“Snarling Dogs and Monkeys Chasing Each Other Through the Streets”

Leader of World Proletariat with Female Gate Attendant Reflected in Security Mirror, SUV, and New Year’s Tree. December 18, 2016, 11 Lomanaya Street, St. Petersburg

Monument to V.I. Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (pseudonym – Lenin) (1870-1924) was a Russian and Soviet world-class politician and statesman, revolutionary, founder of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (Bolsheviks), and one of the organizers and leaders of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. The monument was erected on the 87th anniversary of Lenin’s birth on the premises of the former Proletarian Victory shoe factory. Unveiled on April 22 , 1957. Cast from a model by the sculptor P.I. Bondarenko.

Source: 2gis.ru. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

• • • • •

In Petrograd, “cryptic” messages like this one (spray painted on the fence of the now-defunct Krupskaya Confectionery Factory) are giving the sex ads stenciled everywhere on the pavements and walls a stiff run for their money. Basically, if you want to get whacked out of your mind on “bath salts” and then have sex with a prostitute, this town is the place for you. And it visually reminds you of that fact a thousand times a day, every which way you look. But don’t dream of holding a spontaneous political protest: then the law will come down hard on you. But gnarly, highly addictive drugs and prostitution (amidst an HIV epidemic) it can live with. ||| TRR, December 18, 2015
An important public service message from the kleptocratic post-fascist hybrid regime: Make your family strong, not your liquor! “In Russia, 16% of families break up due to alcoholism.” Uff da! ||| TRR, December 18, 2015

Post-Soviet “ethnic diversity” gone bad. Four “folk singers” from god knows what republic or “little people of the north” lip-synching a folk song at the New Year’s bazaar on Pioneer Square in Petrograd. ||| TRR, December 18, 2015

The Zhanaozen Massacre: Ten Years Later

Kazakhstan, ten years after the Zhanaozen massacre: oil workers’ fight to organise goes on • People and Nature • 15 December 2021

Ten years after police massacred striking oil workers at Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, human rights organisations and trades unionists are demanding an international inquiry into the killings.

Even now, the number of victims is unknown. State officials admit that 16 were killed and 64 injured on 16 December 2011 – but campaigners say there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, more.

The initial killings, by police who fired into a peaceful, unarmed crowd, were followed by a three-day reign of terror in Zhanaozen, in the oil-rich Mangistau province in western Kazakhstan, and nearby villages.

Defendants at the 2012 trial of Zhanaozen protesters

The torture and sexual violence used against detainees should also be investigated by an independent international commission, campaigners say.

Although a handful of police officers were tried for “exceeding their powers”, and a detention centre boss was briefly jailed, the Kazakh government has refused to say who ordered the shootings.

The Zhanaozen shootings ended an eight-month strike by the town’s oil workers, one of the largest industrial actions ever in the post-Soviet countries.

Oil workers and their families had demanded better pay and conditions, and the right to organise independent trade unions, at Ozenmunaigaz, a production subsidiary of the national oil company Kazmunaigaz, and contracting firms.

On Saturday 11 December this year, oil workers gathered in Zhanaozen, amidst a heavy police presence, to commemorate the victims. Tomorrow, ten years to the day after the tragedy, activists plan film screenings and other gatherings in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.

Zhanaozen has become a crucial strand in Kazakh working people’s collective memory. On the day of the killings, local residents risked arrest and worse to smuggle out of the locked-down city video clips showing how demonstrators were executed in cold blood. Today, some of the fear has faded, activists say: whole films – such as this one, made in 2013 (commentary in Russian) – are shared on social media.

https://www.facebook.com/daryn.ibraeff/videos/1302525450187459

An international investigation is needed, because, even now, the Kazakh authorities are desperate to cover up the truth, human rights activists who have pursued the truth about Zhanaozen said in interviews with People & Nature.

Evgeny Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, said “three questions have never been answered” about the events on Alan Square, where the initial shootings took place:

□ Who were the provocateurs who caused trouble on the square?

□ Who exactly gave the order to send in armed interior ministry forces against an unarmed crowd? 

□ Who fired the shots? The authorities have admitted to 15 killings on the square. In each case, [under Kazakh law] an investigation should show either that the officer responsible had opened fire unlawfully, or that he opened fire because his life was threatened.  

Zhovtis said: “The UN commissioner for human rights, Niva Pillay, visited Kazakhstan in 2012 and called for an independent international commission to be set up, to investigate these events. Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, also called for such a commission. This has not happened.”

Human rights defenders in Kazakhstan reject the justice ministry’s claim that an adequate investigation had been carried out, Zhovtis said.

Police in Zhanaozen, 16 December 2011. A still from a video smuggled out by residents to make sure the truth reached the outside world

“The leading western governments are largely indifferent to what happens in central Asia. Look at their response both to the Zhanaozen tragedy and the Andijan massacre [of hundreds of protesters in Uzbekistan in May 2005].

“Nevertheless, we simply have to keep demanding justice.”   

Galym Ageleuov of Liberty, the human rights organisation, who has travelled regularly to Zhanaozen since the massacre to gather evidence, said that, in addition to the events on Alan Square, any investigation should cover:

□ The use of torture against oil workers and their supporters detained during the three-day crackdown. Detailed evidence of this had already been made public, especially at a trial of 37 Zhanaozen residents in 2012.

□ Sexual violence against women detainees, including Roza Tuletaeva, an oil workers’ trade union organiser (about her release, see here and here); Zhansaule Karabalaeva, daughter of a trade union activist; Asem Kenzhebaeva, daughter of another activist (the family’s story here, her evidence of sexual violence here); and others. “There is evidence that women and men prisoners were detained naked [in winter], were beaten, and had freezing water poured on them”, Ageleuov said.

□ The total number of killings in Zhanaozen and nearby villages on 16, 17 and 18 December 2011. Of the 16 admitted by officials, 15 were killed on Alan Square with revolvers, bullets from which usually remain lodged in the body. The authorities have denied responsibility for those killed by automatic gunfire and long-distance sniper fire, including bystanders. Ageleuov said: “There are numerous cases in which bodies were only released to the families of those killed if they accepted death certificates that registered the cause of death as, for example, a heart attack.”

Asem Kenzhebaeva

□ The killing of Torebek Tolegenov in Shetpe, and the wounding of young people who blocked a railroad to protest at the Zhanaozen massacre, needs to be investigated.

□ Multiple reports of bodies being loaded into unmarked graves – including by Yelena Kostiuchenko of Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s prime opposition newspaper, one of the first journalists to get into Zhanaozen after the massacre – have never been followed up. “Any international commission should insist on the exhumation of these bodies”, Ageleuov said.

□ A fire that broke out, inexplicably, at the Ozenmunaigaz offices on the day of the massacre.

The Kazakh labour movement will this week commemorate the Zhanaozen tragedy – at a time when the right to form independent trade unions, a key principle in the 2011 oil workers’ strike, is again at issue in many workplace struggles.

In June, the national oil company Kazmunaigaz tried to scrap an agreement on wages and conditions with the independent Oil Construction Company Workers Union, seeking instead a sweetheart deal with a “union” it had created. That followed an attempt by the authorities to deregister, and effectively put beyond the law, the independent Sectoral Union of Fuel and Energy Workers, a national-level umbrella of which the Oil Construction Company Workers Union is part.

Markhaba Khalmurzaeva, coordinator of the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission, said: “There have been several strikes in which workers demanded the right to independent organisation, and in some cases, once the pay dispute was settled, employers even helped to register unions.”

But there is also a constant campaign of repression. “Quite often a strike will be settled, some demands are met, but activists who played a part in organising it are dismissed, and blacklisted.”

These battles for the right to independent organisation flared up earlier this year amidst a wave of strikes over pay and conditions. There were more strikes in the first half of 2021 than in the three years 2018-2020 put together. And this summer, the wave hit the western Kazakhstan oilfield, including Zhanaozen, where 11 firms were on strike simultaneously in July.

In September the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission reported:

Most of the strikes are in the rich oil region of Mangistau in western Kazakhstan, although it is not only oil workers who are walking out. The most widespread demand is for wage increases. Some groups of workers demand a 13th wage [i.e. to be paid an extra month’s money each year]; partial or complete funding of sanatorium breaks for those working with toxic chemicals; compensation for Covid-19 tests; and … [a supply of] milk [at work].

In Zhanaozen, in the years after the massacre, the Ozenmunaigaz oil company was reorganised into 14 separate divisions. Many of the strikers were employed in the drilling services division, where pay was raised substantially and today is at more than twice the level of ten years ago.

In an attempt to smother the social discontent that exploded in 2011, the government invested in the town’s infrastructure, providing among other things round-the-clock water supply, where previously water only reached people’s homes for short periods twice a day.

Zhanaozen’s population has also expanded … but not everyone benefits. Unemployment has grown rapidly, and in 2019 young people began to demonstrate at the local authorities’ offices, demanding work at Ozenmunaigaz.

A mass meeting in July this year at KMG Security, one of 11 workplaces on strike in Zhanaozen. Photo: Manas Kalyrtai RFE/RL

Erzhan Elshibayev, who helped to organise these peaceful gatherings, was arrested and jailed for five years. Galym Ageleuov said: “Elshibayev is a victim of political repression. In 2019, he was charged with an offence arising from a fight he was involved in, when he was attacked by four men in 2017 while on his way to work – an incident that gave rise to no charges at the time.

“Elshibayev has been in detention for two years. For the last three months he has been in solitary confinement and no-one has heard from him.” Trade unionists gathered at Bishkek last week at a conference called on the Kazakh authorities to release him immediately.

Ten years after the massacre, labour’s battles against capital continue in the oilfield – for better pay and living conditions, for the right to organise independently at work, for ways to live decently. Exposing the truth about the state repression in 2011, about the chain of command, about the barbaric use of murder and torture in the service of capital, is a part of this wider struggle. SP, 15 December 2021.

■ Statement by human rights organisations in Kazakhstan, 15 December 2021

■ Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression, by Simon Pirani (Gabriel Levy)

■ Zhanaozen: some lessons by Evgeny Zhovtis

■ They shot to kill. Interview with Galym Ageleuov

■ Kazakh oil workers: index of articles

“Freedom of association is a workers’ right! Free Erzhan Elshibayev! Stop victimising people for being active citizens!”

Originally posted on People & Nature on 15 December 2021. Thanks to its editor, Simon Pirani, for allowing me to repost his article here. ||| TRR

The Vitamin Pharmacy

Olga Vasilieva, The Vitamin Pharmacy: Temporary Structures, 2021. Ink on paper, 52 х 32 cm. Courtesy of the Facebook public groups Petersburg in the Year Twenty-One: Line Art and St. Petersburger Ansichten in allen Variationen der Kunst
* * * * *

The E.E. Brömme Mansion is a historic mansion in St. Petersburg. It is located in the Vasilyevsky Island District, at 41 12th Line, Building 1-Zh. An official regional cultural landmark, it is one of the few surviving wooden mansions in the city’s historic center. It is also known as one of the “Siege addresses”: the so-called Vitamin Pharmacy operated in the mansion during the Siege of Leningrad.

[…]

In 1893, the lot was purchased by the brothers Eduard, Robert and Wilhelm Brömme. They were the sons of the German architect Eduard Georg Christian Brömme, who had settled in St. Petersburg in the early nineteenth century. The Brömme brothers were related to the famous Poehle family of Petersburg pharmacists Pele: their father was married to Wilhelm Poehle’s sister Wilhelmina Maria, and one of the brothers, Eduard, to his daughter Emilia.

In the mid-1890s, the trading company Brömme Brothers founded a factory for the production of essential oils and chemicals. In 1897-1898, additional factory buildings, designed by the architect A.P. Soskov, were constructed in brick on the lot where the mansion was located. The Brömme factory produced essential oils for perfumes and pharmaceuticals, fruit essences used in the manufacture of soda pop and confectionery, and aniline dyes.

The wooden one-story mansion with a mezzanine floor, which at that time belonged to Eduard Brömme and also served as the factory’s office building, was redesigned in 1906 by the architect V.S. Karpovich. The building was adorned with carved neoclassical decor, as well as two majolica panels and a majolica figured medallion featuring floral motifs, in a wooden frame containing the figures of griffins. All three ornaments were made at the Geldwein-Vaulin ceramic workshop by Pyotr Vaulin. The mansion and its fence faced the building setback line on the 12th Line, while the garden surrounding it served as a buffer zone between the house and the factory.

After the Revolution, the factory was nationalized. In the 1920s, it was known as the Fruit Aroma factory. In 1931-1935, the chemical plant of Politkatorzhanin, an industrial firm run by the Leningrad regional branch of the Society of Former Political Prisoners and Exiled Settlers, operated in the same facilities. The plant produced essences and oils for the food industry. After the society was liquidated, the plant was transferred to the People’s Commissariat of the Food Industry and converted into a vitamin-manufacturing plant (Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1). The wooden mansion was repurposed as cafeteria for workers and a kitchen, and was also used as an administrative building.

“The Vitamin Pharmacy”
At the outset of the Siege, Leningrad’s chemists and doctors said that, in addition to hunger, the inhabitants of the besieged city were threatened by diseases caused by a lack of vitamins in the diet — in particular, by scurvy. A research group was organized that included chemists, biochemists and engineers. Alexei Bezzubov, the director of the chemical engineering department at the Vitamin Industry Research Institute and a consultant for the Leningrad Front board of health, was appointed head of the research group. On October 15, 1941, it released draft regulations for the production of conifer infusions — a remedy for vitamin C deficiency. On November 18, 1941, the Leningrad Executive Committee issued a decree entitled “On measures to prevent vitamin deficiency.” Pine and spruce needles for the production of infusions were harvested on the outskirts of the city by teams of women. Carotene was also obtained from the needles. Later, the production of yeast from wood rich in B vitamins and the processing of saltbush, hogweed, cow parsley, sorrel, nettle, and dandelions were established. Infusions from these plants saved the servicemen defending the city from night blindness caused by a lack of vitamin A. Tobacco dust, found in Leningrad’s tobacco factories, was used to produce nicotinic acid for treating pellagra.

All these drugs were produced at specialized enterprises in the city, including the Mikoyan confectionery factory and Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1. The plant’s administrative building — the Brömme mansion — also functioned as the outlet where city dweller received their vitamin rations and was popularly known as the “vitamin pharmacy.” Vitamin plant employees warmed up and partially lived in the mansion, since it was easier to heat than the factory workshops.

Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1 on the 12th Line continued to operate after the war. From 1977 to 1987, it was one of the production facilities of the Farmakon chemical pharmaceutical company.

[…]

People’s Memorial
Despite the fact that there has never been a memorial plaque on the building, Petersburgers remember the Brömme mansion as the “vitamin pharmacy,” a “Siege address.” There is a tradition of laying flowers outside the building on the commemorative dates of September 8 (the day the Siege of Leningrad began) and January 27 (the day the Siege was lifted). In 2021, residents of Vasilyevsky Island who are members of the Facebook group From the Spit to the Harbor organized a commemorative action that lasted from January 18 (the day the Siege was broken) to January 27.

“On January 18, we will bring photos of our relatives who went through the Siege on Vasilyevsky. We are not planning any big meetings or gatherings, but we hope that between the two Siege anniversaries, everyone who wants to join the action will bring photos of their relatives: those who stayed on the Island during the Siege; those who left the Island to defend Leningrad; and Siege survivors and veterans who themselves had nothing to do with the Island, but whose descendants now live on Vasilievsky Island. You can bring your photos on any day of the action and at any time. On January 27, we will collect all the photos (the memorial is intended as a temporary one) and keep them until next January.”

Consequently, flowers and wreaths were laid outside the Brömme mansion, and photographs of Leningraders who survived the Siege were posted on the mansion’s fence. A homemade plaque memorializing the Siege chemists and the “vitamin pharmacy” was also mounted on the mansion’s wall.

Source: “E.E. Brömme Mansion,” ru.wikipedia.org. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Whitewashing Nazism”

Center “E” sifts through Petersburger’s social network posts: they’ve already found one that merited a criminal charge
Fontanka.ru
December 10, 2021

Center “E” field officers have detained a 40-year-old Petersburg man on suspicion of whitewashing Nazism. A post that the man published a year ago on the social network VKontakte (VK) triggered the criminal investigation.

As Fontanka.ru learned on December 10, the text denied the crimes of the Nazis and also contained lies about what the USSR did during the Second World War.

In late November 2021, the investigative department for the city’s Krasnoe Selo district launched a criminal case under Article 354.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. On December 8, the author of the post was detained. Investigators are currently trying to establish whether there were other violations by scrutinizing the social media posts of the Petersburger, who, judging by his VK page, is an ordinary working stiff [rabotyaga].

COMMENTS (19)

dimon’s iphone
Dec 10, 2021 at 5:36 p.m.
When will people realize that “Kontakt” [VKontakte] and “Telega” [Telegram] are the Okhrana’s mousetraps? They can fill a lot of quotas this way. What matters is that it’s all safe: it doesn’t involve chasing down armed bearded men.

wow
Dec 10, 2021 at 1:32 p.m.
History is going in circles. We’ve gone back to telling political jokes in the kitchen. But soon we’ll have to think about whether even that is safe…

At a local Communist Party meeting in 1937 a parrot suddenly flies in the window and shouts, “Down with the Communists, down with the Soviet government!” before flying away.

The local NKVD freaks out. They go on an apartment-by-apartment hunt for the talking parrot.

Entering yet another apartment, they ask the man who lives there whether he has a parrot.

“Yes!” he says.

“Does it talk?”

“Yes,” the man answers.

“Show us!”

The man opens the refrigerator, whence they hear a parrot shout, “Long live Comrade Stalin! Long live the Communist Party!”

The NKVD officers see they have the wrong parrot and leave.

The man opens the refrigerator door again and says, “Well, bitch, do you understand now what Siberia is like?!”

2nd Komsomol Street in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

PETERSBURG MAN DETAINED FOR SOCIAL NETWORK POST
He was released on his own recognizance
Darya Medvedeva
78.ru
December 9, 2021

A Petersburg man was detained for a post on the social network VKontakte, a source in law enforcement has told 78.ru.

As the police found out, no later than May of this year the man posted in the public domain a text denying the criminal wrongdoing of the Nazis and misinformation about what the USSR did during the Second World War.

The 50-year-old “blogger” was detained on 2nd Komsomol Street on December 8. A criminal case has been launched against him on suspicion that he tried to rehabilitate Nazism. The police assume that he was involved in other crimes. He has been released on his own recognizance.

[…]

The emphasis is mine. Translated by the Russian Reader

Like Share Fine Jail

GUIDE

How do I avoid going to jail for a repost?

1. Be cautious about what you say

When making statements about someone else’s ethnicity, race, religion, or gender, you need to adhere to basic norms of politeness.

2. Maintain your privacy

People are held accountable only for public statements, so you need to consciously chose your status when posting on social networks. There are probably entries that only your own friends, people you trust, but not outsiders should see.

3. Check the register of extremist materials

The list of extremist materials is available on the Justice Ministry’s website.

4. If you don’t approve of the content of the post you are sharing, then say it

You can write, for example, “I disagree with this material and voice my sincere indignation.”

5. Take into account the features of the social network where you publish information

Anyone can look at information that is in the public domain. Keep this in mind when you post something on your page.

What should I do if I’m targeted in a criminal investigation?

1. Say nothing

A preliminary investigation on “extremism” charges does not differ from other criminal cases in the way it unfolds and is regulated by the Criminal Procedure Code. If you are implicated in such a case, you must be notified in writing about it.

2. Be prepared for a police search

A search of your home or office is also possible, during which the “instruments of the crime” — computers and electronic devices — can be confiscated from you.

3. Get a lawyer

The presence of a lawyer is highly desirable during all criminal investigative procedures.

4. Do your own due diligence

The defense’s goal in any trial is to break down the arguments of the prosecution, which tries to prove the defendant’s guilt.

5. Order an alternative expert examination without waiting for the court to order one

Unfortunately, it is impossible to guarantee that it will be included in the case file. The decision on this is made by the judge, who is guided by their own considerations. Anyone can find information in the public domain. Keep this in mind when you post something on your page.

You’ve been found guilty. Now what?

1. Your devices will be destroyed

If the court finds you guilty of extremism, you face not only punishment, but also an order to destroy the “instruments of the crime.”

2. You will lose your savings and the ability to receive money through a bank

A serious consequence of extremism charges and convictions is inclusion in the the so-called Rosfinmonitoring list.

3. To lose your livelihood it is enough to be named a suspect in a case

If you are declared a suspect in a case, your name is simply published within a few days on Rosfinmonitoring’s official website.

4. You are not notified when you are put on the list

You just won’t be able to withdraw money from an ATM one day.

5. Not only bank accounts are blocked, but also access to electronic payment systems

You might not be able to access Yandex Money and Kiwi, for example.

Valeria Parusnaya, Like Share Fine Jail (Mediazona, 2021)

Our book is a collection of stories of Russians who have faced prosecution for statements they made on social networks. There are more and more guilty verdicts for posts, reposts and likes every year.

The Russian internet is under strict state control, as evidenced by the entry into force of laws on the “sovereign internet,” “fake news,” and “disrespect for the authorities”, which give greater leeway to the authorities in holding people criminally liable for their opinions.

The book consists of news stories, articles and specific cases published by Mediazona, along with commentary by IT lawyers, but with no personal opinions or value judgments on the part of the editors. It is meant for those who want to know what all of us can face and how to avoid it.

Source: likesrok.ru.tilda.ws. The 224-page book, in Russian, can be downloaded in four different electronic formats on Ridero, where you’ll be asked to register with an email address and social media ID before downloading. Translated by the Russian Reader

No Kidding

Russia for the Rueful: A Map of Fear | Ivan Davydov | Republic | 7 December 2021

Once upon a time, an influential, respected person and I came up with a project meant to illustrate the absurdity of the Russian Criminal Code’s infamous Article 282, the one about “inciting hatred and enmity.” Oh, what a long time ago it was. Back then, there were simply no other articles in the Criminal Code that covered thought crimes. Can you imagine?

The idea was simple: gather quotes from classic Russian literature that were obvious violations of Article 282, make a website, and send an angry letter to the authorities. How long must this go on? we would write. Enough is enough! Ban books that sow hatred!

Actually, that’s why we focused on the Russian classics. It would have been easy to find the same kind of incitement in Homer, but uniformed readers might not react to his name. But they had definitely heard the surname Pushkin.

When everything was almost ready, however, my senior colleague (a wise person) said, “You know, let’s not do this. After all, they might just up and ban these books. But we have to go on living. How will we live with ourselves then?”

Patriot Games

I recalled this story while reading the amazing news about the Investigative Committee’s war on Russian rap. First, an alarming dispatch appeared on the newswires: the head of the Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, after receiving an appeal from a “pressure group of patriots,” had ordered an inquiry into the new albums by Oxxxymiron and Noize MC. The pressure had informed the general that the rappers had whitewashed Nazism and promoted extremism.

It was a news item like any other. There is no other kind of news nowadays in Russia, nor can there be any other kind of news.

But then there was more news: the text of the letter by the “patriots” turned up on the LiveJournal blog of a moderately successful online humorist. The country’s chief investigator was not bothered, it transpired, by passages such as the following: “To tell the truth, the faces of Russian law enforcement chiefs are really not always so elegant, and when they start talking, they sometimes seem like aggressive morons, thus generating depression and suicidal moods [among the populace]. It’s also good that they’ve stopped showing the MP Irina Yarovaya on TV. Something needs to be done in this case, because our enemies exploit this weakness.” Famous for his habit of viewing publications on the internet through a magnifying glass, Bastyrkin failed to notice the ridicule.

Alexander Bastyrkin, checking whether the internet is whitewashing Nazism. Photo: Russian Investigative Committee

The author of the “letter” has now been making the rounds of the media, trying to prove that he had been joking. But it doesn’t matter: Veterans of Russia, which is a real (not fictional) pressure group, said that they would write an actual denunciation against the rappers.

Forbidden Topics

It’s basic knowledge that you don’t kid around with policemen, judges, and border guards. Lately, everyone has been recalling what they did during the “snow revolution” protests, ten years ago, so I’ll indulge in remembering what I did too. In the spring of 2012 (not the winter of 2011), I was tried and fined for being involved in an “unauthorized” protest in which I was not involved. At the trial, I decided to take issue with the arrest report, according to which it had taken the paddy wagon ten minutes to transport me from the Nikitsky Gate (in the very center of Moscow) to a police station in the suburbs.

I contacted experts, who calculated that the unfortunate PAZ bus would have had to race at a speed of 600 kilometers per hour. I presented my thoughts to the judge.

The stern lady looked up at me with tired eyes. “Are you questioning the capabilities of the domestic automotive industry?” she asked. I resigned myself to my fate. Plus the fines were humane back then, nothing like the current ones.

But the list of those who cannot be trifled with is outdated. On Monday, the supremely pro-Kremlin polling agency VTSIOM published data on what things Russians now consider it impossible to laugh at.

Many of our fellow Russians are sure that they have a sense of humor. Overall, forty percent of the respondents said they had a sense of humor, and more than half of the young people surveyed said the same thing. And yet, Russians laugh at the jokes of the Ural Dumplings and love KVN, which makes one wonder about their assessments of their own sense of humor. But let’s get to the point.

A screenshot of VTsIOM’s polling data about subjects that Russians consider off-limits for humor. It should be kept in mind that it was VTsIOM that compiled this list of “forbidden” topics, not the people who were surveyed. And Ivan Davydov says as much, below.

In first place on the list of forbidden topics are jokes about the “health characteristics of other people,” and this is probably a good thing. It gets more interesting from there. Eighty percent of those surveyed believe that it is impossible to joke about the [Russian Orthodox] Church. Sixty-nine percent do not see anything funny about “the ethnic traditions and peculiarities of different peoples.” The same number are convinced that there is also little funny about the history of Russia, the USSR and the Russian Empire. (Here, by the way, I agree: there is little that is funny about Russian history.) This includes the sixty-three percent who are against jokes about “historical figures who are not living now.” Fifty-three percent would not touch “the army and the armed forces.” And fifty-one percent consider President Putin off limits (or untouchable?). Reverence for government in general is so strong that forty-five percent are afraid to joke about “other heads of state.”

Joking Aside

The list is quite revealing. But it has nothing at all to do with a special species of hypocrisy peculiar to our population. It has to do with the state’s attempts to train the populace like animals. After all, the list perfectly correlates with the news about the campaign that the state has been waging against thought criminals. The feelings of religious believers are fragile, and the more that official spokesmen of traditional confessions talk about love and mercy, the higher are the chances that they would tear you apart for making an innocent joke. Or their particularly zealous adherents would do this: it makes no difference to the targets of their outrage. There has been a lull in the “buttocks war,” but the echoes of this war are still capable of scaring people.

Why people would steer clear of “ethnic traditions” also needs no explanation, nor is it an example of their outstanding political correctness. They understand that some traditions have their own specifics. Some peoples have a tradition of taking offense and demanding an apology on camera after having conversation with the offender that is fraught with bodily injuries of varying severity.

Nor is our reverent love of history love at all. “Whoever remembers old things, pluck out his eyes,” says the proverb. “Or maybe give him five years for whitewashing Nazism,” the Investigative Committee would add. We now have our own favorite stories on this score. The stories about the Investigative Committee and Alexander Bastrykin’s personal campaign against “Hitler’s accomplices” are well known to everyone. In the Chelyabinsk region, a homeless man who decided to dry his socks at the Eternal Flame was charged with whitewashing Nazism. What can we say about smart people who risk talking about the past? Yes, it’s better not to say anything—you’ll be safer. And if you think that all this concerns only the Second World War, then you’re thinking wrong. In Novosibirsk, investigators had a strict conversation with a scholar who dared to speak about Alexander Nevsky without sufficient respect. In St. Petersburg, the probe into the blogger who hung his own portrait in the Hermitage’s Gallery of Heroes of 1812 so that he could take selfies has not yet been completed. And so on.

The fact that the Russian President rounds out the list of topics forbidden for humor is a direct rebuke to Federation Council member Andrei Klishas. The law he wrote on mandatory respect for the authorities is not really working. (Although the police on the ground have been trying: they have been catching jokers on VKontakte and rolling out gigantic fines for them.) The Investigative Committee should probably take a closer look and figure out whether there has been any sabotage on Klishas’s part. Times are turbulent: there’s a hybrid war underway, and the enemy can entrench itself even at the Federation Council. You can’t let your guard down for a minute.

A Map of Fear

I don’t know what the pollsters at VTsIOM hoped to achieve when they did their survey. But they have produced a perfect map of fear. The state has been trying to intimidate its subjects, and, as we can see, its efforts have not been in vain. Although we should note that the Church, the “traditions of certain peoples,” and their own history frighten Russians more than the authorities, which is evidence that the state cannot finish the job even in this case. They cannot pull off everything: the police-state vertical has not yet been built. But I have to give them credit: they keep on working, they don’t give up.

What can I say. Let’s remember that laughter is the most effective cure for fear. By setting traps for pranksters, the country’s current proprietors do not demonstrate their own strength. They only point up their own weak spots. By intimidating us and nurturing our fears, they demonstrate their own fear. It’s good to see this. Although this is cold consolation for someone who has been imprisoned for making a joke.

But to avoid succumbing to excessive pessimism (and thus delighting government officials), let’s recall these lines of verse by Nikolai Karamzin, the founding father of Russian historiography:

He who, bored, summons the Muses
And the gentle Graces, their attendants,
With poems and prose amuses
Himself, strangers, and dependents,
And laughs in all sincerity
(Laughing is really not a sin!)
At everything that makes him grin
Will get along with the world in amity,
And won’t cut short his days
With sharp blades or poisons…

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Scarlet Flower

The musical on ice The Scarlet Flower is not only a colorful performance, but also a socially significant project. The show’s mission is to play a significant role in educating the younger generation and fostering a sense of patriotism through a combination of music and sports. “Of course, our musical on ice encourages young people to be more interested in their native literature. The Scarlet Flower and its Western European counterpart Beauty and the Beast have a lot in common and no less important differences. Our task is to make a show that no one else has done in terms of its scope and beauty, and to prove to the whole world that our work is much more colorful, more interesting, deeper, more romantic and brighter,” said Tatiana Navka.

Source: Bileter.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

From 2014 to 2015, [Tatiana] Navka was the beneficiary of Carina Global Assets Ltd., an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. In February 2019, questions were raised over Navka and her husband’s wealth following reports about their ownership of multiple properties in the Moscow region. An investigation by The Guardian suggested that Navka may have underreported income, claimed married status for several years after her divorce from Zhulin, and falsely told the IRS that she had sold a house.

In 2016, Navka caused controversy when she and her dancing partner, Andrei Burkovsky, appeared in the Russian version of Dancing on Ice dressed as Holocaust concentration camp prisoners.

In 2021, Tatiana Navka made and published homophobic comments to Spanish gymnast Cristofer Benítez. Through her social networks, she said that rhythmic gymnastics gymnastics was a “feminine sport,” and that she is glad that in her country men are not allowed to participate in rhythmic gymnastics “and hopefully never will.”

Source: Wikipedia

Remembering Aron Atabek

Aron Atabek: poet, rebel, Kazakh samurai (People & Nature, 6 December 2021)

The dissident poet Aron Atabek has died in Kazakhstan, weeks after being released from 15 years as a political prisoner.

Atabek, 68, died in hospital on 24 November, where he was being treated for Covid-19. Years in prison, beatings by guards, and long stretches of solitary confinement had taken their toll on his health.

Aron Atabek after his release from prison. Photo from bureau-kz

In the weeks prior to his death, Atabek’s family had released photos of the poet, weighing 50 kilos and emaciated – down from a healthy 85 kilos when he was jailed in 2006.

Atabek had been arrested for his part in defending the Shanyrak shanty town, set up by homeless people outside Almaty – a key chapter in the history of resistance to the authoritarian regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Friends of Aron Atabek, members of his family and participants in opposition movements gathered on 28 November at the statue of the poet Abai Kunanbaev in Almaty. They read poems, and demanded that the Shanyrak case be reviewed.

The human rights campaign group Oyan, Qazaqstan issued a statement, saying:

We believe that the responsibility for the death of the poet Aron Atabek lies entirely with the [Kazakh] authorities. They passed an illegal sentence on Aron when they imprisoned him. The deterioration of Abatek’s health, and his death, is on their conscience. Aron Atabek stayed true to his principles to the end of his life. He did not agree to an amnesty, he did not once beg for forgiveness from Nazarbayev, and he never became disillusioned with what he himself did. For us he remains the same, unbending, a Kazakh samurai.

Atabek had been politically active in democratic and nationalist circles since late Soviet times (the 1980s). In the 2000s, the price of oil, Kazakhstan’s main export, rose, the elite accumulated vast wealth, the gap between rich and poor yawned still wider – and Atabek paid the price for defending the dispossessed.

The Shanyrak shanty-town was a sanctuary for those who suffered most in the oil boom, and the construction frenzy that it financed, when developers grabbed land with scant regard for the law. It is estimated that, when it was destroyed by a violent, illegal police operation, it comprised more than 2000 dwellings with up to 10,000 residents.

The notorious police clearance of Shanyrak took place shortly after the promulgation on 5 July 2006 of the law “On Amnesty and Legalisation of Property”.

The city authorities, citing shanty-town dwellers’ failure to register their properties correctly, ordered them to leave. Atabek and other oppositionists argued that the real reason was that the authorities wanted to make more land available to developers.

Atabek lobbied parliamentarians, wrote articles, organised petitions and reminded the shanty-town dwellers of constitutional rights that protected them. But pleas by Atabek and other activists went unheeded.

Remembering Aron Atabek in Almaty, 28 November. Photo from the-village-kz

The police tried to clear the shanty-town forcibly, and a violent clash ensued in which a police officer died. A round-up of activists followed.

Atabek was tried and convicted in October 2007 of “orchestrating mass disorder” – despite there being no evidence that he was nearby when the clashes occurred. Atabek was offered a pardon in exchange for admitting guilt, but he vehemently refused.

Atabek continued to write in prison, detailing illegal and inhumane prison conditions on his website. An international campaign in his defence was supported by PEN Internationalthe International Times, and others.

In 2011, a six-month strike by Kazakh oil workers was brought to an end by a police massacre at Zhanaozen that left at least 16 dead and 64 wounded. Campaigners linked Atabek’s case to the wider clampdown on labour and opposition groups that followed.

In an obituary of Atabek in The Diplomat, Paolo Sorbello wrote:

At his core, Atabek was a nationalist. He was on the square in December 1986 when students and activists in Almaty protested the appointment of Gennady Kolbin, an ethnic Russian, to head the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The police repression of the riots turned the events into a dark page in the country’s history. During “Jeltoqsan” (December in Kazakh), the authorities ordered a violent repression of the demonstrations, which resulted in several dead. The Soviet establishment never allowed for a transparent investigation and trial over the violence.

Aron Atabek at his trial in 2007

On the eve of independence in 1991, Atabek was instrumental in the creation of the Alash National Independence Party. In the 1990s, fearing repercussions for his political positions, he continued his activism from Russia and Azerbaijan. He returned to Kazakhstan in the early 2000s and founded the public association “Kazakh Ulty” (Kazakh Nation), through which he criticised Nazarbayev, at a period of heightened political struggle.

In the mid-2000s Kazakhstan’s most important oil contracts were finally drawing financial windfalls, while Nazarbayev was consolidating his power in the face of growing opposition movements. Furthermore, the economy’s reliance on the US dollar and the housing boom in Almaty were a foreboding tale of the long-lasting effects of the global financial crisis of 2007. The Shanyrak events were essentially an explosive cocktail, the product of the unstable situation in the country.

The repression of opposition movements, the arrest of Atabek, and later on the violent reaction to the strikes in the oil town of Zhanaozen were stepping stones in the consolidation of Nazarbayev’s grip on power and the insurance policy on a season of political stability.

Remembering Aron Atabek in Almaty, 28 November. Photo from the-village-kz

Follow People & Nature on twitter … instagram … telegram … or whatsapp. Or email peoplenature[at]protonmail.com, and I’ll send you updates.

Originally posted on People & Nature on 6 December 2021. Thanks to its editor, Simon Pirani, for encouraging me to repost his obituary here. ||| TRR

Freud and Obama at the Parade

Sergey Fedulov, Freud and Obama at the Parade, 2021. Gouache on paper. Courtesy of Studio 6 at St. Petersburg Municipal Psychiatric Hospital No. 6. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Ryzhov. The painting is currently on view at the exhibition Beyond the Establishment, at the Marble Palace of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

Beyond the Establishment is an inclusive project of the Russian Museum and the first large-scale attempt to present the work of non-professional modern artists with mental disorders and/or psychiatric experience from an artistic point of view. Without diminishing the social significance of the exhibition, the aesthetic value of the artworks is in the foreground. The authors presented here express their personal attitude to the world through creativity, which fits well into the strategies of contemporary art, where the factor of professional artistic education has long ceased to prevail. First of all, these artists are distinguished by [their] lack of involvement in the art community, the art establishment and its marketing strategies, the current discourse on art, etc.

The process of including such art into common artistic practice was launched at the beginning of the twentieth century, but the terms that arose decades ago have acquired new shades of meaning over time and now no longer seem to be either correct or accurate enough to describe the phenomenon in its entirety. This also applies to the two most common terms: art brut and outsider art. The title of this exhibition, Beyond the Establishment, does not solve terminological problems, but indicates the intersection point for the six artists represented here.

Source: Beyond the Establishment

A rendering of the text below, about the artist Sergey Fedulov, in Russian Sign Language

Sergey Fedulov (born in 1981) started drawing at an early age. His grandfather was an artist and supported his grandson’s hobby, allowing him to make art any way he wanted and anywhere he wanted—even on the walls. After finishing school, Sergey studied to be a restorer at college. At first, he drew from life, as many artists do, but he always dreamed of finding his own special technique and original manner, and he was helped to do this at the Alternative Studio at Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic No. 7. After the Alternative Studio closed in 2018, the artist began working at Studio 6 at Psychiatric Hospital No. 6 and found support from the Outsiderville project.

Fedulov is fond of science fiction and is prone to supernatural interpretations of social and political conflicts. The artist’s style can be defined as a fantastic realism that is not averse to irony and sarcasm. In his world, communism has triumphed on a universal scale, but it is not aggressive or threatening: it is the ideal model of intergalactic order. The frightening potential of political myths is rendered harmless: they turn into anecdote, fairy tale, awkwardness. In the curators’ opinion, the inclusion of Masyanya as a recurring character helps Sergey openly fantasize and feel free on the paper. In every work there is a dialogue—not only between earthly authorities, but also with the inhabitants of other planets, who can also be heard. The frightening potential of political myths is neutralized—they are turned into anecdotes, fairy tales, embarrassments. Dream and reality are intertwined: Comrade Stalin meets Napoleon, the psychiatrist Pyotr Kashchenko treats aliens, Sigmund Freud and Barack Obama review a military parade, and these events are calmly observed by the cat Masyanya, the artist’s pet. According to the curators, the inclusion of Masyanya as a recurring character has enanbled Sergey to fantasize freely on the paper.

Fedulov’s works have been shown at the Russian Museum (St. Petersburg, 2019, 2020), the Museum of Russian Lubok and Naive Art (Moscow, 2019), the Ariadne’s Thread Festival (Moscow, 2018), the 2nd Triennial of Self-Taught Artists (Yagodina, Serbia, 2019) and Art Brut Global. Phase II (a virtual project of the Outsider Art Fair, 2020). His work was also in competition at the Paralym Art World Cup in Tokyo in 2020.

Source: Beyond the Establishment. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Mikhail Ryzhov and Victoria Andreyeva for bringing this marvelous artist and this show to my attention.