More from our inbox:Reducing Gun ViolenceThe Embattled SpeakerInvesting in Artistic Creators, Not BuildingsBar Russian PerformersChinese Truth Tellers Doug Mills/The New York TimesTo the Editor:Re “Fraud by Trump Found as Judge Issues Penalties” (front page, Sept. 27):Justice Arthur F. Engoron’s ruling that Donald Trump engaged in a pattern of widespread fraud, whereby he embellished the size and scope of his various business entities for accounting advantages, is very much in keeping with his propensity for engaging in similar grandiose fabrication as president.In fact, literally on the very first day of his presidency, Mr. Trump found it necessary to overstate the size of the inaugural crowd to a demonstrably laughable degree. Such reflexive and self-serving exaggeration, regarding matters large and small, by Mr. Trump persisted to the end of his term, culminating in his wildly fantastical claims of election fraud.Mr. Trump’s fraudulent business practices over a period of several years were a glaring road map, for anyone bothering to look, as to how he would conduct himself as commander in chief. His fate now rests in the combined hands of the judicial system and the electorate.Mark GodesChelsea, Mass.To the Editor:In an extraordinary ruling, Justice Arthur F. Engoron held that Donald Trump, by illegally inflating the value of his properties, committed fraud by as much as $2.2 billion. A trial in this case, brought by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, is scheduled for Monday morning, but this ruling is a huge blow to Mr. Trump and his entire family.The ruling called for the cancellation of some of Mr. Trump’s business certificates in New York, which could spell the end of the Trump real estate dynasty, or what’s left of it. The possible financial cost for Mr. Trump could be enormous, as Ms. James is seeking fines up to $250 million.It seems “Teflon Don” will not slip away from the damning case against him here in New York.Henry A. LowensteinNew YorkTo the Editor:Somewhere the late Wayne Barrett is smiling. He mapped out Donald Trump’s crooked business deals years ago. The bookkeeping and tax-evading maneuvers were all laid out in his 1992 investigative biography, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.” Tuesday’s court ruling was long overdue.That it took so long for someone to bring the hammer down on Mr. Trump is an indictment of a legal system that has too many escape hatches. Delay, appeal after appeal, loophole-seeking lawyers, statutes of limitations, dismissals on technical grounds — all strands woven into Mr. Trump’s web of corruption.Fred SmithBronxReducing Gun ViolenceSurvivors of school shootings and those who had lost loved ones to gun violence were among the hundreds of attendees at the Rose Garden event.Kent Nishimura for The New York TimesTo the Editor:Re “Biden Forms a New Office to Address Gun Violence” (news article, Sept. 23):In his effort to combat gun violence, President Biden should consider issuing an executive order stating that gun manufacturers who currently market to the U.S. military must agree to sell only to our armed forces, to foreign militaries approved of by the U.S., and to American citizens who have undergone extensive background checks and are on a federal registry list.If these manufacturers wish to continue to sell assault weapons to the public at large, then they will lose the U.S. military as a major client.This order would be issued under the president’s authority as commander in chief and would not require congressional approval.Susan AltmanWashingtonThe Embattled Speaker Kenny Holston/The New York TimesTo the Editor:Re “Maybe Matt Gaetz Is Right,” by Michelle Cottle (Opinion, Sept. 21):With the continuing threat of the Freedom Caucus to file motions to “vacate the chair” (depose the speaker), Hakeem Jeffries, the minority leader, has a golden opportunity: Form a group of 25 to 30 Democrats to either support Kevin McCarthy or find a centrist Republican member who can be elected speaker with their aid.Then, by abolishing the rule permitting any one member from calling a vote to vacate the chair, the House could function without threats of blackmail and do the people’s business. Mr. Jeffries, go for it.Doug McConeWayne, Pa.Investing in Artistic Creators, Not BuildingsA view of the new Perelman Performing Arts Center at night, when the white marble building turns amber and becomes a beacon in Lower Manhattan.George Etheredge for The New York TimesTo the Editor:Re “A Dazzling Arts Haven Blossoms at Ground Zero,” by Michael Kimmelman (Critic’s Notebook, front page, Sept. 14):As dazzling as the Perelman Performing Arts Center is — and it is truly dazzling — Mr. Kimmelman’s comment that the building itself cost “enough to support who knows how many existing community organizations around the city for who knows how many years” struck me as the story of America’s perpetual disregard of the arts.The building always comes first, followed by whatever potpourri of productions the owners can scrabble together to put inside it. Can we never begin the investment with the people, the artistic creators themselves? Is it always because the donors need an edifice on which to implant his or her name?America doesn’t believe in financing the arts; America believes the arts are a business and should finance itself.The Times recently ran an article saying that our theaters are in crisis, as is our creative community in general. When are we going to finance the creators instead of the buildings?Jennifer WarrenLos AngelesThe writer is a professor of directing at the U.S.C. School of Cinematic Arts and chair of the Alliance of Women Directors.Bar Russian PerformersNetrebko bowing on the stage of the State Opera after performing in Verdi’s “Macbeth.”Annette Riedl/DPA, via Associated PressTo the Editor:Re “Receiving Boos, and an Ovation” (Arts, Sept. 18), about the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, who has supported Vladimir Putin:Your article raises the issue of whether citizens of countries with criminal regimes should be allowed to participate or perform in international events and forums. While punishing individual artists, performers and athletes for their country’s bad acts seems to be unfair, the fact is that their participation promotes their nation’s prestige and interests, even if indirectly.In addition, changes in Russia’s behavior will occur only if the populace forces those in power to change course. The international community should not endorse Russian talent by allowing those individuals to participate in international events or competitions.The message of the international community to the most talented Russians should be that they need to change their country. And while those individuals may be unhappy, that’s exactly the point; history shows that changes in authoritarian governments occur when the population is unhappy and demands change.Russians should be barred from participation in all international events until Russia ends the war in Ukraine and removes its troops from all of Ukraine.Daniel ShapiroSuffern, N.Y.Chinese Truth Tellers Illustration by Linda Huang; source photograph by Tsering DorjeTo the Editor:I write to commend you for “China’s Underground Historians,” by Ian Johnson (Opinion, Sept. 24). These are brave individuals dedicated to ensuring that their country’s past is documented as accurately as possible.As a historian myself, I am increasingly aware of how authoritarian leaders want to cover up their country’s misdeeds, whether in the U.S. or abroad.I stand in awe of the courage of these Chinese truth tellers.Glenna MatthewsSunnyvale, Calif. More
Burhan Sönmez, who is president of PEN international, discusses the tension between politics and art and the role of literature in authoritarian societies.The momentous Turkish presidential election, whose second round will take place on Sunday, has more than just geopolitical consequences; it is a watershed for culture as well. Since 2016, after a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the government here has cracked down on artists, writers, filmmakers and academics, who have experienced censorship, job losses and a climate of fear.For the novelist Burhan Sönmez, who is part of the country’s ethnic Kurdish minority, the upheavals of the Erdogan years are only the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle between Turkish power and Turkish art.Born outside Ankara in 1965, where his first language was Kurdish, he worked as a human rights lawyer but went into exile in Britain after a police assault. He has written five novels, including the prizewinning “Istanbul Istanbul,” “Labyrinth” and “Stone and Shadow,” newly out in English by Other Press. His novels delve into imprisonment and memory, with echoes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Jorge Luis Borges.
Sönmez now lives in Istanbul and Cambridge, and in 2021 he was named president of PEN International, where he has been an outspoken defender of freedom of expression in Turkey and elsewhere.I spoke to Sönmez over video a few days after the first round of the Turkish general election, in which Erdogan finished a half-point shy of an absolute majority. This interview has been edited and condensed.Istanbul has always been a city of arrivals. When did you first come here?During the military-coup era, the 1980s. I was born and grew up in a small village in central Turkey. It’s in the middle of the countryside, like a desert village, without electricity. I moved to Istanbul to study law, and the next phase of my life began after I went to exile in Britain. So now I can combine those different spaces — small village, big Istanbul and then Europe. They all come together and sometimes they separate.Frequently, there’s an indeterminacy of setting in your novels, not only of geography but of time. You rarely use the obvious tells of technology or current affairs that some authors use to ground a reader in time.Particularly in my novel “Istanbul, Istanbul,” I didn’t state a specific year, or period, when the events take place. When people read it, everyone feels that this is the story of their generation.For better and for worse!Yes. But, you know, only a naïve writer would feel proud of that. You would say, “OK, I am reflecting the feelings of different generations in a single novel.” In fact, it comes from the society itself in Turkey. Every generation has gone through the same suffering, the same problems, same oppression, same pain. So it is not a literary talent, actually, to bring all those times into a single story.In “Istanbul, Istanbul,” the narrators are prisoners, held without charge in underground cells, who tell one another stories. What their stories sketch in aggregate is a kind of dream-state Istanbul, where freedom is always abbreviated but with which freethinkers and artists remain hopelessly in love.This really started in the 1850s, when the first liberal intellectuals were oppressed by the Ottoman sultan and went into European exile. When we look at this history over time, 150 or 170 years, we see that, with every decade, governments used the same methods of oppression against writers, journalists, academics, intellectuals.But the tradition of oppression also created a tradition of resistance. And now look: After 20 years of the rule of Erdogan, still nearly half of society is against him strongly. We haven’t finished. This is partly our history of resistance.Turkey, like America, has a strong political fault line between the cities and the countryside. But your novels have crisscrossed from Istanbul to rural Anatolia and back.Especially in my last novel, “Stone and Shadow,” I wrote about this, comparing the eastern, middle and also the western part of Turkey over the last 100 years.What’s the difference between life in a small village in rural Turkey and in Istanbul? You could say it’s the difference between living in a small hut with a gas lamp and living on a street with flashing neon lights. Two different worlds, two different eras.But you should understand: Istanbul is now also part of rural Turkey. There has been a huge migration from the countryside. When I went to study in Istanbul, the population was about five million. Now it’s 17 million. It’s not easy for a big city to create a new citizen, a new cultural spirit.On that subject, one of the most disturbing themes of this election has been the demonization around refugees. I wonder how it sounds to you, as a former refugee yourself.The sad thing for Turkey now, we’ve seen a new rise of nationalism — in the color of racism, actually — against immigrants. There’s open racism against Syrians and Afghan people in Turkey. And every side, every political platform, has different ways of legitimizing this.Right-wingers say, “These people are underdeveloped Arabs. This is a backward race.” From secular progressive people, you hear, “Oh, they’re right-wing Islamist militants. They are here to support Erdogan, and to invade our country, to turn it into an Islamic republic.” In every case, racism or hatred of immigrants is on the top of the agenda.Nationalism now dominates almost every political movement.Yet there’s a rare lightness and freedom to your characterization of these political themes. “Labyrinth,” the story of a musician who loses his memory after jumping into the Bosporus, barely hints at the upheavals of the Erdogan years, when the amnesiac sees a torn poster of the president and confuses him for a sultan.We know the difference between art and journalism. Journalism speaks directly. Speaking this different language of art, we feel that we are no longer in the field of society, of politics. A political matter or a historical fact is just a color in my novel. That is real power. When I write a novel, I feel that I unite the past and the future. Because the past is a story and the future is a dream.Has there been a self-censorship of artists and writers in Turkey over the last few years?Well, first, every year more than 500 new Turkish novels are being published. When I was at the university, the number of new novels published in Turkish was about 15 or 20. That’s an enormous difference.With the young generation, I see that they are brave. Despite all this oppression, this danger of going to prison or being unemployed, young people are writing fearlessly. They are writing about Kurdish issues, about women’s issues, about L.G.B.T. issues, about political crimes in Turkey.Hundreds of writers are like this: writing openly, and at some point a bit dangerously, for themselves. This is something of which we should be proud.As president of PEN International, you have a particularly close view of the state of free expression. Have things gotten any better in Turkey since the crackdowns of 2016-2017, when thousands of academics and journalists were arrested or purged?No, no, it’s not better. In Turkey, we never got to distinguish between bad and good. It was always: bad or worse.In Turkey, PEN International has been supporting writers in prison. For myself, being a lawyer, I have the opportunity to go to prisons. Anytime I go to Turkey, I use this advantage. I go and I see Selahattin Demirtas, or Osman Kavala, so many people. It is sad to see great people are still in prison.But also it is great to see that we have solidarity. At the end of my novel “Istanbul, Istanbul,” I used an epigraph by a Persian Sufi from the Middle Ages. He says, “Hell is not the place where we suffer, it’s the place where no one hears us suffering.” I know that if I am arrested, I will never be left alone.I probably shouldn’t ask you what you expect when Turks vote in the presidential runoff next Sunday. …No, you should ask. I think we’ll win. I’m too optimistic in life, and very naïve. More
One issue at the New-York Historical Society’s democracy program: weekly tests and no homework vs. no tests and daily homework. The final vote may surprise you.This article is part of our Museums special section about how art institutions are reaching out to new artists and attracting new audiences.Feelings were running high as everyone lobbied their representatives. The constituents had only a few minutes to make their arguments, and it seemed no one was listening. At one point, someone tried to unseat a delegate.This was politics at work at the New-York Historical Society’s democracy program, with 21 sixth graders from Middle School 244 in the Bronx.The setting was the museum’s Skylight Gallery. The question at hand, relayed by Emily Bumgardner, a museum educator, was this: Given the choice between weekly tests and no homework or daily homework and no tests, what would the students opt for?Asher Kolman, left, and Emily Bumgardner, museum educators, wearing togas to embrace the spirit of ancient Greece.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesThe voters were quickly separated into groups of four.Valerie Decena and Lixander Delacruz, both 12, argued heatedly; Valerie preferred homework, saying it meant less stress. Lixander wanted tests, saying it meant less work.“I don’t like tests or homework,” complained Miranda Nuñez Polanco, also 12.It was passionate, confusing and at times contradictory. There were those who felt their voices weren’t heard, some who didn’t like any of the options and a few who thought the system worked just fine.In other words, it was much like policymaking in the real world.Welcome to the Tang Academy for American Democracy, a free program — including transportation — offered by the historical society, primarily to fifth- and sixth-grade New York City public school students.Lixander Delacruz, left, and Valerie Decena debate the merits of testing versus homeworkKarsten Moran for The New York TimesThe four-day, four-hour program attempts to answer “three big questions,” said Leah Charles-Edouard, associate director of school programs for the museum. “What is democracy? How does it work? And how do we make change in a democracy?”It includes mini-lessons and activities emphasizing ancient Athens and the colonial United States, as well as modern-day activism, integrated with the museum’s exhibitions.“What really motivated us to do this program was looking at statistics on the percentage of young people that voted in the 2016 election,” said Louise Mirrer, the museum’s president and chief executive. Many said “that democracy really didn’t matter to them very much — they didn’t really care whether they lived in democracy or not. And those numbers seem to be rising.” The issue is especially timely, given the challenges to democracy around the globe.The program started in 2019, went online during the pandemic and resumed in-person in 2021, she added.There are now three versions: on-site, online for students all over the country, and in the schools, taught by museum educators, Ms. Charles-Edouard said. The museum also offers professional development for teachers to use the curriculum in their classes.Since 2021, almost 6,000 students have taken part in the academy.Typically, such a program would be aimed at high school students, who are closer to voting age, but museum officials chose younger students because research shows that it’s often in fifth or sixth grade “when kids decide to get into school or hate school forever,” Ms. Charles-Edouard said.So far, 75 sixth graders from M.S. 244, also known as the New School for Leadership and the Arts, have attended the academy.For the 21 students from Stephen Dowd’s social studies class, who participated in late March, the second day came with togas.About a quarter of the students donned them over their clothes, ready to embrace the spirit of ancient Greece. Others, like Isaiah Fernandez, 12, weren’t interested.“It’s not my style,” he said.Lixander and Mr. Kolman work on their toga wardrobe.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesAsher Kolman, the other museum educator teaching the class, laid out a quandary: Greece is at war, and there’s not enough money for both the arts and sports, so the students have to vote on which to keep.Kelvin Garcia, a toga over his hoodie, asked, “What will music and painting help them when it comes to a war?” And won’t they need sports to keep fit? he wondered.“Interesting,” Mr. Kolman responded, noting that music may “make people living in Athens less anxious.” He added, “Or maybe it means that people are in a better mood or mental state when they go to war.”When it was time for the vote, sports won.“I love music and sports,” Miranda said. “I want to be a singer and a dancer, but I always love basketball. I voted for music, but sports won because the boys really wanted sports.”Making the decision, she said, “is harder than I thought.”The students, some wearing togas, vote with a show of hands.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesAfter performing their civic duty, the students received a brief lesson on how democracy doesn’t necessarily mean everyone gets to participate. In ancient Athens, Mr. Kolman noted, only 10 percent of the people actually had the right to vote — women, nonnative Athenians and enslaved people were excluded.To illustrate how small 10 percent was, he passed out Popsicle sticks. Two were marked green. Only those students with the green sticks — out of the whole class — could actually vote.After a break for granola bars, the students returned to learn about representational democracy.The student Miranda Nuñez Polanco in the museum’s re-creation of the Oval Office.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesOn the way to their second vote, the class stopped at one of the permanent exhibits. When asked if they knew what it was, Kelvin shouted out, “Barack Obama’s office!”More specifically, the Oval Office, with a jar of jelly beans representing the Reagan era. They were then invited to sit in the chair behind the Resolute Desk. At first the boys rushed in, then some girls worked up their courage. Miranda said that maybe after a career as a dancer, she would run for president.Then came the homework versus test vote. Of the five representatives, four voted for tests — despite Valerie’s intense lobbying — and one for homework.But Isaiah’s constituents weren’t happy. They had sent him to vote for homework, but he had followed his colleagues and approved tests.“I was confused,” Isaiah said.Politics, right?Because the students have about six years before they’re eligible to vote, “we couldn’t just finish this with OK, go vote,” said Allyson Schettino, the museum’s director of curriculum and instruction.“So, our final days are teaching them about ways to participate in a democracy when you can’t vote,” she said.Rainer Valentin and other students finish the day with a slogan and printmaking exercise.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesRainer’s slogan “Your Voice = Power” hangs from a wall.Karsten Moran for The New York Times“We look at examples from the civil rights movement, from the Chinese exclusion resistance movement, Indigenous activists in the United States, and we look at how they march, how they petition, give speeches. We’re trying to ask, ‘What can we do to make sure we’re improving our American system?’”A new wing, scheduled to be completed in 2026, will allow the museum to serve thousands more New York public school students and their teachers annually through the Tang Academy for American Democracy, Dr. Mirrer said.At the end of the lessons, the students practiced printmaking in the lead-up to the final day, where they would make posters.Rainer Valentin, 11, chose to write, “Your Voice = Power.” He wasn’t familiar with what democracy was before the academy, he said, and “I’m still learning about it.”Asked if he would now urge people he knew to vote, he said: “It would depend on why they don’t vote. If they say it’s because they don’t want to, I would say you have to. Your voice equals power.” More
La guerra en Ucrania es una catástrofe interminable. Las fuerzas rusas, concentradas en el este, siguen infligiendo un daño terrible en los soldados y civiles ucranianos. Una infinidad de vidas han sido perdidas y trastornadas. Una vez más, el mundo debe afrontar la posibilidad de una guerra nuclear y lidiar con unas crisis de refugiados y del costo del nivel de vida que están empeorando. Este no es el “fin de la historia” que habíamos esperado.Se está dando otra transformación, aunque menos violenta: luego de tres décadas de intercambio, interacción e involucramiento, la puerta entre Rusia y Estados Unidos se está cerrando. Casi todos los días otra compañía estadounidense —incluyendo la más simbólica de todas, McDonald’s, cuyos arcos dorados anunciaron una nueva era hace 30 años— sale de Rusia. Los diplomáticos han sido expulsados, los productos han sido retirados y las visitas personales pospuestas. En los consulados cerrados, nadie está emitiendo visas y, aunque lo hicieran, el espacio aéreo estadounidense ahora está prohibido a las naves rusas. La única interacción significativa parece ser la emisión de sanciones y contrasanciones.Para una rusaestadounidense como yo, cuya vida se ha forjado en los intersticios de las dos culturas, es un cambio de circunstancias doloroso y desconcertante. Hay que ser claros: las medidas para reducir la capacidad de agresión del Kremlin son necesarias en lo político y en lo moral. Pero el daño colateral es una ruptura de vínculos que está destinada a reavivar estereotipos perjudiciales y a cerrar el terreno para la polinización intercultural. Sobre todo, la actual ruptura marca el fin definitivo de un periodo en el que la integración de Rusia con Occidente, por más conflictiva que fuera, parecía posible y el antagonismo entre superpotencias ideológicas era cosa del pasado.Al menos eso fue lo que sentí un cálido día de marzo de 1989 en Krasnodar, la ciudad provincial al sur de Rusia, cerca del mar Negro, donde crecí. Mi escuela iba a recibir a un grupo de estudiantes de último año de una preparatoria en Nuevo Hampshire: estaba por cumplir 17 años y hasta ese momento Estados Unidos solo existía en mi mente como un concepto abstracto. Era el villano de un espectáculo para las fiestas de fin de año, el objeto de la misión de Nikita Khrushchev de “Alcanzar y sobrepasar a Estados Unidos” y el hogar del programa de La guerra de las galaxias, solo uno de los muchos diseños de los imperialistas para acabar con la Unión Soviética.Pero esos chicos y chicas que llegaron al patio de la escuela vistiendo sudaderas y pantalones de mezclilla no parecían imperialistas ni amenazantes en ningún sentido. Eran como nosotros, pero mejor vestidos: tímidos, con buenas intenciones y fascinados. Tan solo unas horas antes, durante nuestra clase de entrenamiento militar habíamos estado montando rifles kalashnikov para usarlos contra agentes enemigos. Y aquí estaban, de pie frente a nosotros. Nos quedamos mirándonos los unos a los otros. Entonces, alguien sonrió, otra persona saludó. En cuestión de minutos, la desconfianza entre nosotros había desaparecido. “Estoy leyendo Crimen y castigo para las vacaciones de primavera”, me dijo un tipo alto con un arete de plata. “¡Raskolnikov es genial!”.Tengo un cuaderno verde en el que he guardado los nombres de ciudades estadounidense, junto con una carta de amor, un clavel seco y un montón de fotografías en blanco y negro, recuerdos de la magia de 1989: el muro de Berlín desmantelado, la cortina de hierro cayendo, el temible “nosotros” y “ellos” esfumándose en el aire que finalmente era libre. Al cantar “Goodbye America, where I have never been” (Adiós, Estados Unidos, a donde nunca he ido), un himno popular, nos estábamos despidiendo de Estados Unidos como enemigo, de Estados Unidos como un mito y anticipábamos el descubrimiento del Estados Unidos real. Las palabras como “fronteras” e “ideología” ya no eran relevantes. Los dos países parecían estar unidos por un anhelo compartido de paz.Los años que siguieron generaron una buena voluntad inmensa entre nuestras naciones. Como rusa en Estados Unidos, conocí a innumerables personas que la construyeron: un médico californiano que ayudó a crear centros de cardiocirugía infantil en toda la Rusia postsoviética, un director de cine del área de la bahía de San Francisco que organizó el primer festival de cine judío en Moscú y un capitán de Seattle que creó empresas marítimas conjuntas con pescadores en el lejano oriente ruso. Los graduados universitarios rusos, por su parte, acudieron en masa a Estados Unidos, aportando su cerebro y talentos a todo tipo de actividades, desde películas de Hollywood hasta la secuenciación del ADN. Hubo muchos matrimonios. En los años noventa, una popular banda rusa de mujeres plasmó ese espíritu cuando le imploraron, con los acordes de la balalaika eléctrica, a un hipotético “American Boy” que se las llevara.Esa fue la ruta que yo tomé. Dado que al casarme entré en una familia de antiguos disidentes protegidos por Estados Unidos, yo también fui testimonio del flujo de personas e ideas. El dinero también fluyó. Por ejemplo, mi primer trabajo remunerado en Estados Unidos, en 1998, consistió en traducir para el segundo simposio anual sobre inversiones ruso-estadounidenses, organizado por la Universidad de Harvard; participaba un gran elenco de estrellas de la banca internacional que se disputaban la atención de los invitados rusos, entre ellos el magnate Boris Berezovsky y Yuri Luzhkov, entonces alcalde de Moscú.Sin embargo, en algún punto del camino, la buena voluntad se frenó. Después de haber expresado su entusiasmo por el primer presidente ruso postsoviético, Boris Yeltsin, los líderes estadounidenses consideraron que su sucesor forjado en el KGB, Vladimir Putin, no era tanto de su agrado. Putin dejó en claro que eso no le molestaba. “Hegemonía estadounidense”, una frase de mi infancia soviética, empezó a aparecer en los medios de comunicación rusos pro-Kremlin. En Occidente, los rusos ya no eran vistos como rehenes liberados de un régimen totalitario, villanos reformados de las películas de James Bond o emisarios de la gran cultura de Tolstói y Dostoievski, sino como personas que compraban lujosas propiedades en Manhattan y Miami pagando en efectivo. El encanto entre los países y sus ciudadanos se atenuó, pero los intereses compartidos y los vínculos sociales se mantuvieron.La anexión de Crimea en 2014 fue un punto de inflexión. Es cierto que Putin ya había dado rienda suelta a su agresividad en Georgia y, de forma devastadora, en Chechenia, pero fue su pretensión de reclamar el territorio ucraniano lo que dio a Occidente la llamada de atención. Las sanciones subsecuentes impactaron fuertemente en la economía rusa. También proporcionaron al Kremlin amplios medios para azuzar el sentimiento antiestadounidense. Culpar a Estados Unidos de los problemas del país era una narrativa familiar, casi nostálgica, para los rusos, más de la mitad de los cuales nacieron en la Unión Soviética. La simple cantinela “la expansión de la OTAN”, “la agresión occidental”, “el enemigo en la puerta”, se repetía, haciendo creer a los rusos que Estados Unidos pretendía la destrucción de su patria. La propaganda funcionó: en 2018, Estados Unidos volvió a ser considerado como el enemigo número 1 de Rusia, con Ucrania, su “títere”, en segundo lugar.En Estados Unidos, las cosas no estaban tan mal. Pero la llegada de Donald Trump a la escena política mundial complicó la ya tensa relación ruso-estadounidense. Trump se encariñó con el abiertamente autoritario Putin, reforzando el sentimiento antirruso que había ido en aumento desde la intromisión del Kremlin en las elecciones presidenciales estadounidenses de 2016 y que rara vez distinguía entre Putin y el país que gobernaba. Los lazos económicos y culturales empezaron a debilitarse a medida que se hacía más difícil obtener visas y financiación. Aun así, hubo intercambios de estudiantes, se proyectaron películas y se realizaron visitas familiares, aunque a intervalos más largos.Los misiles rusos que atacaron ciudades ucranianas el 24 de febrero extinguieron esa luz parpadeante. Estados Unidos ahora proporciona miles de millones de dólares en armas para usarse contra Rusia y el objetivo declarado de Rusia es poner fin a la dominación global “irrestricta” de Estados Unidos. Los dos países, que en su día fueron aliados en la guerra contra la Alemania nazi, están librando una guerra indirecta. Mientras veo videos de padres rusos incitando a sus hijos a destruir iPhones o leo sobre las amenazas contra una venerable panadería de Seattle conocida por sus productos horneados al estilo ruso, me invade, sobre todo, la tristeza. Nuestro sueño postotalitario de un futuro pacífico y amistoso ha terminado.Aparte de causar un horror físico, la guerra de Putin en Ucrania está borrando muchos activos intangibles, entre ellos la buena voluntad colectiva de Occidente hacia Rusia. En el futuro de mis hijos no veo ningún milagro cultural parecido al que yo viví en 1989. Es una pérdida para ambos países y la de Rusia será mayor si Putin sigue redoblando la carnicería y el aislamiento. Pero ese futuro no está tallado en piedra. Al fin y al cabo, los años de la perestroika, cuando la Unión Soviética se embarcó en reformas a gran escala en nombre de la apertura, demostraron que Rusia es capaz de cambiar.Por ahora, empero, cada explosión en Ucrania también ataca las bondades de la relación entre Estados Unidos y Rusia. En la tierra de Putin, “Goodbye America”, que antes era una canción irónica llena de esperanza, se ha convertido en una oscura profecía autocumplida.Anastasia Edel (@aedelwriter) es la autora de Russia: Putin’s Playground: Empire, Revolution, and the New Tsar. More
The war in Ukraine is a never-ending catastrophe. Russian forces, concentrated in the east, continue to inflict terrible damage on Ukrainian soldiers and civilians alike. Countless lives have been lost and upended. Once again, the world must confront the possibility of nuclear war and grapple with a compounding refugee and cost of living crisis. This isn’t the “end of history” that we hoped for.Less violently, another transformation is taking place: After three decades of exchange, interaction and engagement, the door between Russia and America is slamming shut. Practically every day another American company — including the most symbolic of them all, McDonald’s, whose golden arches heralded a new era 30 years ago — pulls out of Russia. Diplomats have been expelled, concerts canceled, products withdrawn, personal visits called off. In the shuttered consulates, nobody is issuing visas, and even if they were, American airspace is now closed to Russian aircraft. The only substantive interaction left seems to be the issuing of sanctions and counter-sanctions.For a Russian American like me, whose life has been forged in the interstices between the two cultures, it’s a bewildering, sorrowful turn of events. Measures to curtail the Kremlin’s capacity of aggression are, to be clear, politically and morally necessary. But the collateral damage is a severing of ties that is bound to revive harmful stereotypes and close down the space for cross-cultural pollination. More profoundly, the current parting of ways marks the definitive end of a period when Russia’s integration with the West, however vexed, appeared possible — and the antagonism between ideological superpowers was a thing of the past.That’s certainly how it felt on a warm March day in 1989 in Krasnodar, the provincial southern town near the Black Sea where I grew up. My school was hosting a group of seniors from a high school in New Hampshire: I was about to turn 17, and until that day America existed in my mind only as an abstract concept. It was the villain of a New Year’s holiday show, the object of Nikita Khrushchev’s quest “To catch up and overtake America” and home to the “Star Wars” program — just one, we were told, of the imperialists’ many designs to take down the Soviet Union.Only those boys and girls in jeans and sweatshirts who appeared in our schoolyard didn’t look like imperialists, or appear to be threatening at all. They looked like better-dressed versions of us: shy, well-meaning and fascinated. Just a few hours ago, during our military training class, we had been assembling Kalashnikov guns to be used on enemy agents. And here they were, standing in front of us. We stared at each other. Then someone smiled, someone said hello. In a matter of minutes, the wariness between us was gone. “I’m reading ‘Crime and Punishment’ for spring break,’” a tall guy with a silver earring told me. “Raskolnikov is cool!”Over the next five days of mutual discovery, we learned that the Americans were also afraid of nuclear war, only in their version, it would be waged by us. That when transcribed, the lyrics of “Ice Ice Baby” didn’t make much sense. That “pot” had a meaning other than a kitchen item, as explained by the Raskolnikov fan. And that when a boy tells a girl that she’s “special,” that’s, well, special. Together we roamed the streets, snapping photos next to Lenin statues — or rather, as the Americans put it, we “hung out.” Before a tearful goodbye, we traded addresses and promised to be friends for life.I’ve kept a green notebook filled with the names of American towns, along with a love letter, a dried carnation and a stack of black and white photographs, tokens of the magic of 1989: the Berlin Wall dismantled, the Iron Curtain coming down, the scary “us” and “them” disappearing into the finally free air. Chanting “Goodbye America, where I have never been,” a popular anthem, we were bidding farewell to America the enemy, America the myth — and anticipating the discovery of the real thing. Words like “borders” and “ideology” were no longer relevant. America and Russia seemed to be united by a common yearning for peace.The years that followed generated immense good will between our nations. As a Russian in America, I met countless people who built it: a Californian doctor who helped set up children’s heart surgery centers across post-Soviet Russia; a Bay Area filmmaker who organized the first Jewish film festival in Moscow; a Seattle captain who set up joint maritime ventures with fishermen in Russia’s far east. Russian college graduates, meanwhile, flocked to America, giving their brains and talents to everything from Hollywood films to DNA sequencing. There were a lot of marriages. A popular Russian all-female band captured the spirit in the 1990s when they implored, to electric balalaika chords, a hypothetical “American Boy” to come and whisk them away.That happened to be my route. Having married into a family of former dissidents sheltered by America, I too was a testament to the flow of people and ideas. Money flowed also. My first paid job in America back in 1998, for example, was translating for the second annual U.S.-Russian Investment Symposium, hosted by Harvard University and featuring an all-star lineup of international bankers vying for the attention of the Russian guests, among them the tycoon Boris Berezovsky and the mayor of Moscow at the time, Yuri Luzhkov.Yet somewhere along the way, the good will slowed. After expressing enthusiasm for Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin, America’s leaders found his K.G.B.-fashioned successor, Vladimir Putin, less to their taste. Mr. Putin made it clear that he didn’t care. “American hegemon,” a phrase from my Soviet childhood, began popping up in Russia’s pro-Kremlin media. In the West, Russians were no longer viewed as liberated hostages of a totalitarian regime, reformed villains from James Bond movies or emissaries of the great culture of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but rather as all-cash buyers of luxurious properties in Manhattan and Miami. The enchantment between the countries and their citizens dimmed, yet shared interests and social bonds held.The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a turning point. True, Mr. Putin had previously given vent to his aggression in Georgia and, devastatingly, in Chechnya, but it was his claiming of Ukrainian territory that gave the West its wake-up call. The sanctions that followed hit the Russian economy hard. They also supplied the Kremlin with ample means to stoke anti-American sentiment. Blaming America for the country’s troubles was a familiar, almost nostalgic narrative for Russians, more than half of whom were born in the Soviet Union. The simple tune — “NATO expansion,” “Western aggression,” “enemy at the gate”— played on repeat, keying Russians to believe that America aimed for their motherland’s destruction. The propaganda worked: By 2018, America was once more regarded as Russia’s No. 1 enemy, with Ukraine, its “puppet,” coming second.In America, things weren’t nearly as bad. But Donald Trump’s arrival on the global political stage complicated the already strained Russian-American relationship. Mr. Trump cozied up to the openly authoritarian Mr. Putin, strengthening anti-Russian sentiment that had been rising since the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and rarely distinguished between Mr. Putin and the country he ruled. Economic and cultural ties began to wilt as it got harder to secure visas and funding. Still, student exchanges happened, films were screened and family visits paid, if at longer intervals.The Russian missiles that struck Ukrainian cities on Feb. 24 extinguished that flickering light. America now provides billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to be used against Russia, while Russia’s stated aim is to put an end to America’s “unfettered” global domination. The two countries, once allies in the war against Nazi Germany, are effectively fighting a proxy war. As I watch videos of Russian parents egging on their children to destroy iPhones or read about threats against a venerable Seattle bakery known for its Russian-style baked goods, I’m gripped, above all, by sadness. Our post-totalitarian dream of a peaceful, friendly future is over.Apart from wreaking physical horror, Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine is erasing countless intangibles, among them the collective good will of the West toward Russia. In my children’s future, I see no cultural miracles akin to the one that I experienced back in 1989. This is a loss for both countries, and Russia’s will be greater if Mr. Putin continues doubling down on carnage and isolation. That future isn’t set in stone. After all, the perestroika years, when the Soviet Union embarked on wholesale reforms in the name of openness, showed that Russia is capable of change.For now, though, each explosion in Ukraine also strikes at what was good in the relationship between America and Russia. In Mr. Putin’s land, “Goodbye America,” once a tongue-in-cheek song suffused with hope, has become a darkly self-fulfilling prophecy.Anastasia Edel (@aedelwriter) is the author of “Russia: Putin’s Playground: Empire, Revolution, and the New Tsar.”The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More