One of the more dispiriting things I’ve known centers on watching former friends subsumed by Russian media. One man – one former friend – embodies this slide into anti-American bile better than most. I wrote about him, and our history, for the Houston Chronicle [paywall]:
I never saw the punch coming. It was a muggy night in northern Kazakhstan, with the vodka running deep, and a group of three or four locals were barking at our group of Peace Corps volunteers as we left their bar. A Kazakhstani friend, an ethnic Russian, met us outside, attempting to calm the crew that tailed us.
Words grew louder. One of the grunts moved toward my friend, and I, in my stupor, thought it wise to waddle to his aid. Suddenly, I was looking up at the night sky, jaw crackling as I tried to open it. My first punch. Never even saw it connect. All because a friend, a local 20-something named Vadim, had tried to protect us. And because I saw fit to try to return the favor.
I recall this story, rubbing my jaw, three years on, because I’ve finally reconnected with Vadim. One of the most well-read, well-spoken locals I found in my time as a Peace Corps Kazakhstan volunteer, Vadim had spent extended time in the States, polishing his English while tailgating and working through one of the exchange programs that were rarely available during the Soviet period.
But this Vadim, the one I’ve reconnected with via Facebook, was not the same I’d known just three years ago. Where once existed a man who would graciously tour a group of Americans through his city’s multicultural outposts, now stood someone I hardly recognized. Now stood someone who, steeped in the morass of Russian media and screech, was convinced that a Soviet Union he never knew was on a march to return - and that “hundreds of millions” were ready to march with him.
Vadim, through his postings, was certain that Russian glory stood set for nascent return and that the Crimean invasion was but the first step to such restoration. Despite all evidence, Vadim remained convinced that revolutionary fascists and Nazi-sympathizers in Ukraine had attempted to cull and eradicate ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east, all while their patrons in the U.S. and European Union licked their lips in anticipation of another NATO colony. And that the Russian soul was the only barrier remaining between civilizational stability and the homosexual fascism Europe now knew.
In a vacuum, these sentiments may be a bit surprising. But you have to understand: Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, and especially over the past few months, Russian media have sloughed nearly all independent outlets and have turned that much more from the Fourth Estate to propagandistic machine. All major media are owned by the Kremlin, or friends therein.
This is the world in which Vadim subsists.
I tried to engage Vadim on the matter. I tried to share U.N. reports and consequent votes; I tried to illustrate the damage Putin has inflicted on his nation’s economy. I tried to remind Vadim that his nation stood similar to Ukraine, as a potential magnet for Moscow-inspired ethnic strife.
All of these attempts at evidence failed. Forget an independent Kazakhstan - Vadim now considered himself a citizen of the U.S.S.R. And forget any attempts at logical discussion. When discussing the illegality of the Crimean annexation, Vadim prattled on about Texas’ Mexican history. When pointing to the targeting of ethnic Tatars over the past few months, Vadim asked me if I’d forgotten what happened to Native Americans. When listing all of the Muslim and Jewish groups in support of the new government in Ukraine, Vadim responded by calling me a “fascist-lover” and “master of demagogue.” “You are,” he said, “as fake as your soul.”
Eventually, after he’d sent me Web links to a wealth of conspiratorial sites and theories, I ran out of steam. But while Vadim carries this newfound bile, I can’t help but stand saddened by the whole affair. Where once existed a friend, now stood someone convinced of America’s impending invasion and the attendant imposition of a homosexual world order. And when I shared this sadness with him, he had but one response: “I wish I’d never defended you that night three years ago.”
Never saw it coming.