Nadya Tolokonnikova: The Year in Review

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Nadya Tolokonnikova
The Year in Review, or, An Eternal Russian Winter in Solitary Confinement
December 29, 2015
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We rang in 2015 seeing Oleg Navalny sent off to a penal colony for three and a half years for the fact his brother was involved in politics.

Pyotr Pavlensky rang in 2015 by starting a bonfire on a Moscow quay.

“You spend the year the way you ring it in,” said Pavlensky as he left the Guelman Gallery, where we were seeing in 2015, and went off to an icy quay on the River Yauza to start a fire.

In November 2015, Petya pulled off the biggest art action of the year by torching the doors of the FSB. Pavlensky will greet the New Year in a cell at Butyrka remand prison.

In 2015 we found out you cannot only be imprisoned for political activism but also gunned down for it in the center of Moscow.

As 2015 ended, arrests in the Bolotnaya Square case continued. Anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov was arrested on December 3. The defense claims he was not at Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012.

Gallerist Guelman held a charity auction at his gallery in support of the Bolotnaya Square prisoners. The result was that the Guelman Gallery was no longer Guelman’s gallery. He was not forgiven by the powers that be for the auction, and the gallery was wrested away from him.

But the government also made humane decisions in 2015. After sentencing Vasilyeva to five years in prison, the court let her out on parole two months later.

In 2015, the government also destroyed embargoed produce, because they had no fucking clue what to do about falling oil prices. Russians were weaned off the notion of stability and tightened their belts as the Russian economic crisis made $400 a month a serious, substantial salary, as in the early noughties. In a number of Russian cities, the critical debts owed by municipal governments to fuel suppliers have led to stoppages of public transport, and electric companies have turned off the lights in the stairwells of apartment blocks.

The myth of stability has been destroyed, the state is the new punk, a rifle is a party, and everything is going to fucking hell in a hand basket. The New Year’s meal, by the way, will cost on average 5,790 rubles this year, which is 28% more than a year ago. So it is better to save money on December 31 and take a nap.

And, while you are sleeping, to dream of Pyotr Pavlensky, Oleg Navalny, and Bolotnaya Square political prisoner Alexei Gaskarov celebrating the New Year in their prison cells and pouring Duchesse, a domestic carbonated beverage, into recycled plastic instant mashed potato cups.

Amen.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image of Duchesse soda bottles courtesy of Frutto

Who Whom

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“DANGER ZONE,” Petrograd, December 15, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Leonid Volkov
December 29, 2015
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According to the official (i.e., government) investigation, driver Ruslan Muhudinov ordered the killing of Boris Nemtsov.

Meaning that Ramzan Kadyrov has not been hurt in any way. Not only did he not surrender [State Duma deputy] Adam Delimkhanov and [Federation council member] Suleiman Geremeyev, he did not even surrender Ruslan Geremeyev.

This is just by way of understanding the hierarchy of the people in power in Russia.

The political wrangling went on for ten months. In March, Putin “went to ground” for a couple of weeks when the siloviki were demanding he surrender Kadyrov. It was clear he would not give up Kadyrov. Then for several months they demanded Geremeyev and his high-ranking relatives, but ultimately they did not get him, either.

This is what it basically comes down to.

The toughest guy in the real table of ranks in Russia is Ramzan Kadyrov.

The second rank includes Vladimir Putin, the selfsame Chechen elite, and members of the State Duma and Federation Council.

The third rank includes Bastrykin, Patrushev, Bortnikov, Chaika, and Geremeyev, whose degree of untouchability is the same. Any of them can steal anything and kill anyone, and he will get off scot-free.

The fourth rank includes any general in the Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service (FSB), and somewhere in there as well is Ruslan Muhudinov, driver of the deputy commander of the North Battalion [i.e., Ruslan Geremeyev].

Leonid Volkov is a project manager for opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Zhanna Nemstova
Moving Backwards: Russia’s Moral Decay
December 28, 2015
The Moscow Times

The Public Opinion Foundation conducted a survey this month asking Russians two questions: “What was the main event of the year in Russia?” and “What was the main global event of the year?” 

Noteworthy is that fully 40% of the respondents had trouble answering either question. And the most brutal political murder in modern Russia – the assassination of my father – did not even figure in the responses. State-controlled television hardly mentions it, with the exception of the first few days after the killing, when commentators spoke of him in contemptuous tones.

But the problem is not only the silence of the Kremlin’s official propaganda. The problem is the condition of Russian society. A Levada Center survey conducted in March of this year found that one-third of all Russians are indifferent to my father’s murder. That is a moral numbness best conveyed by the popular Russian sentiments of “It does not concern me” and “That does not affect me.” The well-known military journalist Arkady Babchenko refers to that type of thinking by his countrymen as “infantilism.” Perhaps he is right. 

This attitude finds expression not only in widespread apathy, but also in people’s inability to recognize even obvious causal relationships. It is understandable why some people cannot see the medium-term and long-term negative consequences of the annexation of Crimea, but it was not so difficult to predict that consumer prices would rise as a result of Moscow’s food embargo and the hefty tolls imposed on trucks traveling on federal highways. 

The political system that President Vladimir Putin has built robs the Russian people of the ability to think, analyze, ask questions, formulate positions or remember the past. It offers no stimulus for that: Putin’s Russia has no need of people who think for themselves. It has reduced competition to a minimum in all areas, including the political field. And it is not always the smartest that succeed in this system

It is a sad and potentially dangerous situation when the political playing field lies decimated and debates and discussions have been replaced with sometimes violent pressure from the authorities. That has also compromised the quality of the opposition itself and made it a truly heroic feat to even take part in the opposition movement in Russia. There are no democratic institutions and the activists are fighting for survival. Under such conditions, opposition figures have no chance to become public figures and the public has no way of knowing who is who.

People have short memories, and that makes life easier for Putin and his inner circle, who are constantly confusing their facts. First they claim there are no Russian soldiers in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and then they admit to their presence. First they promise not to raise taxes and fees, and then they impose new tariffs on long-haul truckers. Forgetfulness is a handy human tendency, and the Kremlin’s television propaganda exploits it to the fullest. 

This explains why leaders have no personal reputations and remain unaccountable before the public. Perhaps the social apathy and the public’s lack of interest in politics is a defense mechanism, people’s way of responding to the flood of lies and aggression from the authorities. Nobody can figure out where the truth lies, and so it is best not to even go looking for it

All politics in Russia are situational and as volatile as oil prices. Even loyal politicians and officials do not always manage to fall into line exactly as they should. For example, it is amusing to see how famed film director and die-hard Putin fan Nikita Mikhalkov gets outraged over the way his own patriotic show on state-controlled television is subjected to censorship. 

The authorities and the ruling elite are out for their own survival. That end justifies all means, including the tactic of keeping military tensions high at all times. As a result, Russia is increasingly moving away from humanistic values and toward a confrontational relationship with the world. But perhaps that is not putting it strongly enough: maybe Russia is moving toward total apathy. However, war is becoming the context for all other issues in life. 

Russian journalists often ask me why I fight for a fair and impartial investigation into my father’s murder. For me, the very wording of that question is sickening because it shows that medieval values now reign supreme in Russia: nobody understands that it is not just I who needs such an investigation, but all Russians if this country is to ever move forward

We must wage a long and grueling fight for human rights. If we simply give up that struggle and accept the fact that, in Russia, someone can just go and kill a prominent public figure, a statesman and leader of the opposition with absolute impunity, then we must also come to terms with the fact that the same thing could one day happen to any of us. 

Today’s opposition members are now at greater risk than ever before. I see the condescending attitude shown toward the small handful of people who continue to struggle for democracy in Russia. I have grown accustomed to the eternal question: “What do they offer?” But just imagine if one day even that small group would no longer exist. Who, then, would conduct anti-corruption investigations, participate in even nominal elections, initiate investigations into wrongdoings by Duma deputies or provide support for political prisoners? No one, that’s who

My father long experienced that condescending attitude from others who behaved as if they were looking down on him from on high. And now he has been murdered – for his views, for daring to express his position, for his unwillingness to be indifferent or apathetic. And suddenly, his absence is sorely felt. 

Putin’s Russia has not brought a revival of spiritual values, as state-controlled TV tries to convince us. It has caused Russia’s moral decay. And as long as Russians approach every problem through the filter of whether it will affect them personally, this country can move in only one direction – backward.

Zhanna Nemtsova is a Deutsche Welle reporter and the founder of Boris Nemtsov Foundation For Freedom.

Kena Vidre: What Was Frida Vigdorova Like?

Kena Vidre
What Was Frida Vigdorova Like?

I liked the articles of hers published in Pravda the year before the war. I was then in the tenth and final grade at school.

There was already something special about these early articles. They were bereft of the usual Soviet phraseological coating. They showed an understanding of the psychology of teenagers and a respect for their individuality, and there was not a whit of edification and treacle in them.

We met on May 1, 1941, at the birthday party of my schoolmate Lena Konyus, a relative of Frida’s.

Frida Vigdorova, early 1960s. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Raskina
Frida Vigdorova, early 1960s. Courtesy of Alexandra Raskina

How sweet she was! Still girlish in appearance, she was short, had a lovely upturned nose, shining brown eyes, and dark hair cut short, a stray lock of it jutting across her forehead. The strand remained in place for the rest of her life, going grayish only towards the end.

It is quite easy to understand Kornei Chukovsky, who when he first met Frida in the hallway at the Pravda offices, took her by the chin and asked, “And what grade are we in?”

“I teach tenth grade,” she replied.

Chukovsky was taken aback and apologized profusely.

According to Frida, this was how they met. The encounter would grow into a passionate friendship. Chukovsky survived Frida by several years.

Continue reading “Kena Vidre: What Was Frida Vigdorova Like?”

Home Sweet Home

Vasya Lozhkin, "Abroad / Motherland," 2015. Source: Facebook
Vasya Lozhkin, “Abroad / Motherland,” 2015. Source: Facebook

[…]

Enter the Abroad, lamenting, with the Forbidden Hemisphere,
And with the Horizon, debased, dangling from her evening gown.
She calls our simple Yermolai names like François, Jacques or Jean-Pierre,
Carps on and on about the law. Unfair tariffs get her going.
She blurts out, “How are things!” Raphael and Buonarotti
Disturb our gaze with flesh’s gloss, but on the back there’s not even a jot.
Workers of the world
March into a bar and grill.

“In those jeans you look like a Yank.”
“Popped her cherry when I was drunk.”
“I was just a simple worker.”
“By the by, we all are wankers.”

Enter Thoughts of Days to Come, dressed to the nines in khaki blouses.
They carry in atom bombs, ICBMs, a launching pad.
Oh how they reel, dance and caper: “We are warriors and carousers!
Russian and German will fall together; for example, at Stalingrad.”
And like old widow Matryona, cyclotrons are dumbly howling.
In the Ministry of Defense a nest of crows is loudly cawing.
Look at the pillow. What do you know!
Shiny medals all in a row.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
“A pint of vodka, they say,
Soon’ll be a ruble a pop.”
“Mom, I really don’t love Pop.”

Enter a certain Orthodox, saying, “These days I’m number one.
I’m pining for the sovereign, and in my soul the Firebird flares.
Soon Igor will reunite with Yaroslavna and have his fun.
Let me make the benediction or else I’ll box you on the ears.
Worse than evil eye or herpes is the plague of Western thinking.
Sing, accordion, and drown out the saxophone, jazz’s vile offspring.”
On the icons they plant a kiss,
Sobbing victims of circumcis—

“Me? Steak, Director’s Cut, of course.”
“Barge haulers in Severomorsk,
Wasted thin by radiation,
Drag the cruiser to its station.”

[…]

original

Sergey Yermakov: Revolution or Chernobyl!

Sergey Yermakov
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December 19, 2015

Back in her day, we recall, Rosa Luxemberg proposed the slogan “Socialism or barbarism!” While not obvious at first glance, the slogan is profoundly and functionally religious, albeit secularized, since it deals with salvation, with socialism as a project of salvation from the consequences of capitalism. In 1916, in the midst of a monstrous imperialist war, it was a secular take on soteriology, the doctrine of salvation.

The “or” is telltale. Although “barbarism” implies the entire subject matter of nineteenth-century Hegelianism and positivism, the theme of progress, as opposed to barbarism, the subject of progress as Bildung, the slogan is, nevertheless, anti-Hegelian. Nothing vouchsafes the Spirit’s final pleroma; the victory of progress is not obvious. Nor is it obvious that the arrow of history is generally pointed towards an increase of the good, and that a “higher” formation will inevitably come to replace the “lower” formation. But because salvation is not vouchsafed, we must work on its behalf and advocate for it. (Whereas, in the Hegelian universe, Self-Development of the Spirit, Ltd., and Progress, Inc., issue you a guarantee in writing, a futures contract for salvation.)

So, dear missionaries and itinerant preachers, boldly introduce the subject of salvation into your sermonizing. When the laymen groan, as they usually do, that the outcome will be bloody and so forth, you tell them, “Revolution or Chernobyl!” (I am serious.)

A regime incapable of maintaining a functioning technosphere, for which it bears responsibility, legitimates its own overthrow. Revolution does not guarantee the emergence of a new technosphere, of course. Politics and science and technics (and even governance and science) hardly run in parallel lines, just as revolution does not guarantee a regime more capable of governance. As a manifestation of the demos, however, revolution, at least for some time, generates a collectively responsible subject, a subject capable of deliberating on its own collective future, including the technosphere.

By the way, for those who find such things crucial, I do not fully understand the meaning of the term “sovereignty” in 2015, but perhaps only revolution is capable of preserving it, simply by generating the dimension of collective responsibility, the sense that “regular dudes are in charge here.” As it is, one ninth of the earth’s land mass has begun to present an excessive danger, given its unpredictability and irresponsibility, toward the other eight ninths, even taking in account the disasters with oil rigs that happen there and monstrously smoky China. God forbid that external management should be required.

P.S. We have to think over whether Luxemberug’s slogan—and the line of campaigning proposed—suggest that revolution (an apocalyptic event towards which the messianic subject is directed) is the katechon, that which holds back (in this case, a technological disaster), because there is an obvious paradox here: the katechon is anti-apocalyptical figure.

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Emergency Shutdown of Second Unit at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant 
www.greenworld.org.ru
December 19, 2015

An emergency shutdown of the second unit at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant took place on Friday, December 18, at 1:50 p.m. local time. The cause of the shutdown and emergency cooling of the reactor was a sudden influx of radioactive steam from a faulty pipe into one of the rooms in the turbine section.

Both of the turbines servicing the reactor were shut down.

During the cooling down, the steam generated in the reactor was ejected into the environment through a pipe. A south-southeasterly wind blowing at five meters per second (such a wind is atypical for this locale) carried the radioactive steam toward the Gulf of Finland in the direction of Zelenogorsk and Vyborg. Green World recorded a background radiation of 20 mR/h at five p.m. local time in downtown Sosnovy Bor, five kilometers away from the affected unit.

Saint Petersburg, a city of five million people people that is situated forty kilometers to the east of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, was thus fortunate this time round. According to some sources, the background radiation increased only severalfold in the vicinity of the plant.

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In the photo, radioactive steam from the unit drifts towards Vyborg as the unit is cooled down.

The second unit at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant has been operating for forty years, although it has a projected operating life of thirty years. Its operating life was extended without the legally required public hearings and environmental impact assessment.

At present, all four units at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant are operating beyond their projected lifetimes. The oldest of the Chernobyl series reactors at Sosnovy Bor is scheduled to be shut down only in 2018 after forty-five years in operation.

The eastern part of the Gulf of Finland is entering into a ten-year period of heightened risk of accidents at nuclear sites. On the one hand, during this period (lasting until 2026), the service life of the RMBK-1000 reactors at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant will be extended and there will be a greater likelihood of accidents. During this same period, the new (VVER-1200-powered) units at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant II are scheduled to come online, and there will be an increased risk of accidents due to errors by designers, builders, and inexperienced personnel.

So we are faced with a headline-making increase in the probability of accidents at the Sosnovy Bor nuclear cluster.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Suggested Post (Putin’s War against Civil Society)

This is a little sample of the crap that Mark Zuckerberg and Company send your way for hard cash if you have the misfortune to live in the “post-Soviet space.”

typology inoagentov

A typology of foreign agents operating in Russia: Watchdogs, Priests, Idiots, Underdogs, and others.

A Typology of Foreign Agents | Who is trying the hardest to destroy Russia on foreign grants

Here is what the full illustration looks like if you are a total moron (like me) and follow the link.

Tipologiya-inoagentov
“Russia. NGOs. USRF [United States of the Russian Federation].” Source: stopagent.org

Stalker Workers Union

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Stalker Workers Union
– Work to your physical capabilities
– Dormitory (bed)
– Solution to social, domestic, and legal problems
– Board
– Bonuses

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Starting January 1, the minimum monthly wage in Russia will be $87 a month, the Moscow Times reported yesterday.

According to Rosstat, as of September, the average monthly wage in Russia was $463.

And yet Russian armed forces are for some reason bombing something and somebody to kingdom come in Syria.

That must cost a lot of money. I will not even ask where it comes from.

The really crazy thing is this no doubt super expensive bombing campaign is almost completely unopposed by the Russian population, who actually live in one of the richest countries in the world but are “happy” to live like paupers.

Eighty-seven dollars a month.

By the way, in its constitution (now mostly honored in the breach), the Russian Federation identifies itself as a “social state.”

The Russian Federation is a social State whose policy is aimed at creating conditions for a worthy life and a free development of man. 

What does that even mean when you are making between eighty-seven and four hundred sixty-three dollars a month in cities, such as Moscow and Petersburg, where the cost of living (minus the rent if you happen to own your own abode) is comparable to the cost of living in European and North American cities?

Something has got to give.

Or does it?

Photo by the Russian Reader