By Anna Baron
This past June in New York, I was asked on an application form if I would relinquish my Russian passport for a U.S. federal internship. Until this point, I had never really considered what the passport did for me. A quick Google search explains that a passport states a person’s identity, declares them a citizen, and allows them to travel under its protection. Synonyms: path, way, route.
I conjecture what the Russian definition for “passport” could be: a demand for a specific identity for its holder, a document certifying a citizen as one whose rights could be ignored, a restriction on the right to travel. Synonyms: borders, boundaries, detours. The Russian route is that of a land grab and a war started against a neighbor who used to be a cousin, but is now deemed a troublesome burden. I think of my cousins, who moved from Russia to Ukraine after my great aunt Lyooda married a Ukrainian. Lyooda raised her children according to the Russian cultural traditions, singing them Russian songs, cooking them Russian food, and telling them Russian tales. There was never a conflict between their Russian cultural heritage and their Ukrainian geographical home. “That is, until Putin decided to start this war,” my cousin Alosha remarks. “He created tensions where there were none, dividing the people and inciting violence.”
Now, Alosha lives day-to-day in fear of the military draft, terrified of fighting a war he never wanted. “I just want to be there to raise my seven-year-old daughter in peace. I’ve never held a gun. What if I go there and die? What will it all be for?” Despite his terror of the draft, and despite his Russian cultural heritage, he vocalizes a firm defense of Ukraine’s right to exist. He does not feel that the violence Russia is inflicting can ever be justified, and would fight on the side of Ukraine if forced to do so. But mostly, he wants to go to work, pick his daughter up from school, take her on vacation to Crimea like he used to, and know that those things won’t be stolen from him at any given moment. He has never held a Russian passport, and certainly doesn’t wish to do so now. He doesn’t agree with the borders, the boundaries, and the detours such a passport implies. These days, he holds his Ukrainian passport a little tighter.
Alosha knows that a Russian passport compels its holders to sit safely behind tanks aimed at the rebels, and speak safely with all the self-assured certainty that the media’s regurgitated words provide. My parents’ old childhood friends sit at their computers in Russia and continuously re-post statuses proclaiming that the United States took the Malaysian plane that had allegedly disappeared in March, stuffing it with old corpses, all to embarrass Russia. And despite all the Russian passport-holders who mechanically copy and paste such fictions, the government pays bloggers to comment and post such disinformation— just to be safe.
Today, I could be safely sitting in a kitchen in Moscow, and diligently, faithfully praising Putin with the variety of laudatory phrases taught to me in my textbooks, classrooms, and newspapers. I could be providing proof that America shot down MH17 back in July just to put blame on my beloved country.
Instead, I sit safely in my kitchen in New York. I don’t worry about military drafts or Russian troops showing up at my doorstep. I don’t worry that at any moment I could be asked to fight for a war I never wanted, or forced to give up a passport in exchange for one I don’t believe in. My eye falls on the bald eagle adorning the navy-colored booklet next to me, illuminating the words “United States of America.” It whispers of rights that it seeks to protect. In return for these rights, it asks me to hold up the added weight of its pages and the associated values inscribed within its sheets. The application form before me inquires: will I give up my physical tie to Russia? I look down at the Soviet red booklet emblazoned with the two-headed eagle. Before this passport can whisper anything to me, I put it aside and feel it begin to release its hold.
I pick up a pen and sign on the line.
Anna Baron ‘16 is a Political Science major in Branford College. Contact her at anna. firstname.lastname@example.org.