I point out that many people in the United States lost jobs and struggled through the
economic crisis, and Sergei doesn't deny that. But his wish for socialism as the solution
fascinates me. He doesn't want a less intrusive government—in fact, he wants government
to be more involved, just more responsive to the needs of the people.
“You know, we had our chance in perestroika. The setup of our society changed. That
was our moment to develop some kind of democracy. Instead our economy was converted
in a way that just put bribes in the hands of officials—right into their pockets.”
Bribes are a way of life, he says. If you're recovering from surgery in the hospital and
want your bedsheets changed? Bribe. Want an appointment with your kids' teacher? Bribe.
Need your car inspected sooner? Bribe. Want the paperwork to open a new business actu-
ally processed by the local authorities? Bribe.
“They began a new society, just not with the right people,” Sergei says. “We need to
start from scratch. Putin lost his moment to establish a national idea. The idea was going to
be to fight corruption.”
“So now you're looking for a new national idea?”
“Who's looking for it?” Sergei says, throwing his hands up—briefly—before returning
them to the wheel. “We won't be able to get out of this. We have a cancer.”
We have a cancer.
I'm now really into this conversation. Sergei seems tired, but is dutifully translating for
me, which I appreciate, especially after I told him I wanted to avoid any deep interviews
for a day or two. Rose—victimized by jet lag—is asleep on my shoulder.
“So you want your daughter to leave this country because you think there's a cancer?”
“Yeah, she says no way she is going to live here. We are trying to get her to study in
Prague. She can't see herself in Russia. She can see what is happening.”
“Sergei, why is this resignation so deep—why can't there be another revolution, some
kind of change?”
He takes a long pause.
“Don't you forget—it's not like Putin taught economics or something. He was a spy. He
was taught to handle spies in other countries. You don't play chess with him. Groups who
tried to organize in this country—many of them are now behind bars.”
And so the path of our winding conversations takes us here—fear.
We drive down a long hill, make a turn, and there it is—the hydroelectric dam. I'll admit
it's damn impressive. A hulking structure not unlike Hoover Dam in Nevada. Rose wakes
up, and we all trudge outside for a few photos. Then we are back in the car, heading back
to the city.
“Sergei, it was hard for me to see all those wedding parties having such fun, feeling so
free, and then be talking to you about the difficult situation in the country.”