If You Get the “Context” Right, You Can Turn Black to White (Meduza Reaches a New Low)

If you just get the “context” right, you can turn black into white, night into day.

“Context: The majority of U.S. Mission Russia employees are not Americans, and won’t be expelled: Of 1,200 people employed in 2013 in Mission Russia, 333 were U.S. citizens and 867 were Foreign National Staff, most of whom were probably Russian nationals. Using the 2013 numbers, if the U.S. Mission is forced to let go of 755 people, a majority of them would not be U.S. citizens, and probably would not be expelled from the country.”
The Real Russia. Today, July 31, 2017, 
Meduza′s daily English-language email newsletter

No, but lots of those pesky Russian nationals, perhaps the majority, would be fired from their jobs thanks to Putin’s little presidential campaign stunt. They would be instantly unemployed and, perhaps, unemployable.

Is that cause for rejoicing in Connecticut or wherever the newsletter’s editor really lives?

And what reason could the current Russian government (not the Soviet government, which did such things) have for expelling its own citizens?

Are we already that far along in the re-Stalinization process?

As a friend of mine who works at the Moscow embassy wrote in response to Meduza′s amazingly clueless and insensitive exercise in contextualizing, “I am speechless.” TRR

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Another News Item about Russia That Will Brighten Your Day and Make You Smile

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Vasya Lozhkin, “No Time for Smiling!” Pilfered by crypto-nationalist website russiatrek.org and not credited to the artist

I’ve had complaints in recent days that my Facebook news feed and Word Press-powered blog (the very blog you’re reading now) felt “tired” and lacked humor.

This news item, however, is sure to energize you positively while tickling your funny bone.

Russia’s Federation Council has approved a bill that would prohibit the use of Internet proxy services—including virtual private networks, or VPNs.

The bill approved on July 25 would also ban the anonymous use of mobile messaging services.

The bill was adopted in its final reading by the lower house of the parliament, the State Duma, on July 21.

It now goes to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into the law.

If signed by the president, the legislation would take effect on January 1, 2018. That is less than three months before a presidential election in which Putin is widely expected to seek and win a new six-year term.

Under the bill, Internet providers would be ordered to block websites that offer VPNs and other proxy services. Russians frequently use such websites to access blocked content by routing connections through servers abroad.

The legislation also would require messenger apps to verify users through their phone numbers and to send out compulsory text messages from government agencies on request.

Lawmakers who promoted the bill said it is needed to prevent the spread of extremist material and ideas.

Critics say Putin’s government often uses that justification to suppress political dissent.

Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

It will also have the added effect, I’m sure, of making large numbers of professionals give up their lives in the perpetually decadent west and move to Russia.

Because in Russia it’s all about laughter and spiritual uplift.©

NB. This post is a paid advertisement for Re-Elect Putin 2018, a nonpartisan group of cash-hungry foreign turncoats working to keep the world’s largest country a dictatorship, because in an increasingly complex world only outright tyranny is capable of getting things done

Let’s Cancel the Party and Call It a Night

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Car parked in central Petersburg, 8 July 2017. Photo by The Russian Reader

Given the sheer numbers of reactionary/counter-revolutionary events and incidents happening in Russia every day, and the equally astronomical quantities of reactionary/counter-revolutionary statements and actions committed by Russian officials high and low (e.g. East Aleppo) over the past couple of decades, it seems a nasty farce to commemorate, much less celebrate, the centennial of the Russian revolution(s) this year.

Present-day Russia and Russians have no copyright on revolution, and this stricture applies equally to self-identified “revolutionary” or leftist Russians, who have nothing to teach or say to anyone about revolution.

Clear the current Russian built and symbolic landscape of all the post-revolutionary tat and kitsch (nearly all of it reactionary, because what could be more anti-revolutionary than a cult of personality like the one generated around the dead Lenin) that clutters its physically and nominally (e.g., Insurrection Square in Petersburg), and you would find the wildly reactionary country that actually occupies the vast expanse between the Gdansk Bay and the Chukchi Peninsula.

It’s another matter that there are lots of Russians who, pluckily and smartly, individually and collectively, have been trying to overcome to this black reaction in bigger and smaller ways over the “miraculous” years of the Putin regimes. Unfortunately, however, their voices have mostly been muffled by the din of counter-revolution issuing from the Kremlin, the State Duma, and the post-Soviet Russian state’s ever-proliferating set of security forces and regulatory watchdogs, and by their own would-be allies among the brand-name liberals and leftists, most of whom have been concerned with promoting their own social and cultural capital, not making common cause with boring math instructors like “mass disorder stoker” Dmitry Bogatov or, more surprisingly, with the country’s endlessly resourceful independent truckers and other inspiring grassroots freedom fighters, none of whom have the time or the inclination to commemorate the famous revolution that, arguably, went counter-revolutionary more quickly than you can say Jack Robinson. TRR

This Is Hell

Kolomenskaya Street, Petersburg, July 6, 2017. Photo by The Russian Reader

Here’s a sunny existential question for a Sunday morning.

How can it be claimed that a person sees events “through Russian eyes” if that person is not Russian is any sense of the word, has not set foot in the country for years, has not lived in the country for years at a time, and garners their knowledge of the country and its politics only from the sources available to everyone else who doesn’t actually live in Russia, namely, the media?

And yet cutting-edge radio program This Is Hell! claims to have found just such a person for its latest broadcast.

I would very much encourage you all to listen to the program. My blog, The Russian Reader, is meant as an antidote to the casual Orientalism of almost everything uttered by hegemonic or would-be hegemonic American mouths when it comes to Russia, whether those voices aspire to be liberal or leftist, Russophilic or Russophobic.

And while you’re listening to the new edition of This Is Hell!, keep in mind that, over the past month or so, I’ve been seriously contemplating sending The Russian Reader on permanent hiatus (like its predecessor Chtodelat News, which died a cold, hard death because it was emphatically not supported by the group it nominally represented).

After a year in which I saw a steady and welcome rise in the number of readers on this website, my stats have dropped precipitously in the last two months, even though I have been trying, as always, to see events in Russia through the eyes of Russians, although I’m not Russian in any way and would never have the chutzpah to claim to be Russian, much less have “Russian eyes.”

My method has always to been to “collage,” as I like to put it, numerous and wildly different Russian points of view on what I think are the key topics in modern Russian politics, economics, society, and culture. I have done this by translating the words of hundreds of courageous, thoughtful and very different Russians, almost all of them in the thick of the events they describe and analyze in the magazine and newspaper articles, essays, Facebook posts, and informal reflections that make up most of what I publish on The Russian Reader.

The other five percent of The Russian Reader is given over to my satirical ruminations and, once in a while, serious editorials. I have never claimed they represent “a” or “the” Russian point of view since, I repeat, I am not Russian in any sense of the word.

I’ve been doing this for almost ten years now with no financial support and, if truth be told, very little other real support from anyone else. Yet I have been told by a fair number of smart and even influential people whose opinion I respect that my blog is invaluable and unique and needs to keep chugging along.

Maybe that is so, but if no one is reading it, quoting it, and especially sharing the articles published here with colleagues, friends, and opponents, there really is no point in going on with this.

It’s been a lot of work. Hard work should be rewarded in some way. Stony silence and precipitously falling numbers are not a reward for invaluable, unique work no one else is doing.

If you would not like to see the website go into a permanent coma, especially if you’re willing to support The Russian Reader in a meaningful way (one of the best ways is volunteering to translate things I could publish), let me know either in the comments under this post or via the email address listed in the left margin of this website.

Thanks for listening to my gripes. With any luck, we can get the site back on track in short order, but that will happen only if I hear a more or less loud mandate from you, my mostly anonymous and silent Russian readers. TRR

Grassroots Recycling as a Threat to Russian National Security and International Football

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Football fans! You might want to know that this past Saturday, the monthly neighborhood collections of recyclables, organized by the Razdelnyi Sbor environmental movement, an entirely volunteer-run organization, were cancelled, apparently by the police or higher powers, in four of Petersburg’s districts (Central, Admiralty, Krasnoye Selo, and Kalinin), allegedly, because they were a “security threat” to the ongoing FIFA Confederations Cup.

Ironically, this same grassroots movement, which poses such a (non-)threat to national security in neighborhoods many kilometers away from the brand-new stadium on Krestovsky Island where some of the cup’s matches are being played, including the final—a stadium that was built at the cost of unbelievable cost overruns (i.e., kickbacks) and completion delays, precarious migrant labor (including slave laborers shipped in from North Korea, one of whom was killed in an accident on the site), and the demolition of the old Kirov Stadium, a nationally listed architectural landmark designed by the great constructivist architect Alexander Nikolsky—made a deal with cup organizers and FIFA to collect and process recyclable waste at the stadium after matches.

Meaning that, at the stadium itself, this same grassroots movement was seen not as a threat, but as a cynical means of showing fans that FIFA and the Russian government were all about “international best practices.”

This is a ridiculous, telltale story that someone other than lowly unread me and my crap blog should be reporting.

By the way, under normal circumstances, readers of my Facebook news feed would have got a message from Razdelnyi Sbor about Saturday’s collection points, a message I cut and paste and disseminate faithfully every month, because I want everyone I know to go the one-day collection points in their neighborhood with their recyclables, and because my partner and I go to our neighborhood spot in the Central District every month ourselves.

Last year, I even bought a Razdelnyi Sbor t-shirt, to support the cause and occasionally serve as a living, breathing, walking, talking advertisement for it.

I guess I’ll have to think hard about whether I want to wear the t-shirt again. I don’t understand how you can serve the authorities at their Big Event while letting down the ordinary people who support you in their neighborhoods with their volunteer labor and their recycling month in and month out.

A friend of mine was arguing on Facebook just yesterday that VK, the homegrown Russian social media where Razdelnyi Sbor has its community page, was where it was at, as opposed to snobby Facebook. But in the relevant recent posts on Razdelnyi Sbor’s VK page about the cancelled collections you won’t find word one criticizing the authorities for acting in such a brutal, stupid way towards a completely beneficial grassroots campaign. I would imagine the page’s moderators hastily scrubbed any such complaints, if there were any. I’m sure there were some.

This is the real Russia, about which I almost never read anything in the western media and, sometimes, in the Russian media, either. It’s a country where recycling enthusiasts (just like cycling enthusiasts, for that matter) are imagined as a threat to national security and as “agents of the west,” except in the one instance where they can make the authoritarian state’s Big Event seem more PC to foreign football fans, dishing out big euros for tickets, merchandise, food and drinks, and rooms. TRR

A huge thanks to Comrade Darya A. for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Razdelnyi Sbor’s website

Read more on this topic:

Extreme Makeover: Russian Home Edition

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Ty Pennington

This is what is meant by ruchnoye upravlenie or “hands-on governance” in Russia.

“In a stage-managed gesture of benevolence a year ahead of a presidential election, Russia’s Vladimir Putin flew 1,200 km (750 miles) to call in on a woman living in squalor and ordered her to be rehoused immediately” (Gleb Stolyarov, “Eyeing election, Russia’s Putin stages visit to voter’s rundown home,” Reuters, June 28, 2017).

None of the other candidates (?), especially Alexei Navalny, who was officially sidelined by the Central Electoral Commission the other day, can hand out new houses and trips to Sochi to the needy. If they could and did, they would probably be brought up on charges for influence peddling or something like that.

But Putin can do it. The problem is that he cannot and will not do it for everyone, and certainly not in the systematic way implied by the clause in the 1993 Russian Federal Constitution that declares (emptily, as it would turn out) that the Russian Federation is a “social state,” i.e., a welfare state in the best sense of the word. That would mean bankrupting the current Russian state, i.e., the capitalist oligarchy run by Putin and his cronies in “manual mode” for their own benefit and one else’s.

I love the headline: “Eyeing election…” There are virtually no real elections in Russia, and in the few elections where a real, well-meaning person might, theoretically, be able to sneak past the watchful eyes of the elections boards—say, if she ran as a candidate in a lowly municipal district council (not even for city council or regional legislative assembly, where the winners do have nominal or real power and, at least, in Petersburg, personal discretionary budgets for spending on pet projects)—she would end up serving on a entity that has almost no budget (to hand out largesse, like Putin did in this case, or to do something that benefits all or many of her constituents) and no power whatsoever.

Putin will limit his campaigning to a few feel-good demonstrations of “manual control” like this one, where he unwittingly reproduces the role played more cheerfully and persuasively by Ty Pennington on ABC’s popular reality TV program Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which probably did more for the needy than Putin has ever done and ever wants to do. TRR

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Petersburg’s Kangaroo Courts

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

Petersburg Observers
Facebook
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