Vasilisa Borzova: "Perhaps the arrival of Navalny could change things.

"There is no space for public discussion in Russia. People are extremely atomized, they don't find the means to express their own opinions. Vasilisa is 24 years old. Muscovite. Graduated from Philological Faculty of Moscow State University. She went to Shaninka, where she is studying for her master's degree in political philosophy. For several years Vasilisa was an activist of the "Political Space" project - an initiative aimed at developing political discussion in Russia. After February 24th Vasilisa left for Armenia. There, together with some friends, she launched Etos, a project of humanitarian assistance for people affected by war. Vasilisa talks about human solidarity and the importance of civic education in a new series of the "Eyewitnesses" project.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Vasilisa, I'm from Moscow, I studied at the Philharmonic Department of Moscow State University, graduated in the nineteenth year, and went to Shaninka, and studied political philosophy, and I continue to study now, in the second year of my master's degree. Before the war, I was involved in organizing political discussions. There was this project called The Space of Politics. It still exists; it's a bit reformatted now, but it still exists. We did, did, open discussions, where you could come and talk to people of different views.

Why do we need civic education?

In Russia, in my opinion, I think, in the opinion of the people who also did this project with me, there is not enough space for public discussion. People are extremely atomized, they find no means of expressing their opinions and no opportunity to influence the political situation around them. And in order to somehow engage in politics and influence politics, one must first of all learn to talk about it. We have tried to show that politics is not a monster, it is not the dirty business of some people somewhere up there. Politics is you and me, it's what happens to us, it's the important issues that we face every day, and it's very important to learn to discuss them with each other and find joint solutions. 

Your first thoughts and feelings on February 24?

I can't say that the first one was a shock, because my shock actually came on February 22, when Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin made a direct address to the citizens of Russia. This is a moment that is remembered less often, but, in fact, for me it was very impressive, because there was so much hatred in that speech that it was absolutely clear that war was starting, but it was impossible to realize it. And so when I woke up on February 24 and saw a huge number of messages from my friends that war had started, I wasn't amazed or surprised, there was just some sense of numbness, of shock. On that day, I was supposed to be dealing with some administrative issues related to the project. We got together with a colleague to do a report. And we ended up thinking about the action against the war, and on the same day we went out in the evening to shoot some places related to Ukraine and Ukrainian culture, where we put up signs against the war. I had no appetite or sleep for about two or three days. We were just in the close company of friends 24 hours a day, with whom we went out to rallies together and didn't understand what was going to happen next. Just a feeling of being out of time and space. 

Does the protest make sense?

Of course there is, you should always try and try to make a difference. 

And we tried to do something about it. I think that Belarus, for example, is often remembered as such a disappointing experience for many, but it seems to me that this is a very important experience of solidarity, when the society was able to break the spiral of silence, and the Belarusians saw and understood that there are the same people around, who do not accept what is happening. Yes, they cannot influence the situation now, but they have some minimal point of solidarity, which, unfortunately, was not formed in Russia. 

Why did you leave Russia?

Because there came a certain line that was very important to me. I've always determined for myself the moment when I can't be here, I don't think it's very meaningful-if I can't express my opinion. You can't say you're against the war openly, even winking wouldn't work very well. 

Why do so many people support the war?

Most people don't understand what's going on. I don't believe the sociological data concerning how many people in Russia support the war. Because, we have the same sociology in Belarus, which showed incredibly successful results in favor of Lukashenko right before the election. 

Why did the government so easily suppress dissenters?

Because this has been happening slowly and consistently over the past 15-20 years, starting with the NTV story and ending with what we have now, when there are no independent media left in Russia. For many Russians, at least for me, it was somewhat of a shock to find myself in Armenia, a country that is not a model of democracy, and to feel much-much more free here than in Russia.

What do you do in Yerevan?

When I was in Armenia, I realized that there was no humanitarian aid for Ukrainians who had come here, and that such a project was very much in demand here, because many Russians came to Armenia, and they too feel some kind of frustration at the fact that they cannot have any influence on the events taking place, they really want to help. I tried to create a project that would meet the needs of both. "ETHOS" is aimed at humanitarian aid to those affected by the war in Ukraine and Artsakh. There are four thousand Ukrainians who arrived here just in the first month of the war and are still arriving, there are victims of the war, which continues here and never ended. 

How many people have gone through this project?

If we talk about volunteers, I think it's about two hundred. If we talk about donors, it's impossible to count, but there are a lot of people, if we talk about those who receive help, it's several hundred families. I think 300-400 people.

What's wrong with Russia?

I think what happened to Russia could happen, in fact, to any society, and we know such examples, and it's not just Germany. We have cases of mass crimes that have not yet been understood. If we talk, for example, about the history of Armenia, it is the Armenian genocide. For Turkey, for Turkish society, for example, the problem of the Armenian genocide, it is not comprehended, but it is also a mass crime against humanity. There is no special problem of the Russians here, here, it seems to me, there are some structural problems arising in a society in which there are problems with freedom of expression, and problems with the public space and the conduct of political discussion. 

Does Russia Have a Future?

I do not really understand how a society in which political and social institutions have been consistently destroyed over the past few decades, and before that they were not formed either, how they can be formed in an intensive way in it. I think it will be a very long process, and the most favorable scenario for Russia is if there is any change in the political structure in Russia, there will be some kind of smooth democratization. Perhaps the arrival of Navalny could make a difference. We have a strong political leader who has a very different idea of how power should be organized. Perhaps this would be a positive scenario for Russia. 

Will you go back to Russia?

I would really like to go back to Russia. Lately I feel that I miss it. The people, the culture are some very weighty part of me, and it would be extremely difficult for me to feel completely comfortable in any other place. If the government changes, I will definitely come back.

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