Kazahkstan’s State Oil and Gas Company Besieged by Striking Oil Workers from Zhanaozen

Employees of the Zhanaozen oilfield service company Kezbi LLP were in the capital demanding higher wages and better working conditions for over two weeks. The reason for the workers’ march on Nur-Sultan was the sacking of some strikers and management’s unwillingness to settle the labor dispute at the company.

Striking Zhanaozen oil workers outside KazMunayGas headquarters in Nur-Sultan

A strike of workers at Kezbi LLP in Zhanaozen has been underway since April 18. More than 300 people are involved in the protest. For almost a month, workers have demanded improved working conditions and wage increases. On the seventeenth day of the labor dispute, the company filed a lawsuit against twenty-one employees, and twelve employees were fired for participating in a strike that had earlier been ruled unlawful by a court.

Nevertheless, despite the pressure, the workers have refused to end the strike.

According to the protesters, they are dissatisfied with low wages, numerous violations of their labor rights, and discrimination. Separately, the employees highlight the serious wear and tear of production equipment, which poses a danger to their lives.

Amid the escalation of the conflict, a group of delegates went to Kazahstan’s capital in early May to get the truth [sic]. Twenty-six workers visited the Energy Ministry, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the state-owned oil and gas company KazMunayGas. The oil workers reported that, during negotiations, the Ministry asked to give them time to resolve the issue.

However, without waiting for any concrete actions to resolve the labor dispute on the part of state representatives, the workers moved to “besiege” state agencies and the offices of KazMunayGas.

According to the protesters, there should have been many more envoys, but a number of Kezbi employees who had also planned to fly to the protest site to support their colleagues were unlawfully detained by regional law enforcement agencies. Some of them were threatened as well.

On May 16, after a whole day of silence by agencies and officials and heightened attention from the capital’s civil society groups, the authorities announced that they had created a commission that would be charged with resolving the labor dispute. According to the workers, the working group includes the chief state labor inspector, inspectors from other regions of the country, and officials from KazMunayGas, who have already left for Zhanaozen.

Satisfied with this response, the protesters left the KazMunayGas offices and headed home.

The workers hope that the main issues will be resolved in dialogue with commission. They want to be paid for a twelve-hour working day, receive a wage increase, sign a collective labor agreement, and be transferred to the staff of Ozenmunaigas.

Law enforcement officers watched the protesters the entire time but did not intervene.

Source: Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, 17 May 2022. Thanks to Kirill Buketov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Watch this space for a subtitled version of this recent documentary film about the massacre of striking oil workers in Zhanaozen in December 2011 and its aftermath. I translated the subtitles of this detailed, harrowing film earlier this year.

Absolutely Horizontal

Olga lived in Mariupol for many years. Until February 24, she worked as a courier, while her husband worked at the Azovstal steel works, and their two children studied at school. Since early March 2022, due to the so-called special operation, Mariupol has been under siege, and fighting has been going on in the city. In the middle of the month, when humanitarian corridors opened up, the family was able to get to Donetsk, and from there they took a bus to Petersburg. Their bus tickets were bought by volunteers — ordinary people who are not connected with government agencies. They also met the Mariupol residents in Petersburg and housed them in their apartment for the night, and then took them to Ivangorod, where Olga and her relatives crossed the Estonian border. The family is now in Finland.

There are many similar stories. In Petersburg, hundreds of residents help transit refugees every day. There are so many people willing to help that all requests — from putting up a family of five people and two dogs to transporting a nursing mother with a baby to Ivangorod — are claimed by volunteers in a matter of minutes. Over the border, in the Estonian city of Narva, Ukrainians are also welcomed by volunteers. This is the story of how ordinary citizens sat and watched the news, feeling powerless, but then found an opportunity to help others and themselves.

How Volunteering Heals Witness Trauma
Alexander from Petersburg is an artist. If it weren’t for [the war], he would now be engaged in art making. “I won’t be getting around to art anytime soon, but there will be food for it,” he says.

In April, Alexander and other volunteers launched a platform on the internet where they coordinate requests for assistance in crossing the border with Estonia and (less often) Finland. For security reasons and at the request of the volunteers, we are not publishing a link to this resource. Currently, there are more people willing to help than requests for help: people span up the requests in minutes.

Here is an example of a typical request: “A family is coming from Mariupol: a grandmother, grandfather, their daughter, grandson (12 years old), and a pregnant cat. You need to meet them at the train station, feed them, provide overnight accommodation, chip the cat and put the family on the bus to Tallinn the next morning.”

“Society has been traumatized. People were watching the news and tortured by a feeling of impotence, so we created a platform where we try to cure this powerlessness. I have the feeling that any problem can be solved en masse. People are competing for the opportunity to help,” says Alexander, “and so [the campaign] has turned out absolutely horizontal. People find the requests on their own and fulfill them  on their own. In the past, I worked on the problems in my neighborhood, and back then it was several activists dragging the whole movement like locomotives, but now the wave rolls on by itself.”

We thought we were going to disappear inside Russia, the refugees tell local volunteers. People travel mostly in groups. Most of them are women, children, and the elderly. There are fewer men. “Many people are traveling with their pets,” says Alexander. In addition to Mariupol and the surrounding area, they come from the Kharkiv region, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They are going to European countries, but some seek to  return to Ukraine as quickly as possible because they have relatives there, they can speak their native language, and they don’t have to deal with the “refugee” label.

It is not only Petersburgers who have been helping them to make the journey to the Russian-Estonian border. There are also hundreds of volunteers in Moscow. The Petersburgers are now establishing contacts in Rostov, Krasnodar, and Belgorod, the [southern] Russian cities through which the refugees travel most often.

“The other day I came to my senses, looked up from the screen, and realized that nothing was hurting inside me. I haven’t watched the news for more than a week and I don’t know what is happening in the political space. I have a specific task, it is very simple and clean. Unlike everything else, I have no doubt that it’s a good thing,” says Alexander. “Everyone wants to do good, and helping refugees certainly satisfies this need.”

How Natalia Got from Mariupol to Vilnius via Petersburg
Natalia got from Ukraine to Lithuania thanks to the internet platform where Alexander volunteers.

Previously, she worked as a cook in the Shchiriy Kum retail chain. She has two daughters: one is a high school student, the other, a university student. On the morning of February 24, Natalia went to work as usual. “I heard that there had been an explosion somewhere. But in Mariupol this is so routine that no one paid it any mind. (Echoes of the fighting have been audible in Mariupol since 2014, and most residents were used to the sounds of distant explosions and shooting — The Village.) When I arrived at work, I realized that things were serious. I finished up by three o’clock, and they let us go home. I didn’t go to work anymore after that.”

Natalia and her family remained in Mariupol until March 23. There was no “serious fighting” in her neighborhood, so she and her daughters stayed in their apartment, not in a basement or a bomb shelter. “But our things were packed to leave at any moment,” she says. The electricity in the city had been turned off, and the water was also turned off, so the family went to a spring to get water. Then the gas was turned off, so they had to cook on a bonfire.

When the fighting got close, Natalia, her girls, and her eldest daughter’s boyfriend went to the outskirts of city, where “there were buses from the [Donetsk People’s Republic].” They went on one of these buses to her parents who live near Mariupol and stayed there for three weeks. Then all four of them traveled to Taganrog [a Russian city approximately 120 km east of Mariupol]. At the local temporary accommodation point, they were offered a choice: they could go either to Khabarovsk or to Perm. Natalia didn’t want to go to Khabarovsk or Perm. She needed to get to Lithuania, where a friend of hers lives. That was when a Mariupol acquaintance put her in touch with the Petersburg volunteers.

“The vbolunteers bought us tickets to Petersburg. We got to Rostov, where we boarded a train. In Petersburg, we were met by Ivan, who took us home to eat. We washed up and changed clothes, and he took us to get on a minibus to Ivangorod,” Natalia says. The Mariupol residents crossed the Russian-Estonian border on April 23. “At the Russian border, they asked [my daughter’s boyfriend] where he was going and why.” The Petersburg volunteers had put Natalia in touch with Narva volunteers, and so the family immediately boarded a free bus to Riga.

Natalia is currently in Vilnius. She has no plans to leave — she no longer has the strength to travel with suitcases. “We’ve rented a room. We’re going to look for jobs,” she says.

How to Help via Twitter
“It all started with the fact that I felt helpless and useless. I really wanted to do something,” says Katya from Petersburg.

You can find out about helping refugees who are traveling to Europe via Petersburg on various websites. The one on which the artist Alexander volunteers is the largest. There are others. For example, Katya saw such a request on Twitter. In mid-April, a friend of hers asked whether anyone could welcome a family (a mother, son and daughter) and an 18-year-old girl who was traveling with them for a couple of days. Katya responded. The family was put up by her friend, while Katya took in the girl. “She met the family she came with two weeks before [the war]. They went for a walk once with the boy, and he decided to take her with him. Her mother refused to leave, and so now the girl is all alone, without relatives here,” says Katya.

Katya met the girl at the Moscow Railway Station and they traveled the rest of the way to her house. The question arose: how to talk to a person who has country has been invaded by your own country? “Either we were a match, or the girl herself is this way, but it was easy to communicate with her, like with a sister,” says Katya. They sat down to drink tea, and the girl recounted in a calm voice how one day a tank drove up to the nine-story building in Mariupol where she was hiding in a bomb shelter, raised its turret, and began shooting into the distance. “I was bored, and I started counting. It fired seventy shots,” the girl said.

Before the girl left, Katya and her guest hugged tightly. The Mariupol family eventually stayed in Sweden, while the girl ended up in Germany. “I was constantly thinking about what is it like to live when your city is gone, when it has been wiped off the face of the earth,” says Katya.

What Ivangorod, the Transit Point for Refugees Going to Estonia, Looks Like
It takes two hours to drive from Petersburg to Ivangorod. At the outskirts of the city, you need to show the frontier guards a passport or a special pass for entering the border zone. Refugees are allowed through with an internal Ukrainian passport. A kilometer from the checkpoint, on a pole right next to the highway, storks have built a large nest.

Ivangorod is home to around nine thousand people. Its main attraction is a medieval fortress. In the six years that have passed since The Village‘s correspondents last visited the city, it has become prettier. The local public spaces have been beautified under the federal government’s Comfortable Environment program.

Estonia can be seen from the bank of the Narva River. To get to the European Union, you need to walk 162 meters across the Friendship Bridge. At the entrance there is a hut where insurance used to be sold, but now it is abandoned, its windows broken. People walk down the slope carrying bags and plastic sacks stuffed with things. The local children ride scooters. Closer to the shore, the children turn right onto the embankment, which the local authorities attempted to beautify in the 2010s with funding from the EU. The people carrying bags go to the left.

There are several dozen people at the border checkpoint. A heart-rending meow resounds from the middle of the queue. A woman removes a black jacket from a pet carrier: a hairless Sphynx cat stares at her indignantly.

“Maybe I should let him out on the grass?”

The people in the queue say there is no need, that they will get through quickly. But it seems that this forecast is too optimistic.

“Are they all Ukrainians?” a man with a reflector asks loudly. The people in front of him shrug their shoulders. “Are they Maidanovites? Refugees? Are they fleeing from the nationalists?”

Someone argues that the frontier guards should organize two queues — “for people and for refugees” — to make the border crossing go more quickly.

Under the bar at the border restaurant Vityaz hangs a homemade “Peace! Labor! May!” banner and an image of a dove. On the way to the Ivangorod fortress there is a memorial stone dedicated to “the militiamen, volunteers, and civilians who perished and suffered in the crucible of the war in the Donbas.” The Village‘s correspondents did not encounter a single letter Z — the symbol of the “special operation” — in Ivangorod. Nor they did encounter a single pacifist message either.

How Narva Helps Transit Refugees
At the border checkpoint, people are met by numerous volunteers from various associations, including the Friends of Mariupol. “These are all private initiatives,” says Narva volunteer Marina Koreshkova.

“We have been seeing exhausted people,” says Marina. “Many are in rough psychological condition, and they really want to talk. We listen to them for an hour, two, three — we empathize with them and share important information. People say that while they were traveling through Russia, they saw the Z, heard unpleasant messages addressed to Ukrainians, and were forced to put up with it and remain silent just to get to Europe. But I often see examples of Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe people are just afraid to say the wrong thing.”

Six years ago, Marina and her children moved to Narva from Petersburg, because she understood that the situation in Russia was getting worse. In Russia, she was a lawyer, working for ten years in a government committee on social policy, then as an arbitration manager. She started her life from scratch in Narva, and is now studying new professions. She is a member of Art Republic Krenholmia and Narva Meediaklubi, nonprofits engaged in civil society development and social and creative projects.

On April 10, Marina received a call from the manager of the Vaba Lava Theater Center, who said that they had decided to temporarily convert a hostel for actors into an overnight accommodation for refugees. Soon, the Narva Art Residence also let transit refugees into its hostel for artists. Then the Ingria House, located near the train station, equipped a room to accommodate Ukrainians. And on May 1, a Narva businessman temporarily vacated his office, located near the border, for daytime stays.

“For the first week, Sergei [Tsvetkov, another volunteer] and I tried to do everything ourselves. We quickly realized that at this pace we would burn out or get sick. Now about sixty local volunteers are involved, and people have come from Tallinn to help. The number of people helping out has been growing every day. Local residents collect the refugees’ laundry for washing, and bring them food and medicine.”

Almost none of the refugees remain in Narva. “The proximity to the border generates a new sense of uncertainty for them,” Marina argues. In addition, the region’s refugee registration office, which enables Ukrainians to gain a foothold in Estonia, has been closed. The nearest one still in operation is in Tartu [a distance of 180 km from Narva by car].

Narva is also “the most Russian city in NATO.” Only four percent of the city’s population is ethnic Estonian, and thirty-six percent of residents are Russian passport holder. “I don’t have time to read social media, but until April 10, I constantly observed negative comments [from Narva residents] about the refugees, although I have not seen any outward aggression in the city,” says Marina.

She believes that a welcoming station where refugees could get basic information and relax inside in the warmth should be equipped at the border. “It was quite cold in late April. People were freezing on the border outside in the wind, then thawing out for an hour and not taking off their outerwear.”

There is not even a toilet on the Russian side of the border, however.

Source: “‘An absolutely horizontal business’: How residents of Petersburg and Narva are helping Ukrainian refugees going to Europe,” The Village, 5 May 2022. Image (below) courtesy of The Village. Thanks to JG for the story and the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

______________

Umm Khaled hardly leaves the tent where she lives in northwest Syria, and she says she doesn’t pay attention to the news. But she knows one reason why it is getting harder and harder to feed herself and her children: Ukraine.

“Prices have been going up, and this has been happening to us since the war in Ukraine started,” said the 40-year-old, who has lived in a tent camp for displaced people in the last rebel-held enclave in Syria for the past six years since fleeing a government offensive.

Food prices around the world were already rising, but the war in Ukraine has accelerated the increase since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24. The impact is worsening the already dangerous situation of millions of Syrians driven from their homes by their country’s now 11-year-old civil war.

The rebel enclave in Syria’s northwest province of Idlib is packed with some 4 million people, most of whom fled there from elsewhere in the country. Most rely on international aid to survive, for everything from food and shelter to medical care and education.

Because of rising prices, some aid agencies are scaling back their food assistance. The biggest provider, the U.N. World Food Program, began this week to cut the size of the monthly rations it gives to 1.35 million people in the territory.

The Ukraine crisis has also created a whole new group of refugees. European nations and the U.S. have rushed to help more than 5.5 million Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than 7 million displaced within Ukraine’s borders.

Aid agencies are hoping to draw some of the world’s attention back to Syria in a two-day donor conference for humanitarian aid to Syrians that begins Monday in Brussels, hosted by the U.N. and the European Union. The funding also goes toward aid to the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Last year, the EU, the United States and other nations pledged $6.4 billion to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees. But that fell well short of the $10 billion that the U.N. had sought — and the impact was felt on the ground. In Idlib, 10 of its 50 medical centers lost funding in 2022, forcing them to dramatically cut back services, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.

Across Syria, people have been forced to eat less, the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The group surveyed several hundred families around the country and found 87% were skipping meals to meet other living costs.

“While the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to demand world attention, donors and governments meeting in Brussels must not forget about their commitment to Syria,” NRC’s Mideast Regional Director Carsten Hansen said in a report Thursday.

The U.N.’s children’s agency UNICEF said more than 6.5 million children in Syria are in need of assistance calling it the highest recorded since the conflict began. It said that since 2011, over 13,000 children have been confirmed killed or injured.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said funding for humanitarian operations in Syria is dwindling fast, saying it has received less than half of its funding requirements for this year. “We urgently need nearly $20 million for the cross-border operations” in Syria, the agency said in a statement.

Umm Khaled is among those who rely on food aid. With her aid rations reduced, she has gone deeper in debt to feed her family.

Her husband and eldest son were killed in a Syrian government airstrike in their home city of Aleppo in 2016. Soon after, she escaped with her three surviving children to the rebel enclave in Idlib province. Ever since, they have lived in a tent camp with other displaced people on the outskirts of the town of Atmeh near the Turkish border.

Her family lives on two meals a day — a small breakfast and a main meal late in the afternoon that serves as lunch and dinner. Her only income is from picking olives for a few weeks a year, making 20 Turkish liras ($1.35) a day.

“We used to get enough rice, bulgur, lentils and others. Now they keep reducing them,” she said by telephone from the camp. She spoke on condition her full name is not made public, fearing repercussions. She lives with her two daughters, ages six and 16, and 12-year-old son, who suffered head and arm injuries in the strike that killed his brother and father.

The price of essential food items in northwest Syria has already increased by between 22% and 67% since the start of the Ukraine conflict, according to the aid group Mercy Corps. There have also been shortages in sunflower oil, sugar and flour.

Mercy Corps provides cash assistance to displaced Syrians to buy food and other needs and it says it has no plans to reduce the amount.

“Even before the war in Ukraine, bread was already becoming increasingly unaffordable,” said Mercy Corps Syria Country Director, Kieren Barnes. The vast majority of wheat brought into northwest Syria is of Ukrainian origin, and the territory doesn’t produce enough wheat for its own needs.

“The world is witnessing a year of catastrophic hunger with a huge gap between the resources and the needs of the millions of people around the world,” said WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa.

In many of its operations around the world, WFP is reducing the size of the rations it provides, she said. Starting this month in northwest Syria, the provisions will go down to 1,177 calories a day, from 1,340. The food basket will continue to provide a mix of commodities, including wheat flour, rice, chickpeas, lentils, bulgur wheat, sugar and oil.

Rising prices have increased the cost of WFP’s food assistance by 51% since 2019 and that cost will likely go even higher as the impact of the Ukraine crisis is felt, Etefa said.

Earlier in the year, before the Ukraine conflict began, a 29% jump in costs prompted the Czech aid agency People in Need to switch from providing food packages to giving food vouchers. The vouchers, worth $60, buy less food than the group’s target level, but it had to take the step to “maximize its coverage of food assistance to the most vulnerable,” a spokesperson told The Associated Press.

As the world turns to other conflicts, “Syria is on the verge of becoming yet another forgotten crisis,” Assistant U.N. Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya warned in late April.

In northwest Syria, “a staggering 4.1 million people” need humanitarian aid, Msuya said — not just food, but also medicines, blankets, school supplies and shelter. She said almost a million people in the territory, mainly women and children, live in tents, “half of which are beyond their normal lifespan.”

Many fear that the situation could only get worse in July, because Russia may force international aid for the northwest to be delivered through parts of Syria under the control of its ally, President Bashar Assad.

Currently, aid enters the Idlib enclave directly from Turkey via a single border crossing, Bab al-Hawa. The U.N. mandate allowing deliveries through Bab al-Hawa ends on July 9, and Russia has hinted it will veto a Security Council resolution renewing the mandate.

A Russian veto would effectively hand Assad control over the flow of aid to the opposition enclave and the U.S. and EU had warned earlier they will stop funding in that case.

The result will be a severe humanitarian crisis, likely triggering a new flood of Syrian migrants into Turkey and Europe, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs warned in a report.

Umm Khaled said she has no choice but to endure her deteriorating living conditions.

“They keep reducing our food basket,” she said. “May God protect us if they cut it completely.”

Source: Bassem Mroue, “Syrians in desperate need of aid hit hard by Ukraine fallout,” AP News, 8 May 2022. Thanks to Harald Etzbach for the story.

Krovfeta

“It’s a Soviet-era candy bar made with cow’s blood.”
Still from “Enervo,” Season 4, Episode 20 of The Rookie (ABC)

‘Following a drive during which we learned that Agent Fox is gay and Simone herself is bi, Fox tasked Clark with rifling through screens and screens of tipline calls possibly about the Russian, but “people person” Simone instead sneaked off to talk to locked-up Zeke, her former student, asking if he remembered anything else about the bomber. This led to Zeke sketching a Russian candy bar that the guy munched on, and that in turn — thanks to some Russian musicians that Simone’s dad Cutty sometimes jams with — led Simone to a store. Not waiting for Nolan to catch up, Simone approached and tried to chat up Gurin by herself, but that led to a brief brawl, where the Russian walloped the unarmed trainee hard, and then ran off.’

Source: Matt Webb Mitovich, “The Rookie: Grade Part 2 of the Spinoff Pilot, Tell Us If You’d Watch It,” TVLine, 1 May 2022. In Russian, konfeta means “candy,” and is derived from the Italian confetto. The Russian word for “blood” is krov’ (with a so-called soft v), not krov (as here, with a so-called hard v), which, on the contrary, means “roof” and, by extension, “shelter, a place to stay” (“a roof over one’s head”). So, in their misguided effort to confect “blood candy,” the writers of The Rookie actually conjured up a “roofy.” And the Russian word for “chocolate” is shokolad, not shokold, as here. But that mistake can be put down to Zeke’s “poor” memory. UPDATE (2 May 2022). My boon companion, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union, told me earlier today that she and other children were given sweet “Hematogen” nutrition bars to raise their hemoglobin levels, as she put it. These bars were sold in pharmacies and labeled as such, not as chocolate, candy or “krovfeta.” Adults did not eat Hematogen bars, she said, adding that she stopped eating them when she realized what was in them. In 2019, Vice published a provocatively titled article about Hematogen bars that might have inspired the writers at The Rookie. I’m happy to admit that, despite having lived in Russian twenty-plus years, I’d never heard of them until today. ||| TRR

Broken Glass Cake

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.”

Source: “Paris Colonial Exposition,” Wikipedia


Broken Glass Cake

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?

Source: Grigorii Golosov, Facebook, 28 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


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

We’ll Replace You

“We’ll replace [them, you, etc.]”

An art installation about import substitution has appeared in the center of St. Petersburg today. While some are recalculating advertising budgets and monitoring news about global brands resuming operations in Russia, others are replacing [them]. 👀

Source: Sostav.ru: Advertising and Marketing in Russia, Facebook, 27 April 2022, via Five Corners community page. Translated by the Russian Reader

Our Wounds Are Bridges

The threads that bind us from Syria to Ukraine

Ukraine and Syria share histories of struggle; struggles for freedom in the face of terror, violence and authoritarianism.

Together, in the spirit of mutual curiosity and collaboration, we will explore common questions: What are the realities on the ground right now in Syria and Ukraine? What can we learn from each others’ struggles for freedom and justice? What possibilities are there for new international solidarities? What can we do together that we can’t do alone?

Together we heal, we make sense of the world, we build the power to change it. Our shared pain is a portal. Join leading Syrian and Ukrainian thinkers and activists, as we build bridges from our wounds.

Interpretation will be available in Ukrainian, Arabic, and Russian.

Speakers:

Yassin al-Haj Saleh – Syrian writer and former political prisoner. Yassin is the author of several books on Syria, prison, and contemporary Islam. He is the husband of Samira al-Khalil, who was abducted by an armed Islamist group in Douma in December 2013.

Wafa Mustafa – Syrian activist, journalist, and detention-survivor. Mustafa left Syria in 2013, after her father was forcibly disappeared by the regime, and now advocates for those impacted by detention – with a particular focus on young girls and women, and families.

Yuliya Yurchenko is a Senior Lecturer and researcher in Political Economy at the University of Greenwich. She is the author of ‘Ukraine and the Empire of Capital’, and researches the relationships between state, capital, and social relations with a particular focus on Europe and Ukraine.

Taras Bilous – Ukrainian historian and activist with the Social Movement Organisation. Taras is an editor for the Commons: Journal of social critique, covering war and nationalism.

Part of Post-Extractive Futures, organised by: War on Want, Tipping Point, and Junte Gente.

Register for this event here. Thanks to Taras Bilous and Harald Etzbach for the information. ||| TRR


[UPDATE: 5 May 2022]

Last Thursday, hundreds of us gathered online to hear the testimonies and reflections of Yassin, Wafa, Yuliya, and Taras. 

Together, they spoke about the current situations in Syria and Ukraine, the despairing patterns of colonial occupation that bind them together, and the importance of connecting and collaborating in order to bring about justice. 

If you were unable to make it in the end, or you want to watch it again, you can find a link to the recording of the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYqsOPEsuN0&t=1s

You can also find a transcription of the event here: https://antidotezine.com/2022/04/15/our-wounds-are-bridges/

Links to essays and interviews that the four speakers referenced during the event can be found here:

Yassin Al-Haj Saleh
‘The Ukranian-Russian-Syrian Triangle’: https://aljumhuriya.net/en/2022/03/25/the-ukrainian-syrian-russian-triangle-and-the-world/
‘The Impossible Revolution’ (book): https://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/the-impossible-revolution/
‘Letters to Samira’: https://www.aljumhuriya.net/en/content/letters-samira-15

Yuliya Yurchenko
‘Ukraine and the Empire of Capital’(book): https://www.plutobooks.com/author/yuliya-yurchenko/
‘Ukraine and the Dis(integrating) Empire of Capital’ (essay): https://lefteast.org/ukraine-disintegrating-empire-of-capital/

Wafa Ali Mustafa
‘Gone but not forgotten: Syria’s missing persons’: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct3035
‘Wafa Mustafa: the woman fighting to find her father – and all of Syria’s disappeared’: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jul/14/wafa-mustafa-the-woman-fighting-to-find-her-father-and-all-of-syrias-disappeared

Taras Bilous
‘A Letter to the Western Left from Kyiv’: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/a-letter-to-the-western-left-from-kyiv/
‘The Left in the West must Rethink’ (interview): https://commons.com.ua/en/left-west-must-rethink/

Source: Excerpts from an email from Post-Extractive Futures, 21 April 2022

The Problem with Bothsidesism

Is this monstrous war of aggression really between two equal sides?

An open letter in response to the Manifesto Against the War

Dear comrades,

I write in anger and sorrow about your Manifesto Against the War, to which I turned in the hope of learning from you about how we can situate the anti-war movement in the wider struggle against capital.

Enumerating the causes of military conflict, you refer, first, to “the growing rivalry between the greatest imperialist powers”. Third is “Islamic fundamentalism”. But before that, second, comes that “the US government has positioned its military alliance system, NATO, against the Russian Federation to prevent the integration of the defunct Soviet empire’s successor into an enlarged, stable and peaceful European order with mutual security guarantees”.

Demonstrations in Ukrainian cities occupied by the Russian armed forces are part of a people’s war

You don’t explain why you think that, in this age of the deep crisis of the capitalist system – which in your words “unleashes ever more violent struggles for geostrategic zones of influence” – such a “peaceful European order” could ever have been possible.

That hope, embraced by Mikhail Gorbachev and many social democrats in the 1990s, was surely dashed as the economic crises of neoliberalism (1997-98, 2008-09, etc) multiplied, as the Russian bourgeoisie emerged in its 21st-century form on one hand, and the alliance of western powers pursued their murderous wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere on the other.

Download this letter as a pdf.

You don’t explain why you name the US government and NATO, and Islamic fundamentalism, as causes of the current war … but not the Russian elite, which actually started it.

You turn causes into effects, and effects into causes, in order to justify this focus on the US and NATO. So, immediately following your point about the US using NATO to prevent Russia’s integration into a stable European order, you continue: “The sabotage of Nord Stream 2 shows that economic pressure is just as important here as it is in the positioning against China.”

This just doesn’t fit with the facts. Nord Stream 2 was a major point of dispute between the German ruling class and its US counterpart. For years, the US sought to sanction the pipeline, and the German government resisted. In July 2021, the Biden administration struck a deal with chancellor Merkel under which the pipeline would be completed. The German desire to integrate Russia, at least as a trading partner, prevailed.

The pipeline was finally frozen by the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, on 22 February, the day after Russian president Putin recognised the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” – a clear indication that the Minsk peace process was finished and that Russia was preparing for some sort of war. Russia acted; Germany reversed its long-standing policy.

The freezing of Nord Stream 2 put no discernible economic pressure on Russia, anyway. The point of the pipeline was to enable Russia to pipe gas to European destinations without taking it across Ukraine. It was designed to reduce Russian dependence on Ukraine for pipeline transit, that is, to produce a geopolitical benefit rather than any significant economic benefit. The western powers have imposed heavy economic sanctions on Russia – after it invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

The reason you mix up causes and effects is clear. Your narrative description of the post-Soviet period mentions the collapse of the Soviet empire, the loss of those (to my mind illusory) “quite favourable” chances of Russia “democratising” – and then the failure of that option due to NATO expansion. The arrogance inherent in that expansion “created the external conditions in Russia for the implementation of a strategy of imperialist revisionism” under Putin, you say.

I would dispute the prevalence of NATO expansion as an “external condition”. I think the broader crises of capital, and of its neoliberal management strategy, were far more important. But what about the internal conditions? You don’t mention those. What about the reconstruction of the Russian bourgeoisie in the post-Soviet period, and its relationship with the post-Soviet repressive apparatus represented by Putin? Where does that fit into your analysis?

Your focus on the “external condition” means that your account of Russian militarism is one-sided. The Georgian war in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea were “warning signals” that were “disregarded” by NATO, which, according to you, built “infrastructure” in Ukraine. What “infrastructure”? (NATO was always divided about admitting Ukraine as a member, and until last month’s invasion kept its military relationship with Ukraine at a low level.)

Your account of Russian militarism starts in 2008. What about the murderous assault on Chechnya in 2000-02, which first cemented Putin’s position as president, and was supported by NATO? What about the Russian assault on eastern Ukraine in 2014, which you incorrectly describe as a “civil war with indirect Russian involvement”? What was “indirect” about a war in which Russian mothers lost their sons on the front line, fighting in Russian army uniforms? What is “indirect” about the massive logistical, financial and political support given by the Russian government to the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics”?

Most telling of all, you don’t mention Syria. The drowning of the Syrian uprising in blood in 2015-16, surely the greatest defeat of a revolutionary movement in this century, was accomplished by the Assad regime with powerful Russian military support.

The NATO powers stood back and allowed this to continue (while they themselves fought their own wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan) for the same reason that they acquiesced in Putin’s actions against Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine: because for all their disavowals of “spheres of influence”, they were content that Russia should act as a gendarme for international capital in certain geographical areas. As indeed they were content to see Russian troops intervene against the Belarussian uprising in 2020, and in Kazakhstan in 2022.

You write: “this catastrophic war of aggression was also preceded by imperialist acts of aggression on the part of the West, which provoked in Putin’s Russia a geostrategic logic common to all imperialist power elites”. Sure! The Russian empire, with its rich history of suppression of its colonies and its own people, needed to be provoked by the western powers, in order to make war on the oldest of those colonies. Just like the British ever needed provoking, before making war on Ireland. (I hope my sarcasm comes through OK in a written text.)

Your policy proposals reflect your skewed view that this is a war between two equal sides. You make serious points, and I hope they are discussed. But first we have to be clear. Is this monstrous war of aggression really between two equal sides? Only one side is shelling and terrorising civilians, and arresting and murdering those who defy its occupying forces. (Remember Putin’s declaration on the first day? “We don’t intend to occupy”? Tell them that in Mariupol.)

Do you really believe this is an inter-imperialist conflict, with no element of a people’s war? Why else did you neglect to mention those thousands of Ukrainians fighting outside the state framework to defend their own communities, with arms in hand or in other ways? Because they didn’t fit your preconceived interpretation?

I write with anger because I have had such great respect for some of the signatories of the manifesto, and the contribution they have made to the development of socialist thinking. In the 1990s – when studying both the Russian revolution and modern-day Russia showed me that Trotskyism, the framework I had accepted before then, was wanting – autonomism was one of the trends that I began to study and learn from. Including what some of you have written.

Your statement looks as though you decided the conclusion – that this is fundamentally an inter-imperialist conflict, and nothing more – and worked back from there to interpret the facts. Comrades, that’s the wrong way round. The younger generation deserves better, from all of us.

In solidarity,

Simon Pirani. (21 March 2022.)

PS. I have written about my own view here, if it’s of interest.

Source: People and Nature, 21 March 2022. Reprinted here with the author’s permission. ||| TRR

Tetiana Bezruk: My Neighborhood in Kiev

Tetiana Bezruk: “My neighborhood in Kyiv after it was shelled by the Russians.” Facebook, 21 March 2022

I really love my neighborhood in Kiev.

It seems that none of my friends and acquaintances gets this. They usually laugh at it.

I can even see their point. It’s a bedroom community, and residential buildings, kindergartens, schools, and shops are the only things there. By Kiev standards, it doesn’t even have a decent bar.

Every Saturday morning, I would wake up at a “non-weekend” time. I really could have slept until 10 a.m., but I had a little ritual.

Every Saturday morning, I would first go to buy coffee in a small cafe where they also sold Basque cheesecake. The small bits of sweet сurd stuck to the roof of my mouth and smeared on my plate. It was tasty and pleasant.

After having coffee, I would go to the market. I have several stalls where I buy everything. I buy large, sweet red peppers and tomatoes at the stall over there. Un-tomato-fortunately, I’m from the Kherson region and I won’t buy just any old crappy tomatoes. Tomatoes should smell like the field, as they did when I was a child, at Dad’s “fazenda.” They should be plum-like and dense, red and redolent — not green. It’s easier to find big, beautiful peppers.

Then I would have to go deep into the market to find basil or, say, green lettuce. After that I would look for apples, but they could not be sour or sweet. Apples are also a problem: it all depends on my mood. Then I would buy pears or plums. I might also go to the woman selling sweets and buy eight caramelized-milk “nuts.”

In autumn, chrysanthemums would be sold in flowerpots at the exit from the market. At home, we called such flowers “oaklings.” They have small flowers, like calendula: yellow, brown, burgundy, pink. It’s always hard to resist them. Once, I broke down and picked out a huge flowerpot for myself. But I couldn’t pay for it because I only had a bank card on me, no cash. I was quite upset.

After the market, I would go for a walk in the woods. I would put on headphones and listen to podcasts. Admittedly, one time I got fed up with them and I just walked through the woods, watching children climbing on ropes, grownup men and women drinking in the “great outdoors,” and a little boy asking a squirrel to get down from a tree. “Squirrel, get down!” he said to it.

By the way, there are a lot of squirrels in the woods. There are even three of them on one of the trails. They are brave, unafraid of passersby. Someone even brings them nuts.

I loved those Saturdays so much. When I was tired, I would live from one Saturday to the next. I had personal reasons. :)) I walked 8-10 km a day, so I had to keep the bar high.

If these walks happened in the evening, I would return home after dark. There were dozens of lights on in every building, the windows covered with different curtains. I always wanted one of them to be mine. For this neighborhood to become a real home to me, because it was already was a home, I only had to find a good realtor and buy a flat.

That was what I had been doing for two months before full-scale war broke out. I wanted a flat in my neighborhood or in Irpen. My parents urged me on. I was stressed and said that I didn’t have time for everything, that I had a lot of work, but I was looking.

Yesterday, the Russian army shelled my neighborhood. I hate Russia for that. There are only kindergartens, schools, residential buildings, and shops in my neighborhood. And there is also a woods with ropes that children climb on weekends.

I really love the place where I live. I have always defended it in arguments with friends, trying to prove that my neighborhood is the best, because I feel good here. I’m at home here. My house has everything: my favorite hair masks and body scrub, photos of my parents, earrings that I don’t have time to wear, a new eyeliner that I spent as much time looking for as for an apartment.

I love the tall pines and the neighborhood market. I love the baklava with nuts at the store next door. I love the store that sells the flowers that I buy to bring home, because I always have to have flowers in my apartment. And my love for my home will always be stronger than the hatred in me now.

Source: Tetiana Bezruk, Facebook, 21 March 2022. Translated, from the Russian, by Thomas H. Campbell. Thanks to Ms. Bezruk, a Ukrainian journalist based in Kyiv, for her permission to publish this translation.