‘What Does It Mean to Be a Patriot?’

by Jay Nordlinger

Vladimir Kara-Murza is the Russian democracy leader who has escaped death twice. Twice, he was poisoned, and each time he was given a 5 percent chance of surviving. Twice, he has survived.

Kara-Murza has been featured on 60 Minutes, and he is featured in the current issue of National Review. I am now expanding my piece — my conversation with Kara-Murza — here on the site. This series is called “A Russian Patriot and His Country.” (Part I is here.)

There has been a lot of talk about patriotism, and nationalism, in our country and elsewhere. To the Putin regime and its supporters, people such as Kara-Murza — be they exiled, imprisoned, murdered, or at large in the country, working — are not patriots. They are “national traitors,” etc.

And yet they are exceptionally patriotic Russians — for they are putting their very lives on the line for the sake of the well-being of their country.

I will have more to say about this in my series. (Actually, Kara-Murza is the one who will say it.) For now, I wish to quote an amazing conversation that took place between, on one side, a teacher and a principal, and, on the other, a classroom of students. The conversation took place in the city of Bryansk, about 235 miles southwest of Moscow.

A student, Maxim Losyev, had been snatched from the classroom by police and carted off. His offense was to encourage others to participate in an anti-corruption demonstration. The principal came in to have a talk with the class.

And a student recorded the conversation, which was later transcribed and published at Meduza, the Russian news site. (The journalists of Meduza operate in Riga, Latvia, so that they can report freely and truthfully about Russia. It is too dangerous to do so at home.) To read the transcript in English, go here.

A student says that “there are videos going around” showing Russian troops in Ukraine. The principal says, “The videos are staged, for starters.” The teacher chimes in, “And you shouldn’t believe them.”

Another student says, “Our TV networks show only what’s good for the government.” The principal, evidently exasperated, says, “I got it. Somehow, we messed up your civic education. In terms of civics, you’ve got big shortcomings. Do you all mean to tell me that there are no patriots in your class?”

The student says, “And what does it mean to be a patriot? That you support the authorities?”

So great. So very great. People will tell you that Russians don’t want freedom and democracy. They prefer a strong authoritarian hand. People are always telling you that, about all sorts of people. They used to say it about southern Europeans, who preferred throne and altar. Liberal democracy was just an Anglo-American fetish.

Anyway, Vladimir Kara-Murza will take this up, among other subjects, and he bears listening to.

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