When Vesta Spivakovsky’s two-year-old daughter was kidnapped by her ex-husband, the child’s father, Vesta was left to deal with a crime that wasn’t recognised by the law in Russia. ‘Family kidnapping’ had no established legal recourse and in 2010, Vesta had no experience of dealing with government systems and authorities, which left her on a short leg in going up against her ex-husband, a powerful man with political connections in Russia. “My ex-husband decided to totally isolate me from my child, so I started fighting for my rights. At first, my writing was just to register the surreal experiences — it was a way of keeping my sanity. But then I started to realise that my personal story was bigger than myself. The syntactic nature of reality is that the world is made of words. Once we acknowledge what abuse is, we can always recognise it and move away. This is why it is so important to talk about violence and never keep silent.”
Her book, Louder than Silence, took six long years to write. In the book’s moving preface, she writes, “During this time, I have literally lived several different lives, and I can say that it was only scary to die the first three times. Thanks to the detailed ‘chronicle’ in the book, it is possible to trace back several of these transformations.”
The book not only narrates her survival story after being violently separated from her child but also touches upon the nuances of being a woman in the 21st century. “Apart from sharing my personal story, which itself made me terrified and vulnerable, the journey also helped me overcome victimisation. The book transformed one’s personal tragedy into a collective manifestation of the voices of thousands of women against domestic violence.”
On her own journey
After spending years in courtrooms, she became well-versed with the ways of the law and even headed an NGO called Women of Our City. “(I realised) it was impossible to make any political change without social education. Collective consciousness must be relieved from Stockholm Syndrome before it can demand a law from the State.” As she says in her preface, “The law will not change on its own. The law is you and me.”
In 2013 she left Russia, after facing multiple problems posed by her ex-husband to thwart her fight. She found that the legal system was a space where “money has power over human life” and left it behind to start her own journey — she travelled across Europe and Asia, and met people from different walks of life. She hosted public discussions on human rights, participated in a ‘without borders’ festival, facilitated family constellation groups and found that her pain was echoed by many parents around the world.
“I met women with similar cases, fighting for the right to raise their own children, all over the world, but mostly in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. This also happens in international marriages a lot.”
While Louder than Silence is written in Russian, the contents of the book are taking the author around the world because “structural violence affects women worldwide. Women and children who experience domestic violence cannot understand that it is really happening; they experience pain, trauma, fear and shame. They cannot believe that a ‘loving partner’ abuses them so cruelly, so they hide internal and external bruises, and lose touch with their kids, friends and family. When they get depressed or confused or talk, they are often blamed or not even counted. And it’s considered embarrassing and socially unacceptable to speak out. Victims remain invisible. I want to translate my book and publish it to inspire the women all over the world to not remain silent and become visible.”
The non-fiction novel makes observations about the legal, political and mental state of modern Russian society through the story of one mother fighting for her rights. “They say hardship makes you stronger but that’s bullshit. You are already strong. This book is full of my personal and spiritual insights which had to be discovered while suffering through the separation from my own child.”
A call for resistance
“Amnesty International called 2018 ‘The Year of Female Resistance.’ In 2018, women around the world were at the forefront of the fight for human rights. In India and South Africa, thousands took to the streets in protest against widespread sexual violence. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, activists, under the threat of arrest, resisted infringement of their rights, demanding the right to drive a car and take off the hijab. In Argentina, Ireland and Poland, mass demonstrations were held demanding the abolition of repressive abortion laws. In the United States, Europe and Japan, millions advanced to the second-ever women’s march in the world, inspired by the #MeToo movement against misogyny and violence. This global movement has not bypassed Russia — women have risen against sexual harassment and domestic violence,” says Vesta, with passion punctuating her words.
Her grouse remains that the majority of people from Russia still have not heard of family abduction and PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome), which is a problem that doesn’t affect women alone — her fight is also for fathers who are illegally separated from their children.
While travelling in India, she found herself feeling surprised by how women can be oppressed so much in a country where “men still worship the goddesses.” To women facing violence in silence, she says: “you are not only facing your attacker, but 10,000years of historic domination. It’s time to call Kali; I see the liberalisation of women as the collective manifestation of female anger and resistance — women must consolidate their voices. It’s time to get ‘ungovernable’ by toxic masculinity, in a way of making this world a better and safer place. Meanwhile, we can only heal the society by healing ourselves.”
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