Silence in the face of evil becomes its accomplice and ends up becoming its equal.
Russian aggression in Ukraine brings us to what my generation hoped would never happen again: War.
Russia still mourns some 27 million citizens who perished at the hands of the Nazis in World War II, when Hitler delivered what he promised years earlier in Mein Kampf. How ironic that, while celebrating its victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, Russia chooses to forget its non-aggression pact with Hitler. Signed in 1939, the pact made Russia one of the co-authors of World War II; becoming one of the winners when the war ended in 1945 doesn’t acquit those who made it possible. The post-war Nüremberg Trials of leading Nazis brought atonement in German society for crimes committed against humanity, which continues to this day.
What about Russia's atonement for the genuine genocide of tens of millions of citizens killed by its own communist regime in the two decades preceding war with Germany? That was a physical genocide. And, what about the mental genocide that continued for decades after the war? The methods of the murderers and their hunger to destroy anything and anyone who refuses to obey have passed to their successors. Today they rule the country again. Born after the war, they have no concern and no interest in understanding what war brings. After all it won’t be their children who are sent to the front lines Their knowledge of history extends only to abstract geopolitical ideas of the instruments needed to acquire and keep power, whatever the cost to human life and, whatever destruction it brings. One has to be demented to refer to the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, which is how Putin defined it, rather than rejoice at the fact that it happened without bloodshed and brought an end to the kidnapping of many nations in addition to Russia itself.
If only the end of Russia being held hostage by its ruling elite weren’t temporary! One of many signs and symbols that the country has returned to pre-Perestroika times is the dissolution of the Memorial Society founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov in 1989. Its mission was to research every single victim of repression and keep the memory of the dead alive. Through the dissolution of the Memorial on 29 December 2021 victims of repression were killed once again. This too is a form of genocide. Not in the Russian-occupied Donbas of Ukraine as Putin claims.
The Russian regime wants to obliterate the memory of its victims. If we forget them we will betray them. They may no longer care about being betrayed, but we should if we don’t wish to suffer their fate. History always repeats itself if and when it is forgotten.
I was born in St. Petersburg in 1952 and lived there for 22 years before emigrating to the United States. My paternal grandfather went to war and never came back. My maternal grandfather’s family members were exterminated by the Nazis in Odessa. My father fought in the war and was twice wounded. My mother survived the 900-day siege in Leningrad.
Russian culture, its language, its noble traditions are in my blood. They always have been and always will be. Having gifted the world with extraordinary artistic creations and scientific discoveries realized by its sons and daughters, it pains me to see how Russia is unable or maybe unwilling to escape its dark past.
Russians are capable of endless sacrifice and endurance, and truly know the meaning of friendship, generosity and compassion, some of the best qualities present in human nature. Yet those qualities are systematically destroyed by the regime that governs their life on all levels, unable to escape it for lack of mechanisms that allow for change without resorting to violence.
I don’t know if Russia will discover how to live in peace with itself and the world in my lifetime. What I do know is an ancient Russian saying: ‘Words are silver, and silence is gold’. Yes. but there are moments in life when silence in the face of evil becomes its accomplice and ends up becoming its equal.
To remain silent today is to betray our conscience and our values, and ultimately what defines the nobility of human nature.
Semyon Bychkov, Chief Conductor and Music Director