The Minimum of Solidarity (125 Days)

day 125Award-winning Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for 125 days in the Polar Bear Maximum Security Prison in the far north of Russia. His only demand throughout the strike has been that the Russian authorities release sixty-four other Ukrainian political prisoners, most of them, like Mr. Sentsov, from Crimea, which was illegally occupied by Russia in 2014.

In recent days, I have seen a lot of snide commentary from Russian nationals to the effect that Mr. Sentsov should give up his hunger strike, because it’s obviously not working.

In my opinion, what Mr. Sentsov, who was sentenced to twenty years in prison on trumped-up charges by a kangaroo military tribunal in Rostov-on-Don, does is up to him, don’t you think? I think he should get a free pass when it comes to what he does or doesn’t do after the Putin regime ruined his life while Russian society mostly stood by idly and silently once again.

Oleg Sentsov is a far braver man than most of us can hope to be. If we do not want to help him and refuse to show solidarity with him and his cause, the least we could do would be to refrain from writing and talking about him.

That would be the minimum of solidarity in this case. {TRR}

#SaveOlegSentsov

 

 

Oleg Sentsov: 115 Days

115 Days“The 115th day of Sentsov’s hunger strike.” Image courtesy of Askold Kurov

Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for 115 days in the Polar Bear Maximum Security Prison Camp in Labytnangi, Russia, where he has been serving a twenty-year sentence on trumped-up charges of “terrorism.”

Mr. Sentsov’s only crime was that he opposed the occupation of his native Crimea by neo-imperialist Russia.

Mr. Sentsov’s only demand is that Russian authorities release sixty-four other Ukrainian political prisoners they have incarcerated during their illegal war against Ukraine.

97 Days

Capture“The ninety-seventh day of Sentsov’s hunger strike”

Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker who was sentenced to twenty years in prison on trumped-up charges of “terrorism” (charges made against him by the wannabe supah powah, Russia, that illegally occupied his homeland of Crimea in spring 2014) has now been on hunger strike for 97 days in a Russian maximum security penal colony north of the Arctic Circle.

From day one, Mr. Sentsov’s only demand has been that Russia free the other 64 political prisoners it incarcerated on trumped-up charges after its attempt to destabilize its “vassal state” Ukraine by occupying Crimea and dispatching “separatists” to Eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Many of the political prisoners are from Mr. Sentsov’s homeland of Crimea. Many of them are Crimean Tatars, a people who were deported en massed by Stalin during WWII and only recently had resettled in Crimea.

As Mr. Sentsov’s hunger strike has gone on, there have been more and more attempts by people all over the world to persuade Russia to show mercy towards him and his fellow political prisoners. Sadly, there is no evidence that any of these calls has had any effect on decision makers in Russia.

I have decided to stop using euphemisms like “the Kremlin” and “the Putin regime” when what I mean is Russia. Of course there are considerable numbers of Russian nationals who would like to see Mr. Sentsov and his fellow Ukrainian political prisoners released, and yet the vast number of these people have been asleep at the wheel, at best, signally and deliberately absent from the fray, at worst. They want the mythical “international community” and the few brave countrymen and countrywomen who openly and publicly call for Mr. Sentsov’s release (and many other things, usually) to do all the heavy lifting.

Is it because they’re scared of the consequences? Partly. But mostly they think politics is a dirty thing, something only fools would get mixed up in.

They think — mistakenly — that there are more important things in life, like driving a nice car and going on holiday. Or, alternately, just struggling to make ends meet, because the capitalist economy and staggering corruption has ensured that, while Moscow has a record number of millionaires and billionaires, tens of millions of Russians do not share in their own country’s vast natural and manufactured wealth, subsisting below or just above the poverty line. {TRR}

#FreeOlegSentsov
#SaveSentsov

Image courtesy of Askold Kurov

Drive Me

sharecarWhen I snapped this picture the other day, the man in it was initially suspicious of my intentions, but I smiled at him by way of saying I was interested in the car he was about to get into and drive away, not in him per se. He understood my message and smiled back.

The car was parked less than a block from my house in Petersburg. It’s part of a fleet of 400 cars that the carsharing service Delimobil (Sharemobile) claims, on its website, to have available in the city. It has a lot more cars, naturally, in Moscow. It also operates in Ufa, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Grozny (!), Novosibirsk, Samara, and Krasnodar.

This is not a hidden ad for the service, which I had only just heard about it before witnessing this scene of a young, progressive looking Petersburg picking up his sharecar. I merely wanted to register the fact that Russia consists of many Russias, and not all of those Russias are reactionary, militaristic, nationalist, and tyrannical, like Putinist Russia. Some of the Russias are surprisingly progressive, worldly, environmentally friendly, and forward looking, like Delimobil and, I gather, its customers.

The traffic has become so gnarly and vicious over the last twenty-five years that one thing I never do in Petersburg is ride a bike, which I do and love to do everywhere else. I would be even more reluctant to drive a car here. But the friendly paint job on the Delimobil and the service’s slogan, Vodi menya (“Drive me”), almost make me want to sign up and take a spin around the city, just to see what it’s like. {TRR}

Opinion Leaders Are Losers

The other day, I closed my Facebook accounts and pages, I hope for good.

Part of the reason I closed them was that a New York City writer whose books and opinions I admire greatly, and who has a huge following on Facebook, wrote a mean-spirited and divisive post on Facebook condemning “the Heartland,” meaning the middle part of the United States.

She labeled the place “heartless” and “dangerous” on the basis of her cursory perusal of an “interactive” map of the 2016 US presidential election results, published in the New York Times.

While the map she cited is certainly worth studying and full of surprises, I imagine the writer saw only red, literally and figuratively, and blew a fuse.

I doubted out loud, in the comments, whether the writer knew much about the “heartless, dangerous” Heartland. On the contrary, I know a great deal about it, since I was born and grew up there.

She did not respond to my petty, eminently ignorable objections nor did most of her thousands of self-satisfied, bien-pensant followers, certain that the “heartless, dangerous” (and completely imaginary) “Heartland” had irrevocably damaged their beautiful souls and beautiful lives in Clintonia.

But as reporter Issie Lapowsky and map expert Ken Field argue in an article published on July 26 by WIRED (“Is the US Leaning Red or Blue? It All Depends on Your Map”), there are maps, and then there are maps. For example, there is this map, devised by Mr. Field.

Dasymetric-Dot-Density-wKen Field, “Presidential election 2016: dasymetric dot density.” Courtesy of WIRED

To Field, there’s no such thing as a totally comprehensive map, but he says, “Some are more truthful than others.” The so-called dasymetric dot density map is one of them. The term “dasymetric” refers to a map that accounts for population density in a given area. Instead of filling an entire state or county with the color red or blue to indicate which party won, Field uses red and blue dots to represent every vote that was cast. On this particular map from 2016, there are roughly 135 million dots. Then, rather than distributing the dots evenly around a county, he distributes them proportionally according to where people actually live, based on the US government’s National Land Cover Database. That’s to avoid placing lots of dots in, say, the middle of a forest, and to account for dense population in cities.

Taken together, Field says, these methods offer a far more detailed illustration of voter turnout than, say, the map in Yingst’s tweet. That map uses different shades of red and blue to indicate whether candidates won by a wide or slim margin. But by completely coloring in all the counties, it gives counties where only a few hundred votes were cast the same visual weight as counties where hundreds of thousands of votes were cast. So, the map looks red. But on the dasymetric dot density map, it’s the blue that stands out, conveying the difference between the popular vote, which Clinton won, and the electoral college vote, which Trump won.

Why do I bring this sad business up on a website dealing with “news and views from the other Russias”?

Over the last several years, I have been fighting a similarly invidious myth about Russia and Russians. To wit, Vladimir Putin is incredibly popular, as conclusively shown, allegedly, by dicey “public opinion polls” and rigged elections, and his “base” is in the “Russian heartlands,” which are, apparently, just as “heartless” and “dangerous” and stupid as the US “Heartland,” and similarly prone to throw their electoral weight behind a tyrant, unlike, we are meant to imagine, the smart sets in Russia’s two capitals, Moscow and Petersburg.

I have been at great pains to show a discursive apparatus I have dubbed the “pollocracy” produces the results that both Putin’s quasi-fascist supporters and faux-liberal detractors need to cling to their respective security blankets. In the case of the so-called liberals, the security blanket consists in the notion that the world’s largest country is largely inhabited by woefully ignorant yahoos who have laid waste to any chance at building a democracy in the Motherland. As viewed by their opponents, the fake “patriots” in Putin’s camp, the same heartland yahoos are the country’s “pious,” “conservative” core and the source of the Putin’s ruling elite’s self-produced mandate to rule the country till kingdom come and particularly badly.

Seventy percent of why I do this website is to show that Russia actually consists of lots of other Russians and lots of other Russias that belie the dodgy “findings” of pollsters and the lazy clichés reproduced ad nauseam by Russian and international reporters, “Russia experts” (nearly all of them resident somewhere other than Russia), politicos, and spin doctors to prove a self-serving conclusion they arrived at long ago without bothering to find out whether it was true or not.

It’s not true. Just as it is emphatically not true the US “Heartland” is “heartless” and “dangerous.” Or maybe it and its mythical Russian counterpart, the “Russian heartlands,” are heartless and dangerous part of the time, but not all of the time and everywhere and on the part of every single woman, child, man, dog, and cat who live there. Nor, vice versa, are the alleged oases of high intellect and liberalism where pollsters, reporters, and opinion leaders (such as the well-known New York writer who, railing and trembling like the Prophet Jeremiah, condemned the place where I was born and grew up to the fires of hell) congregate, cities like New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Petersburg, utterly free of meanness, menace, vice, crime, bad governance, popular indifference, ignorance, and support for tyrants.

What does this have to do with abandoning Facebook? First, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to produce a quasi blog there that would complement and promote this website. Since I am nobody, however, more or less nobody was interested in what I wrote.

They did, however, hang on every word written by people like the New York writer, who, having achieved a modicum of fame, felt no compunction about compounding a rank prejudice about a huge part of her own country and all the people who live there.

So, I have found Facebook an incredibly dispiriting place to try get out my word, a word very few of my so-called friends, real and virtual, wanted to hear, much more wanted to share and spread with their own friends.

Second, the continuing crackdown on bloggers and social media users in Russia has meant that fewer and fewer Russians are willing to write anything interesting on Facebook and its Russian ripoff, VK. Judging by my own real friends, more and more of them have either been observing total radio silence or retreating into the little cubbyholes known as Telegram channels, where they are invisible and inaudible to all the world except their own clique. Since one important feature on this website has been translations of the pithy, thought-provoking things Russian activists and just plain Russians have posted publicly on Facebook and other social media, I was left staring at a once-overflowing well going drier by the minute.

Third, WordPress gives its bloggers some crude but decent tools to see where their readers are finding out about their blogs and blog posts. Over the last two years, as my readership here as continued to climb, the share of those readers who were turned onto my website or particular posts through Facebook has shrunk, meaning that my own friends, real and virtual, have been less likely to share my posts with their friends than complete strangers have been to look up Russia-related topics on the internet and find their way here.

So, rather than continue to pine for support from actually hostile liberal and leftist opinion leaders whose only interest in my Facebook posts and blog posts was to scavenge them for news and ideas they would instantly pass off as their own thoughts and finds without crediting me, I have decided to live without them in order to more fully embrace you, my anonymous, ever more numerous, faithful readers.

In any case, this website will continue to be promoted on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and Ello, as before, so it is not as if I am doing a disappearing act. I just wanted to stop pretending I had friends in places where I did not have them. {TRR}

 

Who Cares, Right?

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Novaya Gazeta in Petersburg reported yesterday that Petersburgers who worked security at the football stadium in Nizhny Novgorod during the 2018 FIFA World Cup have not been paid their wages.

Since July 10, they have been living at the local train station. They have spent all their savings and now have no money to make the trip back home.

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Before they decamped to the train station, they were housed in the stadium itself in conditions as depicted in the photograph, above.

But you were glued to your TV sets the whole time, so what do you care? || TRR

Photos courtesy of the Express and KozaPress

Anything Goes

DSCN6137A monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, in central Petersburg, 6 May 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for sixty-six days.

Can you imagine not eating for sixty-sixty days? I can’t.

Instead of supporting Mr. Sentsov, most of the world decided to turn its back on him by staying glued to their TV sets during Vladimir Putin’s expensive celebration of his despotic regime’s extraordinary ability to pull the wool over nearly everyone’s eyes.

Certainly he didn’t get any pushback yesterday from the putative “leader of the free world,” who is a vain, spineless traitor who has probably never heard of Oleg Sentsov.

Solidarity with Oleg Sentsov doesn’t mean you have to stop eating, too, but it should mean not having your cake and eating it, too.

The World Cup was cake. Nobody can live for a month on a diet of cake without getting sick. The world has just done it, and now, at least as I see it, the world is a lot sicker than before the World Cup.

When infants are baptized in the Lutheran church, the priest asks the godparents and parents whether they “renouce the Devil and all his ways.”

Putin is a devil. You cannot embrace some of his ways while denouncing others. You either take the whole package or reject it. If you reject it, you show a little bit of willpower—for the sake of Crimean political prisoners Vladimir Balukh and Oleg Sentsov, for the sake of people bombed by the Russian airforce in Syria, for the sake of persecuted Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, for the sake of Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses, now branded “extremists” and subject to increasingly numerous arrests, for the sake of the innocent young people framed in the New Greatness and Network “terrorist” cases, for the sake of ordinary Russians everywhere fighting the government’s plans to drastically raise the pension age—and you don’t have anything to do with the World Cup or anything else sponsored, promoted, and supported by the current Russian regime.

The sheer number of people, including my own acquaintances, who could not bear to show solidarity with any of these people at all, if only for one month, has shocked me.

Please don’t pretend now that you’re really opposed to the Putin regime. You’ve shown your true colors.

Anything goes, right? || TRR