Petersburgers Remember MH17 Victims One Year On David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
July 18, 2015
Despite heavy rain and hail, several dozen Petersburgers came to the Netherlands Consulate General in the city yesterday, July 17, to lay flowers and paper planes in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed near Torez in Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on July 17, 2014, after being shot down, killing all 283 passengers and fifteen crew members on board. Two thirds of the passengers were Dutch nationals. The plane was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
A similar memorial took place in Moscow, where Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov was the only Russian official to bring flowers.
Despite the meager attendance in Petersburg, three regular police cars arrived to complement the usual consulate guards. Police tried to forbid the mourners from leaving the paper planes, printed with the names of the victims, dubbing them “garbage.”
The paper planes were part of an action, sponsored by Open Russia, entitled #PAPERBOEING. Eventually, the mourners got their way and were allowed to leave the planes.
Police also checked documents of an elderly man who came to the memorial wearing a handmade hat with the Dutch phrase “Vergeet ons, Nederland” (“Forgive us, Netherlands”) printed on it. They suspected him of attempting to hold a one-person picket.
Vista of Vasilyevsky Island’s Bolshoi Prospect Blocked by Western High-Speed Diameter Pylons
July 9, 2015 Kanoner
The pylons of a bridge currently under construction as part of the central segment of the Western High-Speed Diameter tollway have encroached on the vista of Vasilyevsky Island’s Bolshoi Prospect. People with good eyesight can see them from the First Line, on the far eastern end of the avenue.
Construction of the tollway’s central segment, which links the Ekateringofka River Embankment and Primorsky Prospect, began in 2013. The general contractor is Northern Capital Thoroughfare, Ltd. The length of the segment is approximately twelve kilometers. According to the investment agreement, it it must be delivered in 2016.
The main segment of the highway will pass over the water on a flyover designed by Stroyproyekt Institute JSC. One part of the thoroughfare is a cable bridge spanning the shipping fairway in the mouth of the Neva River. Pylons are now being erected for the bridge. Two of them are exactly aligned with Bolshoi Prospect on Vasilyevsky Island, it turns out. They are clearly visible both from Gavan (the western section of Vasilyevsky) and from the first Lines, and this despite the fact that currently they have been built to a little over half their projected full height.
Hovard Palace Residential Building Encroaches on Vista of Socialist Street
May 13, 2015 Kanoner
Hovard Palace, a residential building currently under construction at Zagorodny Prospect, 19, has significantly encroached on the vista of Socialist Street. It has also changed the look of neighboring Jambyl Lane.
To make way for the elite complex, a pre-Revolutionary building originally designed as a block of rented flats for State Bank employees was demolished. The five-storey house was built in 1898–1901 and designed by architect Heinrich Bertels. After investor Hovard SPb, Ltd., took an interest in the site (according to rumors, the company has personal ties to former Petersburg governor and current Federation council chair Valentina Matviyenko), residents of the dormitory that had been housed in the Bertels building were forcibly evicted to the village of Shushary, outside the Petersburg city limits. [Translator’s Note.The June 2012 linked to here paints a slightly more complicated picture of how the now-demolished building was resettled.]
City hall officials categorized the forced relocation as having public significance. This was preceded by a personal memorandum from Valentina Matviyenko, in which she wrote, “The site has public significance. Work to find a solution.” The memorandum was addressed to three deputy governors.
This “public significance” made it possible for Hovard SPb to avoid complying several provisions of the law. In particular, it was allowed to demolish the building (although the demolition of pre-Revolutionary buildings is expressly forbidden), and construct the new building higher than stipulated by local height zoning regulations. The environmental impact analysis was conducted by Devros, Ltd., which is directly linked to one of Valentina Matviyenko’s people, Alexei Komlev, ex-deputy chair of the city’s Landmarks Use and Preservation Committee (KGIOP). The analysis show that the new building would be visible behind neighboring buildings, but within tolerable limits.
The eight-storey [sic] residential building was designed by Moscow architect Mikhail Belov. Soyuz 55, Ltd., run by Alexander Viktorov, former chief architect of Petersburg, adapted Belov’s design to local conditions [sic].
Now, as the upper floors are being erected, they are clearly visible from the surrounding streets. The building’s impact has been especially acute on the vista of Socialist Street. And from the intersection of Zagorodny Prospect and Socialist Street one can see that the eight-storey building has risen above the cour d’honneur of Simonov House (Zagorodny, 21–23), which forms a small side street.
The look of Jambyl Lane has changed as well. Jambyl Square, containing the monument to Jambyl, looks different, and the bard himself now strums his lute against the backdrop of the new building.
The developer promises to deliver Hovard Palace in the late summer.
Petersburg Activists Protest Proposed Nuclear Waste Storage Facility David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
July 16, 2015
Yesterday, July 15, activists protested the proposed construction of Russia’s largest radioactive waste storage facility in Sosnovy Bor, a town eighty kilometers west of Petersburg that also hosts the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant. A second plant, Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant–2, is also currently under construction in the town.
The protest took place outside the Mariinsky Palace, seat of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly.
Garbed in hazmat suits, activists from the Beautiful Petersburg and Beautiful Leningrad Region movements brought a barrel to the steps of the palace. It was one of the 500,000 barrels of nuclear waste slated for burial in Sosnovy Bor.
State Duma deputy Nikolai Kuzmin, Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputies Maxim Reznik and Irina Ivanova, and members of the organizations Green Front, Green World, and Native Shore joined the activists. They signed an appeal asking President Putin to halt construction of the storage facility.
Petersburg Legislative Assembly Deputy Maxim Reznik signing appeal to president
The protest did not come off without a provocation. A man who identified himself as a journalist from the “president’s creative special forces” accused the activists, including Kuzmin, of “working on behalf of the west” and “receiving foreign grants.”
In June, the Russian Supreme Court approved the placement of the disposal facility in Sosnovy Bor. Opponents of the project have pointed to the fact that, according to Russian federal standards, such facilities should be built at a considerable distance from populated areas, bodies of water, and recreational areas.
Earlier in the day, Rosatom had announced that it would change the concept of the waste storage facility because it was economically unfeasible. It was not yet known what the new project would look like.
As of this writing, over 47,000 signatures have been collected on a petition against the waste facility posted on Change.org.
The Leningrad Nuclear Plant has been in the news on two other occasions in recent weeks.
In early July, a building supervisor climbed a 110-meter-high construction crane and refused to come down until back wages owed to him and his colleagues were paid.
On July 4, a seventy-ton piece of equipment, a protective tube unit, fell while being lifted at the construction site of Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant–2 and was damaged beyond repair. In addition to increasing costs, the accident is likely to delay the project completion date. The plant was initially to be launched in 2013. Later, the launch date was postponed to late 2015. This latest accident may delay the launch even further.
Movements in Central Asia have become large-scale and permanent, involving all social groups, rich and poor, women and men, young and old. They move around their own countries and among countries. Some go for several weeks or months and come back, while others live far from their place of birth for years, only occasionally visiting their homelands. Still others leave forever, breaking all ties. Some travel in search of a new homeland, so to speak. Others go to make money, study or receive medical treatment. Still others go for fun and excitement.
All this movement has come as a surprise to experts and politicians. I still remember the debates in the Soviet Union in the 1980s as to why the people of Central Asia were reluctant to travel outside their region. Even then officials and academics in Moscow, observing the beginnings of the demographic decline in Russia itself, were planning to relocate people from borderlands with an excess labor force to the central regions of the then still-unified country. These plans failed, because few people wanted to leave their homes. Only organized and, in fact, involuntary labor recruitment and military labor brigades partly solved the increased need for labor power. The weak affinity that Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz felt for voluntary mobility was proclaimed, on their part, an inherent and incorrigible attachment to family, community, and the hot climate. However, all these explanations were put to shame only a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when millions of people from the titular Central Asian nations felt an irresistible urge to hit the road, leaving and, sometimes, literally abandoning their homes.
Let us try and make sense of these circumstances, to understand why movement in the region has suddenly become a vital life strategy among a considerable number of people. The answer only seems to be lying on the surface. Yes, of course, the collapse of the Soviet system has led to the dismantling of all previous social and economic policies, which kept the population in place through social programs and investment in sometimes loss-making manufacturing enterprises. An abrupt, almost catastrophic decline in living standards, often accompanied by political turmoil and increased feelings of uncertain life prospects, could not fail to provoke an outflow of those wanting to find new prosperity and new stability outside their former worlds. Unemployment and negligibly small wages and pensions have pushed people into new labor markets in countries where even small incomes, by local standards, are much higher than the incomes Central Asians can expect to earn at home.
The future also looks ambivalent, depending on the forecaster’s optimism and pessimism. Some argue that economic, social, and political degradation in Central Asia will continue, becoming chronic, and the movements, therefore, will not stop but might even become even more intense, prolonged, and irreversible. Others, however, argue that sooner or later the situation will improve, investments and jobs will emerge at home, incomes and quality of life will increase and, consequently, outward migration will gradually dwindle.
This approach to movement as a consequence of degradation simplifies, in my view, the picture of events, distorting our perspective by ignoring and failing to analyze many important causes, factors, processes, and attitudes. If we look more broadly at the context in which human mobility in Central Asia has been growing, the first thing we see is an increase in the scope, range, and frequency of movement throughout the entire post-Soviet space and the world as a whole. Second, we see the unconditional link between mobility and the current stage of capitalism, which is sometimes called globalization, sometimes postindustrialism, and sometimes postmodernism. Viewed from this perspective, the picture of Central Asia appears in a somewhat different light than as a mere reflection of the disastrous state of affairs in the region’s newly independent countries. Spatial flows are not only a compulsory means of survival but also an impetus for distributing and assembling people, capital, information, and skills in new social configurations. The latter have a logic and meanings that do not depend directly on the characteristics of a particular country but are subject to wider trends and patterns.
What additional meanings can be attributed to the movements of people in Central Asia aside from as a reaction to post-Soviet degradation?
I think the situation can be described in terms of the momentum of the connections and mutual dependencies between Central Asia and Russia (and other lands) that developed and strengthened over at least a century and a half of coexistence within a single state. Usually, this kind of relationship is characterized as imperial or, if observers want to emphasize a distinctly unequal exchange, colonial. It is believed that empires inevitably fall, to be replaced by liberated nations. In this simple teleological scheme, which now dominates post-Soviet ideologies, much is not entirely clear, but one of the most controversial questions that many postcolonial critics ask is whether empire has actually disappeared or has adopted new shapes in which nations—i.e., constructs actually generated by empire—perform the old functions of borderlands, still pumping resources into the former metropoles in return for patronage and oversight. If we accept this argument, and there are many grounds for doing so, the massive movement of people from Central Asia to Moscow, Petersburg, and other Russian regions appears to be a post-imperial situation in which the circulation of labor power, money, practices, ideas, and information continues, acquiring new tempos and vectors. This movement establishes a new division of labor between the former “heartlands” and “borderlands,” and their hierarchy and mutual need for each other, even if the rhetoric has been dominated by harsh rejection of the newcomers.
Another implication of the movement of people in Central Asia is also quite obvious, although it is little remarked and little analyzed. The large-scale mobility—a significant (if not the lion’s) share of which consists of rural residents going to work abroad—is tantamount to a rather classic proletarization of a still largely agrarian Central Asian society. Soviet modernization attempted in its own way to organize this process by gradually transforming the locals into an agricultural working class while preserving the private agricultural sector and the corresponding rural practices, attitudes, and outlook in the region as a kind of compensation for semi-forced labor. The collapse of the Soviet Union also entailed the collapse of this transformative model. Consequently, the standard version of capitalist development, involving the ruin of the peasants, their impoverishment and exodus to the cities, where they are transformed into ruthlessly exploited proletarians, was inevitable. In other words, what is perceived as degradation is, in fact, a shift in the socio-economic order, not a return to old ways of life, as it sometimes has seemed, but accession to a completely new stage or form of community.
Proletarization has not been subject to discussion because, in particular, its course and effects have been concealed in a strictly ethnic view of the movement. In the countries of origin, the departed are considered traitors, victims or breadwinners. In the host countries, they are considered threatening outsiders or, again, victims. The emphasis, often cultural and racial, on their departure or arrival is more important than the social essence of movement. However, as soon as we remove our ethnic glasses we сan easily identify the class character of mobility. Its specificity consists only in the fact that the system in which class interaction takes place is not limited to particular countries and even regions but is non-national in scale. This system includes, first of all, the post-Soviet space as the nearest and most comprehensible space, a space that has, as I have already said, a history of a common existence and unequal relations of domination and subjugation between heartlands and borderlands. But mobility has already gone beyond the scope of the post-Soviet, spreading into new spaces of global capitalism and incorporating itself into a truly global order.
The other significance of the movement in Central Asia I would like to discuss is the mastery and appropriation of global space, infrastructures, and communication and transportation technologies. Let me explain this with a very simple example. Once upon a time, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Russian imperial officials built a railroad that linked Central Asia with Russia’s central regions. The railway was built in no small measure to transport troops in the event of local uprisings and conflicts with other world powers, as well as for resettling Russian peasants, who were to colonize the new imperial lands. The railroad was also built to export the region’s cotton to the Ivanovo textile mills and import grain back to Turkestan, where the arable land was to be busy growing cotton. However, whatever objectives Petersburg officials pursued by allocating funds for the railroad’s construction, the end result was new transport infrastructure that made it possible to move large quantities of people and goods quickly, a means that had been available to different groups of people in different historical periods, and could be used for purposes that the said officials could not even imagine. Consequently, a hundred years later, the railway has become one of the main means of transporting millions of people of Central Asia to Russia and all over the world. This shift of functions and tasks might be dubbed mastery of new technologies and appropriation of completely new mechanisms for interacting with space, mechanisms which themselves define the impetuses and trajectories of movement. If we add highways and air travel to the railroads, we find ourselves with a huge network of possibilities that people transform into an element of their everyday practices and plans. The ease with which one can reach the other end of the world in a short time and gain access to new goods itself compels people to travel.
Here I would add the mastery of technologies for obtaining information about the world and communicating at great distances. They help create and maintain images and networks of acquaintances, which are also included in processes of movement and ensure its stability, direction, and reversibility. In a broader sense, I would also include here not only phones, internet, cars, and planes but also knowledge of languages, mastery of global systems of food and clothing, of finding and gaining employment, and so on. The penetration and expansion of such technologies and infrastructures in Central Asia and training oneself in the habits of using them shapes the demand for mobility as a distinct need and, sometimes, as a pleasure.
Finally, I want to use the notion of the migration of peoples for interpreting current movements. Despite the risks of drawing analogies between quite different historical periods, I think it vital to point out the temporal depth, continuity, and cyclical nature of movements, on the one hand, and, on the other, the gradual tectonic shifts in the spread of cultures, languages, and even genetic characteristics, shifts that may not always be visible from the perspective of several decades. I think we must keep sight of this prospect, too, because it is here that new mixtures and hybridizations happen, new cultural types and preferences are constructed, and new communities and identities are shaped. Marriages between locals and newcomers, children of newcomers who are born and grow up in the new land and speak the local language, shifts (back and forth) in musical and culinary tastes that are suggested by the newcomers and turn into new fashions, etc., are the individual and ephemeral symptoms of such transformations. They coalesce to form global trends that become visible after some time and only at a remove from the chaos of the present. The non-obvious nature of this tectonic shift and the uncertainty of its impact do not mean, however, that we do not sense, sometimes as vague and irrational fears and anxieties, the inevitability of this process by which completely new cultural forms emerge and acquire their own force and logic.
I deliberately did not use the terms migration and migrants in the first part of my text, although in their original sense they are synonyms of movement and people in movement. However, the primarily recent negative usage of the word migrant in Russia, the destination of most Central Asians, has caused me to regard it as a discrete category, which indicates the particular circumstances in which people in movement find themselves. We can easily notice that the word is used selectively in the public debate and generally does not cover all types of movement, for which additional features and criteria are introduced. Why and how do certain people in movement end up in the exceptional circumstances of migrants?
The paradox of the present age is that the more massive and rapid the movement of people has become, the more societies and countries have established legal, political, social, and cultural obstacles and rules, including in the realm of ideology and ideas, for regulating and directing mobility. Having become an important feature of (post)modernity, movement has not changed the social order, which has remained hierarchical and antagonistic. But movement imparts to these hierarchies and antagonisms another, migratory dimension, which has become an important element in the allocation of status, wealth, and opportunity. More precisely, there are many such dimensions, and I will try to spell them out, based on the classification of the causes of increased mobility that I have proposed above. In particular, I mentioned post-imperialism, capitalization and proletarization, the appropriation of global space, and the migration of peoples.
The most obvious is the post-imperial or post-colonial conjuncture. The former distinctions between heartlands and borderlands, which in the past had a tangible and geographically measurable value, have been preserved, having forfeited, however, their sense of spatiality. The parts of the formerly united empire, fused over many decades and centuries, continue to need each other, even after the collapse of the unified state, in terms of resources, finances, labor power, military assistance, technologies, and ideas to maintain their existence and legitimacy. As before, mutual dependence has its own imbalances, which after the Soviet Union’s demise have not only not decreased but also in many ways have even increased. In the past, common imperial Russian and Soviet citizenship certainly served as tools of colonization and Russification, but aside from subordination, they contributed other modernizing and emancipatory consequences and effects. As the residents of the modernized and emancipated regions have flocked to the heartlands, depriving them of a common citizenship and, generally, of a stable legal status has been the new strategy for dominating the borderlands and its inhabitants. Earlier educational and Kulturträger aspirations have finally yielded to cold calculation: utopianism has become an unnecessary expense.
The status and label of the illegal (nelegal) has replaced the former terms aboriginal (tuzemets) and ethnic (natsmen) as the new tool of colonization. Illegality, which in its various shapes accompanies the majority of immigrants from Central Asia throughout their journey to Russia and other countries, is simultaneously a means of overexploitation and replacing distance (which in the past separated the residents of the heartlands from the populace of the borderlands, generating informal relations of “senior” and “junior”) with a new means of distancing. While reproaching the arriving hordes for illegality, Russia does everything possible to maintain this gray zone, which is a prerequisite of postcolonial welfare and subjugation and brings only material and symbolic benefits. Of course, the possibility of becoming a citizen and occupying a top position in the new circumstances remains for the illegal immigrant, just as once upon a time the aboriginal and ethnic could become a tsarist general or a member of the Central Committee, but this career requires stupendous effort, the overcoming of numerous obstacles, and repeated demonstrations of loyalty.
The proletarization of rural dwellers is accomplished not just as a movement from countryside to city but also as a movement from one country to another. This generates not only the possibility of doubly exploiting migrants as workers and, at the same time, as disenfranchised foreigners, but also impedes the formation of a pronounced class identity and class resistance among the new proletarians. Moreover, self-recognition as a working class occurs neither in the country of origin nor the host country.
In Russia, where migrants work and generate surplus value, they are considered guest workers and slaves who are not an electoral force, allegedly hinder the development of the local economy, skew the labor market by working for low wages, and increase crime rates. That is, they generate lots of so-called problems and threats. Even local leftist parties are not willing to recognize them as their own constituency, whose rights and class mobilization should be their concern. In Central Asia itself, where the migrants return with the money they have earned, they do not perceive themselves and are not perceived by others as a proletariat. Rather, they function as a kind of middle class who have successfully completed a business deal somewhere abroad. At home, the guest workers carefully maintain and reproduce all the attributes of prestige characteristic of the rural rich, community members, and supporters of a “traditional” lifestyle, albeit in contrived form. This method of joining the capitalist world prevents immigrants from Central Asia from recognizing their interests as proletarians and fighting for them, which only aggravates their oppressed position in their new circumstances.
Here I want to clarify an important point. Movement itself is not only proletarian in its import. The people involved in it also include businessmen, who attempt to preserve and capitalize their savings abroad; urban educated youth, hoping to enter the cohort of white collar workers; and cultural producers and academics, who are looking for freedom of inspiration and recognition in other countries, and so on. But these groups of Central Asians are often overlooked amidst the public phobias, are not identified as guest workers, and even occupy quite high-status positions in the new society. However, many of them are also under constant threat of ending up living their lives according to a proletarian logic. Subjugation, which cannot be reduced merely to proletarization but has a wider context, assigns people to different categories, leaving them very little choice in determining their own legal, professional, and social trajectories, eventually pushing them into the niche of disenfranchised workers, from which it is difficult to extract themselves.
Another factor associated with access to the infrastructures and technologies of mobility also generates its own limitations and hierarchies. The latter include abilities, skills, and psychological capacities, as well as, I intend to emphasize, the availability of the necessary financial means and connections for implementing this access. An important condition is the availability and number of intermediaries between the individual and the means of mobility.
The hierarchy begins to take shape the moment the decision is made who is personally capable of setting out on the long, distant journey. This decision predetermines who will be the breadwinner, and who, the dependent; who, by taking on heightened risks, will receive more of the symbolic and moral bonuses, and how roles and statuses will be allocated in the future within the family and the community. Depending on the availability of funds and skills, the emigrant chooses between strategies of searching for happiness individually or, more often, of joining a network. Within the network, each person is assigned a certain place, and strict limitations are imposed on all manifestations of independence. The network mediates between the individual and technologies. It gives him or her money for their first steps. It protects and insures them. It explains where they should go and what they should do. The societal network, which guides the individual down the beaten path, provides guarantees and confirms the usual order of relations, and reproduces its own forms of domination and subjugation among elders and youngsters, men and women, pioneers and followers, wise guys and foot soldiers. The technologies and infrastructures of globalization are for many people, paradoxically, a means of reproducing and even reinforcing so-called traditional collective practices and beliefs.
I want to note also that networks, by defining what each of its members should do and how they should do it, exacerbate the stigmatization of these people as illegal immigrants and guest workers. When he or she joins a network, the individual immediately ends up in a social niche already freighted with a given set of obligations and rights, symbols and identities. The Central Asian whom an older relative or acquaintance puts on a plane, then transports to a place of work and so on, is doomed to be a migrant, as no other roads remain open to him or her.
And, finally, the migration of peoples. I have spoken about the fact that this process leads to the invention and cultivation of new hybrid cultural forms and types. And yet the fabrication and materialization of these forms and types happens via alignment with a hierarchy, through assignment to specific superior or inferior positions in social classifications, through application of a whole set of rules and techniques for recognition and exclusion. In particular, in these processes, references to culture, religion, and race, alone or in various combinations, are turned into a necessary attribute for identifying migrants as a discrete category of people in movement.
Migrants are persons necessarily endowed with the signs of aliens. Their physical appearance, faith and religious practices, and cultural habits must be alien. Central Asians with Caucasoid and Mongoloid features are termed “blacks” (chornye). The Central Asian cultures, which experienced a large-scale modernization with the Russian Empire and Soviet Union for nearly a century and a half, are described as almost archaic and “traditionalist.” Central Asian Islam, which has just been recreated after an atheistic era and bears the stamp of eclecticism and internal inconsistency, already figures as a potential, homogenous “threat” both to Christians and atheists. The discursive racialization, and cultural and religious stigmatization to which a significant number of people traveling between countries are exposed is a condition for entering the new situation of constant movement. New generalizing identities and derogatory nicknames legitimize, albeit negatively, the redistribution of space currently underway. At the same time, endowment of legal, professional or class status is made dependent on cultural and biological characteristics. Despite the apparent relativization of culture in movement, the essentialization of these characteristics has only been amplified and has moved from the level of individual countries and regions to the global level.
I want to conclude my short essay on movement and migrants in Central Asia not with a series of conclusions but with something like an inquiry. The new era has opened up many new opportunities for people, but at the same time it has generated new types of dependence and subjugation. How will these opportunities be used? Have we recognized all the risks? I think that when answering these questions we must choose a particular point of view that opens onto a wider temporal and spatial context, that does not focus on details, whatever feelings of pride or resentment they might cause, and that would not be attached to a particular ethnic loyalty and affiliation. Depending on how this works out or whether it works out at all, we can hope for the emergence of a new dialogue about the new era, a dialogue that for the time being we sorely lack.
* My research was conducted with support from a grant by the Russian Humanities Academic Fund (“Problems of Intercultural Interaction between Migrants from Central Asia and Russian Society,” No. 11-01-00045а).
And the devil today, unfortunately, increasingly appears to us in the guise of the civic activist.
This is Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly Member Vitaly Milonov, as quoted on page 5 of the July 13, 2015, edition of local weekly newspaper Smena, on apparently thwarted plans to build a Russian Orthodox church in Malinovka park, in the eastern part of the city. The project has been opposed by a vigorous grassroots campaign on the part of local residents.
The newspaper also continues, for the second issue running, its wild denunciation of local supporters of improved conditions for bicycling in Petersburg. As things stand now, only the extremely bold or the recklessly suicidal would ride a bike on Petersburg’s mean streets, which are nearly totally bereft of bike lanes or other safety amenities for cyclists.
Darya Tabachnikova, recently appointed by city hall as its advisor on cycling issues, is denounced by the former local Communist Youth League newspaper as follows (on page 3):
Firstly, the modest cycling advisor Tabachnikova has worked in the past at the World Bank (an international organization headquartered in Washington, DC) and a branch of the major American company PriceWaterhouseCoopers. In general, when it comes to “Europeanization,” is probably an old hand.
You cannot make this stuff up, which is why I would suggest Smena should be adopted as classroom material by all progressive centers of Russian language pedagogy abroad such as Middlebury College and so on.
Because this is more and more the guise in which the Russian language is appearing to us today (to paraphrase the estimable Milonov): as an instrument for deliberately and cynically attempting to turn white to black, disrupting the critical faculties altogether, and turning the populace into a quivering, paranoid bowl of jelly. TRR
“The residents of new buildings are forced to look at the windows of neighboring buildings and not see the light of day”
Olga Trakhanova and Olga Shamina
July 6, 2015 Bolshoi Gorod
Recently, residents of several new areas of Moscow and satellite cities have been protesting against excessively dense development. Residents of Krasnogorsk, Khimki, and Reutov, among other suburbs, are dissatisfied. The complaints are one and the same. High-rise residential buildings are built too close to each other, the necessary infrastructure is not constructed, and roads and public transport cannot withstand the rapid population growth. More and more often the word “ghetto” is invoked. According to experts, this is the likely future of these areas.
We asked residents of Moscow suburbs who are unhappy with excessively dense development to tell us why they do not like living in their towns. Here, for example, you can see how houses are being built in Reutov. Here are photos of dense development in the Pavshino Floodplain.
Yevgeny Sosedov, Resident of Krasnogorsk, chairman of the Moscow branch of the All-Russia Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (VOOPIK)
I live in the Krasnogorsk District of Moscow Region. I was born and raised in the village of Arkhangelskoye, but for the last fourteen years I have lived in Krasnogorsk.
I am dissatisfied with the town planning policies of the regional and municipal authorities, which have a negative effect on the quality of life. Practically speaking, in the last few years we have had to live on a giant construction site. The city and the district are being thoughtlessly built over with high-rises (up to forty-five storeys high). All town-planning standards have been violated; green spaces, forests, parks, cultural heritage protection zones, and nature reserves have been destroyed. Just next to my house, two gigantic shopping centers have been built, and several hectares of a historic park were cut down to make way for them. A third shopping center has been built literally ten meters from my windows, blocking the entire view and depriving the residents of our building of sleep during the five years it was being built. To top it off, intolerable conditions for navigating the city have been created: pedestrian paths have been cut off or dug up, parks are cluttered, and there are no sidewalks along highways and roads.
Infrastructural problems have been snowballing. There is no transportation infrastructure. The existing roads cannot cope with the flow of vehicles. There are traffic jams nearly round the clock in the district. To get to work on weekdays, residents have to leave at five or six in the morning.
During rush hour it is almost impossible to get onto commuter trains. People jam into them at a run. These problems are not being solved, they are only getting worse. For example, the Mortongrad Ilinskoye-Usovo development project, approved by the governor, presupposes delivering another fifty thousand people to the already overburdened Krasnogorskaya train platform.
High-rises are being built in the most problematic traffic spots without obliging investors to reconstruct roads and build interchanges. For example, the Moscow Region Urban Planning Committee, chaired by the governor, has approved the construction of the nine 32-storey towers of the Tetris residential complex in Pavshino at the most problematic spot in terms of traffic. This is in addition to the already-existing Youth residential complex, being built by the same firm, and the 45-storey towers of the Krost complex, which was built without any permits at all. (The development plan still has not been submitted.)
The situation is identical with all other infrastructure. Moscow Region is the leader in terms of families waiting in queues for spots in kindergartens. There are huge problems with health care facilities. There are only two functioning clinics in Krasnogorsk, one of which was built in the nineteenth century. And yet, the population increases by several tens of thousands of people annually, and this whole burden is placed on the existing infrastructure. The biggest infrastructural problem in store for us in the coming years is the drinking water supply and sewerage.
One of the main problems associated with real estate development is the rapid deterioration of the environment, which has extremely detrimental effects on the populace’s health and quality of life: the destruction and clear-cutting of thousands of hectares of forests, the shallowing of bodies of water and sources of drinking water, and the redevelopment of agricultural land and nature reserves.
Something must be said about the quality of the new construction. Moscow Region is a leader in terms of putting so-called new substandard housing on line, housing which starts to fall apart as soon as it is put into service, and huge amounts of money are subsequently spent on its maintenance.
None of these housing projects is provided with places of employment. 80–90% of the population of Moscow Region towns near Moscow travel back and forth to work in Moscow every day.
Huge estates of high-rises, built in the middle of fields according to obsolete designs and without the necessary infrastructure and places of employment, will inevitably turn into ghettoes.
Olga Filatova, Resident of Reutov
The town of Reutov is divided into South and North Reutov. There is new construction in both parts. However, North Reutov is adjacent to the subway, and so, apparently, it is being developed more recklessly.
When flats in South Reutov were being presold, the future tenants asked the developer what would be built near their home. The construction company told them there would be a square, shops, and other infrastructure. Instead, however, dozens of residential buildings were built.
A new neighborhood is being built next to us. One of the buildings there has 645 flats. If three people end up living in each flat—and there are several such buildings—what will happen to our town in the next five years? Property prices will fall, and consequently it will be harder and harder to unload a flat in such a “marvelous” place.
While not all the buildings are inhabited, the town is already overcrowded. Population density in Reutov is nearly one and a half times greater than in Singapore.
Because of the dense development, the town’s ecology is deteriorating. All trees are cut down on construction sites. Consequently, South Reutov is almost bereft of greenery. And the residents of news buildings are forced to look at the windows of neighboring buildings and not see the light of day.
Elena Nosova, Resident of Khimki
We, the residents of the Novokurkino District of Khimki, are suffering from the illegal new construction of the PIK Group, a catastrophic lack of infrastructure, the corruption of the local administration, and the inaction of officials and law enforcement agencies. Our district is rapidly turning into a ghetto. We are being deprived of the right to live in humane conditions. We have been trying to put up a fight, but we have remained unheard.
For several months, the district’s residents have been trying to halt the illegal construction of multi-storey residential buildings that the PIK Group has launched on the site of planned infrastructure. Due to excess housing density, the district of Novokurkino, which has a population of 40,000 and includes three microdistricts, is experiencing a catastrophic shortage of infrastructure.
PIK Group has been developing Novokurkino for ten years. The district development plan was approved in 2005; the latest revisions for the sixth and seventh microdistricts were officially approved and went through the compulsory procedure of public hearings way back in 2011. During this time, PIK has built and settled all the residential buildings in the sixth and seventh microdistricts and has begun construction of the next microdistrict, the eighth, but the infrastructure sites stipulated by the plan have not been completed. The construction of schools, kindergartens, and medical clinics has been unacceptably slow, and residents have been unsuccessfully complaining about the situation for several years.
At this point, although 100% of the housing has been built in the sixth and seventh microdistricts, only about 60% of the kindergartens, 50% of the schools, 30% of the medical clinics, and 18% of the parking lots have been built as planned. In the seventh microdistrict, construction of a school, a clinic, a multi-storey car park, and a sports center has not even been started. Consequently, the capacity of kindergartens, schools, and clinics in Khimki and the nearest district of Moscow has been stretched to critical limits. The situation with parking remains catastrophic and continues to worsen.
Despite these circumstances, the developer, PIK Group, has begun building new high-rise residential buildings on the site of the planned infrastructure sites with the permission of local authorities. On the site where, according to the district plan, there should be have been the only sports center in the district, equipped with a parking lot, they have begun building five residential buildings. The building permits were issued on the basis of a city land development plan that was at odds with the district development plan. The Khimki prosecutor’s office confirmed the illegality of the city land development plan, and it was canceled. However, the building permits have still not been withdrawn. Taking advantage of the inaction of the authorities, the developer began construction work, violating all the building codes in the process. At present, the foundation pits of the first buildings have been dug, and piles are being driven into the ground. There is a hoarding on the site advertising that flat are for sale, and pre-booking of spots is underway.
For two and a half weeks, residents who were against the ensuing construction blocked it on their own by parking their cars opposite the driveway to the site, thus preventing construction equipment from entering. However, after almost three weeks of our blocking the construction, the PIK Group moved about twenty well-built young men into workers’ sheds who set about illegally towing away the cars, damaging two of them in the process. The total damage came to about 600,000 rubles [approx. 9,500 euros]. Moreover, the district beat cop was present. He signed the towing tickets, which is not one of his duties, not to mention the fact that the drivers of the cars had not violated any parking rules. Next, PIK fenced off the driveway onto the construction site with concrete blocks, seizing half of the road in the process, meaning they left only one lane for travel. The road is very busy, because it leads to the school. Now all residents, especially children, are also suffering substantial discomfort from this as well.
In addition, permits are being sought for residential construction on two more plots of land, which had originally been zoned for parking lots and a shopping mall with a parking lot.
“Dear Neighbors, On July 9 at 7:00 p.m., you are invited to the BEGINNING OF A REVOLUTION. Postpone all your holidays and forget about prosperity. You will be called upon to disobey the authorities and the courts, and take to the barricades, and this appeal will be funded by the Americans. Ask the Ukrainians how their MAIDAN ended.”Photo courtesy of arthur-msk.livejournal.com.
This is a counter-invitation to a rally, held yesterday in Torfyanka Park, in Moscow’s Losinoostrovsky District, to protest the building of a Russian Orthodox church in the park.
You can see Anatrrra’s photo reportage of the rally here.
And read a blow-by-blow account (in Russian) of the conflict and the rally, written by a local activist and generously illustrated with photographs, here.
Hipster news website The Village also has a short account of the rally and the conflict (again, in Russian).
I posted this, in part, because of how remarkably easy it has become, in Russia, to attribute “pro-American,” “fascist,” “pro-Maidan,” etc., motives to literally anyone who opposes anything proposed by the powers that be, no matter how petty, stupid or wrongheaded. Judging by the reports and photos from Torfyanka, not everyone is buying what they’re selling, however.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog for these public service messages.
Indeed, Russia’s window for further population growth is rapidly closing. Within a decade, according to RANEPA’s estimates, the population of Russian women aged 20 to 29 will shrink by nearly 50 percent. The corresponding decrease in birth rates, particularly when combined with the country’s mortality rates—the 22nd highest in the world, according to the study—makes it clear that Russia is still in for long-term decline.
In fact, without remedial action, Russia’s population could shrink to 113 million by 2050, a decrease of more than 20 percent from today’s population of 144 million. And in a worst-case scenario, RANEPA argues, Russia’s population could fall by nearly a third, to 100 million, before midcentury. The economic effects of such a shift would be dramatic; Russia’s working-age population would decrease by more than 26 million, making the country less competitive and less prosperous. But there is still some hope: if Moscow takes measures to reduce mortality and boost the birthrate, RANEPA estimates that the Russian population could rise modestly, to 155 million, by 2040.
In other words, Russia has a choice to make—one with deep social and economic consequences. If implemented in the near term, improvements in health care, tax benefits for families, and steps to discourage emigration could offset and even reverse Russia’s long-term population decline. The opportunity to do so, however, will be lost over the next decade, and the social and economic consequences of governmental inattention could be catastrophic.
Unfortunately, there’s little chance that the Kremlin will seize the moment. In recent years, preoccupied with regaining its place on the world stage, Moscow has only peripherally addressed the long-term sources of national decline. Instead, it has prioritized spending on programs that reinforce its reputation as a great power. Even before the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, it was estimated that Russia planned to spend upward of $600 billion on upgrading its military capabilities by 2020. The increased expenditures have funded, among other projects, the creation of new intercontinental ballistic missiles, the deployment of additional long-range strike capabilities, and serious work on electromagnetic pulse weapons.
Crimean officials estimate that over 4 million tourists will visit the recently annexed peninsula’s beaches this year, boosting the region’s economy by up to 125 billion rubles ($2 billion), news agency RIA Novosti reported Thursday.
“We expect to welcome 4.3 million people to Crimea in 2015, most of them from Russia,” Crimean Tourism Minster Yelena Yurchenko was quoted as saying.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March last year in a move widely applauded at home but condemned by the West, which imposed sanctions on investment in Crimea.
Before the annexation, 6 million tourists visited Crimea annually, according to Russia’s tourism watchdog, Rostourism. Most of these were Ukrainians.
Russia is trying to stimulate travel to Crimea to help the region’s tourism-dependent economy, but the land route through mainland Ukraine has seen a steep drop in use since Russian and Ukrainian guard posts were placed on the Crimean border.
Over half of tourists this year will come to Crimea by plane and 45 percent will come by the Kerch Strait ferry, according to Yurchenko.
Russia plans to build a multibillion-dollar bridge between Russia and Crimea, but construction will not be complete until 2018.
— “Crimea Plans to Make $2 Billion on Summer Tourism This Year,” The Moscow Times, March 19, 2015The emphasis, above, is mine.
Russian literature is often credited with a rich tradition of satire, parody, and absurdism, a tradition associated with writers otherwise as different as Gogol, Dostoevsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Kharms, Ilf and Petrov, and Zoshchenko. But this is a misconception. All these writers were stone-cold realists. You only have to live in Russia for a time and know the language well enough to realize they did not make anything up. They just had to turn on their tape recorders, so to speak. As reporter Elena Rotkevich did for the following article.
There is also no little irony in the fact that this article was going to press just as reports had begun coming in that the almighty Chinese economy was going pear-shaped. Although that now-dubious omnipotence seems to have been achieved at a totally unacceptable cost.
“The Hermitage is not particularly interesting to the Chinese”
July 6, 2015 Gorod 812
Red itineraries will be popular if they are pitched properly to tourists from the PRC. Tourist guide and interpreter Ekaterina Guseva shared her impressions of working with Chinese groups.
Are the Chinese really interested in Lenin?
I think the Chinese will find tours to Lenin and revolutionary sites interesting, especially the fifty-something generation. It is this generation that mainly comes to Russia, because they studied our history and know our literature and culture fairly well. The Chinese were raised on stories about the Soviet Union. It was Big Brother who helped them. They call us a great or militant nation, and they are very curious about how this great nation is faring right now. Do we still sing “Katyusha”? Do we respect Lenin? They often ask whether life under communism was good and whether we miss the communist regime.
We try and reflect the real facts when we answer them. For example, that apartments were distributed for free in the Soviet Union, but some people miss those times, while others don’t.
The most popular sight in Petersburg among the Chinese was the cruiser Aurora, but now, unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration. The main museums—the Hermitage, Peterhof—are not particularly interesting to them. They don’t like boring, highly detailed tours, for example, when the kinds of woods used in the unique parquet floor in the Throne Room are listed. They like something a little more fun.
Touring Lenin sites is not a bad idea. At present, they are not taken to Lenin museums. We only drive up to the Smolny, but we don’t go inside. The demand for red tours will hinge on the right advertising campaign and cooperation with Chinese tour agencies. We could combine Petersburg with Finland and Sweden: with the right revolutionary commentary, Scandinavia will also be popular. The main thing is pitching the material.
Have the numbers of Chinese tourists increased?
This year we had a 300% increase in the flow of tourists from China. We lack licensed Russian tour guides. We have gone public about the problem on more than one occasion since the deficit is made up for by illegals. Semi-legal Chinese tourist firms operating in Petersburg hire similarly illegal Chinese immigrants as tour guides. Someone lends them a young [Russian] woman licensed to lead tours in English or Spanish, and under the guise of this young woman, they show groups around the city. These illegals badly mangle our history, and they distort the characteristics of Russians and Russian culture. I myself once saw a female Chinese tour guide on the grand staircase [in the Catherine Palace] at Pushkin make a sweeping gesture with her hand, pointing to everything in the vicinity, and heard her say to her group, “The Russians stole everything you see here. They went everywhere with warriors, tried to conquer everybody, and stole and stole wherever they went.” We are trying to combat this, but there are lots of them, and a few of us.
Isn’t it time to do the signage on the streets, in the subway, and in museums in Chinese?
In terms of quantity, Chinese tourists outnumber all other foreign tourists, of course. But Chinese tourism is usually group tourism. Quite often they have a group visa, which theoretically does not imply they will be navigating the city independently. They don’t walk the streets or ride the subway on their own, only with a guide. So there is probably no need for this.
Is it hard to work with the Chinese?
It is a lot more pleasant to work with Chinese tourists than with Americans, for example, or Canadians because from the get-go they have a more positive attitude toward Russia and Russians. They buy the same souvenirs as everyone else: matryoshka dolls and scarves. And they love amber.
I saw Joseph Brodsky for the last time at Victoria Schweitzer’s place. He had just gone through a second operation on his heart. He had been expressly forbidden to smoke, but he bummed cigarettes from me and said he could not work without smokes. Joseph read us his new poem “Predstavlenie” [“A Vaudeville”; 1988?] which he had dedicated to Mikhail Nikolayev [Schweitzer’s husband, who had died in 1987]. He read in his usual manner, a drawling tone that emphasized the musical and rhythmic flow of the stanzas and thus made it hard to understand their content. (Once, at Oxford, when Brodsky was reading his poems to a large audience, a female English Slavist had asked me, “Is this like liturgy?”) When I read “Predstavlenie” on the page, it struck me it was Brodsky’s dying verse, although he would go on living for several more years. The past and present, as they emerged in the poem, were illuminated by a transcendent rather than an earthly light. I consider the poem one of his masterpieces.
—Igor Golomstock, A Job for an Old Policeman: A Pessimist’s Memoirs (Moscow, 2015), p. 288
Enter a Cop shouting, “Basta!” The prosecutor squares his jaw.
The door to the regular guy’s cave opens sans Ali Baba’s code.
Great-grandson or great-grandfather rolls a cart in the shaft’s dark maw,
Weeping crystal tears reflecting the color of the motherlode.
And on Death’s moonlit plain, beyond the pale the living never cross,
Studded with gold incisors, a jawbone sparkles with permafrost.
There long will be veins enough
Of those who’ve bitten the dust.
“I have a pad, but getting there’s a chore.”
“I’m a crane driver, not a whore.”
“Life arose like an addiction
Before the egg or the chicken.”
We have filled the entire stage. All that’s left is to climb the walls,
Soar like a hawk under the big top, shrink into a roundworm.
Or everyone, foaming at the mouth, puppets and all,
Should suddenly copulate in unison to breed a new life form.
For, economizing space, what other shape can the multitude assume,
If not the cemetery’s ranks, if not the checkout’s black queue?
We demand the steppe’s expanses
Without a chain reaction!
“We demand a sentence without relief!”
“Who is hollering ‘Stop, thief!’?”
“In her notebook she drew his penis.”
“Let me go, for the love of Jesus.”
Enter an Evening in the Present, a house in the boondocks.
The tablecloth is arguing interior design with the drapes.
Ruling out palpitations (nonsense I’d put in brackets),
One gets the sense Lobachevsky has been subtracted from space.
Grumbling leaves the color of money. A mosquito’s steady buzzer.
The eye is too frail to magnify the two-by-threes of those gone forever,
Who have sprouted as thick grass.
But they won’t be the last.
“From lovemaking, children are born.
Now you are alone in the world.
Remember the song I’d sometimes hum
Softly when twilight would come?
“This is the mouse, this is the cat.
This is the watch tower, this is the camp.
And this is Time that, on the sly,
Sentences Mom and Dad to die.”