Andrei quickly backs up and says he personally has nothing against homosexuality: “It's
just that you destroy a society when all of a sudden you invent something new. Something
gets imposed by the mass media. And a country's people can lose their sense of purpose.”
I'm beginning to understand Andrei better—and I admit it's disappointing me. I know
Russians are averse to change. The anger and fear that Russians felt toward Mikhail
Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin for driving the country into economic paralysis was well re-
ported. But somehow, challenging Andrei, a man who seems so close to appreciating demo-
cratic values, and hearing him recoil, hearing him express fear, underscores the complexity.
“Gorbachev and Yeltsin,” Andrei says, just as I'm thinking about them. “They destroyed
Now Viktor Gorodilov offers that well-known Russian signal that the serious conversa-
tion must end: alcohol. He pours shots of cognac. We end up drinking the afternoon away,
laughing together in this hardscrabble Russian village. But I know Andrei has given me a
lot to think about.
“David,” Viktor says, pouring the second round of shots. “Russians really are optimists.
But there's a proverb. It goes like this: 'Think about bad things. The good things will come
on their own.'”
Think about bad things. The good things will come on their own .
What does this mean? I am in a room full of people who don't like Putin. They see their
country as corrupt, and without a fair system of justice. And yet their patience is astound-
ing. The good things will come on their own.
Father and son have a few more questions about America before the cognac sets in.
“Twenty years ago,” Viktor says, “if I had told you that in twenty years, America would
have a black president, would you have believed me?”
“I would have,” I tell him. Viktor's point seems to be that positive change comes with
time. The thought I'm left with is how many Americans had to fight for that change. They
didn't just wait.
We drink, and laugh, and drink some more for hours. There is nowhere in Russia I feel
warmer than in this snowy village. Finally, in midafternoon, Sergei and I thank our host
and say good-bye to Viktor. We step outside as Andrei spends a few minutes talking to
his dad. The streets are so quiet—the kind of eerie silence that follows a big snowstorm,
before people have come out to inspect the damage and shovel. I am standing in this vil-
lage, thinking about how many villages just like this dot the hills around Ekaterinburg, and
dot the Urals region, and dot this vast country. Hidden, struggling communities, each with
its own set of challenges largely ignored by the government. Suddenly Andrei's fight for
justice seems smaller, less consequential. Sergei, looking down a street covered with snow
and dirt, seems as contemplative—and buzzed—as I am. “If this government would just
work . They should build the roads in this village. The government should operate well.”