I am currently reading Gogol. Not systematically, mind you. Just for pleasure. It put me in mind of how much I love Russia, and how much I hate geopolitics.
The first time I visited Russia was in 2004 when I went to Ekaterinburg for Aelita, that nation's oldest science fiction convention. Ekaterinburg was a little scary back then. Russia had just pulled itself back up from Perestroika and things were a bit rough around the edges. So it was startling how fast and how hard I fell for the place.
Partly it was the people, of course. I will always be friends with (in the order we met) Alexei Bezouglyi and Boris Dolingo and my brother by another mother Andrew Matveev. But there's also a quality that's kind of hard to explain, a familiarity about Russia. Russians, while being very much different from us, feel a lot like Americans, both in good ways and bad. It's as if we were twin brothers, separated at birth, one of whom got all the good luck and the other all the bad. Neither of whom had done anything to deserve it.
I had the privilege of returning to Ekaterinburg in 2012, after eight years of economic growth, and the transformation was startling. There were huge postmodern residential high-rises at the edge of town, looking like they'd just been air-dropped from Mars. One of the main avenues was lined with miles of shiny new construction. Everything was cleaner, pleasanter, more optimistic. It felt like a European university city. Were it not for the fact that I don't speak Russian, I could have imagined myself living there and being happy.
I thought then: Prosperity is a good thing. I wanted nothing more than for Russia to keep getting richer and richer.
Now, alas, Russia and the West are at odds again. Russia has sent troops into the Ukraine. The U.S. is imposing economic sanctions. Which is good because in Realpolitik terms, America has to do something and sanctions are preferable to bullets. But still. I wish we were not seeking to undo the material progress that Russia was just beginning to achieve.
Well, I am an American and, unlike Russians, Americans are still an irrationally optimistic lot. So I persist in believing or at least hoping that someday we will all awaken from the nightmare of history and be brothers again. Difficult brothers, mind you, because we are both difficult peoples. But brothers (and sisters) nonetheless.
Be well, my brothers. My thoughts and prayers, such as they are, are always with you.