There are Russians and Russians. I listen to and read reports and interviews with Spanish Russians who are having a hard time because people who know them accuse them of the war, as if all Russians were Putin. I have a Russian student who had to go into exile and come to Cáceres from Moscow so as not to be persecuted. He’s having a bad time. He knows better than anyone that regime and what it is capable of.
A few years ago, while having dinner at the Potosí bar in Cáceres, I learned about five Russian oligarchs who were coming to Extremadura to hunt partridges. They had spent 10,000 euros on ammunition and 8,000 euros on dinner and buying hams and wine. One of them claimed to have a million employees in his companies.
A couple of summers ago, at the Gran Hotel de Buçaco, I met more Russian oligarchs. They overwhelmed a bit. In those decadent halls with Versailles decoration, they drew attention with their worm green tank tops and their fuchsia pink shorts. They drank French champagne between laughter and shouts and at the breakfast buffet they felt the croissants to choose the crunchiest one and since they liked pineapple, they took the whole piece to the room. And no one dared tell them anything.
But there are Russians and Russians. There are the exiles, there are the oligarchs and there are the common people, born survivors who sought life under the Soviet regime and seek it with the Putin regime. It is a people so resistant and accustomed to suffering that I doubt that sanctions will do them excessive harm. The oligarchs will notice them, that common people that survived and survives the tsars, the central committee and Putin and his aides to the ‘yes my master’ is used to being sanctioned by their own rulers.
I had a relationship with ordinary Russians when I lived in Vilagarcía de Arousa. A factory ship arrived at its port every month. They were gigantic vessels dedicated to tuna. They fished large specimens and the ship itself froze them. Later, they went to the port of Vilagarcía, unloaded the tuna, took it in trucks to the canning factories, where they were prepared and packaged and the following month’s ship took the cans of tuna to the USSR.
During the days spent in port, the Russians went ashore, strolled through the city and survived by doing small businesses. One of them, the most beneficial, was to exchange Leica cameras for groceries in the city’s grocery stores. They also sold tuna. Six or seven of us would get together and acquire one of those bugs, which the sailors cut up with a mechanical saw and we already had tuna for the whole year.
The communists from Vilagarcía, who were endearing older gentlemen, like something out of a Fellini movie, would board the Russian ship at night and there they would program revolutions, drink vodka and stagger ashore and with bibs that even Brezhnev did not: flaunting spectacular Soviet insignia that no one in Western Europe wore.
They were greedy Russian sailors, alien to any regime, ordinary people, heirs to the serfs of the tsarist aristocracy, a slavery that lasted until the end of the 19th century, children of a Bolshevik revolution that led to a fiasco and genocide, parents of those Russians who today are to the war in Ukraine without knowing where they are being sent, from uninformed citizens who do not know what is happening. A common people incapable of reacting against those who fiddle with the croissants and take away the pineapples, with the yoke imposed over generations, almost by inheritance. Russians, yes, but not guilty.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.