Petersburg’s Kangaroo Courts

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Court bailiff posting a notice outside courthouse in downtown Petersburg. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Petersburg Observers
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June 20, 2017

On June 13 and 14, 2017, emergency courts, expressly forbidden by the Russian Constitution, were set in motion in St. Petersburg.

What were the peculiarities of the court hearings that took place on June 13–14, 2017, in St. Petersburg?

The unprecedented scale. On June 13 and 14, 2017, 943 administrative cases were heard by 123 judges in sixteen of St. Petersburg’s twenty-two district courts. The defendants had been charged with violating Article 19.3, Part 1 (“Disobeying the lawful order or demand of a policeman, military serviceman, penal system officer or Russian National Guard member in connection with the performance of their duties to protect public order and ensure public safety, as well as obstructing the performance of their official duties”) and Article 20.2, Part 5 (“Violation, by a participant of a public event, of the established procedure for holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, procession or picket”) of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code (KoAP). The overwhelming majority of those detained on the Field of Mars on June 12, 2017, were simultaneously charged with both offenses, regardless of the circumstances of their arrests.

The unprecedented speed with which cases were heard: zero minutes (eleven district courts), one minute (seven district courts),  etc.

The unprecedented numbers of cases heard by individual courts in a single twenty-four-hour period: 95 (Kalinin District Court), 106 (Krasnoye Selo District Court), 110 (Frunze District Court).

Violation of territorial jurisdiction. All the administrative cases should have been heard by the Dzerzhinsky District Court, in whose jurisdiction the Field of Mars is located. At the request of the persons charged with administrative offenses, their cases could also have been transferred to the courts in the districts where they are registered as residebts. In the event, the detainees were bused from police precincts to sixteen district courts. Their cases were assigned to judges regardless of territorial jurisdiction.

Violation of the right to a defense. No more than a quarter of the defendants enjoyed the services of a lawyer or public defender. Some judges rejected appeals for adjournment so that defendants would be able to secure defense counsel. Some judges gave defendants a ridiculously short amount of time to secure defense counsel. Defense attorneys and public defenders were physically unable to get into the majority of the courthouses, especially after six o’clock in the evening.

Violation of the right to a public trial. Information about the court hearings on June 13–14, 2017, was posted on the courts’ official websites only several days after the hearings themselves.  People who might have wanted to attend the hearings had no way of finding out what cases were being heard, nor when or where they were being heard. Judges’ rulings have not been published in full. Currently, only 26 of the 943 rulings, which have already taken force, have been published on the courts’ websites.

Violation of the principle of adversarial proceedings. There were no prosecutors or police officers present at any of the hearings, and the judges essentially acted as prosecutors.

Night courts are forbidden. But even on official court websites the starting times of hearings are listed well past midnight, e.g., 12:23 a.m. (Krasnoye Selo District Court), 12:45 a.m. (Kalinin District Court), 5:00 a.m. (Kolpino District Court), 5:20 a.m. (Frunze District Court).

Despite the violations, listed above, the St. Petersburg City Court has rejected all appeals filed, moreover, in the very same fashion as the district courts. This means the people who organized and launched the conveyor belt of emergency justice in St. Petersburg have direct control not only of the police and the Russian National Guard but also the of district and city courts.

P.S. The mass trials that occurred on June 13–14, 2017, in St. Petersburg, differed from extreme justice only in the sense that they were executed by regular judicial entities, rather than by specially instituted extraordinary courts with distinct powers.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Are you wondering how you might react to this nastiness, especially if you live far from Petersburg? Here’s one simple suggestion. FIFA’s Confederations Cup is currently underway at four venues in Russia (Kazan, Moscow, Sochi, and St. Petersburg). Take a gander at the match schedule and the list of corporate sponsors (which includes Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonalds, and Bud). Give them a call or send them an email saying that, because of the way the Russian leadership treats its own people when it comes to the freedoms of speech and assembly, and the right to a fair trial, you won’t be buying their products anymore, since they make common cause with flagrant tyrants.

You can also get in touch with the TV channels broadcasting the Confederations Cup matches in your city or country and tell them you won’t be watching the matches and why you won’t be watching them.

These are simple ways to show your solidarity with the six hundred and sixty some people who were arrested on Petersburg’s Field of Mars for no good reason on Russia Day, a national holiday celebrating the country’s independence from the Sovet Union, and then put through the kangaroo courts, as described above and elsewhere.

These are also effective ways of showing the Russian leadership, who set great store by their power to win bids to host major global sporting events like the Winter Olympics and the Football World Cup that we are not impressed by their prowess, especially when our Russian sisters and brothers live in conditions of such rampant unfreedom and poverty. TRR

No Protest Is Illegal

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Anti-corruption protester detained on Tverskaya Street in Moscow, June 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Mayorova.net and Irina Taubinskaya

Below, you will find a brief, eyewitness account of the rough custom to which people detained at the anti-corruption protest rally on the Field of Mars in Petersburg on June 12, 2017, have been subjected by police as the have been slowly “processed,” sometimes with no legal representation and in gross violation of their rights as detainees, by the police and courts.

The Russian “legal and law enforcement” systems are shambles, for the simple reason they don’t exist at all. They are fictions.

What does exist is the supreme will of the blood monkey who answered questions all day yesterday on TV or something like that, and the lesser wills of his cronies and satraps.

Those exist.

So when asking the question of who exactly ordered the arrests of the six hundred and fifty some arrestees of June 12, 2017, and the harsh sentences of five to fifteen days in the hoosegow and fines of up to 15,000 rubles most of them were handed by the city’s district courts (again, in conditions where many of them were dehumanized constantly, despite the best efforts of Petersburg’s wonderful Aid to Detainees Group and other volunteers and well-wishers to support them) you need look no farther than the head blood monkey in the Kremlin and his precious “power vertical.” They are the ones who gave the orders to treat the protesters this way, not anyone on the ground.

I was irked to hear the BBC’s Moscow correspondent refer, the other day, to the concurrent protests on Tverskaya, in Moscow, where a similarly large number of people were arrested, as “illegal.” Setting aside for a second the rights to free assembly and free speech enjoyed by all Russian citizens, as enshrined in the 1993 Russian Federal Constitution, the Petersburg authorities several years ago designated the Field of Mars as the city’s “Hyde Park,” the place where city dwellers could go, supposedly, to air their grievances without making a special application to the authorities. (This need to apply for permits is itself a mostly unconstitutional practice, backed, of course, by the country’s kangaroo higher courts, who are also a part of its so-called telephone justice system).

In reality, Petersburg authorities have let their so-called Hyde Park be used the way it was intended only when the numbers of protesters or their particular grievances have not been threatening enough, although, of course, police are still always on hand to photograph, videotape, and ID the protesters, and even copy down the slogans on their placards, which they immediately radio to their superiors. Just in case, you know, and to make sure the protesters know the state is monitoring them

When, on the other hand, the topics raised and/or numbers of protesters have not been to the liking of the powers that be, local or otherwise, Petersburg’s “Hyde Park” has instantly been deemed yet another no-go zone, the protests declared “illegal,” and the protesters and, sometimes, the counter-protesters, dragged off into paddy wagons and taken to police precincs.

Sometimes, the protesters are merely held in police custody for a few hours or overnight, and then released scot-free. But when the regime wants to teach them a lesson about how much freedom they really have in the world’s largest “sovereign democracy,” they get the book thrown at them, as we have seen over the past several days in Petersburg. That is, for one and the same legal/illegal act, either nothing will happen to you or your life will be scuttled for two weeks or a month (as in the case of “ringleaders” like Alexei Navalny, who was arrested at the door to his block of flats before he could get to the “illegal” protest and sentenced to thirty days in the slammer), and your already meager finances will have a nice dent put into them.

So, if I were a BBC or other foreign correspondent, I wouldn’t be so quick to dub any protest in Putinist Russia “illegal.” That’s tantamount to saying that the police and courts have the right to do with Russians detained for real or imaginary offenses what they will.

It’s also an admission on the part of these foreign correspondents that, in the case of the protesters, they don’t understand the offenses are wholly imaginary, i.e., trumped-up, that they are, in fact, a little bit of the ultra-violence, meted out in smallish doses to discourage the kids from coming out again. TRR

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16% of the St. Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission
Facebook
June 15, 2017

I am deciphering my conversations with arrestees:

“We were driven to the courthouse in handcuffs, and tied to each other. We arrived, they untied us, and took us upstairs to the courtroom. We had no defense counsel. The court sentenced us to five days in jail and a fine. We were driven back to the police precinct, where we cuffed to chairs and each other. (The cuffs immediately caused pain to the second person.) The guy with the keys to the handcuffs went off somewhere. We were cuffed for two and a half hours. We asked to go to the toilet, to uncuff us, but our requests were ignored. This happened next to the cells. The cells were not locked.

“Then they uncuffed us from the chair, cuffed us to each other, put us in a van, and took us to [the temporary detention center at] Zakharyevskaya Street, 6.”

This incident occurred on June 13, at the 78th Police Precinct, in St. Petersburg’s Central District

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up on the link and Sasha Feldberg for the photo.

The Russian Economic Miracle of 2017

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“Pilling from 499 rubles. Ultrasound cleaning from 599 rubles.” Photo by TRR

More Than Five Million Russians Have Trouble Paying Back Loans
Takie Dela
May 30, 2017

Around five and half million Russians have trouble servicing their debts. Their debut burden is more than 60% of their income, reports Gazeta.ru, quoting a statement by Vladimir Shikin, deputy marketing director at the National Credit History Bureau.

According to experts, this figure is regarded as a critical indicator. Among the main reasons for arrears are the unreliability of borrowers and the lack of means to finance current debts.

Residents of the Kemerovo, Tyumen, and Novosibirsk Regions are the most indebted. According to the National Credit History Bureau, three million people cannot make payments on loans, which is 8% of all borrowers. Their current debt load exceeds half of their monthly incomes.

According to Shikin, the share of overdue loans remains at 16%, even as the number of new loans grows. The majority of Russian borrowers have several loans, and the average economically active Russian owes creditors 146,000 rubles [approx. 2,300 euros].

Meanwhile, research done by RANEPA shows that the debt burden of Russians is not critical. As Natalya Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank, stressed, the debt of Russians is estimated at 12% of GDP.

“In developed countries, debt is 60% to 80% of GDP, so the market has potential for growth,” emphasized Orlova. However, she argues that Russia issues a relatively small percentage of mortgages, whereas in developed countries, mortgages account for nearly 90% of all loans.

Experts hope that the debt burden of Russians will not rise greatly. After the 2014–2015 crisis, banks were more way about issuing loans, so the debut burden of Russians will fall. In the near future, banks will be even more cautious. In particular, the Central Bank has planned to consolidate the data of major of credit history bureaus in a single data base to combat indebtedness.

Earlier, the United Credit reported that half of Russian borrowers had been applying for new loans to pay off old loans. According to its figures, 45 million Russians with old loans had taken new loans in banks. Over half of them had done this to pay off old loans.

The analysis shows that 53% of borrowers had taken new loans in cash to partially or fully pay off already existing loans. 27% of the borrowers had spent more than half of the new loans on paying debts.

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Almost 60% of Russians Admit They Have No Savings
Takie Dela
May 29, 2017

Around 59% of Russian families have no savings, reports Rambler News Service, citing a report from the polling and market research firm inFOM.

According to a survey commissioned by the Central Bank, the figure has remained stable [sic] the last three months. In December 2016, 64% of those surveyed had no savings.

Yet a quarter of Russians believe that now is a good time to save money, while 44% hold the opposite opinion. According to experts, the tendency to save has grown noticeably since the beginning of the year. In February, fewer than 17% of respondents answered the question positively.

The majority of respondents replied that spare cash should be saved or put away for a rainy day, while a third of Russians would spend the money on expensive, major purchases.

The poll showed that 40% of respondents prefer to keep their savings in a bank account, 26%, in case, and 20%, partly in a bank, and partly in cash.

Two thousand respondents, aged eighteen and older, from fifty-five regions of Russia were involved in the survey.

According to research by RANEPA, the share of Russians who save money dropped by a third in 2016, from 55% to 40%. Moreover, in March, 40% of Russians claimed they had only enough money for food.

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VTsIOM: 67% of Russians Skimped on Groceries during the Past Year 
Takie Dela
May 30, 2017

During the past year, 67% of Russian skimped on groceries in one way or another; 27% of them in a substantial way. Pensioners and residents of big cities had to skimp most of all. These figures were reported by pollsters VTsIOM.

The survey dealt with Russians’ attitudes to government regulation of the food market. 82% of respondents were against the idea of limiting supermarket opening hours on weekdays and weekends. According to 68% of them, if the government decided to do this, it would cause a number of problems. It would be hard to buy groceries in the evenings, and the selection would be reduced. Nearly 40% believed that limiting competition would generate price rises in small shops and produce markets.

Only 15% of Russians favored limiting competition, mostly pensioners aged sixty and older. When replying about what they thought about regulating prices for basic foodstuffs as a way of supporting the poor, Russians were divided in their opinions. Exactly half of them said such restrictions were ineffective, while 32% supported a combination of government and market measures, while 14% believed the government should solve the problem.

The VTsIOM survey showed that Russians were concerned about the government’s restricting prices for basic products. 55% said it would lead to the closure of stores, while 28% said it would lead to shortages, price gouging, and disruption of supplies. However, a quarter of respondents believed that prices would subsequently drop, and life would improve.

Russians see the government’s key role in regulating the produce market in support for domestic producers and developing farming, as well as in quality control. However, according to Yulia Baskakova, head of social modeling and forecasting at VTsIOM, “While worrying with all their heart for domestic producers, supporting improved food quality, and supporting the development of farming, Russians are not willing to sacrifice their comfort and put up with a reduction of the range of goods to which they are accustomed and its becoming less available. The survey showed that 88% of Russians are not willing to put up with a drop in their quality of lives to reduce the price of essential foodstuffs.”

The poll was occasioned by a suggestion, made by Federation Council member Sergei Lisovsky, that regional authorities could decide how large store chains should operate. Lisovky also suggested prohibiting supermarkets from opening at nights and on Sundays, and permitting them to work on Saturdays only until four o’clock in the afternoon. Lisovsky has argued that such measures would support small business and promote small-scale trade.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader. Faithful readers might wonder why I have cited Russian opinion polls at such length after making a big effort, over the past couple of years to show that this pollocracy, while real enough as a practice, does not tell us much or anything at all about what actual Russians thinking or are planning to do.  I have made an exception in this case, however, because I think the three news items, above, show, between the lines, as it were, what really afflicts the Russian economy, and how the feigned populism of the political/economic elite rears its head, quite often in fact, to suggest impracticable solutions to the knotty problems their own mammoth corruption and instinctive hatred of small business and independent individuals generates the dead end they claim to want to alleviate by, among other thing, commissioning one “public opinion poll” after another while stubbornly failing to notice that their enthusiastic terrorizing of Krasnodar farmers, independent truckers, and Moscow street vendors show they have no interest whatsoever in small business, much less reducing the prices of basic foodstuffs for pensioners. The only thing that interests them is getting richer and making their power untouchable. TRR

“Extremism” Ruling against Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Popular Will?

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Was it the “popular will” that 500 hectares of land be reclaimed in the Neva Bay right off Petersburg’s Vasiliyevsky Island and developed into densely built high-rise estates, causing untold amounts of environmental and aesthetic damage? No, it wasn’t. In fact, locals were bitterly opposed to the project and they mounted a loud resistance back in the day. But their will was roundly ignored by Petersburg city hall and developers. Under the present authoritarian regime, “popular will” is a friendly phantom, at best, an irritant, at worst. Photo by The Russian Reader.

The Russian Supreme Court has gone ahead and banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses and ordered their property confiscated. This is a colossal insult to hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Russian citizens. A huge new underground has been generated. Massive crackdowns for their faith, new political prisoners, and mass immigration are around the corner. The Russian authorities and Moscow Patriarch Kirill, who is personally responsible for this operation, have curious ideas about the joy of Easter.
—Nikolay Mitrokhin, Facebook, April 21, 2017

Perhaps this is what is most disheartening about the recent legal battle. The state may be the central actor, but its actions reflect the popular will of Russians who, by and large, have decided that Witnesses have no place in their society.
—Emily Baran, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Spells End for Russia’s Religious Diversity,” Moscow Times, April 24, 2017

When did Russians decide this? Did they hold a referendum recently? Are most Russians even aware of how the Justice Ministry has used the Russian Supreme Court to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremists,” allegedly, at the insistence of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Kirill? I very much doubt it.

Professor Baran only mentions actions by state or quasi-state actors, such as the central press in Soviet and post-Soviet times. Yet they were and have been somehow acting on behalf of the “popular will,” a symbiosis she makes no real attempt to prove in her op-ed piece for the Moscow Times, as quoted above.

As for real popular sentiment, I imagine there are as many Americans as Russians who have reflexively negative attitudes toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just think of all the jokes about JWs you have heard in your lifetime that cast them in a negative or ridiculous light, or how many times you have seen their likenesses figuring as the villains on TV medical dramas who refuse proper care for desperately sick children? Then why aren’t they banned in the US? At worst, the American “popular will” sees them as outsiders and obscurantists, at best, as an annoyance.

I can imagine that tenure-track professors in the US have a hard time understanding how disempowered and disconnected the grassroots are in a country that now has the world’s largest income inequality gap, and a long, brutal history of minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, getting hammered by the powers that be while putative “majority” either did not mind, looked the other way or did not even notice.

But does Tennessee, where Professor Baran teaches, have an utterly different history when it comes to protecting the rights of its minorities?

The Russian Supreme Court’s decision to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses extremist is completely despicable in every possible way, but Russians who bother to care about minorities and “minority” interests (like the environment, civil and social rights, corruption, labor rights, migrant rights, and historical preservation and sound urban planning) are often too few and far between to fight every battle and put out every fire. And many of those fighters are themselves currently under the state’s gun. The same Justice Ministry that has gone after Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses like a pit bull has also been branding NGOs, research institutes, and grassroots organizations “foreign agents” like it was at a fire sale.

That is no excuse for the judicial execution the Russian state has just performed on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it was a decision made at the top by the political, ecclesiastical and judicial elites, including the ROC’s Patriarch Kirill. It was not the state’s response to a nonexistent, utterly imaginary “popular will.” TRR

Return of the Wreckers

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When they work on construction sites, migrant workers from Central Asia often live in shantytowns like this one in Petersburg. Photo by TRR

FSB director Alexander Bortnikov has claimed that migrant workers from the former Soviet Union constitute the bulk of terrorist groups operating in Russia. He called on businessmen who employ migrant labor and officials who insure compliance with immigration laws to act more responsibly.

This comes from an organization whose direct legal predecessor, the NKVD, arrested and shot fifty-four people on the street where I live during 1937–1938. All these people were found guilty on spurious, trumped-up charges, and all of them were “rehabilitated” in the later, more “vegetarian” times after Stalin’s death, as Anna Akhmatova called them. Meaning the Soviet state admitted then, at least to the families of the victims, that their loved ones had been arrested and shot for no reason at all.

And yet, when the Great Terror was in full gear, the country’s leaders and its henchmen in the NKVD (now known as the FSB) were convinced or feigned that the Soviet Union was chockablock with wreckers, saboteurs, provocateurs, and foreign spies.

Now, in the absence of a public investigation and any trials of the accused (or any accused, for that matter), the agency’s current director wants us to believe that migrant workers from Central Asia are rife with “terrorist groups.”

The street I live on is quite small. It consists of two short blocks and exactly twenty houses. I can imagine the sudden arrests and executions of fifty-four of their neighbors made quite an impression on the street’s more fortunate inhabitants in 1937–1938.

As far as I know, the FSB has never really renounced its direct line of descent from the Cheka, the OGPU, the NKVD, the MGB, and the KGB. On the contrary, if statements made by its more prominent veterans such as Vladimir Putin are to be believed, its past and current officers are extraordinarily proud of this legacy, although they may admit on occasion that the Great Terror was a bit excessive.

So, in the interests of the state (which are nowadays equated with the interests of the members of the Ozero Dacha Cooperative and the so-called Laundromat, not with the interests of the “international proletarian revolution”), the FSB is still capable, I would guess, of lying through its teeth and scapegoating entire groups of completely innocent people, i.e., in this case, migrant workers from Central Asia. According to one expert on Central Asia, whom I trust, there are currently around three million such migrant workers in Russia.

How do you think they are going to feel after hearing Bortnikov’s announcement? Would you like to live and work in a country where you are regarded as a de facto terrorist? TRR

“Hysterical Russophobia”

Nikolai Davydov, successful Russian immigrant Silicon Valley businessman whose life has (not) been ruined by “hysterical Russophobia.” Image courtesy of RBC

Yet another victim of the “hysterical Russophobia” sweeping the US and Europe has been identified.

“The subjects of the new issue of RBC Magazine aren’t afraid of risks: they conceive their own projects and invest in unusual sectors of business. Nikolai Davydov, RBC’s Investor of the Year, left for the US with $100 in his pocket, but now he lives in a house on the California coastline.”

If “hysterical Russophobia” were a real thing, instead of a talking point for crypto-Putinists and just plain Russians who don’t know how to explain to their non-Russian neighbors why their homeland has become so “odd” in the past several years, you would have heard about Russian immigrants to the EU and US suffering the same main violence and putrid discrimination that Muslim, Asian, and African immigrants and asylum seekers suffer there, not to mention the relentless violence and staggering discrimination suffered by such absolutely 100% native Americans as Aboriginal Americans (i.e., Native Americans), African Americans, and Hispanic Americans in a land their peoples have been inhabiting from several centuries to several thousands of years.

But no, you never hear of such violence and discrimination against Russian immigrants, and the fact there is no such violence and discrimination against Russians (at least, not enough to show up on anyone’s radars) is a good thing, of course.

It does, however make you wonder what exactly this “hysterical Russophobia” is that has so many tongues wagging, but has absolutely no negative effect on the ability of actual, individual Russians to lead happy, productive, and violence- and discrimination-free lives in the countries where they have chosen to settle.

That’s an easy riddle to solve, however. “Hysterical Russophobia” is a non-phenomenon invented by a motley coalition of people with various political axes to grind, including sections of the mostly hilarious current western left, who for some reason have not heard the news about what has been happening in the Socialist Motherland the last twenty-five years or so or feign not to have heard it. They’re still defending Russia long after it became the world center of the blackest social and political reaction. That is, they’re defending a corrupt, oligarchic capitalist tyranny.

Why actual Russian immigrants might feel defensive about the old homeland is understandable, but they should figure out what’s worth defending and what’s not. The Putin regime, for example, literally has no redeeming features whatsoever, as a perusal of this blog, for example, and its predecessor, Chtodelat News, should persuade you, although there are thousands and millions of more credible sources of information out there that are even more persuasive than my occasional, half-baked efforts to knock some sense into your heads.

People who nevertheless hotly defend the Putin regime, wherever they’re from, immediately strike me as suspicious or hopelessly naive. And I’m not alone.

“10,000 articles in the left press about anti-Russian hysteria. They would have more impact if they ever acknowledged that this fucking bastard Putin is building a worldwide ultraright movement. Diana Johnstone told Counterpunch readers that Marine Le Pen was on the left, so you can understand how this sort of Red-Brown thing has been gestating for quite some time.” (Louis Proyect, as quoted by Raiko Aasa yesterday on Facebook)

And here is “hysterical Russophobia” at its most sinister!

‘Delfinov and Vrubel are part of a growing community of Russian artists, poets, writers and intellectuals who have turned Berlin into one of the most vibrant outposts of Slavic culture, a kind of Moscow-on-Spree that is light years away from the repressive world of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Delfinov, who moved to Berlin in 2001, says the influx has accelerated in the past five years, a period when Russians’ hopes of democratic change evaporated. Many of them quit the country after Putin returned in 2012 for a third term as president and veered sharply to the right, espousing a new nationalist rhetoric, clamping down on dissent and annexing Crimea. Official figures show there are now 22,000 Russian expats living in Berlin, up 6 per cent on 2015. “They are people who saw no future for themselves in Russia,” says Delfinov. “Middle-class people who just wanted to breathe.”’

Well, you’ve probably guessed I’m just being facetious.

I think it’s great that Russians can go anywhere and make new, happy, productive lives for themselves. It should be that way for everyone, of course. No one is illegal, and all that.

Yet, simultaneously, the Russian government has been working overtime over the last year to exacerbate the Syrian refugee crisis. But you’d be hard pressed to hear any of the nattily dressed émigrés, described in the Financial Times article, quoted above, or their countrymen saying anything whatsoever about that nasty business and their country’s role in it. Mum’s the word, I’ve got my life to live, and all that.

However, a fair number of Russians, in my experience (and not only mine), have had lots to say, paradoxically, about Germany and other European countries being “overrun” by refugees from Syria and other war zones. It turns out these “black” unfortunates, who come from completely other galaxies, apparently, don’t have the same right so seek a safe place to live and work in Berlin, Paris, London et al., as the now-“white” (as opposed to White) Russians do.

Isn’t that funny? TRR

The Standard Narrative

Is this the “real” Russia?

“I watched as the people of Chelyabinsk began to search for an identity—a Russian identity that would give them pride. Vladimir Putin’s unexpected ascent to power in 2000 was, for many, a godsend.”

How does the beloved Anne Garrels, formerly foreign correspondent of the dismal, faux-liberal but also mysteriously beloved NPR, know all this?

She claims she knows this because she made repeated visits to Chelyabinsk, in Putin’s nonexistent “heartland,” over twenty years.

I gather she’s now even published a book about this fairy kingdom to great acclaim.

The problem is that the story she pretends to have dug up has been the standard narrative for western journalists and academics pretending to cover or study the “real Russia” for a long while now.

The problem with the standard narrative is it’s not true, although it was partly spun from a combination of half-truths, outright but persuasive sounding lies, and thoroughly unexamined “facts.” It was cooked up, back in the day, by masterful Kremlin spin doctors like Gleb Pavlovsky or Vladislav Surkov or a whole team of such spin doctors.

Over the last eighteen years it has been drilled into the heads of “ordinary Russians” and the legions of pollsters, academics, and journalists who have feigned to be studying what “ordinary Russians are thinking.” All of the above-named parties, including some “ordinary Russians,” have then gone on to brainwashing each other with the narrative in a completely closed feedback loop.

Or is this the “real” Russia?

However, the Putinist standard narrative was never true even when easy oil money made it seem partly true, and it’s even less true now when that money has dried up, and the Russian economy has been driven into the dirt by crisis, mismanagement, cosmic-scale corruption, and sanctions.

Yet the less true the standard narrative becomes, the more determined the western media and the west’s dubious posse of “Russia hands” (who don’t live in Chelyabinsk but always somehow know what’s best for the people of Chelyabinsk; twenty more years of Putin’s “heartlandism,” apparently) have been to pound the narrative into our ignorant little readerly, viewerly, and listenerly heads.

It’s no wonder the odious phrase “the Russians”—as in “the Russians think this” and “the Russians do that”—has come into vogue again. As if 143 or 144 million people all think and do the same thing, as if the eighteen years of Putin’s faux “heartlandism” hasn’t, in fact, been one long “cold civil war,” as a friend of mine aptly put it many years ago.

That’s a really complicated story to report. Most western reporters aren’t up to the job for various reasons, so they have just rung the changes on the standard narrative, “heartlandism,” and Putin’s amazing “popularity” (measured by pollsters whose methods should not be trusted, and whose results should not be taken at face value in circumstances where polling cannot by definition produce objective feedback, if it ever could), and have called it a day.

Since editors and newscast producers are usually none the wiser and have lots of other stories to shepherd, they have let the journalists and their sources in the world of Russian handdom spread the Putinist standard narrative up and down and round the west, so that schoolkids and soccer mums in Melbourne, Grimsby, and Cuyahoga County, if pressed, could regurgitate it almost as convincingly as Garrels does, in the “Comment Is Free” piece for the “liberal” Guardian readership, quoted above.

If there’s anything worth preserving about political and social liberalism, it’s the desire to reject canned truths and dogmas and find out what’s really been going down somewhere.

“Real Russians” are upset “the west’ has swallowed the standard narrative hook, line and sinker.

Instead, nearly the entire western press corps and a good portion of its academic experts on Russia have bought the whole bill of goods, freeing the Russian elite from any responsibility for its cynical, destructive, dysfunctional, and dangerous governance of the world’s largest country.

Amid the fake moral panic over “hysterical Russophobia” this has always been the real story: how the western political, media, and academic elites have mostly been letting the heartlandist-in-chief get away with it, in effect, aiding and abetting him and his old friends in the Ozero Dacha Co-op, serving as cashiers to him and the Laundromat, helping him amass his supplies of real and symbolic capital.

This shell game will all come to a screeching halt one day, however, and all the backstocks of bestsellers like Garrels’s will have to be pulped because they won’t be worth the paper they were printed on. TRR

All photos by the Russian Reader