Rather than going for my usual format, I decided to write a short story in fictional form. I hope you enjoy!
It’s the 7th of February 2024, the 10 year anniversary of when it all began. I still remember everything. Some memories you just cannot erase, no matter how hard you try. The dying faces, the anguish and the blood… they will stay with me forever, no matter what I do. My name is Sarah, and today is the 10th anniversary of the Battle for Sochi, the first battle in the most brutal war the world has ever known.
We went to Russia with such positivity, so much hope for the future and so many ideals. We were going to teach the Russians that they couldn’t just ignore human rights, that they couldn’t suppress an entire group of people just because of the way they were born. The Russian people would stand with us, fully convinced by our protests, and we would all take down Putin, finally giving Russia a democracy where the entire LGBT community could feel safe. Because we were fighting on the right side of history, weren’t we?
“I’m so glad we came!” Alex exclaimed once the plane had landed.
We were walking through the airport, and already the mood was set. It wasn’t just me and my best friend Alex who had gone to Sochi to protest. On the plane, there were at least 30 other people going to Russia for the same reasons, so we pretty much spent the entire flight singing songs about Putin and equality.
“I know!” I answered brightly. “This is going to be the best trip ever, AND we’ll be saving the world!”
After exchanging some contact details with the other activists, we spent the first day getting used to the new surroundings. The opening of the games wasn’t until the next day, so no protests had been scheduled yet. While we explored the city, we saw all its splendour and beauty, all the money that had been poured into decorating the city in the Olympic style and to make it look so magnificent. But it didn’t impress me. It only made me angry. How could those pretentious Russians be all proud while suppressing half the population? It was unacceptable, and I couldn’t wait until the protests would finally start. It was time for change.
The next morning we got up early. Sleeping had been difficult because we were so excited, and now that the first protest was only a few hours away, I could feel the adrenaline pumping up. After having some breakfast, we left the hotel and headed towards the square where Twitter said the protest would take place. Putin had issued some warnings, but we didn’t expect too much trouble. Hundreds of people were congregating, so they could hardly go about arresting us all. And besides, even if they did, the West wouldn’t just stand by and watch. If Putin did anything that would hurt us, all of the West would come to our aid, finally giving us the opportunity to take a proper stand against Russia’s discrimination with our own government on our side.
When we reached the square, about 50 people had already gathered. They were all wearing colourful clothing, and as soon as they saw us coming, they began to cheer.
“This is awesome!” Alex exclaimed. “We’re getting cheers!”
“Don’t take it too personally,” I answered mockingly. “I bet they’re cheering for anyone wearing a pink coat and a rainbow shawl.”
It didn’t take long before the square began to properly fill up. Alex and I mingled with the crowd, getting to know more of the protesters. Many of them were LGBT themselves, but definitely not all of them. It was a happy bunch, each of them equally idealistic and determined to show Putin what the world really thought.
By the time it was 10 AM, half the square was pink. Hundreds of protesters had gathered, and media from all across the world had come to film us. A small stage had been set up on which some gay rights activist I didn’t know was speaking to the crowd, riling us all up while the cameras recorded every word. The mood was improving, and I couldn’t help but get carried away by the intensity of it all. Before long, the two of us had fully gone up into the crowd, cheering just as loudly as everyone else when the speakers said something encouraging.
It was 11 AM when the mood changed. The opposition had arrived. There had been some police, but they were passively watching and definitely no threat to us, but when a group of about 20 homophobic Russians walked onto the square, holding anti-gay banners, the crowd quickly started to grow restless.
“Immorality will not take Russia!” one of the men at the front shouted loudly, a thick Russian accent coating his words.
“Stop Western corruption!” another shouted.
“Seems like we’ve got ourselves a couple of closeted gays,” the woman on the stage said with a smirk, her voice amplified by a microphone and carrying across the entire square. “But don’t worry! You’re safe with us!”
The crowd chuckled, but the group of Russians didn’t seem bothered.
“Go back to your country!” one of the men yelled. “Go have gay sex there! You filth!”
“Do you want to come over here and say that again?” a large man from our group asked, giving them a threatening look.
“We should kill you!” the man replied. “Execute you! Death to the gays!”
At that, the mood truly turned. A few men from our group separated from the rest of the pack and began to walk towards them.
“Say that again,” the same man as before spoke up, now just a few steps away from the group of Russians.
“You. Should. Die.”
Suddenly, a stone came flying in our direction. I don’t know who threw it, but it came from the back of the group of Russians, which infuriated me. They were trying to break our peaceful protest with violence. And I wasn’t the only one who thought that. The entire front of the crowd reacted and began to move towards the Russians.
The man who had spoken up stepped forward and swung his fist towards the Russian man’s face. The others followed, and soon enough the two groups were fighting. I didn’t know what to do. There were just 20 of those Russians and hundreds of protesters, so it was a useless fight, but the entire crowd seemed to be heading towards it, trying to help. In the end, Alex and I just went with it. We were angry, and that’s all we knew.
“Death to Putin!” I heard one of the protesters shout above the fray as we charged the Russians.
Before long, there were shouts and screams everywhere. Adrenaline overtook me, and when I saw the Russian police running towards us, I knew it was going to be a big fight. But I was prepared for it. The Western government wouldn’t let anything happen to us. At worst we would be imprisoned for a few days, but that was worth it.
The police didn’t dare join in. They just looked at the fight anxiously, shooting bullets into the air to try and frighten us.
“They won’t hurt us!” a protester shouted loudly. “Fight for our rights!”
Eventually, I managed to fight my way to the front lines, suddenly standing eye to eye with a large Russian man. But I wasn’t afraid. I dove right into it and tried to hit him in the face. I had never been a violent person, but this changed everything. I was fighting for human rights.
The man evaded my attack and threw a fist in my direction, but I was able to jump away just in time. He tried again, but was suddenly swept off his feet. Alex had attacked him from behind, throwing him to the ground. He began to kick the man while he lay on the ground, leaving him no chance to get up again.
“That will teach ya!” Alex shouted as he kicked the man in the stomach once more, even though he was already knocked out.
I looked ahead and saw a small group of police gathered a couple of metres away from the fight. One of them shot another bullet in the air, but it didn’t matter. There was only one way to make the fight stop. Just as I wanted to turn back, I saw a policeman aim his gun in our direction. For a split second, I thought he was bluffing, but then he fired.
I will never forget the look of shock on the faces of all those protesters. Of the man who collapsed to the ground just a few steps away from where I stood, never to get up again. Blood trickled out of the wound on his head, but all I could think about was me. That I had seen someone die. That I was in danger. I felt no compassion or worry. Just shock.
The crowd went into a frenzy. Panic and anger struck, and all rationality was lost. They surged forward, towards the policemen, leaving the injured and often unconscious Russians behind. The police began to shoot madly, their life depending on it, and more people fell down. Five, six, seven, eight, it didn’t stop.
When the crowd finally reached the police, they jumped on them. The men didn’t stand a chance. The crowd was just too big, too angry and too shocked. It was over in seconds.
But our victory didn’t last. At least thirty more policemen came running onto the square, shooting without warning. More people fell down, and the crowd began to run. Away from the policemen, away from the guns, away from the square. I frantically tried to look for Alex, but I couldn’t find him. Too many people were running past, nearly trampling me to the ground. I couldn’t wait much longer.
It was just when I was almost at the back of the crowd that I finally found him. He was lying on the ground, just behind the last few protesters who were still running. He didn’t move, and his head had been bashed in, the blood spilling across the pavement. As if someone had walked right over him. Someone had murdered my best friend by stepping on his head as if his life didn’t even matter. As if they hadn’t even noticed.
I felt sick, and all I could do was run. I didn’t want to look back, and I just followed the crowd across the square. I was nearly at the back, but the police had stopped shooting. They had done their part. The protest had fallen apart. There would be no more pink on the streets of Sochi.
Just thinking about it and writing all this down makes me feel sick again. I will never forget how Alex had looked, so familiar yet so distant. Or how I fled, not even shedding a tear for my best friend until a few hours later, when the reality of it all had finally begun to sink in.
Of course, that was only the beginning. The Western media and government reacted in shock and demanded repercussions, but the Russian people seemed convinced that we had been the aggressors. Negotiations were useless, and before long the war started. The Russian people hated the West and the Western people hated Russia, never able to look at their issues from any side but their own. It wasn’t until last year, after 9 years of bloodshed, that people finally began to realise the futility of it all. But by then it was too late. The damage had been done.
We had fought a war for equality, but in doing so, all equality, all human rights and all democracy had been destroyed. Countries had fallen apart and nuclear weapons had destroyed half the planet. It will take decades to get back to the equality that existed before the war, but to me, it just seems futile. At some point, those who experienced the war will die, and people will forget about how awful it was. How pointless. War will be glorified, some country will feel superior, and before long it will all happen again. The death, the destruction, the inequality and the poverty… it will all return, just for the sake of some distant ideal. A Utopia that always inevitably turns into a Dystopia.
You might wonder why, of all the conflicts we’ve had before, I am afraid that this time it might end up becoming a war. Sarah explains that at the end: we have forgotten. The West now lives in a time when the last war veterans who experienced a homeland war are either dying or have reached such an age that they no longer influence politics. It’s been nearly 70 years since World War II, and that’s dangerous. If there is ever a time when we will destroy the world with another World War, it’s in the next two decades.
Signs of this are abundant. Citizens want their government to take a stand against Russia just because of those laws. Huge numbers of people are heading to Russia just to protest, and nobody seems to think about the Russian point of view. Nobody wonders why this law exists in the first place, and that’s how war starts: when you forget that your opponent is human and begin to see them as some evil organisation. Russia is demonised in the West, and if we don’t stop that soon, if we don’t start thinking about our activism and start to convince the Russians with arguments rather than with force, then that war is not so far away anymore. From the Russian point of view, we are now those tyrants who pretend to want democracy, but then when the vote disappoints, we ignore it and turn to threats and violence.
Something will have to change soon, but this “fight” has become so popular that turning it around seems nearly impossible. Irrationality hardly ever disappears once it has manifested itself, and that means that this war could start any moment now.
I do, sincerely, hope that I’m wrong.
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