Crimea and Gays Be Damned (For the Record)

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This morning, I came across a flat-out lie (or an honest mistake), penned by a professor at one of the most august universities in the United States. But you would only know it was a lie or a mistake if you had been here in Petersburg to see what actually happened at Manifesta 10, and had some basic street smarts when it comes to the art scene and real grassroots politics here.

This partly explains why, for example, there is virtually no anti-war movement in Russia: because too many people whose avowed politics should make them natural leaders and organizers of a Russian anti-war movement (i.e., a movement against Russian imperialist military aggression, not a choir of angels hovering above all frays everywhere and quietly chiding “all parties to the conflict” on social media) have been more concerned to make the right impression on the right people in the big white world.

This is not to mention that virtually no one in the so-called Russian leftist art/activist community, especially in Petersburg, made even so much as a peep when the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly and, later, the State Duma passed the infamous homophobic laws , which are still safely and shamefully on the books in Russia.

I really don’t understand how, thirty or forty years from now, scholars and merely curious people will be able to get to the bottom of anything that happened in our time with so much abject propaganda camouflaged as journalism and “research” lying around everywhere.

“After the annexation of Crimea and the passing of a number of restrictive laws in Russia (not least the banning of so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’), it seemed macabre to many that the avowedly progressive European Biennale should take place in the State Hermitage museum as planned. The collective Chto Delat?, who were slated to participate in the biennale, wrote an open letter to star curator Kasper König, demanding that Manifesta 10 issue a public statement against the recent action of the Russian government. When their calls went unmet (aside from prompting critique of direct politicization in contemporary art) Chto Delat? and a number of Russian and Polish artists withdrew from the show.”

No Russian artists withdrew from the show whatsoever. That is a fact. Some local artists loudly withdrew from one part of Manifesta only to pop up quite prominently in another part of Manifesta. These same people mocked any “Polish artists” (?) who might have actually withdrawn from the show. They definitely attacked anyone outside Russia who called for an international boycott of the show. For literally all the Petersburg artists and curators involved, the show absolutely had to go on, Crimea and gays be damned. {TRR}

Photo by the Russian Reader

Mac’n’Cheese

macncheeseSign on the front of Daily Delicatessen, a restaurant on Liteiny Prospect, in downtown Petersburg, that purports to serve “autherican american [sic] cuisine.” Photo by the Russian Reader

A Democratic majority will not bring back the eleven Jewish people in Pittsburgh, massacred while they prayed. Or the two Black people gunned down days before at a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky. It won’t fully stop the relentless attacks against immigrants in America.

But on Sunday evening, Pittsburgh mourners—angry and broken-hearted like us—chanted “Vote! Vote! Vote!” They understand the magnitude of the midterm election six days from today: that it affords us the chance to forge a powerful bulwark against Donald Trump’s hate and hold accountable the Republicans who have been complicit in every step of his toxic, self-serving, and destructive agenda. We must offer a path out of the darkness.
—Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, excerpted from a Moveon.org campaign email

The path that the avowed democratic socialist Ocasio-Cortez offers out of the darkness is a “Democratic majority.” The sad thing is that, given the sluggish staying of the stagnant course and unchange the DNC and, thus, the Democratic Party have represented my entire life (I was born in 1967, one year before the disastrous 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago), I think we would be fools to trust them to hold anyone accountable for anything, much less Don Trump and the Falangists.

They certainly don’t ever hold themselves accountable for anything.

In any case, it’s been clear for two decades, at least, that most Americans don’t want either the now full-blown fascism of the former Republican Party or the so-called centrism of the Democratic Party, whatever face you put on it, even the handsome face of the otherwise utterly likable Barack Obama, a former community organizer who should have know better than to do half the things he did while in the White House, and who should have done many things he didn’t even contemplate doing.

What we need is actual democratic socialism, as fought for by an actual socialist party.

We also need an actual labor party, whose agenda is driven by progressive trade unions and their members.

And a party for small-c conservatives, not fascists.

And a green party that is not run by people who think it’s okay to fly to Moscow and have dinner with Putin.

And a libertarian party whose leaders and rank-and-file are true to actual libertarian principles, instead of being eager to make alliances with the falangists.

And a centrist party for people whose cup of tea is Obama and Hillary Clinton, warts and all.

We could also use a few regional parties, for folks who think the South, the Midwest, etc., are essences in themselves and need special representation in Congress.

And an agricultural party, to protect our farmers all over our great land.

In short, we need a parliamentary democracy. To that end, we need a presidency whose powers are much reduced, and a president who is elected by a straightline popular vote, not by an electoral college.

This would be an actual path out of the darkness, because a multi-party democracy and a weakened presidency would make it nearly impossible for what we have been witnessing lately—a lying, vicious clown, who is probably a Kremlin stooge, smashing our country to bits on behalf of his sponsors and a increasingly rabid white nationalist minority—to happen again.

So, go and vote a straight Democratic ticket on Tuesday. It won’t save us from the darkness, because with our absurdly outmoded political system, rigged to protect the tiny ruling class and its interests, our faith in leaderism and lesser evilism, our nearly perennial committment to racism, savagery, and barbarism at home and abroad, and our preference for policing over politics, we are the darkness.

P.S. We also need to ditch the Supreme Court in its present untenable form: political appointees disguised as nine wise mandarins of justice, seated for life, making a mockery of the law. In a real democracy, we would elect Supreme Court justices to one-time eight-year terms by popular vote, and the vetting they would get before being put on the ballot—conducted by a panel of lawyers, journalists, and ordinary citizens, and broadcast live on TV and the internet—would ensure we actually knew what they stood for before we voted them up or down, end of story. {TRR}

How to Become a “Russian Expert” on Facebook in a Matter of Weeks!

paintingSaints Cyrill and Methodius Church on Ligovsky Avenue in Petersburg, as seen from the end of Tyushin Street, 27 October 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

How do you become a “Russia expert” on Facebook in a matter of weeks?

Method No. 1: Claim “the Russians” are behind literally everything untoward that happens in the world, from attempted piped bombings in the United States to typhoons in the South Pacific.

How does this method work?

It’s easy!

First, never provide any hard evidence of this alleged “Russian” influence. Refer vaguely but insistently to allegedly irrefutable research—done by someone else, of course—on how social networks can be used to disseminate fake news and crackpot theories.

Second, don’t learn Russian or spend any time in Russia.

In fact, it helps a lot if you know as little as possible about Russians and Russia, because knowing something would needlessly complicate your ambition to have yourself deemed a “Russia expert” on Facebook.

Finally and most important, if someone calls you on the carpet for your glaring lack of evidence and knowledge, and the spurious logic of your arguments, accuse the person of being “rude and aggressive” and immediately unfriend them. You can’t afford to have someone who actually knows something about Russia and Russians or can even just ask a decent question that throws a less than glowing light on your dicey arguments and made-up facts hanging round bothering you and your devoted virtual fans, for you have a higher calling.

You’re a “Russia expert”! {TRR}

Anti-Central Asian Migrant Worker Dragnet in Tula

uzbek cuisineRussian riot police (OMON) prepare to enter a business identified as “Uzbek Cuisine” in the Central Market area in Tula during yesterday’s “total spot checks.” Photo courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula

Unprecedented Document Checks in Tula: Migrant Workers Lined Up in Columns Many Meters Long
MK v Tule (Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula)
October 20, 2018

Беспрецедентные проверки в Туле: мигрантов выстроили в многометровые колонны

The total checks of migrant workers in Tula have moved beyond the Central Market. According to Moskovsky Komsomolet in Tula‘s correspondent, law enforcers from the Tula Regional Office of the Interior Ministry, the riot police (OMON), the Rapid Deployment Special Force (SOBR), and the Russian National Guard have inspected the streets adjacent to the market.

In particular, visitors from the Asian republics [sic] were also checked on Pirogov and Kaminsky Streets. Law enforcers looked to see whether people had documents [sic], residence registration stamps, and work permits.

Approximately two hundred migrants workers were formed into a long column that grew longer by the minute. Checks for violations of immigration laws proceeded apace.

The total spot checks for illegals [sic] in Tula started at 10 a.m. on October 20, when law enforcers descended on the Khlebnaya Square area en masse. The entire market was cordoned off.

All photos courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin and Valentina Chupik for the heads-up.

Migrant workers, most but not all of them hailing from the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, have been perfect scapegoats for the Putinist police state, which from day one (nearly twenty years ago) has increased its hold on public opinion through an endless series of semi-official campaigns against nefarious aliens and “national traitors.”

So-called law enforcement officers have long ago turned shaking down migrant workers—something literally every resident of every major city in Russia has seen with their own eyes thousands of times in recent years, but which they have “disappeared” along with most of society’s supposedly intractable problems—into a land office business, that is, a source of easy, quick cash.

In any case, as likely as not, most of the men shown in the photographs, above, probably had all the papers they needed to live and work legally in Russia, including residence registration papers and work permits. Unless they have temporary or permanent residence permits, they would have to renew these papers every three months in a process that is every bit as wasteful, time consuming, and humiliating as yesterday’s dragnet in Tula.

To add to their woes, the top brass of Russia’s dizzying of ever-proliferating, interwing, and competing law enforcement agencies and secret services regularly trot out cooked-up stats showing, allegedly, that migrant workers commit either an outsized proportion of all crimes in Russia or the majority of crimes. Human rights advocates can easily punch holes in these barefaced attempts to generate moral panics while simultaneously proving the police state’s continued indispensability, but these counterarguments rarely if ever get the audience enjoyed by Moskovsky Komsolomets, a mass-circulation national tabloid, based in Moscow, that for many years now has published local supplements in Russia’s numerous, far-flung regions.

Owned until 1991 by the Soviet Communist Youth League (Komsomol), Moskovsky Komsolets abandoned whatever socialist and international principles it had long ago, opting for sensationalism and high circulations. According to the BBC, the newspaper had an average issue readership of 1,215,000 in 2008, making it Russia’s second most read newspaper, after Argumenty i Fakty. Given its heavy internet and social media presence, those readership figures have certainly only gone up in the intervening years.

MK, as it usually styles itself nowadays, perhaps to make us forget about its humble socialist origins, was also identified in 2004 by the Sova Center and the Moscow Helsinki Group as the leading purveyor of hate speech amongst Russia’s national print media outlets. Certainly, yesterday’s “photo essay” in MK in Tula was an attempt to whip up a moral panic while boosting readership.

The newspaper, however, is not primarily responsible for the fact that Russian officialdom and to a certain extent, Russian society at large demonizes, terrorizes, and racially profiles the cheap, supposedly expendable immigrant workforce that keeps the perennially flailing Russian economy afloat.

If you want to learn more about the bigger picture when it comes to migrant workers in Russia, a story egregiously underreported by the international press and reported mostly in the sensationalist, racist manner, displayed above, by the Russian press, I would recommend the following articles, published on this website in the past year, plus Professor Sergey Abashin’s now-classic essay “Migrants and Movements in Central Asia,” published here three years ago. {TRR}

 

This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven

“The aggressor must be aware that retaliation is inevitable, that they will be destroyed. And we, the victims of aggression, as martyrs, will go to heaven, while they will just die, because they will not even have time to repent,” Putin said.

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While there was obviously nothing to like about Vladimir Putin in his earlier incarnations as KGB officer, deputy mayor of Petersburg, FSB head, interim prime minister who relaunched the Chechen War, and Russia’s newly minted, apparently sober second president, it is clear that twenty years in office have now made him a stark raving lunatic.

I wish that Russians in their millions, frightened into action by what their nominal national leader said the other day, would rise to save the world from this menace. In reality, too many Russians have either bought the new party line hook, line, and sinker or disappeared into various modes of actual and internal emigration.

The much smaller groups of Russians who bravely try and combat Putinism and its cancers are badly outnumbered and increasingly embattled. Just read this website from time to time to find out what I mean.

Maybe I am exaggerating a little, but not as much as even I would like to think.

I apologize for this outburst, because mine is supposed to be a website about other Russias and other Russians. It would be sheer escapism, however, to claim that even the freest, boldest hearts in the world’s largest country are not affected by the regime’s downward spiral into a fascist, militarist, police-state abyss. {TRR}

Dostoevsky Is Our Brand

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This is the proposed design for an addition to the Dostoevsky Museum on Kuznechny Alley in Petersburg’s Central District.

Whatever you want to say about the architecture, the worst thing is that the addition would kill the green space and double-exit courtyard between the existing museum, on the right, and the Engineering and Economics Institute (Engecon), on the left.

Unfortunately, the city’s urban planning council approved the proposed design during a recent meeting.

The addition is a legacy, in part, of the late Anton Gubankov, head of the city’s culture committee under Governor Valentina Matviyenko. Mr. Gubankov read a couple of books by Richard Florida and decided the city needed a brand. He thought that brand should be Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Shame on the Dostoevsky Museum for going along with this exercise in rebranding. It’s a complete mockery of everything Dostoevsky stood for, good and bad, and what is left of the city he loved. {TRR}

Image courtesy of Krasimir Vranski’s Facebook page

 

My Fans

This, sadly, is typical of the feedback I get on a nearly weekly basis.

new fan.jpeg“Is that how you get your stories? Stealing”

I don’t feel like explaining the difference between a translation and a original to Pirate Jenny. Or that all my translations are linked backed to their sources and marked as such. Or that, often as not, especially when it comes to Facebook “op-eds” and original artworks, I ask the writers and artists for permission to translate their stuff and publish it here. Or that I snap most of the photos I use on the website myself, and I credit the images I occasionally borrow. Or that I frequently write my own editorials when the Holy Ghost moves me. Or that this website is tons of work, all of which I do myself.

I have never got even a ruble in outside funding and little thanks for this work, only a steady drip of crap comments from stealthy Russian and non-Russian creeps like “Jenny.” I’ve been doing this gig for eleven years and I’ve just about had it. I think the website serves a good purpose, the readership has been going up year after year, but nearly all of the people who read it are, apparently, freeloaders who think that sharing posts—the only tangible reward I get, because reposting turns more people onto the site and makes me feel like getting up early in the morning to translate or write yet another post—is a luxury they cannot afford.  {TRR}