Russian Diplomation

Dmitry Gudkov
Facebook
April 14, 2021

You, of course, have already seen this photo, which can even now be inserted into a history textbook to illustrate Russia’s foreign policy at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The military attache of the Russian Federation in Latvia, Ruslan Ushakov, flipped off neighbors who complained about him for having a feast during the plague, that is, a party during the covid pandemic. Everything about the photo is lovely, including the fact that the attache hid from the police, but then ran back out into the yard. And the fact that he was rude from behind a fence, confident that no one could get at him here, and even that he favored the spiritless western fuck-you over the traditional Russian kukish (“fig”).

No director could have produced a better metaphor for the Russian authorities. When it comes to their thoughts, their families, and their wallets, they live in the West. They are terribly afraid of retribution, so the Magnitsky Law cuts them like a knife. They are rude to everyone around them when they know that they will not be able to get to them. Because in front of them, instead of a fence, we stand, unwitting or voluntary hostages.

And one more thing. Would you make indecent gestures to your neighbors, and so enthusiastically? I wouldn’t. Would you steal bicycles in a city? Deal drugs? What other exploits have Russian diplomats been up to recently?

Russian diplomats are the face of our country,  and so this is how our country looks to the world. And in this case you cannot even say that there is no need to blame the mirror. I see myself in the mirror, not Ushakov and his fuck-yous. And you, too, are unlikely to recognize yourself in it. This is scum from the bottom of the pond that has floated to the surface. And while some people catch their fish in this muddy water, we are suffocating.

No, this is not what I was taught at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry in the early noughties.

_______________

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been growing for weeks following the breakdown of a ceasefire in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2014, and a massing of Russian forces nearby. Yesterday Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, admitted that Russia had built up two armies and three airborne units on its western borders for “combat-training exercises”. Russian amphibious vessels have also moved from the Caspian to the Black Sea. Ukraine claims that there are 40,000 Russian troops on its eastern border and 40,000 more in Crimea. Tod Wolters, the commander of America’s European Command, said the build-up “mirrors the size and scope and scale” of that which preceded Russia’s previous invasion. But war might not be Russia’s ultimate goal. It may just be to intimidate Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, into offering concessions over Donbas—such as greater autonomy for pro-Russian separatists—and to test just how far America and Europe will go in supporting Ukraine.
-The Economist Espresso, 14 April 2021

Geolocations of Russian military equipment movements on the borders of Ukraine: an interactive map

Russia has deployed a field hospital on the border with Ukraine – German media (photos, videos)
Fokus
April 14, 2021

Russian military camp south of Voronezh Photo: Tagesschau

To the south of Voronezh, the Russian military has built an entire tent city, equipped with a field kitchen and guarded by military police

The Russian army has deployed a huge field military camp near the Ukrainian border, south of Voronezh, which includes a field hospital, as reported by the German news program Tagesschau.

“The entire field is filled with military equipment. You can’t walk there, let alone drive. With their chains and wheels, they plowed up the whole field,” a local resident told the program.

Israel Defense Forces officer and military analyst Yigal Levin noted in a column for Fokus that the deployment of field hospitals is a grave sign of preparations for full-scale military operations.

According to Tagesschau, eyewitnesses told them that the military has built a whole town out of tents. Flags are flying everywhere, smoke is coming from smoke vents, military trucks with water tanks are constantly passing by, and a field kitchen is up and running.

The field camp is patrolled by military police.

All evidence suggests, Tagesschau notes, that the Russian servicemen have settled in this area for the long haul and are not going to leave quickly.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday, April 13, that all “verification activities” currently taking place near the borders of Ukraine and involving the participation of Russian servicemen, were scheduled to be completed “within two weeks.”

Also, an interactive map tracing the movements of Russian troops toward the borders of Ukraine has appeared on the internet. It records all instances of the transfer of Russian army equipment, weapons and personnel to the borders of Ukraine and to occupied Crimea.

Iskander operational-tactical missile system units from the Western Military District have been delivered to Voronezh, ostensibly to participate in a parade.

In turn, at a meeting with the French Ambassador to Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran said that Russia is capable of preparing the “Georgia 2008” scenario.

Thanks to Yigal Levin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Our Thaw

Sergei Yolkin, “Thaw.” Courtesy of RFE/RL via Radikal.ru

Our Thaw: a fair court decision as evidence of a catastrophe
The cautionary tale of an “extremist” comment
Ivan Davydov
Republic
April 11, 2021

Let’s start with the good news: “The Kalinin District Court of St. Petersburg refused to grant investigators their request to place under house arrest a local resident accused of exonerating terrorism. This was reported on Friday by the joint press service of the city’s courts. The court imposed a preventive measure against the defendant, Alexander Ovchinnikov, by forbidding him from doing certain things until June 6. In particular, Ovchinnikov is not allowed to leave his apartment between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, to be in places where mass public events are held and to use the internet.”

We should make it clear that we are talking about a terrible state criminal: “The 48-year-old Ovchinnikov was detained on April 7. Law enforcement agencies believe that in August 2020 he posted ‘comments justifying terrorism’ on the RT News in Russian community page on VKontakte.”

First, let us note the uncharacteristic humanity exhibited by the investigators in the case. They could have tried to get Ovchinnikov remanded in custody for such actions, but no, they reined themselves in and only sought house arrest for the perp. Second, this really is good news. The court refused to put Citizen Ovchinnikov under house arrest, deigning instead only to slightly complicate his life. Staying at home at night is much better than staying at home all the time. And sitting around with no internet is incomparably better than sitting in jail.

The court did not make a cannibalistic ruling at all – another reason to rejoice!

When hearing such news, it is customary to joke, “It’s the Thaw all over again.” And also to say (just as jocularly), “Another victory for civil society!” But in this particular case, the second joke is not particularly appropriate. Civil society was not interested in Ovchinnikov’s plight, and no one made any effort to fight for his freedom.

This does not mean that the criminal will escape punishment: the investigators are working, and the court is waiting. There is a good possibility that for his terrible acts (“committed using the media or electronic or information and telecommunications networks, including the internet”), Ovchinnikov could face a heavy fine measuring in the millions of rubles (it’s the going thing nowadays: the big bosses would do not agree to less — times are difficult, the state coffers are empty, people are the new petroleum) or even a stint in prison.

The price of meekness
To be honest, I don’t know what kind of comment Citizen Ovchinnikov left on “RT’s official page.” It is quite possible that it was something stupid. And this is a telling aspect of the story: as part of my job, I have to keep track of trending news via feeds from the wire services. A few years ago, Ovchinnikov would have been a star. All the sane outlets would have written indignantly that a person was being tried for a social media comment. The insane outlets would have written something like, “A dangerous accomplice of terrorists was neutralized by valiant law enforcement officers in the president’s hometown.” We would know, perhaps, not only what exactly Alexander Ovchinnikov did to upset Margarita Simonyan’s underlings, but also all the details of his biography.

Nowadays, however, Ovchinnikov’s case is routine. There are dozens of such cases underway, and you can’t keep track of all of them. A story like this would only arouse interest if a more or less well-known person was under attack. Or the context would matter. We shouldn’t forget that among the criminal cases opened in the wake of January’s pro-Navalny protests, there are two that directly involve social network posts – the so-called Sanitary Case* and the “Involving Minors in Unauthorized Protests” Case. People will be put on trial, and they will be sentenced to prison, fines or probation.

The lack of public interest is understandable and even, perhaps, excusable. But it says a lot about how the Russian state and Russian society have mutated. Everyone regards cases like Ovchinnikov’s as commonplace. Meanwhile, the powers that be have usurped the right to punish people for their words, including words that are obviously insignificant. (Terrorism, of course, is a disgusting thing, but it is unlikely that a comment, even on the page of a propaganda TV channel, will somehow contribute particularly strongly to the success of world terrorism, and I assure you that those who are eager to jail people for social media comments also get this.) The authorities have come up with a lot of different reasons to punish people for their words. Thousands of specialists are busy searching for the wrong words, lives are broken, and careers are made.

But for us civilians it has also become commonplace. We have got used to it, recognized the right of the authorities to do as they like, and stopped being particularly indignant.

When the state is focused on lawlessness, norms are shaped not by deliberately repressive laws, but by our willingness to put up with how they are applied.

Norms and savagery
Fining or jailing people for the comments they make on social networks is savage, after all. Savage but normal. In a short while we’ll be telling ourselves that it’s always been like this. For the time being, however, searching the homes of opposition activists’ parents who have nothing to do with their children’s activism, interrogating journalists and political activists in the middle of the night, and torturing detainees after peaceful protests do not seem to be the norm. But it’s a matter of time — that is, a matter of habit. None of these things have sparked outsized outrage, so they too will become the norm.

But I have a sense that harsh crackdowns on peaceful protests have almost become the norm. What is surprising is when the security forces behave like human beings, as was the case during the Khabarovsk protests, for example. You mean the police didn’t break up the demo? What do you mean, they didn’t beat you? Was something the matter?

I remember how I was struck by a news item reported by state-controlled wire services after the first rally in support of Sergei Furgal: a little girl was lost in the crowd, and the National Guard helped her find her parents. The cops did their jobs, for a change, and that was amazing. The normal performance of their duties by the security forces looked like something completely crazy. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, we are now surprised when a court makes an utterly meaningless ruling that is not at all cannibalistic. It’s the Thaw all over again!

The norm looks wild, and wildness is the norm. So, perhaps, it is possible to describe where the Putinist state has arrived in its political devolution over the past few years. This is its supreme accomplishment.

If we follow the dictionary definitions, we should conclude there has been no state in Russia for some time. This is a different, new growth, and it is most likely malignant.

But this only works in one case – if society capitulates. A creepy monster like ours can only flourish in the ruins of society.

P.S. A trenchant critic might object: as if “they” do not have such a thing — putting people on trial for their words, and persecute for comments. Yes, it happens, of course, it happens. The most democratic of the democratic countries are not averse to biting off a little piece of their people’s freedoms, while grassroots activists, militants guided by the loftiest ideals, are happy to trample on other people’s freedom, and new centers of power, like the social networks, do not want to lag behind.

Recently, Facebook blocked a page run by a group of Moscow amateur historians who posted a text about the capital’s Khokhlovka district for a month for “hate speech.” Try to guess why. [Because “Khokhlovka” sounds similar to “khokhly,” a derogatory term for Ukrainians — TRR.]

Yes, in some sense, the Motherland, having made it a matter of policy to distance itself from the wider world, is following a global trend, however strange that may sound. Well, so much the worse for “them.” And for us. It is thus all the more important to remember how valuable freedom is.

* “The Sanitary Case is a series of criminal cases initiated for alleged violations sanitary and epidemiological norms during the January 23, 2021, protests in Moscow. It has been recognized by human rights defenders as part of the ongoing political crackdown in the Russian Federation. The defendants in the case are FBK (Anti-Corruption Foundation) employees Lyubov Sobol, Oleg Stepanov and Kira Yarmysh, municipal deputies Lyudmila Stein, Konstantin Yankauskas and Dmitry Baranovsky, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, Alexei Navalny’s brother Oleg, head of the trade union Alliance of Doctors Anastasia Vasilyeva, and former FBK employee Nikolai Lyaskin.”

Image courtesy of Radikal.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

A Long Happy Life

“Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense). A Long Happy Life.” Images courtesy of RedBubble

A Long Happy Life
No to commotions and celebrations
No to horizons and celebrations
No to inspirations and celebrations, no, no, no
No fish in the golden polynya
Omnipresence of petty intrigues
Evil twilight of an immortal day
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
Ruthless depths of wrinkles
Mariana trenches of eyes
Martian chronicles of us, us, us
Among the identical walls
In the faraway coffin-like houses
In the impenetrable icy silence
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
No to temptations and celebrations
No to crimes and celebrations
No to exceptions and celebrations, no, no, no
On the seven sharp drafts
Through the swamps, through the deserts and steppes
Through the snow piles, through dirt and through land
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us

Source: Lyrics Translate

 

Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense), “A Long Happy Life” (2004)

 

_______________________

Victor looked out the window at the barge passing by, thinking that everything was still ahead of him, and that the most important thing that should happen in every person’s life would happen to him. And he was convinced of this, although each time he lost more than he found.

Source: Gennady Shpalikov, “A Long Happy Life” (screenplay)

Gennady Shpalikov (director), A Long Happy Life (1966)

Gennady Shpalikov’s first movie as a director, based on his own script, went down in the history of Soviet cinema as an absolutely unique phenomenon. Socialist propaganda seemed to have no power over Shpalikov’s work. Free from cliches, it was like a breath of fresh air in a country that was tightly closed off from the whole world by an iron curtain. A Long Happy Life resembles the films of the French New Wave rather than other Soviet films that were shot at the time. 

Returning from an expedition, a geologist named Victor finds himself in a small provincial town, where he meets a girl named Lena. What is commonly called love at first sight arises between them. Sensing that they are kindred souls, they spend the evening and night together, sharing all the most intimate things: thoughts about life, happiness and love. However, either the morning or their inner fears of this selfsame long happy life cancel out all their plans and dreams.

Source: IVI

Mashed up and (partly) translated by the Russian Reader

#StandWithBelarus

Human Rights Foundation
HRF Raises $500,000 to Support Democracy in Belarus

Since its inception, the Belarus Solidarity Fund has provided a lifeline to democracy movements in Belarus. HRF provides modest financial assistance to those Belarusians who have been fired from their jobs, injured, arbitrarily detained, or who face steep fines because of their support for freedom and democracy in Belarus. The fund also provides equipment and assistance to independent journalists who, at great personal risk, continue to cover events in Belarus even in the face of government repression.

So far, more than 1,000 individual donors have contributed to the fund, and $450,000 have already been disbursed as direct support for journalists, human rights advocates, civil society organizations, and workers on strike against the dictatorship.

Eight months ago, fraudulent elections sparked a democratic uprising in Belarus. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens all across the country took to the streets to protest the regime of Alexander Lukashenko — who first seized power in 1994 — and express their support for freedom and democracy. For months, the peaceful protesters endured the brutality of the regime, which resorted to extreme violence, including the use of live ammunition, torture, and rape in prisons, to deter the democracy movement. According to the Human Rights Centre Viasna, in 2020 more than 33,000 individuals were detained, more than 1,000 cases of torture were documented, and at least 7 people were killed since the beginning of the protests.

HRF began closely monitoring the situation in Belarus back in May 2020, when the first protests against the Lukashenko regime started. In August, HRF persuaded American rapper Tyga to cancel a concert planned as a propaganda stunt for Lukashenko, and urged members of the Belarusian state security apparatus to lay down their arms. At the end of August, HRF set up the Belarus Solidarity Fund to aid protesters adversely affected by their support for freedom and democracy. In September, HRF hosted Belarusian democratic leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya for a talk at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

In January, the Belarusian democracy movement achieved an important victory when the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) moved the Ice Hockey World Championships away from Belarus, after facing public backlash from Belarusians, as well as the international community. HRF wrote a letter to the IIHF as part of the civil society campaign, which you can read here. This month, HRF recorded a podcast with the Belarus Sports Solidarity Foundation to discuss how Belarusian athletes are defending democracy. Going forward, HRF will continue to support the Belarusian democracy movement through direct aid, legal advocacy, and public education.

To celebrate this milestone, HRF is organizing a special Clubhouse event with our Chairman Garry Kasparov, Magnitsky Act originator Bill Browder, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and the leader of democractic Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya about what the future of the democracy movement in Belarus looks like. We will update you with details soon. The event will take place at the Oslo Freedom Forum club on Clubhouse, an audio-only social media app, where HRF holds a weekly discussion series on the most pressing human rights issues with activists from around the world.

It is more important now than ever to support the Belarusian democracy movement.

Last week, Belarusians celebrated the Day of Freedom by peacefully protesting all across the country. The demands of the protesters remain unchanged. The violence against Belarusians must be stopped, political prisoners must be released, and new, free and fair elections must be held. To further support the Belarusian democracy movement, you can help by:

Donating to the Belarus Solidarity Fund.

Writing letters to political prisoners in Belarus.

Assuming godparenthood over political prisoners.

Writing a tweet, social media post, or creating a video in support of Belarus with the hashtag #StandWithBelarus.

Source: HRF emailing. Thanks to SZ for the advice. NB. Contrary to the claim made in the text, above, Lukashenko did not “seize power” in 1994. He received over 45% of the vote in the first round and over 80% in the second round of the first post-independence presidential election in 1994, which is generally regarded as the only free and fair election held in post-Soviet Belarus. || TRR

“Stopping His Torture Is Our Common Cause”

OVD Info
Facebook
April 6, 2021

Grassroots activist Anna Margolis has been detained near the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. In her solo picket, she called for an end to the persecution and torture of [Alexei] Navalny.

Margolis has been taken to the police department in the Meshchansky District.

https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2021/04/06/u-zdaniya-fsb-na-lubyanke-zaderzhali-piketchicu-s-plakatom-protiv

Poster: Anna Margolis. Photo: Maria Kokovkina

“Navalny’s views are his business. Your opinion of him is your business. Stopping his torture is our common cause! ‘There are countries in which corporeal punishment has been abolished whereas in our country the question of a whether a man should be flogged or not is still a matter of dispute. […] You would be perfectly justified in showing your compassion for the victims, then why don’t you?’ A[lexander] Herzen, [‘Letters to an Opponent’], 1864.”

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Song and Dance

“Horses, men and nonsense”: song and dance as matters of state
Ivan Davydov
Republic
April 4, 2021

I must admit that I am quite unfamiliar with the work of Dima Bilan. You could even say that I’m not familiar with his work at all. It’s probably nothing to brag about, but it is what it is. I am truly grateful to Dima Bilan, however. It was he who jumped out of the piano with a violin (possibly on skates) and gifted Russia a few years of not having to discuss the “Russophobic conspiracy” at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Or maybe it was not Bilan who jumped out of the piano. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Eurovision either, and I could have mixed up the details. But Bilan definitely won the 2008 contest in Belgrade, after which Russians calmed down a little, putting up with Eurovision for the next two or even three years.

Eurovision does strange things to people. Once a year, even people with decent taste who listen to normal music in real life, and not what Russia (like all the other participating countries) sends to the contest, suddenly start following the antics of comically dressed people, counting up the points and muttering to themselves, “Ukraine… The hell with them… What can you expect from them? But the Armenians?! How could the Armenians not vote for us?”

Then, for another week, the results of the competition are discussed not only on TV talk shows, but even in serious publications, not to mention social media.

New trends
Before Bilan’s victory, Russians every year rediscovered Europe’s alleged dislike of Russia: they would suffer fits of outrage and curse a blue streak, wasting time and fraying their nerves. Bilan broke the goddamn chain: Russians calmed down and, for a few years, reconciled themselves to the musical freak show. At first, they were proud of Bilan’s victory and, the following year, of the incredible show (costing many billions of rubles) that Moscow put on. Then… Well, to me, an inattentive observer, it at least seemed that the controversy around the contest had subsided, and only sincere fans of bad music were still getting worked up about it.

Now the contest has not even started, and yet passions are already boiling. The singer Manizha, who will represent Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest this year, has been threatened. The lyrics of her song have been analyzed by members of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, at their sittings, and spokesmen for the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Muslim leaders have weighed and judged the song before TV viewers have even voted. Hired and voluntary Twitter campaigners against “Ukrainian fascism” have forgotten their vocation, denouncing Manizha without mincing their words. I won’t even quote them: there is not a word in what they’ve written that is not punishable under the Russian Criminal Code. (By the way, have you noticed that professional Russian fighters against “fascism” are mostly brownshirts and smell accordingly?)

Interestingly, drift of the polemics has changed. Previously, people looked for a conspiracy after the contest was over, and they looked for it outside Russia. Now we have achieved total clarity about the conspiracy “from without”: all high-ranking officials talk about the “hybrid war” against Russia every day in unison, and to prove its existence, they no longer need to refer to the results of the Eurovision Song Contest. Now they are hunting for internal enemies, and prior to any international vote.

Manizha, “Russian Woman,” Russia’s entry for the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest

I know the work of the singer Manizha a little better than I know the work of Dima Bilan, because I listened to the song about Russian women that is going to the contest. But I don’t want to pretend to be a music critic. I’m not going to discuss the song’s merits of the composition. Instead, I intend to talk about the reaction of high-ranking Russian officials.

Offended women
I wasn’t joking about the discussion in the Federation Council. Elena Afanasyeva, a member of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee (Eurovision is an international event, after all!) subjected Manizha to a withering critique: “The song has no meaning. It is a random set of phrases by an immature thirty-year-old girl with unresolved personal problems who doesn’t know what she wants. Excuse me, what does this have to do with Russian women? The style of the performance, African-American dances, a costume similar to that of an American prison inmate. Aggressiveness, senselessness, a negative image of the Russian family.”

That is, the song smacks of a provocation: it is an obvious machination on the part of Russia’s internal enemies.

Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Federation Council, supported her colleague: “I recommend anyone who is not familiar with the lyrics of the song [to read them]. It’s about horses and men, and is basically nonsense. I don’t understand at all what it means.”

The speaker also demanded an inquiry to find out who had selected the song for the competition and how it was selected.

High-ranking Russian women have thus taken offense at the song “Russian Woman.” By the way, there is no mention of “horses” in the song, but it is quite clear why Matviyenko thought of them. They come from Mikhail Lermontov’s poem “Borodino”:

The ground shook like our breasts,
Horses and men mingled in the battle,
And the volleys of a thousand guns
Merged into a long-drawn-out howl.

So, even oblique associations put the speaker on the warpath.

Konstantin Ernst (after all, the song was chosen on Channel One) was forced to explain that the audience had voted: nothing could be done, it was will of the people. Ernst’s strategy is clear: we remember how in 2014, on the eve of the occupation of Crimea and the war against Ukraine, he managed to sell the world the image of a kind-hearted and open-minded Russia by putting on a show at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Sochi. A song about the plight of a woman crushed by the patriarchal world, performed in Russian and English by an ethnic minority singer, is a similar move (and alas, it is possible that it is also being made on the eve of a new war). It is quite consistent with European trends, and could work. But it’s not a matter of trends. Europe is the same, but Russia has changed.

No black jack
The overripe Putinism of 2021 is not remotely the equivalent of the Putinism of 2014. Today’s Russia not only aspires to total control over anything its citizens do, but has been trying to exercise this control in practice. And so a pleasant freak show has been turned into a national affair in which the fatherland’s prestige is at stake. What we need now, supposedly, are not pop songs, but a solemn oratorio about the Russian nation’s acts of valor during the Second World War.

I would, by the way, send Dmitry Rogozin to the contest. He could handle the mission: it is not too late to dial everything back. It’s a shame to waste such an enormous talent.

The Eurovision Song Contest scandal has become a purely political story, another example of what the Russian state has been turning into. And yes, of course, the desire to interfere in cultural life is very important here, because the Russian state, which claims to be total, considers culture to be its exclusive bailiwick. This was the case back in the twentieth century, and the current proprietors of the state are in awe of Soviet best practices. We ordinary people hear a song that we like, dislike, or could not care less about, but they think about ideology, influencing opinion, and the blow to Russia’s image. And they see nothing else.

Dmitry Peskov, the president’s press secretary, thus sounded surprisingly reasonable when he commented on Matviyenko’s initiative: “We are talking about a show business competition at which different images are presented: there is a bearded woman performing, there are singers in chicken outfits… We do not consider it possible to comment on this or to intervene in any way.”

But let’s not forget that Peskov’s immediate superior once bluntly said that Peskov often “talks rubbish,” and his comments do not necessarily reflect the innermost thoughts of the best friend of singers and composers. The president met with young cultural figures not so long ago. Although they did not discuss Manizha, of course, the context was still legible. One of people at the meeting, the pianist Oleg Akkuratov, voiced a sore point to the supreme leader: “There is another problem. I really love songs in Russian, which are in short supply right now: at all competitions, including children’s ones, a lot of songs are sung in English. But I think that’s wrong. We need to encourage love for the Motherland, love for our country, love for our native tongue, because I think this is important for all of us. Maybe what we are missing is a Russian-language song contest? We have not, of course, completely lost our love for Soviet poetry, especially Russian poetry. But what we hear today is not meant for our ears, and especially not for children, because it is, of course, horrible.”

“I will immediately start with what I think is a large-scale and important idea – a Russian-language song contest: we will definitely think about it. I ask my colleagues in the Government and in the Administration to submit relevant proposals,” Putin replied.

Let’s have our own patriotic “Eurovision” without bearded women! Belarus, I am sure, will support us, and if we are lucky, Kazakhstan will close ranks with us, too.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Manizha, “Russian Woman” (Russia ESC 2021). Lyrics and music: Manizha, Ori Kaplan, Ori Avni

Russian text

English translation

Поле поле поле
Я ж мала
Поле поле поле
Так мала
Как пройти по полю из огня
Как пройти по полю если ты одна?
А-а-а?
Ждать ли чьей-то ручечки, ручки?
А-а-а?
Кто подаст мне ручку девочки?
Из покон веков
С ночи до утра
С ночи-ночи
Ждем мы корабля
Ждем мы корабля
Очень очень
С ночи до утра
Ждем мы корабля
Ждем бы корабля
А что ждать?
Встала и пошла.

Every Russian Woman
Needs to know
You’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the wall

Шо там хорохорится?
Ой, красавица?
Ждешь своего юнца?
Ой, красавица
Тебе уж за 30
Ало? Где же дети?
Ты в целом красива
Но вот бы похудеть бы
Надень подлиннее
Надень покороче
Росла без отца
Делай то, что не хочешь
Ты точно не хочешь?
Не хочешь?
А надо.
Послушайте, правда.
Мы с вами не стадо
Вороны пщ-щ-щ пыщ-щ-щ
Отвалите
Теперь зарубите себе на носу
Я вас не виню
А себя я чертовски люблю
Борются, борются
Все по кругу борются
Да не молятся
Сын без отца
Дочь без отца
Но сломанной Family
Не сломать меня
You gonna
You gonna break the wall
Every Russian Woman
Needs to know
You’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the wall
Every Russian Woman
Needs to know
You’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the wallHey, Russian woman
Don’t be afraid, girl
You’re strong enough
You’re strong enough
Don’t be afraid
Don’t be afraid
Don’t be afraid
Don’t be afraid

Борются, борются
Все по кругу борются
Да не молятся
Сын без отца
Дочь без отца
Но сломанной Family
Не сломать меня

Fields, fields, fields
I’m so small
Fields, fields, fields
I’m too small
How do you cross a field through the fire?
How do you cross the field if you’re alone?
Heeeey?
Should I wait for a helpful hand?
Whaaat?
Who will stretch out for me, girls?
For ages now
From night till dawn
From the deepest of the night
We are waiting for a ship
A Sailing ship
Waiting very much
From night till dawn
Waiting for a ship
Waiting for a ship
But what’s the wait?
Stand up, let’s go!

Every Russian Woman needs to know
You’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the wall
Every Russian Woman needs to know
You’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the wall

What’s the rattling about?
Hey, beauty!
Are you waiting for your prince?
Hey, beauty!
You’re 30!
Hello? Where are your kids?
You are cute overall
But should lose some weight
Wear something longer
Wear something shorter
Oh you grew up without a father?
You should do what you don’t want to
You sure you’d don’t want to?
Don’t want to?
You SHOULD!
Listen up, really!
We’re not a flock
Hey, crows, shoo!
Leave me alone (give me a break)
Now learn it by heart:
I don’t blame you a bit
But damn do I like myself

They just fight, always fight
Go round and round to just fight
But never pray
Boy without a father
Girl with no dad
But this broken family
Can’t break me

Every Russian Woman needs to know
You’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the wall
Every Russian Woman needs to know
You’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the wall

Hey, Russian woman
Don’t be afraid, girl
You’re strong enough
You’re strong enough
Don’t be afraid
Don’t be afraid
Don’t be afraid
Don’t be afraid

They are fighting, they are fighting
Everyone around is fighting
Yes, they don’t pray
Son without father
Daughter without father
But a broken family
Does not break me

Source: Wiwibloggs

Hottest

Olga Balema, Cannibals, 2015, Installation view, Croy Nielsen, Berlin, courtesy: the artist & Croy Nielsen, Berlin

Putin Named Russia’s Hottest Man
Moscow Times
April 2, 2021

The thirst is real for Russians who still want “someone like Putin” after all these years of bare-chested horse riding and rugged hunting excursions.

According to a poll by the Superjob.ru job board published Friday, 18% of men and 17% of women surveyed named President Vladimir Putin as Russia’s most handsome man.

The 68-year-old bachelor is the only individual to receive double digits in the open-ended questionnaire. Nineteen percent of men named themselves as Russia’s most handsome man, while 18% of women said there are no handsome men in Russia.

“Russians still call Vladimir Putin the most attractive famous man in the country,” Superjob.ru declared, despite the 1% dip in his rating from last year.

“Neither actors nor athletes or other politicians can compete with him today,” it said.

Indeed, the commando-in-chief maintained a comfortable lead on his closest competitors actors Dmitry Nagiyev, Danila Kozlovsky and Konstantin Khabensky, whose handsomeness was identified by a mere 2-3% of respondents.

Superjob.ru said it carried out the in-person survey among 1,000 men and 1,000 women in more than 300 Russian cities between March 22-April 1.

The results were published days after lawmakers passed legislation allowing Putin to remain president until 2036, when Russians’ biggest crush turns 83.

Over the years and until quite recently, Vladimir Putin has consistently denied that he would amend the Russian Constitution so that he could remain in the president’s office longer than prescribed by law. But that’s exactly what he did in 2020, and now he’s signed into “law” his coup d’état. Video by Current Time TV. Thanks to @sibirskykot for the heads-up. || TRR

Putin Signs Law Paving Way to Rule Until 2036
Moscow Times
April 5, 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation formally granting him the right to stay in power until 2036.

Putin’s second consecutive and fourth overall presidential term ends in 2024, the year when Russia’s previous Constitution would have required him to step down.

But an overhauled Constitution that Russians approved in a nationwide vote last year allows Putin to run for two more six-year presidential terms. If elected both times, he would remain president until 2036, surpassing Josef Stalin as the longest-serving leader of Russia since Peter the Great.

The 68-year-old signed a law Monday that resets his number of terms served, allowing him to extend his 20-year rule until he turns 83.

Former President Dmitry Medvedev, who served in 2008-2012 when Putin was constitutionally mandated to step down after his first two consecutive terms, is also granted the right to run two more times. Putin served as prime minister during Medvedev’s presidency.

Critics slammed last summer’s vote on the sweeping constitutional reforms — which contained populist economic measures and enshrined conservative values in Russia’s basic law — as a pretext to allow Putin to become “president for life.”

Putin has previously said he hasn’t yet decided whether to run for president again, saying 2024 is still far off.

The emphasis, above, is mine. Image courtesy of Frieze. || TRR

P.S. “Protesters in Myanmar took to handing out Easter eggs painted with protest messages at renewed marches in Yangon, the main city, and elsewhere around the country. They oppose the military government that seized power in February. Police shot and killed two men in the capital, Naypyitaw; over 500 people have died since the coup.” (The Economist Espresso, 5 April 2021)

“Slaughter the Gebnya!”

Grigory Severin. Photo courtesy of MBKh Media via Vkontakte

Voronezh activist accused of extremism sent for forensic psychiatric examination
OVD Info
April 4, 2021

Voronezh grassroots activist Grigory Severin, who was charged in March with “making a call for extremist activity” (punishable under Article 280.2 of the Criminal Code) over a post published on the social network VKontakte, was made to undergo a forensic psychiatric examination on April 1. This was reported to OVD Info by his wife.

The woman [sic] notes that the family was afraid that Severin would be forcibly hospitalized, but it did not happen. The results of the psychiatric examination are still unknown.

Severin is charged with writing a post in January 2019 on VKontakte that contained the phrase “Rezh’ gebniu” [“Slaughter the gebnya,” i.e. the KGB or, more generally, the current security services, especially the FSB]. According to investigators, these words constitute “a call for violent actions (murder) against employees of state security agencies.”

On February 25, Grigory Severin’s home was searched. Severin was detained, and the next day the court banned him from doing certain things in lieu of remanding him in custody: the man [sic] cannot use the internet, receive mail, and attend protest rallies and other public events. However, according to Severin’s wife, during the search of their home FSB officers employed combat techniques on the man, beating and strangling him. The activist filed a complaint with the Voronezh regional office of the Investigative Committee, claiming an abuse of power by security forces officers, but a criminal case has not yet been opened.

According to Federal Law No. 114-FZ “On Countering Extremist Activities,” violently attempting to change the constitutional order, violating the state’s territorial integrity, exonerating terrorism, promoting social inequality depending on different characteristics [sic], engaging in discrimination, committing hate crimes, and promoting Nazism, as well as calling for and planning such activities, constitute “extremism.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Sergey Abashin: A Mishmash Instead of an Identity

Students in the middle group of the seventh form at Moscow’s Comprehensive School No. 282, where more than half of the pupils are children of foreign nationals. Photo: Alexey Kudenko/RIA Novosti. Courtesy of Republic

A mishmash instead of an identity. Why do the Kremlin’s attempts to formulate the concept of a “Russian nation” always end in xenophobia?
Sergey Abashin
Republic
April 3, 2021

On March 30, the Kremlin hosted a meeting of the Presidential Council on Interethnic Relations. Vladimir Putin opened the discussion with the following statement: “In the practice of a number of countries, civic and ethnic identities are often perceived as competitors. I consider this approach (in our country, at least) absolutely incorrect, to put it mildly, and I want to emphasize in particular that it is absolutely unacceptable for our country. A person may belong to one or another ethnic group, but we all have one country—big Russia.” It is unclear what countries the president was hinting at and what he meant by making such a contrast, but there will probably be political scientists willing explain his critique. But the arguments about “civic and ethnic identity” are a clear continuation of the previous search for an answer to the question “who are we?”, to which the current Kremlin, which likes to speculate about its historical purpose, returns regularly.

Identity issues
The intrigue in this discussion revolves around its affirmation of very different versions of self-determination. The Russian Constitution states: “The bearer of sovereignty and the only source of power in the Russian Federation is its multinational people.” The phrase “multinational people” was, in the early 1990s, a political compromise between the idea of the unity and equality of all the inhabitants of the new Russia (“the people”) and its ethnic diversity (“multinational”), which formed the basis of its avowed federal structure. The compromise did not last long, however. After the defeat of Ichkeria/Chechnya, which had declared itself self-declared independent, the Kremlin began  systematically curtailing the rights of the Russian Federation’s constituent territories and strengthening the central government. In the political reality of the 2000s, the formula “multinational people” had begun to look unsuitable: new terms were needed that would place a greater emphasis on unity and community.

In the language of the ruling elite, two competing and co-existing constructions emerged, which, although they did not figure in the Constitution, attained de facto official status. The first was the idea of “Russian civilization,” which historically united different peoples into a single community with its own “genetic, cultural and moral code,” as Putin had put it earlier. The word “civilization” imparted to Russia a lofty and important status as a discrete world, not merely one among a number of countries. It accorded well with its claims to being a great power and an alternative geopolitical center, equal in weight to the entire “western civilization,” and it also referred to the imperial and Soviet past, which could be inserted in the “civilizational” framework. Russian civilization has its counterparts—”Eurasian civilization,” that is, the community of Russia and neighboring countries, and the “Russian world”, that is, the community of Russia with separate regions and groups loyal to Russian culture. The set of countries and groups that fall into these latter categories, however, has no precise outlines and depends more on the ambitions of Kremlin politicians. The relationship between the “Russian” and “Eurasian” civilizations and the “Russian world” and their hierarchical ranking among themselves are not entirely clear, but such an internal contradiction does not really bother politicians, who easily switch back and forth between these concepts.

The second idea, which also took root in the official rhetoric, was the formula of the “Russian nation,” which in theory refers only to a civic identity that incorporates ethnic diversity. At the end of his speech at the council, Academician Valery Tishkov said, “The metaphor of the country as a civilization is important, even interesting, but it seems to me that the stricter category—the nation of the state [natsiya gosudarstva]—is more important.” It is stricter in the sense of being in compliance with the Constitution, since it is easier to bridge “the people” [narod] to “the nation” [natsiya]. And it is stricter in the sense of the language accepted in the world at large, where “nations” and “nation states” are part of the picture, which in turn emphasizes modernity. The formula “Russian nation” [rossiiskaya natsia] no longer reflects claims to historical unilateralism and uniqueness, in which one can detect undertones of isolationism and anomaly, but rather, on the contrary, to normality and usefulness to the rest of the world. “Russian nation,” however, does trigger other doubts. Ethnic minority activists see it as part of a plan to assimilate them, while ethnic Russian nationalists see it as belittling and underestimating the role of ethnic Russians [russkie].

The imperialists, for their part, find in the formula a rejection of the country’s superpower past, echoes of the “prison of the peoples” critique, and an unwillingness to maintain continuity with the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

So far, “Russian civilization” and “Russian nation” have been used as equivalents in official rhetoric. The antagonism between the two concepts does not bother political officials, instrumentality being more important in their eyes than theoretical disputes. Officials are also in no hurry to abandon the constitutional formula of the “multinational people,” apparently finding advantages in its ambiguousness and the possibility of multiple interpretations. However, in 2020, along with other amendments to the Constitution, the expression “state-forming people” was introduced, further confusing the entire ideology of self-identification, in which “the people,” “ethnic groups” (“nationalities”), “civilization,” and “world” are now mixed up in the same heap. The emphasis on the special role of ethnic Russians destroys the idea of civic identity, since it assumes that (Russian) ethnicity constitutes it. This contradiction, however, has been ignored out of political expediency.

Rhetoric versus specifics
This scholasticism has become quite tiresome, but it is repeated from time to time at all sorts of official meetings. However, there are now issues that have given a new impetus to the discussion of civic/ethnic identity—i.e., migration and migrants, more precisely, the children of migrants, to whom a good half of all the speeches at the council meeting were devoted. Foreign migrants pose a problem for the concepts of “Russian civilization” and “Russian nation,” because millions of people who are not citizens of Russia live and work here. At the same, many of these people are not fully documented (they are “illegal,” so to speak). Not all of them speak Russian, nor have they imbibed the images of Russian history and life that local residents get in kindergarten. In other words, they are not inscribed in the implicit chain of command and thus provoke fear and prejudice among populace and politicians alike.

From a legal and institutional point of view, the children of some migrant workers from the CIS countries pose a problem to Russia’s central government because firstly, according to the law, they have a fuzzy legal status in Russia and, accordingly, there are formal and informal restrictions on their access to schools, and secondly, the schools themselves do not have a federally approved program for working with migrant children, who immediately find themselves in classes with regular pupils—as a rule, among the underachievers, thus spoiling test score stats for schools. The officials who spoke at the council promised to quickly solve these problems, which for years have generated resentment and complaints from human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations working with migrant children.

Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov called the education of children who come to Russia with their parents “a mission for our education system [and] an urgent challenge for us.” He mentioned the upcoming comprehensive system for assessing the individual educational needs of migrant children, which will be used to chart the right educational path for each child, supporting it with psychological and pedagogical assistance. This would seem to imply the creation of preparatory classes in schools, in which the children of migrants would have to acquire the necessary language skills in order to switch to the normal mode of study in general classes. In turn, Valentina Kazakova, head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Migration Department of the Russian Interior Ministry, assured council members that the law on foreign citizens would be amended concerning the status of minor children, giving them unhindered access to educational institutions. If you believe these responsible officials, Russia is finally going to establish official mechanisms for working with migrant children.

However, legal measures alone do not explain how the Russian state ideologically integrates migrants into the image of “who we are.” In this instance, legislative and institutional pragmatics do not necessarily match the political rhetoric, which is usually focused on excluding migrants as “dangerous aliens.” The Council on Interethnic Relations has borne out exactly this asymmetry. Commenting on the topic of immigrant children, President Putin declared it an “unpleasant area”; he recalled that in Europe and America, “when the level of migrant children in school reaches a certain percentage, local residents remove their children from these schools,” and “schools are formed that are almost 100 percent immigrant children,” which, according to the president, “in no case should be allowed in Russia.” “The number of migrant children in our schools should be such that it enables [them] to adapt deeply to the Russian language environment. But not only to the language—to the culture in general, so that they can immerse themselves in our Russian values system. It will be good for them, and, accordingly, it will not hurt our families; it will not create problems for educational institutions.”

The words chosen were interpreted in the media as a call to “monitor the proportion of migrant children in schools,” “limit the number of migrant children in schools,” and “regulate the number of such children in Russian schools,” thus only causing a media-induced wave of anti-migrant fears.

It cannot be said that this ritual online discussion in the Kremlin was completely pointless. Specific plans to change the policy on migrant children are a cause for cautious optimism. However, the current political elite’s vocabulary and conceptual apparatus makes the depressing impression of being rooted in the archaic past of the twentieth or even the nineteenth century, but not in the twenty-first century. This elite reconstructs answers to the question “who are we?” from dead and moribund ideologies, condemning Russia not to solve, but to reproduce earlier confrontations and conflicts.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Good Guys

The FSB is in despair: religious fanaticism has afflicted people in high society. To prevent a series of terrorist attacks, the authorities have resorted to unconventional methods. They hire former investigator Oleg Ruzhin—now a journalist—and a professional murderer named Chubchik. Find out in Dmitry Krasko’s book whether the heroes are able to prevent a tragedy!

Source: LitRes emailing list, April 3, 2021

Religious fanaticism sometimes takes on monstrous guises. And anyone can be inveigled into the ranks of the fanatics. Even a high position in society is no guarantee against it. This means that the possibilities of extremist religious groups are sometimes off the scale. So much so that even the almighty FSB is forced to resort to unconventional methods to fight this evil. Thus, in order to combat fanatics who have planned a series of brutal terrorist attacks, the FSB contracts utter outsiders: the former private detective and now journalist Oleg Ruzhin and … the professional hired killer Chubchik. It is they who are tasked with foiling the designs of the fanatics. But will they be able to do it? And how will Chubchik, himself a product of the criminal world, behave when he has to confront evil face to face?

Source: LitRes

I carefully put the stock to my shoulder, settling more comfortably on the hard tar-covered roof, and fell silent, studying through the telescopic sight’s eyepiece the area in which the client was supposed to appear. The rifle lay comfortably in my hand, the sun was shining in the sky: although it was not yet hot, it was pleasantly warm. The morning air was fresh, not fouled by the exhaust of tens of thousands of cars, so, in the absence of smog, it was easy to breathe. The new day, born a couple of hours earlier, had already got its bearings in this world and persistently laid claim to it. The city was waking up and getting ready for the hustle and bustle.

Source: LitRes

People also began to gather in the Square of Fallen Heroes. To what extent the label “people” could be applied to these citizens was a matter of serious and lengthy discussion, however, because the square was a meeting place for yesterday’s goodfellas and various gangsters. The former, who had managed to scale to the very heights of life from the gloomy gateways or prison bunks where they had ruled ten or twenty years ago, met with the latter, who had been transported to these heights by cronyism, careerism and a willingness to lick any ass, provided it was above them. Both the former and the latter had achieved their goals, and now they soared majestically over the heads of mere mortals, occasionally defecating on them, and licking the cream from the snow-capped peaks of destiny. On the square, they proudly shared their impressions of what the latest peak, licked to shreds, had tasted like, and haggled over what new peaks to conquer.

Source: LitRes

My mark was also a part of this world, a blindingly bright specimen. He was the director of a security firm and, at the same time, a deputy in the regional legislative assembly. In the mid-nineties, his current guards, under their chief’s strict guidance, shook down the traders in the markets, then began running a protection racket on firms big and small. But everything changes, and he had gone legit. So much so that he had managed to finagle his way into the corridors of power. For me, such nimbleness remained a mystery that I did not even try to solve. It was none of my business: I had been hired take out the deputy-slash-director, and apart from that, nothing worried me. Half of the one hundred thousand greenbacks I would get for the job were already in my bank account.

Source: LitRes

Translation and photos by the Russian Reader