My Fans

This, sadly, is typical of the feedback I get on a nearly weekly basis.

new fan.jpeg“Is that how you get your stories? Stealing”

I don’t feel like explaining the difference between a translation and a original to Pirate Jenny. Or that all my translations are linked backed to their sources and marked as such. Or that, often as not, especially when it comes to Facebook “op-eds” and original artworks, I ask the writers and artists for permission to translate their stuff and publish it here. Or that I snap most of the photos I use on the website myself, and I credit the images I occasionally borrow. Or that I frequently write my own editorials when the Holy Ghost moves me. Or that this website is tons of work, all of which I do myself.

I have never got even a ruble in outside funding and little thanks for this work, only a steady drip of crap comments from stealthy Russian and non-Russian creeps like “Jenny.” I’ve been doing this gig for eleven years and I’ve just about had it. I think the website serves a good purpose, the readership has been going up year after year, but nearly all of the people who read it are, apparently, freeloaders who think that sharing posts—the only tangible reward I get, because reposting turns more people onto the site and makes me feel like getting up early in the morning to translate or write yet another post—is a luxury they cannot afford.  {TRR}

Neapolitan Ice Cream in the Cradle of Three Revolutions

neapolitan-1Neapolitan ice cream à la russe. Photo by the Russian Reader

Not that I had been looking very hard these past twenty-four years, but yesterday I found one of my favorite childhood desserts in the frozen foods section of the cornershop on my street: Neapolitan ice cream.

It was called trio plombir in Russian (plombir is just mock-fancy Russian, appropriated from the French, for rich ice cream, ordinarily referred to as morozhenое), but that hardly mattered, because it was Neapolitan ice cream in every way that counted.

neapolitan-2What could be better on a warm October evening than a large slab of trio plombir? Photo by the Russian Reader

And why am I still eating ice cream in mid October, you ask? Because the high temperature in Petersburg the day before yesterday was nineteen degrees Centigrade.

Please don’t be envious of me, though, faithful readers. From here on out it is all downhill. The forecast temperatuare high for the next to last three days in October is minus one degree Centigrade. I will probably have forgotten all about Russian Neapolitan ice cream by then. {TRR}

 

 

A History of Violence

autumn colors.jpgSpontaneous car park amidst the rubble on the corner of Kirochnaya and Novgorodskaya Streets, Petersburg, 12 October 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Since I had made nearly a dozen trips to and from the Interior Ministry’s Amalgamated Happiness Center this past summer to get my papers in order, I must have passed through the nearby intersection of Kirochnaya and Novgorodskaya Streets just as many times. So, when I happened on the bizarre autumnal scene, picture above, at the same corner yesterday evening, I was befuddled. What had happened here? I could not recall its having looked like this, as if a bomb had been dropped on it a month or two ago.

Fortunately, my friend AC came to the rescue, sending me the following, all-too-typical journalistic account of what happened on the corner of Kirochnaya and Novgorodskaya this past summer.

This is only a single episode in a much larger history of violence, the story of how Petersburg’s bureaucrats-cum-capitalist sharks-cum-property developers have demolished large parts of its historic center, a Unesco World Heritage Site, to satisfy their greed, and how the city has been turned ugly by their lawless exertions in so many spots that all of us who love Petersburg have long ago lost count of the dead and wounded. {TRR}

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Demolition of Garages near Nevsky Town Hall: As If a Mongol Horde Had Swept Through Petersburg 
Have Officials of the Smolny Trashed a Car Park for War Veterans That Existed 60 Years on Behalf of Oligarch Samvel Karapetyan?
Nikolai Pechernikov
Interessant
August 31, 2018

A conflict over the car park on the corner of Kirochnaya and Novgorodskaya Streets that had lasted for years ended recently in a total victory of officials over ordinary citizens. The garages in the car park, allocated to World War Two veterans in the 1960s by the Smolny District Party Council, were not merely demolished. They were swept from the face of the earth, as if they had been located on enemy territory, in a fortified area that was finally mopped up by friendly forces.

Garage Owners? Get the Hell Out of Here!
In photos taken by an Interessant correspondent from a neighboring block of flats, the pogrom unleashed in the car park by the tough guys from the St. Petersburg Center for More Effective Use of State Property is apparent. A quiet corner in downtown Petersburg has been turned into gigantic rubbish heap. The pavement is chockablock with pieces of wrecked garage roofs, tires, car parts, and broken furniture.

The garage owners, who had not wished to exit their car park meekly, but had filed lawsuits, have been punished with all severity. Their belongings have been tossed out of the garages, broken, and dumped in heaps. The people who carried out this mopping-up operation had probably wanted it to be demonstrative: this is what happens to anyone in Petersburg who gets it in their head to take the moral high ground and try and defend their rights.

The rubbish heap that residents of Kirochnaya and Novgorodskaya Streets can see from their windows is a distressing sight. It looks as if Mamai and the Golden Horde had swept through Petersburg. Most important, over the last few days, it has occurred to none of the responsible parties to clean up the area they mopped up. Apparently, the rubbish heaps will now lie there for several more months.

This barbaric, shameful rubbish heap, the aftermath of a car park’s demolition, testifies to the fact that Petersburg city officials care not a whit for the city’s reputation or their own reputations. Photo courtesy of Interessant

There had been several previous attempts to squeeze out the war veterans and their heirs from the land plot on which the now-demolished garages had stood. In 2016, for example, a tractor demolished the entrance gate to the car park. When the gate was lying on the ground, the tractor drove back and forth over it, flattening the gate ever more convincingly, as if it were doing a victory lap. But the special op ended in mid-sentence as it were. Now, however, it has finally been completed.

Samvel Karapetyan? Welcome!
On whose behalf have officials of the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] been making such efforts? Who means more to them than the people who built garages on the plot back in the day on completely legal grounds?

Allegedly, the plot will be ceded to companies belonging to Samvel Karapetyan, president and founder of the Tashir Group, one of the largest property developers in Russia. Unlike the mopped-up veterans and their heirs, Mr. Karapetyan is quite wealthy. As of late 2017, according to Forbes, he had an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion. Bloomberg recently included him in its index of the world’s five hundred wealthiest people.

Petersburg officials cannot directly gift the plot on the corner of Kirochnaya and Novgorodskaya to Mr. Karapetyan, of course. According to our information, it will probably be transferred to Dargov Cultural Center LLC or Slovak House LLC, companies linked to a network of commercial organizations directly connected to RIO, a chain of shopping malls owned by Mr. Karapetyan’s business empire.

What Will Be Built on the Lot? A Shopping Center? Or a Huge Block of Flats?
The lot at the corner of Kirochnaya and Novgorodskaya would be a quite attractive site for yet another shopping center. It is literally a stone’s throw from Nevsky Town Hall [Nevskaya ratusha], where a considerable number of officials from Petersburg city hall will soon be moving. The entire neighborhood now consists of luxury blocks of flats in which only very wealthy people can afford to live. Thus, a RIO Shopping Center on Kirochnaya (if Mr. Karapetyan actually plans to build one) would not only be located close to city officials but would also be a kind of tool for influencing them.

According to other sources, the plot could be redeveloped into a huge block of flats. Officials, businessmen, and lobbyists no doubt would like to move in next door to Nevsky Town Hall. It would be a question of prestige to many of them.

Either project would be highly profitable to the people who implement it, and experienced officials are also probably eagerly poised to pounce on it. They have a nose for such deals.

When so much moolah is at stake, no one has the time of day for the rubbish heap left in the aftermath of the car park’s destruction, a sight that brings shame on Petersburg.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Svetlana Alexievich’s Dead Ends

DSCN2329Repeated endlessly by the Russophone liberal intelligentsia over the past three decades, claims that Russians are genetically programmed Stalinists and thus inevitably suspectible to Putin’s nonexistent charms and his neo-authoritarianism are false and pernicious cognitive dead ends that have done untold amounts of damage to the country’s grassroots democratic movements. Photo by the Russian Reader

With all due respect to the writer Svetlana Alexievich and her imaginary addressee, the late Anna Politkovskaya, Ms. Alexievich’s letter to Politkovskaya, published two days ago in the Washington Post, is the kind of reckless Russian liberal intelligentsia nonsense that saps people of the will to resist in the first place.

It also happens to be wildly wrong in the sweeping claims it makes, both objectively and subjectively.

“Now it is Putin who talks to them; he’s learned from our mistakes. But it’s not about Putin alone; he’s just saying what the people want to hear. I would say that there’s a little bit of Putin in every Russian. I’m talking about the collective Putin: We thought that it was the Soviet power that was the problem, but it was all about the people.

“The Soviet way of thinking lives on in our minds and our genes. How quickly has the Stalinist machine set to work again. With what skill and enthusiasm everyone is once again denouncing each other, catching spies, beating people up for being different . . . Stalin has risen! Throughout Russia they are building monuments to Stalin, putting up Stalin’s portraits, opening museums in Stalin’s memory.”

Really? Throughout Russia? I would imagine these portraits, monuments, and museums (?) number in the dozens, if that many.

Meanwhile, I have it on impeccable authority that Last Address and the hundreds of ordinary extraordinary Petersburgers who have joined them have erected nearly three hundred plaques commemorating the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror over the last few years.

In fact, there are are three such plaques at the entrance to my building. I see people stopping, looking at them, reading them, and taking snapshots of them all the time.

It is an insult to everyone who has been involved in Last Address and the other myriad acts of resistance great and small over the last twenty years, including, of course, Politkovskaya herself, to claim “there’s a little bit of Putin in every Russian.”

In fact, there are millions of Russians who do not have even a teensy bit of Putin in them, whatever that would mean. If you don’t believe me, take a few or several or ten dozen dips into this website and its predecessor over their eleven-year, nearly two thousand-post run.

You will not see and hear what Russia is “really like,” but experience a few or several or ten dozen ways in which Russia is definitely NOT “Putin’s Russia.” You will read and hear the words and the stories of rank-and-file Russians who, remarkably if you believe Ms. Alexievich’s boilerplate, music to certain western ears, are nothing like Putin at all.

When will any of the wiseguys who dictate our opinions about everything from “Putin’s Russia” to the latest Star Wars movies tell us about those other Russians and other Russias? {TRR}

Russia: Great Cops, Wicked People

police vs youthThe Russian Justice Ministry insists there have been no violations by Russian law enforcers at protest rallies, but that complainants broke the law themselves. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti 

Russian Authorities See No Laws Broken in Large-Scale Detentions at Protest Rallies: Justice Ministry Explains to Strasbourg That Detainees Broke the Law Themselves
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
October 8, 2018

Last week, the Russian Justice Ministry’s press reported the ministry had sent a legal opinion to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), explaining the position of the Russian authorities on the merits of twenty formal complaints made to the court concerning administrative convictions handed down by Russian courts for alleged violations of the law on protest rallies during public events in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Barnaul in 2016–2017.

The Justice Ministry’s opinion is encapsulated in the following argument: “The termination of public events held by the complainants and their prosecution under the law do not violate international norms and [were] aimed at maintaining public order, security, and the rights of other persons. The corresponding charges of administrative offenses were ajudicated by [Russian] courts in full compliance with the requirements of procedural laws, and in compliance with the adversarial principle and the equality of arms.”

The Russian Justice Ministry insists there have been no violations by Russian law enforcers at protest rallies, but that complainants broke the law themselves.

“Although they had the opportunity to hold their events in compliance with the law, the complainants knowingly neglected their obligation to coordinate them with the proper authorities,” the Justice Ministry argued.

The Justice Ministry reminded the court that, in the past, the ECHR has acknowledged the right of states to establish requirements for the organization and conduct of public events, as well as the right to impose penalties on persons who do not comply with these demands. The Justice Ministry referred to the ECHR’s rulings in Berladir and Others v. Russia (10 July 2012) and Éva Molnár v. Hungary (7 October 2008).

Last year, complaints to the ECHR regarding violations of the freedom of assembly were second in popularity only to complaints about conditions of detention, and they may come in first place this year. Since the beginning of 2018, the ECHR has fast-tracked its consideration of these cases in keeping with established practice.

Alexei Glukhov, head of the legal service Defending Protest (Apologiya protesta), which specializes in helping people detained at public events, says that, despite fast tracking, the Russian authorities respond at length to each complaint. (In the cases that Defending Protest has handled, there have been over fifty official communiqués alone.) The responses are almost always the same, however. There were no violations of constitutional rights, the Russian authorities explain: law enforcement agencies acted according to the letter of the law, while it was the demonstrators themselves who violated it, even if the authorities sent them deep into the woods to hold their protest rally.

Glukhov argues the Justice Ministry’s current legal opinion is intended for internal use. Law enforcers and ordinary Russians alike should understand it is pointless to invoke Article 11 of the European Convention, which protects the right to freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form trade unions.

Actually, the Justice Ministry is in a pickle, argues civil rights attorney Dmitry Agranovsky. It must export the image of a democratic country abroad, but this correlates poorly with de facto feudalism at home, where all efforts have been made to reduce the numbers of protests and protesters, says Agranovsky. According to him, not only administrative but also criminal punishments are clearly out of synch with the violations that occur and are meant to have a chilling effect on the populace.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Stability

DSCN1722Russians queued up at a popular currency exchange in central Petersburg on September 19, 2018, as the ruble took yet another plunge, fueled by rumors that the regime was planning to “dedollarize” the Russian economy. Photo by the Russian Reader

Foreign Currency Deposits Withdrawn from Sberbank: Depositors Take Out Over $2 Billion in Two Months 
Vitaly Soldatskikh
Kommersant
October 6, 2018

In September, Russians continued to aggressively withdraw foreign currency from accounts in Sberbank (Savings Bank). Over the past month, the amount of these deposits decreased by $900,000,000, while the amount has decreased by more than $2 billion dollars since the beginning of August. The outflow of funds from the savings accounts of individual depositors took place as rumors of a possible forced conversion of foreign currency deposits grew. However, after reasurring statements by Elvira Nabiullina, chair of the Russian Central Bank, as well as a rise in rates on foreign currency deposits, the outflows may decrease.

On Friday, Sberbank published its monthly statement before other Russian banks, as usual. According to these figures, as we have analyzed them, the populace’s foreign currency-denominated bank deposits in Sberbank decreased by $901 million or 2.7% in September and now total $32.5 billion. Likely as not, Russians simply withdrew this money from the bank without exchanging it for rubles and redepositing it. According to Sberbank’s statement, the populace’s ruble-denominated sight deposits and term deposits descreased last month by 45.78 billion rubles or half a percent to 9.65 trillion rubles. Overall, the outflow of foreign currecy deposits slowed compared with August, when individual clients withdrew $1.18 billion from the bank.

Sberbank’s press service confirmed the outflow of $900 million in deposits by retail clients in September, but noted the inflow of funds from commercial clients amounted to approximately $1.5 billion. (This calculation was made using the bank’s in-house method.)

Sberbank termed August’s outflow of foreign currency deposits the product of a “managed evolution of the bank’s balance sheets.”

Meanwhile, in late August, Sberbank introduced a new seasonal foreign currency deposit plan, valid until the end of September, with annual interest rates that varied from 1.5% to 3%. (The highest rates was for customers willing to deposit a minimum of $150 million for a period of three years.) Currently, Sberbank’s highest interest rate for dollar-denominated deposits is 2.06%, whereas a number of major banks, including VTB Bank, Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank), Alfa Bank, and Rosbank, offer interest rates on dollar-denominated deposits of 2.5% per annum.

September’s outflow of deposits from Sberbank occurred as VTB Bank chair Andrey Kostin made a series of statements about the possible implementation of harsher sanctions, under which Russia’s state-owned banks could be stripped of the ability to make dollar-denominated transactions. Were this to occur, Kostin said, VTB Bank could not rule out having to disburse funds from dollar-denominated accounts in another currency as a way of upholding the bank’s obligations to its clients. These statements by the head of Russia’s second largest bank did not go unnoticed. Central Bank chair Elvira Naibullina was forced to calm bank customers by denying the possibility of a compulsory conversion of deposits. According to Naibullina, such moves would only undermine confidence in Russia’s banking system.

According to our analysis, foreign currency deposits held by commercial clients at Sberbank increased by $1.43 billion in September. This occurred largely due to the growth of long-term deposits by commercial firms. Deposits made for terms of three years or longer grew by $1.56 billion, while deposits for shorter terms shrunk. Also, the balances on the accounts of foreign companies grew by $902 million. The ruble-denominated balances on Sberbank accounts held by commercial clients grew by more than 222 billion rubles in September. This increase was mainly due to the nearly 151 billion rubles in additional monies raised by the Federal Treasury.

According to Fitch Ratings, the most considerable outflows in corporate funds, adjusted for fluctuations in the foreign currency exchange rate, were observed at Sberbank (117 billion rubles or 1.7%), Gazprombank (87 billion rubles or 2.8%), and Rossiya Bank (58 billion rubles or 9.4%). Retail deposits also declined mainly at Sberbank (107 billion rubles or 0.9%) and banks undergoing reorganization by the Central Bank (35 billion rubles or 3.2%), while other banks enjoyed a fairly uniform increase in retail deposits.

According to Ruslan Korshunov, director for bank ratings at Expert RA, the largest Russian credit rating agency, “Rumors of the Russian economy’s dedollarization and the possible conversion of foreign currency deposits into rubles could have pushed a segment of the populace to withdraw their money from state-owned banks, against which sanctions could be strengthened.”

At the same, Korshunov noted the outflow of retail deposits in September could also have been caused by a seasonal factor: the return of the populace from holiday and, consequently, an increase in consumer activity. However, he believed these factors had a one-off effect and such outflows were highly unlikely in October.

Translated by the Russian Reader