What is freedom?

Moscow, Bolshoi Moskvoretsky bridge (Nemtsov bridge)
Morning duty, november, 23

“What is freedom?” The young man asks me a question. We are arguing during a picket near the monument to Bulat Okudzhava. I was standing there with the banner «No to war with Ukraine.» He walked over and the argument began. Most likely not an argument, but a conversation that is very correct and rather calm. It continued even when I passed the picket relay to the next picketer. It lasted much more than an hour. And at the end of our conversation the question was raised:

“You are a liberal. So what is freedom?”
I tried to answer something, but it was not very intelligible. But what is freedom, and why is it needed and necessary?
While I was driving home, and then walking to a performance with a friend, I was thinking about the question I was asked. And the memories arose.
At 3.30 there was a nasty sound – an alarm clock. I don’t feel like getting up at the time. My whole entity is against it. But I need … What kind of freedom is this? But probably this is the freedom of my choice? Or is it one of the faces of freedom in a non-free country.

At 6 o’clock in the morning, the Kremlin Chimes begin to beat over my head, and I am already quite cheerfully striding along the bridge. Grisha and Pavel are waiting for me. I know that the night shifts are most difficult, especially in winter, in the cold. And it turns out, this is their choice, their freedom. Freedom in a non-free country?

Grisha leaves, Paul stays with me. A little later, I languidly try to persuade him to go home, relax and sleep. I’m not afraid to be alone on the bridge. I understand – he will not leave. Maybe freedom is also a responsibility? Responsibility for who is nearby? I do not know…
Workers come up to us.
“Do you have the Nemtsov Bridge badges?”
We offer them small ones.
“No, we have these. We would like a big one, with a portrait of Nemtsov.”

I unfasten the badge from my backpack and hold it out. One of the workers happily takes the badge.
“And what for us?“ ask the others.
“No more,” I reply.
After some time, another worker comes up. A long conversation starts. And again the worker asks about the badges. Pavel offers him a small Nemtsov Bridge badge.
“Let me take that badge «No to war»?“ and he takes the last badge from the box. He hangs it on his clothes and goes to work.
What was it? The possibility to leave something to remember about working on this bridge? Or the manifestation of some kind of freedom? Or both? And what is freedom for them?

A man comes. He is from Ossetia. We are talking about Nemtsov:
“They killed a good man!”
And people walk by. Someone stops near the memorial. Most pass by. And what is freedom for them? Probably, it is important that everyone has the freedom to express their own opinion that is different from my opinion. Although, sometimes it is oh so difficult to internally accept that there are many opinions.
The shift is over. We pass the Memorial to Solidarity, chatting a bit, joking and leave the bridge with Pavel.
Ahead of Red Square, with a bustle on it. For many, perhaps this is freedom?
It’s strange, the first “cold” duty in this season, but it passed somehow easy.

I’m going to Arbat to Okudzhava for a picket. On the way I meet Nikolai. I stand at the picket. This is where this conversation starts at the end of which the question was raised: “What is freedom?” And around there are free people: Nikolai, Olga, Nadezhda, Tatyana. Perhaps not many free people who declare their freedom. Or maybe I’m not right and there are much, much more free people?
Am I free? Probably not, probably not completely. And why do I need that freedom? But I need it and without it it’s already difficult for me to breathe.

In the evening, with a friend Olga, we go to the play “Warsaw Melody”. We watch the performance. In general, the story is also about freedom, about the freedom to love and be with your loved one and the impossibility of that in totalitarian societies.
I’m going home on a trolley bus. Nearby is sitting a young guy. He is looking at me:
“Let’s get to know each other,” he smiles and says his name. I say mine.

Chatting a bit with a random companion. And then he asks me:
“Are terrorist attacks in Moscow possible? There, in the gateway near the stop, I saw men and the police next to them. ”
He has fear in his eyes… What is our government doing to us? If there is such fear, then what kind of conversation can there be about freedom?
And yet, what is freedom???
© Karina Starostina
translation Albert Goncharov

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