At today’s hearing [in Sasha Skochilenko’s criminal trial on charges of disseminating knowingly false information about the Russian army], Sasha’s defense lawyers and Svetlana Drugoveyko-Dolzhanskaya, a linguist who conducted an independent forensic examination and found no knowingly false information in Sasha’s messages, were able to question one of the authors of the linguistic forensic examination [commissioned by the prosecution].
Olga Safonova, a specialist in political science (!), was enlisted to contribute to the linguistic forensic examination. But, as she was instructed to do by a staff member at the forensics expertise center, she evaluated whether what was written [on the anti-war “price tags” that Ms. Skochilenko is alleged to have posted in a Petersburg supermarket] was in line with the Russian Defense Ministry’s position, not whether it was truthful.
[Safonova] admitted that her analysis of one of the messages was “slightly misleading.” She was “at a loss” when asked to respond to the assertion that Sasha faces up to ten years in prison on the basis of such misleading conclusions, among other things.
After a recess (due to her heart problems, Sasha found it difficult to endure the stuffiness and lack of water), the examination of the witness was continued by Drugoveyko-Dolzhanskaya. Safonova was forced to admit that among the sources against which she checked Sasha’s messages, only the Defense Ministry’s website corresponded to her own definition of an official source — unlike the website Life.ru and anonymous Telegram channels. She also could not answer a school curriculum-level question about impersonal sentences, although their erroneous definition in the forensic examination is one of the “proofs” of Sasha’s guilt.
In addition to pointing out the errors in the forensic examination and its noncompliance with government standards, Drugoveyko-Dolzhanskaya recalled that, according to the Justice Ministry’s methodological recommendations, when an expert strays beyond their area of professional competence, it is a procedural error and is inadmissible [as evidence in court]. Safonova was forced to agree. Drugoveyko-Dolzhanskaya followed this up by asking a direct question: “Can you, as an expert, prove conclusively that Skochilenko knowingly falsified information?”
Safonova replied that she could not.
The new prosecutor abruptly interrupted her and requested that the hearing be postponed.
You can come out and support Sasha at 11:30 a.m on June 13. Many thanks to everyone who continues to attend the trial, shares information about the case, and donates money to pay the lawyers and buy food and medicine care packages! You can help Sasha financially here:
In the late 1990s, St. Petersburg State University, for reasons unknown, gave away one of its dormitories on Vasilievsky Island — 10 Bering Street — with a two-story attic built on. Later, one of the university’s vice-rectors regretfully claimed that if the building had not been given away, the university would have had room to house over 500 students. Today, the building houses apartments (a three-bedroom flat there will run you 20 million rubles) and offices. It is owned by the Bering-10 Condominium Association, whose chair is Olga Diomidovna Safonova. She has the exact same name as an associate professor in the Faculty of Political Science at St. Petersburg State University.
Safonova has been involved as an expert witness in the criminal cases against [Petersburg anti-war protesters]Victoria Petrova, Sasha Skochilenko, and Vsevolod Korolev. They face up to ten years in prison if convicted. These are quotations from the expert analysis in the case against Victoria Petrova:
“Objective facts indicate that the war crimes against the civilian population of Ukraine have not been committed by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, but by the Kiev regime and the armed formations controlled by it.”
“The practical intent and purpose of the statements under examination [i.e., Victoria Petrova’s posts] consists in generating false ideas among readers (listeners) that the actions of the Russian federal leadership are condemned by society, as manifested by the threat of the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine and against European countries.[…]In the materials submitted for examination, the negative assessment of the policy of Russian federal state bodies vis-a-vis their deployment of Russian federal armed forces to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens and maintain international peace and security, is not supported by arguments and evidence.”
Safonova graduated first from St. Petersburg State University’s law faculty, then from its philology faculty. In 2005, she defended her dissertation in political science. Here is a quote from the abstract: “Social deprivation has become a characteristic feature of the lifestyle of a significant portion of the Russian populace. A drop in the level of real monetary income has entailed increased competition for survival, thereby generating an increase in the stratum of people whose intentions have become criminal, i.e., unlawful.”
At least until the mid-2010s, Safonova led an active social life. The Village found the academic’s picture in a dozen photo reportages from different parties, as published by Sobaka.ru and Geometria. Here she is at a presentation by the jewelry house Freywille; here, at the (now-closed) restaurant Gusto’s birthday party; and here, at the opening of XXXX Baltika Brew.
The Village spoke about Safonova with graduates of various faculties at St. Petersburg State University: their assessments of her were contradictory. Journalist Anastasia Romanova, who took Safonova’s lecture course on political science, remembered her as “the toughest teacher, whose pass-fail exam was very hard to pass.” “She honestly read the whole class the riot act,” said Romanova. “It was very scary to go to her.” Emile, a graduate of the political science faculty, where Safonova taught a course on law, recalls, on the contrary, that “the course was a formality,” and “at some point that woman just disappeared.” It was one of the easiest subjects to pass,” he said.
In 2012, commenting to Delovoi Peterburg on the newly adopted law on foreign agents, Safonova said, “There are many organizations that, under plausible pretexts, are engaged in near-subversive activities. We as a state should be concerned about this, and it’s good that this issue has been addressed.”
“I remember that Safonova gave what I thought were absurd descriptions of the political regimes in other countries. She said there was no democracy anywhere. It seems to me that most students found her unpleasant both as a teacher and as an apologist for the regime. A couple of days ago, a classmate sent me an article in Rotunda about her involvement in the expert analysis [in the case of Victoria Petrova]. I wasn’t surprised,” says Emile. Romanova adds, “She didn’t give the impression of being a stupid person. Arrogant, yes. I think she understands perfectly well what is happening now.”
Rosobrnadzor [the Russian federal education watchdog] and the prosecutor’s office have begun an unscheduled inspection of the European University at St. Petersburg, sources at the university and close to the university have told the BBC. The inspectors are examining publications by the university’s lecturers and the topics of students’ dissertations, especially in political science, history, and sociology, and they are also observing classes. [In December 2016], a similar inspection led to the university’s license being revoked.
That the inspection was underway was confirmed to the BBC on condition of anonymity by eight sources, both within the university itself and among those associated with it. One of the academics told the BBC that the EUSP’s leadership was warned about the unscheduled inspection last Thursday. The inspectors arrived at the university on Monday [May 15].
The university’s rector, Vadim Volkov, responded to our request for comment by writing that he could not speak [about the matter], “especially with the BBC.” Alla Samoletova, chief of staff in the rector’s office and responsible for media contacts, did not respond to the BBC’s calls and messages.
Two of the BBC’s sources claimed that the prosecutor’s office is checking the university “for extremism.” According to one of them, the inspection is part of a campaign to counter extremism and terrorism. The supervisory authorities are interested in the content of academic papers and programs. In particular, the inspectors are looking for extremism in publications by the university’s lecturers, they said. Rosobrnadzor and prosecutor’s office inspectors have been stationed in a computer classroom two days in a row reading documents, as well as sitting in on classes at the university.
A source told the BBC that the inspectors requested a packet of documents for 2020–2023 that included dissertation topics and personal files of the university’s master’s degree and PhD students (the EUSP has no bachelor’s degree program), as well as their individual research plans, as authorized by their academic advisers. Such documents were retrieved from at least four faculties—anthropology, history, sociology, and political science—the source claimed.
The topics of dissertations and their content were always discussed at the university in terms of their compliance with academic standards, but they were not censored, one of the scholars noted. Another said that in recent years, when approving topics, advisers took in account how risky writing and publishing the work would be for the author, their informants, and the university, and whether the thesis could be successfully defended in the current circumstances.
After the outbreak of the war with Ukraine, the EUSP said farewell to foreign teaching staff and [Russian nationals teaching at the university] who fled Russia, sources said. The current audit affects several dozen of the university’s lecturers, as well as several hundred graduate students.
The technique for attacking a university, according to the BBC’s source, is standard: officials usually recruit experts who are willing to detect evidence of “extremist propaganda” and similar violations in research. These experts include people who have themselves been guilty of plagiarizing academic works, as the BBC has reported.
It is almost impossible to challenge such examinations, said a source close to the EUSP. According to them, the results of a similar inspection had led, in the past, to a shakeup of the teaching staff and changes in the curricula at the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Smolny College) of St. Petersburg State University.
In 2021, similar audits took place at the Shaninka (Moscow School for the Social and Economic Sciences), and at RANEPA’s Institute of Social Sciences (ION). The prosecutor’s office, as during its audit of Smolny College, asked to see scholarly articles by university staff and a “steering document on disciplinary activity” said a BBC source familiar with the audit.
The European University is a private university founded in St. Petersburg in 1994. It was initially funded by grants from American and European NGOs, including the Soros Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. These organizations are now deemed “undesirable” by the Russian authorities, but the EUSP has not received financing from them for a long time.
The EUSP Board of Trustees is headed by Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum, while former Russian presidential chief of staff Alexander Voloshin and ex-chairman of the Federal Audit Chamber Alexei Kudrin are among the trustees. Kudrin is also a member of the board of trustees at the Shaninka, and he previously served as the dean of Smolny College.
The BBC Russian Service and other independent media have repeatedly reported that the intense focus of the oversight authorities on private universities in Russia (especially the EUSP and the Shaninka) is fueled by the FSB, which is unhappy with their independence and academic contacts with the West.
In 2016, the EUSP was subjected to a similar inspection by the same supervisory authorities. Inspectors then questioned students as well, but it has not come to that yet during the current inspection. Inspectors also then audited academic works for extremism, but could find no evidence of it. The only irregularities that Rosobrnadzor found find at the EUSP had to do with number of practical teachers [sic] in the Faculty of Political Science. The latter led to the revocation of the university’s license, which was reinstated only a year later. The BBC’s sources could not rule out that, this time around, the inspection would lead to the EUSP’s closure or the shuttering of individual programs at the university.
According to the consolidated register of inspections, the EUSP was audited thirteen times between 2016 and 2022, including three times by Rosobrnadzor. In October, the government banned planned inspections in 2023 of legal entities that do not belong to high-risk categories.
It’s not the prices that are rising — it’s the ruble that is falling. The “special operation” is a war. You can’t force Ukraine to like you. We haven’t surrendered to NATO. The neighbors have no more Nazis than we do. Soldiers should be alive, healthy, and at home. The president has gone mad, and everyone is afraid to contradict him. Your children love you and want to live like human beings.
That’s it, thank you. So that’s how it is. Yeah, it’s time to end it. Wow. Thanks, I feel relieved. Oh, would that they would explain it that way on TV.
The war has made us take a look around. In whose midst do we live? Do our fellow citizens think the same way we do? Public Sociology Lab (PS Lab) is a research team that studies politics and society in Russia. In 2022, it launched a project to study the attitudes of Russians to the war.
How do people explain the conflict’s causes to themselves? How does their attitude to politics affect their personal interactions and self-perception? Do they have a political position at all? We talked about this with researchers at PS Lab. Svetlana Erpyleva works at the Center for Eastern European Studies at the University of Bremen, while Maxim Alyukov, a political sociologist, works at the Institute for Russian Studies at King’s College London.
How is your research on the attitude of Russians to the war with Ukraine set up?
Svetlana Erpyleva: Qualitative methods are the main difference between our team and the other teams doing systematic research on perceptions of the war. We have long conversations with our informants and try to find out not only their attitude to the war directly, but also many other things related to it — what sources of information they trust, how they interact with loved ones, their fears and hopes, and so on.
We searched for respondents using social networks, ads, and the “snowball” method (that is, when an informant helps us set up a conversation with their ow friends). It was a big help in contacting people who do not often reflect on politics.
Some people responded enthusiastically to the ads we placed about finding informants — they wanted to talk to us themselves. Moreover, these are not only people who have a clear stance for or against the war and are willing to share it, but also those who feel that their opinion is not represented in public discussion. Such people do not see other people who think like them on social networks or in the media and want to put themselves on the map.
For example, during the the second stage of our research, in the autumn of 2022, we realized that dividing people into “supporters of the war,” “opponents,” and “doubters” (as we had done in the spring) was no longer warranted. Our sources support some decisions by the authorities, but not others. They regard the war as necessary in some ways, but some things about it terrify them, while other things cause them to doubt. Our interviews, which last about an hour (sometimes longer), have in fact enabled us to understand the peculiarities of how the war is regarded by Russians, with all their contradictions and complications.
Our other goal is to study the dynamics of how the war is regarded. We conducted the first series of interviews in the spring of 2022. We did the second series between October and December 2022. It is important to note here that in the autumn we spoke only with “non-opponents of the war,” that is, with those whom in the spring we had provisionally labeled “supporters” and “doubters.”
Maxim Alyukov: I would also make another important clarification. When people talk about studying perceptions of the war, they often have in mind representative surveys. Using them, we can indeed more or less accurately describe the range of opinions around the country. But polls cannot show how opinions about the war are shaped, or what emotions people experience. We are going deep rather than wide. Yes, we cannot draw large-scale conclusions about public opinion in general, but, unlike the polling projects, it is easier for us to talk about specific mechanisms — what emotions tend to shape certain positions, how different types of media consumption affect perceptions of the war, and so on.
What is the difference between how people regarded the war in the spring and the autumn?
SE: On the one hand, we see from the autumn interviews that perceptions of the war had not changed radically. Almost none of the people with whom we had repeat conversations had changed their attitude to the war from “plus” to “minus” and vice versa. Of course, there have been small shifts in this regard. For example, some of the springtime convinced supporters remained “optimists,” while others had become “pessimists.” The former believe that the “special operation” is going in the right direction, despite all the shortcomings, while the latter criticize the chaos in the army, the chaos during the mobilization, retreats by Russian troops, and so on.
But we shouldn’t deceive ourselves: the pessimists have not stopped supporting the war. Rather, they want Russia to act tougher and more effectively, and ultimately win.
In the first series of interviews in the spring, we identified a group of so-called doubters. But it is clear that even back then different informants in this group were closer to one or the other pole of opinion. Some doubted, but were inclined to support the war, while others were against it. In the autumn, there were fewer informants who were completely unsure of their position. Those who had been closer to the supporters of the war had often begun to support the war a little more. The same thing happened to those who had been more against the war than not: many of them had become a little more strongly opposed to the war (without turning into unambiguous opponents).
On the other hand, the ways people have for justifying the war have changed. Some of the old methods are losing popularity, while others are emerging.
For example, one of the new justifications for war involves imagining it as a natural disaster. We feel sorry, of course, for those who perish in a flood. We cannot regard this other than negatively. But it is impossible for us to oppose it. The same thing has happened with the war.
From the viewpoint of the informants who have resorted to this excuse, the war just happened. It is a terrible reality that we can only accept.
Another new way of rationalizing the war involves turning its consequences into its alleged causes, as when our informants say, “Ukraine has been bombing our border cities, so we need to continue the war,” or, “The war has shown that we are fighting not with Ukraine, but with the collective West. We are fighting not with a fraternal people, but with our perennial enemy, so it is right that we started this war.” The second statement had also come up in the spring, but it has become much more popular. The rationale behind such justifications involves arguing that events that happened after the war started seemingly reveal the enemy’s true identity.
MA: Attitudes towards sources of information have also changed. There are two trends: polarization and stabilization. At the war’s outset, people tried to seek out information, including information from the “opposite camp.” For example, those who supported the war sometimes read opposition and Ukrainian media, because they understood that the Russian state media are propagandistic. Now, on the contrary, many people are so weary that they have not only reduced their consumption of information in general, but also have stopped following sources that reflect the opposite opinion.
At the beginning of the war, the following idea was often discussed: information about the destruction, civilian casualties, and losses among Russian soldiers would gradually undermine the effect of propaganda. Now we see that, over time, the simultaneous consumption of information from pro-government and opposition sources, which paint radically different pictures of the world, has had the opposite effect. It causes discomfort, which leads to the fact that people who are less involved try to shield themselves from information about the war in general, while more involved people consume propaganda and stop paying attention to alternative sources. This is a conscious choice: they realize that they are consuming propaganda. I remember the words of one informant: “There are different points of view, but the brain tends to stick to one theory. I’m inclined to choose the theory of my country, of the state media, so that my brain follows it.”
It transpires that the person understands perfectly well that they are consuming propaganda, and they consciously choose it amidst conflicting explanations that cause discomfort.
Do these changes produce any practical actions? Maybe people stop talking to certain people or get involved in charity?
SE: There are only a few volunteers among our informants.
People can have a positive view of charity, and worry about their country, but most of them do not take any action themselves.
And yet, volunteering that involves assistance to the mobilized is certainly seen positively by our informants (that is, by “non-opponents” with very different views of the war). Such volunteering is regarded not as involvement in the war, but as support for “our boys,” for “our country.” This is not surprising: there are always significantly fewer “activists” and volunteers than there are sympathizers. Only a few people are involved in protests, too.
Changes have also been taking place in the way people talk about the war with their loved ones. For example, many of our informants described the summer as a carefree time when the war had completely disappeared from their lives: they stopped discussing it. The mobilization was the “new February 24” for those informants (who were most often people remote from politics). The topic of war had returned to everyday conversations again. The informants were discussing the events even with strangers. For example, one of our sources told us that even at work meetings with her clients she had occasion to discuss the mobilization.
Do attitudes to specific events affect everyday practices? For example, the mobilization began and people decided to check whether their foreign travel passports were still valid.
SE: Unfortunately, we didn’t talk much about everyday practices in our interviews. Probably the most common reaction to the mobilization’s announcement was anxiety and, simultaneously, the absence of concrete action: “Whatever will be will be, but I hope that nothing bad happens.” Some of our informants who did not want to be sent to the front changed their places of work and residence, but we didn’t often encounter such people in our interviews. (It is important to understand that we were talking to “non-opponents” of the war.)
MA: It’s also worth recalling that a minority of Russians have the possibility of leaving the country. According to our research on social networks (this is another project that my colleagues and I are doing), the most common reaction to the mobilization has been evasion.
Is it possible, then, to talk about a desire for inneremigration among those who have remained in Russia? For example, a person says, “Actually, I have a lot more important and valuable things in my life [than the war], and I want to pursue them.”
SE: It was the presence of this desire among people in the spring of 2022 that made us single out the doubters as a separate group. All of them were typified by the notion that the “distant war” was secondary compared to more important values — work, loved ones, and family. But in the autumn, we saw that fewer and fewer of our informants were able to take a neutral stance, to completely distance themselves from assessing the war. Our informants talked about pressure: they seemed to feel that society demanded that they voice their opinion. In this sense, as Maxim has said, the polarization of views has been increasing.
But our informants assess [this polarization] in different ways. Many supporters of the war say that it is awesome because people are becoming more united, more interested in what is happening around them. The “anti-patriots” will leave the country, but patriotic Russians will remain. Others complain that it is hard for them to cope with the pressure. They would like to take a neutral position, but they cannot manage it. One of my sources described it this way (I’m quoting from memory, of course, but nearly verbatim): “I would like not to take a side, but my smart friends say that the war should be continued. And I understand that they are right, that one should support one’s country in such circumstances. I’m unable to take a back seat.” But a little later she said: “I’m afraid that time will pass and [people] will come and ask me, ‘Have you been reading Meduza? Have you been watching Channel One? Whose side are you on?’ And I won’t have any answer.” This situation even makes her think about emigrating. That is, on the one hand, she chooses to side with supporters of the war; on the other hand, she is afraid to make this choice.
MA: I would add that the desire for neutrality remains. One respondent put it this way: “There is war all round, but I try to maintain peace on my VKontakte page.” He moderates disputes there and shares links to articles about the importance of neutrality. For him, this is a way of creating a space for himself in which there is the possibility of remaining neutral, since he doesn’t have this possibility in other contexts. It is another matter that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for such neutrality.
You say that your respondents feel pressure. Where do they feel this pressure? In interactions with loved ones and colleagues, or somewhere else?
SE: It is often the pressure of their immediate environment. Many opponents of the war have left the country, and the doubters thus have fewer contacts with their viewpoint. They are surrounded, as a rule, more by supporters of the “special operation.” But the cause of such pressure may be an inner conflict. For example, our sources tell us that they were taught at school that when the country is in difficult straits, the worst stance is neutrality. But now they have found themselves in exactly this position. It is really difficult for them: they see the propaganda on both sides, but do not feel strong enough to resist it. This can be illustrated as follows: “Maybe Russia was right to attack, or maybe it was wrong to do so. Maybe Ukraine is the enemy, or maybe it isn’t the enemy. I don’t understand what’s going on at all. But how can I fail to take a stance?”
In such circumstances, people turn to what seems certain to them — for example, to their Russian identity. You may not know who is right, but you have a native country and it must be supported.
MA: This feeling of pressure consists of two parts. The first is personal interaction, about which we have said our piece. The second is the influence of the media, in which you can constantly see appeals and reminders of the war. This background encourages a person to clearly articulate their position.
Is the official newspeak (“special operation”, “line of contact,” etc.) incorporated into the explanations given by the “non-opponents” of the war? Is the state discourse generally used to justify it?
MA: Yes and no. It does happen that our sources literally quote propaganda narratives. For example, they start saying on TV that there are fakes everywhere, and a person repeats this idea. But at the same time, an absolute minority of our sources trust state broadcasts, although there are such people among them. They have doubts and come up with their own hypotheses. But it is important to take into account that our informants live in large cities, so it is likely that, for example, in smaller cities far from the capitals, the ratio is different, that there are fewer people there who are like the majority of our respondents, and more people who trust propaganda.
SE: You also have to understand that there are different types of support for the war, and therefore different explanations for it. There are people who accept the explanations given by the state media. Most often these people are elderly: they regularly watch TV, and then rehash the rhetoric of the propagandists. But there are other kinds of people — for example, those whom we call “committed supporters.” Their attitude to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was shaped back in 2014, or even in 2004. They can be quite critical of propaganda narratives and are fond of saying, “We have bad propaganda. It is incapable of explaining anything.” Such people are able to explain the war’s causes on their own. And there are, for example, people who are remote from politics, who might watch TV sometimes, but it doesn’t convince them. They can even rehash propaganda cliches, but they do not adopt them, they do not present them as their own words. For example, they say, “We were told that…” or “We are told that…”
Is it possible then to say that, despite propaganda, polarization, and state pressure, even those who are not against the war are in a gray area? In other words, there are no views that could unite people, and accordingly, that is why they cannot unite and make demands.
SE: Yes, that’s right. Unless “convinced supporters” could try to create some kind of association. But I’m sure they’re a minority. Most people are busy with their daily affairs: they are not interested in political positions and movements. We are currently preparing a second analytical report on the results of the autumn stage of our study, and there we even try to avoid the word “position.”
Most of our informants have no “position.” Their attitude to the war is a bundle of fears, doubts, hopes, and other feelings. Such people may want Russia to win, but sincerely worry about the victims of the shelling in Ukraine.
One of our informants said, “If I had been subject to the mobilization I would have been out of Russia in three minutes.” And yet she, for example, wants Russia to win.
MA: Especially since propaganda does not just attempt to impose a certain point of view. It also generates a multitude of contradictory narratives that simply confuse people. This is a paradox of authoritarian propaganda: the state needs this vital demobilizing effect to maintain control, but it also prevents it from generating broad support for the war.
You mentioned sympathy for the victims of the shelling. In your spring report, some of your sources say that they would tolerate a decline in the material standard of living, because for them what matters are spiritual values. Since they are so clearly aware of losses, can we say that Russians perceive themselves as victims?
SE: We rarely see people regarding themselves as victims directly. They say, “The situation has become worse in Russia as a whole, but everything is fine with me. Yes, people are being mobilized, and that’s scary, but my loved ones aren’t being mobilized. Prices have gone up, but we’re coping.” Our sources often regard Russia as a whole as a victim. They are offended on Russia’s behalf: it was forced into the conflict, and it is humiliated everywhere and considered an aggressor. That is, they don’t think “[international] brands have abandoned me,” but those brands have abandoned “poor Russia.”
MA: Ukrainians are also regarded as victims. “The poor residents of Ukraine are being used by NATO. Would that it were over as soon as possible.” In many ways, this is part of the propaganda narrative that Ukraine has become a firing range on which NATO and Russia are fighting using Ukrainians as proxies. But this is, rather, a propaganda cliche that people simply repeat without thinking through their own position on this issue.
It follows that “non-opponents” of the war do not regard it as part of their personal lives?
SE: This is a generalization, of course, but I would say that it is basically true. For the opponents of the war, on the contrary, the war has become an existential challenge. Sometimes they even make themselves experience it as such: “I cannot live an ordinary life. I must remember that there is a war going on.”
But isn’t there a contradiction here? The “non-opponents” of the war do not regard it as a personal matter, but we are saying that they feel pressure from their loved ones, are trying to find their own identity, and are grasping for rationalizations.
SE: This is a difficult question, but let’s try thinking about it. Compared to opponents, supporters and doubters are more likely to try to rid themselves of negative thoughts, to distance themselves from the war. And yet it regularly makes its presence felt. The latter is a new trend, and many of [our respondents] do not like it: they would prefer to live their lives without being reminded about the war. But it has become more difficult to do this.
MA: In our research on how the war is seen by Russians, we have been observing what I had observed in my pre-war research. People, if they are not politicized, rarely hold consistent positions at all. I will give an example from my research on Russian perceptions of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine prior to February 24. A person has a smorgasbord of different political ideas. He supports all the decisions made by the authorities, including the annexation of Crimea and military backing for the so-called DPR and LPR. And yet half an hour later he says, “Basically, it would be a good idea to withdraw the troops and leave Ukraine alone. It’s bad for us.” It’s just that he hadn’t needed to make connections between his disparate views on this issue before. This necessity emerged during our conversation.
We have been observing the same thing now. People are trying to push the war out of their lives. They need arguments in favor of the war — not because it is their political position, but because it is safer to live that way. For many of our respondents, the interview was like an exam in which they were forced for the first time to think about logical chains and formulate at least some kind of a clear opinion about the war, which they had not tried to formulate before.
What goes on in your mind?
I think that I am falling down.
What goes on in your mind?
I think that I am upside down.
Lady, be good, and do what you should,
you know it'll work alright.
Lady, be good, do what you should,
you know it'll be alright.
I'm goin' up, and I'm goin' down.
I'm gonna fly from side to side.
See the bells, up in the sky,
Somebody's cut the string in two.
Lady, be good, and do what you should,
you know it'll work alright.
Lady, be good, do what you should,
you know it'll be alright.
One minute one, one minute two.
One minute up and one minute down.
What goes on here in your mind?
I think that I am falling down.
Lady, be good, and do what you should,
you know it'll work alright.
Lady, be good, do what you should,
you know it'll be alright.
Throughout Putin’s war on Ukraine, the attitudes of the Russian public toward the regime and the conflict have been the subject of much scrutiny. This talk addresses this question by analyzing data released by the Presidential Administration that summarizes monthly correspondence received from the public from January 2021 through December 2022. While the identity of these correspondents is not known, their decision to send non-anonymous appeals to the President suggests that they support or tolerate the Putin regime. The data demonstrate that after an initial period of uncertainty about the war’s economic impact, these concerns abated until the announcement of mobilization in September. Since then, the appeals depict a Russian public that is increasingly concerned about conditions of military service and the war’s impact on service members and their families. At the same time, the data indicate that the Kremlin’s strategy to shift the blame for mobilization from the President to regional authorities appears successful.
Pollsters argue over how many Russians support the Ukraine war
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sociologists have grappled with the question of how many Russians support the Russian army in Ukraine. Both independent and state-run pollsters claim they are the majority, and these studies are frequently referenced in Western media. However, at the same time, a group of independent sociologists have pointed out that these polls may not be representative — many Russians are reluctant to speak freely about their thoughts on the conflict due to draconian wartime censorship laws.
Independent researchers from the Khroniki project recently presented the findings from their latest survey, which suggest using a percentage of how many Russians support the war may not be a very meaningful statistic. In their view, this figure comprises a misleadingly wide spectrum of people: from those who volunteered to fight in Ukraine to those afraid of repression. Moreover, at least half of those who are opposed to the war are afraid to speak out, the Khroniki sociologists said.
To identify the core pro- and anti-war groups in Russia, the pollsters devised a series of questions. The results of their survey suggests that the core support group represents 22% of the population, while the core opposition is 20.1%.
Separately, researchers stress that “the fridge counters the effects of the TV,” and this effect is felt more and more with each passing month. The level of support for the war among TV viewers who are encountering economic pressures is falling. Among TV viewers who have encountered at least one economic problem, support for the war was down 11 percentage points in February.
Other polls, however, show that a vast majority of Russians support the war. For example, according to state-run pollster VTsIOM, 68% of Russian residents welcomed the invasion of Ukraine and just 20% are opposed to it. And leading independent polling agency Levada Center published results in January that suggested 75% of Russians support the war — to varying degrees.
Why the world should care:
It’s not easy to work out exactly what proportion of the Russian population supports the war, but Khroniki is certain that the pro-war lobby is far smaller than polls from leading agencies would suggest. If that is true, it casts doubt on the widely-held belief in the west that the war in Ukraine is supported by most Russians who remain inside the country.
On 1 September 2022, I returned to Russia after almost a year away. The war that began six months ago had been present in my life daily: in the news, in conversations with friends and colleagues, and in the Ukrainian flags on the streets of the European city where I lived. But there was no trace of the war in the town near Moscow where I grew up, and where my parents still live. I did not see pro-war or anti-war graffiti or slogans; war was not mentioned in the streets or by my friends and acquaintances. As I sank into the familiar rhythm of my childhood town, I caught myself thinking that perhaps I was beginning to forget about it too. That all changed on September 21, the day ‘partial mobilisation’ was announced. Suddenly, the war was being mentioned all around me, or rather whispered about, in the cafe where I listened to Putin’s address, in the local library, in the street, on the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The war seemed to have reappeared in Russian society instantaneously, with the snap of a finger.
I had observed something similar before, not around me, but as a researcher: in the data my colleagues and I collected. Our Public Sociology Lab began conducting a qualitative study on Russians’ perceptions of the war on February 27, 2022, just three days after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. During the first months of the war, we conducted (link in Russian) over 200 interviews with supporters of the war, its opponents and doubters. At that moment, many of our informants, including those who were far from being exclusively anti-war, also said that they had been shocked by the news of the start of the ‘special military operation’ and had tried to make sense of events in their conversations with friends and relatives. But after a few weeks, the emotions of shock and confusion began to fade. The war became routine and faded into background noise.
So we knew that the ‘return of war to society’ following the announcement of mobilisation would also likely be temporary. We waited a few weeks and, on October 11th, conducted our first interview as part of the second stage of our research into Russians’ perceptions of war. Between October and December 2022, we conducted 88 interviews with ‘non-opponents’ of the war, deciding this time to focus the study on support for and disengagement from the war, rather than resistance to it. Forty of these interviews were repeated conversations with supporters of the war as well as its doubters doubters, with whom we had already spoken in the spring.
We were driven by the desire to understand how perceptions of, and predominantly support for, the war were evolving. From the interviews conducted in the spring of 2022, we roughly divided all ‘non-opponents’ of the war into supporters and doubters. Despite the fact that among supporters of the war, there were interviewees who were convinced to a greater or lesser extent, all of them found some means to justify the ‘special military operation’. Some were staunch supporters of ‘the Russian world’ and believed that the war would push the geopolitical threat away from Russia’s borders and strengthen the country’s position; some were worried about loved ones in Donbas and rejoiced at the prospect of an imminent resolution to the longstanding conflict; some, viewers of Russian TV channels, spoke of ‘combating fascism’ and ‘protecting the Russian-speaking population of Donbas’; many expressed confidence or, at the very least, hope: ‘if our government started the war, then it must have been necessary’. Although these people were worried about the casualties caused by the war and looked with apprehension at a future defined by isolation and sanctions, they remained supporters of the ‘special operation’.
It seemed to us, as it did to many others, that the announcement of mobilisation might fundamentally change something in the way Russians viewed the war. However, in addition to mobilisation, the war was marked by a series of other events, each of which could have left an impression on Russian society: the seizure of new territories and their subsequent annexation to Russia, the retreat of Russian troops, the bombing of the Crimean bridge, news of the bombing of Russian border regions. All this occurred against a backdrop of increasing Western sanctions, muddled explanations from the authorities as to why the country was at war, repression of dissenters, and increasing polarisation of views on the war in society. In such a state of affairs, we assumed that the views of the war held by ordinary Russians could not be sustained. In some ways, our assumptions were right, and in other ways, we were wrong.
It was not without reason that we waited a few weeks after the announcement of mobilisation and the swift ‘return of the war to society’ before we began the second stage of our research. The October interviews showed that the emotions associated with the announcement of mobilisation were as strong as they were fleeting. After a few weeks, they began to subside, and ‘partial mobilisation’ became normalised as a part of the new everyday reality. But, most interestingly, despite the negative attitudes towards mobilisation expressed by many of our informants who were not opposed to the war, their dissatisfaction with mobilisation rarely translated into dissatisfaction with the ‘special military operation’.
Academic freedom in the Putinist dictatorship is the freedom to criticize the enemy:
MARCH 17, 2020 | The media center at the Alexandrinsky Theater’s New Stage (Fontanka Embankment, 49A, St. Petersburg) will host the first event in a series of conversations between the outstanding scholars of our time, on the occasion of the European University in St. Petersburg’s 25th birthday. A conversation between historical sociologist and NYU Abu Dhabi professor Georgi Derlugian and Russian international affairs journalist, political scientist, and editor-in-chief of the magazine Russia in Global Politics Fyodor Lukyanov will open the series of encounter. The topic of their discussion is “TRUMP AND HIS DOCTRINE: HOW THE US PRESIDENT TREATS THE WORLD ORDER WITH SHOCK THERAPY.”
The freedom to imagine that a dictatorship is actually a hipster’s paradise:
MARCH 14, 2023 | The Open Living Room at the Lermontov Library (Liteiny Prospect., 17–19) will host a lecture by Yevgenia Kuziner, a graduate student at the HSE Center for Youth Studies, “POINT OF ATTRACTION: HOW, BY WHOM AND FOR WHOM ARE CREATIVE SPACES CREATED IN THE CITY?” | Starts at 6:30 p.m. | Registration required | Detailed information at https://otkrytaya-gostinaya.timepad.ru/event/2331631/
And the freedom to pretend that real sociology is possible in dictatorships:
APRIL 13, 2023 is the deadline to apply to the 19th Russian-Chinese Sociological Conference, “CONTEMPORARY CITIES AND SOCIAL GOVERNANCE IN RUSSIA AND CHINA,” which will take place April 21–22, 2023. The conference will be held in an online format and hosted by St. Petersburg State University, Russia. The languages of the conference are Russian, Chinese and English. Detailed information at https://soc.spbu.ru/images/nauka/inffo-letter_21-22.04.2023_3.pdf
The Forty-First is a completely original production.
It is chockablock with irony and actorly improvisation.
There will be loads of laughter, convulsive choking back of tears, fond embraces, and love gushing down the throat during this play. As it wafts into the theater’s low flies, the powerful actorly energy is instantly transmitted to the audience.
This is a restoration of Vlad Furman’s legendary production The Forty-First, based on the novel [sic] of the same name by Boris Lavrenyov.
The love story of the Red Army sniper Maria Basova (aka Maryutka), picking off “enemies” one by one (the thirty-first, the thirty-second… the forty-first!), and the White Army officer Govorukha-Otrok (who was to be her forty-first victim, but survives) is known to audiences from Grigory Chukhrai’s eponymous film version, starring Izolda Izvitskaya and Oleg Strizhenov.
Vlad Furman staged The Forty-First at the Mironov Theater in 2000. It was one of the best theatrical productions in Petersburg, and its director and performers were nominated for Petersburg’s highest theatrical honor, the Golden Spotlight.
Boris Lavrenyov’s story is incredibly timely today.
Love is severely tested by the Civil War and differences in political views.
A new generation of actors takes to the stage in this new production of The Forty-First.
Twenty years later, the production features very young artists who have been working with Vlad Furman for several years in stagings of The Merchant of Venice and Medea. The older generation of artists at the Andrei Mironov Theater joins them in this production.
Source: Bileter.ru. Still from the play The Forty-First courtesy of the Andrei Mironov Theater (St. Petersburg). Translated by the Russian Reader
In March 1942, Pierre Matisse, an art dealer and son of the artist Henri Matisse, opened the show Artists in Exile at his gallery in New York’s Fuller Building. It featured one work each by fourteen artists who had fled the rising tide of fascism and totalitarianism in Europe. Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger, André Breton , Piet Mondrian, Jacques Lipschitz, Ossip Zadkine, and the other men (not a single woman was shown at exhibition) came from different countries and strata of society and represented different modernist trends in art: Dadaism, Surrealism, Cubism, and De Stijl. Since the late 1930s, these trends had been vilified and condemned, and in many cases their works had been destroyed by the Nazis as so-called degenerate art.
Many of these artists were aided by art dealers and patrons such as Pierre Matisse, and collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim. Museums also played a vital role in helping artists and their immediate families. The first director of the Museum of Modern Art Alfred Barr and his wife, the art historian Margaret Scolari Barr, worked with the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC). The artistic community, founded as it was on humanist principles and nonviolence, generally did what it should have done: it sought to render mutual aid and fight evil.
[These two opening paragraphs seem to have been plagiarized, in translation, from this article, originally published on the website of the WWII National Museum in New Orleans, to which I have already linked above — TRR.]
Eighty-one years later, the director of the seemingly progressive Multimedia Art Museum, Olga Sviblova, appeared at the Knowledge Society Awards in the Kremlin — along with Yana Churikova, Fyodor Bondarchuk, and Polina Gagarina. Immediately after the war started, a year ago, the Garage Museum issued a high-profile essentially anti-war statement and halted all exhibitions. It could have served as an example and an impetus for other institutions to stop the widespread normalization of the war, but this has not happened. A year later, we find that museum’s statement has itself disappeared* from all official sources.
*UPD: We were mistaken. The announcement on the suspension of exhibitions remains on the museum’s website, but doesn’t appear on the main page anymore. The museum also currently shows archive-based artists projects.
Alas, we can safely say that the art community in Russia passively supports the war, living it up in the public space at venues somehow associated with contemporary art. Why is this happening? Shouldn’t the artistic community be grounded in humanist principles and nonviolence? How did it happen that (with rare exceptions) the Russian art scene, which survives mainly on government money but aspires to be part of the global community, has been silent in the midst of war? Juliet Sarkisyan, an art critic who blogs at the Telegram channel Juliet has a gun, answers these questions.
Since the war’s outbreak members of the culture community have been leaving Russia because they do not agree with the state’s current repressive and imperialist policies. They do not see any prospects here at home: they do not want to merge with the masses and have anything to do with the official agenda. They generally leave for the opportunity to speak freely and make art. But some do not see the point in producing the latter at all (at least while the war is going on), since this can free up resources and time for helping Ukrainians, as well as showing solidarity through their silence.
A narrow stratum of the artistic community underwent a reorientation — instead of the usual artistic practices, they have preferred to engage in activism, and art criticism became homogeneous. Some continue to do it anonymously in Russia, while others have been forced to leave the Russian Federation for this reason (and many others). In any case, for reasons of security, I cannot give anyone’s surnames and first names as examples. The other part of the artistic community — apparently, the prevailing one — continues to engage in the production of art, come hell or high water, within Russia’s current system. Putin recently issued a decree on the “Fundamentals of State Cultural Policy,” which is designed to reaffirm traditional values and introduce censorship for cultural events. I would like to take the liberty to criticize cultural workers (opposed to the war) who blindly continue their artistic endeavor inside Russia, while also taking into account all the difficulties and, as it were, the impossibility of choice they face. But first we need to figure out who cultural figures are and what their mission is.
What exactly is this “artistic community” face to face with this war? Are they intellectuals or an intelligentsia? In the modern use of the terms “intelligentsia” and “intellectuals,” there are two markedly pronounced trends. The first is typified by the synonymous use of terms, implying, in fact, the merging of the concepts. The second trend involves preserving and consistently distinguishing both the terminology and the concepts themselves.
Michel Foucault identifies intellectuals “in the political, not the sociological sense of the word, in other words the person who utilizes his knowledge, his competence and his relation to truth in the field of political struggles.” [This passage is not in quotation marks in the original article, although it is a direct quotation.] In the first part of the book Intellectuals and Power [a three-volume 2002 Russian-language compendium of his articles and interviews] Foucault writes: “What we call today ‘the intellectual’ […] was, I think, an offspring of the jurist, or at any rate of the man who invoked the universality of a just law, if necessary against the legal professions themselves (Voltaire, in France, is the prototype of such intellectuals). […] [T]he intellectual has a three-fold specificity: that of his class position (whether as petty-bourgeois in the service of capitalism or ‘organic’ intellectual of the proletariat); that of his conditions of life and work, linked to his condition as an intellectual (his field of research, his place in a laboratory, the political and economic demands to which he submits or against which he rebels, in the university, the hospital, etc.); lastly, the specificity of the politics of truth in our societies” [Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon (1980), pp. 128–132].
Antonio Gramsci also spoke about the organic intellectuals mentioned by Foucault. The Italian [sic] believed that there was not one, but many different types of intellectuals. Intellectual activity does not necessarily imply devotion to the ideas of socialism. Most intellectuals, Gramsci noted, were reluctant to change or saw themselves not as conservatives or liberators, but rather as technical thinkers. Gramsci offers a convenient series of distinctions among organic intellectuals, traditional intellectuals, and intellectuals of the new type.
Organic intellectuals form a completely different type of social stratum. Their activity consists “in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser, ‘permanent persuader’ and not just a simple orator” (Gramsci, 1971: 10) [sic: Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (1971), p. 10]. “Organic intellectuals” [quotation marks — sic] not only have special knowledge, but also become legislators of meanings: they have a special understanding of what is happening and are actively involved in politics.
No matter how intellectuals are defined — as bearers of culture or as critically thinking people — it is obvious that in the twentieth century there were significant changes in the organization and nature of intellectual life. The most widespread meaning of the word “intellectual” is even narrower and includes a political dimension. Real intellectuals are those who go beyond their immediate area of expertise to intervene in public policy issues, usually in a spirit of disagreement with the authorities. This concept was first popularized by the archetypal intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre.
And Jürgen Habermas, a major theorist of the Frankfurt School of social philosophy, who has paid serious attention to the theory and practice of politics, was convinced by his own experience of the effectiveness of such an approach to political life. He has argued that “philosophers, along with writers, historians and other experts, should act in the public sphere as intellectuals and least of all as interpreters and elucidators of any one doctrine.” [This is a quotation from an 1989 interview of Habermas by Yuri Senokosov, as published, in Russian translation, in Jürgen Habermas, Democracy, Reason, Morality: Moscow Lectures and Interviews (Moscow: Academia: 1995), pp. 109–110. Judging by the peculiarly specific way it is introduced here by Ms. Sarkisyan, the wording was discovered by her in Elena Iosifovna Kukushkina, “The Intelligentsia in the Political Life of Society,”Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta, Series 12: Political Science, 4 (2012): 21, where the passage in question is incorrectly indicated as being on page `113 of the book —TRR.] In 1953, he took on Martin Heidegger in the wake of the latter’s newly discovered Nazi sympathies in a review of Heidegger’s book Introduction to Metaphysics. In the late fifties and early eighties, Habermas was involved in pan-European anti-nuclear movements, and in the sixties he was one of the leading theorists of the student movement in Germany, although in 1967 he actually broke with the radical core of this movement when he warned about the possibility of “leftist fascism.” In 1977 he protested against the restriction of civil liberties posed by domestic anti-terrorist legislation, and in 1985–1987 he was involved in the so-called historians’ debate on the nature and extent of Germany’s guilt in the war, condemning what he considered historical revisionism of Germany’s Nazi past. He also warned about the dangers of German nationalism in connection with the unification of Germany in 1989–1990.
Intellectuals from different countries — the scientists, writers, artists and humanists of the twentieth century — amassed a wealth of experience in solving problems on a global scale. In the period between the two world wars, they led anti-fascist movements and fought to prevent interethnic conflicts and liberate countries from colonial dependence. By initiating and being actively involved in these campaigns, the world cultural elite demonstrated the intelligentsia’s truly inexhaustible possibilities of the intelligentsia as a force capable of having a tangible impact on political processes at different levels. [This paragraph has been copied almost verbatim from page 22 of Elena Kukushkina’s scholarly article, as cited above — TRR.]
The cultural and artistic community — whether it consists of intellectuals or not — has the weight, influence, and social capital to make the fight against the current regime effective. As for their responsibility, they are capable of exposing the lies of governments and analyzing their actions in terms of causes, motives, and often hidden intentions. Privilege confers opportunity, and opportunity imposes responsibility. For me, the urgent question today is what responsibility should Russian society, in particular the intelligentsia (of which the artistic community is a part), bear when it comes to horrors of the full-scale war in Ukraine. And of course, this question (about the responsibility borne by people of the aggressor nation for the war it has launched) is not new at all.
The philosopher Noam Chomsky, for example, criticized the American government and the Vietnam War in the book [sic]The Responsibility of Intellectuals. Privilege, he argues, entails the responsibility to tell the truth and expose lies. But our intellectual culture supports this ideal only nominally. Yes, it is forbidden in Russia to publicly voice an opinion that differs from the government’s rhetoric. Otherwise, one risks criminal prosecution, which can even lead to imprisonment. What other options are left if a basic human need — freedom of speech — is taken away from us? Are there niches in which we can preserve our humanity while also avoiding tentacles of the state? It seems that during a war it is difficult to engage in aesthetics. It takes us down the path to escapism and the opportunity to close our eyes to everything that is happening around you us. In peacetime, there are trends that establish a certain regime for artists.
But since the beginning of the war, Russian public cultural activity has not undergone any structural changes or even hints of them. New galleries and cultural centers have been opening (e.g., the Zotov Center, Nakovalnya Gallery, and Seréne Gallery), and the old ones continue to operate as if nothing has happened.
Only a few such venues have curtailed their public programs (and not all of them due to political convictions): Typography Contemporary Art Center, Kerka Gallery, the space It’s Not Herе, the Sphere Foundation (the former Smirnov and Sorokin Foundation), Fragment Gallery, and the Garage Museum. Where does normalization come from? The government has been sparing no efort to hide the war crimes that it commits every day, not only with the help of propaganda, but also through attempts to preserve the normal life that existed before the war. Tomorrow will be the same as today. This illusion of normality also occurs in everyday life. The cultural realm has also played a considerable role in generating it. All the existing cultural institutions and people involved to one degree or another in the production of public life are this totalitarian regime’s witting or unwitting opportunists.
The Russian intelligentsia, as represented by the artistic community (if it can be called that at all), is against the war in Ukraine. But even if it verbally opposes war crimes and imperialism, it supports the existing state of things in its actions, thus contradicting itself. Collaboration with institutions (especially those directly dependent on the Russian federal culture ministry, whose head in an interview called for killing Ukrainians) and the absence of discussion about rethinking the cultural field within the country suggest that the cultural community refuses to react at all to the events taking place this minute in Ukraine. It refuses to accept any responsibility for what is happening.
Fairs, exhibitions, public educational outreach, and the production of uncritical art only perpetuate the status quo and play along with the official agenda. To understand what I am talking about, look at the list of exhibitors at the Cosmoscow Art Fair in September 2022. The fair, to which Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was invited, imposed strict censorship on its participants.
This familiar pre-war environment is exactly what the government wants to see. We have seemingly begun to forget that we live in a totalitarian state, and everything we produce on its territory is part of it and monitored thanks to the presence of a single comprehensive ideology. What kind of art production can we talk about when there is strict censorship of all legal channels of information? Censorship is usually exercised in the name of so-called national security interests or as part of larger-scale campaigns to protect morality. (In our case, this is the policy to preserve and strengthen “traditional Russian spiritual and moral values.”)
Regimes try to monopolize artistic production either by co-opting artists to the point that they become mouthpieces and servants of the state, or by restricting the access of independent artists to places for displaying and implementing artistic expression. What kind of independent public art can we talk about? The usual strategies of artistic activity no longer work. It’s time to admit it.
We have begun to forget that no uncritical culture is possible at a time when the mass killings of civilians, violence, and torture are taking place daily, and the integrity of a sovereign neighboring state is being destroyed. What kind of art production in the Russian Federation is there to talk about when you are a member of the aggressor nation? Even if you adhere to an anti-war stance, how can art in state-controlled institutional venues be perceived from the outside as anything other than serving this regime?
Russian culture should be held accountable for the war in Ukraine. But people often downplay the importance of culture in political and public life, regarding it as a separate part of the personal realm rather than as a fusion of the forms of social interaction. We need to recognize that the current regime did not suddenly emerge on February 24, 2022. It had to be built up and supported for many years to officially establish itself once and for all and launch a full-scale war in Ukraine. All these years we ignored this build-up, living in a world of illusions. Unfortunately, this illusion is still maintained. In many ways, it is created by part of the cultural and artistic communities.
Many people who have remained in Russia might not agree with me. How can artists earn money without resorting to public utterance and without cooperating with institutions? How can galleries stop working? After all, this is their source of income (although it often does not bring in money, but vice versa). How can we just come to a standstill and not produce anything?
But does everyone really continue to work because of economic dependence, and not out of social necessity — that is, because they belong to a scene where there is a fear of losing the context that gives a person meaning? It boils down either to staying, accepting the state of things, and leading your normal life (as far as it is possible to do that at all now) or giving up on it and leaving. Of course, this dichotomy is not the only one: there are many other ways of living this war. None of us, including me, has answers to these questions. The question, rather, is whether we are aware of what kind of force and political dimension our position can have and what responsibility we should have to Ukraine. Time will pass and the question will arise: how did the Russian intellectual community behave during the war? Silence is also an answer, however.
In April, the project for restoring the Arch of Triumph, the most famous structure of the Syrian city of Palmyra, should be ready and presented to the public, according to our sources involved with restoring the ancient city.
The Petersburg organizations involved in the project have been doing their design work remotely. They considered it safer because, according to the restorers, not all the terrorists in Syria have been “pacified” yet.
The restoration is coordinated by the Institute of the History of Material Culture (IIMC RAS), which signed an agreement on the restoring the arch with the Syrian Department of Antiquities in March of last year. The details of the agreement are unknown. In November of last year, the archaeological excavations were completed. The project also involves the State Hermitage Museum and the architectural firms of Maxim Atayants and Studio 44. Atayants, as a connoisseur of antiquity, is more responsible for the “theoretical” part, that is, for the choice of approach. Five specialists from Studio 44, including Nikita Yavein, the head of the firm, are involved, and they are working on technical issues. According to sources, other firms are also involved — for example, the restoration company Agio.
The Arch of Triumph itself was built during the reign of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (193–211 CE) and, apparently, glorifies his victories. It underwent restoration involving reinforced concrete elements in the 1930s. The arch was partially destroyed in 2015, during the Syrian civil war. The central span and one of the pylons collapsed.
More alive than Buddha
Until recently, it had not been decided exactly how to restore the arch — to its state at the time when terrorists attempted to blow it up (which means reproducing the version produced by the restorers in the 1930s), or in some other way. The Venice Charter on the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites stipulates that monuments should be preserved in the form in which they have come down to our time. According to established practice, reconstruction by means of anastylosis, as the most sparing method, is permitted for ancient ruins. In this approach, the surviving stones are put back in place. But experts do not want to limit themselves only to anastylosis in the case of Palmyra.
First, it would look uninteresting: the edifice would not make the proper impression, and it is probably not worth the effort. Second, much of the stone in the lower part of the arch has been lost or compromised and would still have to be reinforced or recreated. According to the IIMC RAS, about 40% of the structure remains standing. Another 30% of the stone blocks are not in their place, but they can be used in the restoration. The remaining sections are partly or completely destroyed. That is, there is slightly less genuine material than is usually required for a restoration (i.e., 80-90% of authentic stone). UNESCO has long refused to restore the statues of Buddha blown up by the Taliban in Afghanistan (they have not yet been restored) precisely on the grounds that a significant part of the stone was lost.
Meanwhile, the project for the arch must also be vetted by UNESCO since Palmyra is a World Heritage Site. Moreover, not everything is cut and dried when it comes to UNESCO, as shown, for example, by the rather critical report issued by its monitoring mission that visited Russia in 2019.
Two arguments have been drawn up to justify the design decisions to high-level international institutions. First, that the recreation would be reversible. That is, sometime in the future the arch could be disassembled again if so desired and the new inclusions (such as the “crowns” on the stone blocks) removed, and it would look more or less as it looked before it was blown up. The second argument is that the arch is a symbol of both Palmyra and all of Syria. And in the case of symbols, recreation seems to be permitted.
The issue turns out to be largely legal. Perhaps that is why Alexei Mikhailov, the deputy chair of the city’s Landmarks Use and Preservation Committee (KGIOP), known, in particular, for his work designed historical preservation zones in central Petersburg, has been appointed to the team of restorers. In a comment to the TV channel Saint Petersburg, Mikhailov drew an analogy with Notre Dame Cathedral. Located in Paris, like UNESCO’s headquarters, the cathedral is currently undergoing reconstruction after a fire in 2019.
“We are now drawing the parallel that the arch of Palmyra is as much of a symbol as Notre Dame is for Paris. And it is a reconstruction that is underway there. This is very important and must be conveyed to our international colleagues. It will determine which form of restoration will be employed,” Mikhailov said.
Our sources say that negotiations were held with Petersburg restorers about restoring other sites in Palmyra and Syria. Apparently, they intensified after the devastating earthquake that hit Syria about a month ago. (According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), aftershocks from that quake continue to occur.) Last week, Vedomosti reported, citing a diplomatic source, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is scheduled to visit Russia. As one of that newspaper’s sources suggests, he may ask for Moscow’s help in recovery work.
Scholars without borders
Petersburg experts agree that it is necessary to maintain world heritage. They disagree only about whether such aid is a burden or not.
“I don’t think it’s a lot of money compared to other government spending,” Alexander Kitsula, vice president of the St. Petersburg Union of Architects, told DP. At the same time, he noted that, with all due respect to the history of Petersburg, the antiquities of Palmyra “are incomparably more important than the excavations at Okhta Point.”
“It is wrong to let world culture be lost in any case, and if our country has reserves that can be sent there, it is probably the right thing to do. But, of course, our country also has huge holes in this area,” he believes. The expert emphasizes that Russia’s antiquities are no less in need of attention than foreign ones.
“My personal opinion is that we still have tons of work to do here at home. And this is far from a first-degree problem for the Russian Federation in general. But if someone has decided that it has to be done, then it has to be done,” Pasechnik added.
Alexei Kovalyov, a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, sees no problems in the fact that our scholars are also at work in Palmyra.
“St. Petersburg has been one of the world’s major centers for archaeology. Our expeditions are working in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, and our expedition in Iraq has just been resumed. Such projects are part of our international policy: they are usually funded per intergovernmental agreements. In the case of Palmyra, this means the Syrian side,” Kovalev explained. He also added that there are many specialists in ancient monuments working in Petersburg who know the peculiarities of the architecture of the period to which Palmyra belongs.
The firing was occasioned by a comment that Blazhevich had made to Radio Svoboda. He had said that the residents of Khabarovsk Territory who had supported its former governor, Sergei Furgal, had thus given a vote of no confidence to President Vladimir Putin. Blazhevich was forced to “voluntarily” resign from the institute.
Blazhevich’s comment concerned the plight of Furgal, in which connection he touched on the attitude of residents of Khabarovsk Territory toward Putin.
“Khabarovsk residents said quite clearly — also, by the way, in the midst of a crackdown by the authorities — that they had lost confidence in Putin specifically. When Putin withdrew his support from Furgal, Khabarovsk residents said loudly and clearly at one of the largest rallies that from now on, we have no confidence in Putin. That is the genuine law that people passed,” Blazhevich said at the time.
The lecturer was summoned to the office of Oleg Kulikov, the institute’s deputy director for organizational matters and digitization. It was Blazhevich’s remarks about Putin that had caused Kulikov’s concern. One of his arguments was that RANEPA had been established by the President of Russia. (The decree establishing the university was signed in 2010 by then President Dmitry Medvedev.)
Blazhevich was informed that the complaint about his comments to Radio Svoboda had come from the so-called Regional Management Center, which is engaged in “collecting, analyzing and processing complaints and reports from the populace.”
According to Blazhevich, he was threatened that if the complaint made it to the police, an administrative case against him could be opened. In addition to the police, Blazhevich was threatened with dismissal under labor law for “immoral behavior.”
“We are university lecturers: we have no right to speak badly about the president,” the institute’s deputy director told him.
“Their logic suggests it’s immoral to have an opinion,” remarked Blazhevich. He added that he had not discussed politics with colleagues or students during working hours, and that there had been no complaints about his academic performance. He thus does not believe that the denunciation originated within the university.
After Sergei Furgal, the former governor of Khabarovsk Territory, was arrested in the summer of 2020, numerous protest rallies took place in Khabarovsk in support of the politician over the course of the next several months. On February 10 of this year, the Moscow Regional Court sentenced Furgal to twenty-two years in a maximum security penal colony, finding him guilty of organizing assassination attempts on three business competitors.
If you didn’t get enough brains when they were handing them out, you can only learn to tell good from evil the hard way. The process is quite long and painful. It is very, very scary to stop being the consenting majority. It is very, very scary to discover you’re having the “wrong” thoughts without nipping them in the bud. It takes a lot of courage to go through withdrawal when your whole body wants another dose of what it’s used to: it’s like quitting smoking or drinking. When you get free of it you’re left one on one with the whole world until you get washed up on some other shore. I’m not making excuses for anyone. I’m just trying on someone else’s shoes.
A former governor from Russia’s Far East has been sentenced to 22 years in jail for murder and attempted murder in a controversial court case in Moscow.
Sergei Furgal insists he is innocent and says the trial against him was motivated by politics.
He was elected governor of Khabarovsk region in 2018, unexpectedly beating the Kremlin’s preferred candidate.
His detention in July 2020 caused widespread anger among locals.
The judge in Luberetsky Court near the capital ruled that Furgal, 52, must serve his sentence in a high-security prison after a jury found him guilty on two charges of murder and one of attempted murder.
The killings, said the prosecution, were linked to rivalry between Furgal and other businessmen in 2004 and 2005.
The ex-governor — who won office as a candidate for the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) — struggled to contain his emotions in the courtroom after the sentence was read out, shouting “Do you have no shame?” at the judge. His lawyers say they will appeal.
When he was first arrested, residents in the city of Khabarovsk took to the streets in huge numbers — some estimates put the figure as high as 50,000. Such demonstrations are rare in Russia and took the Kremlin by surprise.
Furgal’s supporters claimed that the criminal case against him was politically motivated — punishment for daring to beat the Kremlin’s candidate in elections.
Experts say his landslide victory was the result of a massive anti-Moscow vote. As governor, he was tough-talking, and some say more popular even than President Vladimir Putin.
Contract killings of business rivals were common in Russia, especially in the 1990s and the early 2000s, when Furgal was a successful businessman.
However, the case is more likely to be linked to his unique position — as a popular local politician who didn’t show absolute loyalty to the Kremlin.
“Furgal may well have been involved in shadowy business in the past, but so too were many of the other regional leaders whom Putin has been happy to support,” Russia expert Mark Galeotti told the BBC. “It seems clear that this was essentially a political move: once the Kremlin decided Furgal had to go, they looked for whatever excuse they could use.”
Secondly, it was focused on a single local issue — the arrest of the governor — making it very difficult for the Kremlin to pin the blame on the West or on “foreign forces” — as is the usual tactic.
But in the weeks that followed, arrests were made, and the demonstrators were eventually silenced or pushed off the streets.
President Putin appointed a new governor, Mikhail Degtyaryov, who also represents the LDPR. Mr. Degtyarov, though, is a Kremlin loyalist and recently became a vocal supporter of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
I have been in police custody since April of last year. I was formally charged in early June, and since then I have been an “accused” man. I see this word in paperwork, I sign statements containing it, and that is how the prison authorities address me. “Accused” has been my new social status for the past nine months.
A criminal change can be a serious burden. I have met people in prison, albeit a few, who are plagued by a sense of guilt for what they have done. In this sense, though, my case is simple. All the accusations against me are ridiculous and absurd, and the article [in the criminal code] under which I am being tried should not exist, basically. I find it easy and pleasant to take a consistent stance and to tell the truth. I have always adhered to this principle both in public life and in personal matters.
The investigation, whilst trying to accuse me of spreading “fakes,” has constructed one giant fake. Literally the entire indictment, from the first word to the last, is at odds with reality. I subscribe to every word I wrote a year ago. All my emotional assessments have retained their force, and all factual claims have been borne out many times. So there can be no question of any sense of guilt on my part in terms of the present case.
Life, though, is much more complicated than a trumped-up criminal case. A year ago, events happened that shocked the world. In a matter of days, the foundations of life, which had seemed to us unshakable, were destroyed. The most terrible pictures stepped off the pages of history textbooks, reviving the nightmares of bygone years and wars whose fury had long ago been stilled. Unable to stop this ongoing tragedy, tens of millions of Russians have come face to face with an oppressive sense of guilt. It is a normal reaction to the monstrously abnormal situation in which all of us find ourselves.
If you feel guilty, it means that you have a conscience. It means that you cannot see the suffering of innocent people without feeling pain in your heart, that you are able to empathize with someone else’s grief. What is more, a sense of guilt for the actions of one’s country is impossible without a sense of belonging. It means that no matter where you are now, you maintain an emotional connection with your homeland, you realize that you are a citizen of Russia and worry about its fate. You — we — are real patriots of Russia in the true sense of the word! We love our country, and so we are especially hurt and ashamed that this inhuman war is waged on its behalf.
It is vital to remember that the guilt that we cannot help but feel is irrational per see. After all, we are not actually to blame for what is happening. The blame is on those who unleashed and wage this war, on those who issue and carry out criminal orders, on those who commit outrages on foreign soil, as well as on those who condone these crimes by cracking down on their own people and generating an atmosphere of fear and intolerance.
On the contrary, we want to live in a free and peaceful country. We want a better future for ourselves and our neighbors. In order for our hopes to come true, we must move away from a passive sense of guilt, focused on the past, and strive to realize our own civic responsibility. We must move away from regrets about what has happened to solving existing problems and making plans for the future. Yes, right now we are unable to stop the war, but this does not mean that we are powerless. I want each of you to think about what you can do personally. The answer “nothing” is not acceptable. First, if you are not on the side of the scoundrels, if you have remained true to yourself, have kept your wits about you, and have not fallen into despair, if you are listening to me now or reading this text, this is much more than nothing. And second, even I can do something and am doing something. I keep talking, communicating the truth about events to people. I have been using this trial as a platform for public anti-war statements. To the best of my ability, I have been helping those who, due to their civic stance, have found themselves on the same side of the bars as me. You have many more opportunities to act today for the sake of our common better tomorrow.
Our problem is the inability to take the initiative and find allies. We are used to following leaders and waiting for instructions. Don’t wait — act! Become volunteers, help refugees, support political prisoners, form horizontal ties. Get to know your neighbors, colleagues and classmates, set common goals and achieve them together. When someone needs your help, don’t ignore them. Make this world a better place for us and for our children.
We like to repeat, like a mantra, the words “Russia will be free!” But Russia is us, and what it will be depends only on us. The war will inevitably end, and then the regime that unleashed it will cease to exist. This is the law of history. We have a lot of work ahead of us, work which we must start now. This work of ours, I am sure, is bound to succeed. Russia will be free — because we will make it so.
Source: Darya Kornilova (Facebook), 1 March 2023. Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Originally published on the website of the movement For Human Rights. Translated by the Russian Reader. The verdict in Mr. Ivanov’s case is scheduled to be announced on March 7. The prosecutor has asked the court to find him guilty as charged and sentence him to nine years in prison. See my translation of Mediazona‘s detailed account of the case and trial against Mr. Ivanov, below.
Russian lawmakers on Thursday voted in favor of a bill that would make it a criminal offense to “discredit” anyone fighting on Russia’s side in the war in Ukraine, not just the Russian military.
The legislation aims to expand current laws criminalizing the discrediting of the Russian Armed Forces to include mercenaries serving in the ranks of Russia’s growing number of private military companies, such as the Wagner Group.
The bill was unexpectedly introduced by State Duma deputies Wednesday in the form of amendments to two largely unrelated bills that were already due to be voted on in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament.
If signed into law, the amendments would introduce sentences of up to seven years in prison for “public acts aimed at discrediting volunteer formations, organizations or individuals” that are aiding the work of the Russian Armed Forces.
The proposed amendments also increase the maximum punishment for violating the existing law against spreading “false” information about the army.
Those found guilty of “spreading fake information” about the army or a volunteer military formation would then face up to five years in prison instead of the three years outlined in the current law.
The new law would also raise the maximum fine from 700,000 rubles ($9,250) to 1.5 million rubles ($19,830).
In cases in which the dissemination of “false information” is deemed to have had “grave consequences,” violators could face up to 15 years in prison, under the new legislation.
The bill must now pass its third reading in the State Duma on March 14 before going to the upper house of parliament for approval and then finally to the president for his signature.
The trial of Dmitry Ivanov, a mathematics student and creator of the Telegram channel “MSU Protesting,” is nearing completion in Moscow’s Timiryazevsky District Court. Ivanov is accused of disseminating “fake news” about the army. (The investigators claim that reports of war crimes, the killing of civilians and the destruction of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure are “fake news,” as well as Ivanov’s refusal to call the war a “special operation.”) Today, Prosecutor Yulia Pravosud asked the court to sentence Ivanov to nine years in prison. Mediazona examines the grounds for the case against the activist and how investigators have tried to prove his guilt.
“Don’t betray the Motherland, Dima” was the message painted on 16 March 2022 on the door of the Moscow flat in which the Moscow State University student Dmitry Ivanov had lived all twenty-two years of his life. The message was embellished with three huge Z’s. At the time, Ivanov joked: “We have already washed off the door — a simple Soviet acetone helped us make short work of the paint.” The Telegram channel “MSU Protesting,” which he had created and ran, continued to write about the war and anti-war protests inside Russia, until its author was detained on April 28 as he was leaving the university. He has not been released since.
On April 29, the Nikulinsky District Court jailed Ivanov for ten days for “organizing a rally” — this is how the security forces deemed one of the posts in his channel. He served his jail sentence in the Sakharovo Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Nationals outside of Moscow, but on May 9 he was detained as he was leaving the facility and sentenced again under the same article of the Administrative Offenses Code — this time for twenty-five days. The student missed the state exams and was unable to submit his honor’s thesis. After serving the new sentence, he was immediately detained again on June 2, this time on a criminal charges. He was taken from the detention center to the Investigative Committee for questioning.
Ivanov managed to transfer the admin of “MSU Protesting” to his friend Nikita Zaitsev. Ivanov’s friends later created a separate channel in his support, “Prison MSU.”
“From the very beginning of my imprisonment, I have lucked out in terms of symbolic dates. I was tried on Victory Day and on the day the mobilization began, and I was transferred to the pretrial detention center on Russia Day. Another hearing will be held on the anniversary of Navalny’s return to Russia. Back then it seemed that all the masks had been doffed and there was nothing more that could shock us. If only we had known what would happen a year later,” Ivanov wrote in a letter to our correspondent.
What Dmitry Ivanov is accused of
The case against Ivanov was handled by the Investigative Committee’s First Major Case Department. Like most cases investigated under the article on “fakes about the military,” it was launched on the basis of “law enforcement intelligence.” Еhe report on the student was written by Lieutenant Colonel A.L. Kapustin, a field officer in the FSB’s Moscow and Moscow Region directorate.
Kapustin copied several posts from “MSU Protesting,” and Captain K.A. Myagkov, a major case investigator, concluded that they were sufficient to launch a criminal case.
The prosecution argues that the activist, “motivated by political hatred” and “foreseeing the inevitability of socially dangerous consequences in the form of undermining and discrediting the current state authorities,” is alleged to have disseminated the following claims on Telegram between 4 March and 4 April 2022:
— the Russian army attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant;
— The Russian armed forces have been destroying cities and civilian infrastructure and killing civilians in Ukraine;
— Russia is waging a real war, not a “special military operation”;
— Russian aviation has suffered significant losses in the war;
— Russian soldiers committed war crimes in the towns of Bucha and Irpen.
Most of the posts that investigators attributed to Ivanov were reposts of allegations made by other people, including politician Alexei Navalny, Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky, BBC journalist Ilya Barabanov, blogger Maxim Katz, and the writers on social media news page Lentach.
From a broken phone to a canceled thesis defense: how field officers and MSU officials persecuted an undesirable student
In 2018, Ivanov was a student majoring in computational mathematics and cybernetics. Along with dozens of other students and lecturers, he protested against construction of a World Cup fan zone outside Moscow State University’s main building. The inhabitants of the building complained that the construction work prevented them from working during the day and sleeping at night, and that the crowds of fans would make their lives unbearable.
It was then that Ivanov launched the initially anonymous Telegram channel “MSU Protesting,” in which he described in detail the struggle of students and lecturers against developers. He would go on to write about other protest actions. On 16 December 2018, Ivanov was detained at a rally outside the FSB building in Moscow: the infamous Center “E” officer Alexei Okopny did not like the fact that the student had photographed him.
The very next day, Ivanov’s channel ceased to be anonymous. “Hi, my name is Dima, I’m 19, I study at Moscow State University, and today I became a victim of torture,” the student wrote. He said that after his arrest the security forces had demanded that he give them the password to his phone; when he refused, they beat him and threatened to rape him with a police baton. Having failed to achieve their goal, they simply broke the phone, and access to “MSU Protesting” was lost. Ivanov created a new channel with the same name and recounted his experiences in detail in his inaugural post.
Ivanov thus became one of the well-known activists whom the security forces snatched from the crowd first during protests. On 2 February 2021, he was detained at a rally in support of Alexei Navalny, who had returned to Russia after recovering from poisoning. It was then that, for the first time, the Meshchansky District Court sent the student to the Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Nationals in Sakharovo for thirty days. At this center for migrants facing deportation, where Moscow opposition activists were taken to serve their administrative sentences that winter, a second charge sheet was drawn up against Ivanov because he argued with the guards. Ten more days were added to the thirty days he had got for attending the rally.
Ivanov’s friends estimated that he spent a total of 101 days under administrative arrest.
Ivanov was scheduled to defend his honor’s thesis on 1 June 2022. The student was supposed to be released from the detention center on the second of June. Ivanov’s defense team asked the court to shorten the term of arrest by at least one day and requested a postponement from the examination commission, but to no avail. In July, Ivanov was expelled from Moscow State University for not having passed the state final certification.
“I got out of the subway, saw a building with paddy wagons, and decided to give evidence”: the prosecution’s witnesses
The investigation into the Ivanov case was completed in two months. During this time, several witnesses were questioned at the Investigative Committee. Only one of them, Yuliaslava Korolevich, a school friend of the activist, testified in his defense. The security forces searched the home of Korolevich and her mother, and then brought the young woman in for questioning. She said only that she knows Dmitry “as a person who can listen and help out in difficult times, and who is intelligent, rational and logical by nature.”
The other witnesses in the case did not have their homes searched. All of them unfailingly identified themselves as “patriots” during questioning, and the wording of their testimony against Ivanov overlaps almost verbatim. All of them described the arrested student “negatively as an anti-Russian fascist,” and his posts in the Telegram channel as “not corresponding to the position of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation.”
The most verbose among the witnesses was the former dean of the Faculty of Fundamental Physical and Chemical Engineering at Moscow State University Lyudmila Grigorieva, infamous for her confrontation with student activists. In 2021, she was forced to resign after she called the Initiative Group at the university “western liberasts” who “grunt, crawl and shit constantly for scraps.”
During questioning, Grigorieva labeled herself “a patriot and a person who loves her country very much, and also stands for kindness, state power, unity, and public order.” She thus considered it her duty to testify against a student who, in her opinion, is a “fascist” and “belongs to a political sect.”
“Ivanov hates people who do not share his liberal views, and defends all the dregs of society,” she said.
Later, at the trial, Grigorieva voiced the hope that not only Ivanov, but also another opposition mathematician from Moscow State University, associate professor Mikhail Lobanov, would pay for “anti-Russian activities.”
Three more prosecution witnesses are Grigorieva’s former subordinates Alexander Krasilnikov, Daniil Afanasyev, and her former graduate student Kirill Borisevich. In court, none of them (like the ex-dean herself) could explain how they had ended up in the investigator’s office and had decided to testify against Ivanov.
“I was walking from the subway, I had got out of the subway. I saw a building with paddy wagons, and decided to give evidence,” Krasilnikov said uncertainly. Each of the three repeated verbatim Grigorieva’s epithets for the student, and in court they read their testimony from a phone or a piece of paper.
What connects the unemployed man Ivan Lyamin and Kolomna Philharmonic musician Mikhail Zhuravlev with the case of Ivanov is not at all clear. In court, Lyamin explained that he had “accidentally stumbled upon” the Telegram channel “MSU Protesting.” He would sometimes read it. He then told an acquaintance about it, who advised him to contact the Investigative Committee.
Zhuravlev claimed that he had decided to testify so that justice would prevail.
“Because freedom of speech has become too much,” he said.
During questioning, Zhuravlev said that Ivanov “is trying to disorient his readers about the events in Ukraine and impose a sense of guilt for the conduct of the special operation not only on Russian citizens, but on all ethnic Russians. He is also trying to shape public opinion among citizens of the Russian Federation about the need to stop the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in Ukraine in order to preserve the power of the nationalists.”
The witness could not repeat such a long statement from memory, so in court the prosecutor had to read out his written testimony .
The evidence and witnesses for the defense
The prosecution argues that, since the posts on the Telegram channel “MSU Protesting” diverged from the official reports of the Defense Ministry, meaning that they were “deliberately false,” this is sufficient proof of Ivanov’s guilt. This conclusion was reached by linguists from the FSB, who testified in court.
Defense counsel Maria Eismont asked psychologist Veronika Konstantinova and linguist Igor Zharkov to prepare an independent expert analysis of the activist’s posts. They concluded that, at the time of their publication, the information in Ivanov’s posts was not “knowingly false” from his point of view. The prosecutor retorted that the experts were only “trying to discredit the actions of the investigation.”
In addition to the expert analysis, the defense presented the testimony of seven people in court. Unlike the prosecution witnesses, all of them were personally acquainted with Ivanov. Andrei Stroganov taught Ivanov computer science at school. Ivanov worked on his honor’s thesis with Alexei Borodin, a senior researcher at the Institute of System Programming. Ivan Shmatin, a fifth-year student at Moscow State University is not only friends with the defendant, but also knows Lyudmila Grigorieva, whom he called “a person hyper-concentrated on people who espouse democratic values.”
All of them described the accused as an honest individual and a talented mathematician. This was said by activists Irina Yakutenko and Konstantin Kotov, with whom Ivanov had been involved in solidarity campaigns for political prisoners — the mathematician Azat Miftakhov and the defendants in the New Greatness Case.
Mathematician and leftist politician Mikhail Lobanov, for whose election campaign to the State Duma Ivanov had worked, was also summoned to court. He talked about defendant’s involvement in the life of the university. According to Lobanov, “Uniquely, Dima was not embittered, even as he was being persecuted for his views.”
Grigory Mikhnov-Voytenko, a bishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church and a human rights activist, helps Ukrainian refugees who find themselves in Russia. Their accounts fully confirm the veracity of Ivanov’s posts, the clergyman said in court.
A billy club and a dog in court, summonses to the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry
On January 19, Ivanov was beaten by a guard. The reason was that the defendant did not immediately exit the “fish tank” after the court hearing, but stayed to find out from Maria Eismont when she would visit him in the pretrial detention center. It later transpired that the escort guard’s name was Alexei Nikolayevich Zhalnin.
Without giving the defendant a chance to talk to his lawyer, Zhalnin dragged Ivanov into the escort guard room. The next day, Ivanov told Eismont that the escort had taken him downstairs, turned off his body cam, and kicked him in the head and ribs and beaten him with a billy club. Zhalnin tried to put Ivanov’s head into the toilet and threatened that he would “insert a stick in his anus.” The second escort guard “watched” this and “did nothing.” The bruises suffered by the activist were documented at the detention center’s medical unit.
The defense has filed complaints about Zhalnin’s actions to numerous authorities, but so far to no avail. At the subsequent hearings, however, Ivanov was escorted by emphatically polite guards, and Judge Daria Pugacheva asked whether he had any complaints about the escort. Meanwhile, bailiffs stopped letting members of the public who could not recall the judge’s surname into the courthouse. Previously it had been enough to name the defendant’s last name at the entrance. A continuously whining service dog appeared in the courtroom.
Coincidentally, all these security measures were introduced when Eismont persuaded the court to call as witnesses Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya.
“Ivanov is charged with a serious crime based on a comparison of his texts with statements made by Nebenzya, Lavrov, and Konashenkov. This means that these people are essentially witnesses for the prosecution, and so he has the right to question them in court,” the lawyer argued.
Eismont had attempted to use this trick before, at the trial of the politician Ilya Yashin, but the court did not even issue summonses to the high-ranking officials then. In the Ivanov case, the summons reached their addressees, but the witnesses ignored them.
What else Ivanov was asked in court
Before oral arguments were made, Ivanov was himself put on the witness stand. While answering the questions posed by Prosecutor Yulia Pravosud, he explained why, as a student, he had written about pension reform, how he had checked his sources of information for reliability, and which media outlets he trusted. The prosecutor then tried to get Ivanov to talk about allegations that the Russian language has been banned in Ukraine.
“Do you know anything about Zelensky’s attitude toward the Russian language?” she asked.
“It’s his native language, basically. He’s completely fluent in it,” Ivanov replied.
“Is the Russian language banned or not banned [in Ukraine]?”
“I had not heard that the Russian language was banned in Ukraine. As far as I know, many regions used it as the primary one. The Mariupol City Hall maintained all its social media and websites in Russian even after 2014.”
“I see, and what about Zelensky’s position? Does he allow [Ukrainians] to communicate [in Russian]?”
“Probably, if he forbade communication in Russian, the mayor of Mariupol would not have spoken publicly in Russian, and would not have maintained online resources in Russian.”
Prosecutor Pravosud then read aloud a post from “MSU Protesting” in which Ivanov admitted that he could face criminal charges for his statements about the Russian army’s actions in Ukraine.
“Why did you, knowing of the criminal liability, still write on your Telegram channel?” she asked Ivanov.
“‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.’ That’s a quote from George Orwell,” he said. “Should I explain it to you?”
An abundance of news — especially bad news — sometimes robs a person of empathy. They have no compassion for anyone and do not want to help. They pay no mind to important events such as the military operations in Ukraine or disasters around the world. If this happens to loved ones, they seem callous to us, as if they are hiding their heads in the sand and refusing to look at reality. But when it concerns someone personally, they may wonder whether everything is okay with them.
Contemplative practices teacher Viktor Shiryaev explained to 7×7 why feelings disappear, how to bring them back, and why.
Viktor Shiryaev is a teacher of modern contemplative and somatic practices, a mindfulness instructor [instruktor maindfulnes], and an expert in adult maturation. He runs the Telegram channel Act of Presence, where he discusses mindfulness and meditation techniques, and does consultations.
— Is it normal to read the news and not to feel anything? How can people not have an emotional response to photos from Mariupol, to stories about injustice or emergencies?
— I think it’s fine. Everything that happens to people is governed by certain mechanisms. There are several of them involved here.
First, things regarded as “close to home” are felt more acutely. Photos of an earthquake in Turkey or a tsunami in Haiti that causes thousands of deaths are very poorly registered by our minds. People who have no relatives or direct contacts in Mariupol may not feel anything — and not because they lack empathy, but because it is happening to someone else and is therefore abstract.
The second mechanism is numbness, withdrawal. This is also a normal stress reaction, a defense mechanism. If you worry all the time, it is impossible to live and work normally. During our lifetimes, there has not been a single day that there were no wars on the planet. If you feel all this and constantly suffer from it — after all, empathy is generally premised on the idea that “when you hurt, I hurt too” — life will be uncomfortable.
The third mechanism is rationalization — that is, persuading yourself that what is happening is normal. This reduces empathy and sensitivity. For example, you think, “They’re all Nazis, it’s okay.” The fact that they are human beings is obscured by this “rational” argument.
The fourth mechanism is hardening. We are going through a collective trauma. Russians [rossiyane, i.e., Russian citizens] throughout the post-Soviet space [sic] are the result of the negative selection that has occurred over the last one hundred years: dekulakization, the Stalinist purges, the Holodomor, the forcible transfer of populations, World War II, the Stalinist crackdowns, the anti-cosmopolitan campaign, the Doctors’ Plot, the Afghan and Chechen wars, and so on. All this leaves scars on the psyche and on people’s behavior. Scar tissue is qualitatively different from normal skin. And while the idea of self-care and letting go of the past is more clearly expressed in the west, people in Russia become callous because they just put up with things: “I can take it,” “I’m no weakling,” “Hit me harder.”
— Do people come to you and say, “I don’t feel anything and I want to fix it”?
— Sensitive people who are trying to live in the midst of all the horror and stress, without turning away from it and disengaging, come to me more often. The complaint “I don’t feel anything” is a more advanced case. A person should not only take note of this, but also understand that it causes them harm. There is this meme:
Decreased sensitivity ultimately complicates life, because it affects both your emotions and your body. It makes your life poorer.
— What should I do if earlier I took a keen interest in the news but now I don’t feel anything — if numbness, as you call it, has set in? Is it worth deliberately reading even more news to make myself feel something?
— You should not specifically trigger [triggerit’] yourself by reading the news, looking at war photos or something like that. This is pointless, because if the “chill” arose due to our unwillingness and inability to see things, then by forcibly increasing the intensity of the stimulus we will only make ourselves feel worse.
What makes sense is gently restoring your sensitivity per se.
How to regain sensitivity Viktor Shiryaev’s advice
Observe the sensations in your body — name them: touching, warm, smooth.
Observe your state of mind — try to name it: tense, calm, flustered, pleased.
Ask yourself how you are doing now more often. Give a specific answer.
Deploy scenarios to wind down the stress cycle: bath/massage, shaking [sheiking], physiological sigh, time with no phone and TV in the company of loved ones and/or in nature, high-quality physical activity.
— So, freezing up is a normal reaction on the part of the psyche? Or is it an occasion to consult with a psychologist?
— Ideally, of course, it should not come to this. So-called preventive medicine is much better than treating a disorder that has already taken hold.
Regular psycho-emotional fitness training — all kinds of methods of skillful self-support, meditation, mindfulness practice, physical training, and therapy — help to ready us for higher psycho-emotional loads. It works the same way as physical exercise: a trained body copes with challenges more easily.
You definitely need to go to specialists when you can’t “ride it out.” They have ways to help you.
— There are situations when one person in a couple, a group of friends or a family avidly watches the news, reacts to it and wants to discuss it, while the others don’t want to delve into anything and go about their business, saying that it doesn’t concern them and they don’t want to get bogged down in other people’s troubles. What should one do when there are different levels of sensitivity and different needs, when it is important for one person to experience and feel, while the other person wants to remain neutral?
— Respect the other’s feelings and needs. Talk about your feelings without trying to convince the other person and prove that your way of doing things is “right.” It is possible that it is only right for you. It is possible that you’re right on principle. But when we feel that we are being attacked, we want to defend ourselves, not to open up to the other person.
Dialogue — the opportunity to be seen, heard and accepted — involves opening up towards each other, thawing out.
— If a person is worried whether everything is okay with them, how can they can validate [validirovat’] their “feeling of insensitivity”?
— Everything that happens to us is normal. Not in the sense of being “good,” but in the sense of that’s how things are. It is normal to “freeze up” in moments of acute stress or amidst prolonged stress, because this is how the self-preservation instinct works.
The self-preservation instinct is much bigger and older than us. Even relatively feeble emotions diminish access to the rational and adult parts of the psyche — we are “captured” by emotions, let alone by truly tragic events.
It is important to understand and accept this, to carefully and gently regain access to your emotions. Not through force, violence and “overriding,” but through a kind attitude, gentleness and love.
The little green van sped down the road, the Russian forces just across the river. Inside, Halyna Luhova, the mayor of Kherson, cradled a helmet in her lap and gazed out the bulletproof window.
When the first shell ripped open, directly in the path of the van, maybe 200 yards ahead, her driver locked his elbows and tightened his grip on the wheel and drove straight through the cloud of fresh black smoke.
“Oh my god,” Ms. Luhova said, as we raced with her through the city. “They’re hunting me.”
The second shell landed even closer.
She’s been almost killed six times. She sleeps on a cot in a hallway. She makes $375 a month, and her city in southern Ukraine has become one of the war’s most pummeled places, fired on by Russian artillery nearly every hour.
But Ms. Luhova, the only female mayor of a major city in Ukraine, remains determined to project a sense of normality even though Kherson is anything but normal. She holds regular meetings — in underground bunkers. She excoriates department heads — for taking too long to set up bomb shelters. She circulates in neighborhoods and chit-chats with residents — whose lives have been torn apart by explosions.
She chalks up any complaints about corruption or mismanagement — and there are plenty — to rumor-mongering by Russian-backed collaborators who are paid to frustrate her administration.
Kherson, a port city on the Dnipro River, was captured by Russian forces in March; liberated by Ukrainian forces in November; and now, three months later, lies nearly deserted. Packs of out-of-school children roam the empty boulevards lined with leafless trees and centuries-old buildings cracked in half.
The Order is a group narrative therapy service. Uncertainty, wars, stress, trauma, isolation — you don’t have to cope with these difficulties in life alone. We’ll help you keep from losing yourself and regain control over your life’s story.
What does group therapy offer?
You reflect on and accept what you have experienced in a safe environment
You sort out the mess of your attitudes and fears
You get the support of professional psychologists and mentors [mentorov]
You see yourself from a new angle — through the eyes and experience of others
You find your own network of supportive people
You improve your communication skills and escape social isolation
You realize the value of your own life and relationships
You gain the inner strength to go on living
Feedback from group members
These art therapy sessions are literally an experiment in collective self-healing using creative improvised means that release everyone’s creative impulses. It’s an incredible experience of uniting people, one so necessary in our strange time. Despite the extreme difficulty of attending online sessions due to the blackouts in Kyiv, I look forward to each one and get ready knowing that I’m going to touch a miracle. The amazing original technique and wonderful company keep my soul warm and light for a long time after. Thank you for being there!
JOURNALIST, WRITER, TEACHER
It’s a very strange feeling doing group therapy on Zoom: it’s like watching a TV series. Kit Loring has so much sincerity and empathy — I couldn’t believe what was happening was real, because I hadn’t met such people before. And the careful way he uses words and his tone were alarming at first. I got used to it over time. I like watching how people open up inside [sic] the session. And if a connection is established with the members of the group, it becomes very easy to trust them and speak openly. You understand that everyone has their own pain, but it’s also familiar to you now or it was familiar in the past.
After the initial sessions, I feel that I’ve started to undergo psychological metamorphoses. Thanks to correctly posed questions and images, I am able to get in touch with experiences and sensitive moments, to “unpack” my emotions. Everything is done as carefully as possible: Kit Loring and the curators create a safe space in which it’s not scary to open up and be heard. I recommend it to everyone who wants to look inside themselves through the prism of creativity and start working with deep experiences using the tools of words, colors and images.
The group sessions with Kit Loring are incredibly fulfilling and healing. It’s like a healing touch. The warmth of understanding spreads throughout the body. It really is like magic. Pulling out your painful experiences, opening up to other people in the group, all of them so different, and helping them too, you become stronger and begin to understand what else you can do with all of it. Complicated events and memories are no longer so complicated and forbidden. And, it seems, I no longer want to cover my eyes with my hands, I want to look into someone else’s eyes.
Due to traumas, it had become difficult for me to create (and often function), but in The Order, unexpectedly, I was pleased to find an accepting online space and validation [validatsiia] of my opinions and experiences. The meetings create a trusting atmosphere and mutual understanding. After the sessions, I have a pleasant feeling of unity with people, albeit strangers. Every time this magic happens in my mind —”Oh, I’m not the only one who feels and thinks like this” — and it’s worth a lot. I recommend these groups if you’re lonely and you find it difficult to talk about your traumas and thoughts with others.
How does it work?
You go through testing that helps you formulate your goals and helps us place you in a mini-group
We break the cohort into small groups. You have your own separate chat and meetings once a week
CONTRACT WITH YOURSELF
Signing a contract with yourself and supporting each other’s efforts is a vital part of the healing
ONLINE SESSIONS EVERY WEEK
The cohort first meets with an expert on Zoom, and then the groups move on to intimate interaction — all this lasts two and a half to three hours
MATERIALS FOR HEALING
Regular exercises designed by our specialists enable you to rethink significant events and attitudes
REWRITING YOUR STORY
Practices and tools, songs, drawing, communication and poems help you process fears and anxieties
SUPPORT AND CARE
You are guided by psychologists and curators to whom you always turn for advice
You rethink difficulties with the healing power of creativity and find your own bearings
Each cohort is led by experienced psychotherapists and psychologists, experts, lecturers and mentors who help you transform your experiences.
Certified British clinical art therapist, clinical supervisor and trainer, member of the British Association of Drama Therapists, co-founder and co-director of the humanitarian art therapy organization Ragamuffin International (South Wales, UK).
Senior expert at Meta, a service for selecting proven psychotherapists. Over 12 years of experience in the field of psychotherapy. Over 8 years of experience as a therapist working with psychological trauma. Over 5 years of experience consulting and evaluating midlevel and senior managers.
CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE
Organizer and leader of art therapy groups and support groups. I use an integrative approach in my work, relying on both research and cultural aspects. Lecturer for several youth organizations, designer of psychological games. Over five years of experience working with trauma.
JOURNALIST, REPORTER AND FILMMAKER
A star of American journalism who has worked for the world’s best publications — The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times Magazine. He has twice received the Peabody Award, one of the oldest and most prestigious awards in journalism, and his bestseller There Are No Children Here was included in a list of the 150 most influential books of the twentieth century.
JOURNALIST, REPORTER, WRITER
He became famous for his debut book about the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda, one of the bloodiest in the history of mankind. For more than 30 years, he has been telling poignant stories from all over the world, has received dozens of professional awards and has written four books. He has been published in The New Yorker and edited the magazine The Paris Review.
ART MENTOR, CONTEMPORARY ARTIST, CURATOR
Lecturer at the Moscow School of Contemporary Art (MSCA) and the British Higher School of Art & Design (BHSAD). Did her master’s at Saint Martins. Collaborated with the Tate Museum in London. Zhanna’s projects have been exhibited at Saatchi, Tate Modern, Kochi Biennale, Moscow Biennale, Cube and many other venues. Her works are in the collection of the Russian Museum and private collections around the world.
We were discussing the connection between narrative and trauma, and a female colleague of mine asked why we reassemble our identity after traumatic events. Why do we give up our previous identity? I found the comments of the other participants very interesting.
Many of the responses focused on the fact that the reassembling one’s identity is necessary, because otherwise the unprocessed trauma would begin to burst out in unexpected places, and you would feel it pulling you down. Along with this, the question arose: Can an identity be false? Here, the answers focused on the fact that self-deception won’t help, because you know the truth. Many of the participants concluded that false identity = problems that (do not) express themselves in reality and that poison life.
I thought about this discussion for a long time (I don’t always manage to get involved in the moment), and the responses made me ask even more questions:
Do I know the truth about what has happened and is happening to me?
If for some reason I decide to create a “false” identity for myself, then maybe it functions after all? And if it does function, then how?
First: Do I know the truth about what has happened and is happening to me?
I can say with confidence that I am aware of what has happened to me in my life, when it happened, and how it happened like no one else. It is on this understanding that I string together my narrative about myself. But to be honest, some of the stories that I know about myself in detail I either relate to others and sometimes to myself in abridged form, or I change the conclusions that I had once come to.
Sometimes my conclusions change in the process of growing up, which means that the truth can also be flexible. And it doesn’t happen because I cannot or do no want to be honest with myself or with others. Everything I tell is my truth, what I know myself. But some of the events in my life are imprinted in my memory, as if I saw them from the outside, and some through the eyes of my parents, while still other stories I remember vaguely.
Is it possible in this case to talk about a division between true and false narratives, even if I am not sure myself where the boundaries of truth lie?
Second: If for some reason I create a “false” identity for myself, then maybe it functions after all?
I will give the stupidest example on the planet. It’s from the TV series Hunters, which I decided to watch to take my mind off things.
Attention: there will be a spoiler next, which will be highlighted in color in the newsletter.
TW: The Holocaust
The Hunters live in the US in the 1970s and catch Nazis who somehow escaped punishment and live new lives under assumed names. One of the central characters of the series is Meyer Offerman, a former concentration camp inmate and the leader of the Hunters. At the end of the first season, it transpires that Offerman has been impersonated by Wilhelm Zuchs, a Nazi doctor from Auschwitz. After Soviet troops liberated the camp, Zuchs was imprisoned, but was able to escape. He killed the real Offerman, had plastic surgery and started a “new life.” According to Zuchs-Offerman, he “lived like a Jew and became a Jew”: he went to synagogue, learned the language, and read the Torah. As he himself claims, he understands that he cannot atone for his crimes, but neither is he any longer the Nazi he once was.
End of spoiler
Can at least one of the identities we have be false? We might have been different one, two, three years ago, and this doesn’t limit our potential for change. How do we recognize when we’re lying to ourselves? Or not to ourselves, but to others, if this lie doesn’t reinforce the narrative we have already constructed? And why can’t a story that might seem untrue to someone be your story? Who has the last say in determining the veracity of someone’s identity?
I don’t have clear answers to this question. What’s more, I am sure that these questions should be regularly addressed and we should check whether the answers we’ve already given still work. I myself have delved into this discussion to set in motion the already nearly ossified answers in my head. I think checking whether our beliefs correspond to reality is a good exercise for each of us. And here as well an attempt to catch oneself out in a lie might become an artificial restriction on change.
Perhaps the trauma needs to be lived through, perhaps the identity may be false. And yet, I don’t believe that while traumatic events are still ongoing any of us can make definite judgments about our own or someone else’s identity and its truth.
Whether you do a “good job” of living throughh your personal and social traumatic events is up to you to decide, just as it’s up to you evaluate your narratives about yourself. But this doesn’t dissolve us of responsibility for the ethical choices (and their consequences) that I/we make every day.
Source: Dasha Manzhura, Anti-War Newsletter #347 (DOXA), 13 February 2023. Ms. Manzhura is an editor at DOXA. Translated by the Russian Reader
“MANUSCRIPTS DON’T BURN” FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN TO SUPPORT STUDENTS FROM UKRAINE, BELARUS, AND RUSSIA AFFECTED BY WAR OR PERSECUTION
Tamizdat Project Inc. is launching a two-month campaign “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” to support undergraduate students forced to leave their home countries due to Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine or persecution in Belarus and Russia for their anti-war stance.
On January 30, 2023, we are opening two online charity book auctions and a donation campaign to help these students pursue their academic careers in a safe environment. We are inviting the public to join our Rare Books Auction, which features a variety of first editions of “contraband” literature from behind the Iron Curtain and books by émigré authors, a Signed and Inscribed Books Auction with nearly 300 titles inscribed or signed for our cause by over 100 contemporary writers and scholars, and a “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” online fundraiser.
Since February 24, 2022, many initiatives have been launched across American campuses to support scholars at risk. Very few, however, have been set up for students, who have not yet established themselves in academia but have also been forced to leave home and need to continue their education elsewhere. Tamizdat Project Inc. has taken the initiative to help the next generation of scholars when they most need it.
The proceeds will be distributed to undergraduate students to help them pay for tuition and living expenses while studying in the U.S. (e.g., we will pay their dormitory bills or offer stipends to participate in Tamizdat Project). We will work with the colleges and universities that have admitted them to make this goal a reality. A breakdown of how the funds will be distributed will be provided at a later date. Our campaign brings together prominent writers and academics in the diaspora to help today’s refugees, much as we wish no such effort was ever necessary. We are joined by Nobel Prize Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, director of Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute Serhii Plokhy, émigré writer and critic Alexander Genis, rap singer Noize MC, to name but a few.
“On the last day of 2022, as we all were getting ready to celebrate the arrival of the new year the Russian missile attack hit Kyiv, causing serious damage to the buildings and properties of the Kyiv University. … It had become the worst year for the higher education since the end of World War II. Any assistance we can provide for students of Ukraine will be greatly appreciated by the students in the universities under fire and the students-refugees in Ukraine and abroad.” — Serhii Plokhy, professor of Ukrainian history, Harvard University
“I am glad to take part in this project. After all, the auction that Tamizdat Project has put together is not just about rare books that make any library more precious and interesting. It is also part of the living history of free literature and thought, uninterrupted even today. These books, as dissidents used to say, are relics of the struggle ‘for our freedom and yours.’ They unite authors and readers, turning even those unfamiliar with each other into allies.” — Alexander Genis, author
Tamizdat Project is a not-for-profit public scholarship and charity initiative devoted to the study of banned books from the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War (“tamizdat” means literally “published over there,” that is, abroad). Today, these books remind us that freedom and education know no boundaries. We are a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization with a tax-exempt status: donations and gifts are deductible to the extent allowable by the IRS.
A statue of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov was unveiled Monday in St. Petersburg, despite criticism from his widow who said today’s Russia has failed her husband.
The 10 1/2-foot bronze statue depicts the Nobel peace laureate, slightly stooped but with his head held high, standing with hands tied behind his back atop a stone pedestal on a square that was named after him in 1996.
The monument by sculptor Levon Lazarev’s was unveiled a few weeks after a city commission in Moscow gave the green light to a stalled plan for another statue of Sakharov in the capital.
Yelena Bonner was opposed to both statues, saying Russia has failed to live up to Sakharov’s ideals of freedom and democracy since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
“It is out of place to erect a monument to Sakharov in today’s Russia,″ the Interfax news agency quoted Bonner as saying. She said she was not consulted.
“There’s no money to publish his works widely, so that people would finally read them, but they can put up a monument,″ Bonner told Russia’s TVS television by phone from Boston, where she lives.
The unveiling drew about 100 people, among them intellectuals and former dissidents who supported a transition to democracy at the time of the Soviet collapse.
A physicist who helped design the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Sakharov became a staunch promoter of human rights and world peace, and spent seven years in internal exile for speaking out. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.
A Little Song about the Physicist Sakharov
The physicist Sakharov
Was one bad dude.
Oh, how he made us seethe!
Why do we suffer that fool?
It later suddenly transpired
That he was a real good cat.
We felt sorry for the poor man
And guiltily ate our hats.
Now it’s been ascertained
That he was bad news after all.
We’re seething once again.
Why did we suffer that fool?
If again it turns out
That he was, in fact, a good egg,
Ah, we'll regret it again,
And put on guilty mugs.
8 August 2022
Source: German Lukomnikov, “New Poems,” Volga 1 (2023). Thanks to ES for the suggestion. Translated by the Russian Reader
Russian prosecutors on Monday declared as “undesirable” the U.S.-based foundation that preserves the legacy of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov as Moscow continues to crack down on dissent in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The activities of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation (ASF) “constitute a threat to the foundation of Russia’s constitutional order and security,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.
Under Russian law, individuals believed to have cooperated with an “undesirable” international NGO face steep fines and jail terms.
ASF, based in Springfield, Virginia outside Washington, says its goal is to promote Sakharov’s works to “support peace efforts and anti-war events.”
The organization chaired by mathematician Alexei Semyonov has not yet commented on Russia’s latest designation.
Russian authorities have declared more than 70 organizations — including media outlets focused on exposing fraud and corruption in Russia — “undesirable” between mid-2015 and early 2023.
Sakharov, once feted as a hero of the Soviet defense industry for his role in developing the Soviet nuclear bomb, became one of the U.S.S.R.’s most prominent dissidents from the late 1960s.
He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his work against the nuclear arms race he had helped precipitate, though he was not permitted to leave the Soviet Union to accept the award.
Sakharov became one of the most distinctive personalities of the perestroika era, rising to the status of a national moral authority.
Arrested in 1980 after denouncing the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Sakharov was sent into internal exile in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, then closed to foreigners.
After six years in exile, during which he undertook several hunger strikes, Sakharov was released over a telephone call by reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
So much for the idea of not giving a platform to out-and-out fascists like Alexander Dugin, whose “academic” credentials are borne out by serious-sounding nonsense like the following, as found in Last War of the World-Island and translated by John Bryant:
In all the principal parameters, the Russian Federation is the geopolitical heir to the preceding historical, political, and social forms that took shape around the territory of the Russian plain: Kievan Rus, the Golden Horde, the Muscovite Czardom, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union. This continuity is not only territorial, but also historical, social, spiritual, political, and ethnic. From ancient times, the Russian government began to form in the Heartland, gradually expanding, until it occupied the entire Heartland and the zones adjoining it. The spatial expansion of Russian control over Eurasian territories was accompanied by a parallel sociological process: the strengthening in Russian society of “land-based” social arrangements, characteristic of a civilization of the continental type. The fundamental features of this civilization are:
• conservatism; • holism; • collective anthropology (the narod is more important than the individual);
• sacrifice; • an idealistic orientation; • the values of faithfulness, asceticism, honor, and loyalty.
Sociology, following Sombart, calls this a “heroic civilization.” According to the sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, it is the ideal sociocultural system. This sociological trait was expressed in various political forms, which had a common denominator: the constant reproduction of civilizational constants and basic values, historically expressed in different ways. The political system of Kievan Rus differs qualitatively from the politics of the Horde, and that, in turn, from the Muscovite Czardom. After Peter I, the political system sharply changed again, and the October Revolution of 1917 also led to the emergence of a radically new type of statehood. After the collapse of the USSR there arose on the territory of the Heartland another government, again differing from the previous ones: today’s Russian Federation.
But throughout Russian political history, all these political forms, which have qualitative differences and are founded on different and sometimes directly contradictory ideological principles, had a set of common traits. Everywhere, we see the political expression of the social arrangements characteristic of a society of the continental, “land-based,” heroic type. These sociological peculiarities emerged in politics through the phenomenon that the philosopher-Eurasianists of the 1920s called “ideocracy.” The ideational model in the sociocultural sphere, as a general trait of Russian society throughout its history, was expressed in politics as ideocracy, which also had different ideological forms, but preserved a vertical, hierarchical, “messianic” structure of government.