If you just get the “context” right, you can turn black into white, night into day.
“Context: The majority of U.S. Mission Russia employees are not Americans, and won’t be expelled: Of 1,200 people employed in 2013 in Mission Russia, 333 were U.S. citizens and 867 were Foreign National Staff, most of whom were probably Russian nationals. Using the 2013 numbers, if the U.S. Mission is forced to let go of 755 people, a majority of them would not be U.S. citizens, and probably would not be expelled from the country.”
—The Real Russia. Today, July 31, 2017, Meduza′s daily English-language email newsletter
No, but lots of those pesky Russian nationals, perhaps the majority, would be fired from their jobs thanks to Putin’s little presidential campaign stunt. They would be instantly unemployed and, perhaps, unemployable.
Is that cause for rejoicing in Connecticut or wherever the newsletter’s editor really lives?
And what reason could the current Russian government (not the Soviet government, which did such things) have for expelling its own citizens?
When we examine the campaigns, events, and public manifestations that might be dubbed signs of creeping re-Stalinization, the rehabilitation of Stalin, his emergence in the public space amid public approval, we see that each such instance was obviously organized directly or indirectly by the state, rather than by private individuals.
The monuments that have been erected recently and whose numbers have, indeed, been growing, have usually been installed under the auspices of local branches of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). This hardly makes them popular or grassroots endeavors. I would imagine everyone knows what the CPRF’s network of regional branches and our parliamentary parties amount to in reality, the extent of their loyalty to the regime, and the degree to which they coordinate all their moves with local and federal authorities.
It’s Even a Good Thing
Way back in 2002, a street in a city in Dagestan was named Stalin Avenue at the mayor’s behest. It did not happen because the locals came and surrounded town hall, threatening to set it ablaze if the mayor didn’t agree to their demands.
In 2009, in another political era, a line from the Soviet national anthem, “Stalin raised us to be true to the people,” was restored to the visual design of the Moscow subway’s Kurskaya station. Medvedev was then the president. The authorities responded to the indignation then voiced by arguing it was historically accurate. They had simply restored the station to its original appearance.
Since then, the Moscow subway has been rendered a powerful tool of pro-Soviet and Stalinist propaganda: there are the trains in which we encounter portraits of Stalin, and campaigns like this year’s “Times and Eras.” The pretext is sometimes stills from a film or historical memoirs. But you realize none of this comes from the grassroots, from ordinary folk, but from subway top brass or Moscow and federal authorities.
In Mari El, a life-sized monument to Stalin (one of the few; busts are usually erected instead) was erected on the premises of the local meat processing plant. As the town’s main employer and a major local business, the plant naturally could not afford to be in opposition to the regime, so it provided the venue for the monument.
2015 saw the opening of a Stalin Hut Museum in the village of Khoroshevo. It was something of a scandal, because the museum was sponsored by the Culture Ministry and personally approved by the culture minister.
A bust of Stalin was erected in Pskov Region in 2016, also with the knowledge and approval of local authorities.
Art exhibitions featuring images of Stalin in paintings of his era, paintings glorifying him and other Communist leaders, opened in Moscow in 2014, 2015, and 2016—for example, a show of works by Stalinist court painter Alexander Gerasimov, who authored the painting popularly known as “Two Leaders after a Rain.” These cultural treasures were shown in the Tretyakov Gallery not at the request of the art community or the museum’s staff.
What is important to understand is the following. It does not follow from the things I have listed that there are no people in Russia who would, at their own behest, erect a bust of Stalin at their dacha or even be willing to donate money to restore a monument to him. Because we see a video of ordinary people in Sevastopol standing and applauding during the performance of a song about Stalin by a strange man in white trousers does not mean they were all specially dispatched there by the local authorities.
Sergei Kurochkin, “Bring Back Stalin,” August 2015, Sevastopol
What is the function of state propaganda? Speaking from a hierarchically superior stance, it establishes norms. It informs its audience about what is correct, normal, and permissible. It generates the ambience that lets people know that gadding about with a placard depicting Stalin is, at very least, safe, if not commendable generally. It lets them know that numerous books rehabilitating Stalin’s regime, which pack the shelves of bookstores throughout Russia, will not be deemed “extremist,” that their authors, publishers, and distributors will not face criminal charges under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, unlike other books that someone might think to display prominently in a bookstore. People are given to understand this is normal and not punishable, that it is permissible and encouraged.
When television presenters and state officials tell us there is no need to demonize anyone, that we can take a look at the Stalin era from different viewpoints, but whatever we want to say, the war was won, this is a signal that those who actually feel positive feelings in this regard and those who felt nothing in this regard should suddenly have them, that those who had no opinion on the matter should suddenly have an opinion, because they have been told it is permissible, normal, and even a good thing.
“They Want Their Own Stalin”
Theoretically, conformism is a psychological norm. We can rue the fact, but it is nevertheless the case. Individuals are inclined to join majorities. Individuals are inclined to compare their opinions with opinions they imagine are generally accepted. Maybe this is not the noblest manifestation of our human nature, but it is a sign of a mental health. We people, who are social animals, behave in this way for our own safety and to adapt successfully to society. This endows those who speak on behalf of the state, on behalf of generalized authority, with responsibility. Russia’s national TV channels are not considered sources of information and news, but voices of the powers that be. People consume TV in this way.
Let me remind you that such a sweet, innocent New Year’s TV holiday special as Old Songs about What Matters was first aired on January 1, 1996. The first program imitated the Stalin-era film Cossacks of the Kuban (1950). The film was the frame for the star-studded cast’s song and dance routines. 1996 was a presidential election year. Even the hazards of competing with the Communists in a relatively free election did not intimidate Russia’s ideologists and spin doctors. It did not stop them from organizing such a pretty, funny, sly rehabilitation of one of the most terrible periods in the history of the the terrible Soviet regime. This is what we call normalization. Look, they say, it was not terrible; it was pleasant, even. You can make fun of it and smile a good-natured smile when contemplating it. That was when the process kicked off.
Old Songs about What Matters, Russian Public Television (ORT), January 1996
Let me remind you of another early public campaign of this kind. In 2008, which, again, seems like an utterly different political era, there was a TV program, Name of Russia, which purported to pick the one hundred greatest Russians. The idea had been borrowed from the BBC program 100 Greatest Britons (2002), but was done completely in its own way. TV viewers were asked to select the one hundred most outstanding figures in Russian history, leading ultimately to the selection of a single finalist. Huge, persistent efforts were made to persuade viewers that Stalin had “really” won the popular vote, but since this would have been disgraceful, [TV channel Rossiya, known until recently as Channel Two] made the necessary adjustments, and Alexander Nevsky emerged the victor.
Name of Russia: Joseph Stalin, Rossiya TV, 2008
How did this vote really go? Now, with the know-how and knowledge we have amassed since then, we can more or less imagine how the so-called people’s will was determined, especially on television. But Name of Russia was, perhaps, the first time we saw this model fully deployed. The implied message was: they want their own Stalin, but we, the powers that be, are still shielding them from this on the sly. We still need to rein them in a bit.
A similar story involving alleged popular voting occurred in 2013, when Rossiya TV had to pick ten views of Russia, ten pictures, landscapes or historical buildings that exemplified the country. Then, as you remember, an ambitious regional leader organized the voting in such a way that the Heart of Chechnya Mosque would win. Federal officials found themselves in an uncomfortable position, and once again adjustments had to be made to the vote count so the Kolomna Kremlin would win. The ambitious regional leader got pissed off at the cellphone companies Beeline and Megafon, and they were shut down in the Chechen Republic; one of their offices was even pelted with eggs, such was the great indignation over the defeat. I mention this to illustrate how such things are organized and what their real purpose is.
We must face the truth and realize we are dealing with state propaganda, with notions of what is normal, acceptable, good, glorious, great, and outstanding that have been defined and imposed by the state. These notions strike a chord because they are voiced on the regime’s behalf and because they draw their power from actually existing needs.
A Nationwide Need for Authoritarianism Has Not Been Observed
How can we encapsulate these needs, the reality behind Stalin’s “high” rating?
I was first asked this question at an event sponsored by the Böll Foundation in Berlin.
“How can people in Russia love Stalin?”
When a question like that is tossed right into your face, you start to understand the grassroots need for justice, as understood in a peculiar way, the need for a paradoxically anti-elitist Stalin, the Stalin people have in mind when they say, “If Stalin were around, he’d settle your hash.” This Stalin was the scourge of the nomenklatura, foe of the strong and rich, and champion of poor, simple people. The degree to which this conception is mythologized and savage is beside the point, but it does exist. Many people who utter this phrase mean to appeal to strict law and order, to equality, to a primitive apostolic simplicity.
It is a sin, especially for academic researchers, to quote conversations with taxi drivers, but I too have been forced to listen to tales of how Stalin had one greatcoat and one pair of boots, but look at the way folks today live as they please and can afford everything. Meaning that the anti-elite demand is clearly encapsulated in this rhetoric. But the very idea that there is something to which one can appeal, that it is permissible, normal, and safe, was planted in people’s minds by the machinery of state propaganda.
Let’s see how successful this state propaganda machine has been over the course of several decades. Here is the simple, most basic question, as posed by pollsters at the Levada Center: “How do you personally feel about Stalin?” Look at the pattern of responses from 2001 to 2015. It would be wrong to say that any radical changes—sharp increases in respect, admiration, and sympathy—occurred. There is no evidence of this.
“How do you personally feel about Stalin generally?” Surveys conducted in April 2001, April 2006, October 2008, February 2010, October 2012, March 2014, March 2015. Possible answers: 1. I admire him. 2. I respect him. 3. I like him. 4. I could not care less about him. 5. I dislike him. He irritates me. 6. I fear him. 7. I find him revolting. I hate him. 9. I don’t know who Stalin is. 10. Undecided. All figures given in percentages of respondents.
“Do you agree or disagree with those who say Stalin should be deemed a state criminal?” Polls conducted in February 2010 and March 2015. Possible answers: 1. I completely agree. 2. I rather agree. 3. I rather disagree. 4. I completely disagree. 5. Undecided. Figures given in percentages of respondents.
What emotions have decreased? Dislike and irritation. As part of the same trend, there has been a sharp increase in those would could not care less. What do we call that? The natural course of time. Indeed, Stalin is a quite heavily mythologized figure. When we are told that “our grandfathers fought in World War Two,” we must realize the grandfathers of the current generation of thirty- and forty-somethings saw no combat. Their grandfathers and grandmothers were children during the war years, meaning that for the currently active segment of the populace, the war happened a very long time ago. Stalin has been gradually fading into the pantheon of historical characters in which Napoleon is a beloved Russian cake rather than a French emperor, and Hitler is a meme from the cartoons shared on the VK social network.
Without discussing whether this attitude is moral and good, we do acknowledge it is inevitable, because living historical memory gradually fades away, and the symbolic field remains. So, we see that Stalin is not universally loved. Love of Stalin has not grown, and neither has the need to admire or like him increased. It would be wrong to say that the common folk adore Stalin more and more. It’s simply not true.
How do young people evaluate these distant historic periods? Here is the outcome of a survey on historical events of which we might be proud or ashamed. It was conducted among Russian and American students in 2015.
“Historical events of which students are proud.” Russia: World War Two, 63%; Gagarin’s space flight, 30%; War of 1812 (Fatherland War), 20%; Annexation of Crimea, 10%; Abolition of serfdom, 8%. USA: 1960s civil rights movement, 21%; War of Independence (1775-1783), 17%; World War Two, 16%; Space exploration, 13%; Constitution and Bill of Rights, 10%. Source: Higher School of Economics, 2015
“Historical events of which students are ashamed.” Russia: Stalinist terror, 18%; Collapse of Soviet Union, 11%; 1917 October Revolution, 9%; Execution of the Tsar’s family, 6%; Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), 5%. USA: Slavery and Jim Crow laws, 46%; military interventions (Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan), 36%; Genocide of local (Native American) population), 27%; Discrimination in today’s US (violation of women’s and minorities’ rights), 25%; Internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, 17%. Source: Higher School of Economics, 2015
The correlation between the primary source of pride, victory in the Second World War, and the primary source of shame, the Stalinist terror, illustrates the ambivalence that invariably entangles attempts at complete de-Stalinization, which is impossible as long as “victory” and “Stalin” are fused in the national imagination. Nevertheless, we see that young people have a quite healthy moral focus.
Let’s look at a slightly more realistic question. It does not have to do with a person that neither you nor your grandfathers have never seen, but with the period in which you would have rather lived.
“During the past 100 years, there have been different regimes in our country. The peculiarities of each of them had a marked influence on life in our country. When do you think life in Russia was best? (Mark one answer.)” Surveys conducted in June 1993, October 1994, and January 2017. Possible answers: 1. Before the 1917 Revolution. 2. During the Stalin regime. 3. During the Brezhnev regime. 4. During perestroika. 5. During the Yeltsin regime. 6. During the Putin regime. 7. Undecided. Figures given in percentages of respondents.
The outcomes in this instance are indeed interesting. For some reason, after 2014, there was sharp decline in popularity of the reply that the best time to live was before the 1917 Revolution. I don’t know why, but for some reason the amazing effect of the so-called Crimean consensus came down to the fact that this happy time “before tsarlessness,” as the saying goes, has lost its popularity for some reason. Very few people chose the Stalin era, as we see, and there was no change in this case: its popularity was low and has remained low. Meaning that maybe people “respect” Stalin, but no one is especially keen to live in the period during which he actually ruled.
The Brezhnev era is regarded as a more or less comfy, calm, peaceable time, but its popularity has been decreasing. No one likes perestroika or Yeltsin, for that matter. A good number of respondents were undecided, and since the time span from 1994 to 2017 is quite large, people decided that, given this paltry choice, our own time, perhaps, looked okay after all.
How do these figures—this attitude to Stalin and his era, which, as we have seen, are not at all one and the same thing—correlate with people’s overall socio-political views? I have borrowed data from Kirill Rogov’s research study “Proto-Party Groups in Russia: 2000–2010s,” for which I am extremely grateful to him. The data in question are the outcome of a so-called meta poll, meaning a summary of public opinion polls, conducted over the past eighteen years by the Levada Center.
Here is a survey on a topic most closely bound up with Stalin: “Does our country need a strong hand?”
“The Strong Hand: The Authoritarian, Leader-Centered Model. Are there situations in the country’s history when the people need a strong, authoritative leader, a ‘strong hand’?” Sixteen polls conducted from November 1989 to November 2016. Figures given in percentages of respondents. Possible replies: 1. Our people constantly need a ‘strong hand’ (dark brown); 2. Power should be concentrated in one set of hands (green); 3. We should never allow power to be surrendered completely to one man (light blue); 4. Undecided (beige).
Look at the darkest line, which matches the number of replies that a “strong hand” has been “constantly needed.” The second line represents the opinion that “sometimes this has been necessary, but not always” [sic], while the [light blue] line represents the opinion that it is not necessary in any case. Look at the right side of the chart. Here we also observed the quite strange turning point, as yet unexplained by researchers, that occurred after 2014. Perhaps five or seven years from now we will say the effect of 2014 and its impact on public opinion was not as it was described to us on TV. Look at the upward tendency of the third [light blue] line: after 2014, people suddenly began to say that in no case should all power be handed over to one person. The second line (“It’s sometimes possible, but generally not a very good thing”) has taken a nose dive. The upper line was headed downward, but starting in 2011 it climbed a little, before falling again after 2013. In 2014, it experienced a sustained, short-lived upturn.
What rights do Russians value the most? Let’s look at the trends of recent years.
“What rights Russians value.” The results of sixteen polls conducted between August 1994 and October 2015. Possible replies: 1. Property rights (light blue); 2. Free speech (darker green); 3. Access to information (light beige); 4. Freedom of religion (lighter green); 5. Right to leave Russia and live in another country (crimson); 6. Right to elect one’s own representatives to government bodies.
Here we also see the mysterious, counter-intuitive post-Crimea effect, when, in the wake of 2014, Russians gave access to information and freedom of speech a hard look, while experiencing a certain disenchantment in property rights.
Such are the interesting conclusions that Russians make from what they observe. However you look at this character, it clearly follows that we do not observe either a national yearning for authoritarianism оr the longing for a strong hand. Meaning we are dealing with an idea imposed on society about what it is like. Why is this done? Why are people told they long for the return of capital punishment when don’t particularly long for it? Why are they told that the whole lot of them want to resurrect Stalin? Why are they told they enjoy large-scale crackdowns?
European but Weak
The political regime, which wants, on the one hand, to concentrate power and resources in its hands, remain in power, and yet is not a full-fledged autocracy, does not have a well-developed machine of repression. It does not have a ruling ideology and the capacity for imposing it, and it does not want to be subjected to the procedures of democratic rotation. In fact, it finds itself in quite complicated circumstances.
It holds onto power by a whole series of pretty tricky tools. A considerable number of these tools relate to the realm of propaganda and represent different kinds of imitative models and patterns. Democratic institutions and processes are imitated, for example, elections, political parties, and a variety of mass media, which for all their variety report the same thing. Elections are seemingly held, but power does not change hands. Political parties exist, as it were, but no one opposes anyone. (This applies to the CPRF and the other so-called systemic or parliamentary parties.) This is on the one hand.
On the other hand, it is necessary to imitate autocracy’s rhetorical tools, meaning, roughly speaking, trying to appear in the public space as scarier than you are. Second, it is necessary (this is a subtle point, which is often not fully understood) to present oneself not as a terrible dictator, a bloody tyrant, but, on the contrary, as a civilizing, deterring force who is compelled, ruling over such a savage people with authoritarian tendencies, to keep it reigned in all the time, to constantly moderate its thirst for blood.
Meaning that it is necessary to transmit such ambivalent signals as “Let’s not demonize [e.g., Stalin], but let’s consider the issue from all sides.” It is necessary to pretend you are conceding and, simultaneously, resisting constant public pressure, which demands archaization, clampdowns, fire, and blood. If you didn’t resist the pressure, then everyone would have probably already been hung from the highest tree. Yet you are the selfsame power actor who generated the demand. You organized this entire normalization, to which you subsequently respond reluctantly, as it were.
Why is it necessary to fashion such a terrible reputation for one’s own people? To have an excuse for the crackdown on political rights, primarily voting rights, a crackdown in which you constantly engage. If people are savage, bloodthirsty barbarians, it makes sense to prevent them from electing the people they like at elections. For the time being you, a more or less civilized European, rule them, but if you let them have their way, they would immediately elect “Hitler” (the nationalist scarecrow) or Stalin (the left-wing étatist scarecrow). Both are arguments for limiting the rights of Russians to defining their own lives. Hence, the need for Stalin’s popularity.
What is my thesis? Filling society’s heads with false ideas about itself is meant to paint the government as the only “European” in Russia. Given the current social reality, this has long been untrue, to put it mildly. No, the dichotomy of the “civilized regime” versus the “savage society” does not exist, is not borne out by any reality, and cannot be measured by any instruments.
Our society is complex, multifaceted, and diverse. If we try to single out a public opinion, a common idea of values, as shared by the inhabitants of Russia (something that has been confirmed numerous times in research papers), we would see something like the following picture. We would see a society that espouses the values customarily identified as European. We would see a society that is individualist, consumerist, largely atomized, very irreligious, predominantly secular, and fairly intolerant of state violence, again, contrary to what is usually argued. It would be even more accurate to say that those who are intolerant of state violent are much better at joining forces and much more vigorously express themselves than those who put up with it.
We would see a society with values that researchers ordinarily describe as “European but weak.” We would see a society that is basically conformist, relatively passive, not terribly willing to express its opinion, and inclined to weaving the spiral of silence, which consists in people saying what is expected of them. Nevertheless, this society is not aggressive, not bloodthirsty, and does not long for the establishment of an authoritarian regime in Russia.
To govern a society like this with undemocratic methods, of course it has to be represented in a false manner. Of course you have to screw a little flag with Stalin embroidered on it into its head so as then to point at it and say, “See what they’re like.”
I urge everyone not to get involved in this game and not play up to those who engage in it much more seriously than we do, because these ideas about a wild and terrible people, first, do not capture the fullness and complexity of our reality, and second, hinder us, blocking our way to progress and development.
Ekaterina Schulman is a political scientist at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up
In the last ten or fifteen some years, signs of the city’s extinction have been coming hot and heavy, tumbling into view one after another. A few more years, and there will be nothing left of the late-Soviet and perestroika-era Leningrad/post-perestroika Petersburg where we misspent so many years of our youth and felt perfectly at home, despite the fact the ex-capital of All the Russias could never be described as homely. TRR
* * * * *
One of Petersburg’s Oldest Shot Bars to Close on Stremyannaya Street Bumaga
June 27, 2017
One of Petersburg’s oldest shot bars [ryumochnaya], located at 22 Stremyannaya Street, is closing. [Known officially as Pinta or “The Pint,”] it has been in operation for over thirty years.
Sources at the bar confirmed the bar’s impending closure to us, but refrained from revealing the rationale behind the decision. According to unconfirmed reports, the establishment has been purchased by a third party. It will close on Sunday.
Urban legend has it the shot bar on Stremyannaya was frequented during different periods by writers Sergei Dovlatov and Joseph Brodsky, and rock musician Mike Naumenko, since it was near the popular so-called Saigon Café. Historian Lev Lurye told Bumaga that Brodsky and Dovlatov were unlikely to have visited the bar. It opened in the mid 1980s, after both had emigrated from the Soviet Union.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ksenia Astafieva for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Foursquare and Ksenia N.
I’ve had complaints in recent days that my Facebook news feed and Word Press-powered blog (the very blog you’re reading now) felt “tired” and lacked humor.
This news item, however, is sure to energize you positively while tickling your funny bone.
Russia’s Federation Council has approved a bill that would prohibit the use of Internet proxy services—including virtual private networks, or VPNs.
The bill approved on July 25 would also ban the anonymous use of mobile messaging services.
The bill was adopted in its final reading by the lower house of the parliament, the State Duma, on July 21.
It now goes to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into the law.
If signed by the president, the legislation would take effect on January 1, 2018. That is less than three months before a presidential election in which Putin is widely expected to seek and win a new six-year term.
Under the bill, Internet providers would be ordered to block websites that offer VPNs and other proxy services. Russians frequently use such websites to access blocked content by routing connections through servers abroad.
The legislation also would require messenger apps to verify users through their phone numbers and to send out compulsory text messages from government agencies on request.
Lawmakers who promoted the bill said it is needed to prevent the spread of extremist material and ideas.
Critics say Putin’s government often uses that justification to suppress political dissent.
Petersburg’s Oldest Chain of Coffee Houses Closes
Olga Zarubina RBC
July 25, 2017
The Perfect Cup, Petersburg’s oldest coffee house chain, has closed its last outlet, on Kamennoostrovsky Avenue. According to the sign on the door, the premises are undergoing repairs.
RBC Petersburg has learned that a coffee house in the Coffeeshop Company chain will open in its place once renovations have been completed. A Coffeeshop Company spokesman told us the opening was scheduled for September 2017.
The Perfect Cup (Idealnaya Chashka) coffee house chain was founded in Petersburg and modeled after the US chain Starbucks. In 2005, Scandinavian investment fund Trigon Capital bought 85% of the shares of Idealnaya Chashka, Ltd., from company founder Anna Matveyeva, but in 2011 the shares were returned to their original owner. In 2012, the chained numbered twelve outlets, but later it was reduced to three.
RBC Petersburg had previously written that The Ideal Cup changed owners in the spring of 2016. The new owners were three private investors, including Yevgeny Mikhiyenko, manager of Travelers Coffee LLC.
According to Novosibirsk news agency NGS.Novosti, the purchase cost the investors between three and four million rubles, since one of the terms of the deal was an obligation to pay off The Perfect Cup’s debts within two years. The debts exceeded the amount paid for the company by several times.
However, The Perfect Cup’s problems did not end there. In 2016, Idealnaya Chashka, Ltd. was a defendant in eleven lawsuits, totaling 6.7 million rubles. In February 2017, a bankruptcy suit against The Perfect Cup chain was filed in commercial court. The suit was never heard.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Dmitri Evmenov for the heads-up
Given the sheer numbers of reactionary/counterrevolutionary events and incidents happening in Russia every day, and the equally astronomical quantities of reactionary/counter-revolutionary statements and actions committed by Russian officials high and low (e.g. East Aleppo) over the past couple of decades, it seems a nasty farce to commemorate, much less celebrate, the centennial of the Russian revolution(s) this year.
Present-day Russia and Russians have no copyright on revolution, and this stricture applies equally to self-identified “revolutionary” or leftist Russians, who have nothing to teach or say to anyone about revolution.
Clear the current Russian built and symbolic landscape of all the post-revolutionary tat and kitsch (nearly all of it reactionary, because what could be more anti-revolutionary than a cult of personality like the one generated around the dead Lenin) that clutters it physically and nominally (e.g., Insurrection Square in Petersburg), and you would find the wildly reactionary country that actually occupies the vast expanse between the Gdansk Bay and Chukchi Peninsula.
It’s another matter that there are lots of Russians who, pluckily and smartly, individually and collectively, have been trying to overcome this black reaction in bigger and smaller ways over the “miraculous” years of the successive Putin regimes.
Here’s a sunny existential question for a Sunday morning.
How can it be claimed that a person sees events “through Russian eyes” if that person is not Russian is any sense of the word, has not set foot in the country for years, has not lived in the country for years at a time, and garners their knowledge of the country and its politics only from the sources available to everyone else who doesn’t actually live in Russia, namely, the media?
And yet cutting-edge radio program This Is Hell! claims to have found just such a person for its latest broadcast.
I would very much encourage you all to listen to the program. My blog, the Russian Reader, is meant as an antidote to the casual Orientalism of almost everything uttered by hegemonic or would-be hegemonic American mouths when it comes to Russia, whether those voices aspire to be liberal or leftist, Russophilic or Russophobic.
And while you’re listening to the new edition of This Is Hell!, keep in mind that, over the past month or so, I’ve been seriously contemplating sending the Russian Reader on permanent hiatus (like its predecessor Chtodelat News, which died a cold, hard death because it was emphatically not supported by the group it nominally represented).
After a year in which I saw a steady and welcome rise in the number of readers on this website, my stats have dropped precipitously in the last two months, even though I have been trying, as always, to see events in Russia through the eyes of Russians, although I’m not Russian in any way and would never have the chutzpah to claim to be Russian, much less have “Russian eyes.”
My method has always to been to “collage,” as I like to put it, numerous and wildly different Russian points of view on what I think are the key topics in modern Russian politics, economics, society, and culture. I have done this by translating the words of hundreds of courageous, thoughtful and very different Russians, almost all of them in the thick of the events they describe and analyze in the magazine and newspaper articles, essays, Facebook posts, and informal reflections that make up most of what I publish on the Russian Reader.
The other five percent of the Russian Reader is given over to my satirical ruminations and, once in a while, serious editorials. I have never claimed they represent “a” or “the” Russian point of view since, I repeat, I am not Russian in any sense of the word.
I’ve been doing this for almost ten years now with no financial support and, if truth be told, very little other real support from anyone else. Yet I have been told by a fair number of smart and even influential people whose opinion I respect that my blog is invaluable and unique and needs to keep chugging along.
Maybe that is so, but if no one is reading it, quoting it, and especially sharing the articles published here with colleagues, friends, and opponents, there really is no point in going on with this.
It’s been a lot of work. Hard work should be rewarded in some way. Stony silence and precipitously falling numbers are not a reward for invaluable, unique work no one else is doing.
If you would not like to see the website go into a permanent coma, especially if you’re willing to support the Russian Reader in a meaningful way (one of the best ways is volunteering to translate things I could publish), let me know either in the comments under this post or via the email address listed in the left margin of this website.
Thanks for listening to my gripes. With any luck, we can get the site back on track in short order, but that will happen only if I hear a more or less loud mandate from you, my mostly anonymous and silent Russian readers. TRR
Analysts Claim Number of Protests Sharply on the Rise in Russia
Yevgenia Kuznetsova RBC
July 10, 2017
The number of social and political protests in Russia has risen in the second quarter by 33% compared to the beginning of the year. Experts attribute the rise to seasonal activeness and the growth of social tension.
During the second quarter of 2017, the number of protests in Russia rose by a third compared to the start of the year. There were 284 protests in the first quarter of the year, while 378 protest events were recorded in the second quarter, the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CERP) reported in its paper “Russia in 2017: The Number of Protests Grows.” RBC has a copy of the paper.
The CERP’s analysts divide protests into political protests and social protests. The latter include protests over the violation of social rights, declines in living standards, loss of work, and nonpayment of back wages. Over the second quarter, the number of both types of protest grew. The paper’s authors recorded 148 political protests from April to July, compared to 96 in the first three months of the year, while the number of protests provoked by social injustices rose from 167 to 205. The analysts collected their information about protests from the media, social networks, regional analysts, and workforces, who recorded the protests on the ground.
The paper claims the level of protests was high both in 2016 and early 2017. Last year, however, the majority of protests touched on specific issues—wage arrears, the demands of defrauded investors and residential building stakeholders, increases in utility rates, the launch of the Plato system of road tolls for truckers, etc. The authorities did not solve these problems, and so protests have been politicized this year. People involved in them have taken to the streets with more general slogans, for example, anti-corruption slogans, the paper’s authors note. In their opinion, this is the cause of the increase in political protests.
The growth of protests is explained by another factor: seasonality, CERP director Nikolay Mironov told RBC. People protest less at the start of the year than in the spring months. According to Mironov, the regime uses the seasonality of protests to decide when to schedule elections. In 2012, analysts at the Central Electoral Commission determined the populace was politically most active, including in terms of turnout, during two seasons: late March, April, and May, and late October, November, and December. Therefore, the regime moved the nationwide parliamentary and local legislative assemblies election day to September to lower the turnout while announcing the presidential election for March 2018 to raise the turnout
“This is the Kremlin’s election strategy: solve problems on an ad hoc basis, because it is impossible to solve them as a whole. But you can go to a region and resolve a specific problem in a flashy way for the TV cameras,” Mironov explained.
Mironov argues that the federal authorities also expect that, after a public flogging during the president’s televised call-in show and his trips to the regions, local authorities will start solving problems on their own.
The increase in the number of political protests partly has to do with how the media covers the protests, Mironov argues. According to him, journalists usually pay more attention to political protests than to social protests, and this has a dampening effect on protests. People about whom reporters don’t write are “a priori less protected.”
The CEPR’s conclusions about the growth of protests have been indirectly confirmed by research carried out by the Levada Center. According to one of its surveys, the number of people who agree that political protests are possible in their town has risen from 14% in February to 23% in June, Levada Center sociologist Stepan Goncharov told RBC. The number of people willing to take part in political protests has increased from eight to twelve percent. An even greater number of people predicted social protests would break out in their towns. When asked, “Are protests against decreased living standards possible in your town right now?” 28% of respondents in June said they were, as opposed to only 19% in February.
It would be wrong to say there have been considerably more social protests in recent months, argues Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, based on the results of his own research. According to Vinogradov, the number of political protests has increased mainly due to protests by Navalny’s supporters, but the number of social protests has remained at the same level. It would also be wrong to say the number of social protests depends directly on how the authorities resolve the issues that provoke them, says Vinogradov. According to him, the authorities do not have an overall algorithm. In some locales, they resolve issues immediately, fearing protests, while in other places they ignore problems or get bogged down in talking about them. The problem is that the authorities are not always able to determine the real cause of protests and react correctly to it.
Discontent is growing, but the majority of protests remain local for the time being, argues political scientist Konstantin Kalachev.
“The regime is fairly good at solving problems by nipping them in the bud,” argues Kalachev.
Although we cannot be sure social protests will not segue into political protests.
“For the time being it all comes down to demands to dismiss one governor or another, nothing more,” says Kalachev.
Over the years, Novaya Gazeta has regularly published information about massacres and reprisals in Chechnya. The motives for persecuting the people who live in the repubic have been quite varied. In early April, Novaya Gazeta published evidence testifying to the widespread persecution, torture, and killings of gay Chechens. Due to enormous international pressure, Russia’s law enforcement agencies for first time conducted, much against their will, a pre-investigation of evidence of extrajudiciary killings in Chechnya. This was in itself an incredible achievement.
On April 20, we handed over to police investigators information about two men who, we had concluded, had been killed during the anti-gay campaign in Chechnya. Our journalistic investigation, in fact, began with attempting to clarify what had happened to these two men.
We sent all information about the murdered men to investigators for their review as soon as we received it. We also gave the Russian Investigative Committee the anonymous testimony of the surviving victims, who had been kept in secret prisons and gone through terrible torture. This testimony aided investigators in independently and successfully establishing the identities of the victims, according to our information.
Igor Sobol, deputy head of the major case squad in the Central Investigations Department at the Russian Investigative Committee’s North Caucasus Federal District office, who conducted the pre-investigation, had planned to meet with the victims to try and convince them to make statements. However, Sobol had worked on the pre-investigation for a mere two weeks when he was suddenly appointed to a new post. The pre-investigation was assigned to another investigator. After this reshuffle, the official investigation ceased to be robust and adopted a predictable stance. Since the victims had not filed complaints themselves, no crime had taken place.
We guessed this would be the outcome. It is the silence of living victims, scared to death by the unlimited capacities of Chechnya’s security forces, that is the main argument used by police investigators in response to all complaints about human right violations in Chechnya.
Therefore, in addition to the names of the slain gays, we gave investigators a list of twenty some Chechens, arrested starting late December 2016 and, according to our information, murdered in January of this year. These people were arrested during several special raids conducted in Chechnya after December 17, 2016. These people were not formally charged with any crimes. As in the case of the gays, a decision was most likely made to exterminate these people, and the order was carried out.
On December 17, 2016, a group of young men assaulted and murdered a policeman’s acquaintance. The assailants stole the policeman’s car. During the chase, they ran over a traffic police officer in this car. All the assailants were destroyed [sic], including three detainees.
According to the Memorial Rights Center, they were shot in a hospital in Grozny.
The incident triggered massive arrests throughout Chechnya, and two preventive, proactive counter-terrorist operations were conducted.
All the information about what we have assumed were murdered Chechens was passed on not only to police investigators but also to high-ranking officials, including Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s federal human rights ombudsman.
In our letters to these officials, we made a special point of distinguishing between the people we assumed had been killed on suspicion of homosexuality, and the people killed for another reason. (Most likely, they were killed on suspicion of extremism, although we cannot corroborate this: no formal charges were filed, and the Chechen police did not have sufficient information to file charges.)
“No one can be subjected to violence, humiliation and, especially, the loss of life under any circumstances,” Moskalkova announced publicly before sending our petition to the Russian Investigative Committee for review.
On June 6, the preliminary outcome of the review, which the Russian Investigative Committee had been conducting for over two months, was made public. Ombudsman Moskalkova reported on the Investigative Committee’s reaction to her request.
“The reply I received says they have not ascertained evidence confirming violent actions, because they had no specific information on these citizens.”
Moskalkova had every reason to put the matter to rest, as many high-ranking officials had done before her. But she adopted a principled stance under the circumstances.
“Since my request and the letter from Novaya Gazeta I sent contain the names of the people who have, allegedly, perished, the review cannot be deemed completed at this point, and I ask you to clarify what happened to the people whose names are listed in the letter,” wrote Moskalkova.
In an interview with TASS News Agency, Moskalkova likewise remarked that the list given to her by Novaya Gazeta “contains only surnames and names, and nothing else.” She expressed her hope that the “investigative authorities would be able to talk with the article’s author and obtain additional information about years of birth, places of burial, relatives, and former places of residence.”
The fact is that, during our communications with the investigator conducting the review, we passed on more complete information that would make it possible to identify people from the list and establish what had happened to them. At the time, we had information about the places where these people had resided and their dates of birth.
One January Night
After sending the list to the official investigators, we did not halt our own investigation. We kept on trying to explain what had happened to these people.
Since we no longer have any confidence that the new investigator conducting the review will want to talk with our reporters, we have decided to publish everything we know about the circumstances of how these people disappeared.
Large-scale arrests of people kicked off in Chechnya after December 17 of last year. In early January, special raids were carried out the Grozny, Kurchaloy, and Shali districts of Chechnya, during which many people were arrested. The arrestees, however, were not formally registered or charged with crimes. Instead, they were put in the cellars and outbuilding of police departments. The arrests continued until late January. According to what we have learned, around two hundred people were arrested.
Novaya Gazeta carefully monitored these events and has written on several occasions about the plight of the arrestees. Thus, on January 12, we published the names of those arrested after a special raid in the Kurchaloy District. Some of the people on this list were “legalized” only on February 20. This means they were formally arrested only a month and a half after they had in fact been detained. These people were formally charged with illegal arms trafficking (Article 222 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), and a handful were also charged with violating Article 208 (involvement in an illegal armed formation).
We believe that, during a month and a half of illegal detention, these people were coerced into confessing their guilt, which is often the only evidence of guilt in Chechnya. This can be easily seen if we examine the criminal cases currently under investigation by the Chechen Investigative Committee. The names of twenty-two men, detained on January 9 and 10, 2017, and published on Novaya Gazeta‘s website on January 12, is evidence of the illegal one-and-a-half-month detentions, which, in fact, from the legal point of view, render null and void all thhe so-called confessions of guilt.
When comparing this information, we discovered that six people, detained on January 9 and 10, are on the list of those presumably murdered, which we passed on to the Russian Investigative Committee.
The Marked List
During our journalistic investigation, we were able to obtain a list of the people detained in January from a source in the Chechen Interior Ministry. We were also able to match the detainees with the following towns and villages in Chechnya.
Shali: 28 people
Kurchaloy: 9 people
Tsotsi-Yurt: 11 people
Mayrtup: 6 people
Germenchuk: 3 people
Komsomolskoye: 1 person
Avtury: 2 people
Old Sunzha: 4 people
Serzhen-Yurt: 2 people
Belgatoy: 1 person
Comparing this document with the list of allegedly murdered people that Novaya Gazeta sent to the Russian Investigative Committee, we found out what had happend to another 21 people who had been arrested and subsequently killed, according to our information. The great number of arrests took place in Shali, and we have ascertained the addresses of the people on our list from Shali. But all our attempts to find out anything about the plight of these people have been met with incredible fear on the part of our sources. One of them, an employee in Shali city hall, panickedly refused to look over the names of the Shali residents we had ascertained.
“Everyone who was detained in Shali in Janury is gone. Don’t look for them,” he said.
Currently, we know about 27 people who were presumably killed (see the list at the end of this article), although we have reason to believe that 56 Chechens may have been killed. These people were detained at different times. (We have managed to ascertain the dates when thirty of the detainees were arrested: January 9, January 10, January 21, and January 24.) However, the date and time of death, according to our information, is the same for all these people: the night of January 25.
That night, all the detainees were held at the base of the Police Patrol Service’s Hero of Russia Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov Regiment, headed by police colonel Aslan Iraskhanov. The relative of one victim, an influential Chechen official who has managed to uncover the circumstances of the detainees’ disappearance, has testified that, on the night in question, the following people were located at the Kadyrov Regiment’s base: Apti Alaudinov, First Deputy Interior Minister of the Chechen Republic; Abuzeyd Vismuradov aka The Patriot, commander of the Terek Rapid Deployment Task Force and head of Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal security detail; Colonel Iraskhanov of the Kadyrov Regiment; and the police chiefs of the districts where the detainees were registered.
According to the information we have, the detainees were shot that night. Their bodies were transported to various cemeteries, including Christian cemeteries, and buried in hastily dug graves. (Novaya Gazeta knows the locations of some burial sites).
Careful study of the lists of detainees has led us to conclude that the decision to carry out the extrajudicial executions was taken centrally [sic] and, oddly enough, spontaneously. However, this is how key decisions are made in today’s Chechnya.
This follows, at least, from an analysis of a document given to us by our source in the Chechen Republic Interior Ministry. It consists of the typical photo charts that are used by all police officers and are compiled, apparently, according to a single template. (We can assume that Chechen police officers keep records of their “unofficial” actions according to the generally accepted practices of the Russian Interior Ministry.) The photographs were obviously taken immediately after the arrests; moroever, they were not taken in official police departments. Many of the detainees are handcuffed to gym wall bars or radiators, which are more typically found in basements. Marks have been made next to certain photographs, apparently, at different times. If there are no marks, it means the detainee was released. Marks containing the numbers of criminal code articles mean the detainee was later charged with a criminal offense. These marks were made in the same column of the photo chart, right after each detainee’s personal information.
That is, up until a certain point, the police had two options as to what to do with the detainees: release them or bring them up on criminal charges. Later, however, marks that have nothing to do with police expediency emerged on the margins of the list: plus and minus signs. The plus signs most often match detainees charged with criminal offenses. The minus signs can mean only one thing: extermination.
The Dead Speak
We would like to underscore the fact that despite its having been confirmed by two sources (the first source works in the Investigative Department of the Chechen Investigative Committee, and the second in the administration of the head of Chechnya), we cannot affirm that, on the night of January 25, an extrajudicial execution took place in Chechnya, unprecedented in its scale even for that republic.
But we can insist on instituting a criminal case, during which it would not be particularly hard to check this evidence. First, we have given the Russian Investigative Committee more than enough evidence about the victims. Second, the exhumation and postmortem forensic examination of corpses is quite capable of revealing traces of bullet wounds: they stay on bone remains forever. Ascertaining the identities of the presumed murder victims is also easy: DNA samples would need to be taken from the relatives of the victims for comparative analysis. Unlike the persecution of the gays, in which the victims’ families, albeit under duress, were involved in the crackdown, the relatives of people arrested on suspicion of extremism will assist investigators in this case. In addition, far from all of them know what really happened to their loved ones. Many still hope the detainees will come home alive. People are still looking for their loved ones who disappeared in January. They visit police stations and ask questions.
In response, they have heard the same excuses for months on end. “Maybe they are already somewhere in Syria.” “You should have kept track of your relatives yourselves. What do you want from us?” At best, the police tell these people, “You’ll find out when the time comes.”
Our recurrent and now public appeals to the Russian Investigative Committee are our attempt to bring to the country’s leadership and the country’s head investigators evidence that leaves little doubt that extrajudiciary executions have been actively pursued in Chechnya. We are sure it was long-term connivance of this practice that made possible the widespread persecution of gays in Chechnya. If this practice is not harshly eliminated, next time we will face an even more brazen crime than killing people only because somebody considered their sexual orientation unacceptable.
We have published this evidence because the state, as represented by the authorized law enforcement agencies, has left us no choice. For two months, we had hoped for cooperation, which was effective at the very outset. Today,it is obvious that the Russian Investigative Committee is giving ground on this case just as it gave ground in the Boris Nemtsov murder case. That is why we are publishing a list of those people who, according to our information, were victims of possibly the most terrible extrajudicial execution in Grozny. And now police investigators, who refer to the lack of living complainants, will have to deal with special witnesses.
Because in Chechnya only the dead have nothing to fear.
Novaya Gazeta‘s List
1. Abdulmezhidov, Adam Isayevich, born May 27, 1987
2. Abumuslimov, Apti Hasanovich, born June 2, 1989, resided at Shkolnaya Street, 16, Shali
3. Abdulkerimov, Said-Ramzan Ramzanovich, born March 25, 1990, registered at Dokhtukayev Street, 18, Kurchaloy
4. Alimkhanov, Islam Aliyevich, born July 6, 1998
5. Abubakarov, Adam Dzhabrailovich, born May 5, 1995
6. Bergayev, Ismail Shadidovich, born August 19, 1998
7. Dasayev, Adam Ilyasovich, born June 16, 1988, Shali
8. Jabayev, Zelimkhan Khizirovich, born December 18, 1993
9. Ilyasov, Adam Khuseinovich, born September 22, 1997
10. Lugayev, Rizvan Said-Khamzatovich, born September 13, 1987, Shali
11. Malikov, Rizvan Agdanovich, born June 1, 1990
12. Muskiyev, Mohma Turpalovich, born July 17, 1988, registered at Novaya Street, 10, Tsotsi-Yurt
13. Mussanov, Temirlan Ahmadovich, born April 28, 1986, Chicherin Street, 2, Shali
14. Ozdiyev, Usman Vakhayevich, born December 24, 1989, registered at Grozny Street, 39, Shali
15. Rashidov, Doku Ibrahimovich, born May 30, 1995
16. Syriyev, Magomed Musayevich, born February 23, 1993
17. Soltamanov, Ismail Ezer-Aliyevich, born March 30, 1994, registered at Nuradilov Street, Mayrtup
18. Suleimanov, Magomed Arbeyevich, born January 3, 1987, Caucasus Village, 8/4, Shali
19. Tuchayev, Ahmed Ramzanovich, born February 23, 1987, Shkolnaya Street, 30, Shali
20. Khabuyev, Khamzat Slaudinovich, born February 14, 1993
21. Hakimov, Alvi Aslambekovich, born November 16, 1992
22. Khamidov, Shamil Ahmedovich, born November 14, 1986
23. Tsikmayev, Ayub Sultanovich, born April 2, 1984, Molodezhnaya Street, Germenchuk
24. Shapiyev, Muslim Isayevich, born November 28, 1989, registered at Kutuzov Street, 12, Shali
25. Eskarbiyev, Saikhan Vahamsoltovich, born May 23, 1992
26. Yusupov, Sakhab Isayevich, born January 19, 1990
27. Yusupov, Shamkhan Shaykhovich, born June 17, 1988, registered at Soviet Street, 11, Kurchaloy
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia