Mercy

clean

I’m really surprised by people who think it’s an important development that Lev Ponomaryov, the veteran Russian human rights activist who was sentenced to 25 days in jail the other day for, essentially, no particular reason, had his sentence reduced to 16 days in jail.

This is not a meaningful distinction. He shouldn’t have been detained, hauled into a kangaroo court, and jailed in the first place.

Don’t let the Putinist vampires fool you with their little acts of “mercy.” They don’t mean well—ever. And if push comes to shove, God forbid, the judges amongst them will hand out death sentence after death sentence just like in the 1930s. And the FSB will carry out the executions as happily as their esteemed predecessors in the NKVD did in the 1930s.

It’s hard for any society to learn anything from its past and arrange things in the present so the past doesn’t repeat itself, so to speak, but Russian society has every chance of showing us, in the very near future, that it has learned nothing from its past.

The Putin regime has spent the last twenty years doing absolutely nothing but priming the populace for a wholesale bloodbath against the Motherland’s numerous enemies. Let’s keep hoping it has just been “kidding” all this time. {TRR}

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Russian Reader Charity and Solidarity Appeal

fullsizeoutput_2158-EFFECTSDespite rumors to the contrary, the Russian Reader is not financed by anyone, least of all George Soros, nor is it produced in this knockoff on Furniture Street of the Vorontsov Palace on Sadovaya Street. Photo by the Russian Reader

If you want to support my blog in a way that feels, sounds and looks like support, please stop whispering barely audible sweet nothings into my ear when no one else is around to hear or see you.

It is nice, of course, but it makes me think you think there is something really embarrassing and shameful about supporting me publicly and openly.

A few days ago I added a “Donate” button to this blog’s sidebar. It is an experiment of sorts, but it is also partly a forced measure because, for various reasons, literally no one for whom I have done paid work (and lots of it) this past autumn has yet paid me for this work, and I suspect some of them will fail to pay me altogether.

The skinny is that I have always imagined I “paid” for the work I did on the blog with the money I was paid in real life for real work. But since that seems more and more of a fanciful notion—that I translate things, and people pay me for them—in a world where people who think they can get away with it try not to pay me at all, I will have to look for other, more gainful employment.

Although these past eleven years I have put in the time it takes to do two jobs while being paid (sporadically) for only one, I am not going to do that anymore. When and if I get a real job, I will board up this blog for good.

When it comes to the blog, I do not have a thing to be ashamed about. On the contrary, I have racked up approximately 609,000 views for the 2,009 posts I have published on the Russian Reader and its sucessor/predecessor/interloper, Chtodelat News, since October 2007.

But for those of you who think I should go on producing the Russian Reader on a wing and a prayer just because the cause needs me to do it, I think you would find things would not have come to these desperate straits if you had actually given me real, tangible support over the years instead of giving me starvation rations of lip service and sweet nothings.

Since I see quite clearly the things and people on which you do, in fact, lavish support, publicly and openly, I know that you are capable of supporting other causes and people when you want to do it.

By support, I do not mean you have to donate money to me. I could live happily without explicit financial support if the amounts of non-monetary support were more apparent and more frequently rendered. Since they are not, however, the readership numbers for the blog suffer as well, meaning your lack of support on the invisible front means fewer people get to read the blog, because fewer people see your nonexistent reposts and links.

Solidarity is a two-way street. {TRR}

“Die in Battle and Go to Valhalla”

DSCN3949Russian public opinion? Photo by the Russian Reader

I don’t trust Russian public opinion polls, but the Putin regime, which rigs elections and otherwise tries to quash every manifestation of public life it does not astroturf itself, has increasingly relied on such wildly dubious methods to monitor the success of its propaganda machine, especially, television, in shaping hearts and minds. So, it must have noticed that a few of the elections it rigged did not go as planned this past autumn, and that Putin’s spurious approval ratings have dropped.

The regime’s response? Ram a few Ukrainian boats in the Kerch Strait to whip up patriotic fervor. It worked in 2014, and so maybe it will work again in 2018.

Since there is pointedly no Russian anti-war movement to mobilize public opinion and actual people against any military aggression by the Kremlin, it is hard to say how the Kremlin will fare in the polls after the Kerch gambit. Maybe Putin’s wholly ersatz popularity will nominally shoot up a few dozen points as “Russians” “express” “their” “outrage” over Kyiv’s nonexistent military agression. Maybe, unaccountably, TV viewers will suddenly see through the nonstop war dance that has undoubtedly erupted on all Russian news channels and drop Putin’s rating another few points.

What definitely won’t happen is that millions of Russians will take to the streets to demand the resignation of a would-be president for life whose reign has been marked by military aggression and “patriotic” manipulation of public sentiment since day one.

There were one or two largish protests in Moscow against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine at the very start of that glorious campaign, and that was that. There has never been even a middling protest against Putin’s decisive use of military force against innocent Syrians opposed to the butcher Assad. And on an issue that should have been a cakewalk for the opposition, the so-called pension reform (i.e., raising the retirement age precipitously to save money for military spending), the vast majority of Russians decided to get upset, if they did get upset, in the comfort of their homes, watching the FIFA World Cup on TV, rather than bravinngthe balmy weather that prevailed all over Russia this past summer and showing the government how angry they were.

But popular demonstrations are never just a matter of public sentiment. They are also a matter of political organization. And while nearly all opposition forces in Russia did at least make the attempt to get people into the streets this past summer to oppose the pension reform, they would never risk whatever political capital they had to call for anti-war marches and protest rallies.

Maybe they would be surprised by the turnout if they did call for such protests and put their hearts and souls into organizing them, but that is not going to happen for the simple reason that the unacknowledged, apparently invisible bull in the china shop—Russian imperialism—informs the Russian liberal and leftist “anti-Putinist” views of the world as much it does Putin’s view of the world. {TRR}

Aliyah

aliyah

Canadian professional wrestler Aliyah. Photo courtesy of WWE

It’s really unpleasant to discover that, for no apparent reason and unbeknownst to you, you have been unfriended long ago by someone you really did think of as a friend,

The funny thing is that, two years ago, I translated a dozen or so pages of essays and other documents this particular friend needed for their Fulbright application. I did all of this work literally overnight, with almost no advanced warning.

The friend didn’t think to offer me any money or anything else for my work, but when they did, in fact, get the Fulbright, they suddenly popped up again to ask for free English lessons.

Since I haven’t heard word one from them since then, I assume they and their family stayed in the States.

What happened to the film I had been helping them make for several years is for me to wonder alone about, too.

This is a lesson I should have learned the hard way when A.S. and I held what proved to be a truly savage and unpleasant “solidarity evening” for our old friend the artist B. in 2008 after he was deported from Brexitland, where he had applied, quite sincerely and on impeccable legal grounds, for asylum as a gay man whose life was threatened in his home country.

All three of us were roundly denouced by the rather odd audience in attendance at the erstwhile artists squat Pushkinskaya 10 (now a municipally subsidized arts center) for advocating the international human rights approach to asylum seeking.

The thing to do, we were told in no uncertain terms, was to trick your way into the promised land of your choice by hook or by crook, not to openly apply for asylum and get mixed up with the allegedly politically dodgy types (i.e., anarchists and other No Borders activists) who support asylum seekers in other countries.

Meanwhile, my wife’s cousin M., who up until a few months ago showed no interest in their late grandfather and his Jewishness, has suddenly decided to make Aliyah. The only problem is that his cousin, my wife, is the only living member of the family who knows anything about their grandfather, his Jewishness, and Jewishness in general, and who has kept anything she could pertaining to her grandfather’s life, because she loved him, and because she finds her fascinating multi-ethnic family’s history fascinating.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that politics in Israel has been badly skewed  to the hard right by the huge influx of “Russian Jews” who emotionally, religiously, philosophically, and technically speaking had about as much business making Aliyah as I, a third-generation Scandinavian American, would have.

Naturally, since they have no real business being there or, rather, since they know they fudged their way into the country, they are even more resentful of the Palestinians, the natives brutally shunted aside to make room for their illegitimate millions.

This has been borne out by Likud’s strangehold on power in alliance with Avgidor Lieberman and the other radical right politicians heavily supported by immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The only way out of this impasse is to declare Zionism a “triumphant failure” that did the job it set out to do when circumstances for Jews in the world were desperate. Now that they are much less desperate, Zionism, like “communism” in its own time, can phase itself out, giving way to a single Israeli-Palestinian state where everyone would learn Arabic and Hebrew at school, and to which anyone in the world would be eligible to immigrate if they chose to do it.

Of course, it would be a big mess, but it would also be a lot of fun to the current US tax payer-subsidized disgrace in Israel-Palestine.

But what to do about the alleged right of Russians to immigrate anywhere they choose by any means necessary when, in their majority, they themselves refuse to acknowledge the same rights for non-Russians? Spend enough time in these parts and you will realize that really large numbers of Russians do think quite sincerely and distressingly that Muslim, Asian, and African riffraff should not be allowed to live in their precious spiritual homelands of North America, Western Europe, and Israel, and certainly not in their beloved-and-hated Motherland itself.

I have no cheeky pie-in-the-sky solution to this racist silliness. I do know, though, that it had something to do (minus the racism) with why I lost a real friend. {TRR}

Crimea and Gays Be Damned (For the Record)

DSCN3271

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}