Weekly column by Natalia Antonova
“And when it came to sex, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“You mean - he raped you.”
“Well, we were married. I don’t think of it as rape.”
I have to admit, I didn’t much like Veronika (not her actual name) at first. We met when I was still in high school – and spending a wet, hot Russian summer hobnobbing with precisely the wrong sort of people in Moscow.
Veronika was just a few years older than I was; and already dating the man who would become her abusive husband – and then her abusive ex-husband. A native Muscovite, she had been swept off her feet by a wealthy man from a former Soviet republic (she specifically asked me not to mention which republic – just in case her ex recognizes himself. She doesn’t think he would come after her, but she is worried about “hurting his mother’s feelings. His mother was always nice.”)
Veronika’s own parents were fairly well-off in their own right, but, as she sarcastically put it many years later: “He could buy my family several times over.”
Veronika was like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy – her voice literally was full of money; money and subjects tangential to money were all she ever talked about. She was the sort of person who would unceremoniously pluck a pair of sunglasses off my face and demand to know if “these are actually Ralph Lauren – or did you buy them in an underpass?”
Her childhood had been poor – but now she would make up for it, dammit.
Just a few months after I left Moscow that year, Veronika would marry her man. Like many young Russians, she had never lived apart from her parents until that point, and was delighted to move into an apartment that belonged just to the two of them. She had never been independent, but what did it matter? “At least I wasn’t living in a tiny Soviet-style apartment surrounded by old people and drug addicts.”
They had a few good years, before their marriage deteriorated. Veronika blames herself for some of it – she was much too young, she didn’t take anything seriously, she made unreasonable demands, she threw fits in public places. She says her husband never hit her, but “could get rough” on occasion.
“He always bought me things afterwards, though. Diamonds, even.”
Veronika didn’t file for divorce – her husband did. After moving back with her parents and “feeling like a loser for a while” she went to study abroad.
Nowadays, she has a foreign husband whose nationality she won’t name, and in a way, her views are as extreme as ever. Instead of trying to make fun of me for my sunglasses, she makes fun of me for the fact that I married a Russian man. “Worst mistake you’ve ever made.”
Veronika used to love Moscow and be proud of the fact that she was born here, making cruel fun of recently arrived provincials. Nowadays, she despises her native city with an equal passion. People who haven’t left yet are “idiots,” people who have actually chosen to come here are “insane.”
And worship of rich husbands from former Soviet republics has been replaced with rich foreign husband worship, naturally.
Oddly enough, I don’t dislike Veronika anymore. The stuff that comes out of her mouth (or, rather, is typed in furious Facebook messages to yours truly) is bizarre – and bizarrely honest. She articulates the kind of things that few people would articulate, even as they believe them.
“I love my husband and I’m smart. Smart women marry money,” she tells me.
“So marrying your ex was a wise move?”
Our Facebook chat is paused as she evidently thinks about the question.
“Things were different then. It was the early 2000s. You know what it was like.”
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.
Natalia Antonova is the deputy editor of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was borxn in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.
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- R.W. Emerson IIHas Russia disappeared?03:45, 02/11/2012I wonder how many Russians these days are like Veronika. A few? Most?
I used to have a fondness for Russia as a whole -- for "Russian culture", "Russian soul". I even came to appreciate communism -- national liberation, rights for workers, rights for women, progress in Afghanistan, scientific achievement. But today, I cannot say what Russia is. It's a place that hides from its past. Stalin, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, radical, liberal: Every avenue seems to lead to something shameful.
As the country falls, the individual rises. Nothing unites these individuals. Some Russians care about peace and justice; some do not. Some want to help Syria and Iran; some do not. Some have a heroic vision; others are completely venal and superficial.
At first, it seems like it would be a joy to live in a country that is not making war against half of the world. But then I see that there is no country. Instead, I find people -- Veronika, Natalia, Vladimir. Is that enough?
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Some people are trying to make the reality in Russia at least a bit more humane. The amnesty should apply not only to persons involved in high-profile cases, but also to individuals who are not as well-known. It is better to set free at least some of the individuals who deserve to be released than no one at all.