Can we trust opinion polls on the president’s popularity?
December 2, 2014 Gorod 812
Sociologists weekly poll Russians about their attitude to the president and government policies. Despite all the events happening inside and outside Russia, the level of trust in Vladimir Putin has remained virtually unchanged.
According to the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), nearly three quarters of the populace (72%) view the president’s actions positively. Can these figures be trusted? Sociologist Viktor Voronkov, director of the Center for Independent Social Research (CISR), discussed this in an exclusive interview with Gorod 812.
Can opinion polls be used to predict the near future, at least, whether stability or social upheaval awaits us?
The first thing I would note is that opinion polls are manipulative techniques that shape public opinion rather than reflect anything. You can interpret them as you like. This means, actually, that they are probably not amenable to interpretation.
In addition, most of the questions asked by polling centers are outside the competence of the people responding to them.
Sociology is generally not in the business of forecasting. That is not its function. Sociology studies the rules by which people live and act.
Is there a great difference between polls taken in authoritarian societies and polls in democratic societies?
In an authoritarian society it is more difficult, of course, to determine what people actually mean to say. Like the Soviet Union (although to a lesser degree), our society is now dominated by fear. The fear of saying the wrong thing, the fear that someone will use this information the wrong way, and so on. So just to be on the safe side, one has to stick to the mainstream when speaking.
But sociologists and the people in Kremlin probably realize this. Why, then, are so many polls conducted?
Their function is purely manipulative, but it is also has a lot to do with making money. The state manipulates public opinion polls and this, in turn, really influences people.
In general, the nature of public opinion in modern Russia is extremely primitive. There is Putin, whose rating is stable and basically cannot change rapidly. All other existing ratings are directly dependent on what President Putin says. You needn’t bother studying public opinion in Russia. It is enough to study the opinion of only one man, because in one way or another all other opinions will fall in line with this principal opinion.
We see, for example, how sentiments toward the US have evolved in recent years. In 1999, NATO bombed Kosovo. Putin condemned the US, and the country’s rating dropped to thirty-five percent. In 2001, the terrorist attack took place in New York. Putin expressed condolences: sympathy for Americans rose sharply, reaching seventy-five percent. We now have a negative outlook on the US, but if Putin decides tomorrow that we are friends with America, everything will change.
It doesn’t mean anything, except that people basically are not very concerned about it.
So the main objective of these polls is impacting the populace by publishing them in the media?
Of course. The media is mainly responsible for spreading the contagion of propaganda. I would say that in terms of impact on people, media publications of poll results are akin to horoscopes. Horoscopes, as we know, affect people’s lives. People try to interpret their lives in accordance with what the horoscopes say. It is the same with opinion polls.
But there is, nevertheless, real public opinion in Russia. Can one find out what it is?
Suppose you ask someone how he relates to the issue of “Crimea is ours” [Russia’s annexation of Crimea]. He says, “Yeah, it’s wonderful, it’s great, I support it.” You continue questioning him, asking him to tell you more. And the reply you hear is, “You know, I have no time for this. I’ve got work and kids. Spare me your nonsense!” So it is real life that is important, not sketchy answers to staged questions.
The fact that people give answers in no way means we can assess their behavior in terms of these answers.
Opinion polls reflect (at best!) attitudes, the values that society imposes, perhaps. But you would need to study people’s behavior, their real personal motivation, because there is no unambiguous connection between attitudes and behavior. People think one thing and then do something else altogether.
Is it like this in any society, closed or open?
It is easier in an open society. People tell you what they think, but again, this does not mean their behavior will match it.
But in a closed, Soviet-type society, on the one hand, a “small victorious war” raises the government’s rating, because everyone rallies around the leader. On the other hand, within the country, everyone criticizes everything. There is no confidence in the army or the police, not to mention the parliament and the courts. There is no real confidence in anyone.
But in foreign policy, society almost unanimously supports “its” powers that be. The bulk of Russia’s citizens have an imperial mindset: it was not for nothing they were raised as patriots for seventy years, beginning with Stalin’s ideological turnaround in 1934. So the people see any foreign adventure undertaken by the Russian government as a symptom of our being “picked on.” And their justification of any aggression—the invasion of Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc.—follows this. All these military actions were fully supported by the people. The 2008 Georgian War had exactly the same support. The annexation of Crimea is now supported for the same reasons.
In Russia, it is almost impossible to find out not what public figures and experts think, but what the “common man” thinks.
This is true. The common man has very little right to be heard anywhere. Current sociology and anthropology, which are not dominant in Russia, aspire to give the average man a voice. Hence the spread of so-called qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, methods, publications of interviews with “ordinary” people. Attempts are made to produce texts in collaboration with them. Some sociologists even just publish the texts of these people without commentary.
But why don’t Russian sociologists do this?
In Russia, sociology has adapted to serve the powers that be. And the powers that be have little interest in the real opinions of ordinary people. Our powers that be are even uninterested in the opinions of sociologists, except those who publicize what the powers that be themselves say, couched in academic discourse.
If economic difficulties worsen, will the mood of Russians change?
People have now had a taste of a relatively prosperous life. At least twenty percent of the population has seen what life abroad looks like, and they are unlikely to want to live under war communism or as in North Korea. But it is already clear that this little splash of the good life, which was due to high oil prices in the 2000s, has ended. Real income levels will now fall. Those who lived in poverty will feel almost nothing. They will go on living as before. But the so-called middle class, who are supposed to support the authorities because they live well, will feel this first and foremost.
So I think that a political crisis cannot be avoided, whatever propaganda or opinion polls are thrown at it.
See my previous posts on Russia’s authoritarian “pollocracy”:
Every day more than 200 new cases of HIV are registered in Russia, and by the end of 2015 the number of HIV-positive Russians will exceed 1 million, according to news reports released on Monday, World AIDS Day.
Russia’s health and safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor told Interfax that “860,000 HIV-positive people are currently registered in Russia, and every year this figure increases by 10 percent.”
In a speech to the State Duma on Monday, Anna Popova, head of Russia’s health and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said that 75 percent of males who became infected with the virus this year had become HIV-positive by taking drugs. This leads to severe damage to the country’s economy, as these men are usually in their most productive years, she said.
Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal AIDS Center, said that contrary to popular belief in Russia, only 1.1 percent of cases are registered among gay men. The rest are “heterosexuals who lead normal sex lives,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax.
Many regions do not have enough money to provide sufficient medication for HIV-positive people, Pokrovsky said.
“The number of HIV-positive people is growing very quickly. In three years it has increased by 200,000, while the amount of money allocated from the budget to deal with the problem has not changed,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax.
Russia has come under international criticism for its policy on HIV, such as prohibiting opiate-replacement therapy using drugs such as methadone. The practice has been shown to reduce needle sharing among drug addicts, thus reducing the HIV infection rate. The government has also been reluctant to embrace needle-exchange programs, another weapon proven to be effective in combatting the disease.
Critics also argue that more preventative measures need to be taken, starting with increased sex education in schools.
“I am often asked: When will you have sex education? I say: Never,” Astakhov snapped at a meeting with Russian parents, Interfax news agency reported.
Astakhov’s statement followed his complaint about an upcoming meeting with his European counterparts in Brussels next week.
The ombudsman said his European colleagues have branded him an “ideological opponent and enemy” because of his uncompromising drive to prevent children from learning about sex.
But he would still cooperate with fellow ombudsmen, said Astakhov, a former celebrity lawyer known for advocating a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
Astakhov gave his own recipe for teaching teenagers about sex last year, when he said Russian literature offered a goldmine of information on the subject.
“Children need to read more, it has everything on love and relationship of the sexes,” Astakhov told Rossia-24 television.
The staples of the literary curriculum in Russian schools, such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, are notably short on advice on contraception or how to deal with budding homosexuality or other non-heterosexual orientations.
A good thing, according to Astakhov, who said “school should raise children to be chaste and understand family values.”
While Russia may be more notorious for its homegrown cheap sex labor, these days inbound sexual traffic in fact far exceeds the exports, thanks to Russia’s previously stable economy, which ensures a steady demand for prostitutes, experts said.
The country is now at once a destination, origin and transit country for sex slaves — part of a 1-million-strong slave force that exists in Russia, according to a recent report released ahead of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on Dec. 2.
But the government and the legislature both ignore the problem for fear that it would damage Russia’s reputation, even though sex trafficking exists everywhere, said activist Boris Panteleyev.
“Admitting the existence of slavery, in the eyes of officials, would harm our prestige,” said Panteleyev, head of the Man & Law NGO and a former prosecutor who has been combatting human trafficking since the 1990s.
As a result, sex slaves in Russia struggle even if freed, and have to rely on NGOs, clerics or police generosity in the absence of state rehab and protection programs.
“Russian criminal legislation is insufficient, and existing laws say nothing about help for victims,” said Yelena Timofeyeva of the SafeHouse charity.
Russia ranked as the country with the sixth-biggest slave population in the world — 1 million people — in a fresh annual report by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation released last week.
The report put the total number of slaves among 167 countries of the world at 35 million. India was the runaway leader with 14 million slaves, while Mauritania had the highest percentage of slave population (4 percent).
Since this blog is anarchist in its editorial methods, if not, usually, in its takes on events, I was happy today to learn about this valuable new attempt at socking it to the Man:
On DailyPaywall.com, tens of thousands of articles have been gleaned daily from mainstream online news sources such as the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and The Economist.
After signing up for paid accounts with the targeted news sources, the artist created a script that automatically pulled entire articles from these sites and reposted them onto DailyPaywall.com. With a sophisticated exploit into the authentication system, these media outlets have been forced to release all their published content, with an average of 200 items a day, fetching in total over 50,000 articles during the whole year of 2014.
The artist then sifted through hundreds of articles, collecting the most significant to unveil contradictions surrounding contemporary global economy. He then edited and published a few issues of his own financial newspaper, Daily Paywall, which is publicly available online and in printed form for distribution as a free paper in newsracks disseminated throughout NYC.
On DailyPaywall.com, the artist designed an interface to allow people to read and search through the huge database of articles for free. Online users can also participate in the project through sharing and rating the articles as well as suggesting questions and answers for selected news.
Ultimately, the artist has formulated a system for readers to submit their answers to quizzes on a few featured articles, and has planned to implement a payment process which will be able to issue funds to readers who’ve answered these questions correctly and also to journalists that readers have opted to pay.
You always want to avoid drinking with somebody during the holiday season. Maybe it’s that politically incorrect uncle of yours. Or maybe it’s a nagging in-law.
The well-known host of a health show on Russian state-run First Channel has another suggestion: shun those whom she calls “people of the Mongoloid race.” But it’s for their own protection, of course.
The segment, titled “whom not to drink with on New Year’s” begins with Yelena Malysheva, host of the program “Live Healthfully,” inviting an audience member up on stage.
A man named Shukrat, who identifies himself as an Uzbekistan native, is met with hearty laughter when he explains that he “wouldn’t want to drink with the police or the Federal Migration Service.”
Then Malysheva gets into the meat of her presentation, noting that Russians are “a white race, a Slavic one ” and “now we will talk about what race not to drink with on New Year’s.”
And just so there are no misunderstandings, she adds, “There is no discrimination here, just an understanding of the physiology that makes every race different.”
Shukrat then cuts in, noting that he “grew up in the Soviet Union, so I’m not a nationalist” and “can drink with black people and all people, to be honest.”
Malysheva reiterates that “when we talk about who not to drink with this New Year’s, we do not mean to cast scorn on anyone. We’re talking about the threat to their own health.”
She then turns to Dmitry Shubin, a “doctor” on her team and asks him to explain who not to drink with.
“In the interests of safety, one shouldn’t drink — no, not shouldn’t but mustn’t — drink with people who come from the Mongoloid race,” Shubin says, using a term to describe Asians that can be seen as derogatory. This group, he explains, includes Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and others in the Russian Far North.
Perhaps worried there may be confusion, Malysheva, using her fingers to press her own eyes together, explains that these “Mongoloids” can be identified by their narrow eyes and round facial features.
Just in case it still isn’t clear, she exhibits a slideshow of Asian-looking faces to avoid when in the presence of alcohol.
Shubin then explains the reasoning: Asians have a “genetic defect” that prevents them from properly metabolizing alcohol.
To demonstrate, he gives Shukrat and Malysheva liver-shaped containers, which are each apparently filled with black liquid (they don’t actually show what’s in Maysheva’s container before the experiment). As they both pour alcohol into their respective livers, Shukrat’s remains black. Malysheva’s becomes clear.
“Mongoloid: people with narrow eyes and crescent-shaped faces — [for them] alcohol is toxic,” Malysheva says, pointing to the fake liver a perplexed-looking Shukrat is holding. “And so the first people you should never drink with on New Year’s are representatives of the Mongoloid race. It is bad for them”
Research has shown that some people of East Asian descent — about one-third according to one expert — have a gene that causes difficulty in breaking down alcohol that could lead to long-term health consequences.
But doctors don’t generally recommend that non-Asians take the matter into their own hands by excluding people of Asian ethnicity from social drinking.
In Russia itself, according to a recent study in The Lancet medical journal, a quarter of Russian men die before the age of 55 — a rate far higher than the rest of Europe. And one of the chief causes is excessive alcohol consumption.
“WHETHER OR NOT YOU WANT TO, YOU HAVE TO GO”
December 12, 2014 adcmemorial.org
From Tajikistan to Russia: Vulnerability and abuse of migrant workers and their families
Paris, St Petersburg, 10 December– The situation of Tajik migrants in Russia is deteriorating, said FIDH and ADC Memorial in a report released today. Increasingly restrictive migration laws are pushing migrants into irregular situations and increasing their vulnerability, while exploitation goes unchecked.
The dire economic situation in Tajikistan, where around 40% of the population of working age is unemployed, continues to push hundreds of thousands of men and women to leave for Russia every year. According to official statistics, in 2014 there were over a million Tajik citizens in Russia. The remittances sent back represent 47% of Tajikistan’s GDP, the highest percentage of any country worldwide. For most families, they are the main source of income. This trend looks set to continue.
Despite recent measures announced by the Tajik authorities, migrants remain highly vulnerable to abuse. As a result of increased restrictions on entry and stay in Russia, deportations have multiplied and tens of thousands of migrants have been subjected to re-entry bans. Migrant workers interviewed by FIDH and ADC Memorial reported extortion by Russian police and border guards, arbitrary arrests and police violence. Fuelled by xenophobic political discourse and media reports, vigilante attacks on migrants are on the rise. Those responsible for attacks benefit from almost complete impunity. The report also documents non-payment of wages, poor living conditions, and lack of access to medical treatment.
“The multiplication of legal restrictions, raids on migrants like Operation Migrant 2014, launched this November, and rising xenophobia are resulting in serious violations of migrants’ human rights. We are deeply concerned about recent acts of violence against migrants, on the part of the police and civilians, which have gone unpunished”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “In December, it became clear that Operation Migrant 2014 would be ongoing. Mass arrests and detention of migrants in Moscow and St. Petersburg continue.“
The report addresses the human rights impact of migration on women in particular. Hundreds of thousands of women are left behind in Tajikistan to bring up children, working in the fields and markets, and depending on their in-laws for support. Those whose husbands stop sending money or disappear completely can find themselves destitute. Over the past several years, there has also been a sharp increase in numbers of Tajik women migrating to seek work. It is estimated that today around 15% of migrants are women. Women migrants, especially those who leave the country alone, are seen as challenging traditional roles and often suffer stigmatisation from their families and communities in Tajikistan, while in Russia they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and violence.
In 2012, Tajikistan was examined by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The Committee raised particular concerns about corruption among border guards and some consular staff and the lack of effective complaint mechanisms for victims of abuse.
“Consular protection for Tajik migrants in difficulty in Russia remains inadequate and the Tajik Migration Service has not established an effective complaints procedure. Cases of exploitation by employers and intermediaries, including forced labour, are not properly investigated by the authorities of either country,” said Stefania Koulaeva, head of ADC Memorial.
Since 2011, FIDH and ADC Memorial have undertaken a series of joint investigations to document the situation of Tajik migrant workers in Russia and the violence, xenophobia and serious violations of economic and social rights they face there.
Interview with Stephania Koulaeva, head of the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Centre, on the situation of migrants in Russia
At the end of October the Russian government launched a huge operation called Migrant 2014 to crack down on migrants in an irregular situation in Russia. FIDH and ADC Memorial reported 7,000 arrests during the operation. What happened to those migrants and their families? Where are they now?
When we first reported on the 7,000 arrests, Migrant 2014 had only just begun. According to official figures published by the Moscow police and Moscow department of the Federal Migration Service (FMS, by the end of the operation on 4 November, over 50,000 migrants had been arrested by the police. Almost 2,000 expulsions were conducted and hundreds of migrants were detained. Simultaneously, the FMS in Moscow carried out a wave of inspections that resulted in the expulsion of 1,500 people. Another 3,000 people were barred from re-entry. The total revenue from penalties imposed on these migrants was almost 50,000,000 rubles (approximately 1 million Euros.)
Repression of migrants in Moscow alone during the week-long operation resulted in more than 3,500 expulsions and tens of thousands of cases of administrative punishment.
As to the current whereabouts of the arrested migrants, we can assume that many of them had to leave the country, often with a ban on coming back for a number of years. Although others could continue their life and work in Russia, they have had to pay a high price for permission to do so.
What does this operation say about the Russian government’s approach to migration? How does the Russian migration policy impact other countries in the region?
The Russian government policy on migration is controversial. On the one hand, it has close ties to the main business structures that employ migrant workers, in such fields as construction, communal services, and sales. This system allows Russia to benefit from a cheap labour force without spending on social needs. On the other hand, the very people who profit from the hard work and low wages of migrants are the ones who organised the operations against them, and use xenophobic rhetoric in the government-controlled media in order to pander to nationalist sentiments of the population. Migrants have become scapegoats for the immense problems that Russia now faces on the political and economic level, despite the fact that the country cannot function without migrant work.
The Russian government plays a complicated strategic game in the region on migration issues. For example, Russia allows Tajik migrant workers to work in Russia in exchange for military and geopolitical support from Tajikistan. Tajikistan meanwhile benefits from the remittances that working migrants send back to their families.
What are the main problem faced by migrants in Russia?
Migrants in Russia face a multitude of problems, including widespread discrimination, the stigma of illegality, the risk of detention and deportation, and xenophobia, in particular towards migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Those who are not formally employed face a prohibition on staying in Russia longer than three months, which, in practice, forces almost all children of migrants into illegal status.
Migrant workers receive lower wages for the very same work done by Russian nationals and suffer from the absence of social security in case of illness, injury or death.
Conditions of detention are another major problem. There is an absence of judicial control over the duration of detention of migrants accused of violating migration laws, which can last up to two years on purely administrative grounds.
These problems are compounded by the lack of support demonstrated by the migrants’ countries of origin. In some cases, such as in Uzbekistan, migrants even face repression from their government for working abroad.
Editor’s Note. I have lightly edited this article to make it more readable.
Migrant workers are leaving Petersburg: soon there won’t be anyone to work in construction and communal services
December 17, 2014 Gorod 812
On January 1, new rules for migrant workers, allowing them to work almost anywhere without restrictions, will be introduced in Russia. The authorities hope this will increase the flow of cheap labor from the CIS. In fact, the opposite is happening.
The Russian Federal Migration Service, which initiated the new rules, has said they fundamentally change the approach to labor migration. As of January 1, 2015, quotas will be abolished on the numbers of migrant workers from the CIS and other visa-free countries who can be employed in Russia.
The need to obtain a work permit will also be abolished. Instead of this document, migrants will need to buy a license. Its price will be different in each region, as set by the local authorities. In Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, it will cost 3,000 rubles; in Moscow, 4,000 rubles. As of January 1, each legally employed migrant worker, except for those who still have valid, previously issued documents, must have this license, no matter where they work.
The abolition of quotas means that any number of migrant workers can be employed at any enterprise. When there were quotas, the number of migrant workers in each sector of municipal services and industry were strictly regulated. For example, in 2014, only 164,000 migrants could legally work in Petersburg within the quotas. [Although the actual number of migrants working in the city is undoubtedly much higher.]
As of 2015, this ceiling will not be limited in any way. It would seem that the city should be flooded with migrants, but it isn’t, and the reason is the economy.
“The quotas are abolished, but there won’t be more migrants. They are already leaving the city. If the exchange rate of the ruble does not grow, they will stop coming here altogether, because it is not worth it. Salaries paid in rubles are not increasing in value. For example, if a person working at a construction site used to get 25,000 rubles a month, and that was roughly equivalent to 750–800 dollars, now it is worth 400–450 dollars. That does not even cover the person’s expenses. It is easier to make money at home,” says Suratbek Abdurahimov, chair of Uzbegim, the Uzbek National Cultural Autonomy of Saint Petersburg.
According to him, it makes no difference to migrants whether they have to get a license or a work permit. It is expensive and troublesome all the same. There is, however, an obvious drawback: after the new rules are adopted, the official price of a license in Petersburg will increase from two to three thousand rubles. But the real price of the document cannot be predicted at all. Given the cost of medical certificates, insurance, and everything else, migrants now pay between twelve and fourteen thousand rubles for a license, while getting a work permit costs around twenty thousand rubles. Abdurahimov believes that under the new rules a license will also cost at least twenty thousand. It is cheaper to stay at home.
Mahmut Mamatmuminov, board chair of the Assistance Fund for Migrant Workers from Central Asia, agrees with him.
“Of course, soon it will make more sense economically to stay at home. First, because of the exchange rate. Second, because migrants have to take exams in Russian, history, and law. It is hard: even an educated person finds these tests confusing. I have heard that exam certificates are already selling on the black market. Also, the number of migrants is dropping because the Federal Migration Service in Petersburg has banned many people from entering the country for different violations. According to Federal Migrant Service statistics, more than a million migrants have been banned from entering Russia over the past year,” says Mamatmuminov.
The major sectors in Petersburg where guest workers are employed are construction, retail, street cleaning and housing maintenance, services, and transportation. According to experts, if migrant workers pull up stakes and fly home en masse, there will soon be no one to do this work in Petersburg.
Staunton, December 20 – The collapse of the ruble and the test of Russian language knowledge they will soon be required to take are prompting gastarbeiters in the Russian Federation to leave in massive numbers, with the leader of the Federation of Migrants now predicting that more than a quarter of them will depart by early next year.
While some Russians may be glad to see them go, their departure will make it more difficult for the Russian economy to escape the looming recession. But even more seriously, their return to their homelands in such numbers will create problems there, given that none of those economies can easily absorb them.
The returning migrants are thus likely to become a source of additional instability in places that in many cases already are far from stable, and to the extent they are not absorbed into the economies, some of them may become recruits for radical Islamist groups that want to overthrow the existing order.
Mukhammed Amin, the head of the Federation of Migrants of Russia, told Newsru.com yesterday that “more than 25 percent” of the more than 10 million immigrant workers in Russia plan to return home or move to other countries in the coming months (newsru.com/russia/19dec2014/ishod.html).
He suggested that the main reasons for that are two: the collapse of the ruble exchange rate means they have less money to send home – most of their transfer payments have been in dollars – and concerns about the impact and cost of the test of Russian language knowledge they will be forced to take as of January 1.
Karomat Sharipov, the head of the Tajik Labor Migrants organization, confirmed that this is the case and said that many of his co-nations intend to leave Russia. He added that because jobs at home are scarce, at least some of them might join the ranks of extremist groups as mercenaries in order to support their families.
Russia’s Federal Migration Service had already reported that with the decline in the value of the ruble, the size of transfer payments by gastarbeiters in Russia to their homelands had sharply fallen (newsru.com/finance/12dec2014/migrants.html). That too will harm the economies of countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan from which most migrants have come.
Some Russians are pleased by the departure of the gastarbeiters, either because they view such people as culturally alien or because they think that such foreigners are taking jobs that Russians should get. But Russian officials are more concerned by the possibility that those leaving will join radical Islamist groups or become part of “so-called ‘Jihad tourism.’”
That term refers to Muslims from one country who travel to another to take part in and make money from radical Islamist groups fighting elsewhere. According to the Russian government, there are at least 1500 such people from CIS countries now fighting for the Islamic State; the departure of the gastarbeiters will likely boost that number further.
Russian officials fear that these people will not only destabilize neighboring countries but also in some cases return to push their causes within the borders of the Russian Federation, yet another frightening consequence of Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine.
Beautiful Village – Ugly Fate The houses in the villages of Akonlahti are bigger and grander than those in Viena generally. The village was a wealthy one. Conditions were favorable for farming, fishing and hunting, and the proximity of the border made trade fruitful as well.
Before the border was closed, the villagers of Akonlahti dealt with the people in the Finnish village of Rimpi on an everyday basis. Even after the border was officially closed in the 1920s, contact between the villages continued for some time. During the Continuation War (1941-44), the villages of Akonlahti were occupied by the Finns, and not all of the people succeeded in leaving the village before it was occupied. Life continued – as normally as possible under the circumstances – but when the war ended, many of the villagers moved to Finland, fearing that they would be accused of collaboration with the Finnish enemy if they stayed in Russia.
After the War, life in the villages continued around the collective farm that had been established in the area. The post-War population comprised former permanent residents of the village, returning evacuees, and people from villages whose houses had been destroyed in the conflict. Efforts were made to concentrate habitation in the village of Akonlahti proper.
When the Soviet Union began the process of destroying small villages in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Akonlahti came to be considered a village “without perspective”. Vis-à-vis the district center it was on the periphery; it was difficult to maintain the roads leading to the village and to arrange the transport of food and other goods there. The main reason, however, for the village falling into disfavor was its proximity to Finland: it was a stone’s throw from the border at the height of the Cold War.
The destruction of the village was extraordinarily violent, although various explanations have since been advanced to tone down the harshness of the event. In 1958, the authorities responsible for liquidating the village sent in airplanes, which landed on the ice of Lake Kiitehenjärvi. The villagers were given a few hours to gather their belongings. And then it was time to leave. Children, the elderly and calves were taken by plane to Uhtua; everyone else had to walk there with the livestock. Yet virtually every family had to slaughter their animals, because there was no hay or other fodder for them where they were going. To seal the village’s fate, all of the houses were then burnt to the ground, so that no one would have the remotest chance of returning.
Fortunately, Väinö Kaukonen and Vilho Uomala had photographed Akonlahti and its surroundings during the War. Future generations will at least have these images to help them appreciate the village that played the most significant role in the Karelian building tradition.
When Finland and the Soviet Union established a “Park of Friendship” in 1991, the Akonlahti area became part of a nature preservation area. When the Park was first founded, only researchers were allowed to go to the shores of Lake Kiitehenjärvi. Later, however, Park administrators and the Folklore Villages Project, set up to preserve and revitalize the culture of the song-lands of the Kalevala, reached an understanding whereby buildings can once again be built in the Karelian style in Akonlahti and the village will be opened up to travellers interested in culture and nature.
I’m not assuming anything, but it’s nice to dream.
Vladimir Putin’s social compact with the Russian people is clearly defined: Putin agrees to give the Russian people rising living standards, jobs, regular pensions and economic stability. In return, the Russian people look the other way as Putin and his inner circle steal the country blind, destroy alternate media, and suppress all internal dissent. Those who witnessed (as I did) the economic chaos, unpaid pensions and salaries, runaway inflation, and harassment by mafia and petty officials of the Yeltsin years understand the appeal of Putin’s social compact. But Putin is no longer keeping up his end of the bargain. Will the Russian people continue to look the other way? That is the question.
Putin has not held up his end of the bargain he made with the Russian people. Let’s see what their reaction will be. We must assume they can put two and two together.
Actually, literally everyone in my class last night, most of whom have something to do with business of some kind, have put two and two together quite easily, judging by what they were saying. (And some of them invoked the unwritten “social compact” Gregory refers to, above.) But this was also combined with the usual native fatalism, as if it were impossible to imagine anything beyond or better than the now totally bankrupt rule of the “world’s most powerful man.”
Mind you, it is one and the same über-capitalist magazine that has these contradictory wishes: hoping ordinary Russians can muster a resistance that it wouldn’t be happy to see in most other places or under different circumstances.
As the ruble has been crashing through the floor the past couple days, Petersburg Channel 5 wanted its viewers focused on what really matters: the allegedly rampant eating of dog and cat meat in “civilized” (wink, wink, sneer, sneer) Switzerland.
Broadcast and posted on December 15, the story‘s headline, above, reads: “Furry farm. In Switzerland, they want to ban Christmas meals of cat and dog [meat]. On the eve of Christmas, they want to ban residents of Switzerland [from eating] one of the national holiday dishes. It turns out that the civilized Swiss are not averse to treating themselves to the meat of pets.”
The piece ends with a warning that cat and dog flesh aren’t “national holiday dishes” only in Switzerland. This form of barbarism is also a problem—you guessed it—in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, back in the realm of news that would matter to Petersburgers who haven’t lost their minds, as late as yesterday afternoon (December 16), Channel 5 was claiming the ruble had gone on a “counterattack” yesterday morning.
Apparently, this tactic of downplaying the real news has been the pattern in other Russian mainstream news outlets:
While the ruble collapsed 10 percent on Monday, making headlines around the world, some Russians may have been unaware of the recent intensification of their currency’s woes.
A prime-time news bulletin broadcast by state-owned Channel One at 9 p.m. on Monday only featured a short segment on the currency drop — the fifth item on the news program — after reports about the terrorist attack in Australia, the killing of a terrorist suspect by law enforcement authorities in Russia and two announcements by President Vladimir Putin on military parades and construction targets.
When the report on the ruble was shown it blamed the decline in value on the falling price of oil —despite the ruble’s fall being significantly sharper Monday than that of Brent crude and actually starting against the background of strengthening oil prices.
The apparent unwillingness of Russian state-owned media to give airtime to the ruble’s troubles — particularly among television channels, which are traditionally much more tightly controlled by the Kremlin — likely reflects the political sensitivity of the issue, and a desire to avoid fueling panic.
Most Russians get their news from state television, which has closely mirrored Putin’s anti-American rhetoric during the Ukraine crisis.
In a popular sleight of hand, state-owned news outlets have preferred to phrase ruble falls in recent months as euro or dollar rises. “Western currencies gained in value at breakneck speed all day Monday,” one report on state-controlled NTV read late Monday.
The Central Bank’s emergency overnight decision to raise interest rates to 17 percent was reported by most major television channels Tuesday morning, but in many cases was quickly pushed down the news agenda by reports of snap military drills in Russia’s western Kaliningrad region.
Victoria Lomasko on Socially Engaged Graphic Art
November 8, 2014 Openrussia.org
To get a more or less undistorted sense of reality in our country and transmit it to other people, you have to become a researcher yourself. Socially engaged artists have joined independent journalists, human rights activists, and sociologists in this field. I will try to briefly describe socially engaged graphic art and how it can help in shaping civil society.
It is easier to start the story by talking about my own experience. I would agree with what artist Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin said on this score: “If your work does not improve you, it is powerless to improve anyone else, and [art] has no other task than improving humanity.” For a long time I was hampered by the art scene’s insularity and especially by my own fear of venturing outside it. In 2008, I began making forays into other social milieux and drawing graphic reportages, illustrated documentary stories. I have produced stories about farm workers, village school teachers, migrants, Orthodox activists, the LGBT community, sex workers, and juvenile prison inmates, among others. I have seen that these other milieux are no less isolated from each other, generating mutual contempt, fear, and hatred.
From the series Black Portraits, 2010. (Left panel) Stoneworker Sergei, who used to be a militant atheist, is now an Orthodox activist: “The West wants to destroy the bold and beautiful Russian people.” (Right panel) Viktor Mizin, a political science lecturer at MGIMO, was born at the Grauerman maternity hospital in central Moscow: “Russians are shit, but I’m a seventh-generation member of the intelligentsia.”
I drew these two portraits on the same day. I meet the Orthodox activist at a prayer meeting against a proposed new redevelopment plan for Moscow, and the “member of the intelligentsia” in a bar on Bolshaya Nikitskaya. The diptych—an illustration of our extreme anomie and mutual disrespect—сame together on its own.
Teacher: “Is ‘Moscow’ a person’s name or a place name?” First-grader Sasha: “It’s a street.”
The drawing, above, is from the graphic reportage A Village School, which takes place in a village near Tula. When I expressed my surprise that the children did not know what the capital of Russia was, I was told that Moscow was a big dump inhabited by freaks.
The situation is aggravated by the official media, which produce repulsive, clichéd images of many social groups. I was thus afraid to go a juvenile prison for the first time, expecting to see young degenerates there. In reality, black and white were intertwined, and I found it impossible to judge other people’s actions.
From the project Drawing Lessons in a Juvenile Prison, 2010—2014. (Left panel) Oleg: “There are swastikas encrypted in Raphael’s drawings.” Oleg draws a lot. He has his own views of Renaissance masterpieces. (Right panel) Oleg is a skinhead. It all started when, aged eight, he witnessed the murder of a friend: teenagers from the Caucasus killed him to get hold of his telephone. At fourteen, Oleg organized a “fight club,” in which he was the youngest member. The fighters “staged flash mobs at Caucasian markets.” Oleg said that in his small provincial town, the population was divided into skinheads, people from the Caucasus, and suckers. He was convicted of a gang killing. He expected to be rewarded for his patriotism, not punished. Oleg had kept up his spirits at the penitentiary: he had been studying foreign languages, philosophy, and economics. He dreams of becoming a politician: “Yanukovych’s priors hadn’t stopped him from becoming president.” In the autumn, he was transferred to an adult prison.
Before meeting sex workers, the image of them I had in my head—of brazen, heavily made-up prostitutes—had also been shaped by the media. But in real life they were tired women in casual clothes. Many were single mothers who had gone into prostitution to feed their children.
When I had just started making graphic reportages, it was considered something marginal in Russia. The situation has changed in recent years: there have been more and more graphic art non-fiction stories on social topics. Here are a few examples.
Tatyana Faskhutdinova, Unknown Stories from the Life of Lyonya Rodin, 2012. (Left panel) People often take me for an extraterrestrial. One winter, the firewood ran out and there was no fuel for the stove. My friend and I decided to rent a flat. The landlady had a fit when she saw me. Lyona: “How much is the flat?” Landlady: “Ahhh! And he talks, too!” (Right panel) In our town, no one has any use for people like me. Disabled people have no way to get around normally. Tram driver: “Hurry up and get on!”
“Lyonya Rodin is my friend. He has been disabled since birth. […] It was not so much the absurd, maddening situations that happen to him now and then, situations caused by people’s indifference and society’s unwillingness and reluctance to accept people with disabilities, that I wanted to recount, but rather his ability to make friends, to dream, to make plans and carry them out, his passion for what he does, his utter lack of bitterness at life, and his inner calm and pride, despite the harshness and even cruelty of his circumstances.”
Yana Smetanina, The Inhabitants of Psychiatric Hospital N0. 5 in Khotkovo, 2013. TANKA KHIMKI. Tanka is 53. She endlessly mumbles to herself and unexpectedly pops up everywhere at any time asking for a smoke. When she cusses, you can make out what she’s saying. She gestures like a woman who spent ten years in prison. TOO-ROO-TOO-TOO-ROOM. But she got her education at Moscow State University. She was brutally raped for the first time when she was 7. She was raped again as an adult.
“As a child I was really afraid of ‘crazy’ people. […] When, almost three decades later, I came to meet the inhabitants of Psychiatric Hospital No. 5 in Khotkovo, you can imagine my surprise when I realized that nearly all these women had been rape victims and that was why they had lost either their minds or their strength and their will to live. […] They had been victims of rape, including incest, early in life, assaults on the street, and beatings by their own husbands.”
Ilmira Bolotyan (illustrations) and Natasha Milantyeva (texts), A Nun’s Life, 2013
“Natasha Milantyeva, my girlfriend’s cousin, spent over 18 years in a convent. A Russian Orthodox nun, she was forced to leave her convent because life there threatened her health and the people in charge no longer wanted to see her among their ranks. Her unique experience has been the basis of short stories and plays about convent life. Natasha has witnessed events that no journalist could either record or depict.”
Graphic reportage is especially appropriate in court, since it is forbidden to take pictures and shoot video during hearings. Activist artists in different Russian cities and other parts of the former Soviet Union have taken to sketching court proceedings during political trials.
Zlata Ponirovskaya and I run the web site Drawing the Court, an archive of drawings from political trials and informative texts about these cases.
There are other grassroots initiatives involving drawing. The Women’s Crisis Center in Petersburg, for example, has begun engaging female artists to document court hearings on cases of domestic and sexual violence against its clients.
In Germany, Belarusian artist Marina Naprushkina sketches court hearings in the cases of asylum seekers from different countries, archiving them on the web site Refugees’ Library. Although her project only partly involves Russia (many of the refugees are from Chechnya and Dagestan), I cannot pass up this happy synthesis of socially engaged drawing and human rights work in my overview.
“I put together notebooks at the hearings, which people then translate into different languages. Having the web site function as an informational platform for refugees themselves is our main objective. The refugees are often not ready for the hearings: they don’t know they go, and what they should expect there. The notebooks are already read in many countries around the world,” says Naprushkina.
Like court sketches, graphic art produced for rallies has to make a clear, emotional statement. Many activist artists have been involved in making placards for opposition rallies and even helping to design the look of whole columns. For example, at a 2012 rally in support of the Bolotnaya Square defendants, the Left Front’s column marched with portraits of the political prisoners drawn by artist Nikolay Oleynikov. In 2014, Oleynikov also organized an Anti-Fascist Creative Workshop at which he helped activists collectively produce placards for the annual Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova memorial rally on January 19. Portraits graced most of the placards at the rally.
Anti-Fascist Creative Workshop. Photo by Vasily Petrov
However, portraits of political activists belong more to the realm of political art than to graphic art focused on social issues. It would also be a stretch to include the numerous examples of graphic art that appeared at protest rallies in 2012 and 2013 in this body of work. The main subjects were criticism of Putin and support for Pussy Riot: I don’t remember seeing placards dealing with societal problems there.
The works of Petersburg artist Yelena Osipova are outstanding in this regard. Even before the upsurge of protests in 2012, Osipova had been attending rallies and solo pickets with large, hand-drawn placards that took on such topics as the demolition of historic buildings, tuberculosis, everyday racism, children involved in the drug trade, and the murders of journalists.
Yelena Osipova, Don’t Believe in the Justice of War, March 2014. Photo by Asya Khodyreva
Osipova illuminates even the war in Ukraine from a social angle. Such posters of hers as Don’t Go to War, Sonny and Stop the War, Mothers and Wives, and her large-format colored placard Don’t Believe in the Justice of War treat war not as an abstract evil but as the personal tragedy of women who have lost sons and husbands.
City walls are another good place for socially engaged graphic art. Over the past two years, the Petersburg group Gandhi has become a notable presence in socially engaged street art. Most often, the group makes large stencils in a laconic, poster-like style, for example, its series depicting female migrants or its latest work, a fresco on the fence of the Social Adaptation Center for the Homeless in Moscow.
Stencils made by the group Gandhi for the Solidarity Art Festival, 2014. Photo by Anton Androsov
Gandhi has made one of the few statements by Russian artists on the war in Ukraine. At the Street Art Museum in Petersburg, they produced a fresco entitled Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, explaining it as follows: “We see and hear what is happening—a war that has not been formally declared but which is permanently conducted on the external and internal fronts. […] Our subject is a woman holding a Molotov cocktail. Glowing inside her is an infant soldier, doomed to fight for the money and power of strangers. The woman has chosen to rebel, knowing that if she fails, her child will himself, in the future, go after her with a gun.”
Gandhi, Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, 2014. Photo taken from the group’s Facebook page
Samizdat has always been a means of spreading leftist ideas. Graphic artists have been actively collaborating with such independent publications in Russia.
The newspaper Chto Delat has been published for many years by an eponymous group of leftist artists, philosophers, writers, researchers, and activists. Back issues of the paper are accessible on their web site. The newspaper is filled with graphic art. These are not illustrations, however, but series of works by artists, linked to the articles by a common theme.
Lots of graphic art is printed in the anarchist newspaper Volya (Liberty).
Anarchist newspaper Volya
The 2013 International Women’s Day issue of Volya, featuring the works of feminist artists, was especially interesting visually. Such a variety of genres—posters, stencils, comics, graphic reportage, logos, and cover art—cannot be found in the official press.
Feminist zines are gradually emerging in Russia. In 2013, the first issue of Molota ved’m (Malleus Maleficarum) was published.
In the next few days, the first issue of the queer feminist zine Naglaya rvanina (Insolent Gash) will be released.
Spread from queer feminist zine Naglaya rvanina, 2014
I am particularly interested in how socially engaged graphic art can become a part of human rights work and educational projects. Since 2010, I have worked as a volunteer with the Center for Prison Reform, participating in art trips to juvenile prisons. My project Drawing Lessons is part of the Center’s human rights and educational program. The project includes summaries of lessons specifically designed for juvenile prisons, drawings made by the inmates during these lessons, my own sketches in the prisons, and various samizdat (calendars, postcards, and brochures).
I have posted most of the material from Drawing Lessons on my blog.
Another example is the Nasreddin Hodja Joke Contest, a project by Petersburg artist Olga Jitlina. Every week for several months, Jitlina organized informal meetings with migrants at teahouses, cafes, and other places. Over cups of tea, participants analyzed the kinds of ethnic discrimination experienced by migrants in Russia and came up with succinct, witty responses that would put their offenders in their place without inciting them to violence. Artist Anna Tereshkina drew comics for the project about the modern-day Nasreddin and his fictional sister Dilfuza, who find themselves in typical conflicts in Russia. The speech balloons were left either entirely blank or only the lines of the victimizers were filled in. The migrants themselves came up with Nasreddin and Dilfuza’s rejoinders, and the wittiest lines were incorporated into the comics.
Olga Jitlina meeting with Nasreddin Hodja Joke Contest participants at a Petersburg teahouse, 2014. Photo by Victoria Lomasko
I hope even this fragmentary overview of Russian socially engaged graphic art gives some idea of its variety, especially in comparison with the situation in the 2000s. However, due to the tightening of censorship, the range of topics on which one can speak publicly without fear of incurring fines, criminal penalties or some other form of pressure from the government has begun to shrink rapidly.
Even worse than official censorship is the internal censorship practiced by the organizers of socially engaged projects. For example, I was asked to leave in the pitiful stories of migrants in a graphic reportage I was doing while removing everything about the perpetrators of their misadventures—Russian police officers, judges, and officials who abuse their power. Such decisions are explained by the fact that castrated socially engaged works are “better than nothing.” As a result, instead of analyzing phenomena in their entirety, they once again leave viewers and readers with distorted images.
Artists reacted to events in political and public life in 2012 and 2013 with a flood of works. Many of them were superficial and lacking in professionalism, but this was made up for by the urgency and timeliness of their topics. Now we will have to react less and reflect more. In principle, any social topic can be used to reveal Russian society’s fundamental evil: our total alienation from each other and disrespect. And for the most radical works there are still the social networks, the streets, and samizdat.
Enslaved by History
October 1, 2014 Gazeta.ru
Constantly debating history and daydreaming of the past’s return, we shut ourselves off from the present and the possible future. By and large, we simply do not want to do anything, because everything is going to happen by itself at the next “stage of history,” in whose endless repetition we for some reason have come to sincerely believe.
Constitutional Court chief judge Valery Zorkin has caused the latest scandal in the blogosphere and the media by writing, “Despite all serfdom’s shortcomings, it was the main tie binding the nation together internally.” Even psychologists got involved in the ensuing commentary. I have the impression everyone was waiting for someone to say this. Chatting about serfdom’s possible return is timelier, after all, than discussing whether our country can develop modern technologies and a modern society.
If somewhere in America someone is talking today about the possible return of slavery, there is a good chance this person is a Russian immigrant. No one else is obliged to remember such things.
Of course, we all have good educations. We know lots of things. Unlike Barak Obama, we know for sure that Crimea was given to Ukraine not in the nineteenth century but in 1954. And we are, allegedly, the country that reads the most in the world. If the country’s president or a jailed oligarch finds himself with a free minute, the first thing either of them does is take a tome by nineteenth-century Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky from off the shelf. Because we need to learn, after all, and, that’s right, history the best teacher. And yet we do this without noticing that Klyuchevsky himself has long been history.
But there are no other historians for us nowadays, just as there is no nowadays.
Learning from history is easy and pleasant. The point is we don’t have to do almost anything: someone has done everything already. Saint Vladimir adopted Christianity from Byzantium. Let’s argue whether this was good or bad. It’s a debate with no strings attached, because Christianity was adopted long ago. It is what it is, and many folks have since then even managed to do stints as atheists. But arguing about the “right” Christianity or the “wrong” Christianity is definitely easier than fasting or attending midnight mass. And it’s all the more easier than comprehending the basics of rational philosophy.
We can argue about reforms that we ourselves had nothing to do with. All reforms were handled wrongly, of course. In some cases, they were hurried; in some other cases, they were confused; in still other cases, they were not followed through to the end. How nice it is to talk about it! As we criticize other people’s mistakes, we grow smarter right before our own eyes. It’s not just that we can explain to the late Alexander III or Count Sergei Witte in layman’s terms where and how they went wrong, but also that we are not going to repeat their mistakes in the sense that there are not going to be any more reforms. Otherwise, God forbid, everything will happen all over again.
Our principal horror also resides in the past: Russian revolts, times of trouble. Unlike Hobbes’s war of all against all, they have a habit of repeating themselves. That is what we believe.
17 and 37 are not just bus route numbers to us. The worst Russian revolt and time of trouble occurred in 1917, and the horseman that gallops alongside it, like melancholy and calm in the Brodsky poem, is “another 1937.”
To a large extent, our entire society can be divided into those hoping for another 1917 while fearing a repeat of 1937, and, vice versa, those sadistically and lustfully looking forward to a another 1937 while also realizing with horror that 1917 is inevitable.
What the heck, the twentieth century traumatized us badly. The past thus consists of wall-to-wall demotivators. Unsuccessful reforms and bloody revolution, followed by what an émigré writer of the 1920s described as “everything as it had been, only worse.”
And then “the revolution devours its heroes” altogether. By contrast, World War Two is the main justification of our existence. Victory in the war was our country’s only success, while the Brezhnev Stagnation was a brief blessed moment when we could reread Klyuchevsky again. The Stagnation has already been reprised again and has even ended. Our Russian wit tells us that everything else is now going to happen again, too.
“What is to be done?”: the question itself has long been a part of history. Diluting luminous Klyuchevsky with dark Ilovaisky, wholesome, ruddy conservatives-cum-historical reenactment fans suggest bringing back “the Russia we lost.” Would that things were like they were under Alexander III or Nicholas I: candies and baranki manufactured in Belarus, golden-domed Moscow, the peal of church bells, rosy-cheeked schoolgirls and muzhiks in sheepskin coats carrying portraits of the tsar, a sputnik for all people of good will, a pogrom and the Pale of Settlement for all liberals, and a big fat middle finger for Europe.
Of course, you can try and run away from it all, if you have money, to the Europe of our dreams, to the kapstrany (capitalist countries) dear to the Soviet individual’s heart, to the places we were not allowed to go, but about which we know so much thanks to books and films. This is the Europe of Poirot and La Dolce Vita: the Europe of corner cafes, tasty beer, Martini on ice, chrome-plated old cars, and gentlemen in bowler hats. Hang on a second! Tolerance, you say? Where did all the blacks and Arabs come from? Why are the jeans made in China? Where is the Paris that, in Soviet movies, was shot in Tallinn? Alas, disappointment awaits most of us in Europe. 1930s Europe is long gone, 1960s Europe is, too, and the 1970s have disappeared over the horizon. Even old man Depardieu is now an official resident of Mordovia.
The present, the real, holds no interest for us, wherever it is. Because only what we can buy at an antiques market is “genuine” and “real” to us.
Well, until the oil money runs out, we can indulge ourselves in antiques, domestic and foreign.
According to one commonplace, Russia is a literature-centric country. However, all the literature we studied at school and of which we used to be proud has long been history. History is now our everything. And the more everything revolves round history, the less we notice the present, while no one at all wants to see the future. Why, pardon me, should we, since history always repeats itself? But the question is, ladies and gentlemen, what if, suddenly, our future is not necessarily a repetition of our past? What then?
To paraphrase a famous historical metaphor from the century before last, after all the storms and disasters that have befallen it, Russia looks like the “sick man of Eurasia.” Тhose who were appointed to take care of Russia have immobilized the wounded patient without thinking twice and put it on a drip. And while the exhausted country sleeps its drug-induced sleep, its history drips down the tube.
Vladimir Putin excoriated the West in a speech on Thursday, comparing his foreign opponents to Adolf Hitler in their desire to destroy Russia while reminding foes that his armed forces were “polite but menacing”.
Speaking at the Kremlin in his annual address to parliament, Russia’s president defended his decision to annexe Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in the spring, saying that it was a place as sacred to Russians as holy sites in Jerusalem for Jews or Muslims.
He said that Russia faced a threat to its very existence from western states and accused the United States of manipulating Russia’s neighbours – in particular, Ukraine – in an attempt to subordinate Moscow to Washington’s will.
“If for many European countries, sovereignty and national pride are forgotten concepts and a luxury, then for the Russian Federation a true sovereignty is an absolutely necessary condition of its existence,” Mr Putin told MPs, ministers and regional leaders. “I want to stress: either we will be sovereign, or we will dissolve in the world. And, of course, other nations must understand this as well.”
Mr Putin said foreign foes of Russia had supported similar separatists “up to their elbows in blood” in the 1990s and early 2000s, but without success. “They would have been delighted to let us go the way of Yugoslavia and the dismemberment of the Russian peoples, with all the tragic consequences. But it did not happen. We did not allow it to happen.”
He added: “It also didn’t work out for Hitler, who with his man-hating ideas wanted to destroy Russia and throw us beyond the Urals. It would be good to remind everyone of how that ended.”
The Russian leader opened his speech by praising Russians for “going through an ordeal that only a united nation, a truly strong and sovereign state, could shoulder”.
In a clear reference to Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in the east of the country, he said: “Russia has proved in deed that it is capable of defending its compatriots, of honourably defending truth and fairness.”
Mr Putin justified the takeover of Crimea by saying that it was “where our people live, and the peninsula is of strategic importance for Russia” as well as it being the setting for the baptism of the medieval prince Vladimir the Great in the 10th century.
Crimea had “invaluable civilisational and even sacral importance for Russia, like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the followers of Islam and Judaism”, he added.