Käppäselgä: A Godforsaken Corner of a Would-Be Superpower

Resident of Karelian Village Käppäselgä: My House Might Not Survive the Winter 
Maria Dmitriyeva
7X7
November 28, 2017

Galina Ryaziyeva

Galina Ryaziyeva, a pensioner living in the Karelian village of Käppäselgä, is afraid the roof of her home might collapse. The adjacent flats are dilapidated and are pulling the only remaining habitable section of the wooden barracks down with them. A lawsuit filed against the district council, which owns most of the house, has dragged on. Our correspondent tried to get to the bottom of the story.

The Back of Beyond
Käppäselgä is located the backwoods of the Kondopoga District. It is not just that you can encounter real bears in the village but also that it is one of the district’s northernmost corners. It is closer to the town of Medvezhyegorsk [Bear Hill] than the district’s seat, Kondopoga. Despite the seeming proximity of the Kola Highway, it is no easy trick getting to Käppäselgä, due to twenty kilometers of dirt road, reduced to rubble by lumber trucks. It took us three hours to drive to Käppäselgä from Petrozavodsk, capital of the Republic of Karelia. The last hour of the trip was spent traveling over those twenty kilometers of dirt road.

Кяппесельга.jpgKäppäselgä’s train station. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Socially, the circumstances in Käppäselgä are typical of Karelian villages. Nearly all the young people have left for the city long ago. There are ever fewer jobs available, and children can study at the local school only until the ninth form. The housing stock consists entirely of wooden houses. The amenities are outside, and fresh water is truck into the villaged. When a house is uninhabited, it rapidly deteriorates, and the roof eventually caves in. Currently, there are many such dilapidated barracks-style houses in Käppäselgä. There are also problems with transportation. A commuter train used to run twice a day (Käppäselgä has its own train station), but several years ago the schedule was reduced to once a day. So, if they want to go to Kondopoga or Petrozavodsky, villagers have to be at the station at four in the morning. The bus runs only once a week.

4Ramshackle roofs, broken windows, and empty houses are a common sight in Käppäselgä. 

Given these conditions, living in Käppäselgä is an accomplishment in itself. But the villagers face another obstacle: the unwillingness of the district council, which owns a considerable portion of the housing stock, to fulfill its responsibilities.

“It Could End in Disaster”
“I’m still afraid to sleep at night, because when the roof collapsed, it made such a racket. I jumped out of bed. I couldn’t understand what the cracklonging noise was. I went up to the attic. I could see my part of the roof was still intact, but the rest of the roof had collapsed into the flat next door,” said Ryaziyeva.

Ryaziyeva is sixty-two years old. She has had a stroke, suffers from diabetes and hypertension, and lives in a wooden house whose roof, she argues, could collapse at any moment due to inaction by the district council.

All the locals know Ryaziyeva: she worked at the local hospital for several decades. In the early 1980s, she and her husband moved into a four-flat wooden barracks, built in 1953, on Central Street. In 1984, the house was refurbished. The common corridor shared by the flats was removed, but the roof was not repanelled and reshingled. Consequently, for many years the roof would leak after heavy rains, dousing “either the ceiling lamp or the sofa.” In the 2000s, Ryaziyeva managed to get the council to repair the roof by threatening to take them to court, but according to her, the roofers the council hired for the job repaired only her portion of the roof, and slipped the old roof slats back under the new shingles.

There has not been a thorough renovation since then, and repairs that were carried out from time to time, such as replacing the window frames, were done by the residents themselves. Several years ago, when there was a hullabaloo about the nationwide housing privatization program’s coming to an end, Ryaziyeva privatized her flat. The other three flats in the house remained the council’s property.

Ryaziyeva now lives alone in the deserted barracks. Her children, grown up, have moved to the city, and her neighbors have either moved away, died or gone to prison. So, the other flats in the house are uninhabited and unheated, and so they are falling apart. The damage is so extensive that the roof in one flat has collapsed: this was the incident described by Ryaziyeva, above, when a terrible racket woke her up in the middle of the night. There is still serious danger that the rotten section of the roof above the empty flats will collapse, taking the roof over Ryaziyeva’s flat down with them. She has had to close two rooms in her own flat. The furnaces in those rooms, adjacent to the flats next door, could no longer be heated. The cold and damp swelled the wallpaper on the walls, and the window frames sagged and succumbed to rot.

2An uninhabited room in Galina Ryaziyeva’s flat

There is another problem. Uninvited guests have taken to visiting the uninhabited part of the house.

“The housing inspectorate ordered the council to make the house inaccessible to strangers. But this was not done. My son-in-law and I had to drive them out. Two men got blotto in there and fell asleep. Then I boarded up the doors myself. It could end in disaster.”

The Council Was to Blame
Ryaziyeva first sounded the alarm in 2014, but her patience ran out in 2016, when part of the roof collapsed. She made several appeals to the Kondopoga District Council, which has recently been tasked with managing all the housing stock in the district. She also contacted the prosecutor’s office, the housing inspectorate, Alexander Hudilainen, former head of the Karelian Republic, and even federal MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Her son Alexei has twice written to President Putin’s public liaison office and recently sent a letter to Artur Parfyonchikov, the republic’s new head. Their appeals and letters were not dismissed. Recognizing the problem and receiving instructions from the relevant authorities, local officials promised to deal with the situation and carry out repairs, initially, after the snow melted, and later, in the spring or summer. So, in the voluminous archive of official correspondence and documents Ryaziyeva has amassed in recent years, there is a letter, signed by acting district head Dmitry Kirpu, in which the latter writes, “By Decree No. 535, dated 9 September 2016, of the Kondopoga Municipal District, flats no. 2, 3, 4 in the multi-flat house on Central Street in the village of Käppäselgä will be demolished in 2017. (The work is tentatively scheduled for the spring or summer of 2017). You will receive more information about the dates and deadlines of the work.”

The letter even mentioned a specific estimate of the repair’s cost: 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,300 euros]. According to Yelena Paltseva, who represented the Ryaziyev family in court, this figure was also mentioned later in the process. However, an independent inspection, which the family later commissioned, showed that more money would be required to rebuild the house.

Spring and summer came and went, but no work was done. Ryaziyeva appealed to Parfyonchikov’s community liaison office on several occasions, and Anna Lopatkina and Andrei Pogodin insisted she file a lawsuit, which she finally did.

The independent inspection determined the list of repairs necessary to save the Ryaziyev family flat. While reconstructing the house, it would be necessary to separate their portion of the house from the other, uninhabited parts of house, which would involve dismantling the chimneys and removing the roof, and then partly restoring the roof, the walls, and the foundation. Currently, assessors have evaluated the physical state of their flat as unsatisfactory: “It can be inhabited provided capital repairs and reconstruction are carried out.” The work should cost approximately 400,000 rubles.


An excerpt from the court’s ruling on the inspection: “An inspection has established that part of the residential building (flats no. 2, 3, 4) are dilapidated. Major leaks in the roof, deformation of the walls, subsidence of the foundation, and buckling of the window frames and door frames have been detected. The walls are subject to massive worsening cracks, severe rotting, and penetration by draughts and frost. Flats no. 2, 3, 4 are not heated. Their furnaces and chimneys have been destroyed. The wiring is in disrepair, and the load-bearing structures are dilapidated and partly destroyed. The dilapidation of the load-bearing structures in flats no. 2, 3, 4 has caused the deformation and destruction of the adjacent walls and ceiling beams in flat no. 1, and consequently the dilapidated flats should be dismantled. It is technically possible to eliminate their negative impact[.]” 

The district council has questioned the outcome of the assessment.

“Actually, the house is not currently dilapidated,” claims Dmitry Kipru, now deputy head of the Kondopoga Municipal District. “I agree that things look bad. But currently there is no danger to the Ryaziyev flat. There are all sorts of independent assessors. We could commission a second assessment and get a different finding and a different estimate.”

In court, however, the defense refrained from challenging the assessment’s objectivity.

10The adjacent flats are in this condition.

The trial spanned several hearings. The plaintiff was present for all of them except the final hearing. Ryaziyeva would often have to get up at night, in the dark, to go to the train station to catch the train that would bring her to Kondopoga at five in the morning—sometimes only to hear that the defendant was not ready for the hearing and had asked it be postponed.

“Those trips have really worn me out over the past two years,” Ryaziyeva confesses.

In turn, Paltseva claims the defense sometimes came to hearings unprepared.

“For example, we wanted to hear the testimony of the engineer who had declared the house dilapidated. But we were constantly offered supposedly valid reasons why he could not make it to the trial. Since their lawyer was not an engineer, he could not comment on certain matters, and he would ask that the hearings be postponed. I think they were dragging things out,” says Paltseva.

Judge Olga Sysoyeva personally traveled to Käppäselgä and saw the picture with her own eyes, a picture that had earlier consisted only of testimony, documents, and photographs.

7The condition of the roof worries Ryaziyeva most of all. 

The Ryaziyevs won the lawsuit. According to the court, it was the district council’s inaction, which has the three empty flats on its books, that reduced the house to its current condition.

“The court has sufficient grounds to conclude there is a causal link between the condition of the residential building and inaction on the part of the proprietor of the council flats and the common property in the house, who has failed to carry out capital repairs,” reads the court’s ruling.

Taking into account the nature and scope of the reconstruction work and the time needed to complete it, the court set a deadline: three months from the day the ruling entered into legal force.

But this is not the end of the story. The Kondopoga District Council has appealed the ruling in the Karelian Supreme Court. In particular, according to the appeal, the defense was not satisfied the lower court had “removed the plaintiffs from equity involvement, having assigned the duty to reconstruct the multi-flat residential building singlehandedly to one of the proprietors […] the Kondopoga Muncipal District.”

During the trial, the defense attorney requested the Ryaziyevs should, in keeping with their share of the house’s overall floor space, pay 33% of the repairs. The court declined the request.

Commenting on the situation, deputy district head Kirpu repeated the demand that the Ryaziyevs co-finance the repairs, as indicated in the appellate complaint. When we asked him why no such demand had been made when he issued the decree, which was never carried out, to demolish the dilapidated flats during the spring or summer of 2017, he found it difficult to respond.

“Our lawyers vet every decree. Maybe someone overlooked something,” Kirpu speculated.

Moreover, at the end of our conversation, Kirpu informed me that money for reconstruction of the house (around 500,000 rubles) had been found among the district’s nonappropriated funds, but they had not been allocated, because the Ryaziyevs had filed suit against the council.

17Galina Ryaziyeva has to take care of her half of the house and the adjoining half of the house.

“In Karelia’s districts, people are held hostage by the inaction of the local authorities. They file lawsuits not for the fun of it, but to force councils to look for funds and fulfill their direct responsibilities in maintaining the housing stock,” argues Paltseva. “Besides, by law, a propietor can demand satisfaction if their rights have been violated, although the violations were not connected with dispossessing them of their property. A lawsuit petitioning the court to compel a defendant to act must be upheld even in cases in which the proprietor shows there is a real threat of violation of their rights due to inaction by the authorities. The assessment commissioned by the Ryaziyevs proved there was a direct causal link between the destruction of their flat and the council’s behavior. A date for the appeal hearing has not yet been set, but Karelia is already snowbound.”

This means that 25 Central Street will have to survive yet another winter. Who knows whether the roof will hold out or the lintel will collapse. According to the Ryaziyevs, the the local council has deliberately delayed the process so that there will be nothing left to save and restore.

All photos by Maria Dmitriyeva and courtesy of 7X7. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to the always reliable Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

The Moscow Senators

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The world’s greatest nonexistent baseball team, the Moscow Senators, are back on the field and raising a ruckus.

A new study by a Federation Council commission reportedly warns that Western nations are planning to transform Russian youths “into an instrument for eroding national political systems, realizing color revolution scenarios, coup d’etats, and social destabilization.” The goal of this campaign, the report allegedly concludes, is to create a generation of Russian leaders who, in 10 or 15 years, will come to power and change the country’s constitutional order and domestic and foreign policies to benefit the West.

In one section of the Federation Council’s report, Russian senators [sic] say they will create a “Black Book of Illegal Foreign Interference” to catalogue intrusions into Russian sovereignty, where individuals’ names and personal data could appear. The black book should be ready by mid-2018.

Senators [sic] are also calling for a series of new laws against foreign political meddling, including a formalized definition of “foreign interference” and new legislation prohibiting foreign state programs in Russia without the Russian government’s permission.

Excerpted from Meduza’s Real Russia email newsletter for November 29, 2017. Image courtesy of Twitter user @sarah63712

The Toponymic Commission Strikes Back

smolninsky rayon

A 1967 public transportation map of Leningrad’s former Smolny District. The red lines and numbers indicate tramlines. Nearly all of the line were decommissioned in the late 1990s and 2000s, although they were an important lynchpin in the entire tram system, which was once the largest in the world in terms of sheer length of tracks. In the late noughties, Tram Park No. 4, located at the spot marked by the encircled red number five on the map, was demolished to makeway for a flying-saucer-topped monstrosity known as the Nevsky Rathaus, developed by a company owned by Sergei Matviyenko, son of then-Petersburg Valentina Matviyenko.
The Rathaus’s ostensible purpose was move all of the city government’s farflung committees into a single office building, but since many of the most powerful committees occupy prime downtown real estate in their own gorgeous 19th-century buildings, there is no evidence that things have gone to plan. In turn, completion of the Rathaus has set off a storm of redevelopment in the immediate vicinity, much of it involving the constructi of needlessly large and invariably ugly “elite” housing blocks. Map from the collection of the Russian Reader

“Today, November 24, the [Petersburg] Toponymic Commission will decide whether the Soviet [Sovetskye] Streets will again be called the Christmas [Rozhdestvenskye] Streets, and Insurrection Square [ploshchad Vosstaniya] will be redubbed Church of the Sign Square [Znamenskaya ploshchad]. It will finally become clear who won the Russian Civil war, the Whites or the Reds,” wrote Petersburg’s best-known pop historian in the business daily Delovoi Peterburg the other day.

Forgive me for restating obvious historical truths, but most sane people know the Reds won the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks emerged victorious from the October Revolution, and the Soviet Union, in concert with its allies the United States and Great Britain, won the Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Fatherland (or Patriotic) War.

The reactionaries on the Petersburg Toponymic Commission could restore the “old” names to every street in the city, including streets that appeared on the map only during the Soviet period, but they cannot alter the outcomes of historical events, especially events such as the ones I have just mentioned, which had overwhelming consequences for Russia and the world, however negatively, positively or indifferently we evaluate them today.

Besides, real local historians and history enthusiasts know that the names of many streets changed several times even during the city’s tsarist period (1703–1917), not to mention the Soviet regime, where same thing also happened quite often as the Party line and public sentiment changed from one decade to the next.

First Soviet Street, for example, had several names during the period 1766–1923: New Carriage Street [Novaya Karetnaya], Carriage Street [Karetnaya], Old Carriage Street [Staraya Karetnaya], First Christmas Street [1-ya Rozhdestvenskaya], First Street, and, finally, First Christmas Street againm, before it was renamed First Soviet Street by the Bolsheviks in 1923.

If historical justice were the Toponymic Commission’s real concern they would restore the street’s original name, New Carriage Street. Right?

Twenty years ago or so, perhaps, the Toponymic Commission was doing vital work, but nowadays it is a tool of the blackest, most virulent political reaction.

Indeed, it was also a tool of reaction twenty years ago, too, and I thus am eternally gratefully to my late father-in-law, who never deigned to call Sophia Perovskaya Street and Zhelyabov Street by their newfangled “old” names of Greater and Lesser Stable Streets [Bolshaya Konyushennaya and Malaya Konyushennaya].

Officially empowered experts who can seriously contemplate changing Insurrection Square’s name after a hundred years (a decision they ultimately nixed, although they did rename Insurrection Street [ulitsa Vosstaniya], which runs north from Insurrection Square and Nevsky Avenue to Kirochnaya Street, Church of the Sign Street [Znamenskaya ulitsa]) are sending an unambivalent message to Petersburgers that from here on out their God-given right to rebel and rise up tyrants and thugs has been confiscated, as it were, however murderous and criminal the current and subsequent regimes are.

But it is ludicrous to think it will never occur to people to revolt simply because there is no longer an Insurrection Street or Insurrection Square in their city, one of whose nicknames, in Soviet times, was the Cradle of Three Revolutions.

It is just as queer to feign that, by redubbing the Soviet Streets the Christmas Streets, there was never any Soviet period in the city’s history. The signs and symptoms of the Soviet regime—good, bad, neutral, and controversial—are literally everywhere you look. Completely erasing these signs and symptoms from the collective memory and the visible cityscape will not accelerate real democracy’s advent. On the contrary, it will probably push that happy day farther into the future.

It is the Toponymic Commission itself that should be abolished. It has long been busy rewriting history, not engaging in the non-science of toponymy. In this respect, it has aped the current regime, doing its dirty deeds under the guise of restoring what was lost or doing rhetorical combat with nonexistent malevolent forces that, allegedly, have wanted to revise the outcome of the Second World War or something equally hilarious, impossible, and utterly imaginary.

What the Toponymic Commission and the current regime really want to do is transfigure history, the study of history, and collective and individual historical memory into a total, inedible muddle. If they succeed in pulling off this trick, or so they imagine, it will be easier for them manage and manipulate people and society, and diminishing their will to write and make their own history.

nevsk rathausThe Nevsky Rathaus and its telltale flying saucer, as seen at the far end of one of the now officially former Soviet Streets. Photo by the Russian Reader

P.S. It was oh so vital to immediately rename Petersburg’s long-suffering Soviet Streets. Of course, all good Christian men and women have rejoiced in this collective decision on the part of corrupt city officials and the city’s loyal opposition. But did anyone even peep when Tram Park No. 4 on Degtyarny Allegy (in the same part of town, the Sands neighborhood, that were home to the now-disappeared Soviet Streets) was demolished and, before this, nearly the entire tram network there was dismantled?

What have Petersburgers received in compensation for the deliberate destruction of public transportation in their city? What will they receive to make up for this clear attempt to erase the Soviet past while preserving Soviet decision-making methods and leaving all of the least progressive aspects of the Soviet mindset firmly in place?

First, there was the UFO aka the Nevsky Rathaus, built by the former governor’s son. Now we have been gifted with a gift none of us really wanted, the Christmas Streets, as if this city of five million or more were populated solely by wildly devout Orthodox toponymic history enthusiasts.

In the near future, like a triple layer of icing on an sickly sweet holiday cake, we will be treated to the total “reconstruction” of the Church of the Nativity of Christ in the Sands. This is yet another unwanted gift, a gift made possible, once again, through demolition, in this case the destruction of the cosy, pretty square at the intersection of Sixth Soviet Street and Krasnobor Alley. Local residents campaigned against this so-called urban planning decision. But who the hell are local residents, and what are their opinions worth when the current reactionary regime has been intent on beating it into everyone’s head that its own provenance is nearly divine?

What is worse, the city’s semi-official historical preservation mob indulges the regime in its “religious” aspirations.

This is yet another amazing story about how the nearly perpetual muddle in the heads of the city’s “finest people” (as one commentator called them when I published an earlier version of these remarks on Facebook) produces circumstances in which Petersburg is practically defenseless against urban planning stupidities and revisionist toponymic interventions. You can visit whatever truly satanic outrages on its tender flesh you wish, and most of the so-called opposition and its mostly silent, invisible supporters will either sign on to your crazy undertaking, keep its mouth shut or immediately surrender without putting up a fight.

One of the few exceptions in recent years (the bleak years of Putin 3.0) was when a bas-relief sculpture of Mephistopheles was removed from the façade of a building on the Petrograd Side, apparently on orders from a local housing authority official. A full-fledged public hullabaloo kicked off, featuring a well-attended opposition rally outside the offended building and, ultimately, the restoration of the demonic sculpture.

You see, that was a real crime against history and historical preservation. TRR

Another Last Address: Six Names

While I realize it was only two weeks ago when I wrote about finding four Last Address memorial plaques in my neighborhood I had not seen before, I would like to document another six plaques I found today, because I do not think it is enough to know they are out there somewhere. Instead, we should pause for a few minutes and read the bare facts on each plaque out loud or silently. It is also important, given the current frightening atmosphere in Russia, to show passersby that they, too, can stop and honor the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror in this way, as well as to share this witnessing and remembering with readers out in the big wide world, whoever and wherever you are.

Of course, Last Address will only be complete when there is a plaque or plaques on every one of the 341,582 addresses in Memorial’s database.

While that day seems far off, it is surprising how quickly Petersburg has filled up with Last Address plaques in a mere two or three years.

The plaques my companion and I found earlier this evening were attached to the streetside façade of the building at 146 Nevsky Avenue, the segment of Nevsky, east of Insurrection Square, known to locals as “Old” Nevsky.

The plaques have been placed on the building at eye level and are thus quite easy for passersby to notice, read, and photograph.

The building itself is a hybrid of two eras. First built in 1883 by Valery von Gekker to house the Menyaevsky Market, the building was rebuilt and expanded in the constructivist style by Iosif Baks in 1932–33, turning most of it into a block of flats.

photo_32-32941
146 Nevsky Avenue, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of citywalls.ru

When the six people memorialized on the plaques lived in the building, Nevsky was still known as October 25 Avenue, the name it bore from 1918, after the Bolsheviks came to power, until January 1944, when residents asked the authorities to restore a number of old street names in the city center to mark the lifting of the Nazi Army’s 900-day siege of the city.

The address listed on the Last Address map is thus 146 October 25 Avenue, as it would have been listed in the NKVD case files of the victims at the time.

DSCN1846“Here lived Mikhail Pavlovich Kovalyov, welder. Born 1887. Arrested 30 October 1937. Shot 7 December 1937. Rehabilitated 1958.” Born in the village of Raivola, Finland, near the Russian/Soviet-Finnish border, Mr. Kovalyov worked at the Khalturin Factory and lived in flat no. 186.

DSCN1847.jpg“Here lived Vaclav Adamovich Zaikovsky, litographer. Born 1897. Arrested 31 August 1937. Shot 21 November 1937. Rehabilitated 1957.” Born in the Vilna Governorate of the Russian Empire, Mr. Zaikovsky was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1917 to 1937, and director of the First Art Lithography Works. He lived in flat no. 163.

DSCN1848.jpg“Here lived Dmitry Andreyevich Yeretsky, civil servant. Born 1900. Arrested 23 September 1937. Shot 21 September 1938. Rehabilitated 1957.” Mr. Yeretsky was born in Beredichev, Belarus. He was director of the State Institute for the Design of Wood Chemical Industry Enterprises (Giproleskhim) and lived in flat no. 164.

DSCN1849“Here lived Alexander Kirillovich Sirenko, civil servant. Born 1903. Arrested 10 February 1937. Shot 24 August 1937. Rehabilitated 1955.” Born in Ukraine’s Donetsk Region, Mr. Sirenko was director of the Nevsky Chemical Plant and lived in flat no. 146.  He was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1924 to 1937.

DSCN1850“Here lived Alexander Genrikhovich Kogan, theater manager. Born 1898. Arrested 26 August 1946. Shot 13 April 1938 in a work camp in Kolyma. Rehabilitated 1956.” A Jew from Nikolayev, Ukraine, Mr. Kogan was accused by the NKVD of involvement in a wholly fictitious “counterrevolutionary insurgent organization.” The number of the flat where he lived is not listed on the Last Address map or in Memorial’s Leningrad Martyrology database.

DSCN1851“Here lived Melania Ignatyevna Shoka, civil servant. Born 1908. Arrested 2 September 1937. Shot 1 November 1937. Rehabilitated 1989.” An ethnic Pole born in the Grodno Governorate of the Russian Empire, Ms. Shoka was a personnel instructor in the non-steamboat fleet of the Northwest River Shipping Company. She lived in flat no. 70 and was not a member of the Communist Party.

I am not an expert on the Great Terror, but I have noticed a preponderance of non-ethnic Russians and people born outside of Leningrad/Petersburg in the three hundred or so database case files I have perused. Given that the NVKD would also have had to fill its arrest and execution quotas in Central Russia, I am certain, of course, that ethnic Russians are also more than amply represented among the Terror’s myriad victims. It was just that Petersburg had been a cosmopolitan city almost from its foundation and twenty years previously had been the capital of a multi-ethnic empire. In its first two decades, the Soviet regime had also encouraged what historian Terry Martin has dubbed an “affirmative action empire.” But one of the signal victims of Stalin’s crackdown was  faith in a polity that was “socialist in content, nationalist in form.” So, Leningrad’s non-Russians were easy targets for Stalin’s newfound anti-cosmopolitan paranoia.

Enough Already?

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“Veterans of the Secret Services,” marquee in central Petersburg, 12 November 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

Enough already?

For months, President Vladimir V. Putin has predictably denied accusations of Russian interference in last year’s American election, denouncing them as fake news fueled by Russophobic hysteria. More surprising, some of Mr. Putin’s biggest foes in Russia, notably pro-Western liberals who look to the United States as an exemplar of democratic values and journalistic excellence, are now joining a chorus of protest over America’s fixation with Moscow’s meddling in its political affairs. “Enough already!” Leonid M. Volkov, chief of staff for the anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, wrote in a recent anguished post on Facebook. “What is happening with ‘the investigation into Russian interference,’ is not just a disgrace but a collective eclipse of the mind.”

What the so-called Russian liberals, quoted in this New York Times article about how the continuing “fever” provoked by alleged Russian involvement in the 2018 US presidential election has been harming their mostly nonexistent cause by making Putin seem more powerful and craftier than he actually is, forget is that the United States is a democratic republic, all its obvious faults notwithstanding, not a kleptocratic tyranny, where the high crimes and misdemeanors imputed to the Kleptocrat in Chief and his cronies are never investigated, except by Alexei Navalny and the occasional journalist, and then only halfheartedly, because there is no division of powers in Putinist Russia and thus no independent judiciary, prosecutors or police investigators, not to mention the absence of an independent legislative branch.

So, the Ozero Dacha Co-op is free to run the country like a mafia gang running northern New Jersey.

In the US, on the contrary, the legislative branch and the judiciary, along with the relevant law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies, are simply obliged, because they, too, have sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution, to pursue any and all evidence that the Trump campaign and now the Trump administration has had extensive ties with Russian officials, and that the Kremlin additionally attempted to influence the outcome of the election via active measures including the massive manipulation of social networks. They must pursue all this to the bloody end, however long it takes and however much it costs.

To do otherwise would be a dereliction of duty on the part of the sworn high officials who are charged with protecting the Constitution, even if that means protecting it from Don Trump and Vladimir Putin, whom Russian liberals have literally no plan or intention of ever seeing out the door, for his crimes or his wildly incompetent governance.

In the process, our often hysterical and uneven press, as well as everyone and his mother, posting on those selfsame social networks, will have much to say about the whole kit and kaboodle, and much of it will be wrong, worthless, and crazy.

Plus, the whole mess will inevitably be politicized to the hilt, another thing that upsets certain Russians, whose Soviet upbringing and post-Soviet survivalism has made them loathe the hugger-mugger of politics, which is always a hugger-mugger when it’s real, not an epiphenomenon of all-Russian TV brainwashing sessions, whose aftereffects are measured in real time by fake pollsters.

Messy is how it works when you can’t be sent down to Mordovia for reposting the “wrong” thing on VK, as you can be in Russia.

If anything, this little collective five minutes of hate, on the part of so-called Russian liberals whose professions of love and respect for the US sound suspect when encapsulated this way, have only reinforced what I’ve thought for a long time.

There are healthy Russians, and plenty of them, who are more concerned with their families, jobs, hobbies, neighbors, and politics in their own country and neighborhood, etc., but the so-called Russian elites and the so-called Russian intelligentsia are obsessed with the US in a way that most Americans (believe me, I’ve been around the big block several times and have noticed very little interest in Russia among the vast majority of my American acquaintances, friends, relatives, coworkers, etc.) are not and never have been, except, perhaps, during the Red Scare, but I wasn’t there to witness it, and I suspect it was more of an elite phenomenon than a grassroots thing.

The Russian most obsessed with the US is, of course, Vladimir Putin. He’s so obsessed that he persuaded himself that the 2011–2012 popular protests against his regime were personally engineered, launched, and steered by Hillary Clinton and the US State Department.

So, given the chance to get back at his number one enemy in the US, he did what he could.

This doesn’t necessarily mean his influence won the election for Trump or was even crucial. But throwing up our hands and saying it ultimately doesn’t matter would be irresponsible. We have to know or at least find out as much as we can about what really was done and by whom, and if we have evidence that high officials committed crimes in connection with this alleged conspiracy, they must be prosecuted, tried and, if found guilty, punished.

There is also the matter of less powerful Russians than Putin, folks like the ones quoted in the article, who can discuss US politics until they are blue in the face (I’ve been around that big block, too, many times, and have witnessed this “political self-displacement” on many occasions). Part of the reason for this is that (or so such people think) there is no politics to discuss in Russia. Or no reason to discuss Russian politics. Or every reason not to discuss Russian politics because doing it too loudly and publicly might get you in trouble.

But the Russian talking classes have to have something to talk about, so they talk about the fake moral panics the regime tosses them like bones to dogs every couple of weeks—and US politics and culture, such as “high-quality” TV series on Netflix and such.

They talk about the US so much you would be forgiven for thinking that many of them are certain, often to the point of arrogance, that they know more about the US and everything American than Americans themselves.

What they do less and less often is discuss their own country, partly because they have all but reconciled themselves to the “fact,” without putting up a fight (the only possible exception among the folks quoted in the article is Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s righthand man) that Putin will essentially re-elect himself to a fourth term as president in March 2018, and so on till kingdom comes.

Putin can pull off that trick in the world’s largest country, and yet, argue other Russian liberals, we’re supposed to imagine he is utterly powerless at the same time?

This article is a bill of goods, and we don’t have to buy it. I would love to find out why Andrew Higgins was moved to write it, and why so many talkative, opinionated Russians think they bear no responsibility for letting their “powerless” president do whatever he pleases whenever he pleases.

Maybe they should work harder on that for a few years and forget about the US and its signal failings. Let the real Americans handle those, however muckily and gracessly they go about it. It’s their country, after all.

I’m certain such a live-and-let-live approach to the US would make Russian grassroots and liberal politics more exciting and productive. TRR

Life on the Installment Plan, Part Two

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“Sovkombank. Are you a pensioner? Your loan is approved!” Photo by the Russian Reader

Russians Borrowing More before Payday
The average microloan’s amount has increased by 14% on the year
Lyudmila Koval
Vedomosti
November 23, 2017

On the year, the average so-called payday loan has increased by 14.1% to 10,500 rubles [approx. 150 euros], according the National Credit History Bureau, who have compared people’s borrowing from microfinance institutions in the third quarters of 2017 and 2016.

The National Credit History Bureau arrived at its findings after analyzing data submitted to it by 3,000 microfinance institutions.

Young people have experienced the most trouble with their personal budgets. The average microloan in the under-twenty-five segment of borrowers grew by 23.6%. In the third quarter of 2017, it amounted to 8,100 rubles. The average microloan also grew considerably in the segment of borrowers aged between 25 and 29—by 18.7% to 10,300 rubles.

In turn, over the last year, the average microloan has increased the least among pension-age borrowers. Among borrowers between 60 and 65, it grew by 4.1% to 9,200 rubles, while among people over 65, it grew by 7.9% to 8,800 rubles.

The average amounts of microloans has been growing among all age groups of borrowers, but it has increased most of all in the under-thirty segment, emphasizes Alexander Vikulin, the National Credit History Bureau’s director general. According to Vikulin, microfinance organizations have always been attractive to young people, despite the fact this segment of borrowers is quite risky.

Although microfinance loans are considerably more expensive than bank loans, Russians continue to apply for them enthusiastically, often for quite original purposes. In approximately 59% of cases, Russians take out microloans for urgent needs or conceal why they are borrowing, the company Domashnie Dengi (Home Money) discovered. 15% of borrowers take out loans for home repairs, while 6% borrow money to buy appliances.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Personality Cult Pinups

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The president has the appropriate attire and beverage for a chilly January photoshoot.

Earlier today, I was shopping at my local Auchan hypermarket when I happened upon this “2018 Gift Calendar,” featuring Russia’s well-known President for Life and foremost sovereign democrat in twelve inspiring poses.

At 37.09 rubles apiece (around 54 euro cents), the calendars are a steal. Some of my friends and relatives may balk and even barf when they unwrap their presents on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s this year, but decades from now they will thank me for having given them a collector’s item that is sure to quintuple in value, at least, as its subject’s fourth term in office extends to a fifth, segues into a sixth, drags on into a seventh, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

Sure, the cashier looked at me a little funny when this and another personality pinup calendar I had found in the store were rolling down the belt towards her scanner, but she was probably just a tad envious. TRR

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“Our President: A 2018 Gift Calendar”
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2018 at a glance with the world’s favorite marathon mansplainer.
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“Jack of all trades and a master of none, how can a person get anything done?”

_________________

If you’re led around by the nose
You’ll never get to see how the garden grows.
And if you go for the shovel and the hoe
You can’t stop and smell the roses.
Eighteen things at once,
You spread yourself so thin.
You could not find a basket
To put all your eggs in.
Well, Mike, he rowed the boat ashore,
The emperor got some brand new clothes,
But when you walk and chew the gum
You gotta lose a little of something.
Jack of all trades and a master of none,
How can a person get anything done?
You can fool yourself, you can fool anyone.
Jack, jack, jack, jack, jack, jack, jack, jack,
Jack of all trades . . .
—Volcano Suns, “Jak,” from the 1985 LP The Bright Orange Years