What Johnny Depp Reads (and Recommends You Read)

“Johnny Depp’s choice. You’re probably curious what kinds of books the Hollywood star reads. We’ll tell you in order, taking Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl off the table.”

This is a screenshot of an email I received yesterday from LitRes, Russia’s top ebook distributor and seller. Aside from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey (visible here), Johnny Depp’s alleged “choice” of books, available for purchase on LitRes, includes Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel, and Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This is the second time since Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine began that LitRes has celebrated the alleged literary tastes of a violent Hollywood bully. In April, two weeks after Will Smith’s assault on comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars, LitRes treated its customers (including me: I’ve purchased 109 otherwise inaccessible Russian books from them over the last several years, my account profile tells me) to “Will Smith’s choice.”

It occurred to me at the time, sadly, that if it had not been for the war, Russia’s chattering classes, including many of the currently exiled “anti-war” liberals, would have happily spent the week following Smith’s violent outburst discussing, just as, before the war, they had been keen to discuss almost anything in the world (especially if it concerned the United States and “the West”) except the dismal political and social circumstances at home in the Motherland. In the recent past, for example, the Russian chatterati chewed over the January 6 coup attempt and the reaction to George Floyd’s murder with supreme relish and satisfaction, often coming to conclusions, however, that would make an observer like me wonder how “liberal” the “liberal” opposition to Putin really was. For example, an acquaintance of mine from Petersburg, a well-known grassroots human rights activist, was so convinced that the anti-police demonstrations in the US were, essentially, little better than the anti-semitic pogroms her ancestors had endured in the early twentieth century that she “unfriended” me for arguing that they were nothing of the sort.

Similarly, one of Russia’s leading opposition political scientists and sociologists, Greg Yudin, who has now risen to some prominence for his courageous public anti-war statements and actions, wrote a longish comment on Facebook on January 7, 2020, that includes the following hilarious assessment of the previous day’s events in Washington:

Nothing terrible happened in Washington. Basically, the protest was peaceful and calm – people entered the building of their own parliament, took selfies, sat in chairs, and dispersed. Capitol Hill will not collapse because men with dogs and ladies in down jackets strolled around it. The people who, apparently, broke windows, sprayed pepper spray, and called for storming television stations, should be investigated. Otherwise, the congressmen had a little scare and had to stay in session until four in the morning. It’s okay, they’ll live through it.

Michelle Goldberg argued in the New York Times yesterday that Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against Amber Heard and his legal team’s demolition of her character in the courtroom and online is emblematic of “a #MeToo backlash,” and part of “a broader misogynist frenzy at work, one characteristic of the deeply reactionary moment we’re living through.”


In Russia, the “misogynist frenzy” has deepened with every year that the Putin regime has remained in power (even to the point of decriminalizing domestic violence), and would-be opposition “liberals” have been involved in this backlash as well. You’d never know it nowadays (and, seemingly, there is no one who would dare to remember it anymore) but the Riga-based Russian liberal news website Meduza ended up on the wrong side of decency in 2018 when its editor-in-chief was accused of sexual harassment. What this otherwise comprehensive article on the scandal by BuzzFeed doesn’t tell you, for obvious reasons, is that the Ivan Kolpakov resigned from the top post at Meduza only to be quietly reappointed to it a short time later, after the dust had settled. He’s still in that post today, and is now an internationally celebrated champion of press freedom, whose website is hard up for cash.

(Excuse me my bitterness at Meduza, but they can never been forgive for this crime against basic solidarity and sound journalism, which has demonstrably led to more suffering for young men convicted of a crime that they didn’t commit and which, even more insanely, no one committed.)

I haven’t seen any discussion yet of Depp v. Heard on liberal Russian social media, but it is being covered in a predictably misogynist way by Russia’s online tabloids, as a quick Google search for the words “Johnny Depp trial” suggests:

Two of these “top stories” have salacious headlines claiming that “Johnny Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez gets Amber Heard to come clean.”

It’s no wonder, then, that LitRes imagines that its customers will be delighted to show their solidarity with an “unjustly” accused, violently misogynistic bully, who also happens to a big Hollywood star whose movies they have enjoyed for years, thus making him “svoi” (“one of their own”), just like, paradoxically (given the prevalence of anti-Black racism in Russia), Will Smith. Nor is it any wonder that this celebration of anti-wokeness happens right as the big bad West (the anti-Johnny Depp and anti-Will Smith West) attempts to “cancel” Russia for its violent, unprovoked attack on its “weaker” neighbor.

As Dmitry Volchek argued yesterday in this feuilleton on Radio Svoboda, the threat of “cancellation” animates Russia’s “anti-war” liberals and lefty creatives much more than the silly war itself, much less the war’s victims in Ukraine. |||| TRR

Petersburg Artist Yelena Osipova Assaulted on Way to Victory Day Protest

Yelena Osipova in “happier” times

Unknown assailants attacked 76-year-old artist Yelena Osipova in Petersburg. They snatched anti-war placards from her hands

Two young men attacked the Petersburg artist and protest fixture Yelena Osipova right at her front door. At about three o’clock, she left the house, carrying two anti-war placards, to go picket on Nevsky Prospekt, videographer Nikita Adishchev told Rotunda. (He happened to be nearby because he was shooting a documentary about Osipova.) The young men were waiting for her at the exit from her building. According to Adishchev, they snatched the placards from the artist and ran away.

Ms. Osipova is not the only Petersburg woman who was prevented from holding an anti-war protest on Victory Day. A few days before May 9, police detained three activists from the Vesna Movement on criminal charges for calling on Russians to go to Immortal Regiment marches and voice pacifist slogans. Several more activists — including feminists from the Eve’s Ribs project — were detained on suspicion that they had been involved in telephone calls falsely reporting that bombs had been planted in buildings. But even pro-government media admitted that the criminal investigation into telephone terrorism was only a pretext. In fact, as some publications reported with reference to sources in law enforcement agencies, their field agents “had thwarted plans to organize provocative protest actions on May 9.”

Source: Rotunda, 9 May 2022. Thanks to Imaginary Island for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda. Translated by the Russian Reader

Police Target Feminist Activists in Kazan

The homes of FemKyzlar activists Dina Nurm, Taisiya Albarinho and Aigul Akhmetova were searched by Kazan police as part of an investigation into “calls for mass riots.” Searches in the same criminal case, launched on March 14, took place earlier at the homes of members of the Yabloko party, a Kazan Federal University lecturer, university students and activists. Idel.Realii talked with one of the founders of FemKyzlar, Dina Nurm, about how and why the police homed in on them.

FemKyzlar is a community for the protection of women’s rights in Tatarstan, established in 2019. Its activists are involved in educational outreach. They hold public lectures, advise women on legal issues, and help victims of domestic violence.

Dina Nurm

On March 14, the Major Case Squad of the Russian Investigative Committee’s Tatarstan Bureau opened a criminal investigation into the “inciting of mass riots” (per Article 212.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) over a post in the Telegram chat Protest Chat: Kazan. According to investigators, “on 3 March 2022, an unidentified person, located in Kazan, published a message in the Telegram messenger in an open chat while discussing the upcoming unsanctioned ‘No War’ protest rally in Kazan” in which he offered to “buy megaphones,” a mixture prohibited for distribution [sic], and batons, “that is, [he called] for armed resistance to the authorities.”

— How did the searches go? What were the police interested in?

— They came to see Taisiya and Aigul on April 27, and they came to my apartment on Saturday the 30th. We just hadn’t been at home before then: a friend had asked us to look after her cats while she was away. In the morning, around 9:30, there was an insistent knock on the door. There were two plainclothes policemen outside the door and our neighbors were present as witnesses [as required by Russian law during a police search]. They were interested in our office equipment, and we immediately gave them everything they asked for. I was interrogated as a witness in the case (as written on my interrogation report). I told the truth — that I had seen the message with calls to buy incendiary mixtures only in the press. I am not a member of the chat, and I do not know who wrote the message. The police were at our place for about two hours. An “expert” arrived, inventoried the equipment, and packed it into an opaque bag. We signed warnings that protest actions had to be authorized.

On the morning of May 2, my girlfriend Nastya, who was present during the search, was summoned by Center “E” [the “anti-extremism” police]. They said she also had to be questioned since she lives with me. Indeed, she was questioned as part of the same investigation. They also asked her about the work of FemKyzlar and what was wrong with women’s rights, why they had to be protected. Nastya told them about how she advises women on custody and alimony issues.

— Why do you think the police came to your house if you have nothing to do with Protest Kazan? Have you ever had problems with the police before?

— I think they came to our apartments as part of such a precautionary campaign. Just like they visited many other Kazan activists, just to say, “In case you were wondering, we know about you, we monitor your work and understand that you could organize some kind of protest action, so we ask you not to to do it.”

— How have these searches impacted your lives and FemKyzlar’s work?

— The fact that they confiscated our equipment makes it difficult to work. I am a designer, I need certain capacities. Taisiya is a singer, and all her arrangements are now gathering dust at the Investigative Committee. Of course, it slows down the maintenance of FemKyzlar’s social media pages. It has involved a lot of extra logistics. Friends have been lending their equipment, which needs to be brought to Kazan from other cities. You have to ask loads of people to help, and you have to warn them that their equipment can sink into oblivion. We have been fundraising to get back on our feet, but our subscribers are mostly poor women. We are very grateful for their help, but they could have spent this money on themselves if this situation had not happened. Women are already an economically vulnerable group, and now both we and our subscribers are incurring unnecessary expenses. As for my psychological state, there is paranoia, the feeling that I am guilty of something, although I understand perfectly well that I am not doing anything illegal. I just want to improve women’s lives.

— What are you plans for the future?

— FemKyzlar continues to do what we’d been doing.

Source: Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 4 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Case of Sasha Skochilenko

The case of Sasha Skochilenko is a striking example of the absurdity of today’s Russia. She faces ten years in prison for her anti-war protest at a supermarket.

Bumaga has discovered that Sasha’s protest was reported to the police by an elderly woman. The security services organized a special operation to capture Skochilenko. Today the young woman is in a pretrial detention center. She will remain there for a month and a half even though she has serious health problems.

Read the story of Sasha Skochilenko, an artist and musician from Petersburg, a former Bumaga staffer, and a person with a conscience.

Sasha Skochilenko. Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

The security services mounted a special operation to capture Sasha Skochilenko. An elderly woman informed on her.

On the evening of March 31, anti-war messages were inserted into the shelf slots for price tags in the Perekrestok supermarket on the second floor of the Skipersky Mall on Vasilievsky Island.

According to two of Bumaga’s sources who are close to the investigation, the protest attracted the attention of a 75-year-old retired female shopper. According to one source, the woman went to the prosecutor’s office “to seek justice.” The second source says that she immediately went to the police.

Bumaga has learned that for over ten days, law enforcement officers, allegedly, interrogated Perekrestok employees and viewed security camera footage to determine who had replaced the price tags with the anti-war messages and where this person had gone after leaving the store.

On Monday morning, April 11, law enforcement officers conducted a special operation. They went to the apartment of the alleged suspect. His home is 900 meters away from Perekrestok. What exactly happened in the apartment is unknown. The man living there turned out to be a friend of 31-year-old Sasha Skochilenko.

That morning Sasha received a message from this friend saying that they were “looking for a body” in his apartment and asking her to come over. When she was already on her way, the friend texted her that “everything was okay.” Skochilenko’s friends believe that the security forces could have texted Sasha from her friend’s phone.

When Skochilenko arrived at the apartment, she was detained. It was around 11 a.m. Bumaga learned about her arrest at about 2 p.m. There was no news from Sasha for more than four hours, and law enforcement officials would not comment on the situation to Bumaga.

Later, Dmitry Gerasimov, Skochilenko’s lawyer, who is affiliated with the Net Freedoms Project, found out that Sasha’s apartment was being searched in her presence. She was then taken for questioning and kept in police custody until 12:30 a.m.

That same evening, Gerasimov told Bumaga that Sasha was the subject of a criminal investigation into disseminating “fake news about the Russian army” over the anti-war stickers with which she had switched the price tags at Perekrestok. According to investigators, the young woman had “publicly disseminated knowingly false information about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

Skochilenko was charged under the second part of Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 207.3, which means that she faces up to ten years in prison. Investigators argue that she was “motivated by political hatred” when she distributed the flyers.

How the information on the anti-war flyers could be “knowingly false” and how Skochilenko came to be “motivated by political hatred” is not mentioned in the documents provided by the investigation.

The criminal case could have been opened due to a mention of those killed in Mariupol. But the contents of the stickers are unknown.

Sasha had been actively speaking out against the war in Ukraine since its very beginning. Along with the same friend whose apartment law enforcement officers raided, she had performed at intimate “Peace Jams” and also produced pacifist postcards. For this reason, the young woman’s acquaintances thought that she could have been charged with violating the recently popular article in the administrative offenses code for “discrediting” the Russian army. But that was not what happened.

Gerasimov tried to explain to Bumaga the rationale behind the investigation.

“[An administrative charge was not filed in Skochilenko’s case], because in those price tags [for which administrative proceedings had initiated] there were only statements against the war itself, while in Sasha’s case there was information about the alleged actions of the Russian Armed Forces,” he said.

At the same time, the part of the case file that the lawyer has reviewed does not mention the specific flyers for which Sasha was charged.

The Net Freedoms Project wrote that her case file contains price tags with information about the shelling of the theater in Mariupol and the deaths of civilians. Gerasimov told Bumaga that he could neither confirm nor deny this information, since “Sasha does not remember now what the price tags were and what was written on them.”

Earlier, Sasha had drawn anti-war stickers with such messages as “Don’t be discouraged, we’ll live in peacetime one day!” and “Human life has no price.”

“There are still so many people who do not know (do not remember?) what a miracle human life is, how beautiful and precious it is, and that violence is not the solution to problems,” Sasha said in explanation of her stance.

A sampling of Sasha Skochilenko’s handmade anti-war stickers. Photo courtesy of Bumaga

Currently, Sasha’s defense is based on her admission that she did plant anti-war flyers with information about Russia’s use of military force in Ukraine and its consequences in the store. But the young woman does not think that the information in the flyers was “false,” as the criminal code article that she was charged with stipulates, her lawyer said to Bumaga.

The judge sent Sasha Skochilenko to a pretrial detention center. She has celiac disease (gluten intolerance).   

Sasha Skochilenko spent the night of April 12 in a temporary detention facility. As she later said in court, she managed to get some sleep there, but the guards did not give her water and did not bring her the food that friends had collected for her. Ultimately, the first hearing in Sasha’s case was postponed to the next day, and the young woman spent another twenty-four hours in the temporary detention facility.

Sasha’s bail hearing began at the Vasileostrovsky District Court at 9 a.m. on April 13. More than forty people had gathered at the court (where a Bumaga correspondent was present), including friends, journalists from both independent and pro-regime publications, activists, and human rights defenders. 

Skochilenko was brought into court in handcuffs and placed in a cage. The young woman looked exhausted, and she asked for something to drink. There was no water in the courtroom, however, so the visitors looked for a water bottle among themselves. Despite her subdued spirits, Sasha thanked everyone who came.

“I did not anticipate so much support, that so many people would come [to the hearing],” Skochilenko said to Bumaga before the hearing began. “Everyone here tells me that you are doing something bad if you call for peace, but people’s support for me shows this is not the case. That is the most important thing.”

The judge in Sasha’s case was Elena Vladimirovna Leonova. Appointed to the Vasileostrovsky District Court by President Boris Yeltsin in 1998, she has held this post for over twenty years.

The media has mostly mentioned Judge Leonova in a positive light, and she was given high marks from the Petersburg qualification board of judges in the past. In particular, Leonova has often declined requests by prosecutors to jail activists and protestors, unlike her colleagues. There are also some ambiguous cases and decisions in her case history, however. 

In the case of Sasha Skochilenko, the judge sided with the prosecution. Leonova began the trial by forbidding the taking of photographs in court. She then granted the prosecutor’s request to close the proceedings to the public because, allegedly, the state’s case was based on the interview records of witnesses. When members of the public were still present, the defense lawyer only managed to request the judge to release Skochilenko on bail, or prohibit her from certain actions, or at most, place her under house arrest.

The hearing, which took place behind closed doors, lasted almost five hours. When she delivered her ruling, Judge Leonova permitted several journalists, including the correspondent from Bumaga, to enter the courtroom. She began as follows: “It has been established that Skochilenko, acting deliberately, placed fragments of paper containing deliberately false information [about the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation] in the premises of a trading hall.”

The judge read out the verdict quickly, not distinguishing between the arguments of investigators and her own words. “Misleading citizens about the actions carried out by the armed forces of the Russian Federation creates tension in society [and] conducts subversive activities [sic],” she said.

Among the arguments for Sasha’s being remanded in custody, Judge Leonova mentioned that Sasha:

  • had been accused of committing a serious breach of public safety.
  • “could exert pressure” (on investigators).
  • refused to reveal the password to her telephone.
  • “might destroy evidence” if she were at large.
  • “has a sister in France.”
  • “has friends in Ukraine.”
  • “has the ability to hinder the collection of evidence and hide in Ukraine.”
  • Is registered to reside in Petersburg but resides with a female acquaintance in a rented apartment, and the female friend does not have documents proving the residence’s lawfulness for serving as a place of house arrest, and the landlady might change her mind.

The judge emphasized that Skochilenko had “visited acquaintances in Ukraine.” In fact, a friend of hers told Bumaga, Sasha had gone to Ukraine in 2020 for work at a children’s camp, where she taught animation to the children.

Sasha Skachilenko being led out of the courtroom. Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

Furthermore, Leonova brought up as an argument the fact that Skochilenko had “an administrative arrest for organizing a mass gathering of citizens during the pandemic.” Indeed, Sasha had been detained at an anti-war protest on March 3, her friend told Bumaga. Skochilenko was released after a night in the police station, and a court sentenced her to a fine of ten thousand rubles. Sasha had challenged the decision, but on appeal the court upheld the verdict.

The judge did not consider the fact that the artist had been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder and celiac disease, a genetic gluten intolerance requiring a strict diet, to be a valid reason for declining to send Sasha to a pretrial detention center.

Leonova noted separately that Skochilenko had not been diagnosed with serious illnesses and that there was no evidence that she needed emergency medical care. When the defense lawyer provided the court with a doctor’s note about Sasha’s health, the judge stated that the document could not be accepted because it did not mention the source of the information.

Judge Leonova ultimately decided to remand Sasha in custody to Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 until May 31. In response, the people in the courtroom cried and told Sasha that everything would be okay, while people in the hallway shouted, “Shame on you!” to the judge. As people left the courtroom, Skochilenko smiled and waved to her friends.

“The war will end, and I will be amnestied,” Sasha managed to tell a friend before the bailiffs forced him to leave the courtroom.

Sasha is an artist and a musician. She wrote A Book on Depression and filmed protest rallies for Bumaga. Many people support her, but they are pessimistic.

“Sasha is one of my most talented acquaintances,” journalist Arseniy Vesnin, a friend of Skochilenko’s, told Bumaga. “We met around fifteen years ago. We used to play Mind Games—it was this project on Channel 5 where schoolchildren would debate. Sasha was always—or rather she is (we’re almost talking like obituaries now)—very smart, talented, and well-read.”

Sasha was born on September 13, 1990, in Leningrad. At the age of seventeen she enrolled at the Theater Academy to study directing but withdrew during her final year, transferring to St. Petersburg State University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences where she studied anthropology and graduated with honors.

From 2013-2015, Sasha made video reports of rallies and protests for Bumaga.

“Sasha is the ‘good person’ from Andrei Platonov’s works,” says Kirill Artemenko, general director of Bumaga. “Platonov’s heroes do good without fully realizing that they are good, without expecting kindness from anyone and without being offended by evil. They are hardworking, patient people. They might look weak, but in reality, they are very strong. Their strength is in their principles and natural, effortless kindness.”

When Sasha fell ill with cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar affective disorder, she wrote A Book on Depression to support people with similar health problems. The book has been translated into English and Ukrainian. The story of Sasha’s struggle with her illness can be read in this text, published by Bumaga.

Lately, Sasha had been filming and editing lectures for the feminist space Eve’s Ribs and helping to renovate the homes of women who did not want to hire a handyman to do the work, a friend tells Bumaga. She also worked as an administrator at a children’s center on Vasilievsky Island. “She communicates well with children, unlike with the cops,” explains the interviewee.

According to the friend, Skochilenko never had the goal of building a career. It was important to her to do good while also being able to live on the money she earned. 

“I don’t have any kind of particular profession. In different interviews they have called me an artist from Petersburg, a cartoonist, and an actress, and many other things,” Sasha, who at that moment was working as a nanny, said in 2020. “I don’t want to have a particular profession. And in fact, I don’t have one.”

Sasha’s passion has always been music, her friends say. Sasha views it as “an instrument of freedom,” said Skochilenko’s friend Alexei Belozerov. “She wants to create a free space with the help of music—without the hierarchies that inevitably arise within a musical collective, without the division between performers and listeners,” says Alexei. 

“War is hell.” Sasha Skochilenko’s supporters in the hallway at Vasileoostrovsky District Court in Petersburg.
Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

A friend of Sasha who has been involved with her in musical events on many occasions said that the main idea of her music is free improvisation, so that “people who don’t have a musical education but very much want to play won’t be afraid to grab an instrument and play together.” For example, the friend said, Sasha held music jams at psychoneurological resident treatment facilities as a form of art therapy. 

Sasha vigorously advocated the idea of ​​freedom even after February 24. “I do not support the war in Ukraine! I went on the streets today to say it out loud!” she wrote from a rally on the first day of the war. “Two years ago, I taught children in Ukraine at a children’s camp to film videos. I remember each of their faces. They are no different from Russian children.”

Sasha decided not to emigrate, despite the risks. “Sasha said that she would not leave, because she has her social capital here, Petersburg is her city, and Russian is her language,” Sasha’s friend Arseny tells Bumaga. “She is not someone who made it her goal to fight the regime. She is a person with a conscience, and as a person with a conscience, she could not help but react to this shameless situation that is now happening in Russia”.

Guarantees for Skochilenko were signed by St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputies Boris Vishnevsky and Mikhail Amosov, [Pskov] politician Lev Schlosberg, and municipal deputy Sergei Troshin. The court also received a positive character reference from Bumaga general director Kirill Artemenko. There are hundreds of posts on social networks about her case, which has been dubbed absurd. The case has also been covered by Russia’s remaining independent media. And Bumaga has learned that protests in support of Sasha have been organized in London.

The main source of public indignation is not even that Sasha is being prosecuted for an anti-war position, but, rather, the possible sentence (up to ten years in a penal colony) and the fact that she was sent to a pretrial detention center despite her illness.

“I remind you that no one was punished for threats to ‘cut off heads,’” wrote Vishnevsky. “And there was no response to two attempts to kill my friend Vladimir Kara-Murza. But for anti-war speeches, [people get sent to] a pre-trial detention center, and then to a penal colony for ten years. Feel the difference.”

Many of those who spoke with Bumaga and who advocate for Sasha’s release are pessimistic. For example, Vishnevsky himself told Bumaga that he would be glad to be proved wrong if the outcome of the case were positive after all. Journalist Arseny Vesnin recalls that it was clear to him that Sasha would be sent to a pretrial detention center, although he did not want to believe it.

“We must pray that not only the war ends, but also that something in our country changes. This would be a good outcome. But realistically I don’t see any good outcomes,” Vesnin concludes.

Sasha’s friend, who vigorously advocates for her release, tells Bumaga that he cannot express his opinion about what is happening, including in this case, without breaking the law.

“This is terror,” he says anonymously. “It has been unleashed in the original sense of the word— as ‘fear’ and ‘horror.’ They are maintaining an atmosphere of terror. This is the only way to explain why, for replacing one piece of paper in a store with another, a bunch of people in uniform write up interrogation reports and put them into case files, conduct searches, and arrange an ambush using the person’s friend. In this sense, the possible outcome of this case is the same as that of everything that is happening here. The terror will grow, the terror will intensify. They will be trying to frighten us and to break us more and more.”

Sasha’s case is not an exception. The security forces are persecuting many people who have protested the war by replacing price tags.

As of April 7, four days before Sasha Skochilenko’s arrest, twenty-one criminal cases had been launched nationwide on suspicions of spreading “fake news about the Russian army,” wrote human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov. Almost all of the cases involve publishing “knowingly false information” on the internet—with the exception of five cases, and only one of those cases also involves distributing flyers in a store.

Despite increased pressure, Russians continue to replace price tags with anti-war messages. This “quiet protest” is considered an easy way to convey the truth about what is happening in Ukraine to people living in a different “information bubble.”

Replacing price tags in stores became a popular form of protest after the campaign was announced by Feminist Anti-War Resistance, a movement of Russian feminists that came to life in February 2022 in response to the war. But the movement recognizes that protesting can be dangerous.

A sampling of anti-war “price tags” from Feminist Anti-War Resistance’s Telegram channel.
Courtesy of Kholod. This image was not included in the original article, in Russian, on Bumaga.

“The police have increasingly been tracking down people involved in various types of anti-war protest,” a spokeswoman for Feminist Anti-War Resistance told Bumaga. “To date, we know that one of our participants, who put anti-war slogans on price tags, was tracked down through the card she used to pay in the store.”

The movement says that they have not been in contact with Skochilenko—or, perhaps, do not know that they have had contact with her, since they communicate with many members of the movement anonymously. But they expressed their support for the artist: “We believe that Sasha should be released immediately, and the case against her should be closed and all charges dropped.”

“Today, anti-war price tags are one of the most common forms of protest, along with posting stickers and flyers in public places,” the spokeswoman said. “Unfortunately, no forms of anti-war protest are absolutely safe in Russia today. We believe it is important to emphasize this regularly and encourage everyone to pay special attention to safety rules and to take potential risks into account.”

Two days after the hearing, Sasha Skochilenko is still in the temporary detention facility. In the evening, she is supposed to be taken to the pretrial detention center. She delivered a message through her lawyer, saying that she was doing well and was grateful for people’s support.

The wardens at the temporary detention facility promised to provide Sasha with a gluten-free diet and, according to her lawyer, they have kept their promise. A request to meet her dietary needs has also been sent to the pretrial detention center. At the same time, Sasha’s girlfriend has been summoned to the Investigative Committee for questioning.

Bumaga will continue covering the case of Sasha Skochilenko. For the latest news, subscribe to our Telegram channel and the Free Sasha Skochilenko support group channel on Telegram.  You can also sign a petition calling for Sasha’s release.

Source: Bumaga, 15 April 2022. Translated by Christopher Damon, Zhenia Dubrova, Savannah Eller, Emily Hester, Marta Hulievska, Kirill Lanski, Jasmine Li, Milla McCaghren, and Andres Meraz. Thanks to Victoria Somoff for her assistance and the Fabulous AM for her abiding support of this project. ||| TRR

“Give Birth Yourself!”

Maria Petrovskaya holding a placard that reads “Give birth yourself” in Nizhny Novgorod. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda’s Instagram page

The crackdown against Russians who oppose the war with Ukraine continues. Two new articles in the administrative offenses code and the criminal code — Articles 20.3.3 and 280.3, i.e., making it a crime to “discredit the Armed Forces” — have been specially adopted to punish those who call the war a war. But they have been enforced by the courts and the security forces in a such a way that grounds can be found in anything a placard reading “Fascism will not pass,” a placard containing an anti-war quote by Putin’s, leaflets containing the biblical commandment [“Thou shalt not kill”], asterisks instead of letters, the inscription “Two words” [i.e., “No war”] — for detaining and charging someone. Police in Nizhny Novgorod did not like placards that read “Mariupol. We remember, we grieve” and “Give birth yourself!”

A photo of a young woman holding a placard featuring a man in black cradling a bomb and the slogan “Give birth yourself!” gained fame far beyond Nizhny Novgorod in March. The woman in the photo was the school teacher and feminist Maria Petrovskaya. She had not been involved in public protests before. According to her, the war was her turning point.

“There is a certain last straw,” says Petrovskaya. “All my friends were on Bolotnaya Square, and then on Sakharov Avenue. [This is a reference to the “fair elections” protests in Moscow in 2012.] I endorsed their stance and supported them emotionally, and it was around that time that I began to get a little interested in politics. And yet, as long as it was about the pro-Putin clique’s political, territorial (e.g., Crimea), and financial ambitions, I was not so deeply worried about it. But war destroys and takes the lives of people on both sides. When it comes to the suffering of people, I can’t stand on the sidelines.”

The court hearing on the “Give birth yourself!” protest is still to be held, but the police charged Petrovskaya not with violating Article 20.3.3, but with the more familiar Article 20.2.5, i.e., “involvement in an unauthorized protest rally.” Law enforcement officers decided that Ilya Myaskovsky, who photographed Petrovskaya, was a full-fledged participant in the picket, which meant that it was no longer a solo picket, but a “mass” protest.

But last week, the Sormovo District Court in Nizhny Novgorod fined Petrovskaya and Myaskovsky for their involvement in another protest, in memory of the victims of Mariupol, under Article 20.3.3. Petrovskaya says that, as in the case of the “Give birth yourself!” protest, it was entirely a feminist protest that Myaskovsky had nothing to do with. He only photographed a homemade cross made of branches on which the message “5,000 killed. Mariupol. We remember, we grieve” had been hung.

Нижний Новгород, плакат в память о жертвах в Мариуполе
Maria Petrovskaya’s placard in memory of the victims of the Russian assault on Mariupol.
Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

After the police took Petrovskaya to the precinct, Myaskovsky followed her in a jitney.

“For over an hour [Myaskovsky] hovered outside the doors to the police station, waiting for me. In the end, the inspector who was writing me up dragged him into the station as well. ‘To talk,’ as he said. Meaning that Ilya might not have been charged if he hadn’t chivalrously followed me.”

Petrovskaya and Myaskovsky were charged with “discrediting the Armed Forces.” But Sergei Kulikov, a lawyer from the Visor Project who represented them, says that in court even the policeman who wrote out the arrest sheet could not immediately explain how Kulikov’s clients had discredited the Armed Forces.

“‘Can we say exactly who this text targets?’ I asked the police officer [in court]. ‘No,’ he says. ‘Does this text contain a negative appraisal of the authorities?’ I asked him. ‘No,’ he says. Well, okay, I thought, let’s take the bull by the horns. ‘Does this text discredit the Armed Forces in any way?’ I asked him, and he repled, ‘No!” The police officer later realized that he had made a mistake, and asked to testify at the very end [of the hearing]. He said that in the context of everything that was happening, it discredited [the Armed Forces], of course! Who else was it about?” recalls Kulikov.

Both activists were fined: Myaskovsky, 30 thousand rubles [approx. 324 euros], and Petrovskaya, half that amount. The lawyer presented the court with written proof of Petrovskaya’s low salary at the remedial school where she teaches, and the judge decided to show leniency.

People at Petrovskaya’s workplace do not approve of her activism.

“After the “Give birth yourself!” placard went so vividly public, I was horrified to find that almost all my colleagues supported the war and had a positive take on what Putin was doing. They thought I was a disgrace to the school. The head teacher told me that her colleagues had been calling her all weekend, consoling her and asking her how I could have done such a thing. I was given a very long dressing-down, and so was the director, although he is already an elderly man. Everyone told me that I was throwing him and the [regional] education ministry under the bus, although it’s hard to see how I could have done that,” recounts Petrovskaya.

Нижний Новгород, задержание Марии Петровской
Police detaining Maria Petrovskaya in Nizhny Novgorod. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Kulikov argues that the police’s lack of preparedness helped his client avoid the charge of “discrediting the Armed Forces” in this case.

“They probably had not yet been instructed what to do with this article. They have been instructed now. I know this for sure because there are two cases in which even pro-government picketers have been charged under this article. So, I think our policemen are performance artists, too. They have been given an absurd tool, and they are raising the absurdity to the next level! It’s more like the law enforcement that the Soviet authorities practiced after the Revolution: ‘revolutionary legal awareness’!” says the lawyer.

“If they fined people who held up a blank piece of paper or a placard with three asterisks followed by five asterisks [thus suggesting the Russian phrase Net voine (‘no war’), which consists of a three-letter world and a five-letter word]… Or, for example, I saw an image of three bears and five bears drawn by a female artist, and she was fined, too. Toy bears in memory of dead children: yes, that discredits the army, of course,” says Petrovskaya.

Last week, city hall announced a competitive review of Nizhny Novgorod’s bomb shelters. The purpose of the review is to maintain the shelters “in constant readiness so that they can be used for their intended purpose.”

Source: Alexander Lugov, Radio Svoboda, 11 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

A Letter to Russia from Russia

Nadia Plungian with her textile works at the exhibition “Post-Soviet Cassandras,” 2015

A Letter to Russia

Nadia Plungian writes to Russia from Russia

The more horrifying the images from the news, the more clearly do I realize that there is a profound significance to the fact that I stayed in Russia and repeatedly turned down opportunities to leave up until now. I am also thinking about friends and colleagues from Belarus, who are in a similar situation. Our countries have completely shut down, we have no illusions of a future whatsoever. There are no outside forces responsible for making a new era dawn. It is time to say something from within this space.

Many people are writing about political suicide. But which political reality is killing itself right now? Without a doubt, it’s the Soviet Union and its successor—Soviet post-Soviet statehood. We all saw the Soviet-era apartment buildings blowing up in Kyiv and Kharkiv. In the terrible light cast by these fires, it becomes especially obvious how closely the 2000s and the 2010s followed the Soviet epoch.

This is not just about “peacekeeping missions” but about a specific type of hybrid censorship, of visible and invisible pressure. The possibility for major changes in cultural, academic, and public life has been suspended for many years now. This happened with the nearly unanimous tacit support of the older generation, who seemed to have gotten stuck in the late 1980s and demanded that we, their children, not go beyond these historical confines under any circumstances.

People my age who wanted to change something have over the past fifteen years gone through a series of political and existential conflicts which can be summed up by the phrase “do not live.” There is no sphere in which we have not had to listen to rebukes about our lack of qualifications or threats to throw us out of the profession. Science, culture, technology, art, politics, the family. New methodologies? Irrelevant. Questions of domestic violence, violence toward women and children, generational conflicts? Laughable, those problems don’t exist. National, postcolonial, gender, religious identities? Prohibited, irrelevant, incomprehensible, nonexistent. You want to prevent historical monuments from being demolished, or, say, entire historical neighborhoods? Who do you think you are? We’re bringing out the bulldozers! You want to work at a school or hospital? Go on, we’ll see how you like living hand to mouth. And the respectable people who held respectable positions in society back in the 90s have been broadly supported when they call attempts to talk about all this “a revival of Party committees,” “leveling,” and “hysterics.”

The focus on suppressing the new, on ignoring progress—generally, the focus on a defeatist rhetoric laced with threats—is hardly a new phenomenon. For fifteen years we’ve been hearing from absolutely every corner that we have no prospects. That if you’ve got a head on your shoulders you should leave for Europe right away. That only morons and idealists would want to live in “this country,” would want to deal with the dynamics of Russian society, to write textbooks here, to reform museums, schools, or universities here, to open functional academic institutions, to form some kind of decent societal platform capable of describing the past and projecting a future.

The stance taken by the older generation was formally divided into two parts, which were fueled by two late-Soviet ideologemes. Substantively, however, they were entirely united, and they were taught to us at university. One part of society declared: you are nobody because you didn’t live in the USSR; we will take away your pensions, social security, and place in society; we will force you to pay insane mortgages, we will send you to jail for comments on social media, shame you for your personal life, and not give you even the slightest access to political life. The other part of society insisted: don’t flatter yourself, take your modest little spot—after all, you will never have money and possibilities anywhere near what they have in the West; nothing you do can ever be compared to what happens in enormous Western museums or with famous Western curators; you must memorize Western philosophers and theorists by heart because you are not philosophers or theorists, you have to imitate Western artists because you are not artists; holding out hope for anything bigger is deluding yourself; and remember, if you don’t want to play by the rules of the twentieth century, the nineteenth century will come.

I don’t know why my generation was so methodically deprived of opportunities, but I think that now the final act of this show has commenced. Because there’s nothing left to trample us with. Will all the leading thirty- and forty-something specialists in our countries be fired and deprived of income, sent to prison? And what fuel will you use to move forward then? This is not the Brezhnev era. The Soviet ideology has been destroyed; postmodernism is grown over with mold. You don’t have any writers, poets, politicians, or scientists. Who will force us to re-integrate into this meaningless, self-devouring loop, and how will they do it? Most importantly, how will you fill the empty cultural centers that you’ve been building all these years in all Russian cities? How exactly will the twenty- and fourteen-year-olds, under orders from the old folks, conceptualize and glorify military strikes against neighboring countries and the choice of complete cultural isolation? By what methods? On what terms? To what end?

I’ll add one more thing. Only now am I realizing the significance of my professional choices as a historian and art historian. Back in 2002, I rejected the possibility of working with “neutral themes,” choosing instead to deal with Stalin-era Soviet art—that is, pretty much the most depressing and censored material around. It is a field in which there are no reliable answers and no readymade narratives, and in which the big methodological steps have only been taken halfway.

My work is connected with what exists here in Russia. It is based on private archives and personal testimonies that come together to form an unwritten history of the country. It brings back the cultural and intellectual presence of people who, like us, found themselves here and stayed here at a most difficult time of transition, without any hope or any right to be heard.

The path that many of my friends and have chosen brought us face to face with a hard fact: the desire to work professionally in Russia and come up with something new in the civic, academic, and cultural sense meant operating under double pressure: without support from the older generation or from Western researchers. But we had faith in other thirty-somethings. We formed our own intellectual networks in various directions within Russia and in the territories known as post-Soviet space. We went deep into our countries and studied museums, archives, architecture, and the cities themselves, to see with our own eyes and independently analyze our history without having recourse to cliches and stereotypes.

I would not have become what I am if I had not maintained contact for the past fifteen years with independent millennials from Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan; with the scholars, human rights activists, artists, and philosophers who lived in these countries and with those who were forced to leave them, along with many like-minded people in Russia. We all encountered censorship and stigmatization and taught each other how to remain thoughtful people under these conditions. We welcomed each other into our homes, using the last of our money to put together conferences, roundtables, and exhibitions, taking every opportunity to see one another and exchange know-how. Because besides us there was no one to create the foundations for a future for our free countries. There is no one now either. There is no West offering us a readymade scenario. There is not a single Soviet institution that might have solutions.

We are alone.

This war is being waged without our consent and against us, physically destroying the fruits and prospects of friendship, cooperation, and solidarity for our generation.

Nuclear threats, attacks on neighbors, closed borders—this is the crazed twentieth century, screaming at us to heel.

But history will not grant it this authority. There is no such thing as the past dictating the rules for the future, or the past dragging the future into its old coffin.

Twentieth century, you tossed us out of your cubicles and deprived us of places in politics a long time ago. But this has had only one result—we are now free to choose our own places in politics and culture.

Nadia Plungian is a Moscow-based art historian, curator, and feminist activist. Source: Colta.ru, 1 March 2022. Translated by the Fabulous AM

The Post-Soviet Imaginary

“Tashkent 1930,” reads the caption in the original posting of this photo on Facebook. The girls are wearing shirts bearing the (Latin) abbreviation “UzSSR” (Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic). The cotton boll emblem on their shirts suggests they might be headed for the cotton fields as “voluntary” pickers, an abusive practice that is still common there. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up.

Anatoly Belkin, “Persimmon Vendor,” Imperial Porcelain Factory. Posted on Facebook by Andrei Yerokhin. Thanks to Sergei Damberg for the heads-up. Despite this figurine’s “old timey” (Soviet) appearance, underscored by the “Ovoshchprodtorg No. 17” (“Vegetable Retail Organization No. 17”) logo  on the stand, a commenter claims the work is by a modern artist.

Darya Apahonich: and (or)

THIS MESSAGE (CONTENT) HAS BEEN CREATED AND (OR) DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET FUNCTIONING AS A FOREIGN AGENT AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY FUNCTIONING AS A FOREIGN AGENT.

and (or)
a booklet by Darya Apahonchich
Foreignlandia, 2021

I add THIS thirty-one-word message, given to me by the Russian Justice Ministry, to all my social media posts, because now I am not a person, but a “media foreign agent,” which is something like a biased foreign newspaper, radio station or TV channel.

“Foreign Agent”

Over the last six months, I have been able to decipher this MESSAGE and the status of “foreign agent,” with which dozens of human rights organizations, media outlets and just plain people (journalists and activists) have to live. Translated from Justice Ministry-speak, it means: “Shut up.”

“Go on, eat these letters”

What is it like? It’s like being force-fed porridge. Only it’s not porridge, but words. And it’s not Mom feeding you, but the Justice Ministry. And you are not you, but (CONTENT) for experiments in state violence.

“Beware of the female agent!”

It’s not just literal garbage. It’s a toxic label that makes it difficult to work, paralyzing you. It’s enough to push everything that HAS BEEN CREATED behind a long verbal fence and distance me and my work from my audience.

I became a foreign agent on the afternoon of December 28, as I was sitting at home with two children after having covid, dazed from the isolation. My son was “hatching” dinosaur larvae. The larvae were beans, and they were hatched mainly in my sock. So, with a sock full of beans, I gave dozens of interviews. In the last six months, there have been more interviews, more beans, AND more agents. I don’t even know what the moral of this story is.

“Newspaper ≠ woman”

At some point I even wrote a fairy tale for the Justice Ministry. It was quite boring, so I abandoned it. But one of the jokes in it was funny. I asked the Justice Ministry, “How do you know, Justice Ministry, whether you’re dealing with a woman (OR) a newspaper?”

Then I went into a long comparison of women and newspapers. I explained where you could find the imprints and headlines in newspapers and women, where you could find their darkest recesses and traces of proofreading. Newspapers were most often regarded as things to be consumed, I wrote, and alas, so were women. Although it did happen that women were considered individuals, this view was not yet widely DISSEMINATED.

“Every part of me is my face. Front-page story. Free Yulia Tsvetkova!”

Look, Justice Ministry, this is a front-page story about Yulia Tsvetkova. You can call her BY A FOREIGN word, or you can use a Russian word, but you know, Justice Ministry, it doesn’t make a woman a newspaper.

I counted how many words I still have to illustrate — I don’t think I can come up with that many jokes. But I can’t afford to give up: it would be a shame not to take the piss out of the Russian Federation. Consider this booklet of mine a form of therapy, a remedy for the Russian authorities. I have often been asked why there are so few foreign agents. And why did they pick me? I think this is due to the fact that the state is still lazy. It takes a lot of effort to engage in large-scale crackdowns, but in this case you take five people and have a little fun with them. You expend the energy you would in a local warlet, but the effect is the same as in a MASSive war. Basically, I’m a figure of a little fun. (While I was writing this text, more foreign MEDIA agents were added to the list.)

“Foreign media reports about the Russian language! Give us more stories about grammatical cases! Everybody’s crazy about grammatical cases!”

I have to say that I haven’t conceived a passion for journalism over the last six months. I wonder how it’s possible to be a mass media OUTLET without an education in journalism and journalistic ambitions. The only things I’ve ever talked about on a massive scale are grammatical cases and feminitives.

The idea of “foreign agents” smacks of crass objectification. The authorities see everything — people, non-governmental organizations, media, activists — as rebellious things, as broken robotic slaves. And what do you do with a machine that is malFUNCTIONING? Reduced to a function, but opposed to it, a thing like this is tagged AS A fuck-up and failure that can now be scrapped.

“Not a foreign land for anyone.”

Once every three months I fill out a report for the Justice Ministry. They ask me in the interests of which FOREIGN state did I do what I did? You know, Justice Ministry, everything I do, I do in the hope that one day there will be no states and borders, that there will be only free people and free lands.

It’s a pity that I can’t be labeled a pan-national no-government AGENT. It would suit me better.

“In hell, Justice Ministry employees endlessly write, ‘THIS MESSAGE…'”

I’ve been swimming in the sea of the Russian language my whole life. AND even though I sometimes thought about leaving, I could never imagine that I’d be able to leave Russia in a matter of two days. But the cops who came with guys from the Emergency Situations Ministry to cut out my door open with an angle grinder and search my flat taught me to be decisive. By the way, hello, you guys! Burn in hell!

“What’s this? And this? I don’t recognize this either. It’s something incomprehensible.”

I walked around the house, which had been turned into a big lump of things by the search, wondering whether to take this (OR) that. I took almost nothing.

“Me and the kids on the road.”

I left the country, taking the children, several books, Russian grammar and fear with me. With this kind of baggage, I’m considered A RUSSIAN national in Foreignlandia, which makes  complete sense.

Living in a world where you have only your flesh and bones, but the state claims to see you as a LEGAL entity, is like being on a virtual reality ride. Only everyone has the special glasses, and you don’t.

“Foreign mass (beauty) outlet.”

Hey, newspaper woman, what’s wrong with your face? Are you an ENTITY?

“Russia . . . functioning as a foreign agent.”

When meeting new people, I take the most time explaining this whole absurd story. It’s a big chunk of time, but I still append these thirty-one words to every post and send reports to the Justice Ministry. Why do I do this? I think it’s my umbilical cord. My country won’t say goodbye to an agent fulfilling the demands of the authorities, and Agent Apahonchich still has a FUNCTIONING hope of returning home.

“Words, words, words, words, words, words.”

What matters now is not to ASsume the functions of the state by engaging in self-censorship and thus fueling state paranoia, to remember that waves of rhetoric are the loudest and fastest. They will subside, and we will go on living.

So I’m sitting on the shore of A FOREIGN language, learning it as if I were combing a field of grass, but I remember that my soul also looks uncombed to the foreign eye. I’m growing my garden and taking care of the dinosaur larvae—my harvest is good!

 

Thanks for walking this way with me. Take care of your own gardens and seas. Warm greetings from your female agentka, whom the sexist Justice Ministry takes for a male AGENT.

________________

Originally published by Darya Apahonchich on her Facebook page on 30 July 2021. Translated, from the Russian, and with the author’s permission, by Thomas H. Campbell

The Taliban Are Banned in Russia, But the Russian Police State Supports Their Misogynist Cause

SocFem Alternative activists outside the courthouse after the hearing at which two of their activists were fined 200,000 rubles each for support Afghan women. Courtesy of their Telegram channel and Novaya Gazeta

Moscow court fines two activists 200 thousand rubles for who picketing in support of Afghan women
Novaya Gazeta
August 25, 2021

Moscow’s Presna District Court imposed a fine of 200 thousand rubles [approx. 2,300 euros] each on SocFem Alternative activists Ksenia Bezdenezhnykh and Anna Pavlova, who on Monday held solo pickets outside the Embassy of Afghanistan in Moscow, as reported by members of the movement.

Five protesters were detained on August 23. Bezdenezhnykh and Pavlova were charged with violating Article 20.2.8 of the Administrative Offenses Code (repeated violation of the rules for public protests). Daria Kozhanova, Ilya Lukhovitsky and Sofia Miloradova were charged with violating Article 20.2.5 of the Administrative Offenses Code (involvement in an unauthorized protest) and released from the police station.

Footage of SocFem Alternative activist Ksenia Bezdenezhnykh’s arrest by Moscow police outside the Afghan embassy on August 23, 2021

The protesters voiced their solidarity with Afghan women, whose rights are limited by the Taliban terrorist movement, which is banned in the Russian Federation.

A similar protest was held in Petersburg, but no one was detained.

Earlier, on August 25, the Taliban banned women in Afghanistan from leaving their homes to go work until “the system of ensuring their security is organized.” After announcing that they had established full control over Afghanistan, representatives of the movement said that they would allow women to lead an active lifestyle, but in compliance with sharia law.

For example, women are already forbidden from going out in public without the escort of a male relative and without covering their head, hair and entire body. In addition, women are not allowed to perform certain jobs, including working in the media.

Thanks to Matthew Luxmoore for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: “What’s a Vulva?”

Hello, my name is Darya Apahonchich, and the Russian Justice Ministry obliges me to start any video and story that I publish online with the phrase:

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) HAS BEEN CREATED AND (OR) DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY, PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT.

Since I have become not just a foreign agent, but a foreign agent media outlet, I decided to take advantage of this unexpected status and record a trial internet video, as if I had my own TV channel. So, this is my first video, and it deals with the case of Yulia Tsvetkova and issues surrounding the female body.

This program is about what the vulva is. I’ll explain why I’ve chosen this topic. The fact is that my apartment was searched by the police. During the search, one of the officers found a lot of posters protesting the Yulia Tsvetkova case. At some point he asked me, “What’s a vulva?”

At that moment, the search had been going on for a long time. I didn’t feel like talking and said that, in keeping with Article 51 of the Russian Constitution, I wished to exercise my right not to incriminate myself. I wouldn’t be telling the officer what a vulva was.

Almost three months have passed since then, and I thought it was unfair that there was a cop walking around who didn’t know what a vulva was, so I decided to record this video so that he and others could fill in this gap in their knowledge.

Now I shall fantasize what I would have said at that moment in reply to the officer’s question.

So, the policeman would ask me, “And what is a vulva?”

And I would answer him, “Unfortunately, I can’t answer your question quickly. I can only answer by resorting to a fairy tale.”

And he would say, “Well, you have so much junk in your home that we’ll be searching it for a long time. Let’s hear your story.”

And I would say, “Good, because your question reminded me of a question that a dinosaur asked a sea cow. The fact is that this tyrannosaur ran out of friends suspiciously often. He would invite them to dinner, and by the end of the dinner they would all be gone. So, he asked the sea cow for advice.

“‘Listen, sea cow, you have so many friends. How do you manage to be an equal among equals? I’d like to do the same.’

“‘Yes, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s my advice: start reading about the world and its problems, about injustices, have a look at theory, and make friends who are also interested in these things. And yes: you need to completely abandon meat and eating living creatures,’ the sea cow answered.

“The dinosaur took this advice, and when he and the sea cow met a year later, he was quite different.

“‘Listen, I did everything as you taught me. Now I read books with other former predators. We get together to discuss the global cold snap and the violence that we generate. But I’m very sad, and so are all my friends – we are really grieving. It seems that this isn’t what I wanted,’ he said to the sea cow.

“‘Yes, but you wanted to be an equal among equals, didn’t you?’ the sea cow asked.

“‘Yes, but not like this. I’ve achieved my goal, but not in the way I thought.”

“‘You know, tyrannosaurus, this happens quite often. For example, I recall the story of a jellyfish who quarreled with everyone.’

“‘What’s the story? Tell me!’

“So, the sea cow told the dinosaur the story.

“‘Once upon a time there was a scyphozoan jellyfish who quarreled with everyone. She couldn’t help it when she heard something about motherhood or the rights of females:

“Well,” she would grumble, “They used to give birth to jellyfishlets in the sea, and there were no female rights, and everything was normal.” But no one wanted to be friends with her, and so she asked a moon jellyfish for advice.

‘“How do you not quarrel with anyone? What’s your secret?”

‘“You know, I have a magic spring in the sea, and as soon as I want to say something about the rights of females, I swim to it, take in a mouthful of water and count to a thousand, and then let it out. And that’s it. I don’t quarrel with anyone.”

‘The scyphozoan took the advice and began doing the same. It helped her, and then she asked the moon jellyfish another question.

‘“Look, it’s a great method: I’ve made up with family. But magic water isn’t scientific, is it?”

‘“Well, yes, but you had to learn a new way of interacting with your loved ones, so you did it. You’ll change your mindset later on.”

‘“That’s great, of course, but I still prefer knowing what I’m doing, not just doing it. This story reminds me of the story of the doubting bee.”

‘“What’s the story? Tell me!”

‘And the scyphozoan told her the story of the bee.’

‘“Well, there was once a little bee who doubted whether she really needed to spend the whole summer gathering nectar.”’

And that’s when the policeman would have interrupted me.

“Look, I already got the point about the sea cow, the jellyfish, and the dinosaur, but what does that have to do with the vulva?”

“Look, you’ve come to search my home because I might have seen someone jaywalking,” I would have told him, “but you’ve been looking at my vulva posters for the past six hours. What’s the connection there?”

“All right, go ahead,” he would say.

And I would go on.

“So, the bee doubted that she really needed to collect nectar, flying from flower to flower every day: the work made her tired. She shared her thoughts with a stick caterpillar, and the stick caterpillar decided to play a nasty joke on the bee.

“‘Listen, honey bee,’ she said, ‘there is a magic flower called the elecampane. It is difficult to find, but as soon as you find it, you bring the pollen from it home, and you shall always have food for all your brothers and sisters.’

“And the bee flew off to look for this flower. When she met the stick caterpillar in the autumn, she was reproachful.

“‘Caterpillar, did you deceive me?” I spent the whole summer looking for the elecampane, but I couldn’t find it.’

“‘Yes, I deceived you because I wanted you to keep pollinating the flowers while thinking that you were looking for elecampane. Because your work is very important: without you, the flowers would not be able to reproduce, and the whole green world would die, and we would die with it. That’s why I lied to you.’

“‘Look, maybe your method worked,’ the bee said, ‘and I have been pollinating flowers all summer, but it’s wrong. I’m a rational being and I understand how important my work is, but it’s better to have a theory than not having one, to know what I’m doing than not knowing.’”

“Yes, I understand,” the policeman would then say. “So you mean that in all these stories, the characters achieved their goal, thinking that they were doing something different, but they were disappointed because it is better to have a theory than not having one?”

“Yes, you’ve got it quite right, comrade policeman,” I would say, “and that brings you closer to the question of what the vulva is. The vulva is a sexual organ, and many organisms have one. But feeling shame over the vulva is the starting point of our misogynous culture, while the movement towards respect, towards understanding that the vulva is an organ of a living person who has the right to know about their anatomy is a process. Therefore, the vulva is the path from shame to respect.”

And now I will draw a picture of how I told this story.

First, I told you about my conversation with the policeman. This was the first narrative frame. Inside it was the second frame, about the dinosaur and the sea cow, followed by the story about the jellyfish, and, at the very center, the story about the bee. The structure of my story will also help you to think about what the vulva is.

I want to finish this story with two conclusions.

First, please support Yulia Tsvetkova, whose trial begins soon.

Second, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the female body. It is very important, even for young women.

Thanks for listening!

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for providing me with a slightly abridged Russian text of the story she tells in her video, above. Images courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader. UPDATE (1.21.2022). Ms. Apahonchich has magicked her original text and my translation into a proper illustrated book, which can be viewed here.