Pskov Rallies in Solidarity with Reporter Svetlana Prokopieva

prokopievaSvetlana Prokopieva. Courtesy of Article 19

“People Haven’t Found Another Way to Voice Their Opinions and Make Themselves Heard” 
moloko plus
February 16, 2019

In early February, the home of journalist Svetlana Prokopieva was searched by the security forces, who suspect her of “vindicating terrorism.” If charged and convicted, she could face seven years in prison. In November 2018, Prokopieva shared her thoughts about the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk live on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. In December, Roskomnadzor, the Russian media watchdog, claimed the journalist’s statement could be interpreted as “vindication of terrorism.”

What do the people in Prokopieva’s hometown of Pskov think? We spoke with people who attended a rally there in support of her on February 10 and wrote down what they told us.

Nikita, 24, woodworker
I came to this rally to support someone whom the authorities are attempting to punish unjustly simply because she analyzed certain things on her radio program. And for that her home was surrounded by a SWAT team.

First, it’s a shame this is happening in Pskov. I’d always had the sense Pskov was a democratic city, a city of free speech. But things have a changed a bit, apparently.

I don’t think Russia has passed the point of no return yet, but, judging by such cases, it is trying to get there whatever the cost.

Rallies like this also give a boost to the people who attend them. You get the sense you’re not alone, that there are quite a few other people who think like you. Maybe this will also help Svetlana.

Maria, 40, homemaker
I came to this rally to support Svetlana, who back in the day wrote about us and really helped us. She got the attention of our region’s governor, who was then Andrei Turchak, because it was really hard to get to him. But Svetlana helped us with that.

The authorities just took our property. Rosimushchestvo [the Federal Agency for State Property Management] used photocopies of documents to register our house in their name, and so we lost everything. Then our daughter Serafima was born. The doctors diagnosed her with Down Syndrome. We were immediately faced with a whole slew of trials. But Svetlana wrote about us from the very beginning of this business. She found our family when we were still building the house. It was then we had given a gift to the city by restoring a fourteenth-century wall. My husband was given an award for that. They gave him an award, but then they confiscated our house.

Around the same time, there was the “Direct Line” TV program with Vladimir Putin. I think Svetlana is the sort of person who should be on the president’s team, who should work with governors and officials.

Svetlana did an investigative report and helped us. Turchak himself took charge of the matter of our house and an inspection team (sent by President Putin, I think) came to have a look. I would like our rulers to have incorruptible and honest people like Svetlana Prokopieva on their teams.

We don’t want revolutions. We just want there to be good people close to our president and our governors. Now we have a new governor. [Instead of persecuting Prokopieva], they should make her part of his team, and then everything would be terrific in our city.

Guslyana, 40, works in agriculture and handicrafts
I have read the newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya for fifteen years. It’s an excellent newspaper, one of the few independent newspapers in Pskov Region and Russia.

So, I think it’s quite important to defend a reporter from the newspaper, just like any independent reporter who tells the truth.

I think [the charges against Prokopieva] are fabricated and far-fetched. Lots of people say similar things publicly and privately. The lack of opportunities for peaceful protest cause certain people to become radicals, terrorists, and so on. I don’t consider what Prokopieva said a call for terrorism or vindication of terrorism.

It’s just getting at the root of the problem.

I would argue that when the authorities persecute journalists they are just trying to crack down on the independent press and intimidate activists and freethinkers.

God forbid the case should end with Prokopieva’s actual imprisonment. Whether it does or doesn’t happen primarily depends on us.

I would like to quote another of my favorite op-ed writers and journalists [sic], Yekaterina Schulman. She says the only effective thing is public scrutiny and grassroots protest. When they don’t work, nothing else will work at all.

Natalya, 65, pensioner, village councilwoman
I came to this rally because I had to come. That’s all there is to it. There was no way I would not come.

I think it’s a disgrace when a person is punished for her honesty and integrity.

When I heard about the case on Echo of Moscow radio station, the word “lawlessness” [bespredel] came to mind, since this is state-sponsored lawlessness.

I listened to the program on the radio and I wanted to find the article on the internet, but couldn’t find it. I recall, though, that what Svetlana had said was quoted verbatim on the radio program, as far as I understood. There was nothing criminal about it. Moreover, I agreed with her.

I believe we should value, respect, and help such people, not run them into the ground by filing criminal charges like that against them. If it weren’t for such people, the government would simply rot due to a lack of criticism. Maybe the government doesn’t want to be criticized, of course, but if wants to progress and see its mistakes, it has to have people like this. And help them.

Anya, 38, businesswoman
We came to Svetlana’s rally carrying placards about free speech. This illustration of a pencil clenched in a fest was used at the peace march in Paris in 2015 after the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. I was part of that demo in France four years ago, and now I am here. Of course, there are fewer of us in Pskov, but Pskov is not Paris.

All of us are in the media and on the social networks. We all voice our opinions. None of us is immune to this terror directed against us, actually. We want the right to speak our minds.

Svetlana, 38, content manager
I know Svetlana personally: my previous job had to do with the mass media. Personally, I want to live in a free country where I have the right to speak out, where I can voice my thoughts freely. It’s due to all these things that I’m here.

I read the article for which they are trying to bring Svetlana up on criminal charges. I didn’t find any vindication of terrorism in it. She was simply making an argument. She said nothing radical and made no calls for terrorism.

She merely discussed the situation and why it happened.

First, one of the speakers [at the rally] was right. I don’t consider it a terrorist attack. The individual could find no other way to voice his opinion so it would be heard. After all, he left a note, a message on a Telegram chat channel that he was opposed to the FSB’s use of torture.

How could he make himself heard? It turns out he couldn’t.

Pavel, 21, vigilante, guarding the rally
The people’s militia here in Pskov sent me to the rally to maintain order.

I gather [the authorities] are prosecuting a journalist for a critical article. I didn’t read the article, but I don’t think anyone has abolished freedom of speech [in Russia]. It’s another matter altogether that it falls under our country’s laws.

From the ethical point of view, however, she did nothing wrong, of course.

I believe that peaceful rallies like this one, only publicity and dissemination of information, can help individuals avoid criminal prosecution in Russia.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Moscow Anarchist Azat Miftakhov: Arrested, Tortured and Missing

azatMoscow anarchist Azat Miftakhov at the center of a selfie taken, apparently, by the Center “E” officers who tortured him. Screenshot courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
February 2, 2019

For a day and a half, lawyers have been unable to see Azat Miftakhov, an anarchist and Moscow State University graduate student who was detained yesterday. Yesterday evening, Miftakhov was taken from the Balashikha police station as a defense counselor looked on and taken to parts unknown. Miftakhov was bruised and surrounded by eight cop. It has been twenty-four hours since he was last seen. No one knows his whereabouts, his condition, and the charges against him.

On the other hand, Ren TV and Rossiya 24 have broadcast photos and videos from the Miftakhov’s search and interrogation. In one of them, an investigator mocks Miftakhov, who is handcuffed, when he claims he is afraid of being tortured. The Center “E” officers take a selfie with their prisoner. (I was unable to find any other photo, so that’s why it illustrates this post.)

The folks who were detained along with Miftakhov, but released yesterday, report they were beaten and tortured with electric shocks. The torture was so bad that yesterday Miftakhov “didn’t look like a human being.” He attempted to slash his wrists to keep from being tortured again. Today, lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina heard an investigator in court talking to someone about it.

The authorities did not produce Miftakhov in court today for his own custody hearing.

Like a year ago in Petersburg, torture is happening practically in broad daylight, but we don’t know what to do.  Yesterday, when I left a message on the Moscow police’s hotline, the operator almost laughed at me. Just as Putin claimed [at a recent meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights] that FSB officers don’t torture people in vehicles, she doubted what I was saying.

“He’s being tortured right in an Interior Ministry building? Right now? Give me a break,” she said to me.

A missing person report on Miftakhov has been filed, and lawyers have been trying since yesterday to get access to him. But what’s the point?

I hope this hell ends for him as soon as possible.

Here are a few links to articles [in Russian] about what has transpired about the searches and arrests in Moscow since yesterday.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Leonid Volkov: Hocus Pocus

sberbankThe homepage of Sberbank of Russia’s online banking service looks reassuring at first glance, although a warning in the bottom right-hand corner reads, “Safety rules: If you are asked to enter your Sberbank Online password to cancel a transaction, don’t do it. These are con men.” Screenshot by the Russian Reader

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
January 30, 2019

Watch for the sleight of hands.

1. On January 25, the long-forgotten and abandoned Registry of Information Distributors or the ORI, a list of websites obliged to supply information about the activities and correspondence of their users to the FSB via SORM, suddenly added a few sites. From the perspective of the laws governing the ORI, the new additions were odd, ranging from stihi.ru, a poetry website, to such major services as Sberbank Online.

2. On January 29, Kommersant newspaper published a story, corroborated by many other media outlets, about a new, large-scale cyber confidence scheme targeting Sberbank clients. The criminals telephone clients from what appears to be Sberbank’s number (an easy enough spoof). They mislead them by providing them with loads of detailed information about their accounts, including their correct current balance. This last bit would very much appear to be a leak from Sberbank Online or an intercept of the SMS messages the banks sends to its clients.

Is it a coincidence?

Maybe.

But it’s definitely a vital occasion to reflect on the actual consequences of all the laws on internet surveillance. Not about the virtual fight against virtual terrorism, but the very real transfer of huge amounts of sensitive data to the FSB, whose officers are corrupt and subject to absolutely no oversight.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Halo’s in Your Head

390px-unsc_insignia_(post-war)

The nonstop international hasbara hoedown Quora gets all the best “specialists” to answer its readers’ pressing questions.

When my personal favorite Quora hasbarista, “Dima Vorobiev, I worked in Soviet propaganda,” is unable to make the shaky, miserable, mean, destructive Putin regime look indestructible and infallible, “Ha Dang, Military Specialist at United Nations Space Command (2016-present” picks up the slack.

Who would win in a war between Russia and Germany?
Ha Dang, Military Specialist at United Nations Space Command (2016-present)
Answered Mar 11, 2018
Russia vs Germany ( Great Patriotic War Vol.2)

No Allies involved (NATO would not support Germany)
No Nukes

[…]

Though a lot of experts said that it is most likely Russian land invasion would be stampede, since their T-72 and T-80s are too fragile when facing tanks like Leopard 2 or Abrams. However, with the advent of T-72B3, T-80BVM, T-90s and T-14 Armata, it is the Russian, who are enjoying both numerical and technological edge. With a force of 3600 modern tanks, Russia can quickly capture Berlin within 4 weeks, instead 4 years like it did 73 years ago.

Final Verdict:

Russian Victory

Why does garbage like this matter?

Because people read it. This particular post garnered 60,400 views for “Ha Dang, Military Specialist.” That’s only 22,000 or so fewer views than the Russian Reader got all last year, even though I never publish hasbara and fake news, much less the “expert” opinions of self-avowed propagandists and video game enthusiasts.

This is the brave new world Alex Jones, Donald Trump, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Mark Zuckerberg, and other world-historical creeps have bestowed on us.

The essence of this topsy-turvy world is well expressed by Quora superstar “Dima Vorobiev, I worked in Soviet propaganda.”

Does Dima Vorobiev add his own propaganda and biases into his answers?

[…]

Obviously, I do. As a propaganda veteran, I believe that hardly anything people tell each other, is ever unbiased. Everything is propaganda—you just have to accept that, like death and taxes.

What is my bias? I’m the wrong person to ask: I don’t know. I live inside my own bias. Don’t ask fish what water feels like. It’s got no idea, it just swims in there.

It’s also a world where 60,400 people were impressed by Ha Dang’s arguments, even though he “works” at a fictitious agency that only exists in the “military science fiction first-person shooter video game franchise” Halo.

The United Nations Space Command (UNSC) is the military, exploratory, and scientific agency of the Unified Earth Government which acted as the emergency governing body of the human race at large for a time. The UNSC was formed in the 22nd century, a time when remnants of old cultural ideologies clashed for supremacy in the Sol System. The UNSC served mainly as overseer of United Nations military operations in space. After initiating massive militarization propaganda throughout its off-world colonies, through the UNSC, the UN defeated Frieden and Koslovic insurgent forces in a conflict known as the Interplanetary War, which consisted of several side-battles that took place on Mars, the Jovian Moons and the South American rainforests. Although the Interplanetary War brought a great deal of suffering to both the colonial population and the residents of Earth, it also united most of humanity’s military forces by the end of the 22nd century.

This is one of the reasons I have nearly given up on the idea that this website has much to contribute to a conversation that is anything but intelligible. The masses (or, at least, a worryingly large number of people) want racist, fascist, apocalyptic, pro-Putinist fairy tales for breakfast, dinner, and supper, not the complicated but ultimately discoverable truth. {TRR}

UNSC logo courtesy of Halopedia

“If It Were Up to Me, I Would Kill You”

baburova-women's historical night“Anastasia Baburova. #Women’s History Night,” Central Petersburg, May 22, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Marchers Detained at Markelov and Baburova Memorial Event in Moscow
Mediazona
January 19, 2019

Police have detained people attending a march in Moscow marking the tenth anniversary of the murders of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and Novaya Gazeta reporter Anastasia Baburova, Kommersant reporter Alexander Chernykh has reported on his Telegram channel.

According to Chernykh, police have detained journalist Igor Yasin, who was carrying a rainbow-colored flag, and five other people. The reasons for their arrests are unknown. The march has been halted.

OVD Info has reported that four people have been detained. Aside from Yasin, the detainees include Nikolai Kretov, Dmitry Borisenko, and Mikhail Komrakov.

Komrakov told OVD Info that when he was detained, a policeman said to him, “If it were up to me, I would kill you.”

According to Kretov, policemen hit him after he was put in a paddy wagon.

The Markelov and Baburova memorial march began at two o’clock on Tverskaya Boulevard and was scheduled to end with the laying of flowers at the spot where they were murdered on Prechistenka Street.

On January 19, 2009, Nikita Tikhonov, a member of the Russian neo-Nazi organization BORN (Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists), shot and killed Markelov and Baburova in downtown Moscow in broad daylight. Tikhonov and his accomplice Yevgenia Khasis were subsequently convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment and eighteen years in prison, respectively.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Relentless Repression in Russia: Why Londoners Are Demonstrating on January 19

Relentless repression in Russia: why we will demonstrate on Saturday 19 January
People and Nature
14 January 2019

On Saturday, January 19, we will demonstrate in London in solidarity with Russian antifascists. Eleven of them, who have been arrested, tortured, and accused of fabricated “terrorism” charges, are awaiting trial. Many others have faced a relentless campaign of persecution by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the police, as summarized in the following article.

Please join us on Saturday to support the Russian antifascists and strengthen international solidarity against fascism, xenophobia, and state terror. Please repost and share this article.

Details of our London event here.

2018 summary

By Misha Shubin, 31 December 2018 (Original Russian text here)

I’ve also decided to sum up the year. Not my own year, but rather to remember what happened to anarchists and leftists in Russia in 2018. This post will be long, and many of you know  or heard something about the events I recount here.

But I think it is very important not to forget all this. [Note. Links from the original article to Russian-language sources are included. Links to English translations or relevant articles in English added where available. Translator.]

The Network Case

Eleven anarchists and antifascists have been arrested. They are accused of setting up a terrorist group and planning terrorist attacks. According to the Federal Security Service (FSB), they wanted to organise an armed uprising in Russia.

Almost all the evidence has been gathered on pain of torture. The detainees were beaten up. Some of them were tortured using shocks from a stationary electric dynamo, others with tasers. At least one of the accused, Dmitry Pchelintsev, was hung upside down.

The accused are Yegor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Andrei Chernov, Viktor Filinkov, Igor Shishkin, Yuli Boyarshinov, Mikhail Kulkov, and Maksim Ivankin.

What to read:

“How the FSB is manufacturing a terrorist case against antifascists in Russia”

What else you need to know about this case:

“A witness in the ‘network’ case, Ilya Kapustin, was tortured with a hand-held electric shocker.” Subsequently, he left for Finland, where he has applied for political asylum.

Viktoria Frolova, Ilya Shakursky’s girlfriend, was detained on Russia’s border with Ukraine. (Link in Russian.) Shakursky was threatened that “it would be bad” for his girlfriend if he did not make a confession.

The case of anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev

In early February 2018, anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev was arrested in Crimea [the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014]. They brought him to the police station with a bag over his head. There were fresh bruises on his temples and his knees. On the basis of

two videos that he had uploaded to various chat forums, he was accused of making public calls for terrorist activity.

What to read:

“A rifle stock to the heart, a fist to the gut: how left-wing activists are persecuted in Crimea”

(And more in Russian.) [And a report of Karakashev’s subsequent court appearance is here.]

What else you need to know about this case:

The main prosecution witness is a former comrade of Karakashev’s.

In the autumn, 16 people from various Russian regions were summoned to the Russian Investigative Committee for interrogations. Many of them have expressed left-wing views. Some of them did not even know Karakashev.

Torture of anarchists in Chelyabinsk

Anarchists in Chelyabinsk staged an event on the night of 14–15 February in solidarity with the Network Case defendants. They displayed a banner outside the FSB headquarters and threw a flare over a fence. The banner read, “The FSB is the chief terrorist.”

Three days later, five people were arrested: Dmitry Semenov, Dmitry Tsibukovsky, Anastasia Safonova, Maksim Anfalov, and their friend Maksim. Tsibukovsky and Anfalov were beaten up and tortured with electric shockers.

Over the summer, the criminal case against theChelyabinsk anarchists was dropped.

What to read:

“The main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive”

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, a new criminal case was opened against anarchists Tsibukovsky, Safonova, Grigory Potanin, Mikhail Perkov, and Dmitry Dubovoi. This time, they were charged with vandalism during their protest of the government’s pension reform.

The broken window in United Russia’s office and torture of Svyatoslav Rechkalov

On 31 January, persons unknown broke a window at the office of United Russia [the largest party in the Russian parliament, which supports President Putin] and threw a smoke bomb. A criminal investigation into vandalism was launched. Sixteen days later, Yelena Gorban and Aleksei Kobaidze were arrested. After questioning, they were released on their own recognizance.

On 14 March, searches were conducted of the homes of anarchists from the People’s Self-

Defence organisation in connection with the case. Subsequently, Svyatoslav Rechkalov and Andrei were detained; the latter, most likely, was released.

Rechkalov was driven around the city for several hours, blindfolded. Then security services officers beat him and tortured him with electric shocks. They warned that, if he did not make the necessary confession, he would end up a defendant in the Network Case. After being tortured, Rechkalov was released. He emigrated to France.

What to read:

“The horror continues”, and “They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser”.

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, Rechkalov started getting threats from the FSB. (Link in Russian.)

Torture of Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin

In late April, Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin was detained in Tomsk. On the way to his interrogation, security service officers beat him up in their vehicle and held his face against a heater. To protect his face from burns, Shulgin put his arms against the heater

and received first- and second-degree burns. Shulgin was accused of inciting hatred towards the police after posting songs on VK [a Russian social network similar to Facebook].

Shulgin filed a complaint about his having been tortured. In late December, he was again detained. This time, law enforcers tried to choke him to force him to withdraw the accusations he had made against FSB officers.

What to read:

Arrest in April. “Is Maxim Shulgin An Extremist?” and “Tomsk resident tortured for posting songs about police on VK.”

Torture in December. (Link in Russian.)

What else you need to know about this case:

Another nine Left Bloc activists were detained with Shulgin. They were forced to make confessions under threat of torture. (Link in Russian.)

Explosion in Arkhangelsk, interrogation of anarchists and leftist activists, and torture of Vyacheslav Lukichev

On 31 October there was an explosion at the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk, set off by Mikhail Zhlobitsky [who died at the scene]. As a result, all over Russia the police detained and brought anarchists, left-wingers, and those who hold alternative political views in for so-called discussions. (Link in Russian.)

In early November, anarchist Vyacheslav Lukichev was arrested in Kaliningrad. He was accused of vindicating the explosion set off by Zhlobitsky. It was later established that after Lukichev’s arrest he was beaten by six people. He was questioned for 36 hours.

What to read:

“Vyacheslav Lukichev: interrogated for 36 hours and beaten”

What else you need to know about this case:

After the explosion, a 14-year old who, allegedly, had contact with Zhlobitsky was detained in Moscow on suspicion of planning bombings. (Link in Russian.)

What else happened this year?

■ In March, the police checked the documents of participants in a football tournament organised by antifascists. (Link in Russian.)

■ In July, police and FSB officers went to the Pryamukhino Readings [an event held annually to discuss the ideas and legacy of Mikhail Bakunin, at his birthplace in Tver Region]. The conference theme was “Revolution and Culture”. The security service officers checked participants’ passports, and then detained Artem Markin, an anarchist from Belarus. He was detained for three days for allegedly using psychotropic substances. See: “A Funny Thing Happened in Pryamukhino”.

■ In August, officers from Centre “E” [Center for Combating Extremism] turned up at the Icebreaker [Ledokol] punk festival. They arrested two people, tried to persuade them to turn informer, and asked about the People’s Self-Defence group. (Link in Russian.)

■ In October, anarchist Ilya Romanov was sentenced to five-and-a-half years on charges of incitement to terrorism. He allegedly published on Facebook a video recording of jihadists and an occult ritual featuring a puppet named Vladimir. All the indications are that the criminal case was a frame-up. See: “Meet Russian anarchist Ilya Romanov. He’s spent nearly twenty years in prison”.

■ In late December, the anarchist Aleksandr Kolchenko [from Crimea, who since 2015 has been serving a ten-year sentence in Russia on trumped-up charges] was transferred, on a formal pretext, to a punitive isolation cell, where he saw in the new year. (Link in Russian.)

Moloko plus siloviki

[Moloko is Russian for “milk”. Siloviki is a widely used term for the heads and officers of Russia’s numerous, overlapping security services, including the FSB, Centre “E”, the Russian National Guard, and the Russian Investigative Committee.]

In mid June, there was a gathering in Krasnodar of members of the collective that publishes the countercultural almanac moloko plus. Sofiko Arifdzhanova and Pavel Nikulin had planned to present the latest issue of the almanac, on the topic of revolution. On the day before the event, the police arrested Sofiko and a volunteer [who helped with printing], Anastasia Kkhukhurenko. The police would not release them and demanded a meeting with Pavel. They then forced Sofiko and Anastasia to sign an undertaking not to organise unauthorised mass gatherings and warned them about the punishments for extremist activity before releasing them

The next day, persons unknown attacked Sofiko and Pavel with pepper spray. A few hours later, at the presentation, the police arrived and confiscated almanac’s print run.

In September, there was another presentation, in Petersburg, and FSB officers turned up. In this case, everything turned out relatively peacefully. They just got up and left.

After another two weeks, there was a presentation here in Nizhny Novgorod. A few minutes after it began, officers from Centre “E” burst in, with armed back-up. Sofiko, Pavel, and I were arrested and taken to the police station. Ninety copies of the almanac were confiscated, along with some gas cylinders [sic]. Pavel was detained for two days on charges of insubordination to a police officer. The issue of moloko plus is now being checked for any indications of extremism. There is a big text about our adventures in Russian here.

I am sure I have forgotten something and so not included it. Generally speaking, that was the sort of year we had.

More on defending Russian political prisoners:

 The Rupression site

 “Convoyed”, on The Russian Reader

Thanks to People and Nature for their generous permission to republish this important article and solidarity appeal here. I have lightly edited the original text to make it hew more closely to this website’s imaginary style guide. {TRR}

We Change Our Minds like Socks, or, The Pollocracy’s Comeback

3Focus group drawing from the study “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trends?” The first panels is labeled “Now.” The second panel shows a drunken Russia at the bottom of the stairs “in five years,” while “the US, Europe, Canada, China, [and] Japan” stand over it dressed in swanky business suits. The third panel is entitled “Friendship.” Source: Fond Liberalnaya Missiya

Experts Who Predicted Bolotnaya Claim Attitudes of Russians Have Changed
Vladimir Dergachov
RBC
December 24, 2018

Economists Mikhail Dmitriev and Sergei Belanovsky, and psychologists Anastasia Nikolskaya and Elena Cherepanova have authored a new report, “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trend?” which they will present on Monday, December 24.

RBC has obtained a copy of the study. It was conducted as a follow-up to previous autumn opinion polls, which identified a loss of interest in foreign policy among Russians, growing dissatisfaction with domestic policy, and a collapse in reliance on the government.

How the Study Was Conducted
The experts combined qualitative sociology and psychological tests [sic], comparing the results with the Levada Center’s polling data. In October and November 2018, respondents in Moscow, Vladimir, Gus Khrustalny, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Saransk, Romodanovo (a village in Mordovia), and Ufa were surveyed as part of focus groups. In Moscow, a number of focus groups were convened involving public sector employees, including physicians, and university lecturers and researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN). There was also a mixed focus group featuring engineers, traffic police officers, and theater employees.

Peace Instead of Scandals
Previous surveys, conducted by Dmitriev and Belanovsky in April and May 2018, showed Russians largely supported the country’s foreign policy, although critical respondents said the country spent too much money on supporting other countries and used foreign policy to distract people from issues at home. Six months later, the statements made by respondents revealed a demand for a peaceable foreign policy. “Spy scandals, falling missiles, certain statements by Russian politicians, and the protracted war in Syria” have led to a downturn in support for Russia’s foreign policy, the report claims.

In the May 2018 study, respondents were not yet pessimistic about the future. In the October surveys, however, a majority (68%) of respondents had a negative attitude towards the future. They envisioned a Russia that, in five years, was weakening and lagging behind other countries in terms of progress, a country whose populace was intimidated and did not have the right to vote.

They Predicted the Bolotnaya Square Movement

In March 2011, Dmitriev and Belanovsky, then employed at the Center for Strategic Development (TsSR), presented a report in which they alleged a profound political crisis had emerged, and support for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev and United Russia had fallen off. They predicted increasing dissatisfaction with the political system. Less than a year later, sparked by insufficiently [sic] fair and transparent elections to the State Duma, large-scale protests kicked off in Russia.

Self-Expression Instead of Survival
In the May study, the demand for justice had increased dramatically, shunting aside the previously dominant demand for a strong leader. In October, the invocation of distributive justice (a more equal distribution of income and assets) gave way to the demand for procedural justice (equality of all before the law).

The respondents in all the focus groups felt physical needs and government welfare were less important than the need for respect, liberty, and leaders capable of voicing these values. Harsh statements by public officials on social issues (i.e., that people could live on 3,500 rubles a month by eating macaroni, etc.) had provoked increasing irritation. Concerning the raising of the retirement age, the respondents negatively assessed the suddenness of the decision and the way it was made behind closed doors.

Ninety-four percent of respondents claimed they no longer relied on the government, only on themselves. Sixty-three percent of respondents expressed a willingess to contribute personally to the country’s progress. This contribution was conceived in different ways: from a willingness to pay high taxes and be involved in charitable work, to grassroots activism and educational outreach. According to a Levada Center poll, 60% of respondents felt responsible and were willing to make personal efforts to facilitate improvements in Russia.

A Demand for Change
The May study testified to a slackening of reliance on a strong leader among Russians. In October, the analysts registered a demand for new leaders who would respect people, be honest and democratic [sic], admit to their mistakes, and act in the people’s interest. These qualities were bound up with the values of self-expression, which were foregrounded by respondents.

These qualities had little in common with the positive and negative qualities Russians [sic] had used to assess Vladimir Putin in a July poll by the Levada Center (stability, respect, personal charm, capacity for compromise, firmness, and foresight). The discrepancy in criteria was a sign of the rudimentary emergence of counter-elite sentiments [sic], the researchers warned.

A growing demand for change was noted among the respondents. Up to 76% of respondents would be willing to support temporarily painful reforms vital to overcoming the crisis in Russia. Russians no longer demanded immediate improvements. They were willing to wait and endure hardship for the sake of a positive ultimate income.

The respondents had almost no substantive notions of the necessary reforms. The experts compared public opinion to an “empty vessel” waiting for new leaders who inspired confidence.

None of the focus groups voiced aggression towards the regime, but the willingness to get involved in social movements had grown. The demand for respect and freedom prevailed over other demands, and thus the struggle for respect was imagined by the respondents as peaceable and legitimate.

Negativism towards the regime was no longer associated with a demand for populism, whose tokens include the appeal to distributive justice and anti-immigrant sentiments.

Frustation of Public Sector Employees
The report devotes a entire section to moods in the study’s public sector worker focus groups. The researchers discovered the highest level of tension among these people.

Public sector employees were frustrated not because of financial problems [sic], but because of the sector’s irrational organization [sic]. For example, due to the May 2012 decree on raising salaries, the managers of many public sector organizations took some workers off payroll, dramatically increasing the workload of other employees. The respondents were also dissatisfied with the avalanche of reports due to increasing bureaucratization, the chronically poor quality of management, and the fact that personal loyalty to bosses had replaced professionalism in the management hierarchy.

Three Scenarios
According to the experts, these trends indicate Russian public opinion has moved beyond the “stasis” of the post-Crimean consensus. They paint three possible scenarios for further changes in public opinion. The first would involve returning to “rallying around the flag,” typical of the post-Crimean period. This scenario would become a reality if international conflicts involving Russia escalated dramatically.

The second scenario would involve a rollback to counter-elite populism [sic] due to negative economic changes.

The third scenario foresees the consolidation of new values in the public’s mind over a lengthy period. This turn of events is likely if the status quo in the economy and foreign policy is maintained, that is, given sluggish economic growth and the absence of intense international conflicts. The experts cite Iran as an example of a country where this scenario has come true [sic]. Eighty percent of Iranians were born after the Islamic Revolution and have no experience of life under the previous regime. Due to the economic difficulties caused by western sanctions, young Iranians are tired of permanent crisis and disapprove of the country’s costly expansionist foreign policy. The unfavorable socio-economic conditions have a generated a demand for a alternative secularized and westernized lifestyle among young people.

In this scenario, the experts suggest altering the way the regime interacts with the populace in order to diminish its growing negativity. This is doable as long as the populace manifests no aggression towards the regime and is open to constructive dialogue.

The researchers note this scenarios contradicts the prevailing international trend of populists taking power. Unlike the societies of many developed countries, Russians have not descended into archaic populism and “social infantilism,” displaying instead increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in Russia [sic].

A Long-Term Shift
Political consultant Dmitry Fetisov generally agrees with the study’s findings. He links society’s growing demand for a peaceful foreign policy with the fact the Kremlin demonstrated a successful example of this policy during the 2018 FIFA World Cup [sic],  and the critical attitude of public sector employers towards the regime with the pension reform. Fetisov argues, however, that these trends could change depending on how the Kremlin acts.

Political scientist Nikolay Mironov is certain these shifts in public opinion are long term. He argues the trends described in the study have been caused by the post-2014 economic stagnation. Mironov does not believe a return to the “rally around the flag” consensus is possible, even in the event of international conflicts, unless they impinge on Russian territory. Mironov concludes what is needed are large-scale economic reforms and an easing of foreign policy.

Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov also notes the growing criticality of respondents towards officialdom and public fatigue from assistance to other countries [sic]. However, Volkov argues it is wrong to chart changes in public opinion by comparing surveys of focus groups, rather than using quantitative research. Fetisov likewise points to the study’s lack of representativeness, as it is based on comparing the opinions of different focus groups.

Translated by the Russian Reader

This article and the research paper it purports to summarize and analyze should be read with a huge spoonful of salt.

First, “public opinion” polls in Russia are wildly unreliable, as I have tried to show over the years on this website, often with a leg up from likeminded Russian journalists and researchers.

Second, this study, apparently, is a funhouse mirror image of the usual “Putin’s wild popularity” poll. The economists and psychologists who wrote the report set out to detect a “positive” sea change in Russian public opinion and, God willing, they found it, by offering their focus group respondents a weak-tea pipe dream they obviously dream themselves. If that dream seems rife with contradictions, it is, although the researchers seem utterly unaware of them.

Third, even in a country as messy, corrupt, and authoritarian as Russia, the idea that people can rely only on themselves is absurd. Of course, they rely on the government for lots of things, at least if they are living in more or less large towns and cities. To the extent that libertarianism has become popular here, it has done so only as a consequence of the prevailing black political reaction, as cultivated by the Putinist state and its propaganda organs.

On the other hand, we are supposed to imagine these newly minted libertarians would be simultaneously willing to pay high taxes and endure hardships to make their country a better place, and yet this is supposed to happen without the “social infantilism” of “developed countries” where people protest on the streets against elites.

Given that the once-mighty RBC has long been a shadow of its former self, I was tempted to write this passage off as ad-libbing on the part of their reporter, but, in fact, he merely paraphrased the report’s authors, to wit:

В отличие от обществ многих развитых стран, население которых продолжает скатываться популистскую архаику и «социальный инфантилизм», российское население неожиданно для всех начинает демонстрировать возросшую социальную зрелость и ответственность за положение дел в стране. Эти качества в наибольшей мере ассоциируются с модернизированной системой ценностей, характерной для развитых стран до того, как их стала охватывать волна контрэлитного популизма.

“In contrast to the societies of many developed countries, whose populace continues to slide into archaic populism and ‘social infantilism,’ the Russian populace has surprised everyone by beginning to show increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in the country. These qualities [were] associated with the modernized value system of the developed countries before the wave of counter-elite populism engulfed them.”

As this blog has shown over the last eleven years, I have often been among the first to celebrate and chronicle emergent grassroots resistance and social movements in Russia, but the people who wrote the passage above were engaging in wishful thinking, not scholarship. If anything, their counterintuitive, baseless conclusion shows the contradictions of the newfangled method of governance at arm’s length I have dubbed the “pollocracy.”

The pollocracy has been used by the regime to monitor “public moods” while also explicitly and aggressively shaping that mood by asking pointed questions that countenance only certain answers.

On the other hand, it is used by the regime AND its allegedly liberal pseudo-critics to, alternately, register tremors of discontent among an otherwise disenchranchised and disempowered populace, and demonstrate these exact same people are routinely subject to all sorts of illiberal, irrational populist delusions and phobias, thus making them unfit to govern themselves.

Finally, the pollocracy has been used as a substitute for actual, full-fledged grassroots political involvement. A populace that “slides” into “archaic populism” and “social infantilism” is one thing (a bad thing), but a populace that meekly agrees to confine its dissent to skewed public opinion polls and hokey focus groups is both “socially mature” and not a threat to anyone, least of all to the current Russian regime.

It is especially telling these “socially mature” focus groups expect, allegedly, a less aggressive Russian foreign policy to emerge ex nihilo, merely because they wish it into existence in the safety of their anonymous focus groups. God forbid they should have to organize a national anti-war movement on their own. {TRR}