"It's time to pack my bags."
In the wake of this weekend's violent clashes in Moscow, I've heard this idea from a surprisingly large number of friends and acquaintances.
"It's time to change country," read the Facebook status of one fellow journalist. His message didn't call for changes in Russia, but suggested looking for another country of residence. A virtual discussion ensued and many agreed with him. When times get rough, scary or especially unpredictable in Russia, the issue of packing the bags and leaving inevitably comes up.
So should we at least think about it?
To tell the truth, I’ve been asking myself this question for many years.
Almost as long as I remember myself, my parents, my mom in the first place, a gulag-born dissident artist, have been urging me "to do everything to leave this country without a future." At some point, I did find myself living across the Atlantic, becoming rapidly Americanized and making plans to make that country my new home. But circumstances, my personal life and career choices and, of course, this mysterious force some call destiny eventually brought me back. It was some eight years ago, yet throughout all these years I have asked myself many times if I did the right thing by not staying away from Russia — especially since I had more than one opportunity to do so.
Right now I AM actually packing my bags - not to go away, but to come back, after yet another week-long business-&-pleasure tour de force across Europe. Although I have always felt incredibly lucky to be able to travel on the regular basis, I used to really enjoy leaving Moscow (a break from taking the metro during the rush hour, from being stuck in traffic, from watching my countrymen's depressed faces, etc.). But lately, I somehow enjoy coming back much more. Perhaps it's part of getting older and becoming more clear about your roots and priorities. Or it's this wonderfully inspiring feeling of being a citizen of the world that comes from being on the road so often.
Still, not everyone feels the same way I do. "I would be gone yesterday if I only knew I could find a decent job abroad," my good friend, chief editor at a big name women's magazine and a mother of a two-year-old boy, confessed when asked if she would leave Russia should she get an opportunity. She sounded hopelessly grim and alarmed: "Things aren't getting any better in Russia, they're getting worse - we're heading towards a civil war."
"I don't want to grow old in this country as I know the situation from inside out and that doesn't make me feel optimistic," another young woman who works as Russia's government reform consultant for one of the international organizations, said. "It's okay once you earn a nice salary and have a comfortable circle of friends so you can temporarily forget where you live. But this country constantly reminds you of how things really are, in a very troublesome way," said yet another well-established friend, a TV producer who happens to own an American passport. She added that for her, raising kids in Russia is out of the question — she and her husband are thinking of moving to the States at the end of the coming year.
Call me superficial, poorly informed or light-hearted, but despite at times being ashamed for what's going on in Russia, I don't feel that pessimistic. I just don't want to. In fact, I find myself in a curious form of a love-hate relationship with my country. And, like in any co-dependent relationship, I am somewhat addicted to the same things that often drive me crazy here. The adrenaline from not knowing what's going to happen in the nearest future and that sobering feeling that you've got to make the most of today as the opportunities might be not be there tomorrow. The overwhelming satisfaction that solving problems brings in Russia, even if it's rather ridiculous ones like making it to work on time because of having avoided a major traffic jam. The challenging climate that makes you so appreciative of occasional good weather. The sporadic signs of "normalcy," the little things that could easily make your day in Russia: a neighbor who out of the blue said “hello” or smiled to you in the elevator; a stranger who gave a hand when you fell on a slippery sidewalk; a fellow driver on the road who let you pass before them; a newly-opened cozy Parisian-style bakery with a nice selection of fresh baguettes and good coffee for a moderate price... After having lived in several countries and dealt with the problems there (oh yeah, the grass only seems greener in the places where one hasn't actually tried living, not just visiting), I began treating mine more like a relative who's full of defects (who isn't?) but somehow you tolerate and even learn to love them no matter what.
And, contrary, to a growingly bleak outlook, I'd like to believe that Russia's destiny's still an open book. And that the country's well-being, even if it's just a tiniest bit of it, depends on us feeling hopeful and choosing to stay here and simply trying to do our best.
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Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.