Open House

“Graduate Student Azat Miftakhov Is Being Tortured by the FSB!” Protest at Moscow State University’s Open House Day
Agniya Galdanova
Republic
October 15, 2019

Activists from the MSU Pressure Group and Indefinite Protest protested during a speech by Rector Viktor Sadovnichy at Moscow State University’s open house day on October 13.

“Why are you silent? MSU graduate student Azat Miftakhov is being tortured by the FSB! And Rector Sadovnichy is silent!” shouted Olga Misik, a journalism student at MSU better known as the “constitution girl.”

Miftakhov, a 25-year-old mechanics and mathematics graduate student at MSU, was detained on February 1, 2019, in Balashikha. He is suspected of making a homemade bomb and attempting to set fire to a United Russia party office. Miftakhov has repeatedly complained of torture while in police custody.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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The Real State of Russia Today

fullsizeoutput_215fRussia is a great place for pipelines, dirt, weeds, and skyscrapers, but it is hell on its people. Photo by the Russian Reader

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Some of my friends say the regime will collapse soon, while others argue it is only picking up a head of steam. It occurred to me yesterday that we mistakenly use the word “regime” when talking about the processes taking place in our midst. A regime can last a very long time, and crackdowns, no matter how ridiculous or chaotic, are not symptoms of its demise.

Since ancient times, the state has had only two fundamental functions: defending borders and administering justice (making laws). Everything else—medical care, education, pensions, and bike lanes—is a recent superstructure. Political regimes can be different, from totalitarian to democratic, and they can forego treating people when they are ill, teaching them, and paying them pensions while still maintaining stability. But it must perform the basic functions; otherwise, it stops being a state.

In Russia, on the contrary, one of these foundations has been completely destroyed over the past decades. I am not talking about crackdowns. There has never been any justice either for so-called dissidents or people who randomly fall victim to the state apparatus. People understood this in the Soviet Union, and they understand it now: you fight the law, and the law whacks you upside the head. The majority of Russians do not dispute the state’s right to crack down on the opposition or meddle in the affairs of other countries.

I am talking, instead, about ordinary life and everyday justice, about what we find in the Code of Hammurabi, the Law of the Twelve Tables, and Yaroslav’s Law—about the promises the state makes to citizens, about the fact that you cannot just be beaten, robbed, and wrongfully accused for no reason at all.

And what about Russia? What should we think when, for example, as a friend told me, a youth gang orders food deliveries and then beats up and robs the delivery people, and they have been running this scam for nearly a year, but the police simply refuse to do anything about it? When a person cannot find protection from his bully of neighbor, who shoots at his windows? When you go to court because traffic cops confiscated your driving license for no reason and then solicited a bribe to give it back to you, and the trial drags on for a year and a half? When you even win the case but the time you spent on it was worth much more in monetary terms than the bribe itself?

I made a point of giving more or less innocuous examples. Any of us knows several such stories. What is the point of doing public opinion polls and asking people whether they trust Putin? Ask people whether they trust the Russian courts and Russian law enforcement agencies. Their answer will show you the depths of the disaster. The Russian state has forfeited its basic function, and so we are slowly returning to the state of nature. Scattered tribes roam the landscape, and whether you are safe or not depends on the biceps of your fellow tribesmen. Strong communities can defend their members, while loners and weaklings die off.

The current outrage at the prison sentence handed down to an actor is not about crackdowns, but about the degradation of the state’s basic functions. This protest will only grow because the state has been vanishing before our eyes. All that remains are armed men who have monopolized power. What will be next? No one knows.

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Andrey Tchabovsky
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Our Motherland

We returned from a conference in Kyzyl (Tuva).

Two Germans, a respected professor, and his wife and colleague, had supplied the event with its international credentials. For over twenty years, they have invested both their money and their labor in research in Tuva. They had become fans of the place. They had made friends. They were friends to numerous local zoologists and zoologists from other parts of Russia. The professor is an honorary member of the Russian Theriological Society, an affiliate of the Russian Academy of Sciences. For the conference, they minted very nice commemorative medals, paying for them with their own money, to present to their respected Russian colleagues.

Local officials of the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education did not let them into the conference at the university and deleted their papers from the conference program. They were not even allowed into the building, all because of Kotyukov’s decree about interactions with foreign scientists. It is clear the decree can and should be roundly ignored regardless of whether it is legitimate or not. It is equally clear that many people will not ignore it because of the stupid need to stay on the safe side and, so, the decree will do what it was meant to do.

It is an utterly shameful disgrace.

Thanks to Natalia Vvedenskaya for her permission to translate and publish her remarks. Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for bringing Andrey Tchabovsky’s remarks to my attention. Translated by the Russian Reader

School Daze

olimpiada_po_himii(21)Moscow schoolchildren were smart enough to win the All-Russian Chemistry Olympiad in 2017, but the Moscow police department thinks they are not smart enough to know and speak their own minds when it comes to politics. Photo courtesy of Mos.ru, the official website of the Moscow mayor’s office

Policewoman Tells Moscow Schoolchildren “You Are Kaput” and Threatens Criminal Charges If They Attend Protest Rallies
Mediazona
September 6, 2019

​On condition of anonymity, a pupil at a school in Moscow has told Mediazona that today, during a lesson, a woman in a police uniform who identified herself as an inspector for minors came to his class. She threatened the schoolchildren with criminal charges if they attended protest rallies and said they would be unable to go to university.

Our source recorded the policewoman’s monologue on his telephone.

“As you know, protest rallies have been going on here in Moscow. People who attend them face administrative charges for this and then criminal charges. When people say they just happened to be in the same place, it makes no impression on me. I just put them on the watch list, and they get visits not only from beat cops but also from detectives,” she says at the beginning of her speech.

The policewoman then says she plans to put children on the watch list without bothering to figure out what happened.

“I do not care whether you there or not there, whether you went to a rally or were on a ‘stroll,’ whether you were just going to the toilet or not. I am going to put you on the watch list and that is that: you are kaput,” she says.

On a second recording, made in a parallel class at the same school, the policewoman goes into more detail about the dangers of being placed on the watch list of the police’s commission for the affairs of minors.

“When you are put on the watch list you can forget about your future and your plans for the future because you will not be able to get into any university. I am not talking about not being able to buy cigarettes or [inaudible] on a park bench. This is really serious. [. . .] I think your parents could also have a rough time at work. And basically, it is no fun being on the watch list, something everyone finds out later. Because we alert everyone that their employee’s child has been put on the watch list for this reason and that,” she says.

The school’s deputy headmaster then addresses the pupils.

“The main thing you have to understand is that the people who try to get you involved in this are just manipulating you. They could not care less about your civic stance. You are just numbers to them. They count you up and say that a hundred people, a thousand people came out for the rally. During the war, people like this were called ‘cannon fodder,'” he says.

“Remember that every so-called stroll in quotation marks—because, unfortunately, all children say they were strolling there—can bounce back on you in the sense that your entire educational trajectory and all your plans can be ruined very bitterly. We just worked together to try and save a pupil in the eleventh form after this situation because he was planning to go to a higher education institution connected with the law enforcement authorities. A lawyer was hired to defend him and he managed to get the charges dropped because the kid really had participated in so many academic competitions that it played a decisive role. But I would not wish what he went through on anyone. So don’t do it. Be smart and realize that the money they [inaudible] will later turn into tears of blood shed by your parents in the form of heavy fines,” he says.

According to our anonymous source, the preventive talks took place in the ninth and tenth forms at his school. He speculated they had probably taken place in other forms, too.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Me Talk Pretty One Day

67392734_2292618164188215_3196602514246783151_nPopular Russian blogger Dr. Philipp Kuzmenko might style himself the Russian “Doctor Phil,” but the title of his new book admirably owes nothing to modern English. Image courtesy of Feedler

The wholesale destruction of the Russian language at the hands of intellectuals and hipsters trying to look more worldly than they really are is not distressing only because what they do to their mother tongue looks and sounds awful and needless, but also because they pilfer the most threadbare, unattractive bits of modern English to gussy up their own perfectly pedestrian thoughts, e.g.,

В школьников по-прежнему запихивают объем информации, а сегодня надо учить компетенциям, трекам, по которым ребенок сможет добывать знания сам.

Schoolchildren are, as before, crammed with a volume of information, but today it is necessary to teach competencies, tracks with which the child will be able to obtain knowledge himself.

This is not the most egregious example I could find (it popped up on my Facebook newsfeed a few minutes ago), but it nicely shows the kind of wild register switching that happens when people talk and write like this.

There are at least three registers in the sentence quoted above: colloquial Russian (“crammed,” “schoolchildren”), bureaucratese (“as before,” “volume,” “information,” “obtain”), and avoidable, undigested Anglicisms (“competencies,” “tracks”).

Topping this progressivist cake is the cherry of Russian’s inbuilt sexism, if we can call it that, which means that a “child” is always a “he,” not a “she” or “it” or “they.”

Sometimes, the outcome of this permanent mental confusion is almost worthy of the greatest Russian literary register switcher of all time, Andrei Platonov. But he was making a very big tragicomic point, unlike his tin-eared descendants, who are unconsciously turning his uncanny nightmares into linguistic norms.

Why should this bother me, a non-native Russian speaker? Because I work as a translator. Much of the stuff I translate, nearly all of it written by highly educated, extraordinarily well-read Russians, resembles the hodgepodge quoted above, although it is usually even more unintentionally funny, chockablock with so many half-baked, misunderstood Anglicisms that I could think the authors were pulling my leg.

In fact, they are deadly serious.

To spare my readers the same sense that the writers are having a laugh at their expense, I have to translate their hipster worldliness signaling into what they might have said had they been real English speakers with no penchant for tiresome jargon and bureaucratese.

Does this mean I translate their “I’m so clever I’m also thinking in English as I write this” Russian into idiomatic Russian before translating it into real English?

Of course not. But in this case, I could venture such a translation, just for fun.

Мы все еще запихиваем в школьников большие куски информации, но сегодня мы должны учить их умениям, способам, с помощью которых они могли бы учиться сами.

It’s hardly perfect, but at least I used twenty-four Russian words—and one foreign borrowing, naturalized ages ago—to say what a native Russian speaker wanted but failed to say.

Tellingly, Yandex Translate had no trouble translating my hasty rewrite into perfectly decent English.

We still cram large chunks of information into schoolchildren, but today we have to teach them skills, ways in which they could learn for themselves. // TRR

I Have No Idea What I’m Talking About, But I’m Famous, So It Doesn’t Matter

vadim f. lurie-10 august-fuck offOne of the many young people in Russia who, according to Anne Applebaum, are leading the latest tiny, Moscow-centered pro-democracy movement there. The slogan on his t-shirt reads, “Fuck off.” Photo by Vadim F. Lurie, who captured this image during the “authorized” fair elections march in Moscow on August 10, 2019.

What was I just saying about leaky arguments on behalf of Russia’s courageous but incredibly tiny fair elections movement?

I always had famous Anne Applebaum pegged as a real Russophobe, not a fake one like me, someone who has constantly run afoul of the liberal and leftist Russia discourse police and been crossed off their Christmas card lists many times over. But it turns out Applebaum is such a “Russophile” she is ready to turn reality on its head by comparing the truly grassroots, popular, massive well-organized pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with the minuscule ragtag non-movement in Russia.

In Russia, where propaganda also attacks the West and derides democracy as chaotic and anarchic, protesters have focused very directly on the most fundamental of democratic institutions: they are demanding the right, simply, to vote for independent candidates in local elections. Just as in Hong Kong, Russian protests are being led by younger people [sic], none of whom can remember any other leader except Vladimir Putin: “I am 20 years old, and in my entire life there has not been a single day of freedom,” one of them told reporters, according to Meduza, an independent website that covers Russia. They, too, are well organized, using up-to-the-minute apps to keep in touch with one other, deploying a phalanx of lawyers and a carefully planned social media campaign [sic]. Like the young Hong Kongers, young Russians aren’t just dedicated; they are organized, thoughtful and well prepared [sic].

There are some obvious explanations for this East-West paradox. Clearly, the inhabitants of stable democracies find it hard to appreciate what they have: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” isn’t just a song lyric; it’s an expression of something fundamental about the human brain. Like wealth or health, political freedom may simply be something that people don’t value if they’ve always had it [sic].

But it may also be that the young protesters of Russia and China are simply ahead of us. We’ve gotten used to the idea that political influence flows from West to East, but are we so sure that is still true? A generation of Eastern dissidents has thought harder than we [sic] have about how to self-organize, about how to operate in a world run by secretive, kleptocratic elites who go out of their way to create distraction and apathy. Remember that they, too, are fighting regimes that seem in hock to moneyed interests and wrestling to cope with the pace of technological change. It may be that we in the West simply haven’t thought about what tactics ordinary people need [sic] to deploy to compete in a world where money is offshore, power is invisible and apathy is widespread. It may be that we need to learn from people who have.
—Anne Applebaum, “Hong Kong and Russia Protesters Fight for Democracy. The West Should Listen and Learn,” Washington Post, 16 August 2019

For the sake of rapping the sock puppet known as “the west” on the knuckles, Applebaum conveniently forgets to compare the numbers of people involved in demos and other protest actions in a city of seven million people, on one hand, and the world’s largest country, on the other.

She claims “the west,” where, she alleges, everyone has suddenly given up on democracy, can learn something from “the east.” How is that someone who has written so eloquently about the Soviet Gulag has no clue that the people spearheading the Russian non-movement, people from Moscow and Petersburg, overidentify with “the west” and regard their cities, wrongly or rightly, as European cities, not “eastern” cities?

Wrongly or rightly, and unlike Applebaum, they overidentify so strong with the nonexistent west that they almost never show any sign they have anything to learn from “the east.” Maybe I have the wrong friends and follow the wrong people and groups on Russian social media, but I have not seen anyone talking about the lessons Russian protesters can learn from people in Hong Kong or, say, Puerto Rico. Forgive me if I don’t spell out, for the thousandth time, the darker side of the disdain many members of the Russian liberal and left intelligentsia have for “non-westerners,” especially “non-westerners” who make them look bad by fighting more fiercely and in much greater numbers for their freedom.

It is only possible to learn a real lesson when our teacher has all her facts straight. Unfortunately, when it comes to Russia and its “western” discourse police officers, including Applebaum, complexity, subtlety, and a basic grasp of facts go straight out the window. For reasons I have never been able to fathom, normally decent editors fall asleep at the wheel when their reporters and op-ed contributors write about Russia, especially when they have the cachet of someone like Applebaum.

It seemingly never occurs to anyone in “the west” or “the east” (i.e., Russia) that this bizarre mixture of total indifference, willful ignorance masked as insider knowledge, and desperate cheerleading does nothing for the minority of people in Russia who have the courage to confront their country’s criminal regime. // TRR

Thanks to Boycott Russia Today for the heads-up and Vadim F. Lurie for the fabulous photograph.

New Russian Drama: An Anthology

drama

Maksim Hanukai
Facebook
August 13, 2019

I am very excited to announce the publication of New Russian Drama: An Anthology. The volume features 10 plays (or “texts”) by contemporary playwrights writing in Russian. It is framed by an Introduction by myself and Susanna Weygandt and what I think will be a somewhat controversial Foreword by the eminent Richard Schechner.

Enormous thanks to everyone who contributed to this project: Susanna Weygandt, Ania Aizman, Thomas Campbell, Kira Rose, Sasha Dugdale, Christine Dunbar, Christian Winting, Richard Schechner and, last but not least, the playwrights! Also major thanks to Boris Wolfson, Julie Curtis, Duska Radosavljevic, and Christian Parker for their very generous blurbs.

I include the Table of Contents and a link to the official book site. According to Columbia University Press, customers in the United States, Canada, and most of Latin America, the Caribbean, and East Asia can receive a 30% discount off the price of the book by using the promo code CUP30 on the CUP website. Customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, Middle East, South Asia, and South Africa should contact CUP’s distributor John Wiley & Sons to order the book and for information regarding price and shipping cost. Of course, the anthology is also available from other booksellers on- and offline.

Please help spread the news and consider teaching or staging these wonderful plays in your courses and theaters (or vice versa)!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Foreword, by Richard Schechner
Introduction by Maksim Hanukai and Susanna Weygandt
A Chronology of New Russian Drama
1. Plasticine, by Vassily Sigarev
2. Playing the Victim, by the Presnyakov Brothers
3. September.doc, by Elena Gremina and Mikhail Ugarov
4. The Brothers Ch., by Elena Gremina
5. The Blue Machinist, by Mikhail Durnenkov
6. The Locked Door, by Pavel Pryazhko
7. The Soldier, by Pavel Pryazhko
8. Summer Wasps Sting in November, Too, by Ivan Vyrypaev
9. Somnambulism, by Yaroslava Pulinovich
10. Project SWAN, by Andrey Rodionov and Ekaterina Troepolskaya
Notes
About the Authors

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New Russian Drama took shape at the turn of the new millennium—a time of turbulent social change in Russia and the former Soviet republics. Emerging from small playwriting festivals, provincial theaters, and converted basements, it evolved into a major artistic movement that startled audiences with hypernaturalistic portrayals of sex and violence, daring use of non-normative language, and thrilling experiments with genre and form. The movement’s commitment to investigating contemporary reality helped revitalize Russian theater. It also provoked confrontations with traditionalists in society and places of power, making theater once again Russia’s most politicized art form.

This anthology offers an introduction to New Russian Drama through plays that illustrate the versatility and global relevance of this exciting movement. Many of them address pressing social issues, such as ethnic tensions and political disillusionment; others engage with Russia’s rich cultural legacy by reimagining traditional genres and canons. Among them are a family drama about Anton Chekhov, a modern production play in which factory workers compose haiku, and a satirical verse play about the treatment of migrant workers, as well a documentary play about a terrorist school siege and a post-dramatic “text” that is only two sentences long. Both politically and aesthetically uncompromising, they chart new paths for performance in the twenty-first century. Acquainting English-language readers with these vital works, New Russian Drama challenges us to reflect on the status and mission of the theater.

Source: Columbia University Press

Steven Salaita: The Inhumanity of Academic Freedom

team-22

“The Inhumanity of Academic Freedom,” a lecture Steven Salaita gave the day before yesterday at the University of Cape Town, is so powerful and echoes so many of the depressing things I have gone through as an agitator and (former) academic in the past several years that I would like to quote it here in full, but I’ll limit myself to quoting a single passage. Please read the lecture from beginning to end: it’s more than worth it. Salaita is a rare truthteller in a fallen world that fancies itself chockablock with truthtellers but which is actually pullulating with hasbaristas of various stripes. Thanks to George Ciccariello-Maher for the heads-up. Thanks to the Imatra IPV Reds Finnish baseball club for the image. (If you think it has nothing to do with the lecture, it means you haven’t read the whole thing.) // TRR

_____________________________________

In the end, we have to apply value judgments (mediated by lawless forces) to balance speech rights with public safety. In societies like the USA and South Africa, steeped in the afterlives of colonization, this task is remarkably difficult. We know that racism is bad, but global economic systems are invested in its survival. We know that anti-Zionism isn’t racism, that, in fact, it is the just position.  Yet no agreement exists about what comprises appropriate speech, in large part because maintaining a community is at odds with corporate dominion. As a result, there’s no way to prioritize a set of beliefs without accusations of hypocrisy (or without actual hypocrisy). The easy answer is to protect speech equally and let a marketplace of ideas sort the winners and losers. 

There’s a catch, though. Value judgments don’t arise in a vacuum and discourses don’t exist in a free market. Structural forces, often unseen, always beneficial to the elite, determine which ideas are serious and which in turn get a hearing. If we conceptualize speech as a market-driven phenomenon, then we necessarily relinquish concern for the vulnerable. We’re left with competing narratives in a system designed to favor the needs of capital. It’s a highly lopsided competition. Those who humor the ruling class will always enjoy a strong advantage, which aspiring pundits and prospective academics are happy to exploit. Corporate and state-run media don’t exist to ratify disinterest, but to reproduce status quos. 

The political left is already restricted, on and beyond campus. The same notions of respectability or common sense that guide discussion of academic freedom also limit the imagination to the mechanical defense of abstractions. Sure, academic freedom is meant to protect insurgent politics, and often does, but the milieu in which it operates has plenty of ways to neutralize or quash insurgency.  

I focus on radical ideas because Palestine, one of my interests and the source of my persecution, belongs to the set of issues considered dangerous by polite society, at least in North America and much of Europe (and, for that matter, the Arab World). Others include Black liberation, Indigenous nationalism, open borders, decolonization, trans-inclusivity, labor militancy, communism, radical ecology, and anti-imperialism. Certain forms of speech reliably cause people trouble: condemning the police, questioning patriotism, disparaging whiteness, promoting economic redistribution, impeaching the military—anything, really, that conceptualizes racism or inequality as a systemic problem rather than an individual failing. More than anything, denouncing Israeli aggression has a long record of provoking recrimination. Anti-Zionism has always existed in dialogue with revolutionary politics around the globe, including the long struggle against Apartheid.