Sergei Medvedev is at The Camden Conference
Sergei Medvedev posted some reflections on his time in Maine to social media last weekend on November 4. Medvedev has over 53,000 followers on his Facebook page alone. This is what he said:
“I’ve long wanted to go to Maine, the most northeastern part of New England, where the Appalachian vultures flee to the ocean itself, to cut bays, gorges, and lighthouses. The occasion was given at the most appropriate season, at the end of October, at the peak of the “Indian summer” and red leaves. Been invited to speak at the Camden Conference, and it’s an institution that deserves a special mention. Imagine the quiet town of Camden, New England: brownstone homes, a couple of neo-Gothic churches, a Walmart, Main Street with a dozen restaurants serving local lobster and clam chowder, pumpkin wings and star-striped flags, classic American countryside. And so the people who live there are interested in the fate of the world, and they create a fund where they contribute significant funds, attract sponsors from local businesses, and throughout the year hold a series of public lectures at the local opera house (yes, there is a Golden Age legacy) with speakers from academics to politicians from all over the world and directors of banks. They import them from India and China, Latin America and Europe, and pay a decent fee. They publish a magazine with their performances and articles, broadcast online.
Once again: this is not a business, not a government, not a think tank, and not even a university. It’s just the caring citizens in the American deep that spend their money and their time at these events for locals and students of surrounding colleges, and major institutions envied by their level of organization and speaker composition. They contacted me three years ago, I performed online twice, and finally arrived. I would consider this an exception if I hadn’t been invited a year ago by the same forum in South Carolina, the World Affairs Council at Hilton Head, lived at an oceanfront golf resort and spoke in the huge premises of a local church that gathered several hundred people.
There’s a reservation to be made: both Camden and Hilton Head are famous seaside resorts surrounded by opulent villas and golf courses, and the contingent is not exactly simple: retired US government officials, lawyers, big business. When I had dinner with the Board of both forums, and there were ex-Administration, ex-Pentagon, ex-CIA level people, former Congressmen and Senators with a powerful professional background and understanding of how the world works. But if they have strategic vision and resources, these forums do for ordinary locals, farmers, homewives, school teachers. Both in North Carolina last year and in Maine this year, 300-400 people with a lively interest and smart, deep questions about Russia, Ukraine, Europe gathered for my lecture, and in Maine the organizers even bought three dozen copies of my book for local schools. The queue for the signing of the book lasted for a good hour, and I was especially pleased that Maxim, a Ukrainian refugee living there, who organized a coffee business there, came in the vyshyvanka and gave me a bag of coffee of his own roast under the brand Kavka.
And I thought – sorry for the pathos – that the strength of America, it’s not even in aircraft carriers and not in the economy (that’s growing again), not in Hollywood and not in the iPhone (although in them, too); it’s in civil society, in volunteering, in the desire to sacrifice for the greater good that is still going to come from the first immigrants and colonists. The day after my lecture, my hospitable hosts took me to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, the most visited national park on the US East Coast, with high hills, lush fire forest, deserted beaches and rocky shores crashing ocean waves. It was raining, but in the fog the park was even more mysterious. Atop Cadillac Mountain, which overlooks the sea and dozens of miles of forests, stood an information board with the history of the park, and I learned that the park was created in 1916 from donations from local landowners: wealthy citizens came together and decided to preserve the place for future generations. Three of them, Charles Elliott, George Dorr and none other than John Rockefeller, who had a summer home there, donated 5,000 acres of land to the American people, from which President Woodrow Wilson ordered to make a “national monument,” and in 1929, it became a national park. Give your land to the nation, what a contrast with another country, where the powerful people of the world seize the lands of reserves and relic forests under their villas, block the access to the sea on all coasts, decorate them with high fences with security.
The next morning I was leaving for Boston and my hosts were driving to local restaurants to load hot food in containers that they were going to deliver to the lonely, sick and needy within 50 miles as part of Meals on Wheels: they drive all day once a month, the rest of the days it’s one by one done by other participants of the campaign. Driving my favorite Interstate 95 that runs along the entire East Coast from the Maine Lighthouses to the Florida Keys, I left the towns of Lewiston on the side. Two days later, a smart firearm instructor opened fire at a restaurant and mall, killing 18 and injuring more than 20 — the first mass shooting in the history of this quiet, peaceful state. And this is part of America too, the pay for the Second Amendment. A great country – in its scale, its generosity, and its risks stemming from the unlimited freedom that lies at its very foundation, is like marine granites on the coast of Maine.”