were different but at heart I was able to observe basic human cravings for simple joys of life and willingness to bond with other humans. Other than once being held back from crossing a street when President Putin’s convoy was passing, I did not experience the political atmosphere of the city, except…

when I learned about Pussy Riots. A year prior to my visit the members of the world famous band Pussy Riots staged a performance inside Moscow’s cathedral of Christ the Savior on February 21, 2012, just a few meters away from Strelka. The group’s lyrical themes included feminism, LGBT rights, opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies. After the event the group members were arrested and sent to prison for two years.

I left Moscow realizing that behind the iron curtain of Putin’s rule there still exists a sea of humanity yearning for a life of liberty and creative expression.

As I was surfing the internet today I saw a statement from Pussy Riots rock band:

“sanctions against Kremlin were not solid enough when Putin annexed Crimea in 2014. so he jailed Navalny, turned lives of Pussy Riot and other Russian activists into hell, forced many of us to leave our home behind and run, and now he started a war in Europe. when is enough?”

I thought to myself- Putin does not represent the Russian people I met during my visit. Just as Putin’s massive military force has not deterred the Ukrainians from standing up for their motherland, will the humanity of ordinary Russians and their dreams for living a life of liberty and creative expression lead them to assert their right to peace and dignity? The western sanctions are hurting ordinary Russians more than they are mellowing the madness of the dictator. The solution to this calamity must emerge from the peace loving people of Russia, who must say to Putin- enough is enough.

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