When I wrote this post a year ago predicting the decline of individual freedom in Russia, I never could have imagined how far the country would descend in a mere eleven months. In addition to the Ukraine conflict, the anti-free speech laws that make it a crime to insult certain religious beliefs, the criminalization of any outward sign that you are gay under the guise of protecting minors, the ban of any potentially offensive words in film and art, and a host of other development that look like something out of a 20th century dictator’s textbook, the country has now passed a so-called “bloggers law” that requires any site with more than 3,000 visitors every day to register with the government.
These blogs will be held liable for the accuracy of what they publish and be treated like a newspaper or magazine, while not receiving the protection offered to media groups. Furthermore – and this is the real purpose of the law, as outright admitted by its author – it will be illegal for any blogger to write anonymously as they must now identify themselves. This coincides with the state security agency taking effective control of the Internet infrastructure so they can isolate Russian web users from the rest of world and crack down on people criticizing the government using social media.
[mainbodyad]The takeover of private enterprise in all but name is also beginning. This morning, Russia demanded Visa and MasterCard turn over $3.8 billion to the Russian government as a “deposit”. This represents 11%+ of the combined shareholder equity of the two firms for a nation that makes up a small fraction of its overall revenue. The purpose is to drive non-Russian companies out of the country by making the financial conditions so onerous on-going operations cannot be justified. This will allow a domestic firm (almost inevitably controlled directly or indirectly by Putin and his political conspirators) to capture the remaining market so the oligarchy can enrich themselves at the citizens’ expense. This is a man who, despite having only a few hundred thousand dollars in declared resources, is thought by some to be the wealthiest person in the world with at least $70 billion in effectively stolen assets.
Putin and his cohorts now, or will shortly, have control over what people say, what they are allowed to believe, who they are allowed to love, which politicians they support, which laws they advocate changing, how they run their business, and which religious views are acceptable. The mechanism was largely similar to the one used by Adolf Hitler in the early days of his administration, with the guise of democracy resulting in the near total surrender of individual freedom. These situations never end well, nor do they manage to remain contained indefinitely. Russia’s economy, life expectancy, and standards of living continue to suffer and look horrific next to the rest of the civilized world and those in power are trying to distract the population from how truly bad their condition is relative to their global neighbors. They will beat their chest, indoctrinate their people on the glory of Mother Russia, and, sooner or later, load the tanks. It’s the same script that has played out countless times in human history and it’s all vanity.
I grow weary of it. Especially in this day and age where it is an anachronism. (It’s time the international community declare Internet access an extension of free speech and therefore a fundamental, inalienable human right. Whether you’re writing to someone in text, or speaking on a street corner, doesn’t matter. Freedom of speech is not, and should not, be contingent upon the mechanism through which it is communicated.)
To the approximately 1,850 readers who regularly check this blog from Russia, most of whom live in and around the Moscow area, I imagine that, at some point in the future, my site will be blocked from within your nation. Might I offer a (very serious and very sincere) suggestion while you are still able to read this? If you have any ambition for your own life, and the life of your children: Emigrate. Now. Get out while you can. Pick a country like Switzerland or The Netherlands and leave with your family as soon as possible. Even if you have to start over, run while it is still within your power to do so. I’d have been gone last year when I wrote the first post about the developments within Russia, and we’re at the point now I’d slip out in the middle of the night with only a suitcase if necessary. It may sound alarmist, but my success in life is the result of trying to go to the greenest pastures and tilt odds in my favor. You’re playing with a hand heavily loaded against you and your family if you insist on staying.
Go to greener pastures and take a lesson from Lot’s wife: Don’t look back.