There is an interesting article in The Atlantic this week examining the voting patterns of older Russian-American immigrants who escaped the Soviet Union. It’s titled, “Why Russian Immigrants Hate Bernie Sanders and Love Donald Trump“. Naturally, it piqued my interest given my family history and parents’ similar journey from Soviet-occupied Lithuania to the United States 30 years ago. So I read the article and did my best to absorb the subject matter.
This voting bloc, though small, inclines themselves to conservatism given how skeptical they are of big government, unwarranted 24/7 surveillance, high taxes, and anti-life measures. Those who’ve lived under tyranny–my parents included–refuse to support anyone (Left or Right) who seeks to resurrect this here in the United States.
The article gives an interesting glimpse into Russian-Jewish immigrants currently residing in the Bay Area, who echo similar sentiments to their compatriots residing in New York City. The majority of those profiled in the article were fiercely anti-communist, non-religious/religious, or politically conservative. They didn’t offer positive words for either Clinton or Sanders. When pressed about whom they supported for president on the Republican side, there responses were more mixed. Several expressed support for Ted Cruz, while others expressed support for Donald Trump.
The article did a decent job of demonstrating this group’s generally conservative inklings, but fell short on a few things:
Not all refugees from the former Soviet Union are Russian-Jewish but most are skeptical of tyrannical policies
While it’s easy to paint all Eastern European folks with the same broad brush–an egregious offense if applied to non-Russians–it failed to make this differentiation clear. Not all those who lived in the Soviet Union are ethnically Russian. Yet, a good portion of those who fled the Soviet Union, including Russia, generally vote Republican and identify as conservatives, libertarians, or anti-communists. Remember–the former Soviet Union occupied 15 different autonomous countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The Kremlin imposed the Russian language on those it occupied, which is why many Americans assume every Eastern European person is Russian. (That’s not the case.) The Soviets notoriously oppressed all ethnicities, religions, or individuals deemed enemies of the state. Not all those residing in the Soviet Union were Russian, but had to reluctantly adopt the Russian language and culture to survive. This point should have been communicated better.
American voters from the former Soviet Union aren’t politically uniform, though they generally vote Republican
While most voters comprising this group are generally anti-communist and skeptical of big government, it’s not uniformly conservative. As stated above, those who are more religious and conservative tend to prefer candidates like Ted Cruz. Those who generally aren’t religious nor politically active feel inclined to support Trump. And a good chunk of Soviet émigrés, especially those who had black market dealings or were part of academia, vote Democrat. Several interviewees lamented their children succumbing to “brainwashing” from American higher education–an alarming trend that immigrant children are becoming more removed from their parents’ experiences behind the Iron Curtain. While this voting bloc isn’t uniform, they generally pull the leaver for Republicans given their past experiences in the Old Country.
Soviet refugees (and their children) dislike big government statists and crony capitalists equally
Both big government and crony capitalist entities thrive off of government to survive and exist at the expense of taxpayers–but through slightly different means. The former wants the destruction of free enterprise, while the other system seeks to exploit free enterprise through government means. Bernie Sanders is an avowed student of Eugene V. Debs, a 20th-century era politician who ran for president under the Communist Party banner. Hillary Clinton is an avowed Alinskyite. Alternatively, “anti-establishment” American oligarch Donald Trump has been funding Democrats for 40 years, employs mob tactics, and doesn’t have one genuine once of conservatism in him. All three candidates have left a bad taste in Soviet refugees’ mouths (and millions of other mouths), politically-speaking.
Conrad Mazeika, 32, is a realtor based out of Orange County, California, who is skeptical about the Democrat candidates and Donald Trump. His family fled Soviet-occupied Lithuania prior to the USSR’s collapse. His great-grandfather Mykolas Biržiška signed onto Lithuania’s first Declaration of Independence on February 16, 1918.
“”Vienas velnias joja kitas velnias vairuoja” which translates to one devil comes in by horse and other devil comes in by car. This was in reference to the Nazi and Soviet political propaganda during World War II,” said Mazeika. “Lithuanians knew the game of both Socialists and Communists.”
Given his family history, he supports and plans to vote for Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) in California’s June 7th primary.
Washington, D.C. area resident and Russian-Jewish immigrant Lena Kirochko-Murray came to the U.S. with her parents from St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1989 at the age of 19. She founded an art school in New York City in 2001 called Bridgeview School of Fine Arts, which is primarily led by other Soviet immigrants from Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Russia, and Estonia. She, too, expressed doubt in all three candidates.
“I strongly dislike both Trump and Sanders because they both, in many respects, encompass everything that was wrong with the USSR,” he said.
Barros added, “Sanders has fully embraced Soviet agitprop-style class warfare, cultural Marxism, and critical theory propaganda in his campaign methodology and rhetoric. In other words, instead of building bridges between the different echelons in American society, Sanders promotes instability by fueling the flames of social tension by playing the Soviet-style blame game–in economic, gender, and racial issues.”
“Throughout his career Sanders has not left a single opportunity to use Soviet-style agitprop to rile “the proletariat” unexploited,” Barros said. “Sanders is overtly anti-Western and uses the very propaganda techniques perfected by the Kremlin to undermine the West. Sanders wants to destroy the perceived “moral injustices” stemming from American income inequality, just as the Vladimir Lenin and Stalin so desired to do in the USSR. Just like Stalin, Sanders wants to use intimidation and the application of violence to deprive private citizens of their rightfully earned private property.”
“Deprivation of property rights and forced collectivization intentionally resulted with over 11 million Ukrainian deaths. Stalin did not respect property rights, and neither does Sanders. As a descendant of Holodmor survivors, it worries me greatly that Americans are becoming progressively more comfortable with sacrificing the rights of the individual for the perceived “greater good” of the collective,” he added
Barros also cautioned fellow conservatives to be skeptical of Trump by not falling for his “strong-man” ways.
“Trump is an authoritarian who loves communist and Russian-style authoritarianism. This is overtly obvious from Trump’s endearing comments about Vladimir Putin and the Chinese government’s show of “strength” in the Tiananmen Square Massacre,” Barros said.
“For those conservatives craving a Putin style leader, please keep in mind that Putin controls everything that the Russian people see on the television and on the internet, that Russia has more red tape and bureaucracy than the U.S. government could ever dream of, that Putin employs a large and highly armed special police force whose only task is to protect himself and his government from the people, that Putin’s government is by far and away the number one employer in Russia, and that Putin oversees a socialized medical system (a system which Trump has praised). Putin has long ago perfected the role of Big Brother. Putin may be the unapologetic ‘strong-man’ type that Trump supporters crave, but he is totally in opposition to conservative ideals. Trump in his statements, temperament, and character has given me no confidence that he will defend the principles of limited government. His praise of dictators and authoritarianism are deeply concerning.”
While the Atlantic attempted to paint a specific caricature of Soviet immigrant voting patterns well, it could have done so more effectively. This is not a monolithic group, though they are generally skeptical of big government and crony capitalism. My family greatly dislikes all three aforementioned candidates because they boast tyrannical tendencies too reminiscent of the policies that plagued their homeland. Many other Soviet immigrants share the same fears, as well.
As a result, American voters should look to those who escaped tyranny to better understand why Trump, Sanders, and even Clinton boast views that are antithetical to freedom.