American Reflects On Pros and Cons 4 Years After Moving to Russia

Here is an update about Hal Freeman, a professor who moved to Russia with his whole family four years ago

Originally appeared at: Between Two Worlds

Editor's note: We have run a few articles by Hal Freeman, since he presents another example of someone who moved from the comforts of the West to Russia, taking all of his family with him. What would prompt one to such a drastic measure and how did the reality of the move compare with his expectations? Of course, this is just one family's experience, but it is fascinating, especially since he is not the only American who has done so in recent years. (Here is more about his story).

Four years ago we were in what felt like an emotional whirlwind. I had officially worked my last day at the small company where I worked for my brother and taken early retirement. We had our passports, visas, and airline tickets in hand, awaiting our departure from America on June 7. We were still in the process of selling or giving away almost all our possessions before we left for Russia. While she was packing, my wife was nursing our 17 month old daughter, helping our other two kids finish the school year, and supervising what was to stay or go. Our house was almost empty by this time. We were also trying to spend time with as many family members and friends as possible before we left.

Oksana had had two babies in America. When we arrived in America in 2008, she already spoke English fluently, and she had met many Americans in Russia. So there was no real “culture clash” for her when we moved to America. I have outlined our reasons for moving to Russia in several blogs. I was an older father and wanted to spend more time with my young children. We both were concerned about the attacks on traditional values that were taking place even in our small southern town and the impact growing up in such a culture would have on our children. While we were happy in our community and church, the larger changes on the cultural and political horizon in America concerned us.

Still, the decision to move to America had been a long process. What would it be like moving a teenager, a 7 year old and a young toddler half way around the world? Over time, we became convinced this move was right for us. Although Oksana was born and raised in Russia and I had lived here 3 years, we still felt like we were headed into uncharted waters. We were a family of 5 now. We were excited and scared.

Our arrival here went pretty smooth. I read my early blog on our arrival the other day and remembered how shocked I was at the nice roads and homes we saw on the way from the airport to Luga. Since we moved in early summer we had a chance to “settle in” before school started in the fall. We eventually found a nice, although small, apartment. Our boys adjusted to Russia much more easily than we had thought they would. What we did not see coming was the political storm swirling around Russia and the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the presidency.

POLITICS AND “RUSSIAGATE.” Many people probably got tired of hearing of “Russian interference” on the news in America almost every day for three years. Things now have come to light, even in the last month or so, that allow us to see the Russia hoax more clearly, however.

The Mueller Report (May 17, 2017-March 22, 2019). Robert Mueller used 40 FBI agents, issued over 2,800 subpoenas, and spent somewhere around 35 million tax dollars investigating the alleged collusion between candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It wasn’t just that Mueller had 40 FBI agents. We now know, largely from Peter Strzok’s messages to his extramarital lover and FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, that these agents despised Trump. They were looking for dirt, and Strzok spoke of an “insurance policy” to make sure Trump did not get elected. Nevertheless, even after assurances from people in high places to the contrary, Mueller was forced to testify before Congress in July of 2019 that his team found no evidence of collusion.

The House Intelligence Committee. After Mueller’s testimony Adam Schiff assured us that as Chairman of the House Intelligence committee that did their own investigation, he knew of concrete evidence that there was collusion with the Russians. Others that testified to this committee took to the mainstream media circuit and assured everyone that Schiff was correct. The list of people who told the American public they knew from evidence presented that Trump had, in fact, colluded with Putin was impressive. It included James Clapper, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Loretta Lynch, and Evelyn Farkas. Regretfully, they said that due to national security concerns they could not release the information. We had to trust them. But then those over national security recently told Schiff sufficient redactions had been made, and he could release this information. At first he refused to do so, until he got the response, “If you don’t, we will.” We now have learned all those folks I mentioned above who went around telling the networks they had hard evidence on Trump’s collusion told a different story when they were in private and under oath. All 57 people interrogated replied unequivocally that they neither had nor knew of such evidence. In short, they lied to the press because they thought no one would ever release their testimonies.

Concord Management. Mueller had continued to assert Russia really did interfere. Apparently he was talking about the 13 Russians who worked at Concord Management in St. Petersburg. He had indicted them for crimes, although events would show he clearly did not anticipate them fighting back. He could say they did it, but he could not extradite them to America so nothing would come of it. Trouble is, they hired a lawyer. The original judge castigated Mueller’s lawyers for indicting people and yet the prosecuting attorneys were not prepared to go to court. The prosecutors later quietly dropped the charges. The American media let it die unreported.

Still, the Russia narrative continues. The U.S. media do not retract stories about Russia that are later found to be inaccurate. The Russian Embassy pointed out recently that the NY Times won three Pulitzer prizes for reports on Russian meddling and trolling that later proved to be wrong. There was never a retraction. American media can accuse Russia of anything from election collusion to cheating on COVID-19 figures. They don’t need evidence to charge Russians with anything. And they know they won’t be held accountable when it turns out the info is not factual.

THE PERSONAL. I admit all this Russia hoax has impacted me. There are so many misrepresentations in the American news of life here and what Russia is like. I still see these articles and interviews by those who know nothing about life here. Oksana and I have lost a few of our American friends (“acquaintances” might be a better word). The suggestion that in some ways life is better in Russia offends some Americans. Politics becomes more important than friendships.

It is not just the misrepresentations of life in Russia. I have gotten to meet ex-pats or folks who have spent a lot of time in other countries. I’ve learned the American government has lied about those countries as well. They share the same sense of frustration that we feel here. Right now, China is a possibility for taking from Russia the top-spot in the list of countries America hates. Someone asked me what I thought of how China handled the COVID crisis. I have no idea. I don’t know anyone in China. I read things in the American press that paints them as deceptive, but these are the same media sources that I am absolutely sure lied about Russia. I did hear one Russian medical person who went there to study the situation in China when it first broke. He said the portrayal in the Western press was completely wrong. After what I’ve seen here, I don’t doubt it.

Life this last year. Despite the stress of the American press lying about Russia, we really like life here. But this past year has been far from ideal. We moved into our new home a year ago. Moving is horrible whatever country you do it in. People think I’m joking when I say it was easier in many ways to move to Russia than to move across town in Luga. When we moved here we sold stuff, we gave it away, we threw it away, or we packed it. Very simple. There is only so much you can take. It is not that way when you are moving two miles away.

Then school started. Gabriel started middle school, and it was so much more difficult. He has different teachers, and the subjects were much were harder. The home room teacher plays a bigger role here in the adjustments of the students than in America, and his homeroom teacher was not helpful. I don’t mean just to Gabriel. All the parents were unhappy. So it was both that the subject matter was more difficult, and that he got less help from his teachers during the adjustment.

When Oksana and I started our teaching at the English school this past September, they had added quite a number of students who were really not at the level of the others already signed up for the class. This created a lot of havoc. Eventually they had to change things, but it made teaching much less enjoyable for us. We honestly don’t do it for the money. We like working with the students, because they are very serious about learning English. Having students of various levels in one class takes away the enjoyment of teaching a language, however. Eventually with the COVID-19 crisis shutting down classes, we left and did not do the on-line teaching. We have decided this was our last year teaching. We love the students, and the Director and his wife are nice people, but we have a very different philosophy of teaching, and we decided it would be best not to return.

Finally, on the bad news, we were much sicker this winter. That’s a bit strange because the winter was one of the mildest Luga has ever had. But, as I mentioned in a previous blog, Gabriel, Marina Grace and I all got pneumonia. Actually, like a lot of people, we wonder if it was really the coronavirus. My stepson Roman works in an international hotel in St. Petersburg. He is full time in the summer and part time during the school year. He came home coughing badly one weekend after having worked there over his break. Then a couple of weeks later Gabriel got sick. Our pediatrician diagnosed him with pneumonia, but she didn’t do the tests determining the pathogen as it would’ve taken too much time. The three of us were sick with it for well over a month. Oksana also had some sicknesses unrelated to our pneumonia. Her doctor says her immune system is still not completely recovered.

COVID-19. The coronavirus continues to impact our lives here. Russia took a break between May 1 and May 9. May 1 is a national holiday, similar to Labor Day in America. May 9 is the big holiday—the Day of Victory celebrating the victory over the Nazis who occupied this country for so long. On May 11 Putin announced the end of the “no work days.” Schools resumed their on-line studies and folks all over the country went back to work. More stores were open, although I think the restaurants are still closed. I thought we might have a bit more freedom of movement here in Luga, but it was actually the opposite for me. I went for my regular walk, and there were very few people out. The public address system on the square was announcing we were to stay home. Since I was about the only person down there I assumed they were talking to me.

The rate of new cases has been dropping slightly now for about a week. It looks like Russia has plateaued. Russia has only had 2,837 deaths from COVID-19, compared to 91,981 in the U.S. Despite assurances from WHO representatives here, the NY Times and others continue to assert Russia is lying. Again, they offer no evidence, but they have never needed actual evidence to bash Russia. CNN made some ridiculous claims about how it is here. No surprise there.

Other articles portray Putin as out of touch, passive, or on the brink of complete failure, so I’d like to address that. For my information I check TASS and then the Kremlin web-site most every day. I have continued to watch videos of meetings Putin has, and the Kremlin posts the actual texts of his meetings and addresses on-line. He is far from passive or out of touch. I don’t agree with all his policies, but he goes over every significant detail in their meetings. For example, not all the money allocated as bonuses for health care workers was spent last month, and he wanted to know why. He was obviously very familiar with what the leaders were doing. I think there is a developing tension between him and the Mayor of Moscow, who seems to be using COVID to expand his powers in the way many leaders in America are doing. (See the lengthy article

Russia, like many countries, closed its borders. This has been frustrating for friends of ours. One family was completely ready to move from the U.S. to Russia when this happened. The husband had already quit his job. Now they are stuck. Another family who visited with us for a couple of weeks last year was in the last stages of making preparations to move to a home about 10-15 minutes from us. Fortunately, they had not quit working, but they had sold their home, a lot of their furniture and other items. We have been greatly looking forward to having another American family nearby. So we’re very anxious for the travel ban to be lifted so these families can resettle here in Russia.

Although we have been here four years now, I still miss having friends I can sit and chat with in my own language from my own culture.

The good news. I have mentioned several times the positive aspects of living here, so I’ll briefly review. The cost of living is much lower. We took some money out of my retirement to buy this home in cash. I could not have done that in America. When we sold our home and car in America, we paid off our credit card and other debts. We are a family of 5 with one in college in St. Petersburg where we rent an apartment. We’re still out of debt. There is no way that would have happened in America. Health care is so much cheaper in Russia, and the quality of the care is better here than what we were getting in America. One of the bills we paid off when we sold our house in the U.S. was our hospital bill from the birth of Marina Grace. It would have been free in Russia.

We are a traditional Orthodox Christian family, and traditional morals are still honored here. Now, I do not mean everyone here thinks like we do or agrees with us on religion. I mean that the kinds of values and standards we want our children to grow up with are respected here. That was not true in America. We saw the American government becoming more invasive as far as telling families how to live. A conspiracy theory is believing something to be true, even though there is no evidence. Something is a theory when it is not based on real evidence. We saw the evidence.

Russia is more peaceful than America. I mean that in two ways. First, people here disagree over politics or a number of other issues without becoming emotional or offensive. There are some radicals (usually very pro-Western) who have their marches and get angry, but they are a small minority usually in larger cities. Politics is not something friends cease being friends over in Russia. We learned the hard way that is not true in America.

Second, this is not a nation that relishes war or conflict. Oh, I heard one American politician, whose name I do not recall, say that Putin gets up every morning thinking of how he can disrupt the situation in America. I think many people in America think that. I think it is an empty-headed, narcissistic view. It really is a conspiracy theory. Putin is focused on Russia. Russia does have an unbelievable array of weapon systems. I admit, as an ol’ U.S. Marine I love watching the videos and reading about them. Russia does not park them on some other country’s doorsteps, however. They really are for defending Russian borders.

I’m quite aware many Americans are absolutely convinced what I said about Russia being defensive only is completely wrong. American politicians love telling people how Russia is out to wreak havoc around the world, and especially in America. Putin, they say, is a sly, devious and dangerous politician. I majored in psychology in my university studies. You don’t have to be a psych major to know who Carl Jung is. Jung did a picture-book illustrating his views on the way the human mind works. One was a picture of Adolf Hitler. I don’t have the exact quote, but the line below it essentially said, “This man is going to set all of Europe ablaze with his incendiary dreams of world domination.” At first glance, one thinks it is a quote about Hitler. Upon closer examination you learn it was actually what Hitler said about Winston Churchill. This is Jung’s illustration of the psychological concept of projection. Politicians often project onto another leader their own deep seated machinations. I think American politicians project onto Putin what they are trying to do with their 800 bases on foreign soil and missile launching systems within range of the borders of Russia. Before you write and make sure I know how devious Putin is, please watch that link to the Tucker Carlson video I posted above. It clearly shows the line of D.C. leaders lying to the American people about evidence of collusion they knew of, while quietly admitting under oath they had seen no such evidence.

It is America that is looking for war. You don’t build 800-900 military bases outside your borders and put weapon systems as close to the borders of other countries as possible because you’re peaceful. You do that to provoke. “National security” is when you protect your own borders. I’m not saying most Americans want war. I’m saying the American government is funded by people who want war. It is not like that here.

So after four years our perspective has not changed. We still miss our family and friends in America. We still talk about fun places we use to go to as a family when we lived in America. But we do not miss America. We do not regret coming to Russia. We are very glad we did. And the more we see events unfolding now as a result of the COVID controversy we are even more relieved. There are restrictions here that I really don’t like, but they are not unreasonable violations of the Russian Constitution. I cannot say that of what is going on in America. I deeply, deeply grieve over what I am seeing both domestically and in terms of foreign policies and practices in my native land.

Given my criticisms of America, I have been asked if I have lost my love for my country. There is an old article by Randolph Bourne, wherein he distinguishes between “country,” “state,” and “government.” The country is “the non-political aspects of people.” It includes “the loose population spreading over a certain geographic portion of the earth’s surface, speaking a common language, and living in a homogenous civilization.” A country is the people, the place, the land and language. Yes, I still love my country. The State is the country acting as a political unit; it is the group “acting as a repository of force.” A significant part of its focus is international and is involved in “power politics.” The Government is the “machinery by which the nation, organized as a State, carries out its State functions.” At present I have no love for this group which is acting as a repository of force. I think they are the ones who have lost their love for the country as Bourne defines it.

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