Marc Chagall, Rain
I firmly came to the idea to immigrate from the USSR in 1987. By that time I had been participating in several underground cultural movements. I had already published literature and rock/punk samizdat journals and organized a conceptual art group, tutored in math and science , and in an underground political movement — went to meetings, published samizdat of forbidden literature . I also went to two-people demonstrations against the Soviet war in Afghanistan, after which I was arrested and interrogated by the KGB.
Ironically, I felt that by the time I was twenty-seven, I experienced everything in that country except prison, pogrom, and retirement. I felt completely exhausted. I was a Jew and sometime even my Russian friends and comrades in our diverse underground enterprises might ask me, “Who are you [as a Jew] to say so?!” I felt that the country was not mine.
That was very depressing. A very close Russian friend of mine asked me, “What are you doing here?! Why are you suffering among these people? This is not your people — you don’t need to suffer here. It’s not ‘your cross to bear’.”
We did not want this fate for our son. We and our four-year son left the USSR in 1988, with six allowed suitcases (two per person), $400 , and we were stateless.
We paid 2,000 rubles to buy ourselves from Soviet slavery (to revoke our Soviet citizenship) and, even though my schoolteacher salary was 150 rubles per month, we did not regret any single paid ruble.
Many of my wife and my sympathizing friends were asking, “Are you not afraid to go abroad [чужбина]?! Nothing is waiting for you there. You’re brave!” We replied, “We feel that abroad [чужбина] is here, in the USSR. We are not expecting any ‘place’ waiting for us — we want to create our own space there. In contrast to the USSR, where people have to fit into the existing ‘places’ pre-made for them, we want to creatively make our own ‘place’ in the USA. We think that by staying in the USSR, you are much braver than we are.”
In a couple of years, my parents and relatives joined us. Most of our friends – both Jewish and Russian — with whom we talked, no longer live in Russia
I want to finish with words by a genius Russian bard Alexander Bashlachev (1960-1988):
Если б не терпели – по сей день бы пели.
А сидели тихо – разбудили Лихо.