Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Tamizdat Project)

“MANUSCRIPTS DON’T BURN” FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN TO SUPPORT STUDENTS FROM UKRAINE, BELARUS, AND RUSSIA AFFECTED BY WAR OR PERSECUTION

Tamizdat Project Inc. is launching a two-month campaign “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” to support undergraduate students forced to leave their home countries due to Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine or persecution in Belarus and Russia for their anti-war stance.

  • On January 30, 2023, we are opening two online charity book auctions and a donation campaign to help these students pursue their academic careers in a safe environment. We are inviting the public to join our Rare Books Auction, which features a variety of first editions of “contraband” literature from behind the Iron Curtain and books by émigré authors, a Signed and Inscribed Books Auction with nearly 300 titles inscribed or signed for our cause by over 100 contemporary writers and scholars, and a “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” online fundraiser.
  • Since February 24, 2022, many initiatives have been launched across American campuses to support scholars at risk. Very few, however, have been set up for students, who have not yet established themselves in academia but have also been forced to leave home and need to continue their education elsewhere. Tamizdat Project Inc. has taken the initiative to help the next generation of scholars when they most need it.
  • The proceeds will be distributed to undergraduate students to help them pay for tuition and living expenses while studying in the U.S. (e.g., we will pay their dormitory bills or offer stipends to participate in Tamizdat Project). We will work with the colleges and universities that have admitted them to make this goal a reality. A breakdown of how the funds will be distributed will be provided at a later date. Our campaign brings together prominent writers and academics in the diaspora to help today’s refugees, much as we wish no such effort was ever necessary. We are joined by Nobel Prize Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, director of Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute Serhii Plokhy, émigré writer and critic Alexander Genis, rap singer Noize MC, to name but a few.

“On the last day of 2022, as we all were getting ready to celebrate the arrival of the new year the Russian missile attack hit Kyiv, causing serious damage to the buildings and properties of the Kyiv University. It had become the worst year for the higher education since the end of World War II. Any assistance we can provide for students of Ukraine will be greatly appreciated by the students in the universities under fire and the students-refugees in Ukraine and abroad.” — Serhii Plokhy, professor of Ukrainian history, Harvard University

“I am glad to take part in this project. After all, the auction that Tamizdat Project has put together is not just about rare books that make any library more precious and interesting. It is also part of the living history of free literature and thought, uninterrupted even today. These books, as dissidents used to say, are relics of the struggle ‘for our freedom and yours.’ They unite authors and readers, turning even those unfamiliar with each other into allies.” — Alexander Genis, author

Tamizdat Project is a not-for-profit public scholarship and charity initiative devoted to the study of banned books from the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War (“tamizdat” means literally “published over there,” that is, abroad). Today, these books remind us that freedom and education know no boundaries. We are a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization with a tax-exempt status: donations and gifts are deductible to the extent allowable by the IRS.

Contact: Yasha Klots • Tamizdat Project Inc. • tamizdatproject@gmail.com

This Ain’t No Disco

Some schoolchildren thus learned about the existence of Time Machine and DDT.

The Telegram channel Caution, Moscow, citing the parents of students as it sources, writes that a blacklist of artists whose songs are forbidden to play during school disco parties has been distributed in Moscow schools. The list includes artists who have spoken out against the special [military] operation, and some of them have moved abroad.

In the screenshot posted on the Telegram channel, the section is titled “Forbidden music.” In addition to Zemfira and Valery Meladze, it features several dozen artists, including Morgenshtern,* Oxxxymiron, Aquarium, Boris Grebenshchikov, B2, Face, Noize MC,* Little Big, Ivan Dorn, Vera Brezhneva, and Svetlana Loboda. However, the list does not replicate the list of “undesirable” artists that was published in the media this past summer. In any case, Monetochka is not on [the new list].


“Thematic disco parties. We’re going to be holding thematic disco parties quite soon. Every class has a theme. The head boys and head girls of each class should chip in 10 tracks (identifying which class it is). But let’s not forget that the music has to be danceable. Forbidden music: Morgenshtern, Noize MC, Manizha, Oxxxymiron, Nogu Svelo, DDT, Time Machine, Louna, Aquarium, Valery Meladze, B2, Face, Zemfira, Little Big, 2Mashas, Alekseev, Max Barskhikh, Vera Brezhneva, Boris Grebenshchikov, Anacondaz, Nerves, Kasta, Alone in a Canoe, Okean Elzy, Ivan Dorn, Dorofeeva, Svetlana Loboda, Monatik, Potap & Nastya Kamenskikh. There must be no mention of alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, narcotics, or adult content [in the songs]!”


According to the parents, the list of banned artists was delivered to the head boys and head girls of classes, who are in charge of the musical program at the New Year’s dance parties. “The children reacted normally. They said, ‘Well, no means no.’ They asked questions about who DDT and Time Machine were and what they sang. But they did want to listen to Morgenshtern,” the parents said.

The [Moscow] Department of Education told Moskvich Mag that they “did not restrict schoolchildren in their choice of music, did not make stop lists, and did not identify performers who were not desirable to feature at events.”

* Has been placed on the Justice Ministry’s list of “foreign agents.”

Source: “Zemfira and Meladze: blacklists of artists for discos issued in Moscow schools,” Moskvich Mag, 15 December 2022. Translated by TRR

The News from Petersburg

“Mariupol. Saint Petersburg.” A snapshot purportedly taken earlier today by Tatyana Razumovskaya (see her Facebook post, below).

The LED composition “Double Hearts” has been installed on Palace Square in honor of the sister city relationship between Petersburg and Mariupol, as reported on the city’s VK page.

The “Double Hearts” project was approved by Governor Alexander Beglov. Earlier, the installation was on display in a Mariupol city park. It symbolizes the unity, friendship, and love between people living in the sister cities.

Earlier, 78.ru reported that Petersburg authorities would hold a “Wish Tree” event for children from Mariupol.

Source: “Installation honoring sister city relationship between Mariupol and St. Petersburg appears on Palace Square,” 78.ru, 12 December 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


A NIGHTMARISH IMAGE

Palace Square right now. It’s a three-minute walk from here to the house where I grew up and the school where I studied. Right there is the Hermitage, where I used to work.

I wish this were a dream and I could wake up.

Source: Tatyana Razumovskaya, Facebook, 13 December 2022. Thanks to VG for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


Alexander Andreyev from St. Petersburg has been killed in the military operations in Ukraine. In 2020, he graduated from School No. 368 in the city’s Frunzensky District. The school administration reported the news on its VK page.

During his school years, Andreyev was the captain of the 368 Superheroes volunteer group, and “from the very beginning he was eager to defend his Motherland,” reports the school’s VK page. In the summer, the young man went to serve and was enlisted in the 76th Pskov Airborne Division, the page reports. Later, he signed a contact, and in early October he was sent to the war zone, the post says.

Alexander was killed on October 18, according to the school administration, when the observation post where the soldier was located came under mortar attack. Andreyev was awarded the Order of Courage and buried in the Avenue of Heroes at Babigon Cemetery, the message says.

This is at least the fourth known death of a Petersburger in the war in Ukraine. Earlier, a school teacher from Petersburg, physical education teacher Vadim Sedov, was killed there. In addition, in the first week of October, Andrei Nikiforov, a member of the Nevsky Bar Association, was killed near Lisichansk. In mid-November, news arrived of the death in Mariupol of Konstantin Simonov, a Petersburger who volunteered to fight in March.

Source: “Another Petersburger dies in the war in Ukraine — he volunteered in the summer,” Bumaga, 11 December 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The Smolny [Petersburg city hall] is considering three options for special parking permits for residents of the Admiralty District [rayon], Fontanka.ru writes. On November 1, paid parking was introduced there, and locals were given the option to park their cars in their municipal precinct [okrug] for 1,800 rubles a year, the online media outlet reported.

Petersburgers recalled that residents of the Central District use similar permits throughout its territory, and not only in their own [smaller] municipal precincts, Fontanka.ru reports.

As the media outlet’s journalists have written without specifying their source, there are now three possible options for how paid parking will work for Admiralty District residents:

— everything will remain as it is: supporters of this proposal say that permits are needed so that a person can park outside their house for free, while trips around the district only increase traffic, which is what the reform is meant to combat

— the validity of permits will extend to the entire district: proponents of this idea believe that such innovations will soften the public outcry

— residents of the Admiralty District will be able to choose another district in which their permits are valid, giving them the opportunity to travel around nearby districts without worrying about paying for parking.

According to the media outlet, the Smolny will make a choice in the coming days.

Paid parking was introduced in the Admiralty District on November 1. Now those who want to park their car here have to pay 39 or 100 rubles per hour, depending on the type of vehicle, or buy an expensive monthly or annual pass.

But for those who live in the district, the authorities have introduced special annual parking permits that cost 1,800 rubles a year, but are valid only in the municipal precinct in which the motorist owns property or is registered to live. To park a car in any other municipal precinct, one has to pay the standard fare.

Source: “Petersburgers are dissatisfied with the new parking system in the city center. Here are three options for the authorities to solve this problem,” Bumaga, 11 December 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


“I serve Russia!”

🎖On December 9, our country celebrates Day of Heroes of the Fatherland. On this day, Heroes of the Soviet Union, Heroes of the Russian Federation, and recipients of the Order of St. George and the Order of Glory are honored.

And on this day we want to tell you about a hero of our time, Alexander Igorevich Andreyev, a graduate of our school.

🎖ALEXANDER IGOREVICH ANDREYEV

During his school years, Sasha was the team captain of the 368 Superheroes volunteer movement.

From the very beginning of the SMO, he sought to defend the Motherland. In the summer he went to serve and was able to enlist in the legendary Pskov 76th Airborne Division.

He signed a contract [as a volunteer] and just recently, in early October, was deployed in the special military operation.

On October 17, his unit was involved in heavy combat. When a comrade’s machine gun jammed, Alexander covered him before he himself attacked the enemy’s positions, thus contributing to the further advance of the paratroopers. By the end of the day, an enemy fortification had been captured. The next day, October 18, Alexander was at an observation post when the enemy opened fire with a mortar. He was hit by a shell and fatally wounded.

He died at his combat post. He was twenty years old.

By decree of the President of the Russian Federation, Alexander Andreyev has been awarded the Order of Courage.

Alexander is buried at the Babigon Cemetery on the Avenue of Heroes.

🕯May the memory of this Russian Hero, friend and faithful comrade live forever.

We will never forget you!

Source: Secondary School No. 368 Frunzensky District of St. Petersburg, VK, 9 December 2022. Image of Alexander Andreyev courtesy of School No. 368. Translated by the Russian Reader


Petersburg is all gussied up in sparkling joyful lights. The holiday is coming to our town.

I have just read a letter from an acquaintance in a neighboring country:

“There has been no electricity in my city for almost a month. Previously, it was on for four hours a day, then for two, and then for one to two hours every few days. The last time the electricity was on was Friday for two hours. There are no schedules: it can be turned on at three a.m. when everyone is asleep and you just miss it. Along with electricity, there is also no water and heating, although it’s winter outside. Since electricity is provided for one to two hours every few days, it is only at this time that the cellphone tower begins to send out a signal. The rest of the time there is no mobile connection or internet. We have been plunged into the nineteenth century and life has come to a grinding halt.”

Source: Sergey Abashin, Facebook, 13 December 2022. Photo, above, by the author. Translated by the Russian Reader

Question 5

Four and half years ago, I had to renew my Russian permanent residence permit. The procedure had changed considerably since the last time I’d applied for the permit. Among the changes were two written exams that applicants were now required to pass — a Russian language exam and a Russian civics exam. I decided to study for them by doing practice exams that I found online. One of the civics question was “Question 5,” screenshotted above. It’s a multiple choice question. The examinee must decide whether the “RF” (the Russian Federation) is a) a totalitarian state, b) an authoritarian state, c) a hybrid state, or d) a democratic state. To be honest, I no longer remember whether this particular question came up in the actual exam, which I passed with flying colors. But I thought that you, my readers, might find it productive to ponder this question while reading the following three items, ripped straight from this week’s headlines in the Russian media. At the end of this post, you’ll see what the “right” answer was (in 2018, at least) and the answer I tried to give when taking the online practice quiz. ||| TRR


The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation has identified 17 priority topics for state financial support of film production in 2023.

The procedure and conditions for selection competitions in 2023 will be announced at the end of December 2022.

“We publish a list of topics before the start of competitions for financing production, hoping that filmmakers will take into account the priorities of state support for film production when developing projects. The Ministry of Culture continues to support such important topics for society as the protection of family values, patriotic education, preservation of the traditions of Russia’s regions, the success of domestic science, and popularization of the professions of engineer and teacher. Given modern realities, we consider it necessary to focus as well on countering attempts to falsify history and modern manifestations of the ideology of Nazism, to talk about the heroism and dedication of Russian soldiers during the special operation and the work of front-line brigades and volunteers,” said Olga Lyubimova, Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation.

Some priority topics have been established pursuant to the Decrees of the President of the Russian Federation: “On the Approval of the Foundations of State Policy for the Preservation and Strengthening of Traditional Russian Spiritual and Moral Values,” dated 09.11.2022, No. 809; “On the Announcement of the Decade of Childhood in the Russian Federation,” dated 29.05.2017, No. 240; “On the Announcement of the Decade of Science and Technology in the Russian Federation,” dated 25.04.2022, No. 231; and “On Holding the Year of the Teacher and Mentor in the Russian Federation,” dated 27.06.2022, No. 401.

The list of priority topics includes:

1. Russia’s culture. The preservation, creation and dissemination of traditional values.

2. The decade of childhood. Families and children, their protection and support.

3. Russian science: innovations, technologies, priorities.

4. Historical cinema. History lessons, memory lessons. Countering attempts to falsify history. Russia’s peacekeeping mission of Russia. Russia’s historical victories. The eightieth anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The Soviet soldier’s mission of liberation Generational conflict, generational continuity.

5. Russia as a modern, stable and secure state that provides opportunities for growth and self-realization.

6. The heroes among us. Stories of modern Russia’s outstanding individuals. Popularizing the teaching profession. School and college as important stages in social adaptation and personal orientation. The role of teachers and mentors in shaping the individual.

7. Motivating young people to master manual trades and engineering jobs. Improving the social status of the manual worker and the engineer, of research and innovation.

8. Film chronicle. The current state, culture and traditions of Russia’s regions. Development of the Far East and the Arctic. The life of small towns and villages, life in the provinces. Little Russia as a historical region of Russia.

9. Adaptations of works of Russian classical literature, including with the use of animation.

10. Films about outstanding figures in history, culture, science and sports. Popularizing the medical profession. Films about sporting achievements and victories.

11. Countering modern manifestations of the ideology of Nazism and fascism. Popularizing heroism and the dedication of Russian soldiers during the special military operation.

12. Popularizing service in the Russian Armed Forces of Russia. Society’s unanimous support of the army (front-line brigades and volunteers). Strengthening the status of the military profession as based on historical events and recent history.

13. The spiritual, moral and patriotic education of Russian citizens. Countering extremism. Images and models of behavior and creative motivation for modern youth. Spiritual leaders. The volunteer movement in Russia and the CIS countries as an international popularization of volunteerism.

14. The neocolonial policy of the Anglo-Saxon world. The degradation of Europe. The formation of a multipolar world.

15. Society without borders: the self-realization of people with disabilities. Volunteering in Russia. Active longevity.

16. Films about teenagers. Formation of values in life and guidelines while growing up. Disorientation in public space, information overload, forming one’s own way of thinking.

17. Modern society. Moral and ethical choice. Civic engagement. Social unity.

Source: “The Ministry of Culture of Russia has identified priority topics for state support of film production in 2023,” Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, 30 November 2022. Thanks to Radio Svoboda for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader


At a secondary school in the Leningrad Region, the Agalatovo Education Center, students were quizzed about racism, Russophobia and the emotions provoked by songs about the Motherland. A photo of the questionnaire, entitled “Patriot and Citizen,” was sent to Rotunda by the parents of one of the schoolchildren. Here are some of statements the children had to evaluate by answering “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.”

🇷🇺 Those who criticize what is happening in the country cannot be considered real patriots.
🇷🇺 I owe a lot to my country.
🇷🇺 Sometimes I get very excited when I hear songs about my Motherland.
🇷🇺 We are a strong military power, and that is why we should be respected.
🇷🇺 If I go abroad, I will try not to be seen as Russian.
🇷🇺 I am ready to defend my Motherland in case of serious danger.
🇷🇺 Most of the crimes in our city (village) are committed by outsiders and immigrants.

🇷🇺 Our athletes are often judged unfairly at international competitions, because no one likes Russians.
🇷🇺 If we take into account all the pros and cons, the storage of foreign nuclear waste in Russia brings more financial benefits than it does environmental harm.
🇷🇺 There are nations and peoples who do not deserve to be treated well.
🇷🇺 Vandalism is one of the forms of youth protest.
🇷🇺 It is unfair to put people with dark skin in charge of white people.
🇷🇺 There can be only one true religion.

🤦 The school confirmed to Rotunda that they had conducted such a survey. They agreed to communicate with us only by mail. In a written response signed by the vice principal, they claimed that the questionnaire was needed “as background for a faculty meeting.” The school did not answer questions about how correctly or adequately the questionnaire was worded. Rotunda was unable to contact the school’s principal, Svetlana Sergiyenko. She is a supporter of the United Russia party and has run for election several times on the party’s ticket.

📌 The questionnaire itself seems to have been found by the educators on the internet. In 2014, Belarusian media reported that a similar survey (only with Belarus instead of Russia) was conducted in schools in Minsk.

Source: “Schoolchildren in Leningrad region surveyed on whether they’re ashamed to be Russian,” Rotunda (Telegram), 28 November 2022. Thanks to Leda Garina for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


There is a belief that the Russian elite under President Vladimir Putin has only ever been interested in money. Yet Putin’s militant, anti-liberal, anti-Western, isolationist, paternalistic, and harshly authoritarian regime has always had an ideology.

This ideology is not systematized, but it does exist, and snippets of it can be found throughout Putin’s speeches, articles, and interviews. Now the war in Ukraine has necessitated a more articulated ideology, however.

The initiative to systematize and codify Putinism has led to a presidential decree listing Russia’s “traditional spiritual and moral values,” as well as the development of a new ideological curriculum for colleges.

It is no longer enough to indoctrinate children in kindergartens and schools. It is now time to unify the worldviews of college students, and, by extension, those of their professors, whose ranks will inevitably be purged. A similar course taught during the Soviet era was known as “Scientific Communism.”

The name for this new curriculum is “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood,” though it might as well be called “Scientific Putinism.” It is composed of four units: “History” – historical policy as the imposition of a mythologized official version of history, which is one of the instruments for manipulating the mass consciousness of Russians; “Cultural Codes” or the “traditional spiritual and moral values,” around which Putin has ordered federal and regional governments to unify; “Russia and the World” — a justification of isolationism, anti-Westernism, and jingoism; and “Vision for the Future,” which sets out what the state hopes to achieve beyond victory in Ukraine and the destruction of the “fifth column.”

The curriculum justifies the cult of the eternal leader and doubles down on the idea that Russia is fighting the forces of evil in Ukraine in an effort to “de-satanize” the country. However, at the same time, Scientific Putinism lacks key components such as development goals or a vision for Russia’s future, focusing as it does almost exclusively on the past.

During Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency, there were teams working on a future-oriented ideology and making road maps based on the idea that Russia would fast-track the modernization of the state and society. Putin’s ideology, however, is one that fundamentally opposes modernization.

Putin has successfully convinced a significant portion of the population that Russia must regain its status as a great power, and that Russia is under attack by both the liberal West and traitors at home. As the regime has grown more authoritarian, its ideology has also become more archaic, its propaganda more obtrusive, and any hopes of modernization have dwindled. 

An ideology that consists of historical, cultural, and religious myths, bogus traditions, and resentment seeks to legitimize an authoritarian regime and delegitimize those who oppose it.

Such an ideology makes it possible to label nonconformists as enemies, and to divide people into “us” and “them.” The division into “us” and “them” doesn’t just provide a marker for self-identification, it also serves to convince the public that there is a certain majority from which they should not stray.

In the past, the only requirement for being part of the “us” was passive, silent, conformist support. Today, however, this is not enough: Russians must surrender their very bodies to be cannon fodder in the supreme leader’s holy war against the “satanic” forces of the West. This is no longer authoritarianism; it is totalitarianism.

Imperialism and colonialism are key components of Putinism and key factors in the war. There is nothing new about this ideology; it comes almost verbatim from Stalinism and from earlier Eurasian and Slavophile narratives.

The war is being passed off as striving to restore historical fairness, as defensive and preventive, and as liberation. According to Putin, the land of the empire must be “returned and reinforced.”

In just a few years, the regime has evolved from a cult of the victory of 1945 to a cult of war itself, and Putin has managed to persuade a large segment of Russian society that the “special military operation” of 2022 is a natural continuation of World War II. In essence, it is an existential war between Russian and Western civilizations.

Putin has started to refer to Russia as an entire civilization. The state is not just sacred and worthy of the ultimate sacrifice; it is also a separate and superior civilization with a “thousand-year history” and its own special path.

Within this history, cultural codes are being passed down from generation to generation as part of the country’s political DNA. This state-civilization has its own pantheon of heroes unchanged from the Soviet era: Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Joseph Stalin, and Yuri Gagarin.

This state-civilization has always been under attack by enviers and foes, making its state of permanent conflict critical, and not simply limited to the battlefield. The state must win in all aspects — in culture and in sports, in the construction of Olympic facilities, and in the war against Ukraine and the West.  

To defend the sovereignty of this state-civilization, the Kremlin is counting on the security services, or siloviki, who have been given additional funding and are reinforced by spin doctors and so-called “journalists” in the Kremlin’s service.

The Culture Ministry, the communications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Orthodox Church are becoming de facto siloviki themselves, enjoying as they do the right to block or ban media, restrict the sales of books by authors who oppose the war, and decide who can perform on theater stages.

The ideology has become corporeal, bolstered by political and military acts, such as the annexation of Crimea and the “special military operation.” In short, the special ideological operation is ongoing, and it seems to be faring rather better than the military one. 

This article was originally published by the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace.

Source: Andrei Kolesnikov, “Scientific Putinism: Shaping Official Ideology in Russia,” Moscow Times, 27 November 2022. Thanks to Mark Teeter for the heads-up.


Back in the summer of 2018 I tried to answer Question 5 truthfully, replying that the Russian Federation was an “authoritarian state.” But the right answer, then, was “democratic state,” as it turned out. Again, I don’t remember now whether this question on the actual civics exam that I took, but there were several other “ideological” questions like it, which I would have answered “incorrectly,” thus jeopardizing my chances to get a residence permit, if I hadn’t been schooled in advance by the practice quizzes I’d found online. ||| TRR

“Prophecies about Ukraine”

The books on display, from left to right, are: I.A. Ivanova, “Yevgenia Negina: A Novel in Verse”; Klementina Bove, “Is That Really the Same Tatiana? (A Novel)”; A.S. Pushkin, “Yevgeny Onegin: A Graphic Guide”; I.V. Stalin, “Prophecies about Ukraine”

A textbook and resource guide store for school teachers, Lomonosov Street, Petersburg, today.

Source: Marina Varchenko, Facebook, 21 October 2022. Remarking on this post, “Marina Marina” wrote: “I got into a fight with a history teacher from Russia in the comments [to another social media post]. She doesn’t see any historical parallels at all. And she says that it was the Americans who made up the history of Ukraine. And that what she teaches there at home is the only truth in the world.” Translated by the Russian Reader

KVN Trix

“Do we need, do we need to keep studying? Maybe we should go straight to prison after university?”

The KVN Trix team from St. Petersburg, which consists of female journalism students, sang about “foreign agents” and the prison sentence of journalist Ivan Safronov.

INDEED!!!

Source: Irod Uralskii (“Herod of the Urals” or “Monster of the Urals”), Telegram, 19 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


KVN Trix

“Maybe we should go straight to prison after university?”: a team of journalism students sang a song about “foreign agents” at a KVN competition

In the quarterfinals of the Baltika KVN League, members of the Petersburg university student team Trix sang a song about the plight of Russian journalism, listing the names of the media outlets and journalists labeled “foreign agents,” to the tune of Alla Pugacheva’s song “Nado zhe” (“Well, I Never”).

During the performance, three members of the team took the stage. The team’s captain, Anastasia Kostina, listed the names of “foreign agents” and asked in the song, “Do we need, do we need, do we need to keep studying? Maybe we should go straight to prison after university?” As she sang these lines, a young man in a police uniform ran onto the stage, twisted the soloist’s hands behind her back, and escorted her backstage.

Kostina said that the jury took the joke warmly and that there had been no censorship prior to the performance. “There was no internal censorship. Thanks to the editors for that — they allowed this song. The jury warmly welcomed such humor. They gave a critique at the end of the contest: they said it was bold, satirical, and so topical that it’s a sin to condemn us for it.”

The young woman was also asked what she thinks about continuing her studies in journalism school. “Indeed, I’m having a crisis right now, because I don’t understand whether to put more emphasis on my studies and the profession, or go into humor. But for now I continue to study, because who knows what will come in handy in life,” Anastasia replied.

Source: Mel (“Chalk”) Magazine: On Raising and Educating Children, Facebook, 19 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


KVN (Russian: КВН, an abbreviation of Клуб весёлых и находчивых, Klub Vesyólykh i Nakhódchivykh or Ka-Ve-En, “Club of the Funny and Inventive”) is a Russian (and formerly Soviet) humour TV show and an international competition where teams (usually composed of college students) compete by giving funny answers to questions and showing prepared sketches. The Club originated in the Soviet Union, building on the popularity of an earlier program, An Evening of Funny Questions (Russian: Вечер весёлых вопросов, romanized: Vecher vesyolykh voprosov); the television programme first aired on the First Soviet Channel on November 8, 1961. Eleven years later, in 1972, when few programmes were being broadcast live, Soviet censors, finding the students’ impromptu jokes offensive and anti-Soviet, banned KVN. The show was revived fourteen years later during the perestroika era in 1986, with Alexander Maslyakov as its host. It is one of the longest-running TV programmes on Russian television. It has its own holiday on November 8, the birthday of the game — celebrated by KVN players every year since it was announced and widely celebrated for the first time in 2001.

Source: “KVN,” Wikipedia

Fairy with a Velvet Core

Maria Butina, a “State Duma deputy” and a “fairy with a velvet core,” is featured on the cover of the September 2022 issue of Semya (“Family”) magazine, wearing an outfit designed by the Russian women’s clothing brand Feminelli [sic] and produced in Kirov. Thanks to Sergei Medvedev for the heads-up.


Maria Butina, a Duma deputy who early gained notoriety as a pro-gun Russian operative in the United States, says that Russia schools should teach young people how to “profile” enemies of the state and then turn them in before they can do any further damage to their country.

Such “civic vigilance,” she says, can be taught and must not be confused with snitching about what someone says or does. Instead, it is about examining people at a glance and recognizing them as enemies (mk.ru/social/2022/09/07/mariya-butina-pedlozhila-vvesti-v-shkolakh-uroki-profaylinga-dlya-vychisleniya-vragov.html).

In reporting this, Anna Belova of Moskovsky komsomolets says that it is far from clear how children will be taught to do something that even professionals struggle with but that one thing is clear: it will only elevate the level of suspiciousness among Russians toward anyone who is different from the majority in any way, ethnically, religiously or behaviorally.

And that of course is precisely what Butina seems committed to doing. 

Source: Paul Goble, “Russian Schools Must Teach Youngsters How to ‘Profile’ Enemies of the State, Butina Says,” Window on Eurasia — New Series, 15 September 2022

Day of Knowledge: “It’s Not Scary to Die for the Motherland”

In twenty regions of Russia, a school pupil’s start-of-the-year supplies costs more than the average monthly per person income.
This schematic map of the country show how much of the average per capita income has to be spent to ready a pupil for the school year.
Source: Unified Interagency Statistical Information System (EMISS), Russian Federal Statistics Service (Rosstat); calculations by iStories

About one hundred thousand Russians have signed a petition to the president demanding that they be paid 10 thousand rubles [approx. 163 euros] for children’s school expenses as was the case in 2021.

But instead of Russian families, this year parents of schoolchildren from the parts of Ukraine occupied by the Russian army will receive 10 thousand rubles each, while Russian citizens are being expressly told to go to war so that they can afford to send their child to school.

We calculated how much it would cost to send off a pupil to school in Russia’s regions, and we talked with the parents of schoolchildren.

What we learned:

In twenty regions of Russia, buying everything needed for school costs more than the average per capita income for a whole month. For example, in Tyva, one family member has an average income of 15.5 thousand rubles [approx. 253 euros] per month.

This money is usually spent on the bare necessities: food, clothing, medical treatment, transport and other needs. A schoolchild’s kit in Tyva costs almost 24 thousand rubles [approx. 393 euros] — money that parents don’t know where to get. In another fourteen regions, more than ninety percent of income will be spent on school-related expenses.

Parents told iStories that many goods, especially clothes and notebooks, have risen in price twofold or more. And yet, wages have not increased, and some parents have lost their jobs altogether due to sanctions.

Many parents have had to take out loans for everyday needs (this is corroborated by the data: before the start of the school year, the number of applications for consumer loans increased by 20%) and scrimp on vacations.

Prices have increased by thirty percent, but I have no salary, so I’ve felt the difference enormously. The option that I found this year is credit cards. And we scrimped on vacation, of course. It has become quite expensive to take the children somewhere and liven up their leisure time. Whereas earlier I could afford to spend the weekend with my children somewhere in a holiday home in the Moscow Region, now we choose places without an overnight stay, and we take food along with us.

[…]

You take shoes for physical education, light sneakers. The kids hang out in them all day [anyway], so you save money on school shoes.

[…]

I tried to tell [the children] that war is always a very bad thing, that you should aways try to negotiate.

Natalia, Moscow, who is raising a son and a daughter, both in school

On average, I spent around 35-40 thousand rubles [approx. 660 euros] on everything. Clothes have become much more expensive compared to last year, and the quality has become worse. […] I am now on maternity leave, raising the girls alone. I get alimony. We have spent all the new allowances for children between 8 to 17 years old on school expenses. […] I think we will cope with it all. Everything will end and be fine — [the war] will not affect us in any way. I think that everything is being done here [in Russia] so that we do not feel the effect of special military actions.

Elena, Novgorod Region, who is raising two school-age daughters

In which regions of the country does a schoolchild’s kit cost more than the average per capita monthly income?

Could the Russian state afford to cover the expenses for all 15 million Russian schoolchildren?

Source: iStories, email newsletter, 29 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Igor Stomakhin, from the series When we leave the schoolyard… Moscow, 1980s

My street exhibition will open on the fence of Danilovskaya Alley on September 4 at 1 p.m. as part of the project #SundayKhokhlovskyStandoffs. Photos from my Moscow cycle of the 1980s–1990s will be presented. At 2 p.m., I will give a tour of the show beginning with an account of the capital in that vivid period when Soviet stagnation was replaced by Gorbachev’s perestroika. The defenders of Ivanovo Hill will treat guests to tea from a samovar, so you can bring sweets to share. Address: Kolpachny Lane, between house no. 7 and house no. 9.

Source: Igor Stomakhin, Facebook, 1 September 2022. Click the link to see a dozen more photos from Mr. Stomakhin’s poignant perestroika-era Moscow school series. Translated by the Russian Reader


“It’s not scary to die for the Motherland.”
“Conversations about what matters” — mandatory lessons on love for the Motherland — have been introduced in Russian schools. During these lessons the war in Ukraine will be discussed.
The lessons will be held every Monday before first period after the raising of the flag and the national anthem.
The first “conversation about what matters” will take place on September 5.
Pupils in the first and second grades will be told about nature in Russia. Pupils in the third and fourth grades will be told about how it is necessary to defend the Motherland. The teaching manuals cite proverbs that can be used to explain this to children: “It’s not scary to die for the Motherland,” “Loving the Motherland means serving the Motherland,” and “The happiness of the Motherland is more precious than life.”
On September 12, pupils in grades 5–11 will be told about the war in Ukraine. “We also see manifestations of patriotism nowadays, especially in the special military operation,” it says in the course packet.
And to pupils in the tenth and eleventh grades, the instructors, as they conclude the conversation about the “special operation,” should say the following parting words: “You cannot become a patriot if you only spout slogans. Truly patriotic people are ready to defend their Motherland under arms.”
Attending the “conversations” is presented as mandatory. If pupils skip them, instructors are advised to have a talk with their parents. If talking to them doesn’t do the trick, instructors are advised to cite the law, which states that the school curriculum consists of lessons and extracurricular activities.
By law, pupils may skip extracurricular activities at the request of their parents. Teachers are afraid, however, that in the case of the “conversations about what matter” school administrators will be keeping a close eye on attendance.
“We find ourselves in a reality in which you have to keep your own opinion to yourself to avoid losing your job, at best, or ending up behind bars, at worst,” says a teacher in one Moscow school. “There are those [teachers] who actively support state policy. If a teacher diverges from the subject matter of the ‘conversations,’ he might find himself in a dangerous situation.”

Source: Current Time TV (Radio Svoboda), Instagram, 1 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Continue reading “Day of Knowledge: “It’s Not Scary to Die for the Motherland””

Victor in Broad Daylight

Victor in broad daylight.

My roommate Victor is a completely unique person. He is sixty-seven years old and an absolute image of our Soviet life from the 1970s to the 2010s, with all the paradoxes peculiar to the time. He is a fervent [Russian Orthodox] believer and yet he believes everything said on the radio about the atrocities committed the Ukrainian army. On the other hand, he is perplexed how military operations were launched without consultations. Victor worked as a driver, but also played music in bands. He knows all the western groups of the 70s and all the stars in both the West and Russia. He has seen every Soviet film and remembers all the scenes, all the actors, all the songs. A lot of happy memories are consolidated in him, as well as a lot of regrets about the past. Basically, he’s a typical chip off the old Soviet block. In him you have the songs, you have Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones and Alla Pugacheva and Eldar Ryazanov and [Leonid] Gaidai and Muslim Magomayev and everyone else, down to the last detail. You might say that he and I are living in the USSR from Khrushchev to Putin. It’s funny, but interesting. It’s Russia.

Source: Anatoly Zaslavsky, Facebook, 5 August 2022. Mr. Zaslavsky is a well-known Petersburg painter currently undergoing treatment at the city’s Botkin Hospital. Victor is his roommate at the hospital and has already featured in earlier social media dispatches. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

The folding seats clapped,
The October’s curtains came down.
The rider finally galloped
Off toward the radiant dawn,

Faded show bills on the wall,
Blue ticket stubs on the floor.
Dusk on Nevsky had almost fallen
As we came out on the corner.

The jeans were Polish, the beret a sham.
Wow, we had enough for Kagor.
We had to live. Return bottles and pass exams.
To live and live till we got to here.

5 August 22

Source: Vadim Zhuk, Facebook, 5 August 2022. Mr. Zhuk is is a well-known Russian actor, screenwriter, TV presenter, and poet, whose poem “A Skeleton in the Closet” was published here last month. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

On March 18, Irina Gen, a teacher of English in Penza, made an anti-war speech to her eighth-graders while explaining why they would not be able to travel to competitions in the Czech Republic. She told them about the shelling of the maternity hospital in Mariupol and the downed Boeing. One of the pupils recorded the teacher’s speech on a dictaphone and sent the recording to the security forces. A criminal case was opened against Gen ten days later. Today she was sentenced to five years of probation with a ban on teaching for three years. She had [originally] pleaded not guilty.

Source: Dmitry Tkachev, Facebook, 4 August 2022. Mr. Tkachev cites, in the comments, this article about Ms. Gen’s case, published in Mediazona the same day. Translated by the Russian Reader

Life Under Fascism

What is life like for us under fascism? It’s fine. I eat, sleep, work, play computer games and football, and get laid.

Repairs have begun on the roofs of the Soviet high-rise buildings on my work beat. The contractor drags powerful electric roofing kettles onto the roof, hacks away the old tar, melts it down, and immediately pours it back onto the roof. The kettles are powerful—advanced technology that works quickly and efficiently.

The kettles are also five years old. They are left right on the roofs over the winter, and so they are rotted and burned out. The molten tar splashes onto the cables, and everything in the vicinity burns and smokes. It is no exaggeration to say that you can smell the stench two blocks away. It is unlikely that there is anything healthy in the fumes generated by the molten tar. It is Uzbeks who work on the roofs: their bosses persist in calling them jigits. They work without safeguards or personal protective equipment. On the first day, they asked their bosses for water. Their bosses told them to get it themselves—”otherwise, next time they’ll be asking for broads in bikinis.”

Yesterday the cops nabbed them. The cops told them, “Your registration isn’t in our database. So, you either spend a couple days in jail until we figure it out, or you each cough up 5,000 rubles now.” [At the current—official—exchange rate, 5,000 rubles is approximately 88 euros.]

Do you think there is a database somewhere that says that you are just a human being?

Their electrician is from Bashkiria, a skinny kid in glasses with a typical whistling accent. He graduated from an architectural college back home, came to Petersburg, and worked on a low-voltage network for a couple of months, but now has been hired as an electrician servicing the three-phase fifty-kilowatt kettles. On the first day, he regarded the whole setup with mortal dismay. In his bag he has a set of screwdrivers and a crimper for patch cords. Now he dives into the overheated equipment, changes the burnt-out heating elements, and splices the burnt, beaten cables. Then he unsuccessfully tries for hours to wash off the oil stench.

“Who will pay for your disability?” I ask him.

“They can’t pay us overtime.”

He put up with this as long as he could before breaking down and going on a drinking binge. He squandered all his money, arriving back at work with a black eye and his left cheek puffed up like a pillow. His glasses were still intact, however. He asked me to lend him money for beer.

“How much do they pay you?” I ask.

“They promise mountains of gold.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“It’s daily work. 2,500 rubles a day.”

The word he was looking for in Russia was “daywork” [podënnaia], not “daily work” [podnevnaia]. There is such a thing as “daywork” and “dayworkers.” Who make sixteen dollars a day if you calculate their pay in terms of the actual exchange rate.

How much does the Russian lad Vitya, who made the remark about the “broads in bikinis,” make? How much does their supervisor, a handsome, businesslike, quick-thinking middle-aged man with shifty eyes, make?

What will they buy for themselves by pinching the money budgeted for roof repairs? A car? A tiled path for their dacha? When they walk on this path, will they think about the people whose health has been permanently scarred by tar on hot roofs? I doubt it.

Fascist brutality springs from this everyday, workaday brutality. Indifference to people as individuals grows from this virtually legalized slavery.

Source: George Losev, Facebook, 28 June 2022. Mr. Losev works as an on-duty electrician for the housing authority in Petersburg. He points out that the roofing tar kettles he describes are nothing like the one in the video I inserted, above. They are much larger and electric-powered. This is not to mention that “Alfredo the kettle man” (in the video) is wearing protective equipment, unlike the Uzbek workers in Mr. Losev’s story. Translated by the Russian Reader


I was asked to show how to make a “syllable tram.”

I scanned the roadway (see the links, below). The drawings were quite hastily done, right before class. (

The strip should be glued with adhesive tape on the reverse side. (Leave a millimeter between the sections so that it is easier to fold and store.) The tram, which is approximately 290 mm wide (nearly the same width as an A4 sheet of paper) and 85 mm high, is fitted onto the strip. One window in the tram is cut out, and a transparent sleeve is pasted on the other, into which a consonant is inserted.

The strip needs to be fastened with something. (I fastened it to the table with tape.)

The tram travels from right to left. When it reaches a marked stop, a vowel appears in the cut-out window. When you make the tram, test it and draw the letters on the strip so that they appear in the exact same place as the empty spot.

The roadway:

https://disk.yandex.ru/i/dGXik7Z3Nmwpgg (Yandex Disk)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/13k0cDuhXD-hAzytGpGYgpsZEdR9jmsVd/view (Google Drive)

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 28 June 2022. Ms. Vvedenskaya teaches Russian to immigrant children at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. Most of these children are originally from Central Asia, like the workers in Mr. Losev’s story. The first image, above, is a screenshot of a short video that Ms. Vvedenskaya included in her original post, showing her pupils playing with her “syllable tram.” Translated by the Russian Reader