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Russia: Bonner Says Anti-Western Sentiment Is Rooted In Envy

One of Russia's most prominent human rights activists, Yelena Bonner, says it is becoming more acceptable to express anti-Western feeling in Russia. Bonner, the widow of Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov, talked about the trend during an interview with RFE/RL. Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini.

Moscow, 17 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Yelena Bonner met with Radio Liberty journalists in her apartment in Moscow, where she lived with her husband, dissident and physicist Andrei Sakharov, until he died a decade ago.

Bonner said Russian commentators and politicians often trace anti-Western feelings back to last spring, when NATO defied Russian disapproval and bombed Yugoslavia. But she said anti-Western sentiment in Russia has existed for a lot longer than most people believe. It grew because people were jealous of Western prosperity.

"The person living in his little hut hates his [rich] neighbor but [at the same time] he wants to live like his neighbor. That is the first cause of anti-Western moods, and I think that non-formulated, non-expressed anti-Western feelings were just as high before Kosovo."

Bonner said the war in Kosovo made it possible for Russians to express hidden anti-Western feelings by giving them a moral justification.

She said hatred for the West may often be understandable, especially among those 90 percent of Russians who say they live in more humiliating conditions now than under communism.

But she denounced those who profited from the last decade of European-style freedoms and now condemn the West. As an example, she cited an open appeal signed last week by Russian artists such as film director Sergei Mikhalkov and violinist Yuri Bashmet.

The letter to the United Nations, which criticized Western condemnation of Russia's war with Chechnya, implies that the West does not support what the authors called "Russia's efforts against terrorism" because the West perceives any progress in Russia as a threat. Bonner said most of the authors profited more from the West than the average Russian and would be the last to give up the privilege.

"I would like to ask them one question. You wrote such an anti-Western letter, but are you ready to take upon yourself a moratorium and not set foot in the West for the next five years, not in Cairo, not in Greece, not in Italy, not in Paris, not at the Cannes film festival or the Oscars. Let them be the first then to give up the West, let them give up their Western trousers or their bow ties. It's all just blathering [on their part]."

Bonner said she is convinced that Russia's younger generation will not pick up on anti-Western sentiment, since they have integrated a certain number of freedoms they will not easily give up.

"Young people from the active [population] don't want an iron curtain, a limitation to freedom of speech, the freedom of films, of video recorders, and whatever else. They don't want to be judged on the accusation that they watched the wrong movie. No, they want to live free, like Europeans."

Bonner said some of today's anger also stems from Perestroika, when people were led to believe that an evolution toward democracy would be easy.