The Portland Vancouver area is home to tens of thousands of Slavic (Russian / Ukrainian speaking) families who now call this home. Yet most of us have not heard their story that explains why they do not take our freedom for granted. Nor do we understand their reluctance to voice any dissent or disagreement with authorities.
For many, those reservations can still inhibit meaningful participation in elections as a result of a long history in the Soviet Union that threatened life itself. Prior to the mid-1980s Soviet citizens lived in fear, realizing that they could be arrested at any time, killed or sent to Siberia for exercising basic human rights.
The suppression of government criticism had previously been a central part of the Soviet system. Then in the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev brought “glasnost”, openness and transparency to the Soviet Union government institutions and activities.
The new freedom of speech and transparency exposed the utter failure of socialism and communism as citizens learned the awful truth of the atrocities, the thousands of political prisoners and dissidents, and crimes against humanity.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan challenged Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!”. 29 months later, the walls came down and people were allowed to leave. A flood of freedom hungry families fled to the United States. Like the early Pilgrims that originally settled our new nation, most left their homeland for America in search of religious freedom.
After settling here, these families still lived a life cloaked in fear and silence after being conditioned to expect imprisonment and death if they voiced dissent even here in America. Many living in the Slavic communities in Vancouver / Portland remain silent rather than expressing their concerns about life in America.
Only now are they awakening to realize their true freedom and responsibility to participate in our form of self-government. Russian Radio 7 at AM 1010 covering the Portland / Vancouver area has become a lifeline to help these families learn to engage.
Vitaliy Stepanyuk hosts a call-in talk radio program on Russian Radio 7, AM 1010 four days per week to discuss news, commentary and political issues. His program airs Monday through Thursday from noon through 1:00 pm and until 2:00 pm on Wednesdays.
Vitaliy shares how these families are beginning to openly discuss political issues and participate in elections with some fear as the memories of the old life style fade.