One of the most damning critiques of the argument that Russia cannot democratize, that it is an atomized society incapable of coming together around common humanistic values, lies in the simple fact of Russian philanthropy.
According to the best estimates, some 50% of urban Russians give to charity every year. The bulk of this money goes to help children – sick children, orphans, victims of violence or catastrophe – with smaller but still significant amounts going to help at-risk adults, religious organizations, health-care institutions and environmental preservation. And the numbers grow every year.
No one has done more to establish philanthropy in the fullest sense of the word – charity, kindness, generosity, humanity, mercy and care – than Elizaveta Glinka. Her work on behalf of cancer patients and the homeless, in the creation of the Russian hospice movement and in other fields has brought life and comfort to thousands. But the example she set has done much more than that: it has helped drive home the message that, even in the most uncooperative of circumstances, so much can be achieved.
Dr Liza, as she came to be known, died today, when a Russian aircraft crashed in the Black Sea. Where that plane was headed, how she came to be on it, and why it fell from the sky are, frankly, of little import, at least to me. Nearly a hundred lives were lost, all of them valuable. But among them was one woman who has done more than almost anyone to prove that every Russian life is valuable.
Russia has lost one of its greatest modern heroes.