Exhibition of Russian opposition leaders and their thoughts on the future of their country

Opening tonight in New York City, is an exhibition of portraits of Russian opposition leaders taken by Kirill Nikitenko alongside their written reflections of the country's future in anticipation of the Dec. 4 Duma elections and next year's presidential election.

The idea to bring together Russian intellectual opinion leaders came from Elena Khodorkovskaya, who noticed that there was no space, even in the media, where opposition leaders of various professions could unite. They hope to show members of the American public who are interested in Russian affairs that there are people besides the formal political opposition who see the country’s future in a completely different way than the official propaganda depicts it.

Each leader was asked: How do you see the future of Russia after March 2012 if Vladimir Putin remains in power?



Kirill Nikitenko / Courtesy of the Institute of Modern Russia

Lyudmila Ulitskaya.

Lyudmila Ulitskaya - Writer

She worked at the Institute of General Genetics at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, but in 1970, she was fired for reproducing a “Samizdat” (a censored publication). She began writing short stories in the 1980's and later published a novella, 'Sonechka,' which brought her worldwide attention and started her successful literary career. Another of her novels won the Booker Prize and Ulitskaya'sbooks have been translated into 32 languages. In 2009, her correspondence with prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky was published in the newspaper.

That is a difficult question, and my answer will not be trivial.

I have a feeling that the future course of events will have nothing to do with whether or not Putin is in power, because a flowerbed sown with thistle seeds, turnip seeds, and who knows what else cannot grow tomatoes, strawberries, or even pineapples. Today there is no force capable of rapidly and sharply changing the current situation, which has developed over the course of almost two decades.

The consciousness of the formerly Soviet person, who has become a Russian, has not changed, and I would even venture to say that new traits, which are highly unfavorable for the development of the country, have appeared in him.  The general corruption of our society has taken on an all-encompassing character.  It reaches not just the upper echelons of our state, but all of the lower classes as well.  For this reason, serious changes to the life of our society, though they are desirable, will require more than one year and not just the replacement of one person by another.

We see the Putin-Medvedev situation – they’re practically one person.  When Medvedev came to power as president, many Westerners asked me: “How do you see this situation developing?” to which I replied (and it turns out I was correct) that the litmus test would be the [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky affair.  If Khodorkovsky was released, we would consider that the government had changed.  If not, then the government had remained the same.  Unfortunately, it turned out to have remained the same.

I don't think that the upcoming election can radically change the general direction of the development of our society.  I’m afraid that several decades of “oil stability” await us, followed by severe turmoil.

Will we be able to find a new way, to join the ranks of civilized nations who respect the law?  That is an important question.

I'm not very optimistic, but on the other hand, I'm a realist with a sort of mystical inclination.  In our situation, we can only have faith in some unforeseen event, which we could call a “Black Swan” miracle (thank you to Nassim Taleb for this term).  This black swan is an unexpected event that is totally unpredictable.  My hope is for a good black swan to arrive, flap its wings, and cause a beneficial event that will change the direction we're moving in.  This is, perhaps, the only hope that I think is more or less realistic. -- Lyudmila Ulitskaya

The exhibition, 'RUSSIAN VISIONARIES. INTO THE LIGHT' opens tonight through Dec. 12 at 25CPW Gallery in New York City.

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