“Adyge oredyzhkher” means “old Adyg songs.” The album, however, consists mainly of tunes without words and also includes several relatively modern compositions.
Adyg (Adyge, Adyghe), Circassians (Cherkess) and Kabardians are branches of one people, they all call themselves “Adyge,” and from the outside they are collectively known as Circassians.
Damir Guagov and Asker Sapiev are musicians from Maykop, the capital of the Republic of Adygea. Damir is a shichepshinao and pshinao, that is, a player of shichepshina and pshina. Shichepshina is the traditional Adyg vertical fiddle, pshina is the Adyg name for button accordion. Asker is a phachichao (the phachich is the traditional pair rattle).
The recording of the album was made possible thanks to Zamudin Guchev, Honored Artist of the Republic of Adygea, and researcher and keeper of the Adyg traditions.
Lyrics language: Adyghe (5, 14), Russian (4, 13).
Recorded at Zamudin’s home, Gaverdovsky hamlet, Maykop, Republic of Adygea, July 17, 2020.
The Circassian genocide, or Tsitsekun, was the Russian Empire’s systematic mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and expulsion of 80–97%of the Circassian population, around 800,000–1,500,000 people, during and after the Russo-Circassian War (1763–1864). The peoples planned for removal were mainly the Circassians, but other Muslim peoples of the Caucasus were also affected. Several methods used by Russian forces such as impaling and tearing the bellies of pregnant women were reported. Russian generals such as Grigory Zass described the Circassians as “subhuman filth”, and glorified the mass murder of Circassian civilians, justified their use in scientific experiments, and allowed their soldiers to rape women.
During the Russo-Circassian War, Russian Empire employed a genocidal strategy of massacring Circassian civilians. Only a small percentage who accepted Russification and resettlement within the Russian Empire were completely spared. The remaining Circassian population who refused were variously dispersed or killed en masse. Circassian villages would be located and burnt, systematically starved, or their entire population massacred. Leo Tolstoy reports that Russian soldiers would attack village houses at night. Sir Pelgrave, a British diplomat who witnessed the events, adds that “their only crime was not being Russian.”
In 1864, “A Petition from Circassian leaders to Her Majesty Queen Victoria” was signed by the Circassians requesting humanitarian aid from the British Empire. In the same year, mass deportation was launched against the surviving population before the end of the war in 1864 and it was mostly completed by 1867. Some died from epidemics or starvation among the crowds of deportees and were reportedly eaten by dogs after their death. Others died when the ships underway sank during storms. Calculations, including taking into account the Russian government’s own archival figures, have estimated a loss of 80–97% of the Circassian population in the process. The displaced people were settled primarily to the Ottoman Empire.
Sources state that as many as 1 to 1.5 million Circassians were forced to flee in total, but only a half could make it to land. Ottoman archives show nearly 1 million migrants entering their land from the Caucasus by 1879, with nearly half of them dying on the shores as a result of diseases. If Ottoman archives are correct, it would make it the biggest genocide of the 19th century, and indeed, in support of the Ottoman archives, the Russian census of 1897 records only 150,000 Circassians, one tenth of the original number, still remaining in the now-conquered region.
As of 2021, Georgia was the only country to recognize the Circassian genocide. Russia actively denies the Circassian genocide, and classifies the events as a migration (Russian: Черкесское мухаджирство, lit. ’Circassian migrationism’). Some Russian nationalists in the Caucasus region continue to celebrate the day when the Circassian deportation was launched, 21 May (O.S), each year as a “holy conquest day”. Circassians commemorate 21 May every year as the Circassian Day of Mourning commemorating the Circassian genocide. On 21 May, Circassians all over the world protest against the Russian government, especially in cities with large Circassian populations such as Kayseri and Amman, as well other big cities such as Istanbul.
At the request of the Comintern, a smaller counter-exhibition entitled The Truth on the Colonies, organized by the Communist Party and the CGTU, attracted very few visitors (5000 in 8 months). The first section was dedicated to abuses committed during the colonial conquests, and quoted Albert Londres and André Gide’s criticisms of forced labour in the colonies while the second one made a comparison of Soviet “nationalities policy” to “imperialist colonialism.”
Ingredients: ▫ sour cream 400 g ▫ condensed milk 300 g ▫gelatin 25 g + water 150 ml
For the jello: ▫ different flavors of gelatin ▫ hot water
DIRECTIONS: 1️⃣ Prepare the jello per the directions on the packet. Pour into a dish, add hot water, mix until cool and leave in the refrigerator for ~ 3 hours. You can already pull the condensed milk and sour cream from the icebox so they will be at room temperature. 2️⃣ When the jello has set up, cut it into cubes right in the dish. 3️⃣ Dissolve 25 g of gelatin in 150 ml of water. 4️⃣ Mix the sour cream, condensed milk and gelatin. And then just assemble the parts as in the video. Dispatch it to the refrigerator for about 4 hours. I put a layer of cookies on the bottom, but you don’t have to add them if you don’t want to. Yes, it’s quick to prepare, but you will definitely like it :)
Translated by the Russian Reader
It is likely that in the autumn, or already in the summer, there will be tension in the country over a significant downturn in the incomes of people employed in production, in particular, due to layoffs (in some places, massive layoffs). There is the potential for protests here. [The authorities] won’t be able to contain them, as [they did] in the nineties. I think, however, that it will be difficult to translate this potential into political change. Apart from the fact that it has been organizationally routed, the liberal and democratic opposition has an agenda that is far removed from the problems of this social stratum. The left is mainly interested in theoretical discussions and, frankly speaking, they are not merely absent as a political factor in Russia, but represent something like a negative quantity. There is no Russian [Lech] Wałęsa even visible on the horizon. But might it not happen that, if and when he appears, he will turn out to be a nationalist, blaming the authorities not for what they did, but for what they failed to do?
A huge St. George ribbon in the shape of the letter Z has been hung on the building housing the Omsk Public Chamber.
It serves as the backdrop for an announcement of the show “An Orc in the Virtual World.”
Source: Kholod, Facebook, 28 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
Russia and the people who live in Russia are becoming more reactionary not by the day, but by the hour. The problem is that almost no one notices this. Every day Putin and his gang remain in power sends Russian society backwards another year in terms of how people think about politics, justice, religion, ethnicity, culture, industrial relations, war and peace, and the rest of the world.
At this rate, if and when the Putin regime does disappear from view, nearly everyone who lives in Russia will have to be reprogrammed to deal more or less ably with the world the rest of us inhabit.
This is not an endorsement of our world’s virtues. But you simply cannot imagine the depths and breadth of the black political reaction that has engulfed Russia until you have lived there a long time (preferably, starting well before the reaction ensued) and thus have the eyes to see and the ears to hear a country that it is well on its way to utterly rejecting progress in all its forms.
This is especially true of the so-called intelligentsia, even those of its members who imagine themselves to be liberals, leftists, scholars, artists or professionals.
Try explaining to them one little thing — for example, why the Putin regime’s crazed, full-fledged persecution of Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, now involving hard prison time, torture, and early morning raids on the homes of these extraordinarily peaceable “extremists” — is a symptom of a fascist or proto-fascist state.
They won’t understand what you’re saying. At best, your discussion will end with them making a joke about the whole thing, as if being waterboarded for the “crime” of being a Jehovah’s Witness were a laughing matter.
That this Russian fascism has started to spill out into other parts of the world, and most educated Russians continue to have nothing to say about it, is alarming. ||| 28 April 2019, TRR
It’s amazing how touchy Russians are about their language. If you have a slight accent or make a grammatical mistake now and then, you are automatically stripped of the right to discuss anything with them at all.
In any case, if you have any of these “speech defects,” Russians never fail to point them out to you. It’s not that they are grammar nazis. No, they’re flesh-and-blood nationalists.
By the way, these are the same Russians who have been ripping their precious language to shreds the last several years by filling it to the brim with unassimilated anglicisms and other garbage, and by utterly abandoning the fine traditions of painstaking translating, editing and scholarship that once existed in this country.
Russia, I’m afraid, is headed straight down the tubes to full-blown fascism. Every other country in the world should make contingency plans for that eventuality. ||| TRR, 14 April 2018
Sergey Abashin, who teaches anthropology at the European University in St. Petersburg: Another reflection on “Russophobia.” Many people are now exercised about external criticism [of Russia], which is often emotional and indiscriminate. For us [in Russia], however, it is more important not to retreat into resentment. Instead, we should think hard and long on what in our public reflections proved to be wrong, why what has happened did happen, and where we made mistakes. Why the Chechen war with its thousands of victims and refugees did not teach us anything. Why we were unable to comprehend all the consequences of the war in Georgia. Why we completely failed to notice the bombing of the civilian population in Syria. Why the disputes over who Crimea belonged to caused us to miss the emergence of a new imperial project with its now terrifying consequences. That’s the task that awaits us after it’s all over.
I watched this serious conversation between bestselling Russian writer and popular historian Boris Akunin and Russian vlogger and interviewer extraordinaire Yuri Dud last night before I went to sleep. Despite the overall grimness of their discussion, it left me feeling upbeat, oddly. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been subtitled in English, but I have translated the annotation and section headings, as published on YouTube on March 4, 2022. In any case, over 13 million (Russophone) viewers can’t be wrong. ||| TRR
0:00 What is this episode about?
1:41 Why did Putin start the war?
5:44 Putin = Nicholas I?
7:47 The Crimean War
11:27 An important announcement
11:36 “Russia has never attacked first.” Really?
12:17 Why is Putin so interested in history?
13:20 Is being an empire bad?
16:09 Why do so many people in Russia support the war?
19:35 WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THESE PAST 8 YEARS?
23:13 Was your grandfather a Chekist?
25:57 “You never need to listen to what a secret service agent tells you”
27.34 Can a KGB officer be president?
28:36 How did Mikhalkov influence the finale of “The State Councilor”?
31:35 Is the West to blame for the war?
34:54 Who breaks promises?
35:36 The bombing of Belgrade, the invasion of Iraq and Syria – is this normal?
37:27 Is America an empire of lies?
38:46 Is the death penalty good or bad?
41:58 Propaganda in Soviet schools
44:16 The (dubious) benefits of censorship
46:44 Opening up of Siberia = colonization of America?
50:42 Does another collapse await Russia due to this war?
55:15 The best period in the history of Russia
56:19 Why does Russia have a special path?
1:01:39 The worst period in the history of Russia
1:04:07 How does Stalin influence Russia today?
1:06:13 Will there be a nuclear war?
1:10:16 Should people flee Russia?
1:11:41 In 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Japan. How do those two countries get along now?
1:13:40 Will Russians and Ukrainians be able to mend their relationship?
1:16:20 Is it right to claim collective responsibility for the war?
1:17:36 What will happen to Russia next?
A policeman in Krasynoyarsk (Siberia) erases a “No war!” message written in the snow. Igor Averkiev writes: “People who are losing their minds never realize they’re losing their minds.” When I reposted this on my Facebook page and erroneously attributed the footage to Averkiev’s hometown of Perm, he wrote to me: “No, it’s not in Perm. It’s in Krasnoyarsk. But such ‘everyday madness’ is possible everywhere in Russia today. Of course, this hassle will pass. The question is when and at what human cost.” ||| TRR
A plaque memorializing Isaak Moiseyevich Mechik will be installed at 3 Dnepropetrovsk Street in St. Petersburg on Sunday, February 13, at 12 p.m. At the time of his arrest, 56-year-old Isaak Mechik worked as the manager of the workers’ dormitory of the Leningrad mirror factory, but during his life he had had many different occupations: he was involved in winemaking, had worked on the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway, had fought in the First World War, and had laid tram rails. He was arrested in October 1937. He was shot on charges of espionage and counter-revolutionary activities in January 1938.
More than twenty years later, my father, after a long effort, had Grandpa’s name rehabilitated “for lack of corpus delicti.” For me the question is, just what was going on back then? For the sake of what, exactly, was that delightfully senseless and amusing life cut off?
We invite you to join the plaque installation ceremony. We ask you to maintain social distancing and wear a mask to avoid exposing yourself and others to the risk of coronavirus infection. Thank you, and be healthy!
Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru via bessmertnybarak.ru. Source of text: Last Address in St. Petersburg email newsletter, February 6, 2022; translated by the Russian Reader. Source of Dovlatov quotation: Harper’s Magazine, May 1989, p. 26; translated by Anne Frydman.
An inconspicuous monument to the tiny fish that saved tens of thousands of lives during the Siege • Stanislav Mikov • LiveJournal • May 21, 2020
If you are strolling around Kronstadt and walk over the Obvodny Canal via the Blue Bridge, take a closer look. You may not have noticed an amazing monument to one tiny species of fish.
Its modest size is absolutely out of proportion to the considerable role that this fish, the stickleback, played in the history of wartime Kronstadt and Leningrad.
So let’s stop here for a moment, look down the canal, and find out what this fish is known for.
First of all, let’s deal with the name of the fish itself, so that there is no confusion. This article is about the stickleback [kolyushka, in Russian]. There is another fish with a similar name — smelt [koryushka, in Russian] — and it is even one of the city’s unofficial mascots. But that’s not the fish in question.
During the Siege, the populace quickly faced a shortage of food, so they had to make the most of all available resources.
Commercial fish soon ran out in both the Gulf of Finland and Leningrad’s river and canal system, so attention turned to a tiny fish that had always been considered waste — the stickleback.
In peacetime, this fish had not mattered at all. Due to its tiny size (3-4 centimeters), sharp spines, and bony fins, and the impossibility of fishing it with a net, the fish was not even used to feed cats. If fishermen accidentally caught it, they usually would immediately throw it away.
During the Siege, however, the stickleback suddenly became one of the most valuable resources.
The residents of the besieged Kronstadt and Leningrad set to fishing the stickleback. Special teams were even organized that caught stickleback using wicker baskets and nets made of fabric and, sometimes, clothes. The maximum catch was obtained in the spring, during the ice run. It was possible to catch 4-6 kilograms in 3-5 hours.
The stickleback was used to make soup, and cutlets were made from the minced meat. It was also used to produce fish meal, and fish oil was extracted from it.
Stickleback oil was used not only for cooking, but also for treating wounds and burns — a special ointment based on it was developed at the Second Leningrad Medical Institute.
The monument was erected in Kronstadt in 2005. Initially the fish were painted silver, but a few years ago they changed their color to gold.
The memorial plaque located on the opposite side of the canal features a quotation from Maria Aminova’s poem “To the Siege Stickleback.”
To the Siege Stickleback
The shelling has stopped and so has the bombing, But praise still sounds For the little Siege fish That helped people survive…
The memorial plaque “To the Siege Stickleback” was made at the behest of the Kronstadt Council of Veterans
A lot of two items related to privatization in Russia, 1992-1993
1. Zvezda: The People’s Newspaper of the Kama Region (Perm), no. 182 (November 11, 1992). 4 pages, illustrated. Complete copy in good condition. “This concerns all of us: privatization in Russia,” an appeal by Anatoly Chubais, appears on page 3.
2. Privatization in your pocket. A brief guide for participants of check auctions, or what to do with a privatization check and how to do it (Novosibirsk, 1993). Brochure, 32 pages, illustrated, 10 × 13.2 cm. Publisher’s cover, good condition.
Privatization in Russia [was] the process of transferring state property of the Russian Federation (formerly the RSFSR) to private ownership. It was implemented in Russia in the early 1990s (after the collapse of the USSR). Privatization is usually associated with the names of E.T. Gaidar and A.B. Chubais, who were involved in privatizing industrial enterprises in the 1990s. The outcome of privatization has often been harshly criticized, in particular, due to the emergence of severe economic stratification among the Russian populace.
Novosibirsk city councilman asks prosecutor to investigate complicity of United Russia reps in veteran’s death Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL)
January 7, 2022
Novosibirsk city councilman Georgy Andreyev has asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate whether the United Russia party was complicit in the death of 100-year-old Second World War veteran Nikolai Bonkin. The veteran died of covid-19 five days after he was visited by United Russian party members, who congratulated him on the New Year. They were without masks and did not observe social distancing. As part of its “Happy New Year, Veteran!” campaign, United Russia congratulated hundreds of veterans in the Novosibirsk region alone.
Andreyev told Sibir.Realii that he was outraged by the carelessness of the United Russia members. Party rep Tatyana Sazonova published a report on their visit to Nikolai Bonkin. The pictures she posted on Instagram show that not all the congratulators were wearing masks. Not only did they not maintain social distancing, but they also hugged the veteran, even pressing their cheeks to his face. Packages with gifts from State Duma member Dmitry Savelyev are also visible in the snapshots.
“A legendary war veteran has passed away: this is a great loss for the city. Five days before [his death], United Russia party ‘envoys’ had come to see him. Nikolai Sergeyevich Bonkin had survived the war, the 1990s, and the Yeltsin-Putin reforms, but he was apparently unable to survive, unfortunately, United Russia’s desire to hype itself,” Andreyev said.
The councilman appealed to the prosecutor’s office in response to this incident. (Sibir.Realii has obtained a copy of the complaint.) In addition, he has discovered that the campaign “Happy New Year, Veteran!” was a nationwide affair, and that United Russia had visited around 400 veterans in the Novosibirsk region alone. In snapshots featuring veterans, published on the party’s website, the party’s elected officials and representatives are not wearing masks and do not maintain social distancing.
Andreyev noted that in late October, when the State Duma was considering a bill to exempt war veterans from utility bills, 297 United Russia MP “simply refused to press the buttons” [and thus vote in favor of the bill]. Among them were four Novosibirsk MPs, Andreyev said.
There are four points in Andreyev’s complaint. He asks the prosecutor’s office to investigate whether United Russia rep Tatyana Sazonova was complicit in Nikolai Bonkin’s death, whether the individuals in the photos were vaccinated against the coronavirus, and whether they are currently symptomatic. The councilman also asked the prosecutor’s office to find out whether there were other Great Patriotic War veterans who died during or after the “Happy New Year, Veteran!” campaign. In addition, the councilman wants the prosecutor’s office to determine whether there were signs of genocide, [as defined by the Criminal Code,] in United Russia’s actions.
“There is a clause in the article [defining genocide in the Criminal Code] about persecuting a group of people for political reasons. I don’t see anything other than political motives in these actions,” Andreyev explained. “It is important for me to understand who initiated the visits to veterans in local communities. Where did United Russia obtain the personal data of veterans and their relatives? What were their grounds for entering the apartments of elderly people? Who are these people [who paid the visits]? Who verified whether they were political reliable?”
The regional prosecutor’s office did not return our telephone call.
My concept is “civil war”— or rather, “a quiet (civil war).” Another variant might be: cold civil war. I will talk about how the (global) economy of war—hot war, cold war, civil war—is experienced by victims and bystanders in a place seemingly far from actual frontlines. In reality, the frontlines are everywhere—running down the middle of every street, crisscrossing hearts and minds. This permanent war is connected to the project that posits the presence of civil society in one part of the world, while also asserting the necessity of building civil society in other parts of the world where allegedly uncivil social, political, and economic arrangements have been or have to be abolished. The real effect of this high-minded engineering is the destruction of people, classes, and lifestyles whose continued survival in the new order is understood (but hardly ever stated) to be either problematic or unnecessary. The agents of this destruction are varied—from random street crime, assassinations, inflation, alcoholism, factory and institute closures, to pension and healthcare reform, the entertainment and news industry, and urban renovation. The place I will talk about is Russia and Saint Petersburg, where I have lived for much of the past fourteen years. My concept is intended as a memorial to a few victims and local eyewitnesses of this war—people I either know personally or came to know about through the stories of friends or other encounters. I will also sketch the tentative connections between that civil war and the troubles in this part of the world; and, very briefly, show how the victors in this war claim their spoils.
This term—(a quiet) civil war—was suggested to me by the Petersburg poet Alexander Skidan during a conversation we had last spring. I had been telling Alexander about the recent murder of my friend Alexei Viktorov. Alexei is fated to remain a mere footnote in Russian art history. I mean this literally: in a new book, Alexei is correctly identified as the schoolmate of the Diaghilev of Petersburg perestroika art, Timur Novikov, and the painter Oleg Kotelnikov. I met Alexei in 1996, when Oleg let me live in his overly hospitable studio in the famous artists squat at Pushkinskaya-10. Alexei showed up a few weeks later. He had spent the summer in the woods, living off mushrooms and whatever edibles he could find. In his youth, he had acquired the nickname Труп (Corpse). With his gaunt features and skinny frame, he certainly looked the part. As I would soon discover, he was one of the gentlest men on earth. He was also a terrific blues guitarist. And he was the first Hare Krishna in Leningrad and, perhaps, the entire Soviet Union—which was quite a feat, considering that his conversion took place in the dark ages of the seventies.
Last winter, friends chipped in on a plane ticket, and Alexei was able to fulfill a lifelong dream and travel to India. When he and his companions arrived at the Krishna temple, Alexei was greeted by the community as a conquering hero. Since Alexei’s life had been quite miserable of late back home, his friends insisted that he stay behind in India. Instead, he decided to return to Petersburg. A few days after his arrival home he was walking from the subway in the northern Lakes district of the city to the house of a friend. Along the way he was attacked—the police say by a gang of teenagers. The teenagers beat Alexei within an inch of his life and pushed him into a ravine. The police investigator guessed that Alexei had lain unconscious for some time. When he came to, he had apparently struggled to raise his battered body up and clamber out of the ravine; in his struggle, he had for some reason started tearing off his clothes, perhaps because his rib cage and chest were so badly crushed that he was suffocating. His body was discovered a couple days later. The police held it for another few days while they completed their investigation, which led to no arrests. Alexei’s funeral was held a few days afterwards at the Smolensk Cemetery on Vasilievsky Island. He was buried a few hundred meters from the grave of his schoolmate Timur Novikov, who died in 2002.
It was this story that prompted Alexander Skidan’s remark to me: “A quiet civil war has been going on here.” What did Alexander have in mind? What could the random albeit violent murder of a single human being have in common with the explicitly political and massively violent struggles that have taken place here in the former Yugoslavia and such parts of the former Soviet Union as Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia, Tajikistan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Chechnya? How could Alexei—who, as the Russian saying has it, lived “quieter than the water, lower than the grass”—be viewed as an enemy combatant in such a war? Can we really compare his unknown assailants to representatives of the opposite warring party? Given what they did to him, it is clear that they viewed Alexei as their enemy—an enemy subject to sudden, violent execution when encountered in the proper (hidden, invisible) setting.
I anticipate serious objections to my line of argumentation. One such objection I have already heard in the person of my friend Igor. Igor, whose father is Ossetian, and whose mother is Ukrainian, grew up in Dushanbe, which was then the capital of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. I have never been to Dushanbe, but I have heard Igor describe it so many times in such glowing terms that I have come to think of it as heaven on earth. While I am sure that much of the paradisiacal tone in Igor’s recollections has to do with temporal and physical distance, it really does seem that the Dushanbe of the sixties and seventies was a kind of cosmopolitan oasis—a place where all sorts of forced or voluntary exiles from all imaginable Soviet ethnic communities and other cities ended up living in something like harmony.
This harmony bore the name “Soviet Union,” and Igor himself has often seemed to me the ideal homo soveticus (in the positive, internationalist sense of that term), a person to whom the refrain of the popular song—“My address isn’t a street or a building, my address is the Soviet Union”—fits perfectly. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Igor was the country’s leading expert on the seismic stability of electrical substations. From the onset of the Tajik civil war, in the early nineties, Igor was unable to return to Dushanbe. This had to do with the fact that in his internal Soviet passport, his place of birth was identified as Khorog, the capital of the Pamir region, which is where some of the “anti-government” forces had their power base. If Igor had returned to Dushanbe, he could easily have been stopped by soldiers during a documents check and executed on the spot. This is what happened to a number of his friends and schoolmates.
After the war was over, Igor’s father was able to reclaim the family home near Vladikavkaz, in Northern Ossetia, which had been confiscated by the authorities when Igor’s grandfather had been executed as an enemy of the people in the thirties. Northern Ossetia was a relative oasis during the nineties, despite the fact that Chechnya and Ingushetia were just over the mountains and neighboring Southern Ossetia had broken away from Georgia. This relative calm came to an abrupt end in September 2004, when terrorists besieged the school in neighboring Beslan. During the siege, members of Igor’s extended family were killed.
This is how Igor puts it: “Civil war is when the bus you’re on is stopped by soldiers and some of the passengers are taken off to be shot. And you sit there in the bus listening to the sound of gunfire and waiting for it to be over so that you can continue on your way. That’s civil war. What you’re talking about is not civil war.” Igor is certainly right.
He is also wrong in another sense. The quiet civil war I am describing here—among whose victims, I claim, was our friend Alexei—draws its energy and some of its methods from the real civil wars that have been fought in the hinterlands that are literally unthinkable to folks in such seemingly safe, prosperous places as Petersburg and Moscow. An immediate consequence of the siege in Beslan was that President Putin abolished gubernatorial elections in the Russian Federation’s eighty-four regions and federal cities. This, it was argued, would strengthen Moscow’s control—its so-called power vertical—over local officials whose incompetence and corruption had led, supposedly, to guerrillas infiltrating Beslan and capturing the school with such ease. Meanwhile, the civil wars and socioeconomic collapse in places like Tajikistan have led to a flood of refugees and migrant workers into Central Russia and its two capitals. The booming building trade in Moscow and Petersburg to a great degree now depends on the abundant, cheap supply of workers from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and other former Soviet republics.
These workers are literally visible everywhere nowadays: with the oil economy fueling a tidal wave of consumerism whose major players have now turned to real estate as an outlet for investing their wealth, the capitals have become gigantic construction sites. And yet the conditions of their work and their lives are just as literally invisible. For example, Tajik workers and other darker-skinned Central Asians and Caucasians are subjected to frequent, unnecessary documents checks in public places such as subway stations. This is something that every Petersburger and Muscovite has seen ten thousand times, but it is also something they pretend not to see, judging by the lack of public reaction to the practice. Even less reaction is generated by neo-Nazi attacks on such workers, other foreigners, members of Russia’s ethnic minorities, and anti-fascist activists, which have become more and more common in the past several years.
I want to paint one more, brief verbal portrait of another victim in this quiet civil war. This portrait is connected with the violence inflicted on this city and other parts of Serbia during the NATO bombing campaign of 1999. The official and popular reaction in Russia to this violence was quite harsh. There were massive demonstrations outside the US embassy in Moscow; unknown assailants even fired a grenade into an empty office at the embassy. What surprised me were the more spontaneous reactions to the bombings. One day, a young American artist and I were standing in the courtyard of the squat at Pushkinskaya-10 chatting with a local artist. Two acquaintances of ours—members of a well-regarded alternative theater troupe—entered the courtyard. When they saw us, they shouted, “Don’t talk to those Americans! They’re bombing our Serbian brothers!” Since they said all this with a smile, it was hard to know to what extent we were supposed to take their warning as a “joke.”
It occurred to me then that a fundamental shift was occurring in the consciousness of Russians who had been, both in practical and philosophical terms, “westernizers” and “liberals” not long before. That this shift was also extending into the “masses” was confirmed for me a few days later. Late one night, I suddenly heard a drunken-sounding young man yelling up to an apartment across the street: “Masha! Goddammit, come downstairs and let me in!” Since repeated requests had no apparent effect on the silent, invisible Masha, the young man became more explicit in declaring his unhappiness with Masha’s thwarting of his affections. “Masha, you fucking bitch, come down and let me in! You’re breaking my fucking heart!” The turn the man’s soliloquy took next, however, signaled to me that we all were living in a new world. “Masha, go fuck yourself! NATO, go fuck yourselves!” (Маша, пошла ты в жопу! Блок НАТО, пошли вы в жопу!) This effusive condemnation of Masha and NATO continued for some time, after which the thwarted lover fell silent or fell over drunk.
If I had known that I would be invited to speak at this conference nine years later, I would have recorded the whole performance. Instead of speaking to you now, I would have played back the recording in full. Not in order to make fun of the young man whose heart had been broken in two by the combined forces of Masha and NATO, but so that you could hear what the quiet civil war I am trying to talk about sounds like. This is what I meant when I said, at the beginning of my remarks, that the frontlines in this new kind of war cross through hearts and minds and run down the middle of streets. This is not what happens when civil society breaks down; it is what happens when “civil society” is a code word (pronounced and enacted in tandem with other code words such as “democracy” and “liberal economy”) used to camouflage the incursion into the city of invading forces. The new regime they have come to establish can in reality do quite happily without “civil society,” democracy, and liberalism. But these words and the real actions taken and deals made behind their smokescreen are quite effective in destroying the historic and imaginary forms of solidarity that might have given folks like our unhappy young lover the means to defend themselves somehow. Instead, we end up with the muddle in our heads that lets us imagine that Masha and NATO are allied against us. Or that NATO is bringing democracy and security to Afghanistan. Or that, instead, to thwart NATO’s expansion to the east we have to round up Georgian restaurant workers and deport them back to Georgia—which, paradoxically, used to be nearly every Russian’s favorite place on earth.
As Alexander Skidan himself told me, the NATO bombing campaign of 1999 really had destroyed the illusions that he and most everyone else he knew had both about the west and about the meaning of the radical transformation of Russian society that was carried out under the banner of a rapprochement with the west and a leap forward into liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism. What Alexander and his friends saw as the west’s treachery in the Kosovo crisis had thrown a new retrospective light on a period they had until then been experiencing as a golden age for artists and ambitious young people like themselves—an age of unprecedented opportunity for self-expression at home and dizzying trips abroad. Why hadn’t the massive immiseration and unemployment of the post-Soviet population during the early nineties produced this same enlightenment? Or the violent disbanding of the Russian parliament, in 1993? Or the first war in Chechnya? Or the fact that, in Alexander’s case, his own father, a professor at the city’s shipbuilding institute, had gone in a matter of a year or two from being a respected member of his society to being an outmoded nobody who had to struggle to survive? Somehow, Alexander and his kind had noticed all this, of course, and not seen it. Or seen it and decided that these were the sort of temporary measures and necessary obstacles on the road to a better future. As he sees it now, the whole point of the Russian nineties was to decommission and eliminate whole sections of the population—teachers, doctors, factory workers, the poor, the aging, the less ambitious, and the more gullible. And this civil war, which continues to this day, paved the way to the quite logically illiberal current regime.
Which of course is wholly staffed by the victors in the quiet civil war of the nineties—not by the victims, whose victimhood is converted into ever-greater quantities of political, symbolic, and real capital by those same victors. Thus, the current favorite to win the Russian presidential elections in March announced the other day that his goal was to create a strong civil society where the freedoms and rights of all citizens would be cherished and protected.
This is one way to cash in your chips at the end of a successful quiet civil war. But our globalizing economy is such that you can even profit from someone else’s civil wars. My favorite new example of such capitalization is the American alternative band Beirut, the brainchild of 22-year-old Zach Condon, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Overly sensitive types might wonder how you grow up in peaceful Santa Fe and end up calling your band Beirut—but as we Americans love to say, It’s a free country. (In its article on the band’s “Balkan-inspired” debut album, Gulag Orkestar, Wikipedia helpfully explains that the “Gulag was a system of Russian [corrective labor camps] in Siberia.”)
It is too much to expect that alternative radio stations would play, instead of Beirut’s fake Balkan wedding music, the 1999 lament of Masha’s spurned lover. Besides, I didn’t have the good sense to record it and release it as an album.
 “One of the reasons I named the band after that city was the fact that it’s seen a lot of conflict. It’s not a political position. I worried about that from the beginning. But it was such a catchy name. I mean, if things go down that are truly horrible, I’ll change it. But not now. It’s still a good analogy for my music. I haven’t been to Beirut, but I imagine it as this chic urban city surrounded by the ancient Muslim world. The place where things collide.” Rachel Syme, “Beirut: The Band,” New York, 6 August 2006.
In this case, it’s the other way around. All the points about the non-deployment of missiles are the blah-blah-blah, the bow on the behemoth, the pretty packaging. It is the preamble that contains the point of the whole undertaking. It expresses the essence of the “brave new world” for which the Chief Salamander in the Kremlin is waging his war on humanity. And it is no Yalta 2.0 at all. It is completely different.
Yalta has been unfairly slandered by modern journalists. There is not a word in any official document issued by the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences about carving up the world into spheres of influence. All the official communiques are strictly in the spirit of Woodrow Wilson’s global liberal project.
Yalta did have a “false bottom,” of course. Behind the scenes, the leading powers did actually try to negotiate spheres of influence. And the Allies did recognize that the new regimes of Eastern Europe should be “friendly” towards the USSR. But no one said that they had to be totalitarian.
Apparently, the Allies imagined the future of Eastern Europe as something on the order of post-war Finland, a country that was quite “friendly” to the USSR, but retained a liberal-democratic political system. Were they naive? Or did they cynically and hypocritically pretend to believe Stalin? In any case, in 1947 they had every reason to conclude that Stalin had hoodwinked them. That is when the Cold War began. Over its entire duration, the west declared support for the struggle for freedom by all peoples who found themselves under totalitarian rule. This support remained firm during periods of extreme tension, and during periods of “detente.”
The treaty partners then adopted a number of measures against political emigration as “gestures of goodwill.” Hitler was not particularly zealous in this respect, by the way. He limited himself to a rather formal ban on the activities of the White emigre organization NTS — although the Gestapo did not particularly bother preventing the members of this organization from gathering “for a cup of tea.” Stalin went much further. He handed over to Hitler more than 200 German communists who were fleeing the Nazi regime in the USSR. He set a good example of genuine partnership.
The Hitlerite in the Kremlin dreams of a world in which the United States forces its European allies to stop the activities of political emigres from the Russian Federation and its satellites, to ban their conferences and “agitation,” and of course, to extradite them to Moscow at the first request. Putin demands that the United States become a Third Reich. Putin seeks to turn the whole world into a collection of Third Reichs.
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And here’s another thing. The diplomatic gangster Ryabkov has just said that Moscow would negotiate a treaty about NATO solely with the United States. Georgy Kunadze (a former deputy foreign minister), who has always been very restrained in his statements, has called the Kremlin’s demands nonsense.
A question naturally arises. Does Putin’s gang hope to make the Americans knuckle under? Or is it just trolling them, as Alexei Venediktov has argued? If it is trolling them, then why? Why is it itching so insistently for a fight — for the flat refusal that Biden’s team is trying hard to avoid and therefore stupidly stalling for time?
I have my own guess. Apparently, the Kremlin has decided to curtail ties with the countries of the Free World — not only economic ties, but also all others, including informational ties. That is, it has charted a course that involves implementing all manner of Fortress Russia-type projects and transforming Russia into North Korea. So far, the comparisons with North Korea have seemed like an exaggeration. But they don’t seem so farfetched anymore.
The changes to the whole current lifestyle [in Russia] would be profound and painful. Of course, a rather weighty reason is needed for such drastic changes, so the Kremlin is looking for such an excuse. Perhaps its scenario also includes a “little” war in Ukraine. Meaning that the Kremlin imagines it would be a brief war — that it would not lead to a global military clash with NATO, but would force the western countries to cut economic ties with Russia. When that happened we could say that they were the first to destroy all ties —and we could shut down the internet.
The west is trying to avoid this option in every possible way because it is also afraid — not so much of a major war, as of being forced to finally split up the common international space. I will try to write in the near future about why it values this increasingly illusory “common space” so much.