Russia’s Crusade Against Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims Continues

Caucasian Knot reports that a court in Sochi has extended the remand in custody of Jehovah’s Witness Danil Suvorov until June 13. Suvorov’s defense counsel Sergei Yanovsky said that he had appealed the decision.

Danil Suvorov has been charged with involvement in an extremist organization (punishable under Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code), as well as recruiting for an extremist organization (punishable under Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code). According to criminal investigators, Suvorov attempted to recruit people to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “using his authority as a spiritual leader.”

The accused man’s mother, Gulnara Suvorova, was able to communicate with her son in the courtroom for the first time in over nine months.

“My son has been languishing in prison for nine months running for nothing. Or rather, for the fact that he read the Bible aloud to a person who had asked him about it. But, of course, it was just an easy excuse for law enforcement officers to catch a ‘criminal’ and earn a promotion for such a serious charge as extremism,” she told Caucasian Knot.

Suvorov’s defense moved to have the case dismissed, because, according to an expert witness, there was no extremism in the believer’s actions.

Suvorov was detained on 18 August 2021, the same day that his home and the homes of other Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Krasnodar Territory were searched. Electronic devices, personal diaries, postcards, and literature were seized from believers.

In 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia was an extremist organization. It dissolved the Center and banned it from operating in Russia. Later, all Jehovah’s Witnesses branches in Russia were added to the list of banned organizations. Subsequently, a flood of criminal prosecutions against members of the confession began.

Source: OVD Info, 14 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The Mahal Mosque in Nizhny Tagil. Photo: IslamTsentr

On 12 May 2022, it transpired that in April, the Tagilstroyevsky District Court of Nizhny Tagil fined Fanis Galeyev (spelled “Galiyev” in some sources), the imam at the Mahal Mosque, under Article 20.29 of the Russian Federal Administrative Code (“distribution of extremist materials”).

An inspection conducted by the prosecutor’s office found twenty-books books included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials in the imam’s possession.

According to Galeyev, he had collected the books only to study and later destroy them.

“There is a fine line. Today these are not extremist books, but tomorrow they will be extremist. This can be determined by a spiritual person, not a secular one. These books that have been discovered cannot simply be thrown away. They must either be buried or burned.”

The imam is a member of the Nizhny Tagil Council for Combating Extremism.

There is no information about the books in question, but we should note that we consider many cases of banning Islamic literature to be unlawful.

Sources:

“Case Card No. 5-512/2022,” website of the Tagilstroievsky District Court of Nizhny Tagil, Sverdlovsk Region, May 2022 [the embedded link was inaccessible from my IP]

“Nizhny Tagil imam fighting extremism is convicted of distributing extremist literature,” 66.ru, 12 May 2022

“Nizhny Tagil imam punished for extremist literature,” Vse novosti, 12 May 2022

Source: SOVA Center, 13 May 2022. Thanks to OVD Info for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Denounced and Their Denouncers

This is my detailed summary — for the Russian-impaired — of Proekt’s grim but poignant short new documentary about Russians denounced to the police for their anti-war actions and statements in the last month and the people who denounced them (neighbors, relatives, pupils, etc.). It’s worth watching and reading, I think, especially because it humanizes the whole ugly business in a very moving, personal and easy to grasp way. While I wouldn’t say that it gives me hope, it is inspiring to see how such seemingly different people in terms of their backgrounds (businessman, artist, university student and blogger, district council deputy, ex-policeman and teacher) behave bravely in harrowing circumstances that have silenced many other people, or worse. It’s also to Proekt’s credit that in the case of several of the film’s protagonists they interviewed them where they live, including in public (which leads in two cases to run-ins with the powers that be). It goes to show that however frightening things have become, Russia is not yet “North Korea.”  ||| TRR

Proekt, “How the war in Ukraine has triggered a wave of denunciations in Russia,” 24 April 2022.
Published on Proekt’s website on 25 April 2022 under the title “Your denunciation is very important to us”

  1. Mikhail Zheltonozhsky, a businessman and “extreme travel” enthusiast from Bryansk, was denounced by a neighbor lady for flying Ukrainian pennants from his window. His denouncer, Elena Ruchkina, a midwife at a local outpatient clinic, wrote in her complaint to police, “[The pennants] seemed suspicious in light of recent events.” That was grounds for sending three police cruisers and a high-ranking police colonel to their apartment building to detain Zheltonozhsky.
  2. Elmira Khalitova, a university student and political blogger from Moscow, was denounced by her father, Timur, who telephoned police and demanded that they bust down the door to her flat to detain her. He claimed that his daughter had been urging her readers to “murder Russians.” His denunciation was captured on tape. Elmira claims that her father has extreme pro-Putinist views. Among them are his view that Ukraine is “one big fiction” and that it should be merged with Russia. A heavy drinker, Timur is a fan of the rabid pro-Putin TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyov. Fortunately, Elmira was able to convince police (for the time being?) that she had not urged anyone to “murder Russians.”
  3. Sasha Skochilenko, an artist from Petersburg, was arrested and remanded in custody for replacing price tags with anti-war messages at a Perekrestok chain supermarket in Petersburg. Her friend Alexei shows Proekt’s film crew around the store as he talks about the circumstances of her arrest. They are confronted by a store employee, who angrily orders them to leave the premises, explaining that she doesn’t want to be “imprisoned and murdered” like Skochilenko. Alexei explains that the Perekrestok customer who reported Sasha was a woman from the neighborhood born in 1947, whom the voice-over narrator claims is the target audience of this particular anti-war campaign because, supposedly, they peruse supermarket price tags more intently than younger shoppers.
  4. Alexandra Arkhipova is an anthropologist. She explains that the authorities have three methods for ferreting out anti-war dissidents. First, so-called Center “E” (the federal “anti-extremism” police, established by the “liberal” Dmitry Medvedev during his term as president) monitor social media for “extremism” posts. Second, the authorities cook up such charges against well-known activists who are in their sights, such as Vladimir Kara-Murza, recently arrested in Moscow on the same criminal charges as Skochilenko. Third, “alert” citizens among the general public report such dissidents to the police. This segment features clips from a recent speech made on TV by President Putin in which he warned the Russian public that a “fifth column” and “national traitors,” as puppets of the west, would oppose his invasion of Ukraine.
  5. Sonya is Sasha Skochilenko’s live-in girlfriend in Petersburg. She explains that they met two and a half years on a dating website and fell in love almost immediately. They live together in Parnas, a neighborhood in Petersburg’s far north, on the border with the Leningrad Region. The voice-over narrator explains that Sonya and her friends are now focused on making sure Skochilenko survives her ordeal in remand prison, where she will be held at least until the end of May. Sonya explains that since Skochilenko is her “family” and closest friend she now feels lost and desperate. We see Sonya on an escalator in the Petersburg subway, which is festooned with Zwastikas. Sonya says that it’s strange that people pretend not to notice them, although the city is covered with them. The voice-over narrator cites the human rights organization Agora, which has recorded one hundred anti-war-related criminal cases launched by the Russian authorities between February 24 and April 20. He goes on to explain that the number of administrative cases filed during this same period would be hard to tally since over 15,000 people have been arrested at anti-war demonstrations since the war began on February 24. The anthropologist Arkhipova returns to explain that denunciations played a role in the prosecution of dissidents and demonstrators in previous years, but now the practice was been gaining more notice because everyone is paying attention.
  6. Andrei Shestakov is an ex-police officer and, now, ex-history teacher in the town of Neryungri (Sakha Republic). Shestakov was forced to quit the police after he publicly supported Alexei Navalny’s “smart voting” campaign. Now he has been forced to quit his teaching position for having “anti-war conversations” during class with his pupils. He was denounced to the authorities either by one or more of them or their parents. Shestakov says that he doesn’t even want to know who informed on him. 
  7. Elena Kotenochkina is a deputy on the Krasnoselsky District Council in Moscow. Kotenochkina called Russia a “fascist state” during a recent council meeting, which was videotaped and posted on YouTube. The video came to the attention of Russian State Duma deputy Oleg Leonov, who denounced Kotenochkina to the authorities. The security forces have also included in her case file a video for draft-age young men that she made in her capacity as district council chair and co-chair of the district’s draft board. In the video, she explained that conscripts were being sent into combat in Ukraine, but by law they were not required to sign the contracts that made their combat deployment there possible. Although she has not been formally charged with any crime (an official “inquiry” into her actions is underway), loyalist politicians like Leonov are making a fuss that might be lead to her being charged, especially as she is well-known opposition politician in Moscow. The nationally known opposition stalwart Ilya Yashin, shown in the footage, is a deputy of the same district council and her ally. He has pointedly chosen to stay in Russia and speak out publicly against the war.
  8. Zheltonozhsky compares the top-down campaign of support in Russia for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to a “general psychosis.” The voice-over narrator explains that Zheltonozhsky has had trouble with the authorities since Soviet times, when he refused to join the (Communist) Party. The business he started in the nineties — a network of kiosks — was destroyed in the 2010s when Bryansk city hall carried out a “beautification” campaign that outlawed such commercial outlets. As he is explaining how one of his kiosks was torched as part of this municipal campaign, police officers approach him and Proekt’s film crew and ask him to go with them to a nearby police box (in the Bryansk city center). On their way, they pass a banner, featuring the Zwastika as its key graphic element, that reads, “For peace! For Russia! For the president!” At the police box, the officers ask Zheltonozhsky why his (blue and yellow) clothes are that color (he claims he ordered orange pants, but was sent yellow instead), and they ask to see his cellphone. The voice-over narrator explains that the authorities have placed Bryansk and other Russian cities near the Ukrainian border on high-level terrorism alert. The narrator then talks on the phone with Elena Ruchkina, the midwife and neighbor lady who denounced Zheltonozhsky to the police, asking her why she did it. She responds by asking whether the narrator thinks that Zheltonozhsky’s actions were “normal.”
  9. Khalitova says that while she had always been aware of the danger of being persecuted for her political outspokenness, she was now acutely aware of the threat. She has broken off all contact with her family after her father turned her in. She says he did it because he wanted to feel “important.” In a recorded phone conversation, Timur Khalitov claims to the narrator that he panicked when he got an “anonymous” phone call about his daughter’s alleged extremist activities. Walking through a park, Elmira tells Proekt that she has been thoroughly disappointed by the Russian public’s reaction to the invasion because she had been convinced that the widespread notion that there was a “Putinist majority” in Russia who supported the president was a “myth.” Now, she says, she understands that most people are willing to let young men die in battle as long as nothing else changes in their lives.
  10. Sonya reads aloud the first letter that Sasha Skochilenko wrote from remand prison. In the letter she says that while her accuser might get a “miserable reward” for denouncing her, Skochilenko herself will gain “immortality.” Sonya claims that none of the letters that she and other friends have sent to the remand prison have been delivered to Sasha, nor has she received the food care packages that she needs as someone who suffers from celiac disease. Her friend Alexei explains that patients with this diagnosis must not eat bread and pasta, but since the disease is not officially recognized by the authorities as a “serious” ailment, they are not obliged to meet her dietary requirements. Sonya explains that, when celiac disease is not managed properly, it can lead to cancer, osteoporosis and other life-threatening ailments. 
  11. Arkhipova argues that the practice of denunciation that has now come to the fore in Russia is “for art’s sake” in the sense that it is motivated neither by the need to protect oneself nor by the prospect of monetary gain. On the contrary, Russia’s new-model denouncers are “exercising their civic muscles” because they feel “needed.” The narrator says that the number of denunciations in wartime “civil society” will only grow, citing the United Russia party’s launching of a special bot for filing denunciations, which Rostelecom has promised to support by passing the denunciations on to the authorities. Elmira Khalitova says that she feels she is surrounded by people who, although they behave normal in everyday life, are quite willing to “condone a crime.” She says that because of this new sense of what her society has become, she feels “empty inside” and that the country has no future. Shestakov says that he has become more careful about what he says to whom. Zheltonozhsky says that he also no longer talks about political topics to certain people. Sonya says that everything has been changed by the war, but that this wasn’t clear at first. She says that Skochilenko loves Russia, is a “genuine Russian patriot,” and had hoped that things could be changed for the better. Kotenochkina says that although people are afraid, such a war in the twenty-first century is so wrong that they have no choice but to act. As she begins crying, the screen fades to black and the message “No war” appears on the screen.
“‘Your denunciation is very important to us.’ A film about how the war in Ukraine has revived the fashion of denouncing people in Russia.” A screenshot of the documentary film’s page on the Proekt website.

The Asch Conformity Experiments

Back in the 1950s, experiments were conducted that purported to demonstrate how difficult it is for one person to resist the opinion of a group. These were [Solomon] Asch’s famous [conformity] experiments.

The subjects were asked to compare the length of lines. The correct answer was obvious, but it was “decoys” in the group who answered first, and they all pointed to another line as the right one. Consequently, most people conformed with group’s opinion and answered the question incorrectly. But if at least one of the decoys had been instructed to answer differently than the others (although not necessarily correctly), most of the subjects were able to assert their own opinion.

A friend told me how she had unwittingly found herself inside an Asch experiment. She was an independent observer on an elections commission in which all the other members were attempting to falsify the results. They put the ballots for one candidate into a stack with the other candidate’s ballots. My acquaintance tried in vain to protest. She said that her principal emotion was not indignation, but the terrible thought that, maybe, there was something wrong with her. It seemed to her that she was going crazy: it could not be that all these people were doing “wrong” so calmly and confidently.

That is why the authorities are going after pro-peace posters and anti-war quotes by Leo Tolstoy, and that is why draconian fines and criminal penalties have been introduced for voicing opinions other than the official ones. That is why all the opposition media have been shuttered. Because the existence of even one public voice contradicting the “unanimous choir” enables thousands of other people to maintain their own common sense. (For those of you who do not like the opposition and opposition politicians, remember that this holds true even if the contradictory voice is “wrong.”)

Many people are now afraid to speak out publicly, not only because of the possible punishments, but also because of the effect demonstrated by Asch’s experiments. It’s scary to stand alone against everyone. That is why it is so important to support each other (“a like is also a help” :) and, at least, voice one’s opinion in private conversations with each other, if not publicly. It will help someone not to go crazy.

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Translated by the Russian Reader


Marina Dubrova, an English teacher on the Russian island of Sakhalin in the Pacific, showed an uplifting YouTube video to her eighth-grade class last month in which children, in Russian and Ukrainian, sing about a “world without war.”

After she played it, a group of girls stayed behind during recess and quizzed her on her views.

“Ukraine is a separate country, a separate one,” Ms. Dubrova, 57, told them.

“No longer,” one of the girls shot back.

A few days later, the police came to her school in the port town of Korsakov. In court, she heard a recording of that conversation, apparently made by one of the students. The judge handed down a $400 fine for “publicly discrediting” Russia’s Armed Forces. The school fired her, she said, for “amoral behavior.”

“It’s as though they’ve all plunged into some kind of madness,” Ms. Dubrova said in a phone interview, reflecting on the pro-war mood around her.

With President Vladimir V. Putin’s direct encouragement, Russians who support the war against Ukraine are starting to turn on the enemy within.

The episodes are not yet a mass phenomenon, but they illustrate the building paranoia and polarization in Russian society. Citizens are denouncing one another in an eerie echo of Stalin’s terror, spurred on by vicious official rhetoric from the state and enabled by far-reaching new laws that criminalize dissent.

Source: Anton Troianovski, New York Times, 9 April 2022. Read the rest of this disturbing article by clicking on the link. Thanks to Comrade SG for the timely heads-up.

He Didn’t Look like a Gopnik

Natalia Vvedenskaya, an amazing grassroots activist acquaintance of mine in Petersburg who teaches Russian to immigrant kids, writing about what happened her and “No to the war” pin today in the subway:

I got my pin torn off today. It was a man, over thirty. He demanded that I take it off, then he tore it off himself. He didn’t look at all like a gopnik, by the way, although he behaved accordingly.

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 19 March 2022

The Black Square

An Open Letter from Russian Culture and Art Workers

Art and culture workers across Russia have been signing an open letter for peace in Ukraine.

This page once contained an open letter from culture and art workers, stating their opinion on the “special military operation,”* which had been signed by more than 18,000 people. On March 4, 2022, the “law on fakes” was adopted, stipulating a fine or a term of imprisonment [for publicly speaking the truth about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine]. The process of collecting signatures has now been suspended, and the text of the letter and signatures have been concealed for the safety of all signatories.


* The government forbids us from using any other term for the “special military operation.”

We remind you that according to Article 54 of the Russian Federal Constitution, “[a] law introducing or aggravating responsibility shall not have retrospective effect,” and “[n]o one may bear responsibility for [an] action which was not regarded as a crime when it was committed.”

Source: Spectate.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

“It’s Terrifying to Be Here Amidst This Hell”

I’m a translator, an academic, and a US citizen. Over the past week I have received many dozens of emails from people all over Russia who are desperate to leave and looking for any way out of Russia and into a stable academic or arts-related position.

The one I’ve translated here (with permission from the author, whose personal information has been removed) is both characteristic and particularly exhaustive, and reveals a lot about the situation in Russia now. Just as the prospect of a “war in Europe” and “World War III” has activated memories of the Second World War, in Russia the new crackdown on free media and civic protest has dredged up a lot of cultural trauma around Stalin-era repressions, particularly among the intelligentsia. Postmodern apocalypse rules, with totalitarian concentration camps and 1984 rubbing shoulders (see also Nadia Plungian’s piece analyzing the 20th-century’s death-grip on the modern-day cultural imagination in Russia).

The specters of the twentieth century are additionally deleterious in the way they constantly bring back and elevate specifically Russian suffering. While this suffering is linked to real, undeniable and still largely unprocessed trauma, it feeds into the self-absorption and political passivity that underpins the state of things in Russia today (I don’t have to point out certain parallels with the US and mainstream American culture). It’s not my place to blame Russian citizens for what their insane government is fomenting in Ukraine; there is just clearly much work to be done to build civic consciousness and a functioning society.

Hello.

Although I was born and have spent my whole life in Russia, I am, ethnically speaking, half Russian and half Ukrainian: my grandparents are from Ukraine, and even quite recently I was thinking about applying for Ukrainian citizenship in order to move to a normal, free country, all the more so since I have roots there, but I took too long to decide and now the war has canceled all of those plans. What’s happening right now in Ukraine puts me literally into a state of shock, and what’s happening in Russia makes my hair stand up on end from horror and the realization that this is not a bad dream or nightmare that one might at least eventually wake up from.

This inhumane and senseless war that Putin is waging against Ukraine, which the Russian governmental media insist on calling a “special operation” (while using the word “war” carries the threat of criminal charges), this is only half of the hell, the other half is happening inside Russia. In downtown [city’s name redacted; it is not a capital city], I witnessed the police arresting he small number of people protesting the war. The police used truncheons to shove a grandma holding a “NO WAR!” sign into a paddy wagon. I can’t get my head around the fact that being pro-peace is a crime now. But there are very few protests, the people capable of thinking, the ones who understand how absurd what’s happening is, they’re spooked and scared of protesting lest they end up crippled or have fabricated criminal charges pinned on them.

But the worst thing is that many people, including my former colleagues from the theater, absolutely support this hell that Putin is creating right now in Ukraine, this totally unprovoked and unjustifiable, senseless and bloody slaughter. A huge majority of people has been zombified by the propaganda on TV and are openly welcoming this war, thoughtlessly reproducing the TV propagandists’ fascist, misanthropic slogans. And it’s impossible to convince them otherwise, they brand any rational argument a “fake” and hate the people who argue with them. Today, near my building, I saw that my neighbors had painted the “Z” symbol on their cars, this new swastika that marks the Russian military equipment going to attack Ukraine. They’re all in favor of the hellishness, the blood and death, the war. It’s so scary.

The most absolute insane and absurd madness is being fomented, madness that has no sense and virtually no grounds. Besides this bloody war, besides the sanctions that the entire civilized world has imposed on Russia, here inside the country right now the most severe censorship is being implemented, the last free media outlets that covered the last alternative points of view are shutting down. This is the end. They have been destroyed simply because they called the war a war. There are new laws being passed that threaten fifteen years in prison for telling the truth, and who knows how long it will take before they bring back the firing squad for any kind of freethinking. The prime minister already voiced his support for [restoring] the death penalty. Every day things get worse and worse, and the end is nowhere in sight.

This is a surreal nightmare! Reality just all of the sudden lost its mind. In the blink of an eye everything turned from a vague sort of dictatorship into a totalitarian concentration camp along the lines of Orwell’s 1984, and this is no exaggeration. Soon nothing will be left here besides crowds of insane, poverty-stricken people, completely turned to morons by fascist propaganda, their last bit of reason lost, roaring bloodthirsty slogans, and they will simply destroy anyone who allows themselves to think differently.

I just don’t know how to go on living in this concentration camp that Putin is building here in Russia. Before the start of the war, one could at least try to live one’s life, to be free, to make a living through one’s art and not engage with the universal vector of militarization and dumbing down, to have some kind of hope and plans for the future, but now that’s over, there is no hope left. Navalny is in prison, the opposition has been totally crushed, and the state media, radio and TV, all without exception just repeat one and the same lies, lies, lies and nothing but lies, while the non-governmental sources of information are either already closed or are being destroyed and persecuted. The state is mercilessly rooting out even the weakest rudiments of free speech and of rational thinking in general. It’s terrifying to be here amidst this hell.

While I was writing this I got the news that PayPal and Payoneer announced that they would not be doing business in Russia anymore, and that means I will literally be left without any source of income for my creative projects, while working as an actor in this country involves propaganda in one way or another, because free creative activity has not been possible here for a long time. I became convinced of this myself when I left a theater whose management literally threatened the acting troupe to get us to vote for the candidate they wanted.

I’d like to just live peacefully, make art, learn new things, create beauty, and work to build a bright and joyful future. But now wanting peace will just get you beaten up and thrown in prison. I don’t know what to do and how to go on living.

Translated and prefaced by the Fabulous AM. Photo by the Russian Reader

A Postcard from Petersburg: Fear and Despair

Back on February 21-22 (as during the previous week), my colleagues at work made fun of the experts and media outlets who warned that Russia would attack Ukraine. “Ha, ha! How could that happen? Putin’s not crazy enough to openly attack a neighboring country.” Although I hadn’t found the time to read the news for a long while, I responded by saying that I would like to be as optimistic as they were.

Everything changed on February 24. The laughter stopped. My colleagues read out the news and showed each other the screens of their phones. The number of curse words in our conversations skyrocketed. An hour later we agreed not to discuss current events. Of our department’s nine employees, two and a half people supported the “special operation.” Four were strictly against it, while two others, although they had a negative attitude to the war, blamed the Americans and their imperialist policies for everything, saying that Russian actions were being condemned only by those countries that were “under” the United States.

On February 28, all the employees at our workplace were summoned to an urgent meeting, at which we were told that we should not read the news on American-made messaging apps or write anything on social media. After the meeting, our department head told me that we had listened to what they told us and had forgotten it, and that we would write what we deemed fit on our personal social media accounts. A couple of hours later, our organization’s deputy director requested “political asylum” in the office of his former colleagues so that he would no longer have to hear political propaganda from his superiors. In the corridors, people discussed who was going to go to the protests against the war and when.

On March 5, a colleague who supported the “special operation” solemnly deleted the “devilish” Facebook app from his phone, while others got used to using different VPNs. A donations drive for refugees from Donetsk and Luhansk was announced at work. No one in our office took part in it.

The entire city center has been cordoned off by various security forces for two weeks now: everywhere you can see paddy wagons, riot police, and street cleaning machines (which I would like to see used more for their intended purpose, because it is still difficult to walk around the city due to the ice and snow on the pavements). It feels like the city is occupied: Palace Square and Nevsky Prospect are fenced off. Despite this, people have been going out to protest. Now they are being detained for holding up placards with innocent slogans like “No war” and “Peace to the world,” for sporting blue-and-yellow ribbons and pins, and for simply daring to exist the Gostiny Dvor metro station on Nevsky Prospect.

People have been finding new ways to protest. Artists have held plein-air sessions where they painted blue and yellow pictures. The Interior Theater held a protest at which actors wearing costumes recreating Petersburg’s landmark buildings held a banner that read “Petersburg is against the war with Ukraine.” There are the numerous green ribbons that have already become a symbol of the anti-war protests, anti-war graffiti on residential buildings, garages, and fences, flowers laid at the monument to [Ukrainian writer] Taras Shevchenko, the public signing of statements against the war by municipal district councils on the porches of council buildings in the company of local residents, reporters, and riot police, and numerous open letters condemning the war by various professional groups (cultural figures, representatives of the book trade, etc.).

In response, after a short delay, groups who are easier to pressure and true believers have begun to sign open letters supporting Putin. A letter from the faculty of St. Petersburg State University, in which there were too many surnames I recognized, was especially painful for me to read.

“No war”

When someone wrote the message “No war!” on the icebound Moika River, housing authority workers partly painted it over (!), and partly covered it with sand. The next day, thanks to this artistic reframing, the message was even more legible.

The same message a few hours later

People are numb. No one is particularly happy about the fact that troops have been sent into a neighboring country. There have been pro-war videos posted by the police here and there, and small astro-turfed pro-war demos, but it looks nothing like the way “Russian World” fans reacted to the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

On social networks, you can see how those who can afford it are hurriedly leaving Russia. They are fleeing out of fear, out of an unwillingness to live in the country on whose behalf the aggression is being perpetrated. Some are horrified by what is happening in Ukraine, but others are horrified that their favorite goods are disappearing from the shops and scold the countries who impose sanctions on Russia and do not want to do business with it.

The Ukrainians in my social media feed are also divided among those who don’t want to communicate anymore with Russians, and those who are more afraid for us than for themselves. They wrote to me that, despite the fact that the air raid sirens were howling all the time, and they had to hastily evacuate from a city in the east of Ukraine to the west in a darkened train, they feel inspired by their country and feel confident in the successful outcome of this war, which to people who live in Ukraine is a “patriotic war” [as the Second World War and the war against Napoleon are called in Russian]. They fear for us because they know that the screws here will be tightened even more, and that it will become even harder for us to breathe.

A friend of mine in Mariupol has not replied for several days – there is no electricity there, and I don’t know what has happened to him. I read that the school where he worked had been bombed. I don’t know whether he will ever write back to me.

St. Petersburg, 8 March 2022

This “postcard” was written specially for this blog. The author’s name has been withheld at their request. Photos courtesy of the Telegram channel Rotunda. Translated by the Russian Reader

“This Is Not a Military Operation! This Is War!”

[Top] “This is not a military operation! This is war! Come out and protest for peace before they send you a summons to the front.” [Center left] “27 February at 4 p.m., we’ll say ‘No War!’ together.” [Center right] “No to the military incursion in Ukraine! Peace to peoples, fight the rulers!” [Bottom] “Bring the soldiers back home.”

Ivan Astashin
Facebook
February 26, 2022

Not everyone in Russia supports the war started by Putin. Far from everyone.

This photo was taken in an ordinary Moscow courtyard.

_________

Today, Roskomnadzor ordered Novaya Gazeta, Mediazona, TV Rain, and other media outlets to remove materials in which what is happening in Ukraine is referred to as “war”:

“On these resources, under the guise of reliable messages, unreliable socially significant information has been posted about the shelling of Ukrainian cities by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the death of civilians in Ukraine as a result of the actions of the Russian Army that does not correspond to reality, as well as materials in which the operation is called an attack, invasion, or declaration of war,” the order reads.

Source: Novaya Gazeta, 26 February 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

“One Person and God Are Already a Majority”: The Petersburg Teacher Fired for Reading Kharms and Vvedensky to High-Schoolers

“She had never read Vvedensky. It was so disgusting that I still feel physically sick.”Teacher Serafima Saprykina recounts how Kharms and Vvedensky were put on trial during an emergency meeting at a Petersburg high school • Venera Galeyeva • Fontanka.ru • February 6, 2022

The class in which tenth graders listened to poems written by “fascist accomplices” and “enemies of the people” was guest-taught by the young teacher-organizer, who had been invited by the social studies teacher. Everything started because the school’s “literary sector was lagging” and they had been having a hard time finding a library director.

Serafima Saprykina, whose Facebook post detailing the unusual approach of the 168th Gymnasium’s principal to the avant-garde OBERIU poets has gone viral, spoke to us about what exactly the director didn’t like about the work of [poets Daniil] Kharms and [Alexander] Vvedensky, why she decided to make the story public only now, and what she hopes will come about as a result.

Serafima Saprykina

Serafima, why did you decide to tell the story of your departure from Gymnasium No. 168 just now?

I watched the latest film from [journalist] Katerina Gordeyeva, about the children of people who were persecuted [under Stalin]: Mama Won’t Come Back: Women of the Gulag. I became terribly ashamed, I even started crying. I realized that I was doing the wrong thing. I had a chance to stand up for the repressed and I didn’t do it. I don’t hold a personal grudge against the person who fired me, otherwise I would have made the situation public right away. I just want evil to be called by name.

So why did you keep mum back in December?

I figured that I would go on working in the school, or maybe in a different one. And if I told the story no school would ever hire me. But after working in various schools for seven years I have seen all kinds of things and I understand that school, the system that schools are part of, is not going to change. When I was in school in Volgograd I was subjected to bullying. I was different, I read a lot and my classmates disliked me. I would never have thought that I would become a teacher myself but at a certain point I found my calling there.

How did you come to teach the OBERIU poets?

I wrote a dissertation about religious imagery in the work of the OBERIU poets for my master’s at the St. Petersburg State University philosophy department. I’ve been into this topic for a long time and wanted to tell the kids about it. But this wasn’t a one-off lecture, it was part of a series of lessons. The first one was about the [classical modernist] Silver Age poets, then the OBERIU poets, then a lesson about the stadium poets [of the late 1950s—Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Bella Akhmadulina, and others—trans.] and [Joseph] Brodsky, with contemporary literature at the end. Unfortunately, I only got to the second lesson. The series had been officially approved and accepted by my immediate supervisor, head teacher Tatyana Nikolayevna Golerbakh.

The lesson on the OBERIU poets came after the students’ regular classes?

No, I taught it in place of their social studies class—the teacher had invited me to take over that hour. This is standard procedure at the school, the librarian must ask the other teachers for permission to run a “library hour” during their classes. But I didn’t talk to the kids about the precise circumstances in which Kharms and Vvedensky died after their arrests in 1941, or about the arrests either. What’s the point in scaring the kids like that, anyway? I told them about the OBERIU group.

OBERIU (the Association of Real Art—Obedinenie realnogo iskusstva) was a group of writers and cultural figures that existed between 1927 and the early 1930s in Leningrad (now Petersburg).

When we got to Vvedensky, I gave the kids his poem “I regret that I’m not a beast” [Mne zhalko, chto ia ne zver’]. And that really sparked the whole situation that followed. All the people who participated in the emergency meeting called by the principal, including the director of the school museum, had been working with me for half a year and had nothing but praise for me. If the principal had said that I needed to quit because she didn’t approve of my work, I would have understood. But she said, “What a filthy title: he regrets, you know, that he’s not a beast.” She had never read Vvedensky. It was so disgusting that I still feel physically sick.

Actor Boris Dragilev reading Alexander Vvedensky’s poem “I regret that I’m not a beast” at the Anna Akhmatova Museum at Fountain House in Petersburg in 2013. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Your Facebook post went viral within three hours, it’s all over social networks and the media. What has changed in your life since then?

Absolutely everything in my world has changed. When I was writing the post, I thought that I’d get like five likes and three comments, with two of those claiming I was making it all up. I didn’t think that my post would elicit such a response and that people would start calling me a hero. What kind of hero am I? I haven’t even read all the messages and comments yet. But I am sure that the homeroom teacher for the tenth-grade class where I taught the Kharms/Vvedensky class will confirm that I didn’t tell the kids anything horrible during the lesson.

How long did you work at the 168th?

I was hired there in late August of 2021. The school was looking for a library director, and they saw my resume on a recruiting site and liked it. The principal called me and said that the school was very interested in me. At the interview she explained that their literary curriculum was lagging, and they really needed lessons on extracurricular reading, which I as library director could teach. When I came in to get registered for employment, it turned out that they couldn’t hire me as director without my having librarian experience or education, so they hired me as a teacher-organizer and tacked on 25% of the librarian salary.

Surely that is no grounds for firing someone?

Within this system it’s enough for there to be even a hint that they don’t want you around anymore. And whatever you do after that, however hard you try, you just have to leave. I’ve never had a serious conflict with anyone in my life, that’s just not who I am. This is just the systematic stigmatization of teachers with initiative. It’s happening everywhere.  

What exactly were your duties at the 168th?

What does the school library director do? There are two options. Either she just sits there and doesn’t let anyone into the library, and if a pupil comes and asks for a book, silently hands it over. Or she doesn’t [hand it over], if the book isn’t in the library. Or the director runs classes on extracurricular reading, reading competitions, talks about what’s going on in contemporary literature. For instance, I invited Kira Anatolyevna Groznaya, head editor of [youth journal] Aurora, and she talked to the kids about literary journals and how to publish in them. They really liked it.

And how much were you paid for this work?

Schools pay well, I never had any problems with how I was paid. But I won’t tell you exactly how much. Even if I never have work ever again, it won’t turn me into a person who thinks the wrong way. I really want to do research, to do graduate study. And more than anything I would like to work for Memorial (an organization declared to be an “NGO-foreign agent” by the Russian Justice Ministry and liquidated in December 2021 by order of the Russian Supreme Court—Fontanka.ru), to help keep alive the memory of repressed people. But Memorial is gone. I really love my country and don’t want to emigrate. Everyone is ruled by fear right now. You asked what I experienced in the three hours after publishing my post. It would be better to ask what I experienced during the month and a half since getting fired. And what I experienced was, probably, everything that a person in the 1930s experienced.

Why? No one’s being lined up for the firing squad and there’s no Gulag, right?

It seems like that, yeah. But meanwhile I’m being fired for reading poems by “enemies of the people.” And I’m afraid that no one will hire me again if I speak up. But what does it mean for me to speak up? My voice is the voice of one little person who wants to live her little life. I’m not a hero. I’m a coward who was brave enough to speak up one time. But the worst thing already happened — I got fired, because the principal thinks that Kharms and Vvedensky are “German accomplices” and “enemies of the people.” There is plenty of work out there, I’ll find something. And if I can’t, I’ll just live with my husband. But maybe with my silly little voice I can inspire others to speak up as well. And then we definitely won’t find ourselves back in 1937.  

Are you not afraid that the school will accuse you of making everything up? You don’t have a recording of that meeting, after all.

No, I’m not afraid. I know I’m telling the truth. One person and God are already a majority. Now I’m not afraid of anything. And you shouldn’t be either.

Translated by the Fabulous AM. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru via Serafima Saprykina

All It Takes

As a “foreign agent,” the liberal Russian current affairs website Republic has to attach this disclaimer to every article it posts online. Screenshot by the Russian Reader

Justice Ministry Explains It Designated Republic a ‘Foreign Agent’ Because Foreign Embassies Subscribed to the Publication • Novaya Gazeta • 20 January 2022

The Russian Justice Ministry has explained that it placed the news and commentary website Republic on its register of media “foreign agents” because foreign embassies and Russian branches of foreign organizations had paid for subscriptions to the publication’s paywalled articles. The news was broken by Republic editor-in-chief Dmitry Kolezev on his Telegram channel.

The ministry claims that the publication received funds from the “Embassy of the Swiss Conference” [sic], as well as from the foreign missions of Finland, France, Lithuania and Kazakhstan in Russia. In addition, according to the excerpted statement, the Wall Street Journal, the Russian office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, and the Kazakh firm Eurasia Metals Company had transferred money to Republic‘s account.

“As we guessed, the formal reason was that foreign legal entities such as the embassies of France and Kazakhstan, the Wall Street Journal, etc., had paid for subscriptions in the amount of 14,800 rubles [approx. 170 euros] per year. Over two years, the Justice Ministry found a total of 178,500 rubles [approx. 2,000 euros] worth of such ‘foreign financing’ — we calculated that it was about 0.18% of our overall turnover,” Kolezev wrote. 

On 15 October 2021, the Justice Ministry added Moscow Digital Media (Republic) to its register of Russian media outlets functioning as “foreign agents.” Kolezev told Novaya, then, that Republic was funded exclusively by subscribers, and that its founding organization did not have any sources of external financing.

Full disclosure: I’ve subscribed to Republic for several years running. And, on many occasions, I have translated and published their articles here, especially ones by their perpetually clear-eyed and sardonic editor and commentator Ivan Davydov. I translated this article too. If you want this “media outlet functioning as a foreign agent” to keep on chugging, share my posts on social media and make a donation via PayPal or Ko-Fi. ||| TRR