Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Open Letter to Vladimir Putin
In 1974 when Russia’s ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov defected while on tour with the Bolshoi Ballet, it was huge news. In that locked-down country as well as the European Eastern Bloc, there had been many defections for decades of their brightest and best who were looking for more artistic, political, and personal freedom.
Russia’s Latvian-born principal dancer with the Kirov ballet, a star on the world stage in the 1970s and 1980s, was privileged to travel but under heavy KGB supervision to prevent defection, something that was not uncommon for those in the communist country. It wasn’t a political defection as much as an artistic one, and Baryshnikov basically avoided politics over the years.
However, after Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, Baryshnikov said he could no longer stay silent because what happened to Ukraine could happen to his birthplace, Latvia. In 2017, 45 years after his defection, he received Latvia citizenship. His worry is that Latvia and all that part of the world could be in danger of the Russian army marching into their streets and killing their citizens.
In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, he explained how his concern led to his role in co-founding “True Russia,” a charity to raise money for Ukrainian refugees and self-described as, “People of Russian culture and origin who disagree with the actions of Putin’s regime, allegedly representing all of Russia and all Russians. That is not true: we have different goals and different ideas about Russia’s destiny and role.”
It continues, “We oppose the criminal war that Putin unleashed on Ukraine. We cannot stop the war, but we can and want to help its victims, first and foremost, Ukrainian refugees. And we are already helping. We also want to support Russian refugees – those who did not wish to stay in Putin’s Russia.
“True Russia is a place that is free from dictatorship, propaganda and lies for all people of Russian culture, who were forced to leave their own country physically or mentally. We offer an alternative Russia, since True Russia can now exist only outside of the Russian state. If you share our goals, we invite you to become a citizen of True Russia.”
Their goal, they noted on the website, is to “inform the world about the projects initiated by the Russian-speaking communities and individuals around the world who share our values, aiming to become an aggregator of the news about these projects, as well as their informational sponsor.”
Now, in his capacity as one of the founders, Mikhail Baryshnikov wrote an open letter to Vladimir Putin after Russia blocked the “True Russia” website.
Your cronies, seized by fear, were ordered to ban our website — the website of TRUE RUSSIA. Their fear is so very predictable. But it is this very fear that invests us with greater confidence in our chosen path.
In my childhood, the role of occupant was imposed upon me, the son of a Russian officer in Latvia, yet it didn’t stick. I learned the Latvian language, and at the age of 26, rejected all roles that your thin-necked precursors tried to impose upon me. I rejected them forever. I have lived as a person of the free world for almost 50 years now – with no roles forced onto me by others, and without fear, but people still consider me Russian, as they consider my friend Boris Akunin a Russian writer, and Sergei Guriev a Russian economist.
People like us have brought more honor to the Russian world than all of your not-so-precise precision-guided munitions. Your Russian world, the world of fear, the world in which they burn Ukrainian textbooks, will not live on as long as there are people like us — True Russians immunized from the disease of fear. It is our world that will live on despite all your bans, and it is your Russia that will die from its own horror unless it wakes up.
You know what you fear. You know whose munitions are precise.
The United States is the number one supplier of weapons and materials to Ukraine in its war with Russia. The European Union has pulled together in solidarity to provide supplies and weapons to Ukraine. With Baryshnikov and “True Russia” working for Ukraine, it continues to show the solidarity of the world in its humane efforts while standing for Ukraine and against Putin.
With the way Russian dissidents turn up dead or disappear, it is very telling that Mikhail Baryshnikov and those with him at True Russia are very publicly standing up to the dictatorship of Putin. Baryshnikov, who settled in New York City where he continues to perform at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, is willing to take the risk to help those in Russia’s destructive path.