Moscow Nights

A screenshot of the end credits to the 9 March 2017 episode of The Big Bang Theory, as translated here.

‘”Meduza,” whom I have every reason to trust . . .”

Western “observers” of Russian politics have the strangest notions of which Russian sources can be trusted. I was told earlier today, by a subscriber to the late Louis Proyect’s Marxmail list, that if I (meaning me, the guy who lived in Russia for twenty years) wanted to know what was really happening in Russia nowadays, I should read Boris Kagarlitsky.

Meduza, who in the halcyon pre-war days discredited themselves so many times, but especially when they destroyed the burgeoning grassroots solidarity campaign in support of the Network Case defendants by publishing a thoroughly scurrilous “investigative report” implicating some of the defendants in an unsolved double murder.

— Boris Kagarlitsky, the man who in 2014 did more than anyone else to peddle to gullible westerners the obnoxious hogwash that the Russian takeover of parts of the Donbas was really a grassroots populist uprising against the bad guys in Kyiv, a man whose flimsy “institute” and odious opinion website Rabkor were financed directly by the Kremlin back in the days when the Kremlin still regarded him as a useful idiot. (The Kremlin doesn’t see him that way anymore, clearly, but now it should be too late for him to redeem himself in the eyes of progressive humanity.” ||| TRR


A Miniskirt for Every Day

Season after season, minimalism remains trendy. If we also consider the current popularity of 80s and 90s styles, it comes as no surprise that miniskirts are in fashion again. Moreover, they’re fashionable everywhere: they can and should be worn to parties with friends, exhibitions, and work. When you wear them to work, you just have to follow a few simple rules.

Busting myths

There are many myths surrounding the miniskirt. Many people still believe, for example, that discos are the only place you can wear a miniskirt. Yes, partying hard in a plush or stretch skirt to songs by Kombinaciya is super authentic, but today’s cotton, denim and leather miniskirts suit almost any situation.

It’s also worth dismissing the old saw that miniskirts can only be worn by slender, long-legged beauties. No matter how long a skirt is, what matters is that it fits your figure. If you’re having doubts, take a closer look at A-line-silhouette skirts. They can be worn with matching tight tights to visually elongate the lower part of your body.

Как носить короткие юбки на работу в 2022 году

The best combos: shirts and blouses

Shirts and blouses are staples in a female office worker’s wardrobe. Combined with a miniskirt, they will look winning if you choose accented models — blouses with bows or ruffles, shirts with puffy sleeves or turndown collars. Classic stiletto shoes, mules with shot-glass heels, heavy boots, or sneakers will complete the look.

Oversize jackets

Looking like a hand-me-down, an oversize jacket will balance out a short skirt and create a confident image for work. You can tone down this cute pairing with a loose-fitting t-shirt or top—or a tight turtleneck when the weather turns cold. As usual, what item you choose depends on whether it passes muster with your company’s official and implicit dress codes.

Cropped jackets

One of the season’s most daring combinations is a miniskirt and cropped jacket. Ideally, you should find this combo readymade, since combining two separate items into an harmonious outfit is no easy task. Universal advice: a cropped jacket should have a loose fit and a large shoulder line.

Sweaters, jumpers, cardigans, sweatshirts
Summer is not the only season for wearing a short skirt. In autumn and winter, you should wear a mini with chunky-knit sweaters, jumpers, cardigans, and sweatshirts. You can either tuck in the front of your top, or wear it untucked. In the second case, if you choose a pleated plaid skirt and combine it with a shirt and a cardigan, you’ll get the look of an American high school student.

T-shirts

If your work dress code is not particularly strict or casual Friday is coming up, grab a short denim skirt and a loose-fitting t-shirt from your wardrobe. Monochrome or minimalist graphic print t-shirts are suitable for the office. The sleeves can be long and, thus, easily rolled up at any moment—convertible items have been trending for more than a year. The skirt itself can be either the usual blue denim color, or black, or white. City sneakers or loafers provide the final notes in this outfit.

Source: Maria Gureyeva, “How to wear short skirts to work: a mini for every day,” Rabota.ru, 11 July 2022. Photos courtesy of iStock and Rabota.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader


Somewhere in central Petersburg, 8 July 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

A few words of explanation.

I’m still reeling from the fact that, as a much savvier IT friend from Petersburg has patiently explained to me, this website was just switched off in Russia by WordPress (Automattic), acting on orders from Rozkomnadzor, the Russian federal communications watchdog.

It makes me wonder whether I should switch to producing more “Russia-friendly” content, as exemplified by the breezy little item above the fold. It also makes me wonder whether I shouldn’t switch to a hosting platform that is more friendly to content that is critical of the current Russian tyranny.

In any case, I’ve realized that WordPress doesn’t always practice what it preaches.

Access to the Internet is subject to restrictions in many countries. These range from the ‘Great Firewall of China’, to default content filtering systems in place in the UK. As a result, WordPress.com blogs can sometimes be inaccessible in these places. As far as we are concerned, that’s BS.

If any of you know about an affordable and rigorously pro-free speech hosting platform where I could move this blog, please write to me at avvakum (at) pm.me.

How else can you help me keeping this slightly waterlogged boat from sinking altogether?

First, you can hare my posts with friends and colleagues and on your social media accounts. The only way I know for sure that this is worth doing is when I see consistently large readership numbers.

Second, please send me your (positive or constructive) feedback in the comments below each post or at avvakum (at) pm.me.

Finally, you can donate money—via PayPal or Ko-Fi—to support the continuing production of this website.

What do I need the money for? First, I have to pay for this website’s hosting and for the internet, which now runs me around a thousand dollars a year. Second, I would love to be able to pay a small fee to my occasional guest translators and certain contributors. Finally, I’d like to pay myself for the long hours I put into this endeavor.

What would be a fair amount? Consider the fact that, so far this year, The Russian Reader has had over 155,000 views. If I were to get a mere ten cents for each view, that would come to 15,500 dollars. The money would be especially welcome now that, since February, my income from my “real” job as a freelance translator and editor has dwindled to practically nothing, as most of my steady clients were more or less progressive Russian art and academic institutions that have gone into international hibernation due to the war. In any case, I would share this (for now, imaginary) “minimum wage” with guest translators and contributors, as well as using it to pay for more supportive and reliable hosting.

Speaking of jobs and work, I was made party to the strange (and depressingly reactionary) item, translated above, because, around a year ago, the website Rabota.ru (“Work.ru.,” an affiliate of the state-owned Sberbank) decided that I was a forty-six-year-old geologist named Semyon Avvakumov. The real Comrade Avvakumov used my personal email address, apparently and unaccountably, to start an account and file job applications through Rabota.ru, not realizing that the address was already taken. So, I now get Rabota.ru’s job listings and newsletters several times a week—as well as, much more occasionally, rejection letters from Comrade Avvakumov’s potential employers. The articles on Rabota.ru shed a revealing, if not always flattering, light on all things work-related in Russia, so I’m glad to have acquired this double. ||| TRR, 12 July 2022

Minions: The Rise of the GRU

This piece of fan mail—disguised as an intemperate reaction to my previous post—just came in. I think it’s actually a camouflaged plug for the latest installment in the Despicable Me series, which, I’m happy to say, is playing at my neighborhood movie theater. ||| TRR


The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, formerly the Main Intelligence Directorate, and still commonly known by its previous abbreviation GRU, is the foreign military intelligence agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. GRU controls the military intelligence service and maintains its own special forces units.

Unlike Russia’s other security and intelligence agencies—such as the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Federal Protective Service (FSO), whose heads report directly to the president of Russia—the director of the GRU is subordinate to the Russian military command, reporting to the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff.

The directorate is reputedly Russia’s largest foreign-intelligence agency, and is distinguished among its counterparts for its willingness to execute riskier “complicated, high stakes operations”. According to unverified statements by Stanislav Lunev, a defector from the GRU, in 1997 the agency deployed six times as many agents in foreign countries as the SVR, and commanded some 25,000 Spetsnaz troops.

Source: Wikipedia


Set in 1976 California, the film is an origin story depicting how Gru (Steve Carell) became allied with the diminutive yellow creatures (all voiced hilariously by Pierre Coffin, provided, one hopes, with plenty of throat lozenges) and embarked on his career path to villainy. Only 11 years old (11 ¾, to be precise), Gru sees his chance when given the opportunity to apply to become a member of the evil supergroup the Vicious 6 after they violently oust their leader, the elderly Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin, giving the impression that he’s having a lot of fun).

Source: Hollywood Reporter

Opportunism and Quietism Are the Watchwords

There is the strange assumption that Russians would be hotly and much more numerously discussing the war on social media and in public were it not for censorship, surveillance, and the draconian new laws on “discrediting” the Russian armed forces, etc. But this assumption, when it is made by outsiders, is based on the belief that the Russian public’s engagement with important political matters and social issues was palpably greater before the war.

It wasn’t that much greater, in fact, as evidenced, among other things, by the fact that what political ferment there was on Russophone social media in recent times often as not had to do with hot-button events in “the west,” such as George Floyd/Black Lives Matter and Trump’s failed coup. And even then these discussions revealed a broad ignorance (and hatred) of politics in non-authoritarian countries and the extreme rightwing sympathies of the Russian “liberal” intelligentsia.

It is not repression and “fascism” that are the real or the only obstacles to democratic, anti-authoritarian grassroots political movements in Russia, but quietism (to use the polite term) and opportunism, which will ultimately nullify all attempts, I’m afraid, to create meaningful anti-war movements, “united fronts,” and so forth at home and abroad.

In that sense, there’s almost no reason for outsiders to get excited by any of the various “projects,” “movements,” zingy new websites, etc., that the opposition in exile, aided by much braver but usually anonymous comrades at home, have been throwing up rapidly and carelessly since February. Most of them will have vanished just as quickly (quietly, without a trace) by year’s end, if not sooner.

Much less should outsiders pay too much mind to the attempts by the newly minted diaspora to get their pretty mugs and their sentiments broadcast to the world via such respectable outlets as the New Yorker and the New York Times, thus making themselves the heroes and heroines of the story instead of Ukrainians. They just cashing in their more considerable reserves of media, cultural and intellectual capital to right their momentarily capsized boats and advance their own fortunes, not pausing for a second to think how this naked opportunism looks to their former Ukrainian “sisters” and “brothers,” who for various reasons have much less of this capital. ||| TRR


What Johnny Depp Reads (and Recommends You Read)

“Johnny Depp’s choice. You’re probably curious what kinds of books the Hollywood star reads. We’ll tell you in order, taking Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl off the table.”

This is a screenshot of an email I received yesterday from LitRes, Russia’s top ebook distributor and seller. Aside from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey (visible here), Johnny Depp’s alleged “choice” of books, available for purchase on LitRes, includes Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel, and Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This is the second time since Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine began that LitRes has celebrated the alleged literary tastes of a violent Hollywood bully. In April, two weeks after Will Smith’s assault on comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars, LitRes treated its customers (including me: I’ve purchased 109 otherwise inaccessible Russian books from them over the last several years, my account profile tells me) to “Will Smith’s choice.”

It occurred to me at the time, sadly, that if it had not been for the war, Russia’s chattering classes, including many of the currently exiled “anti-war” liberals, would have happily spent the week following Smith’s violent outburst discussing, just as, before the war, they had been keen to discuss almost anything in the world (especially if it concerned the United States and “the West”) except the dismal political and social circumstances at home in the Motherland. In the recent past, for example, the Russian chatterati chewed over the January 6 coup attempt and the reaction to George Floyd’s murder with supreme relish and satisfaction, often coming to conclusions, however, that would make an observer like me wonder how “liberal” the “liberal” opposition to Putin really was. For example, an acquaintance of mine from Petersburg, a well-known grassroots human rights activist, was so convinced that the anti-police demonstrations in the US were, essentially, little better than the anti-semitic pogroms her ancestors had endured in the early twentieth century that she “unfriended” me for arguing that they were nothing of the sort.

Similarly, one of Russia’s leading opposition political scientists and sociologists, Greg Yudin, who has now risen to some prominence for his courageous public anti-war statements and actions, wrote a longish comment on Facebook on January 7, 2020, that includes the following hilarious assessment of the previous day’s events in Washington:

Nothing terrible happened in Washington. Basically, the protest was peaceful and calm – people entered the building of their own parliament, took selfies, sat in chairs, and dispersed. Capitol Hill will not collapse because men with dogs and ladies in down jackets strolled around it. The people who, apparently, broke windows, sprayed pepper spray, and called for storming television stations, should be investigated. Otherwise, the congressmen had a little scare and had to stay in session until four in the morning. It’s okay, they’ll live through it.

Michelle Goldberg argued in the New York Times yesterday that Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against Amber Heard and his legal team’s demolition of her character in the courtroom and online is emblematic of “a #MeToo backlash,” and part of “a broader misogynist frenzy at work, one characteristic of the deeply reactionary moment we’re living through.”


In Russia, the “misogynist frenzy” has deepened with every year that the Putin regime has remained in power (even to the point of decriminalizing domestic violence), and would-be opposition “liberals” have been involved in this backlash as well. You’d never know it nowadays (and, seemingly, there is no one who would dare to remember it anymore) but the Riga-based Russian liberal news website Meduza ended up on the wrong side of decency in 2018 when its editor-in-chief was accused of sexual harassment. What this otherwise comprehensive article on the scandal by BuzzFeed doesn’t tell you, for obvious reasons, is that the Ivan Kolpakov resigned from the top post at Meduza only to be quietly reappointed to it a short time later, after the dust had settled. He’s still in that post today, and is now an internationally celebrated champion of press freedom, whose website is hard up for cash.

(Excuse me my bitterness at Meduza, but they can never been forgive for this crime against basic solidarity and sound journalism, which has demonstrably led to more suffering for young men convicted of a crime that they didn’t commit and which, even more insanely, no one committed.)

I haven’t seen any discussion yet of Depp v. Heard on liberal Russian social media, but it is being covered in a predictably misogynist way by Russia’s online tabloids, as a quick Google search for the words “Johnny Depp trial” suggests:

Two of these “top stories” have salacious headlines claiming that “Johnny Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez gets Amber Heard to come clean.”

It’s no wonder, then, that LitRes imagines that its customers will be delighted to show their solidarity with an “unjustly” accused, violently misogynistic bully, who also happens to a big Hollywood star whose movies they have enjoyed for years, thus making him “svoi” (“one of their own”), just like, paradoxically (given the prevalence of anti-Black racism in Russia), Will Smith. Nor is it any wonder that this celebration of anti-wokeness happens right as the big bad West (the anti-Johnny Depp and anti-Will Smith West) attempts to “cancel” Russia for its violent, unprovoked attack on its “weaker” neighbor.

As Dmitry Volchek argued yesterday in this feuilleton on Radio Svoboda, the threat of “cancellation” animates Russia’s “anti-war” liberals and lefty creatives much more than the silly war itself, much less the war’s victims in Ukraine. |||| TRR

Going Fascist: Eight Years Ago Today

“Rolls at cost. Cucumber roll: 31 [rubles]. California: 99. Philadelphia: 147. Hookah: 58. Unfiltered beer: 88. White Russian: 132. You are charged for time [spent in the bar]: 180 rubles per hour. The bar’s entire menu is priced at cost. Stremyannaya 3 | selfcost.com.” Central Petersburg, 23 April 2018. One USD was worth approximately 62 rubles on that day. Photo by the Russian Reader


From the chronicles of the fascization of the world’s largest country, straight from a “suggested post” on Facebook:

“По шкале «Экономика» все суперэтносы распределяются на трех уровнях: High (американский суперэтнос), Middle (российский суперэтнос) и Low (китайский, латиноамериканский арабский суперэтносы). Давайте обсудим, почему именно так, а не по-другому.”

“On the scale of ‘Economics’ [sic], all superethnicities are divided into three levels: High [sic; in English in the original] (the American superethnicity), Middle (the Russian superethnicity), and Low (the Chinese, Latin-American, and Arab superethnicities). Let’s discuss why it is this way, and not otherwise.”

If you think this is some kind of quirky, meaningless nonsense, think again. Huge segments of Russian media, “culture,” “public discourse,” and “scholarship” have consisted of such proto-fascist, sub-Gumilevian drivel for years on end. It’s a wonder everyone is not completely loony, but of course that isn’t the point (and they aren’t, thank God). The point has always been to make this radical far-rightism the “background noise” and “common sense” that prevents people from escaping the Putinist cage, mentally at least, and enables them to swallow any number of “necessary measures.” ||| 23 April 2014, TRR

The Snows of Yesteryear

I hate to be a killjoy to my friends on [Facebook] who think that heavy snow in Russia in February is an anomaly or evidence of climate change. It isn’t.

A lack of heavy or normal snowfalls in Russia in February is an anomaly and evidence of climate change.

Here in Ingria, we’ve been plagued by scant snow since the infamous “anomalous” winter of 2010, which got our former governor Valentina Matviyenko upmoted to the speakership of the Federation Council after the Petersburg city government, over which “Valya Stakanchik” then reigned, proved incapable of doing simple things like clearing the snow from the sidewalks and rooftops for months on end, something that had not been a problem for the city government in the so-called savage nineties. (Go figure, eh?)

This complete collapse of normal snow removal led, among other things, to the flooding of thousands of flats in the city center and scenes reminiscent of the Siege of Leningrad, when snow removal had also ground to a halt, but for very different reasons.

Petersburgers of all shapes and sizes were at their wit’s end and utterly pissed off at Ms. Matviyenko and her completely feckless administration.

So, the following summer, after an impromptu election in two obscure city districts was unexpectedly called and duly rigged, so everything would be “legal,” President Putin upmoted Ms. Matviyenko to the Federation Council (people from his inner circle can never be fired outright, no matter how bad they mess up), replacing her with the dull KGB veteran Georgy Poltavchenko, whose administration has been blessed by a series of nearly snowless winters or by winters in which the snow melts wholly and completely the day after it falls.

In any case, my boon companion just telephoned me and told me to go out in this mess and snap more pictures. ||| TRR, February 4, 2018. Photos by the Russian Reader

On This Day

Petersburg, February 2, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

_____________

Just “for practice,” the Russian media, backed by Russian-language social media, has been lying for years about how Russian children and parents are treated by child welfare services in Finland. In most of these instances, their sole witness has been Finnish “human rights activist” Johan Bäckman, who has fed the baseless horror stories to the Russian media, many of them “reputable” outlets (e.g., Echo of Moscow).

The Russian media has published and broadcast them as was with absolutely no corroboration and without making any attempt to double-check Bäckman’s “facts.”

From time to time, to make it seem as if there really were something going on in nefarious Finland, the absurd Russian federal children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov (who played the judge on the first Russian court show) has fulminated against the Finnish authorities or made some demands or gone on a “fact-finding mission” there.

A few years ago, when Bäckman pushed too many people’s buttons at the same time, there was a brief period when a couple of Russian media outlets (including, unbelievably, Izvestia) ran pieces exposing Bäckman as a dangerous fraud. Then “polite people” brought Crimea back into the fold, and all was forgotten and forgiven when it came to Bäckman.

We now see that this was all a dry run for the full-scale Russian media attack now being waged on Germany in the name of Islamophobia and racism.

What puzzles me is why both the generals and the foot soldiers think there is not going to be any blowback from their hateful little escapade. Do they really think everyone but them is such a gullible pushover? ||| TRR, February 2, 2016

Fourteen Years Before the Mast

“I grew up really appreciating a curated journey.”
– Young pop star, “Weekend Morning Edition,” NPR, 23 October 2021

It was fourteen years ago today that I began my own “curated journey” in blogging. For my first post, I translated this little gem of paradoxical “geopolitical” thought by the artist and writer Pavel Pepperstein.

Since that day, there have been 2,945 more entries (including this one) on this website, a very long detour on Chtodelat News, which I edited and almost completely wrote for over five years, generating another 793 posts in the process, and Living in FIN, a place for my occasional forays into Finnish poetry and South Karelian living, where I’ve made an even 200 scratch marks on the wall so far. So quite soon, maybe this year even, I will have reached out to the wide world 3,000 times in this peculiar roundabout way.

Knowing that these anniversaries were around the corner, I’ve been making speeches in my head, some more structured and constructive, others more grandiloquent and sentimental. But now that one of these anniversaries has actually dawned, I don’t feel like preaching to the choir. If you’re already here, it means you get it, whatever “it” is.

That means you might want me to keep making this website. How can you help me do that?

1. Ensure a steady flow of new “Russian readers” by getting the word out via social media. Every time any of you reposts what I write here, I immediately see the number of readers double, triple, quadruple and so forth. Last year, for whatever reason, you and I were grooving on the same inner plane more often than not, and I had nearly 175,000 views at the end of it. This year, though, the reposting — and thus the influx of new readers — has seemingly dried up, so I’ll be lucky to reach a third of last year’s encouraging audience numbers.

2. Donate money to me via PayPal or Ko-Fi. In addition to paying for hosting, internet and subscriptions to the Russian independent media I read and share here in translation, I would like to be able to pay the occasional guest translator a fee as well. And, if there is money left over, even pay myself a bit. Making this website, especially the translating, is a lot of work.

3. Follow me on social media (Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, Ello, Tumblr) and repost those heads-up whenever you can, thus getting more folks hooked on this funny website and letting me know that what I do here has value for more than just me and a few other people.

Thanks for your support!

Photo and text by the Russian Reader