Crumbling Down

Some people ain’t no damn good
You can’t trust ’em, you can’t love ’em
No good deed goes unpunished
And I don’t mind being their whipping boy

I’ve had that pleasure for years and years
No no, I never was a sinner, tell me what else can I do
Second best is what you get till you learn to bend the rules
And time respects no person and what you lift up must fall
They’re waiting outside to claim my tumbling walls

Saw my picture in the paper
Read the news around my face
And some people don’t want to
Treat me the same

When the walls come tumbling down
When the walls come crumbling, crumbling
When the walls come tumbling, tumbling down

 —John Mellencamp, “Crumblin’ Down” 

 

tsar putin
Cover of Yevgeny Satanovsky, If I Were the Russian Tsar: Advice to the President. Image courtesy of LitRes

Yesterday was a rough day for the anti-imperialist pro-Putin western left (which is basically all that is left of the western left). First, there was the publication of Sir Robert Owen’s report on his inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, in which Owen concluded that Putin “probably” approved Litvinenko’s murder in 2006.

Then the day got rougher.

Vladimir Putin publicly blamed Vladimir Lenin for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday blamed Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Lenin for planting the ideas that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Interfax news agency reported.

During a meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education, one of the attendees quoted a poem by Boris Pasternak describing Lenin as someone who had managed the flow of his thoughts to rule the country.

“Letting your rule be guided by thoughts is right, but only when that idea leads to the right results, not like it did with Vladimir Ilich,” Putin quipped in reply. “In the end that idea led to the fall of the Soviet Union,” he added.

“There were many such ideas as providing regions with autonomy, and so on. They planted an atomic bomb under the building that is called Russia which later exploded. We did not need a global revolution,” he said.

Putin has in the past famously described the fall of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.”

“Putin Slams Lenin for Laying ‘Atomic Bomb’ Under Russia,” Moscow Times, January 21, 2016

So toss out your forty-five volumes of the collected works of Lenin in English, comrades. He is on your new supreme leader’s bad list.

Statue of Lenin in the yard of the Soyuz stationery goods factory in Petrograd. Photo by the Russian Reader
Monument to Vladimir Lenin in the yard of the Soyuz stationery goods factory. Petrograd, June 19, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Sergey Abashin
January 21, 2016
Facebook

Oh my, it turns out Lenin planted the “bomb under the building known as Russia,” and what he had in mind was the collapse of the Soviet Union as a consequence of “ethnic autonomization”! So said the leader!

There are a few curious points in this statement.

First, the leader has equated Russia with the Soviet Union. Meaning that he has dubbed Central Asia, for example, a part of Russia. But he probably did not even notice it.

Second, the leader clearly indicated that the ideal is the Russian Empire, where, apparently, there were no problems, and which fell apart, apparently, as a result of the revolution and not the imperial elite’s wrongheaded policies.

Busts of the Tsetsarevich Alexei, Emperor Nicholas II, and Empress Alexandra, all identified as "holy martyrs," outside the Theotokos of Tikhvin Church, Petrograd, April 25, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
Busts of the Tsesarevich Alexei, Emperor Nicholas II, and Empress Alexandra, all identified as “holy martyrs,” outside the Theotokos of Tikhvin (Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God) Church. Petrograd, April 25, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
Display case describing the "Russian economic miracle" that was, allegedly, swept away by the October Revolution, outside the Theotokos of Tikhvin Church, Petrograd, April 23, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
Outdoor display case describing the “Russian economic miracle” that was, allegedly, swept away by the October Revolution. Theotokos of Tikhvin Church, Petrograd, April 25, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

The leader has clearly ignored the fact that Lenin, whatever you might think of him, attempted to reassemble the lands of the former empire, which by that time had virtually collapsed. And he was able to do this (reassemble the former empire) only by making certain compromises with the ethnic elites, by granting them “autonomy.”

Third, the leader’s rhetoric is obvious preparation for the 100th anniversary of the revolution, which is likely to be depicted as a tragedy, imposed [on the country] from the outside.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader

Vlad Tupikin: Why We Take to the Streets Every Year on January 19

"Remembering Means Fighting," January 19, 2014, Moscow. Photo by Comrade Anatrrra
“Remembering Is a Way of Fighting Back,” January 19, 2014, Moscow. Photo by Comrade Anatrrra

Vlad Tupikin
Why We Take to the Streets Every Year on January 19
Facebook
January 19, 2016

Why do I go to the antifascist demonstration every year on January 19 and call on you to do the same? There are several obvious reasons, but of one of them is deeply personal, and I do not mention it often.

I am not a religious person, but in a sense you might say this is my way of praying to God.

Seven years ago, on the night before January 19, many activists, like today, were sitting in chat room, only they were not on Facebook but on Gmail, although real activists should avoid both Gmail and Facebook, but I will save that conversation for another time.

Seven years ago they were sitting in chat rooms, and so was I. Two events of importance to the Moscow anarchist and antifa community had been scheduled for January 19. The most important was a counter picket against pro-Kremlin youth protesting the arrival of migrants at Moscow’s Kazan Station. To put it more simply, the pro-Kremlin youth were going to frighten newly arrived migrants by citing the severity of Russian laws and their rigorous application, and strongly suggest to the migrants that they were a priori uncultured mugs who wanted to roast a sheep carcass at the drop of a hat, while we anarchists and antifascists believed these accusations were at least latently racist and at most wretched in so many ways that it is a pain to list them all. So we decided to respond to their frightening leaflets with our own welcoming anti-picket.

The second important event on January 19, 2009, was a press conference called by lawyer Stanislav Markelov at the Independent Press Center in downtown Moscow. We paid attention to nearly every public appearance by Stas Markelov, because . . . Because, if you remember, in Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s novel Beetle in the Anthill, when the KGB-like COMCON-2 ask the Golovan Embassy (the Golovans are a race of intelligent dog-like creatures) about the character codenamed Beetle, the embassy sends this definitive response: “The Golovan people know the Beetle in the Anthill.”

The same thing could have been said about Stas: “The antifa know Stas Markelov.” Was it any wonder. Markelov knew the antifa, loved the antifa, was a friend of the antifa, defended the antifa in court, promoted the antifa, and tried to raise the way the antifa thought and acted to a higher level. (See, for example, his article “Red Book of the Antifa.”) But when the time came, the antifa were unable to save Stas Markelov, just as the Golovans could not protect the Beetle in the Anthill.

Although earlier they had protected him. They had guarded him at pressers before, and had actually prevented an armed attack on Markelov in autumn 2008.

Personally for me, a person whose occupational hazard was calluses from gripping a ballpoint pen and banding on a keyboard, there was not much of a choice on January 19, 2009, although I wavered. It was clear there would be some kind of action at Kazan Station, that it should be described, and so it was better to witness it with my own eyes. It was clear that Stas was holding a routine presser on the Colonel Budanov case (Colonel Yuri Budanov was a Russian military officer who had murdered a young Chechen woman), although it had been occasioned by the extreme circumstances of Budanov’s sudden release from custody. Obviously, I had to go where the action would be, especially since reportage was my favorite genre. But what was there to report about a presser? That a colleague had scratched his ear at some point?

And yet, I hesitated, because I had not seen Stas in a long time, and every encounter with him was a joy. He radiated optimism, cheerfulness, and invincible confidence in the future, something that I, a historical optimist but everyday skeptic, sorely lacked, and so sometimes I basked in Markelov’s rays. And the Budanov case was politically important: it had to be written about, too. Whatever, I thought. First, I would take in the action at Kazan Station, then file a story about the action at Kazan Station, and only then would I read the reports colleagues had filed about Stas’s presser, and if need be I would get Stas on the phone to clarify some details, and then I would write about it, too.

No sooner said than done. I went to watch the protest and counter protest at Kazan Station and, as it turned out, try and save a female anarchist activist from being abducted by the pro-Kremlin crowd. She was thin and light as a feather, and so they had grabbed her and raced off with her down the platform.

Basically, a good time was had by all. I then traveled to the nearest computer (at a girlfriend’s office) and sat down to type it all out. That was when I heard the news. A man had been shot and killed in broad daylight on Prechistenka in Moscow, near the Kremlin. A woman who was with him had also been shot.

A colleague had also spent half the night in a chat room persuading another anarchist journalist to go to Kazan Station the next day. But he was unable to persuade her, and she went to Stas Markelov’s press conference. Now everyone knows this journalist’s name, Anastasia Baburova.

But that was a personal digression.

Generally, of course, such crimes must not go unanswered. The answer is not to respond with deadly force. (None of us wants a civil war). The answer is the clearly expressed civic will to stop such crimes and prevent their repetition in the future. That is why there is a demonstration every year on January 19.

It is like our May first holiday, a holiday celebrated round the world in memory of murdered workers, workers who were murdered a long, long time ago, in 1886. But people still remember them.

May the memory of Stas and Nastya live forever!

Those who remember them know what to do. Today, January 19, we gather at Novopushkinsky Square in Moscow at 7 p.m, and then we march in demonstration down the boulevards to Kropotinskaya. And people will also be laying flowers at the murder site on Prechistenka. But there it is everyone for themselves, and the spirit of antifa for all.

Translated by the Russian Reader

A Snowy Sunday in Petrograd with Donbas Separatists

Promo flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman's ID, Art of Foto Gallery, Saint Petersburg, January 15-February 3, 2016. Courtesy of the gallery
Promo flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman’s Pass, ARTOFFOTO Gallery, Saint Petersburg, January 15-February 3, 2016. Courtesy of the gallery

This morning I got an urgent message from a friend, alerting me to the fact a funny sounding exhibition of photographs was underway at a downtown photo gallery I had never heard of.

It was true, as my friend pointed out, that the announcement for the show, an exhibition of portraits of Eastern Ukrainian pro-Russian separatist fighters (opolchentsy), taken by Petersburg photographer Mikhail Domozhilov, sounded quite dicey politically, as posted on the website of the exhibiting gallery, ARTOFFOTO.

It sounded a little less outwardly partisan when translated into English and printed on the flyers I would later find lying on a windowsill in the gallery:

“The self-proclaimed and still unrecognized state [of the] Donetsk People’s Republic appeared as a result of a civil war in Ukraine in April, 2014. The Donbass People’s Militia became the driving force of the new republic. In the year that passed after the declaration of the DPR, its militia transformed from an anarchic group of super activists [sic] divided into small groups and willing to go weaponless and die for an idea into a regular army with all its necessary attributes—[a] code [of military conduct], subdivisions [sic] and their chiefs, headquarters and machinery.

“This episode is about transition and transformation, about a shaky equilibrium between belonging to one country and to another, utopic in its essence. And also about the self-identification of the participants throughout the conflict. In several months former miners, builders, mechanics have become professional warriors, and a new, extreme reality has replaced the ordinary one. With major destruction[], artillery shelling and [a] non-continuous front, these people suddenly found themselves in the middle of historical events and news reports.

“This episode includes several close-up portraits of militia members in mobile studios at military and training bases, as well as on [the] frontlines.”

(English-language flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman’s Pass [Opolchenskii Bilet], ARTOFFOTO Gallery, Bolshaya Konyushennaya, 1, Saint Petersburg, January 15–February 3, 2016)

It was also true that the photographer, Mr. Domozhilov, had shown a penchant in his career for subjects that might be characterized as rightist, such as this fascinating series on the ultras for Petersburg’s Russian Premier League side, FC Zenit.

The ultras series featured virtuosic albeit historically and aesthetically coded works such as this.

domozhilov-terrace
Mikhail Domozhilov, From the series Ultras, 2010. Courtesy of the photographer’s website

On the other hand, Mr. Domozhilov’s tearsheets included portraits, just as compelling, of pro-Ukrainian fighters on the Maidan in Kyiv.

But I did not think it fair to pronounce judgement on the work on the basis of a couple of websites, so I set off into the winter wonderland that Petrograd has become in the last week to see the show for myself.

Continue reading “A Snowy Sunday in Petrograd with Donbas Separatists”

Ildar Dadin: “When I Get Out, We Will Change the Country for the Better”

The Prison Blog of Ildar Dadin’s Fiancée: First Visit, January 14
Zekovnet.ru

Nastya Zotova and Ildar Dadin had agreed to get married in January 2015, when Ildar was detained. Imprisoned Russia continues its publication of his fiancée’s blog.

nastya & ildar
Nastya Zotova & Ildar Dadin. Photo courtesy of openrussia.org

I got permission to meet with Ildar from Judge Natalya Dudar on December 30, and I went for my first short visit on January 13. A short visit is not like a date at a cafe or the movies. There is no hugging and kissing. You see each other only through the glass, and there is also a metal grille on top of the glass.

Getting a “date” was not as difficult as I thought. I went to the pretrial detention facility at nine in the morning and handed over the authorization from the judge and the application form, which was printed on the same piece of paper. Then I waited until eleven for one of facility’s wardens to come. He collected everyone’s internal passports and took us to the fifth floor, where there were about fifteen cubbyholes with glass in the middle.

The visit lasted two hours. You can discuss a lot in that time, both life in prison and personal affairs. Apart from me, nine other people had come for visits. Most were women, some of them with children in tow.

Before the visit, a little boy showed me a drawing.

“I drew this for Dad. This is me, this is Mom, and this is Dad. And this is our home.”

Ildar was finally led in. The feelings provoked by such visits are mixed. On the one hand, there he was, my beloved one, whom I had not seen for five weeks. He was safe and sound, without a bruise on his face. The first few minutes we stared at each through the glass and smiled like fools. On the other hand, it was hard. I wanted to hug and kiss him. But talking with him through the glass was still better than nothing.

I quizzed him about prison life. It turned out that the inmates were often worried about the simplest problems, which were hard to solve imprison. For example, your socks are torn. If you were at home, you would grab a needle and thread and darn them. But there are needles and thread in the detention facility. You might be able to borrow a needle, but thread is totally inaccessible and is not allowed in care packages.

Or you have run out of toilet paper. You will have to wait until someone buys it in bulk through the Federal Penitentiary Service store. Toilet paper is not allowed in care packages. According to Ildar, the wardens should issue toilet paper to inmates, but in Pretrial Detention Facility No. 4 it is “not done.”

Or you need to write complaints and appeals in triplicate or quintuplicate. There is no printer, so you have to write everything by hand. You could use carbon paper, but for some reason it is also not allowed in care packages.

The inmates entertain themselves in peculiar ways. Whereas Oleg Navalny caught pigeons, Ildar and his cellmates catch mice. They are ordinary gray mice that run under the bunks at night.

To catch a mouse you need an empty milk carton. You cut a little hole and plant the bait inside. When the mouse enters the cartoon, you close the hole with your hand and then transfer the little beast to a plastic ice cream pail.

They managed to catch two mice in this simple way. Ildar’s cellmates decided to put them on trial and “sentenced” them to four days in prison. They were to serve their sentence in the plastic ice cream pail. Afterwards, they planned to “release” the rodents by throwing them out a third-floor window. But the prisoners escaped by gnawing a hole in their cell.

Smoking is another serious issue. There are eleven men in Ildar’s cell. Five of them are smokers, and they smoke right in bed. The others, who are nonsmokers, are not happy, to put it mildly.

There are only eight beds for the eleven inmates. They take turns sleeping. According to Ildar, however, this is even a good thing, because you can borrow a second blanket from someone. Otherwise, it is too cold to sleep. It got cold in the cell on January 1, so the thermal underwear that I bought on the advice of Alexei Polikhovich, who was convicted in the Bolotnaya Square case, was a real godsend. But Ildar is warm in it only if he sleeps under two blankets. And he still has to survive the transfer to the penal colony where he will serve his sentence—in winter in a cold train car!

After sleep, the second most important issue is food. Ildar admits the food is better than at the special detention center. However, the portions per inmate are not very big. It is not that he is completely hungry, but he would like more. He says that some cellmates eschew the prison food, and so the other prisons divvy up their helping among themselves. They can even warm the food up. A boiler is placed in a pot with water, and a plate with the food on it is place over the pot. The food is thus heated over a water bath.

I have been trying to figure how best to fatten up my inmate through care packages. Ildar already rejected hot meals ordered through the FPS website, and then canned buckwheat kasha with meat. I don’t feel like sending him instant mashed potatoes and noodles (which in prison are called “steamers”).

“Maybe you’d like more cheese? More sausage?”

Ildar frowned.

“I look at the prices in the FPS store and feel offended at how these thugs prey on us. I would rather eat the regulation hundred grams of soup, then shop there,” he said.

This is especially because, according to Ildar, all the care packages are put in the “kitty,” to which everyone has access, so Ildar himself does not end up with so much.

Ultimately, we agreed that I would cooperate with the relatives of other inmates, and that together we would buy food in bulk at ordinary stores and then pass it on to the lads in the cell, since there was a common pot there anyway. Regard the FPS store, Ildar nevertheless admitted that sometimes he wanted something sweet: chocolate, sweetened condensed milk or soda. He was very grateful to Olga Romanova for the garlic she sent him. Garlic was the best thing for you, he said, because it was full of vitamins! All his cellmates were ill, but he wasn’t.

There is no shower in the cell. The inmates are taken once a week to the shower room. But there is a sink, so they can wash up and launder their clothes. As Ildar put it, the toilet is “luxurious”: there are walls on two sides, and a door on the third up to the waist.

I asked Ildar how he spent his time at the detention facility, whether he had been writing complaints. Ildar admitted that he had stopped for the time being. The wardens had hinted to him as it were that if he continued, they could take it on his cellmates.

“However, maybe I’ll soon have to make an important decision: to be a living scoundrel or die,” he said.

Ildar did not explain what was the matter: our conversation was bugged. But he did promise in any case to send a letter, written in his own hand, indicating that under no circumstances was he planning to commit suicide. He believed this would protect him from the “accidents” that happen in Pretrial Detention Facility No. 4.

Despite this eerie message, Ildar was more or less optimistic and was planning to read books.

“I have a lot to learn: political science, economics . . . When I get out, we will change the country for the better,” he said hopefully.

Before his arrest, Ildar said he wanted to be a lawyer and specialize in human rights.

UPDATE
On the night of January 14, it transpired that immediately after our visit, Ildar was removed from his cell along with his things. According to the tentative information we have, he has been transferred to another cell in the same pretrial detention facility.

UPDATE: January 15
As it turned out, Ildar has been transferred to a special cellblock in the same facility. (Meaning greater scrutiny from the wardens and better living conditions.) Meanwhile, our marriage application is ready to submit to the registrar.

Ildar Dadin and Nastya Zotova's marriage application. Image courtesy of Imprisoned Russia
Ildar Dadin and Nastya Zotova’s marriage application. Image courtesy of Imprisoned Russia

Translated by the Russian Reader

__________

Russia: Peaceful activist sentenced under repressive new law must be released
Amnesty International
December 7, 2015

Russia’s jailing of a peaceful opposition activist for violating the country’s new law on public assemblies is a shocking and cynical attack on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.

Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in jail by a Moscow court for repeated anti-government street protests. He is the first person to be jailed using the law, which was introduced in 2014 and punishes repeated breaches of public assembly rules.

“The shocking sentencing of Ildar Dadin shows that the Russian authorities are using the law on public assemblies to fast-track peaceful protesters to prison,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.

“This cynical move shows that compared to the drawn out criminal proceedings against peaceful protesters in the past, the authorities have now created a shortcut for imprisoning activists. It is more dangerous to be a peaceful activist in Russia than at any time in recent years.”

Kirill Mikhailov: Sins of the Fathers (Chechnya)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kirill Mikhailov
Facebook
January 15, 2016

I have noticed that in the controversy that has ensued around Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov everyone from Konstantin Senchenko to his opposition sympathizers have proudly mentioned their fathers who fought in Chechnya.

The Chechen operation was a series of bloody war crimes by the federal forces (and by the insurgents, but what can we demand of them now, when some of them are gone, and the rest are in Aleppo?) When you take pride in the Chechen War, you are proud of the abductions and torture. You are proud of the Tochka-U missile that fell in the middle of the Grozny market. You are proud of the tens of thousands (only according to official statistics) of civilians killed.

You are proud of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya for telling the truth about the war. You are proud of the occupation regime established there on the bayonets of your fathers and funded by your taxes. You are proud of the “pacification” of Chechnya at the cost of Kadyrov’s terrorist dictatorship, which is quite similar to the most odious Middle East regimes, like that of good old Bashar Assad.

As long as the terrorist regime concerned only the Chechen themselves, you were barely indignant. You only squeamishly wondered that such a wild region bore the name of Russia. You did not ponder the fact the police chief’s teenage bride, Luiza Goilabiyeva, was actually a Russian citizen, and that your fathers had fought for her right to have a Russian passport. You did not think that Adam Dikayev, forced to humiliate himself by walking on a treadmill in his underpants, was just as much a citizen of Russia as was, for example, Vlad Kolesnikov, who was driven to suicide.

But now it suddenly transpires that Kadyrov’s terrorist dictatorship has been terrorizing not only the Chechen people but all of Russia. I hope now the time has come to realize what pride in the bloodiest war in recent Russian history has come to. It has come to the fact the proud son of a great father mutters something into a camera held by one of Kadyrov’s gunman, trying not to stray from the prepared text.

So this does not happen again, we have to realize, among other things, that Konstantin Senchenko and Adam Dikayev are in the same boat, and the Chechen War is not our pride but our greatest shame.

Translation and photo, above, by the Russian Reader

__________

Critic of Chechen leader Kadyrov ‘apologises profoundly’
BBC News
January 16, 2016

A Russian politician who criticised Ramzan Kadyrov, the Russian-backed Chechen leader, has made a “profound” apology.

Konstantin Senchenko, a local politician in Siberia, had posted criticism of Mr Kadyrov on Facebook.

However, Mr Senchenko then posted a grovelling apology, leading to widespread speculation that he had been forced to do so.

Mr Kadyrov also uploaded a video of Mr Senchenko apologising on to Instagram.

In it Mr Senchenko is seen to say: “I apologise profoundly.”

“I was wrong—I let my emotions get the better of me,” he adds.

‘Disgrace’

The row began on Tuesday when Mr Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, branded some members of the opposition “enemies of the people and traitors” and called for them to be put on trial.

Mr Senchenko then wrote a Facebook post critical of Mr Kadyrov, calling him a “disgrace to Russia” and saying he should “get lost.”

He also implied that Mr Kadyrov was corrupt and ill-educated.

Beneath the Instagram video of Mr Senchenko’s subsequent apology, Mr Kadyrov wrote “I accept,” and added five smilies.

His own incendiary statement on Russia’s opposition is still displayed on his official website, unaltered, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford reports from Moscow.

Mr Kadyrov took charge of Chechnya with Kremlin support in 2007, and continued a long fight against Islamist rebels.

In exchange for loyalty to Russia, the authoritarian Chechen leader has been allowed to maintain his own security force and has largely had a free hand to run the southern Russian republic as he sees fit.

Human rights groups accuse Mr Kadyrov’s security forces of abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings.

And You Will Know Them by the Trail of Their Dead

Petersburgers to Light Magic Wands for Alan Rickman
paperpaper.ru
January 15, 2016

A memorial event for Alan Rickman will take place in Petersburg. Fans of his works and fans of the Harry Potter saga will gather on the Field of Mars to light magic wands.

As reported on the event’s page, participants will recreate the scene from the movies where the characters pay their last respects to Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of the Hogwarts School. On the day of the professor’s death, students and teachers raise their magic wands and say the spell “Lumos,” which gives light. The fans will use wants and light from flashlights.

The event begins at 6:00 p.m., Saturday, January 16, on the Field of Mars.

rickman
Screenshot of the page for the Alan Rickman memorial event on the VKontakte social network. Courtesy of paperpaper.ru

“Yes, the organizers of the meeting are aware that Alan Rickman was not only Severus Snape. Yes, we love him for more than just his role as the professor. But it so happens that we, the organizers, are Potter fans and Snape fans. And this way of saying farewell is the most logical and appropriate for most of us and our friends. We do not think we are insulting the actor’s memory in this way. We are guided by our hearts, and do not see here any disrespect or belittlement of Alan’s merits and achievements,” write the organizers.

Actor Alan Rickman died in London at the age of 69. His career included over fifty films and stage productions.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade SY for the heads-up. Readers interested in the venue of today’s memorial should read Ilya Orlov: On the Field of Mars, published on this blog in November 2014.

He Is Trying to Scare Us, and We Are Frightened

Photo by Aleksey Myakishev. Courtesy of http://shattenbereich.livejournal.com/1208934.html
Photo by Aleksey Myakishev. Courtesy of shattenbereich.livejournal.com

When Will We Hear “Shoot Them like Mad Dogs”?
Boris Vishnevsky
echo.msk.ru
January 13, 2016

“Enemies of the people,” “traitors,” “nothing is sacred,” “dancing to tune of western intelligence services,” “tried, with maximum severity, for sabotage.”

These are not snippets from a 1937 edition of Pravda or a speech made at a Party meeting during the same period.

This is how Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Republic of Chechnya, speaks of the opposition to Vladimir Putin and his regime.

For a complete resemblance to Stalin’s time all we are lacking are references to “monsters,” “humanity’s garbage,” and a “despicable bunch of scoundrels,” and demands to “wipe them off the face of the earth” and “shoot them like mad dogs.”

But never say never. We might hear these phrases soon as well.

Equating the opposition with a hostile force is a key feature of a totalitarian regime, which Russia is building at an accelerated pace.

In a normal country, after making such statements, Kadyrov, Jr., would be booted out of office overnight, at least.

In a normal country, however, he never would have been able to take office.

Boris Vishnevsky (Yabloko Party) is a deputy in the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

mad-dog
Photo courtesy of allcatslookmad.com

Putin ally says opposition should be tried as enemies of the people
Andrew Osborn
Reuters
January 13, 2016

MOSCOW (Reuters) – One of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile allies has accused the opposition of trying to exploit the economic crisis to destabilize the country, using Stalin-era rhetoric to suggest unnamed individuals be put on trial for sabotage.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, called the liberal opposition, which has only one lawmaker in the 450-seat parliament, enemies of the people, a phrase recalling language used during the reign of terror unleashed by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the 1930s.

“Representatives of the so-called … opposition are trying to profit from the difficult economic situation,” Kadyrov told reporters, according to a statement issued by his office late on Tuesday.

“Such people need to be regarded as enemies of the people and traitors. They should be put on trial, with maximum severity, for sabotage.”

Opposition figures and rights activists said they were alarmed by his words with some suggesting the police should look into them.

Mikhail Kasyanov, one of the opposition’s leaders and a former prime minister, said: “There is no such concept in our constitution, but from Soviet history it is widely known that in Stalin’s time that is what they called anyone who thought differently … and that such people were liquidated.”

Battered by low oil prices, Western sanctions and a falling ruble, real incomes are on the slide in Russia for the first time in Putin’s 15 years in power, presenting the Kremlin with a challenge of how to stop discontent bubbling over.

Kadyrov made his remarks ahead of a Russia-wide parliamentary election in September amid so far only limited signs of social discontent.

Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief-of-staff, said on Tuesday “radicals and extremists” must be prevented from getting into parliament in that vote, raising fears among the opposition that they will find it harder to contest such elections.

Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya since 2007 and Putin’s most high-profile ally in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus area of southern Russia, did not name the opposition figures he thought should be put on trial.

Starved of access to state media and restricted by strict laws on protests, Russia’s liberal opposition is still reeling from the murder last year of Boris Nemtsov, one of its leaders.

One of the suspects awaiting trial for carrying out Nemtsov’s murder, Zaur Dadayev, used to serve in Chechnya’s police and was described by Kadyrov after the killing as a “true patriot of Russia.”

Nemtsov’s daughter has said she wants police to question Kadyrov in connection with the case. Kadyrov told a Russian radio station in October the idea he was a suspect was “total nonsense.”

Friends

all the young things

Sergey Abashin
January 12, 2016
Facebook

A friend of mine, the headmaster of a private school in the Moscow Region, has received a written order to add the head of the municipal administration and the head of the education department to his Facebook friends. The order is obligatory for the headmaster, and advisable for the school’s teachers. He has to report back before January 14.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo filched from the Facebook page of some Petrograd cider house or burger bar where folks who look like the folks in the photo, above, go to pretend they are living in “Europe.”

Andrei Barabanov: The Bolotnaya Square Case Destroyed Everything I Had

Andrei Barabanov: The Bolotnaya Square Case Destroyed Everything I Had
Sobesednik.ru
January 5, 2016

Sobesednik.ru spoke with Andrei Barabanov, a prisoner in the Bolotnaya Square case who was released before the New Year. The 22-year-old Barabanov was handed one of the longest sentences in the case, three years and seven months. On December 25, he was released and answered our correspondent’s questions.

What plans do you have for your first days of freedom?

I plan to get my health back in order and rest. Before I was arrested I had just finished college. Now I plan to get a higher education and, in the future, if it works out, start my own business.

Do you have any desire to continue your involvement in politics or public life?

I wasn’t involved in them as it was. I went to the rally on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, as an ordinary citizen. It was the second rally I had attended. I didn’t know the organizers or anyone else there. I was there with my girlfriend. Later, another friend of mine joined us. Of course, I could not imagine it would end that way.

The riot policeman who were you accused of assaulting had no beef with you. Why, then, were you put away for three and a half years?

There was a video that, allegedly, showed me kicking the riot policeman from behind. In fact, I didn’t kick him. On May 6, the police roughly detained people, grabbing them and throwing them, and we ended up at the very heart of the action. I don’t understand myself why I acted that way: it was a spontaneous reaction in a thorny situation. When I was in the remand prison I wrote a letter of apology to the riot policeman. He even wrote me back, saying he accepted my apology. At the trial he did not make any demands. He had not suffered any injuries, and had not sought medical attention. But none of that mitigated the sentence.

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Andrei Barabanov in the courtroom. Photo courtesy of RosUznik

I think the authorities wanted a criminal case to emerge from the Bolotnaya Square incident, a case with tangible prison sentences. So in my case there was a striking video showing me “kicking” a riot policeman.

On May 6, I was jailed for twenty-four hours, and then let go. I was rearrested three weeks later. Ultimately, I was convicted of rioting and violence against a law enforcement officer at a show trial. It transpired that I was, as it were, a malicious bully and instigator, which personally I had a hard time getting my head around. I had always been considered a pacifist, and I was opposed to violence against anyone else. I think I was sentenced not for violence but so that people would think ten times before taking to the streets and protesting.

Has the sentence greatly changed your life?

You could say it has destroyed what I had. Before May 6, I had a girlfriend with whom I lived, a hobby I loved, aerography, which I dreamed of turning into a business. Then all of it was gone. All that was left was the support of my closest loved ones, my mom and my friends. By the way, several complete strangers wrote me letters and sent me care packages, and this was also a huge moral support.

What health problems have you had?

The standard problems after several years in prison: the effects of inactivity, an eye injury I got in the remand prison, and problems with my stomach and teeth.

Would you now take part in protest rallies if they were to happen in Moscow?

Not now. I am not planning on going to protests. I also do not believe that elections are the way. Now I need to recover, relax, and learn to live again on the outside.

Translated by the Russian Reader

That Was the Year That Was, or, Hell, Upside Down

hell upside downWhenever I see something like the post I saw on Facebook a week and a half ago, containing photographic images of alleged “Russian redneck (?) culture,” I regret that I am not a mutant, alien or robot capable of translating and writing ten times more than I do on this blog, whose secret mission is to give people a glimpse of a Russian society that is smart, brave, independent minded, strong, and willing to get a few lumps on the head (or worse) to build a country that is democratic, egalitarian, LGBTQI-friendly, vigorously environmentalist, progressively urbanist, anti-xenophobic, pro-immigrant, and any number of other good things.

That is why I try and give a voice in English to some of the people trying to build that Russia or at least trying to think about building it. I am hardly very successful in that mission, since I have neither the time nor the abilities as a writer and translator to do more than gesture in this direction.

But one thing I try not to do is focus obsessively on Putin, his whys and wherefores, which is what 99% of what the so-called media do, including some alternate media, both inside and outside Russia. Putin is hardly the only problem in Russia (or the world), just as he is definitely not the real solution to any real problems. Nor are “Russian rednecks.”

creeps

That said, I must admit I wish there were more of me to go around so as to cover larger chunks of both the scary and this encouraging parts of this beat, which are usually mixed up so thickly you cannot easily pry them apart.

Like almost all the years since 1905 or so, 2015 was a banner year in Russia for writing about “hell, upside down” and seeking out the saints, heroes, and just plain decent folk among the wreckage continuously amassing at the angel of history’s feet.

So here are the ten posts, published in 2015, that my readers read the most avidly among the 220 posts I filed over the year.

  1. “Rotenberg Is Worse than ISIS!”: Russian Truckers on Strike in Dagestan and Elsewhere (The year-ending story that the major Russian media have been trying not to cover at all.)
  2. Why Such Hatred? (The Death of Umarali Nazarov) (What happened when a totally corrupt law enforcement and immigration system took an infant Tajik boy into custody while preparing to deport his mother.)
  3. Victoria Lomasko: 18+ (A look behind the scenes of Petersburg’s lesbian scene.)
  4. The Two-State Solution (Racism and the Russian Intelligentsia) (Reflections on the tortured and often racist soul of the Russian liberal intelligentsia by Boris Akunin, Kirill Kobrin, Yegor Osipov, and Our Swimmer.)
  5. “A Home for Every Russian” (In which I refute the rather odd argument that Putinomics is really a much improved version of “actually existing socialism” when it comes to delivering affordable quality housing to the masses.)
  6. Oleg Shevkun: “I Don’t How to Trim My Sails to the Wind” (A portrait of the quiet heroism and sanity of a blind journalist in an insane time.)
  7. Syrias (Five different but complementary reflections on the beginning of Russia’s misadventure in Syria by George Losev, Greg Yudin, Alexander Feldberg, Ilya Matveev, and Bob the Australian.)
  8. “Smash the Kikes and Save Russia!” (If you are a neo-Nazi, you don’t want to have Petersburg Jewish community leader Leokadia Frenkel as your opponent.)
  9. Vlad Kolesnikov: A Real Russian Hero for Russia Day (Young Vlad Kolesnikov was recently driven to death in a provincial Russian town for facing down the madness of a society made sick by Putinism, but back in June of last year that as-yet-unknown ending was outshone by his sheer pluck.)
  10. Suffer the Little Children (In neo-imperialist countries on the warpath, the neo-imperialist brainwashing starts in kindergarten.)

Here are the five posts, originally published in previous years, that had the most staying power this past year.

  1. Don’t Leave the Room (April 2013) (An inspired bit of graffiti inspired this dubious translation of a bitter poem by one of the great Russian poets of the postwar period.)
  2. Ilya Matveev: A Word to the Wise (On Putin’s “Leftism” and Solidarity with Russians) (February 2014) (This little gem could not be reread or republished enough, but its message seems to have been lost on large swaths of the western “progressive left.”)
  3. Hanna Perekhoda: Freedom and Social Identity in the Donbas (August 2014) (A heartbreaking essay whose message seems to have been lost on folks inside and outside Eastern Ukraine.)
  4. Victoria Lomasko: A Trip to Kyrgyzstan (August 2014) (There is nothing trippier and more educational than going on a trip to former Soviet republics and the far-flung reaches of Russia with graphic reportage artist Victoria Lomasko.)
  5. Russia’s Anti-Gay Law Kills (July 2013) (This was just a little bonbon of a blog post, a translation of a news release documenting a street performance in Moscow, but if it seemed alarmist then, it seems like common sense nowadays.)

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For one reason or another, the following posts, also published in 2015, did not make my readers’ top ten this past year, but they meant the most to me.

  1. Kena Vidre: What Was Frida Vigdorova Like? (A warmly written memoir of the heroic Soviet journalist and human rights activist.)
  2. Rikhard Vasmi: Counting the Ships as They Sail Past (Pavel Gerasimenko’s perfectly rendered review of Petersburg artist and Arefiev Circle member Rikhard Vasmi’s 2015 posthumous retrospective at K Gallery + my translation of a little book Vasmi made in 1994 about life in the Port of Petersburg.)
  3. 59°54’32″N 30°29’49″E (Okkervil River) (In which four brave souls set out to find what manner of life exists on the far shore of the Okkervil River, which is a real river in southeast Petersburg, not just a compelling pop band from Austin, Texas.)
  4. “I Broke All the Laws I Could” (Leonid Nikolayev, 1984-2015) (A heartbreaking and detailed obituary of the tenderest troublemaker in the world’s largest country.)
  5. The Hipster’s Dream Debased (Portlandia) (What happens when milquetoast Putin-era hipsterism meets hyper-powered catastrophic urban redevelopment in the middle of Petrograd.)

With any luck, this blog will not lack for inspiring subject matter this coming year, either, and might even undergo some stylistic and substantive changes. We shall see.

Thanks for reading.

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