Molly Anderson was deported from Russia last week.
Russian police detained her and her traveling companions, tried them for violating the terms of their tourist visas and threw them out of the country. Molly will be unable to return to Russia for five years.
I found that news rather heartbreaking.
I travelled to Russia with Molly two years ago after she invited me to join her on her 11th trip to that nation. She showed me a side of Russia and its people that was priceless in my understanding of global politics.
Molly has been traveling to Russia since she was in her 20s. She has lots of friends in that country and many of those I met love her like a sister.
When we arrived in Moscow, we travelled to Ryazan, where we were welcomed us into a variety of lovely homes by charming people. We were treated like honored guests at tables overflowing with Russian foods, platters of fish and meat, salads, dumplings and desserts, with lots of toasts to friendship with good Russian vodka.
Those evenings are among my most treasured memories.
I had always imagined the Russians to be cold and dour, as they are painted often in our media and in our movies.
Those I met were as warm and friendly as members of my own large Italian family and as I sat at dinner tables among the delightful, funny and friendly Russians I met, I could not get over how much it felt like home.
Upon our return to Moscow, I can still recall my emotions the night we sat in the dark in our seats at the historic Bolshoi Theatre, waiting for the curtain to rise on a performance of “Swan Lake,” by the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet.
I don’t have much of a dance background, but even I could recognize the triumph of the exquisite performance. At its end, the audience erupted, shouting in emotional tones and near weeping in pride and pleasure at having seen such perfection.
My takeaway lesson from Russia was the same one I’ve learned every time I visit a new country.
Everyday citizens all want the same thing. We all want happy, healthy and free lives so we can live where we want, practice the faith of our choice and have enough prosperity to experience beautiful things and celebrate life with our families and friends.
Everyday people don’t want war. They don’t want strife. They don’t want oppression. They just want to live their lives out in peace.
Perhaps its just the leaders of governments who want to create enemies so they can get the citizenry to support them in their quests for more power.
They seem to do that by creating enemies, instilling fear and isolating their people from the rest of the world.
I don’t think that everyday citizens want any of that. They just want to live their lives out in peace.
This holiday season, it’s never been more important to understand that a government cannot go to war unless it fills its citizenry with frightening stories of enemies, and makes them fear for their safety and freedom. It’s even better if its own citizenry is divided and distrustful against each other.
Everyday people don’t create that environment, leaders do — if we allow them.
Russian officials made a mistake when they threw Molly Anderson out of the country. She’d been traveling with a group of friends and faculty from the University at Buffalo and they were detained after they went to a university in Ryazan and met with students and teachers there.
In a court hearing, they were fined for violating the terms of their tourist visas and deported from the country. They cannot return for five years.
Molly is one of very best ambassadors Russian leaders might ever find to help grow trust and friendships between the Americans and the Russians.
In their hard line against Americans, it was likely easy for the local Russian leadership to say they were only following the law and Molly and her friends violated their visas.
If you are a dreamer like me, and like Molly, you might consider what could happen if more people in Russia understood they have more in common with Americans then they could imagine and might even find great joy in friendships created between themselves and people of our nation.
And what might happen if more people in America understood that the Russian people are kinder, more loving and more decent than we’ve ever been led to believe.
Molly Anderson is a change agent, extending friendship and love to the Russian people she meets and giving them an up close and personal look at Americans who care deeply about their friendship.
The Russians wanted to send Molly a message and so they did. And that's so disheartening.
What if more humans were able to sit and talk with people from other countries and hear their stories and enjoy their company. In my experience, every time it happens people’s hearts open and their minds change.
Perhaps fewer would be inclined to listen to leaders who posture that no one can be trusted and that we must be prepared for war.
Perhaps we might just get more of what so many claim to desire at this holy time of year — peace on Earth and good will toward all.
Contract Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263 or email her at email@example.com.