As a parent and as a self identified fairly liberal minded person I find it hard at times to understand the conflict that rages through my heart and mind about Russia. It does not extend to Russian people I meet, many who have become friends, but to Russia as a power under a man like Putin. Under a man like Gorbachev I welcomed it . As someone who teaches her sons to not prejudge I cannot tell you what a knee jerk reaction I have to seeing Putin.
I am a child of the Soviet Iron Curtain era. I guess part of me will never let that go and most of me does not want to, big believer that one should know history. To me a dominant, expansionist KGB (cause there is no such thing as former KGB unless you are RIP) in Russia is to be eyed wearily. I separate governments from people though based on my experiences and while I shudder at the thought of the Soviet (by definition that is a government body/party in Russian) I share an experience of yearning for freedom with the Russian people.
So I watch Sochi with less interest than I watch the news on Ukraine. I watched Putin smile and he scares me - scares me in a way that no US citizen can really ever fully understand. I have seen that smile on too many of the Iron Curtain rulers in the past. It is the smile of confidence - and him confident is worse than any horror movie for me. I write this and know I could not have written this in my native country when I was growing up without fear of jail time - not sure you could today in China or Russia either, not unless you seem inconsequential.
The transition to freedom has not been an easy one for Russia or any of the former Eastern bloc countries. I always thought Communism was the parent of the purest form of Capitalism. In those countries demand truly dictated supply and pricing on a black market, unchecked by regulations and very Ayn Rand in it's reliance on self-sufficiency. After all the official stance was that the "State" owned it all - too bad the "State" only chose to give it to a select few, take it with violence for personal gain, and then ensure that equality actually just meant officially everyone had nothing to hope for and misery was all around. Yet hope they did, run away they did, and thrive on a black market they did. As the walls came tumbling down that beast that had kept this going underneath with corruption, from the pharmacist who sold you the prescription only with a "tip" or not at all to the elected official, did not crumble. Yes these countries suffered - they were left barren by policies that took and took with not a thought for what it was doing for the future of those lands - they were also left often barren of some of the keener minds who left because they understood there was no future in those lands.
This lack of understanding of how hard this transition has been on the people in those countries has led to the rise of a nostalgia for the "old days" and Putin is everything the old days were. It is the nostalgia that we all have "what's too painful to remember we simply choose to forget" - after all if I can see food in a supermarket now but cannot afford it is it really better than before when there was no food in supermarket but maybe with a scrape and a connection I could buy a little at a high price off the black market? It must be like a prisoner, wrongly convicted to a maximum security prison, comes out and the world outside is not one he knows how to navigate. These countries have come a long way with a way to go but the rise of Putin and some of his sidekicks gives me no peace of mind.
I congratulate the athletes of Russia because many of them and the people of that country are me, former children or next generation of a time that was grey and oppressive. I watch what is going on though less with the medal count because smoke and mirrors and distractions are not what catch my interest - but the violence in Ukraine does and it scares me because we as a world we have a short attention span and Putin has a long patience for waiting us out to do what he wants.
In a house where my kids watch politics with me it is a balance to make sure that I voice my opinions in a way that is obvious to small children that I am not against a people but against a government, whether it be foreign or domestic. I am grateful every day for living in a place that gives me that luxury with my children - to not be afraid to say something in my own home that my children will be asked about in a school that could lead to jail time or worse for me (no that is not a myth happened in my family in Romania). I am grateful for being able to watch Putin only from a distance and most of all I am grateful for the people of all those nations, eventually their spirit does triumph it just may take a while.