Cupcakes

DSCN1728“Cupcakes. Considerably cheaper when you take away. 45% off.”

This post is dedicated to the armchair fascist who recently asked on the readers’ forum of the anti-Semitic, pro-Putin website The Saker whether George Soros financed the Russian Reader.

I will answer the fascist’s oh-so-pertinent question by quoting from the weekly news wrap-up emailed to readers and supporters on Fridays by the folks at OVD Info. I would gather OVD Info is not financed by Soros, either. In fact, I know they are financed by donations from not very well off people like me, people who work for a living and are not financed by anyone but the sweat of their brows.

More than 600 people were detained in Petersburg on September 9. A week later, another unauthorized protest against the pension reform took place in the city. This time, however, only three people were detained during the protest itself. But the police went on a real manhunt for local activist Shakhnaz Shitik. After she photographed a police officer at the protest, the police tried to detain her. They maimed her and sprayed tear gas in her face. Afterwards, Shitik was taken to hospital, but police tried to detain her there as well. Ultimately, her husband was taken to a police precinct, but offiers remained on duty in her hospital ward. Subsequently, Shitik was taken back and forth from the hospital to the precinct several times until she was finally left to spend the night at the precinct. A court ordered her jailed for twenty days, ostensibly for her involvement in a theatrical performance that depicted Putin being chased away by pensioners. In addition, the police made Shitik provide them with a written statement on suspicion she had violated the law against insulting the authorities. A female Center “E” officer who had passed herself off as a reporter at the hospital had taken offense at something Shitik said.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. The Russian Reader is a website that covers grassroots politics, social movements, the economy, and independent culture in Russia. It is not financed by anyone nor has it ever solicited donations. All work on the website is done for free, nor do I pay fees for the Russian-language articles I translate into English and publish. Everything that appears on the Russian Reader can be reposted and republished as long as the Russian Reader is indicated clearly as the source and a link back to my original post has been included.

The Wires

DSCN1673This is what you will typically see when you look up at the sky in central Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

One thing I find especially charming about certain Russians, often academics, who have lived for decades in “straunge strondes” (чужбина), is their conviction, now that the current “vegan” times have permitted them to make occasional and even annual junkets back to the Motherland, that life here is now nearly the same in every respect as back in the straunge strondes.

I’ll leave to one side the political aspects of this queer conviction, focusing instead on a single aspect of everyday life. I’ve heard it said a million times by many a Russian not resident in God’s Heavenly Kingdom on Earth full time or even part time (really) that wi-fi and internet connections here are the top of the pops, so much better than wherever they live, surrounded by black people and Mexicans and uncultured rednecks.

I have to admit that, outside of Russia, my only experience of wi-fi and internet connections over the last ten years or so has been places in the States and elswhere where I’ve stayed for short stretches, including my parents’ farm, my sister’s house in a big city in the Midwest, and the apartments of friends in other cities and countries, as well as my own secret hideout in Free Finland.

In all these places, I enjoyed shockingly fast, nearly outage-free internet and wi-fi connections. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times there were full-fledged outages in Free Finland, and all of them were sorted out in a matter of an hour or two, if not in a few minutes, with the sincerest of apologies by my Finnish providers.

As for the Cradle of Three Revolutions, everything was cool and seemingly getting cooler until sometime in the past year when, I suspect, the FSB placed so many demands, both physical and financial, on internet providers, that they are now no longer capable of doing routine maintenance on their networks and upgrading their hardware and software, despite the growing demand for their services on the part of the taxpaying and fee-paying populace.

But the ISPs serve a higher power—the siloviki—who are so out of their minds right now as to imagine you can organize a revolution on VK by reposting pictures of Nazis and Navalny or something of the sort. They thus have to have ever-increasing capacities for surveilling the peons they rule over like medieval liege lords (or so they imagine), and they have tasked the country’s internet providers with giving them lots of electronic windows into the souls of these traitorious worms.

At least, I hope this is the case, because otherwise the sheer misery and torment visited on us since approximately last spring by our once faithful internet provider, long ago swallowed up by another company from Moscow and bereft of all the charms and virtues it had back in the days when I was one of its first customers, are inexplicable.

Suffice it to say that one look at the junction box in our attic will tell you tell that, in fact, is where the problem lies, and yet every time our internet goes under, which can be several times a day, the mumblers who man the phones at our provider’s tech support service run us through the same routines, all meant to persuade us morons that the problem is with our computers or even with our ignorant selves, not with the woeful state of the junction box in the attic or farther down the line.

Things turn from irritating to tragicomic when our provider sends an actual person to fix the mess. Nearly all of them (at this point, a dozen or so have darkened our door since spring) start out by ringing the changes on our wi-fi router, which supposedly has to be replaced, or the plastic snap connector on the end of the broadband cable or the cable itself.

If we can induce them to go up into the attic and open the junction box or just look at the junction box, which has wires poking out from in in all directions, like a Dalek gone south, they break down and admit the problem is on their end. If they’re kind and competent, they might apply a temporary fix by switching out a couple of cables in the box.

Then we have the joy of living humanity’s shared electronic life for an hour or two, or day or three, or, god forbid, a whole week. Sooner or later, though, the plug will be pulled on our meager joy, and our provider, unable or unwilling to give us the real explanation for the problem (our junction box? their servers back at the head office? SORM?), will plunge us back into their rehearsed routine of selling snake oil to their loyal customers, their nerves shattered, their hearts broken, their ability to do their own work suspended indefinitely.

I think all of us who actually live in the real Russia full time could make a list of the country’s practical shortcomings, without once touching on politics per se, and the list would be long and sobering and, occasionally, incredibly frightening.

But the crypto-Putinists who teach at places like Berkeley and don’t really live here never or hardly ever deal with this failed state, nor do they want to have the really hard talk about how nearly all of these eminently practical failures are caused, ultimately, by wildly bad governance and poisonous, sometimes deadly politics.

And what is the point of having that talk with them? They’ll only get testy and resort to whataboutism, the last refuge of scoundrels. {TRR}

#MONSTERS

monsters-nonretirement“I could have failed to live until retirement.”

MONSTERS
Facebook
September 18, 2018

A powerful anti-anti-abortion protest took place today in Petersburg, but you will not hear about it in any of the mass media.

monsters-wagner“I could have worked for the Wagner Group.”

Until we fail to put a halt to abortions, which, fortunately, annually do away with enough people to populate the city the size of Petersburg, there is no point in discussing or contemplating anything serious.

monsters-repost“I could have been sent to prison for reposting.”

Russia is not only the land of the dead, which has been said more than once, but it is also the land of the unborn.

monsters-election rigger“I could have rigged elections.”

The Russian Federation not only has a past that never was. It also has a future that will never be.

monsters-kitchen boxer“I could have engaged in domestic violence.”

Russia is a failed state. Russia is a fake state.

monsters-sexually harassed“I could have been an object of sexual harassment.”

All Russians, men and women, are in some respect dead men and dead women, but they are also embryos.

monsters-omon“I could have been a riot cop and assaulted people at protest rallies.”

No wonder the stage of (para)political theater has recently been occupied by such figures: aborted embryos telling us they could have been soldiers, for example, and dead women and men, who worked to the grave, but did not live to see a single kopeck of their pensions.

monsters-channel one“I could have worked for Channel One and hoodwinked people every day.”

Bringing together the dead and the unborn was long overdue. This is just what we have done in our protest. We are MONSTERS, a new group of militants in the field of political art in Petersburg.

monsters-torturer“I could have tortured people in prison with a taser.”

We staged our protest in response to the latest move by the pro-lifers, who played heavy on people’s heart strings.

monsters-15000 a month“I could have earned 15,000 rubles a month my whole life.”

We profess and practice monstrous political art. We thus decided to do something even more sentimental.

monsters-syria“I could have gone to Syria to fight.”

You thus see before you dead embryos. They might not have lived until retirement, but in any case they did not survive until retirement.

monsters-died in orphanage“I could have died in an orphanage.”

#MONSTERS

monsters-installation viewA view of the silent protest on Pioneer Square in Petersburg’s Central District

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yekaterina Kosarevskaya: Vegan Times

vegan meals in temporary detention facilityVegan meals issued to prisoners at the Special Detention Facility on Zakharyevskaya Street, where the detainees sentenced to short jail terms for their involvement in the September 9, 2018, anti-pension reform protest rally in Petersburg are serving their time. Photo courtesy of the Telegram channel ONK SPB 16% (16% of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission)

Yekaterina Kosarevskaya
Facebook
September 13, 2018

A court in Penza has extended the time in police custody of the suspects in the Network case.

Formal indictments have been filed, and the case will soon be handed over to the prosecutor. Dima and Ilya [Dmitry Pchelintsev and Ilya Shakursky] have been indicted violating Article 205.4 Part 1 of the Criminal Code [“organizing a terrorist community”]. Dima chose Part 1 himself. Dima has refused to admit his guilt.

I imagine, if there were total knowledge of human nature, this knowledge could be attained by simultaneously understanding Konstantin Bondarev, who went sleepless for two nights as he gave the commands to administer electrical shocks to the suspects in the case, and Dima Pchelintsev, who after spending a year in a remand prison, had to choose between two pieces of paper, one promising him five to ten years in prison, the other, fifteen to twenty, and he chose the one promising him fifteen to twenty years (or is that life in prison?), but which did not contain the phrase “I admit my guilt, and I am sorry for what I did.”

There is no such thing as total knowledge.

Meanwhile, Petersburg had a week chockablock with jail sentences for some of the people who attended two different anti-pension reform rallies. Around a hundred protesters were sentenced to jail time, for a grand total of five hundred days in jail for all convicts. That comes to a year and a half in jail, which is a cushy sentence even for people sentenced under Criminal Code Article 205.6, i.e., failure to report a terrorism-related crime. And what is there to report? This is not a comparison. Comparisons are invidious.

I wanted to be in Penza, of course, but for some reason I returned to Petersburg.

The palliative functions of my civil rights work are still with me, but now they have been turned inside out. Temporary relief is now brought not by the presence of a civil rights defender, but things are made present to the civil rights defender. Before my very eyes hot meals and bed linens appear at police stations, people are released from police stations where they cannot be held, and government-issued dinners marked “VEGAN” are handed out at the Special Detention Center. The only things we cannot handle are bedbugs and violations of the freedom of assembly, and this also gives us peace of mind.

A certain Telegram channel writes that the whole business of rescinding the go-ahead for the September 9 protest rally and the subsequent detaining of six hundred people boils down to a feud between the United Russia faction in the Petersburg Legislative Assembly and Petersburg city hall. (Aren’t they United Russia party members, too?) The channel does something incredible: it attempts to figure out Petersburg politics.

I’m amazed, but I’m afraid to go down that rabbit hole. I had better keep trying to figure out Petersburg’s prisons.

And so it goes this autumn.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Minimum of Solidarity (125 Days)

day 125Award-winning Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for 125 days in the Polar Bear Maximum Security Prison in the far north of Russia. His only demand throughout the strike has been that the Russian authorities release sixty-four other Ukrainian political prisoners, most of them, like Mr. Sentsov, from Crimea, which was illegally occupied by Russia in 2014.

In recent days, I have seen a lot of snide commentary from Russian nationals to the effect that Mr. Sentsov should give up his hunger strike, because it’s obviously not working.

In my opinion, what Mr. Sentsov, who was sentenced to twenty years in prison on trumped-up charges by a kangaroo military tribunal in Rostov-on-Don, does is up to him, don’t you think? I think he should get a free pass when it comes to what he does or doesn’t do after the Putin regime ruined his life while Russian society mostly stood by idly and silently once again.

Oleg Sentsov is a far braver man than most of us can hope to be. If we do not want to help him and refuse to show solidarity with him and his cause, the least we could do would be to refrain from writing and talking about him.

That would be the minimum of solidarity in this case. {TRR}

#SaveOlegSentsov

 

 

Yulia Botukh: Petersburg’s Kangaroo Courts

yulia and varyaYulia Botukh and Varya Mikhaylova, May 7, 2018. Photo by Ms. Mikhaylova. Courtesy of her Facebook page

Yulia Botukh
VK
September 11, 2018

Twelve hours of court hearings.

Today, the heroic, fearless Varya [Mikhaylova] and I defended the interests of people detained yesterday [at the anti-pension reform rally in Petersburg] in the Primorsky District Court.

I need to get it off my chest.

The judges are such masters of their craft they can hear four cases simultaneously without even feigning that they are observing procedural niceties. They are capable of saying straight to your face that the fewer appeals you file, the better things will go for you.

Is this a way of teaching us to silently put up with every perversion of justice in general and human rights in particular? They could at least put it indirectly, not head on, when they sentence people represented by a social defender to seven days in jail, while sending people with no legal representation to jail for three days. One judge sentences everyone to pay fines, another judge sentences everyone to X number of days in jail, while a third judge divides up the fines and jail time according to gender.

Then there are the police officers who escort the detainees. There are ones who behave properly and humanely. Then there are ones who can say things like, “I decide when they go to the toilet!” or “Why do you have to go one by one? Put a group together!” or “Why the mob? Do you have hold each other’s wee-wees?” or “No, I’m not taking you now. I just arrived. Let me rest. I’m stressed out!” or “Are you fucking kidding?”

I realize all these means of humiliation are meant to compensate for the individual’s inability to manage these aspects of his life on his or her own and that, maybe, it has become so ingrained these things are said automatically, but it doesn’t make it any smoother. You have to argue with certain police officers over taking detainees to the bathroom.

There was the charming female officer who refused to give me her name. It was like at school. She concealed her personal information from me, as recorded in a receipt, by covering it with a piece of paper.

And you have already read the media reports of officers taking food meant for the detainees and eating it themselves.

The detainees are all super cool girls, women, guys, and men. They thank me and hug me, although I realize that, basically, there is little I can do to help them. I can do my best, but the outcome is totally unpredictable. Probably, it helps more emotionally that you are not alone, that someone can explain to you what happens next and tell what things are like in the temporary detention facility on Zakharyevskaya Street. I was glad that no one lost their optimism, sense of humor or ability to make fun of what was happening. It matters.

Some of the detainees said they now had a different perspective on the justice system and protest rallies. Many of them told mew that at the police precincts they were asked how much they had been paid for going to the protest rally. A thousand rubles? Three thousand?

What planet do cops come from?

My defendants were fined ten thousand rubles [approx. 125 euros] or jailed for as many as seven days.

If you like surprise, attend the court hearings held after protest rallies. You won’t be disappointed.

Thanks to the ferocious Varya Mihaylova for Ms. Botuk’s text, as reposted on her own VK page, and the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Tatyana Schukina: Why Russian Schoolchildren Protest

reutersx

Tatyana Schukina
VK
September 10, 2018

“Gendarmes Savagely Nab Teenagers”

Who are the teenagers who go to protest rallies? Blind rebels who would oppose any system or children who have realized this country has no future?

Yes, I believe my views are oppositional, sometimes to extremes. But I want to at least try and examine this topic objectively.

I think there are both kinds of children at protest rallies. The scary thing is that if absolutely all children came to protest rallies merely to have a laugh, feel they were part of something meaningful, and yell at the government, basing their arguments on someone else’s words, it wouldn’t be so terrible.

At the [anti-inauguration] rally on May 5, my friends and I saw a boy who was six or seven. He wore a blazer and had a school bag on his back. He marched with the crowd. He was not yelling, but he was part of the rally.

One of my friends wanted to take the piss out of him.

“Our little rebel. You against the system, too?” he said.

“Systems are inevitable,” the boy replied. “I’m against this one.”

We freaked out. We delicately asked him whether he was frightened.

(The atmosphere was frightening. There were tons of paddy wagons and helmeted polizei wielding truncheons. The crowd was screaming. Protesters were getting nicked and marched off to the paddy wagons. Some people were crying.)

The boy laughed.

“It’s frightening when they explain to me at school why I could be punished if I’m strolling out here,” he said.

“You’re frightened you’ll be punished?”

“I’m frightened I don’t know why I would be punished,” he said.

I’m scared that children talk like that. I’m scared that children speak beyond their years and in their own words. I’m scared they could be sent to jail or expelled from school in their own city, yet no one can properly explain to them why. For pictures posted on the internet? For attending peaceful protest rallies? Even though the authorities herd children to a rally if it’s a pro-Putin rally. That’s the difference. Children are simply bused to pro-United Russia rallies and hold placards made ahead of time for them.

They go to opposition rallies on their own.

I know the schools are flooded with propaganda. I know because I was a schoolgirl until recently. I also know that political campaigning and propaganda is legally forbidden in schools.

I remember one September first, the first day of the school year. We sat in our classroom, and the teacher told us about the plans for the years. Another teacher walked around the room, taking snapshots of diligent pupils at their desks. A slide with an image of Putin flashed on the screen. It was captioned, “Russian Federation President V.V. Putin.”

It was no big deal. The next slide flashed on the screen.

“Wait, bring Putin back. I’ll take a snapshot of the class with him in the background,” the teacher with the camera yelled to the pupil running the projector.

It was a trifle. Totalitarianism is made up of trifles such as children seated in front of the supreme leader’s picture. But wait, it’s the twenty-first century. Everything’s cool. The picture is digital.

That teacher takes a class snapshot with Putin in the background. Another teacher stuffs ballot boxes on election day. Yet another teacher tells pupils why they are forbidden to attend protest rallies. Finally, a fourth teacher takes children to a pro-United Russia rally. But children don’t understand what’s happening. Children ask questions. Children are interested in politics. Children understand this is where they will have to live. Children watch investigative reports, children see the poverty, and children go to protest rallies.

Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photograph courtesy of Reuters and Ms. Shchukina’s VK page