I have written some unkind words before about Russia’s liberal opposition. Let me be clear: this not because I am illiberal, or think that Russia wouldn’t benefit from having a more liberal order. Far from it. Rather, my criticisms derive from my sense that the people who publicly represent what is called ‘liberalism’ in Russia do a very bad job of it, in part because they give the impression of not liking their own country very much and preferring all things foreign. This makes many of their compatriots dislike them and what they stand for. Consequently, they harm the process of liberalization from which Russia would benefit.
Today’s New York Times contains a classic example: an article by Masha Gessen complaining that because of the Russian government’s counter-sanctions it’s impossible to buy proper Western European cheese in Russia any more – all that’s available is disgusting Russian muck. But not to worry, because Masha’s rich friends are able to pick up the good stuff at the Caviar House & Prunier Seafood Bar in the departure lounge of Heathrow airport’s Terminal 4, which is apparently doing a roaring trade in cheese for travelling Russians.
Who are these people who are still able to take holidays in Europe despite the depressed ruble, and furthermore are able to afford the extortionate prices of the shops in Terminal 4? Not your average Russian, one can be certain. Gessen’s article seems to me quite extraordinarily out of touch. It also overflows with the sensation that everything Russian is awful (for instance, ‘the reappearance of Soviet-era cheese, with its unparalleled blandness and waxlike texture’), while everything Western is superior. This is perfectly expressed in the following passage:
‘It’s my first time in Europe after all that’s happened,’ the journalist and filmmaker Inna Denisova, a critic of the annexation of Crimea, wrote on her Facebook page in February. ‘And it’s exceedingly emotional. And of course it’s not seeing the historic churches and museums that has made me so emotional — it’s seeing cheese at the supermarket. My little Gorgonzola. My little mozzarella. My little Gruyère, chèvre and Brie. I held them all in my arms — I didn’t even want to share them with the shopping cart — and headed for the cash register.’ There, Ms. Denisova wrote, she started crying.
If you want to know why Russian liberals languish at about one percent in the opinion polls, you have your answer right there.