Iron Curtain, Please

By Michael Lederer

One man’s trash is another’s treasure.

Vladimir the Small, as his­to­ry is sure to remem­ber him, has pulled the iron cur­tain off the trash pile and ordered it rehung. His secu­ri­ty blan­ket. Thir­ty years exposed to West­ern ideas of choice – enough of that. Obe­di­ence or destruc­tion, enough choice for his people.

The good old days.

Pho­to Cred­it: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989

One has to be sin­cere­ly strong, not ersatz strong, to sur­vive out in the open. A tree unable to bend will snap in the wind. Putin’s solu­tion: stop the wind. We’ll see how long that works out.

Cost­ing his nation’s great­ness, rather than expand­ing it as adver­tised, any Russ­ian vic­to­ries these days are of the dog-catch­ing-the-car vari­ety. “First, we hit them in the fist with our face. Next, we’ll hit them in the boot with our groin.”

Eyes shift­ing from wind­shield to the mir­ror, Putin’s bat­tle cry: “The future is our past, the past is our future!” An 18thcen­tu­ry tsarist state with facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware – as close as he can bring him­self to any vision of tomor­row. Which is why, while our hearts bleed first and fore­most for Ukraini­ans, we must also feel for a gen­er­a­tion of Rus­sians who thought, for the briefest moment, the future was to be theirs as well. That dream, like fresh rain on a steam­ing pave­ment, evap­o­rat­ing as I write.

Gone already the Rus­sia of Yan­dex, that tech behe­moth once hop­ing to lead Rus­sia into a 21st cen­tu­ry and third mil­len­ni­um. Under the do-as-you’re-told boot of today’s Krem­lin, the best Yan­dex employ­ees can do is con­sole them­selves a là Mar­lon Bran­do, “we could have been a con­tender.” Progress means not just embrac­ing the past, but also ques­tion­ing it. And not, for convenience’s sake, only the last thir­ty years. Which is why world mar­kets remain flood­ed not with things made in Rus­sia (com­put­ers, phones, chips) but with things found (oil, gas).

The future requires imag­i­na­tion. With­out free­dom of thought, no renais­sance – then or now. For Sergey Brin to co-cre­ate Google, his fam­i­ly first had to leave Rus­sia for more fer­tile ground. Putin is salt­ing the Russ­ian earth under his feet, roots of tomor­row with­er­ing. Russia’s artists are also flee­ing. Gone for now the land of Pushkin, Tol­stoy, Rach­mani­noff, Kandin­sky. No painter wants to col­or by num­bers. No writer wants the end of their sto­ry dic­tat­ed to them.

Far from regret­ting many of the sanc­tions imposed by the West, the for­mer KGB offi­cer count­ed on them. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, McDon­alds, Coca Cola, Star­bucks. The faster the bet­ter, to cor­don his peo­ple off from a West with all its blath­er­ing free­doms. Soon he hopes they will not even want McDon­alds, will not even want free­dom – the ulti­mate victory.

Are you watch­ing, Don­ald? See how the mas­ter does it. This is chess, not checkers.

If not nipped in the bud, free­dom is a habit soon acquired. Which is why Putin ordered the Russ­ian guns to begin fir­ing in Feb­ru­ary. Ger­mans, French, British, Amer­i­cans exer­cis­ing free choice, one thing. But Slav­ic broth­ers and sis­ters so close to home? Do not give his peo­ple ideas – literally.

Stop the wind. Past as future.

Peter the Great. Catharine the Great. Vladimir the Small.

Berlin, July 9, 2022

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Michael Led­er­er is an Amer­i­can writer who lives in Berlin. His newest stage play “982” is the sto­ry of the only small group of Jew­ish refugees from Europe admit­ted into the Unit­ed States dur­ing WW II. Com­ments about this blog are wel­come on the author’s web­site: