Extremists (The Serial)

Extremists (The Serial)
Grani.Ru
December 29, 2017

92073Extremists

Hundreds of people throughout Russia are being prosecuted or have already been convicted for voicing their own thoughts, which the current regime does not like. The campaign against dissent has been masked as a campaign against “extremism.” Our video project’s goal is to acquaint you more closely with several so-called extremists. The FSB and the Interor Ministry have spared neither time nor effort in combating them.

Propaganda represents extremists as dangerous people, ready at the drop of a hat to segue to terrorism. Posters hung on billboards in Moscow call on citizens to identify “extremists” on grounds such as the desire to manipulate, megalomania, identification with a hero, a low level of education and culture, and a tendency to risky behavior and devaluing the lives of others.

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Extremists are people ¶ who call for destruction of the country’s integrity, ¶ try and seize power, ¶ organize illegal armed bands, ¶ engaged in terrorist activity, ¶ finance or facilitate terrorist activity, ¶ besmirch the flag, seal, and anthem; ¶ call for the introduction of Russian troops [sic], ¶ spread lies and slander, ¶ incite mutual hatred, ¶ call for violent, sow fear and panic. Psychological portrait of an extremist: aggressive, cruel, radical, many prejudices, stereotypical thinking, irration behavior; low level of education and culture. How to identify an extremist: megalomania, fanaticism, desire to manipulate, tendency to risky behavior and devaluing the lives of others, the search for enemies, self-identification with a hero.” The poster also includes local telephone numbers for the FSB, police, and Emergency Situations Ministry.

Do the subjects of our video project fit the propaganda portrait?

Krasnoyarsk resident Semyon Negretskulov really likes Scandinavia. His blog on the social network VK mainly dealt with Finnish history and modern life in Finland. When he posted a few texts about the Greater Finland project and historical photographs of Vybog (Viipuri) that was enough for the FSB to charge him with promoting Finnish greatness. His call to help political prisoners was also deemed extremism.

Danila Buzanov had to spend a year and a half in prison for an ordinary brawl at the VDNKh in Moscow. “Anti-extremism” police officers from Center “E” turned a fight with a vendor selling Donetsk People’s Republic paraphernalia into charges under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code: inciting hatred and enmity towards the social group “ethnic Russians/Russian citizens who support the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic.”

Boris Yakovlev, a musician from the town of Dno, believes that sooner or later a revolution will happen in Russia. People are poor, the authorities are thieves. When Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia had exhausted its limit of revolutions, Yakovlev reacted like this, “Hey,  Medevedev, who exhausted it? You, the Rotenbergs, the Putins, the Chaykas? We haven’t exhausted our limit, Medvedev. He doesn’t want revolutions. Kiss my ass, Medvedev! He doesn’t want revolutions. But we want them to get rid of you Medvedevs and all the rest. What part of his body does this guy think with, huh?”

The FSB regarded this and similar posts as calls to extremism. Yakovlev would have been sentenced to five years in prison, but he did not wait around to hear the verdict and requested asylum in Finland.

Darya Polyudova decided to troll the authorities, who in 2014 demanded the federalization of Ukraine. Polyudova organized a March for the Federalization of the Krasnodar Region. As a result, she was the first person in the Russian Federation to be convicted of calling for federalism.

Alexander Byvshev, a teacher of German in the village of Kroma in Oryol Region has gone to court to face a third set of charges for poems he wrote in support of Ukraine, and a fourth criminal case is in the works. More frightening than the revenge of law enforcement agencies has been the reaction of his fellow villagers.

These are just a few of the many hundreds of cases of Russians who have been prosecuted for words, opinions, and reposts. You can find a collection of banned “extremist” content at  zapretno.info.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Uzbekistan: Living below the Poverty Line

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Per capita gross income by region in the Republic of Uzbekistan, January–December 2017 (in thousands of Uzbekistani soms). Screenshot of a page on the website of the State Statistics Committee of Uzbekistan

Ferghana.Ru
Facebook
January 15, 2018

Uzbekistan: The Majority of the Populace Lives Below the Poverty Line

Let us take a closer look at the figures.

In 2017, the total income of Uzbekistanis was 186.2 trillion soms ($22.877 billion) or 5.8 million soms ($712.60) per capita, as reported by State Statistics Committee of Uzbekistan.

5.8 million soms ($712.6) annually translates into 15,900 soms ($1.95) a day. Per the UN’s standards, people who live on $1.90 a day or less are deemed to be living below the poverty line. Currently, approximately 760 million people worldwide live on such incomes. Whether inhabitants of Uzbekistan have been included in their ranks is not specified.

Meanwhile, according to the republic’s State Statistics Committee, a large part of the country—eight of the twelve regions and Karakalpakstan—lives below the international poverty line. The situation is the worst in Karakalkapstan (where the per capita gross income was 4.129 million soms, i.e., $507.30 annually or $1.38 daily), Jizzakh Region (4.216 million soms, i.e., $518 annually or $1.40 daily) and Namagan Region (4.284 million soms, i.e., $526 annually or $1.44 daily).

Life is best in the city of Tashkent, where the average per capita income was 12.7 million soms (i.e., $1,560 annually or $4.27 daily), Navoiy Region (9.1 million soms, i.e., $1,118 annually or $3.06 a day), and Bukhara Region (6.744 million soms, i.e., $828.60 annually or $2.27 daily).

At the same time, the State Statistics Committee has noted an 10.3% increase in the population’s total income compared to 2016. This indicator grew the most in Khorezm Region (16.8%), Andijan Region (14.7%), and Surkhandarya Region (14.5%). It grew the least in Syrdarya Region (4.5%), Navoiy Region (5.1%), and Tashkent Region (6.6%).

The population’s total incomes includes cash incomes and incomes in kind, and consists of revenues that are repetitive in nature: salaries, pensions, fees, income from self-employment, income from property, and so on.

As of December 1, 2017, the minimum monthly wage is 172,240 soms ($21.10).

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Ferghana News is a leading source of news about Central Asia, and publishes in Russian, Uzbek, and English.

We Will Stop at Nothing to Make Sure You Have Fun

fullsizeoutput_976A migrant maintenance worker fixes a rooftop on Kolomenskaya Street in downtown Petersburg, September 25, 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

Immigrant Janitors to Be Evicted from Tenement Houses for World Cup
Maria Tirskaya
Delovoi Peterburg
January 15, 2018

The scandal caused by plans to evict students from dormitories in order to house the Russian National Guardsmen and policemen who will provide security at this summer’s World Cup matches in Petersburg has taken an unexpected turn. Accommodations for the law enforcement officers have now been found in city-owned tenement houses.

In November 2017, it transpired that the Russian Federal Education and Science Ministry and the Russia 2018 World Cup Organizing Committee had recommended to major universities in several cities where matches would take place to evict out-of-town students from their dormitories before the football tournament kicked off. The plan was the rooms thus freed would house the regular policemen and Russian National Guardsmen who would be policing the sporting events. To this end, universities in Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, and Yekaterinburg were forced to amend their curricula and examination timetables so students would be able to take their exams and clear out of their dormitories before the World Cup began. A scandal ensued. The Russian Student Union asked Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to prevent the forcible eviction of students.

Petersburg officials have come up with another way to find temporary housing for police and the Russian National Guard during the World Cup.

The city’s Housing Committee has drafted a municipal government decree that would provide housing to “legal entities performing tasks related to the provision of enhanced security measures during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Petersburg” in commercial housing stock under lease agreements. The draft decree has been published on the Housing Committee’s website.

In other words, the Housing Committee plans to house law enforcement officers in tenement houses owned by the city.  The first tenement house designed to accommodate out-of-town janitorial and maintenance workers was opened in 2010. Currently, the city’s State Housing Fund owns seventeen tenement houses, which are located both in the city’s central and outlying districts. The cost of renting a single bend in these houses ranges from 2,900 rubles [approx. 42 euros] to 4,600 rubles [approx. 66 euros] a month. We can assume the most popular spots will be in the tenement house at 22 Karpovka Embankment on the Petrograd Side, since it is located closest to the stadium on Krestovsky Island, where all World Cup matches hosted by Petersburg are schedule to be played.

The Housing Committee declined to comment on its undertaking.

Earlier, it was reported most of the events relating to the 2018 World Cup would be policed by Russian National Guard units. They would be responsible for the personal safety of players, coaches, and referees, and monitoring stadiums, fan zones, training pitches, and areas around the stadiums, including the transport infrastructure sites that will handle the movement of fans.

In 2017, during the FIFA Confederations Cup, which took place from May 26 to July 2, and was considered a rehearsal for the World Cup, security in Petersburg was ensured by over 15,500 officers and servicemen from units of the Russian National Guard’s Northwestern District.

The World Cup will take place in Russia from June 14 to July 15 of this year. The matches will be played in Moscow, Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Sochi, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Kazan, Rostov, and Saransk.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Migrant Workers Clash with Russian National Guard in Tomsk

migration centerImmigration Center in Tomsk. Photo courtesy of tv2.today and segodnya.ua

“Inhumane, Wrong, but Nothing Can Be Done”: Migrant Workers on Clashes with the Russian National Guard in Tomsk
Roman Chertovskikh
Takie Dela
January 11, 2018

The Russian National Guard dispersed a crowd of migrant workers in Tomsk on January 9. Over 2,000 foreigners had paralyzed the work of the immigration center and refused to leave, after which security forces used cattle prods and batons against them. Why did it happen?

In 2018, Tomsk Region has received a quota of only a thousand temporary residence permits. Yet the permit is issued only once annually, setting off a brouhaha among foreigners. The queue for those applying for the permit formed on January 2. Eight hundred people were on the list, and they checked in every day. On the day the permits were to be issued, a huge crowd had gathered at the entrance to the immigration center, located on the Irkutsk Highway, by six in the morning. The queue included students at Tomsk universities and workers alike.

The immigration center opened at nine, but work ground to a halt at eleven-thirty. Having serviced only three hundred people, the center’s employees stopped seeing any more clients and declared an emergency. The Russian National Guardsmen and OMON riot cops who arrived at the scene pushed the foreigners back and blocked the entrance to the building.

“Riot Cops Disperse Mob of Migrant Workers in Tomsk with Cattle Prods.” Video published on YouTube, January 8, 2018 [sic], by vtomske

One Center Instead of Numerous Local Federal Migration Service Offices
Most of migrant workers consider policy makers in the presidential administration responsible for the incident. Whereas last year foreigners were served by various local offices of the Federal Migration Service (FMS), as of this year all of Tomsk Region [the sixteenth largest region in Russia, although not all of its land mass is habitable—TRR] is served by one center.

“Since the ninth [of January] I have been busy running round to various government offices, trying to find someone who could help me and other students. I have so far struck out. I have been trying to get a temporary residence permit for four years running. I always encountered queues and crowding, but this was the first time I witnessed such a nightmare,” says Günel, a Kazakhstani citizen and second-year grad student at Tomsk State University.

According to Günel, it is wrong to issue a thousand permits at the same time on the same day, although the young woman is not eager to condemn the actions of the police.

“I cannot say anything bad about the Russian National Guard and OMON riot police acted. They were doing their jobs, after all. I saw the cattle prods, and I saw them being used, but I did not notice the police beating anyone up, as has been written about a lot in the media instead of analyzing the causes of the situation. I was not in the crowd. To break through to the front door, you would have had to stop at nothing, pushing women and old men aside. It’s also hard to blame the people who generated the crush. They had been waiting for their permits for a year, and some of them had waited longer. There were young students in the queue, and ethnic Russians who had decided to return to their historic homeland. There were also a lot of people from other countries who need a temporary residence permit to avoid paying for a work permit every month. Basically, they could not care less about citizenship.”

Günel argues that a thousand temporary resident permits is much too few for Tomsk, so permits are obtained through personal connections from year to year. She does not believe it is possible to issue a thousand permits in two hours.

Unjustifiably Small Quotas
Seil, a Tomsk State University anthropology grad student from Kyrgyzstan and employee of the company Immigrant Service, argues the clashes were the consequence of administrative errors caused by the peculiarities of the quotas. Temporary residence permits are issued only in keeping with the demands of the labor market. If Tomsk Region needs a thousand foreign workers, it does not matter how many people come to the region over and above the thousand-person quota, and how many of these people are university students.

According to Seil, numerous immigrants, in fact, work in the city of Tomsk and Tomsk Region illegally, without a legal permit.

“Then why, I wonder, are we talking about the need for foreign labor and setting quotas on the number of laborers at the same time? Everyone knows the actual circumstances are extremely different from the circumstances on paper, but no one tries to change the status quo,” Seil says, outraged. “Unfortunately, we have to follow the regulations. It is inhumane, wrong, and ugly, but if 1,001 people come and apply for temporary residence permits when the quota is 1,000, nothing can be done for the ‘superfluous’ person.”

Seil argues it is not profitable for Russian state agencies to issue temporary residence permits, but those who have work permits are forced to pay 3,500 rubles [approx. 50 euros] a month in Tomsk Region.

“It is unprofitable, of course, for the state to lose this source of revenue. Tomsk Region makes several million [rubles?] a year from the tax on the work permit alone,” says Seil. “I’m certain that if the quotas were set so the numbers reflected the circumstances in the region, there would not be a huge difference between supply and demand, and emergencies would be prevented. Something similar happened last year. People nearly broke the door down, there was such a brouhaha.”

Seil condemns the actions taken by employees of the immigration center.

“Maybe an emergency really did occur, but why was it necessary to close the doors at 11:30 a.m.? They could have tried to resolve the difficulties. Employees at such institutions like to boast that if closing time is 6 p.m., they won’t work a minute later than 6 p.m. Sure, they wear uniforms [i.e., because the FMS was dissolved, and a new immigration entity was established within the Interior Ministry, that is, within the Russian national police force—TRR], but why treat people that way? They could have worked at least another ninety minutes, until lunch time, in order to take the situation down a notch.”

Quotas have been reduced nationwide in 2018, not only in Tomsk Region. In November 2017, the Russian government approved a quota that provided for only 90,360 temporary residence permits, which was 19,800 fewer permits than were allowed the previous year. In 2016, however, the quota was 125,900 temporary residence permits, and in 2017 it was 110,160.

According to a prognosis by Rosstat, Russia’s able-bodied population will have decreased by seven million people by 2025. A reduction like this cannot be compensated only by increasing the Russian population’s labor productivity and economic activity, so an influx of immigrants is necessary for economic growth.

Translated by the Russian Reader

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union in Russia

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union
The reason for the rapid dissolution of Alexei Etmanov’s union was a complaint about what it does: defending the rights of workers 
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
January 12, 2018

The St. Petersburg City Court’s decision to dissolve the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (MPRA) at the request of the prosecutor’s office has not yet come into force. But the case itself clearly illustrates the current regime’s suspicious attitude towards independent trade unions that do not restrict their activities to handing out discounted holiday packages and tickets to children’s New Year’s celebrations.

MPRA was registered in February 2007. Its core consisted of the trade union of autoworkers at the Ford plant in the Petersburg suburb of Vsevolozhsk, famous for its pay rise demands and defense of workers’ rights. The emergence of a trade union that vigorously and effectively defended workers at foreign-owned plants was no accident. There is no legacy at such plants of servile, Soviet-era trade unions, which were once part of the management machine. Foreign companies have been forced to deal with the right of workers to go on strike and other means of self-defense against overtime and layoffs.

According to MPRA chair Alexei Etmanov, his career as a trade union activist kicked off randomly, in part. In 2001, soon after the Ford plant went on line, as one of the leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) local at the plant, Etmanov was invited to a congress of Ford trade union workers in North and South America. According to Etmanov, it was then he realized a real trade union not only handed out benefits and formally coordinated management’s decisions but also consistently defended the rights of employees from groundless redundancies, unpaid overtime, and other forms of managerial tyranny.

MPRA never concealed its membership in the IndustriALL Global Union, which has fifty million members in 140 countries worldwide, nor did its activities previously trouble the Russian authorities. MPRA’s troubles began after a pro-regime blogger, who saw signs of political activity in the trade union’s work and accused it of hiding its status as a “foreign agent,” filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. The complaint led to an audit, and later, in December 2017, the prosecutor’s office filed suit with the court, asking it to dissolve MPRA.

The prosecutor’s key claim against MPRA (Vedomosti has obtained a copy of the lawsuit) was that it received financing from abroad and had not registered as a “foreign agent.” MPRA’s crusade to amend labor laws and its solidarity with protests by Russian truckers against the introduction of the Plato road tolls system in 2015—the ordinary work of a normal trade union in a country with a market economy—have been depicted as “political activity” by the prosecutor’s office. The lawsuit also includes claims that appear to be pettifogging, in particular, that MPRA incorrectly listed its official address, that it originally registered in a manner not stipulated by law, and so on.

Yet the lawsuit does not contain any mention of demands by the prosecutor’s office to eliminate the shortcomings it has, allegedly, identified. For example, in 2015, after such demands were voiced and corresponding changes made, the Supreme Court dismissed the Justice Ministry’s suit asking that Memorial be dissolved. In Petersburg, the prosecutor petitioned the court to dissolve the trade union, no more, no less. According to Yulia Ostrovskaya, a lawyer at the Center for Social and Labor Rights, this is excessive punishment. The judgment for the plaintiff is tantamount to calling into question Russia’s observance of the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, signed by the Soviet Union in 1956. The convention’s third article guarantees the right of workers and employers to draw up their own constitutions and rules, freely elect their representatives, and formulate their own programs, while the fourth article states that professional organizations shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority.

The circumstances reflect the regime’s growing suspicion toward independent trade unions that have not joined the Russian People’s Front (the FNPR joined the Front in 2011, for example) and insist on defending the rights of workers, notes Pavel Kudyukin, a council member at the Confederation of Labor of Russia. Authorities in some regions have accused the MPRA that they scare away investors, while courts have ruled that IndustriALL’s brochures are “extremist.” If, however, the Petersburg court’s decision is upheld by the Russian Supreme Court, it would be a terrible precedent, argues Kudyukin. All trade unions could declared “foreign agents,” include pro-regime trade unions, since many of them of belong to international trade union associations, from which they receive funding for training activists and making trips abroad.

Labor protests in Russia in terms of percentages of those involved, 2008–first half of 2017. Red = spontaneous; pink = trade union locals; dark blue = national trade unions; gray = workers’ committees; light blue = political parties and grassroots organizations; pale blue = other. The percentage may exceed 100% if several actors were involved in the same protest. Courtesy of the Center for Social and Labor Rights

Offside: Number of Migrant Workers in Petersburg to Be Reduced Ahead of World Cup

DSCN2000A migrant worker shovels snow and ice in central Petersburg, December 21, 2017

Offside: Number of Migrant Workers in Petersburg to be Reduced Ahead of World Cup
Yelena Dombrova and Marina Vasilyeva
Delovoi Peterburg
January 11, 2018

Petersburg is preparing for the World Cup by tightening the residence rules for migrant workers. New federal laws could prevent restoring the flow of migrant workers, without whom the city’s economy is still unable to manage.

This year might prove critical for migrant laborers working in Petersburg. The flow of workers from other countries, which had picked up again last year after devaluation of the ruble, will be subject this year to legal restrictions, including restrictions occasioned by the World Cup.

Petersburg is one of the Russian cities where, from May 25 to July 25, 2018, the registration of foreigners at place of stay or place of residence will be executed within twenty-four hours from the date of arrival, rather than within seven days, as now. Such measures are stipulated by Presidential Decree No. 202, dated May 9, 2017, says Olga Duchenko, senior lawyer in the corporate and arbitration department at the firm Kachkin and Partners. People who violate the law in Petersburg will face fines between 5,000 rubles and 7,000 rubles [between 70 and 100 euros, approximately]. Foreigners can also be expelled from Russia.

The World Cup will be held in Russia between June 14 and July 15 of this year. The matches will be played at twelve stadiums in eleven Russian cities, including Petersburg. Our city will host matches between Morocco and Iran (June 15), Russia and Egypt (June 19), Brazil and Costa Rica (June 22), and Argentina and Nigeria (June 26). In addition, the city will host a second round match, a semi-finals match, and the third-place match.

This year, a number of laws on the registration of migrant workers will be tightened. The Russian parliament is thus currently discussing a law bill, now at the amendments stage, that would toughen criminal liability for fictitious registration of a foreigner or stateless person, says Duchenko. At the preliminary review stage are changes to the law on immigrant registration that would permit employers to cancel the registration of dismissed migrant workers.

The Recovery Will Become More Difficult
The number of migrant workers in Petersburg grew last year Thus, Petrostat, which relies on place of stay and place of residence registration data, has reported on the first nine months of 2017. 22,300 migrant workers from the CIS countries registered in Petersburg during this period, which is 71.5% more than during the same period the previous year. 10,300 migrant workers left the city, which is 20% fewer than the previous year.

Influx of Migrant Workers from CIS Countries to Petersburg, January–September 2017 

migration flows graphic-dp
The list of countries is as follows: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. Courtesy of Petrostat and Delovoi Peterburg

This year’s figures could prove to be exactly the opposite. Russia has already reduced the quota for temporary registrations issued by nearly 20% compared with 2017. Only 90,400 permits are planned for 2018. The reduction has affected the Northwestern Federal District as well.  The quota for obtaining temporary residence permits in 2018 will be 6,600 permits, as opposed to 9,300 permits in 2017. This is the most noticeable decline in recent years. In 2016, the quota was 10,000 permits; in 2015, it was 11,100 permits.

Nevertheless, a shortage of workers in Petersburg and Leningrad Region is not anticipated [sic].

“The overall number of migrant workers never exceeded five percent in the Losevo Group of Companies,” says Valeriya Ivanova, a development specialist with Losevo. “They are most employed at the dairy and on the farms as unskilled workers in accordance with immigration law.”

Ivanova stresses the group’s main production facility is located in Leningrad Region, far from Petersburg. Therefore, Losevo’s management is keen on employing local residents, i.e., the residents of the town of Svetogorsk and the village of Losevo, in the region’s Vyborg District.

Fire Them Just in Case
Changes to quotas could prove more palpable in the Petersburg labor market. Now, according to Russian Federal Government Decree No. 1467, as of January 1, 2018, employers can hire no more than 15% foreigners to work in retail alcohol and tobacco shops, and no more than 28% in companies engaged in passenger and freight transportation. As of January 1, migrant workers are forbidden to work in street trading and produce markets altogether. The proprietor, in possession of a license, should be the only person behind the counter.

“On the other hand, the quota for migrant workers in agriculture has been raised to fifty percent of jobs,” notes Chermen Dzotov, founder of the legal firm Dzotov and Partners.

Yuri Ragulin, owner of a chain of trading pavilions, is indignant.

“What is this? Tolerance or something? The fact is that, historically, Azeris have worked in the vegetable trade, for example. Why clamp down on this? What does it do for us? People have been in the business for eleven generations, they know what they’re doing. What I don’t understand is how I’m going to go out tomorrow and sell vegetables by myself.”

Ragulin believes that quotas in the retail trade will cause many people to go underground, leading to an increase in expenses, including bribes, and this will be reflected in the prices of goods.

“As for the World Cup, first, it lasts a month, and second, I have no clue why my shop at the train station in Zelenogorsk, for example, should be affected by the World Cup,” Ragulin concludes.

Petersburg human rights activists who deal with migrant workers note that many city policemen know how to say “Pay me 5,000 rubles” in Uzbek.

Ashot Efendiyev, owner of Monolith LLC, says that hiring foreigners to work behind the counter of a shop, market stall or kiosk has already been forbidden since May 2013.

“We don’t do it, because it’s simple dangerous. The fines run as high as 800,000 rubles [approx. 12,000 euros],” says Efendiyev. “The ban deals specifically with retail trade work behind a counter. If a person has a license, he can be hired for other work. So we have employed foreign electricians and stevedores. But now I’ve fired them just in case.”

Our sources in private universities that enroll foreigners say document checks of migrant workers have become more frequent. Paid enrollment is one way migrant workers from the near abroad use to stay in Russia legally.

“I think everyone will be expelled now, and our center will soon be shut down altogether,” says a female employee at one such university.

She says their students have always attended classes irregularly, but document checks began in the last several months, and the university administration has started expelling students who have missed several lectures in a row.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Every Tree in the Forest Would Understand You

Every Tree in the Forest Would Understand You
Anastasia Lotareva
Takie Dela
August 11, 2017

In Russia, there are six people left who can tell tales, sing songs, and simply converse in one of the world’s most ancient languages.

The dialects of the Selkup language are unique. For example, they have retained semantic stress (that is, stress that changes the meanings of words). It was inherited from Proto-Samoyedic, the language spoken in Siberia before our era. Researchers from around the world study the Selkup dialects, and Russian linguists recently were awarded an unprecedented grant to research them. If the language of the southern Selkups disappears before scholars are able to record it, what the language has preserved for thousands of years will disappear forever. 

“God got paradise, the Devil got Narym Territory,” laughs an elderly mustached man as he tosses another heavy bag on board the speedboat or kaeski. The boat is moored directly to the shore, since there is no dock. It is loaded with food, parcels, and medicines, as well as children.

“He’s going to his grandma’s. You see that he doesn’t forget to get off at Shpalozavod.”

There are no strangers here at all. The first mate, who sells tickets printed back in Soviet times, regards us with suspicion.

“May I ask where you’re going? To Narym? Whatever for?”

“We’re writing an article about the Selkups.”

“Ah . . . More researchers going to see our Ostyaks.”

He closes the door to the deck. It is strictly forbidden to go on deck when the boat is under speed: the weather is poor, and the boat is badly buffeted. In short order, the small craft jumps right into the middle of the Ob River. On the right is the taiga, on the left is the taiga. For several hours and many kilometers there is nothing but the taiga.

Like Sverdlov and Stalin
There are now less than fifty indigenous minorities in Russia. The list of these peoples was approved at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and it has been constantly revised downward. The Selkups are relatively numerous. There are a few thousand of them in Tyumen Region, fifty in Krasnoyarsk Territory, and nearly two thousand in northern Tomsk Region, where Narym is located. The term Selkup emerged and gradually came into usage in the 1930s. Previously, the names Ostyak and Ostyak-Samoyed were used. They are still used in ordinary, non-scholarly language, and sometimes they seep into official documents. The Selkups tend to call themselves Ostyaks.

Narym. This building was the police station before the revolution. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

The Selkups have been divided the last three hundred years or so. There are the northern Selkups, who live along the Taz and Turukhan Rivers, and there are the southern Selkups, the Narym Selkups, who live in the middle basin of the Ob River. They have different folkways, now nearly erased by time and assimilation, and different dialects. If Selkups speak their native tongues, southerners would not understand northerners. Only they do not speak it. The Selkups started to disappear and assimilate as early as the nineteenth century, and the language retreated when the Selkups settled in Russian villages. Their secretive, forest way of life came to an end.

“An airplane flew to Narym once a week, and ships would arrive daily, not just one, like nowadays, but many. But now we’re like Stalin and Sverdlov, like Sverdlov and Stalin. Hey, young folks, do you know who Stalin is?” a female fellow passenger asks us.

Narym was a free land. In the sixteenth century, it was ruled by the Skewbald Horde, a group of four hundred Selkups, according to the written sources, or five million, as a beautiful brochure published by the local authorities claims. The horde was led by Prince Vonya, an ally of Kuchum Khan, ruler of the Khanate of Sibir. Battered by Cossack detachments and tsarist military governors, the khanate fell. The Skewbald Horde surrendered only after construction of Narym Fortress in the late sixteenth century.

A street in Narym. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

Narym was no longer a free land. Common criminals and enemies of the regime were exiled there, including the Decembrist Nikolai Mozgalevsky, the Latvian communist Jānis Pieče, the Bolsheviks Yakovlev, Shishkov, and Tomsky, and Stalin and Sverdlov, the latter along with his youngest brother. The political prisoners were not guarded very closely, and many of them managed to escape. Stalin, for example, spent only forty-one days of a five-year exile in Narym before grabbing a steamer to Tomsk and traveling from there to Switzerland, where he resumed his revolutionary career.

Little People
“You Russians distort everything. Ostyakh is not what Selkups called themselves, but what the Khanty called them. It means ‘here I am.’ Or take nyar’m, ‘marsh’ in Selkup. But no, you turn it into Narym.”

We are told this by Ludmila Shadrina, a Narym Selkup and former elementary school teacher.

Ludmila Shadrina. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

Ludmila walks quickly, almost at a run, over the boardwalks that do the work of sidewalks in Narym. It is late and quite cold. The museum, which contains three rooms on political exiles and one room on the Selkups, closed much earlier in the day, but Ludmila has agreed with the people who run it to open it for us.

“Not all Selkups like it when people come and interrogate them.”

“But you like it?”

“My cow has been waiting for over an hour to be milked, and yet I’m running around here. But I realize we have to tell people about ourselves.”

I ask Ludmila why this is necessary.

“Because we exist,” Ludmila says.

In front of the little house of the peasant Alexeyev, where Stalin was quartered, is a karamo, a Selkup dugout. The house is authentic, but the karamo is a reconstruction: the Selkups ceased living in them in the early twentieth century. However, Ludmila says her nephew builds the very same dugouts when he hunts sables. Selkups still also build lean-tos, sheds mounted on piles to keep rodents from pilfering victuals.

Dugout at Narym Museum. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

Exhibits at Narym Museum. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

Ludmila, whose Selkup father died young, grew up in a small Selkup village with her Russian mother. All traces of the traditional way of life had vanished. The village was dying.

“Dad took me fishing with him,” says Ludmila. “What can you say? He was an Ostyak and fished well. We were still eating dried fish several years after his death. He was ill and that’s why he took me along. He thought if he kicked the bucket, then at least I, a living soul, would go find people and tell them where his body was. When Dad felt weak, he would lie on the sand, half asleep, half breathing. I would lie next to him, gazing at the forest, at all the bugs. The trees would sway, but what was beyond the trees? Bears? People? I was frightened.”

Ludmila takes us to her sister Raisa’s house, telling us on the way that bears have become more frequent in Narym in the past year. Тhey snatch cows, stroll down the street, and rip dogs to shreds. If people guard one side of the village, they will infiltrate it from the other side. Ludmila feared them as a little girl and still fears them as an adult. Bears are inventive, cagey animals. The surrounding area is chockablock with them.

When she greets us at the door, Raisa suggests “freezing” us, that is, getting out cold fish, so-called chush, cut into large rings.

“Do you go far to fish?”

“We fish right here on the creek.”

The “creek” is Raisa’s name for the Ob, Russia’s longest river.

Narym. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

Neither Raisa nor Ludmila speaks Selkup. They know only certain words.

“It wasn’t the done thing. Yeah, the old people spoke Selkup. We understood them, but replied in Russian, especially after going to boarding school.”

All the children from the tiny Selkup villages were not sent to a regular school in nearby towns, but to special Selkup schools many kilometers away. They were part of the special welfare system for the indigenous minorities of the Russian North, a system crowned by the Institute of the Peoples of the North, which still functions in St. Petersburg. During the impoverished postwar period, the boarding schools provided their young charges with everything from food to clothing. Being sent to such a boarding school was considered good fortune and a privilege. But this same privilege almost completely destroyed the Selkup language and eroded ethnic self-identity. The children would come back home speaking Russian, but more seriously, they no longer wanted to living in the small, impoverished Selkup villages.

Narym. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

Narym. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

I ask Ludmila and Raisa whether they liked boarding school. They answered yes without hesitating. Nourishing food, good clothes, and friends, with many of whom they are still in touch.

A minute later, however, Raisa adds something.

“The boarding school influenced us. We got used to getting ourselves out of scrapes. We worked and we studied, and our parents helped us. But our own children are not independent. They are softer. They cannot do the things we did. I always told myself when I had a child I would not give it away to anyone. This is probably because of the boarding school.”

Boarding school students were teased, but Raisa remembers this without malice.

“Well yeah, we were teased, of course, and people said we drank a lot, that we were poor and narrow-minded. Only certain people would get stuck on this, and I would put my arms on my hips and say, ‘Yeah, I’m an Ostyak. What of it?!’ They didn’t know what to say.”

According to Ludmila, many of her fellow villagers are embarrassed of their ethnicity and identify themselves as Russians.

“Then the neighbors say to them, ‘You have passed yourselves off as Russians, but what you going to do with your Ostyak mug? We’re forest people, little people. Everything gives us away, including our faces and figures.”

The Last Native Speaker
Parabel, the district center, is a large, rich village, founded in the seventeenth century on the site of several old Russian settlements. Nowadays, major oil and natural gas pipelines run through it. Gazprom runs a compressor platform and oil pumping station in the village, and so its freshly paved streets are filled with foreign-made cars, and the rooms in certain hotels are never vacant, because there are many business travelers. There is a cinema, a cultural center, and a large museum, which has grown over the nearly thirty years since the Soviet Union’s collapse from a small in-school museum to a large-scale history and ethnography museum.

“When the Selkups organized themselves, culture got involved. What did you expect?” Irina Fokina, head of the local culture department explains. “They said it to me just like that: ‘Irina Petrovna, the time has come to deal with the small peoples.'”

“Did you know anything about the Selkups before this?”

“When I was at school, we didn’t know any Selkups. The Ostyaks, on the other hand, lived with us, and they were sometimes spoken of poorly,” Fokina falters, choosing her words carefully.

Irina Korobeinikova is the last native speaker of a rare Selkup dialect. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

“They called us ‘second class,'” laconically notes Irina Korobeinikova, the last native speaker of the Narym dialect of Selkup and the person who launched the southern Selkup renaissance.

The notion of a “native speaker” is a quite broad concept, a concept with numerous gradations, ranging from people who remember a few words of their native language from childhood to those who converse with household members in their native language as adults. There are no such people left among the Selkups. Irina speaks Selkup fluently and publishes fairy tales and legends in her native tongue, but as reverse translations. First, she recalls a story or reads a Russian transcription of it, as recorded by ethnographers, and only then does she translate it into Selkup. Her children do not know the language. Even her brother, who grew up with her and has heard his fill of Selkup, converses with his sister in Russian.

“But why doesn’t he want to speak his native language?”

“He says he doesn’t want to and that’s that. Who can say?”

Irina spoke only Selkup until the age of seven, mainly with her grandmother, who raised her six grandchildren. Grandmother hunted and fished. Irina’s mother was also a good hunter. She and her sister would bring in two thousand squirrels per season and turn them over to the Soviet state in return for fabric to make a dress or a cashmere scarf. Did the Russian women hunt? Irina says she cannot recall such a thing. It was a purely Selkup practice.

“Did you call yourself Selkups?”

“We called ourselves chomilkups, forest people. Mom and Dad were identified as Ostyaks in their internal Soviet passports, while I was identified as a Selkup. By the way, when I went to the first Congress of Indigenous Minorities, in Kolpashevo, I raised this question when the head of the passport office spoke. I was indignant. Am I not related to Mom and Dad? I was told the academic world had settled on it. This was how our people were now called.”

Irina’s grassroots activism kicked off during perestroika.

“The authorities really supported us then.”

Korobeinikova recalls with pleasure the Congress of Indigenous Minorities of the North, this time held in Moscow, and meeting Mikhail Gorbachev.

Parabel. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

The place in Parabel where the speedboats to Narym dock. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

“The Yakuts and I went up to him. He had only recently been elected. We congratulated him. He shook our hands, and what soft hands he had. He had only ever held pens and papers in them, not shovels, as we had.”

The Soviet Union’s collapse opened borders, and foreign linguists came to see the Selkups. Irina shows me the first Selkup-Russian dictionary, published in Hungary. She tells me about a trip to Hamburg, where she was invited to translate texts in Selkup, written down by German scholars way back in the late nineteenth century. When I see a photograph of a jolly Japanese woman, dressed in a reconstructed Selkup costume, I cannot stand it anymore.

Hungarians, Germans, and Japanese. Why do the Selkups matter so much to them?

Irina smiles subtly and says, “That is because we’re so interesting.”

Happy People
“One of them just left. She was writing down everything. Either researchers are showing up or Irina comes. They sit down with their laptops and off they go. How did you do this? How did you do that?”

Illarion Ivanovich Izhenbin, a Belomorkanal cigarette dangling from his mouth, pumps the tire on his granddaughter’s bike. He lives in a two-storey stone house. There is a nest in the entryway: five swallow chicks protrude from it. Illarion says it’s a good omen, but the chicks are too loud. Sometimes you can hear them in his flat.

Illarion Izhenbin. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

“Are you tired of talking with researchers?”

“Would that I could remember something. I have lived among Selkups my whole life. When I go fishing, and it’s quiet and there is no one else round, I look at things and translate them silently. What are the Selkup words for stars, moon, and water? I spoke only Selkup until 1957. Do you know Selkup’s distinguishing trait? It has no foul language.”

“How did people curse?”

Homo tat! is the most you can say. It means ‘I’m sick of you,’ ‘Go to hell,’ ‘Don’t hang around here.'”

Illarion was also raised by his grandmother. His father was burned to death in a tank near the Reichstag four days before the Second World War ended, while his mother constantly worked in the fishing fleet of small Selkup village. As a boy, he fashioned arrowheads from tin cans, hunted with a bow, set traps, and fished.

“Granny taught me so well that if you left me in the wild with a knife and matches, I could survive,” he says. “She also always told me to look backwards, between my ears, to make sure there were no animals or bad men behind me. The taiga is not evil, but you can’t say the same thing about men.”

Illarion still goes out hunting, but he brings almost nothing back.

“When I catch sight of a squirrel or chipmunk and take aim, I feel sorry for them. After all, I converse with them. If I kill them, with whom will I converse? We are always asked what constitutes our identity, and it is bound up with hunting and fishing. So now my identity has left me, because I almost never kill animals.”

Illarion’s internal passport lists him as Russian, while his military service card identifies him as Ostyak.

“They came up with these Selkups of yours only when Khrushchev ascended the throne,” he says.

“How were Ostyaks treated?”

“Ostyaks were respected everywhere. I have been through the mill, but I was and always will be an Ostyak. When I meet old acquaintances at the police station, they say, ‘Illarion, for the things you were sent down for, you wouldn’t get three days in jail in our day and age.’ I went to prison camp six times.”

“Did the people in prison know you were an Ostyak?”

“Until I was fifty that was my nickname: Ostyak. Afterwards, they started calling me Grandpa. It means my life is over.”

The docks in Parabel. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

Izhenbin recalls visits by researchers from the University of Vienna and the University of Budapest. There have been lots of Germans.

“I got such a kick from one professor. He and I went fishing. He got himself muddy from head to toe, pulled out some crap half a palm long from the river, and said, ‘Wonderful!’ Do you know what that means in English? The little fish is excellent. Then I took him out to pick pine nuts, and after that we made fish soup and drank vodka. He told me that for him to spend a day like that at home, he would have to work for a whole year, but we live this way all the time. We are happy people.”

Every Tree in the Forest, Every Fish in the River
“There’s a lot of terra incognita in researching Selkups in general and Selkup culture in particular, but you reporters always ask the same questions,” says Grigory Korotkikh, displeased. “For example, why did I, a Russian, take up the study of the Selkup language, and what is written on my t-shirt?”

The slogan on his t-shirt reads, “Every tree in the forest, every fish in the river would understand you if you spoke Selkup.”

Grigory, who is 17, grew up in Seversk, a closed city not far from Tomsk, but we meet in Moscow, where he is attending a linguistics camp.

“I had tried learning different languages of the indigenous minorities of the North. It’s just that I was able to making a living connection with the southern Selkups,” says Korotkikh.

Grigory stresses he is primarily interested in the academic, linguistic aspect, but he almost immediately interrupts himself to say nothing has been done for the Selkup people. There are no books in Selkup, and the language has not been studied in a centralized way.

“We publish academic articles, but only for each other, for other researchers. It means nothing to the Selkups themselves,” he says excitedly. “The Selkups may, in fact, be happy to study their own language, but they have no means to do so.”

Grigory is the Seversk representative of the grassroots organization Kolta-Kup, which promotes the interests of the indigenous peoples of the North. His colleagues predict a big future for him in grassroots activism. There is a lot of work to be done. Local officials say the right things to indigenous peoples, but in practice they are treated as colorful ethnographic attractions, entertainment for tourists, and a means of reporting to higher-ups that the officials have been solving the problems of the local populace. Activists have not even been able to get a full-time position of Selkup language teacher established in the schools. Ludmila Shadrina in Narym and Irina Korobeinikova in Parabel ran their Selkup language and culture clubs at their own behest.

Non-Russian Languages
Tomsk is a university town. When you drive down the city’s main boulevard, still called Lenin Avenue, you pass Tomsk Polytechnic University, Tomsk University of Control Systems and Radio Electronics, and Tomsk State University. Nadezhda Fedotova, a linguist at TSU, tells me how Tomsk and Moscow scholars managed to get the first academic mega grant in the field of linguistics, thus becoming part of an unprecedented program for financing university-level research in Russia.

The linguists’ overarching goal, which they stated in the application for the mega grant, is to describe the languages of Southern Siberia as fully as possible. Andrei Dulzon, a Soviet linguist, ethnologist, and archaeologist, began tackling the problem in the mid twentieth century. Exiled to Tomsk in 1941 as an ethnic German, Dulzon had lost everything from the ability to work in his profession to his unique card catalogue of dialects. In 1943, he was enlisted to work in the mines, but a year later the authorities relented and allowed the researcher to work at the Tomsk Pedagogical Institute. Dulzon had specialized in German dialects in Moscow, but in Tomsk he took up a new area of research, the indigenous peoples of Siberia, and carried out a revolution in the field. He encouraged archaeologists to excavate Siberian burial mounds, and he organized regular ethnographic and linguistic expeditions that collected so much raw data it is still being processed.

Nadezhda Fedotova, researcher at Tomsk State University’s Linguistic Anthropology Lab.  Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

“Our ethnologist colleagues in Tomsk had already won a mega grant, and the tradition of researching minority languages has been a good one,” says Fedotova, “so it was decided to set up a linguistic anthropology lab here under the direction of Anna Dybo. And there she is!”

A corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the linguist and Turkologist Anna Dybo rides her bike toward the university library, which houses the lab. It is eight in the evening, but no one is planning to go home, despite the fact the linguists had to attend continuing education lectures all day.

According to Dybo, the lab currently employs seventy people: its funding is incomparable to any research group in the west. The most expensive line item in its budget are the expeditions to meet with native speakers of minority languages, but a lot of money is also spent on processing the data they collect and publishing it in the shape of huge dictionaries and text corpora. A text corpus is a gigantic structured set of texts, selected and processed according to certain rules, which is used to study a language, test statistical hypotheses, and validate linguistic rules. For all this to work, programmers and linguists must engage in a nonstop collaboration. At first, they worked for the sheer joy of it, but nowadays Russian technical designs are a product willingly purchased in the west. In addition to processing material that has already been collected, computer technology is used in field work, for example, a system that catches the way a person perceives a spoken word by tracking certain eye movements.

“Did you know the Selkups have a word meaning all colors at once?” asks Yulia Normanskaya, doctor of philology and head of the university’s Uralic languages department. “Green, blue, yellow, gray . . . Simply put, in their language, grass, the sky, and dandelions are the same color. When you ask them to translate it into Russian, they imagine it as one color.”

Yulia Normanskaya, senior researcher at Tomsk State University’s Linguistic Anthropology Lab. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

Normanskaya got interested in minority languages in her youth after she learned her ancestors had translated the Gospels into the Chuvash language. Consequently, nearly all of them were shot during the Revolution.

“In the late nineteenth century, the Russian Orthodox Church set up a Translation Commission to publish books in non-Russian languages,” she explains. “The primary aim was to spread the Word of God among minorities, but they published not only liturgical literature but also dictionaries and children’s tales.”

There were also medical brochures, e.g. “On Cholera,” “On Trachoma,” and there were moral tracts. Many of these publications have been lost irretrievably, although some have been preserved at the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. Another set was unexpectedly discovered in Finland. Normanskaya was looking through the card catalogue at the Helsinki Library [sic] and found information there about the publications of the Translation Commission. The booklets were simply lying in boxes, unsorted. No one had been making use of them or done any research on them. The find included three large books in Selkup, among them a complete translation of the Old and New Testaments, although the received opinion was that alphabets had been devised for the vast majority of indigenous peoples, including the Selkups, in the 1930s under Stalin. In Soviet times, the books of the Translation Commission were discussed pejoratively and accused of being primitive. However, by working with modern native speakers of minority languages, researchers have shown that, in fact, the books were a quite accurate record of the living languages.

“When you compare a map of native speakers of minority languages in the early twentieth century with the current map, the impression is, of course, completely catastrophic,” says Normanskaya. “Even when Dulzon was active, there were dozens of villages where people spoke only Selkup. Currently, there are six people who can tell tales, sing songs, and generally speak the central and southern dialects.”

Statuettes in the park at Tomsk State University. Photo courtesy of Anton Unitysn/Takie Dela

The Selkup dialects are unique. For example, they have retained semantic stress (that is, stress that changes the meanings of words). It was inherited from Proto-Samoyedic, the language spoken in Siberia before our era.

“On the one hand, we see an impoverished daily life in which people barely speak their native tongue, and many are ashamed to admit they are Selkups. On the other hand, we find a unique language that has retained ancient features over the millennia, a language that converts into Enets, Nganasan, and other geographically remote languages with mathematical accuracy,” says Normanskaya.

If the language of the southern Selkups disappears, and researchers do not record it in time, what has been passed down through the centuries and preserved in the language for thousands of years will remain unknown forever.

“But if we described these dialects,” adds Normanskaya, “it would be one more proof that languages change in an amazingly systematic way. By converting words from one language into another according to mathematically exact rules, we can restore the pronunciation of the Siberian languages that existed before our era.”

I ask Normanskaya whether we should preserve a language if people do not want to speak it. Norman smiles and, instead of answering my question, recounts how the Soviet linguist Valentin Rassadin invented the Tofa alphabet in 1988. At the time, the Tofas themselved did not converse in their native tongue at all. In the 1990s, actvists in the Tofalar ethnic movement got the Tofa language, as written in Rassadin’s alphabet, on the curriculum of schools and kindergartens, and currently there are whole villages that speak Tofa. The Tofalars consider the linguist Rassadin a national hero.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Valery Dymshits: What Boycotting the Presidential Election Would Mean

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Valery Dymshits
Facebook
January 7, 2018

Recently, discussions whether it makes sense to boycott the presidential election or, on the contrary, whether you should vigorously exercise your right to vote have been flaring up on the web ever more emphatically. I was involved in one such discrete discussion. Its instigator, Alexei Kouprianov, recommended I publish my comments as a separate post.

There are currently no presidential elections in our country, neither elections with alternative candidates nor elections with a single candidate, neither competitive elections nor non-competitive elections. There are no presidential elections at all. For the time being, there are regions in Russia that are electoral anomalies, while all other regions do the right thing, so to speak. In those regions, you need not worry how long ballot stuffing has been going on, and it is no problem to rewrite the final official vote tally reports. So, for all intents and purposes, elections have been abolished. What matters, therefore, is not Putin’s apparent impending victory. The procedure could not even be passed off as a sound sociopolitical survey, answering the question of how many folks in Russia are for the Reds, how many are for the Whites, how many are for apples, and how many are for pears.

Since no election will take place, this should tone down the debate to a certain extent. This is my call for peace and a peaceable tone among those debating involvement and non-involvement in the election. Those who will go to the polls and those who do not are in the same straits. Neither the former nor the latter will be taking part or not taking part in an election, whatever they imagine they are doing, because objectively, that is, regardless of subjective impressions, you cannot take part in something that does not exist.

You cannot take part in it, not in the sense it is forbidden to take part, but in the sense it is impossible to take part.

The only thing that remains to be seen is what behavior is preferable given the circumstances.

The people currently involved in the electoral process have never been able to get back the significant numbers of votes stolen from them nor have they been able to make this highway robbery the subject of a serious public debate. This is possibly not their fault, since the Russian judicial system is dysfunctional, but that is not my point. The existing parties and candidates will try and raise the turnout by campaigning for themselves. In this wise, the candidates and the Kremlin are pursuing the same end. Later, a final vote tally will be whipped up for them in keeping with deals made before the elections or, on the contrary, they will be conned. This is no concern of ours. That is, the well-known scenario, implemented many times before, will be reprised. In short, we have been through this before.

What we have not been through before is a serious, well-organized boycott, although they were some calls for boycotts in the past. At least there is chance to find out on the ground whether we have a chance of organizing an election boycott or not, whether it has an effect on anything or not. This, at least, would expand our experimental knowledge of the subject.

Simple mathematical calculations have shown a decreased turnout increases the percentage of votes cast for Putin. But do we care what percentage of votes are cast for him, whether it is 65% or 75%, if the final figures are knowingly false and dictated by the top bosses? In the extreme case, if only solid Putin supporters turned out to vote, he would take home 100% of the vote, and that would be utterly unacceptable, because a European leader cannot win 100% of the vote, and Putin is well aware of it.

A noticeable decrease in the turnout, one that was clearly distinguishable from the statistical margin of error, would be tantamount to saying a considerable segment of the Russian populace had concluded that elections in Russia were wanting, to say the least. This would be an important political outcome.

For the time being I leave aside additional moral perks, say, deliberate non-participation in a fictitious process, non-participation in events approved by the Kremlin, etc.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

P.S. Every reporter or “Russia expert” who has written or been tempted to write something like, “With an 80% approval rating, Putin should easily cruise to victory in March,” should be made to read multi-talented Valery Dymshits’s short but sweet piece on why there are no such beasts as elections in Russia and the possible political benefits of a more or less massive non-turnout to the non-election scheduled for March.

I would like to add that every such reporter and “Russia expert” should be made to read this short primer on what amounts to common knowledge in Russia right before they are fired and drummed out of the profession, but the angel in me reminds me that some people cannot help liking and supporting tyrants and imagining that lots of other people like them, especially in “inferior” countries.

That it’s accredited journalists and academics involved in this baseless condescension should not surprise you. It’s always easier to get along in life if you say and do what the majority of your so-called peers and colleagues are doing, especially if you’re mansplaining a place where you don’t actually live and about which you are really quite clueless, and you get paid to do this more or less harmful work.

I thought the attack on the Russian pollocracy that was mounted by me and several other people several years ago had begun to make a dent, that some journalists and “Russian experts” were coming to see the light that polls and elections are nearly always rigged in Putinist Russia and thus provide us with nearly zero knowledge of what “Russians really think.” But I had forgotten that most reporters are lazy and many academics are dazzled by tyrants and numbers as “scientific facts.” With Putin’s self re-election just around the bend, push has come to shove, and the unprovability of his actually nonexistent popularity has been shoved back under the rug. TRR

Kefir the Plough

punisher-it's a lonely row to hoe

I cannot discern grace.

A child of God may have the kingdom of grace in his heart, and yet not know it. The cup was in Benjamin’s sack, though he did not know it was there; so thou mayest have faith in thy heart, the cup may be in thy sack, though thou knowest it not. Old Jacob wept for his son Joseph when Joseph was alive; so thou mayest weep for want of grace, when grace may be alive in thy heart. The seed may be in the ground, when we do not see it spring up; so the seed of God may be sown in thy heart, though thou dost not perceive it springing up. Think not grace is lost because it is hid.

Before the kingdom of grace come into the heart, there must be some preparation for it; the fallow ground must be broken up: I fear the plough of the law has not gone deep enough: I have not been humbled enough: therefore I have no grace.

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Today on The Archers:

At Bridge Farm Susan is keen to start promoting the kefir again now that Christmas is over. However, Helen is far too busy, and insists she’ll have to wait for Tom to return from his conference. Susan devises a market research project of her own, and starts pouncing on customers at the Ambridge Tearoom. Fallon and Emma worry that she’s scaring away customers, and do their best to moderate her zeal. Eventually Emma puts her foot down: the Tea Room is not the place for Susan’s market research.

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What Emma says to Susan when she puts her foot down over the latter’s sinister kefirization of the Ambridge Tea Room:

Take Life or Nonlife in the Anthropocene and the Meteorocene. Geology and meteorology are devouring their companion discipline, biology. For if we look at where and how life began, and how and why it might end, then how can we separate Life from Nonlife? Life is not the miracle—the dynamic opposed to the inert of rocky substance. Nonlife is what holds, or should hold for us, the more radical potential. For Nonlife created what it is radically not, Life, and will in time fold this extension of itself back into itself as it has already done so often and long. It will fold its own extension back into the geological strata and rocky being, whereas Life can only fall into what already is. Life is merely a moment in the greater dynamic unfolding of Nonlife. And thus Life is devoured from a geological perspective under the pressure of the Anthropocene and Meteorocene. Life is merely another internal organ of a planet that will still be here when it is not, when we are not, undergoing its unfolding, creating who knows what. Will Life be a relevant concept there? If not, perhaps Nonlife will finally be freed from Life’s anxiety, freed from being Nonlife, or as Luce Irigaray might have said, from being the other of the same, freed to finally be the other of the other.

Until then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the emergence of geontopower is mobilizing very similar techniques and tactics that we saw when we were looking at late liberalism. We hear all around us the coming Event, the catastrophic imaginary orienting and demanding action—the last wave, the sixth extinction. And yet pulsing through various terrains is a very different temporality—the river becomes a polluted dump; the fog becomes smog; rock formations become computer components. Is this why the poetics of the quasi-event stitch together the environmental studies of Rob Nixon, the affective optimisms of Lauren Berlant, and the crumbling worlds of settler liberalism? It is most certainly why we see the constant seduction of older late liberal politics of recognition: the sudden realization, the welcoming of an otherwise into what already exists, the extension of qualities we already most value and create most of our value from to the other.

Get out the musical instruments. Put on the robes. Say a mass of remembrance for the repose of the souls of the dead. Cling to life if even in the form of its mass extinction.

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I can imagine listeners will have a lot to say about the further radicalization of The Archers on this week’s edition of Feedback.