By Peter Hitchens
Like most Englishmen, I grew up with a natural dislike of “abroad” and a belief in the inferiority of all foreign things. I think it took me five visits to France before I began to regret leaving that lovely country rather than to rejoice at my return to our safe and familiar island.
It often strikes me as quite funny that I spent so much of my life as a foreign correspondent, a profession for which I am so unfitted. When I went to live in Moscow in 1990, I felt that I had somehow betrayed my native soil. (I was born in the middle of the Mediterranean, but these are technicalities.) I still recall a brief return from the U.S.S.R. to my hometown of Oxford, during which I was asked for directions by an American tourist. “You must live here,” he said, impressed by my historically detailed advice. “No,” I confessed with a strange feeling of guilt. “I live in Moscow.” For the first time in my life I had chosen to live in foreign parts, and very strange and hostile parts they seemed to be.
Yet the experience of living in that sad and handsome place brought me to love Russia and its stoical people, to learn some of what they had suffered and see what they had regained. And so, as all around me rage against the supposed aggression and wickedness of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, I cannot join in. Despite the fact that Moscow has abandoned control of immense areas of Europe and Asia, self-appointed experts insist that Russia is an expansionist power. Oddly, this “expansion” only seems to be occurring in zones that Moscow once controlled, into which the E.U. and NATO, supported by the U.S., have sought to extend their influence.
The comparison of today’s Russia to yesterday’s U.S.S.R. is baseless. I know this, and rage inwardly at my inability to convey my understanding to others. Could this be because I have been unable to communicate the change of heart I underwent during my more than two years in the Russian capital?
Let me try again, starting in a Moscow street called Bolshaya Ordynka.
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