Yuri Leiderman: A Horse’s Story

leiderman-horse storyYuri Leiderman, A Horse’s Story, 2018. Oil, watercolor and charcoal on paper, 42 cm x 30 cm. Courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved

__________________________________________________

The Russian Reader is a website that covers grassroots politics, social movements, the economy, and independent culture in Russia and the Russian-speaking world. It is not financed by anyone nor has it ever solicited donations. All work on the website is done for free, and no fees are paid for the articles translated into English and posted on the site. Unless otherwise noted, everything published on the Russian Reader can be reproduced elsewhere so long as the Russian Reader is indicated clearly as the source and a link back to the original post is included in the republication.

Leonid Volkov: Spooks

parasites

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
September 23, 2018

Two completely different stories in two different Petersburg media outlets, Fontanka.ru and Rosbalt, fused into one after I read them.

Rosbalt looked at the early years of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the same guy who not only is in charge of feeding the president and siphons off many billions of rubles from food supply contracts to the Defense Ministry but also privately, as it were, runs unofficial military operations outside Russia. He has the blood of many hundreds of our boys on his hands, boys who died in Syria and other places where they had no business being. Prigozhin was a wild young man. He was several times convicted of theft, robbery, and assault, topping it off with thirteen years in a maximum-security prison.

Fontanka.ru continued its investigation of the series of foreign travel passport numbers that included the passports held by “Petrov” and “Boshirov,” the two Russian men recently implicated in the poisoning of the Skripals. It has transpired that a good number of people whose passport numbers differ from those of the Salisbury duo by only a couple of digits list the headquarters of the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) as their home address. Like “Petrov” and “Boshirov,” they are also people without pasts. Meaning that by covering for “Petrov” and “Boshirov,” our would-be intelligence wizards actually blew the cover of several dozen agents and completely torched their own network.

How are these stories linked, except by the persistence of the bold Petersburg reporters who researched and wrote them? They are stories about the so-called professionalism of the so-called secret services. We are told how tough and almighty the FSO (Federal Protective Service) and FSB (Federal Security Service) are. But we saw what professionalism was worth in their case during the World Cup finals: Petya Verzilov showed the whole world what it was worth. These people, who gave a repeatedly convicted felon access to the president, are professionals? Really? What about the people who came up with the bright idea of issuing all their agents passports whose numbers were ordered sequentially.

I don’t like secret services. Whatever country in the world you pick, their secret services are unprofessional parasites who only know how to puff up their cheeks and pretend to be combating nonexistent threats.

At this point, someone will definitely come along and say, “But what about Israel?” I’m sorry, but with rare exceptions, perhaps, Israel has the same problem. It is simply the logical consequence of the specific nature of their work. They enjoy secrecy, meaning we cannot verify whether a threat really exists, and they are not subject to public oversight. They are heavily funded and have an incredibly broad remit, but there are no corresponding checks and balances.

When the terms of their employment are such, you could hire angels to do their jobs, and after a while the angels would also be bloating their budgets and hiring more and more staff while getting nothing done whatsoever. It is the inevitable consequence of their initial portfolia and human nature. J. Edgar, a terrific serious film, and Burn After Reading, a terrific comic film, illustrate the process of degradation as it plays out in the US.

I would argue that not a single country in the world has figured out what to do about it. You cannot get by without having intelligence services, but it is nearly impossible to change the conditions in which they operate. Everyone basically puts up with the inefficiency and highway robbery for the sake of a minimal albeit necessary outcome.

When compared with the rest of the world, of course, our secret agents and security forces are particularly stupid loafers and especially worthless pests who achieve no positive outcomes.

Leonid Volkov is project manager at Navalny’s Team.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader. The Russian Reader is a website that covers grassroots politics, social movements, the economy, and independent culture in Russia and the Russian-speaking world. It is not financed by anyone nor has it ever solicited donations. All work on the website is done for free, and no fees are paid for the Russian-language articles translated into English and posted on the site. Everything published on the Russian Reader can be reposted as long as the Russian Reader is indicated clearly as the source and a link back to the original post is included in the republication.

Cupcakes

DSCN1728“Cupcakes. Considerably cheaper when you take away. 45% off.”

This post is dedicated to the armchair fascist who recently asked on the readers’ forum of the anti-Semitic, pro-Putin website The Saker whether George Soros financed the Russian Reader.

I will answer the fascist’s oh-so-pertinent question by quoting from the weekly news wrap-up emailed to readers and supporters on Fridays by the folks at OVD Info. I would gather OVD Info is not financed by Soros, either. In fact, I know they are financed by donations from not very well off people like me, people who work for a living and are not financed by anyone but the sweat of their brows.

More than 600 people were detained in Petersburg on September 9. A week later, another unauthorized protest against the pension reform took place in the city. This time, however, only three people were detained during the protest itself. But the police went on a real manhunt for local activist Shakhnaz Shitik. After she photographed a police officer at the protest, the police tried to detain her. They maimed her and sprayed tear gas in her face. Afterwards, Shitik was taken to hospital, but police tried to detain her there as well. Ultimately, her husband was taken to a police precinct, but offiers remained on duty in her hospital ward. Subsequently, Shitik was taken back and forth from the hospital to the precinct several times until she was finally left to spend the night at the precinct. A court ordered her jailed for twenty days, ostensibly for her involvement in a theatrical performance that depicted Putin being chased away by pensioners. In addition, the police made Shitik provide them with a written statement on suspicion she had violated the law against insulting the authorities. A female Center “E” officer who had passed herself off as a reporter at the hospital had taken offense at something Shitik said.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. The Russian Reader is a website that covers grassroots politics, social movements, the economy, and independent culture in Russia. It is not financed by anyone nor has it ever solicited donations. All work on the website is done for free, nor do I pay fees for the Russian-language articles I translate into English and publish. Everything that appears on the Russian Reader can be reposted and republished as long as the Russian Reader is indicated clearly as the source and a link back to my original post has been included.

The Wires

DSCN1673This is what you will typically see when you look up at the sky in central Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

One thing I find especially charming about certain Russians, often academics, who have lived for decades in “straunge strondes” (чужбина), is their conviction, now that the current “vegan” times have permitted them to make occasional and even annual junkets back to the Motherland, that life here is now nearly the same in every respect as back in the straunge strondes.

I’ll leave to one side the political aspects of this queer conviction, focusing instead on a single aspect of everyday life. I’ve heard it said a million times by many a Russian not resident in God’s Heavenly Kingdom on Earth full time or even part time (really) that wi-fi and internet connections here are the top of the pops, so much better than wherever they live, surrounded by black people and Mexicans and uncultured rednecks.

I have to admit that, outside of Russia, my only experience of wi-fi and internet connections over the last ten years or so has been places in the States and elswhere where I’ve stayed for short stretches, including my parents’ farm, my sister’s house in a big city in the Midwest, and the apartments of friends in other cities and countries, as well as my own secret hideout in Free Finland.

In all these places, I enjoyed shockingly fast, nearly outage-free internet and wi-fi connections. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times there were full-fledged outages in Free Finland, and all of them were sorted out in a matter of an hour or two, if not in a few minutes, with the sincerest of apologies by my Finnish providers.

As for the Cradle of Three Revolutions, everything was cool and seemingly getting cooler until sometime in the past year when, I suspect, the FSB placed so many demands, both physical and financial, on internet providers, that they are now no longer capable of doing routine maintenance on their networks and upgrading their hardware and software, despite the growing demand for their services on the part of the taxpaying and fee-paying populace.

But the ISPs serve a higher power—the siloviki—who are so out of their minds right now as to imagine you can organize a revolution on VK by reposting pictures of Nazis and Navalny or something of the sort. They thus have to have ever-increasing capacities for surveilling the peons they rule over like medieval liege lords (or so they imagine), and they have tasked the country’s internet providers with giving them lots of electronic windows into the souls of these traitorious worms.

At least, I hope this is the case, because otherwise the sheer misery and torment visited on us since approximately last spring by our once faithful internet provider, long ago swallowed up by another company from Moscow and bereft of all the charms and virtues it had back in the days when I was one of its first customers, are inexplicable.

Suffice it to say that one look at the junction box in our attic will tell you tell that, in fact, is where the problem lies, and yet every time our internet goes under, which can be several times a day, the mumblers who man the phones at our provider’s tech support service run us through the same routines, all meant to persuade us morons that the problem is with our computers or even with our ignorant selves, not with the woeful state of the junction box in the attic or farther down the line.

Things turn from irritating to tragicomic when our provider sends an actual person to fix the mess. Nearly all of them (at this point, a dozen or so have darkened our door since spring) start out by ringing the changes on our wi-fi router, which supposedly has to be replaced, or the plastic snap connector on the end of the broadband cable or the cable itself.

If we can induce them to go up into the attic and open the junction box or just look at the junction box, which has wires poking out from in in all directions, like a Dalek gone south, they break down and admit the problem is on their end. If they’re kind and competent, they might apply a temporary fix by switching out a couple of cables in the box.

Then we have the joy of living humanity’s shared electronic life for an hour or two, or day or three, or, god forbid, a whole week. Sooner or later, though, the plug will be pulled on our meager joy, and our provider, unable or unwilling to give us the real explanation for the problem (our junction box? their servers back at the head office? SORM?), will plunge us back into their rehearsed routine of selling snake oil to their loyal customers, their nerves shattered, their hearts broken, their ability to do their own work suspended indefinitely.

I think all of us who actually live in the real Russia full time could make a list of the country’s practical shortcomings, without once touching on politics per se, and the list would be long and sobering and, occasionally, incredibly frightening.

But the crypto-Putinists who teach at places like Berkeley and don’t really live here never or hardly ever deal with this failed state, nor do they want to have the really hard talk about how nearly all of these eminently practical failures are caused, ultimately, by wildly bad governance and poisonous, sometimes deadly politics.

And what is the point of having that talk with them? They’ll only get testy and resort to whataboutism, the last refuge of scoundrels. {TRR}

#MONSTERS

monsters-nonretirement“I could have failed to live until retirement.”

MONSTERS
Facebook
September 18, 2018

A powerful anti-anti-abortion protest took place today in Petersburg, but you will not hear about it in any of the mass media.

monsters-wagner“I could have worked for the Wagner Group.”

Until we fail to put a halt to abortions, which, fortunately, annually do away with enough people to populate the city the size of Petersburg, there is no point in discussing or contemplating anything serious.

monsters-repost“I could have been sent to prison for reposting.”

Russia is not only the land of the dead, which has been said more than once, but it is also the land of the unborn.

monsters-election rigger“I could have rigged elections.”

The Russian Federation not only has a past that never was. It also has a future that will never be.

monsters-kitchen boxer“I could have engaged in domestic violence.”

Russia is a failed state. Russia is a fake state.

monsters-sexually harassed“I could have been an object of sexual harassment.”

All Russians, men and women, are in some respect dead men and dead women, but they are also embryos.

monsters-omon“I could have been a riot cop and assaulted people at protest rallies.”

No wonder the stage of (para)political theater has recently been occupied by such figures: aborted embryos telling us they could have been soldiers, for example, and dead women and men, who worked to the grave, but did not live to see a single kopeck of their pensions.

monsters-channel one“I could have worked for Channel One and hoodwinked people every day.”

Bringing together the dead and the unborn was long overdue. This is just what we have done in our protest. We are MONSTERS, a new group of militants in the field of political art in Petersburg.

monsters-torturer“I could have tortured people in prison with a taser.”

We staged our protest in response to the latest move by the pro-lifers, who played heavy on people’s heart strings.

monsters-15000 a month“I could have earned 15,000 rubles a month my whole life.”

We profess and practice monstrous political art. We thus decided to do something even more sentimental.

monsters-syria“I could have gone to Syria to fight.”

You thus see before you dead embryos. They might not have lived until retirement, but in any case they did not survive until retirement.

monsters-died in orphanage“I could have died in an orphanage.”

#MONSTERS

monsters-installation viewA view of the silent protest on Pioneer Square in Petersburg’s Central District

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yekaterina Kosarevskaya: Vegan Times

vegan meals in temporary detention facilityVegan meals issued to prisoners at the Special Detention Facility on Zakharyevskaya Street, where the detainees sentenced to short jail terms for their involvement in the September 9, 2018, anti-pension reform protest rally in Petersburg are serving their time. Photo courtesy of the Telegram channel ONK SPB 16% (16% of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission)

Yekaterina Kosarevskaya
Facebook
September 13, 2018

A court in Penza has extended the time in police custody of the suspects in the Network case.

Formal indictments have been filed, and the case will soon be handed over to the prosecutor. Dima and Ilya [Dmitry Pchelintsev and Ilya Shakursky] have been indicted violating Article 205.4 Part 1 of the Criminal Code [“organizing a terrorist community”]. Dima chose Part 1 himself. Dima has refused to admit his guilt.

I imagine, if there were total knowledge of human nature, this knowledge could be attained by simultaneously understanding Konstantin Bondarev, who went sleepless for two nights as he gave the commands to administer electrical shocks to the suspects in the case, and Dima Pchelintsev, who after spending a year in a remand prison, had to choose between two pieces of paper, one promising him five to ten years in prison, the other, fifteen to twenty, and he chose the one promising him fifteen to twenty years (or is that life in prison?), but which did not contain the phrase “I admit my guilt, and I am sorry for what I did.”

There is no such thing as total knowledge.

Meanwhile, Petersburg had a week chockablock with jail sentences for some of the people who attended two different anti-pension reform rallies. Around a hundred protesters were sentenced to jail time, for a grand total of five hundred days in jail for all convicts. That comes to a year and a half in jail, which is a cushy sentence even for people sentenced under Criminal Code Article 205.6, i.e., failure to report a terrorism-related crime. And what is there to report? This is not a comparison. Comparisons are invidious.

I wanted to be in Penza, of course, but for some reason I returned to Petersburg.

The palliative functions of my civil rights work are still with me, but now they have been turned inside out. Temporary relief is now brought not by the presence of a civil rights defender, but things are made present to the civil rights defender. Before my very eyes hot meals and bed linens appear at police stations, people are released from police stations where they cannot be held, and government-issued dinners marked “VEGAN” are handed out at the Special Detention Center. The only things we cannot handle are bedbugs and violations of the freedom of assembly, and this also gives us peace of mind.

A certain Telegram channel writes that the whole business of rescinding the go-ahead for the September 9 protest rally and the subsequent detaining of six hundred people boils down to a feud between the United Russia faction in the Petersburg Legislative Assembly and Petersburg city hall. (Aren’t they United Russia party members, too?) The channel does something incredible: it attempts to figure out Petersburg politics.

I’m amazed, but I’m afraid to go down that rabbit hole. I had better keep trying to figure out Petersburg’s prisons.

And so it goes this autumn.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Minimum of Solidarity (125 Days)

day 125Award-winning Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for 125 days in the Polar Bear Maximum Security Prison in the far north of Russia. His only demand throughout the strike has been that the Russian authorities release sixty-four other Ukrainian political prisoners, most of them, like Mr. Sentsov, from Crimea, which was illegally occupied by Russia in 2014.

In recent days, I have seen a lot of snide commentary from Russian nationals to the effect that Mr. Sentsov should give up his hunger strike, because it’s obviously not working.

In my opinion, what Mr. Sentsov, who was sentenced to twenty years in prison on trumped-up charges by a kangaroo military tribunal in Rostov-on-Don, does is up to him, don’t you think? I think he should get a free pass when it comes to what he does or doesn’t do after the Putin regime ruined his life while Russian society mostly stood by idly and silently once again.

Oleg Sentsov is a far braver man than most of us can hope to be. If we do not want to help him and refuse to show solidarity with him and his cause, the least we could do would be to refrain from writing and talking about him.

That would be the minimum of solidarity in this case. {TRR}

#SaveOlegSentsov