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Anna Rosch

"But he's pro-right. How can I keep sleeping with him?"


I am nineteen years old. I recently moved to Paris to study, and I'm sitting in a dorm room with my new boyfriend. We're trying to write essays, but we're constantly distracted by chitchat. Every time I stop working, after a minute my laptop screen turns off and I have to turn it back on.

- Why does it always turn off? - I get annoyed.

- So it saves electricity, says my boyfriend Davide.

- What do I need it for? I live in a dorm and I don't pay for electricity.

Davide looks up and looks at me with confused:

- It's saving energy. The world's energy.

That moment is forever etched in my memory as the first time I seriously thought about active citizenship.

This was when talk of ecology had not yet reached Russia. And other social topics didn't touch me much either. I went to a good grammar school in St. Petersburg and then to St. Petersburg University. My friends and I went to exhibitions and the theater, were interested in history, talked about literature, and generally considered ourselves "young intellectuals”. But social topics passed us by. In particular, we didn't talk about politics.

I quickly realized that things were very different among European “young intellectuals”. For example, my boyfriend Davide was Italian and a communist. He passionately argued that what we had in the Soviet Union was not communism. And real communism, where everyone is equal, is beautiful. His beliefs were a huge part of his personality. Without them, he wouldn't be himself.

Davide voted for the Italian Communist Party, which didn't even get 5 percent. It seemed silly and naive to me, but he sincerely believed it mattered.

Just as he believed that my computer affected the amount of energy in the world.

I found the same confidence in almost all of my new friends. Politics mattered to everyone, even those whose views were not so extreme. I vividly remember one incident. One of the girls in our company started dating a guy. Her name was Leila, she was from Morocco and held "leftist" views. So we asked her about it after a couple of dates. At first her eyes light up: he's smart, interesting, awesome in bed...

But suddenly she stops talking, sighs, and says in a completely different tone: "But he's pro-right. How can I keep sleeping with him?"

Then I was stunned. Dumping a cool guy because of his political views? That's stupid, to say the least. What's more, it's somehow petty to me, isn't a person more important than politics?

Only after a few years in France did I fully understand Leila. And what's more, I wouldn't go out with someone whose political views are very different from mine. Because politics is not about slogans, election posters, and waving flags.

Politics is about values and morals.

Behind each party's program are answers to questions that affect every ordinary person. Should nuclear power plants be shut down? Should the state help those who are unemployed? Should migrants be accepted? Should abortions be allowed or prohibited? Should the rich pay higher taxes? Should we support our own government if it decides to fight on the territory of another state? And there are hundreds of such questions. To answer them, one must check one's own deepest values.

In democracies this is taught from childhood. Conversations in the family, the study of philosophy at school, recognition and analysis of the past mistakes of the state - all this shapes critical thinking.

In Russia, being "out of politics" is often seen as some sort of morally superior position.

In Europe or America, on the contrary, it is seen as a withdrawal from responsibility and a loss of connection to one's values.

Not surprisingly, people here often form a social circle of people with similar political views. According to the American Family Survey, only 3.6 percent of marriages in the United States are between Republicans and Democrats. Meanwhile, Americans are increasingly marrying someone of a different race or religion, but the percentage of marriages between different political camps is falling.

People are looking less at formal differences and more at underlying differences in values.

A society where it is accepted to have a civic mindset is better prepared for upheaval. When Donald Trump was elected as president, it was a shock - but for his opponents, the world did not turn upside down. They knew people who supported Republicans. Of course, Trump is a particularly odious figure. If you're against him and a friend, dad or mom is for him - it's  unpleasant. But it's like the distance between you has increased in a few more steps. Not as if a huge chasm had suddenly opened up and it was unclear how you could meet now. People were ready to break up or knew how to continue communicating in spite of disagreement.

What happens when one is used to being "out of politics," but "political events" become so important that one can no longer ignore them? One hears and mindlessly repeats only what is easiest to hear. Someone freezes in a position of "I don't understand any of this”. Someone for the first time in his life takes a firm stance and suddenly discovers that his friends, parents, and partner have completely opposite views. It wasn't important before, but now it's suddenly fundamental. It hurts.

Anyone who finds himself in this situation will have to decide what is more important to him-relationships or values.

In any case, once you realize the connection between politics and your own values, there is no going back. Many people in Russia have gone through the same process in a couple of weeks that people in other countries go through growing up. After that, society will never be the same. What it will be depends on what values prove most important to the majority.

By Anna Rosch