Help Russia’s Political Prisoners!

vladimir akimenkovVladimir Akimenkov, raising money on behalf of Russian political prisoners. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

Former Bolotnaya Square Case defendant and prisoner rights activist Vladimir Akimenkov writes:

Russian Political Prisoners: The Last (?) Fundraiser
The people who run PayPal knuckle under to national governments. So, it is possible that after September 19, 2018, they will strip me of the ability to accept donations to political prisoners through my PayPal account. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure this doesn’t happen, but the people who run PayPal might not necessarily rule in my favor.

You can read a detailed account of the conflict (in Russian) here.

This particular fundraiser for political prisoners is not comprehensive (I’ll hold a comprehensive fundraiser later). I’m asking that this time you send donations for Russia’s political prisoners to my PayPal account:

https://paypal.me/vladimirakimenkov
(vladimir.akimenkov [at] gmail.com)

Send money if you can. If you cannot send money, please repost this message.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexei Tsvetcoff: A Supremely Intelligible Speech

 

Vladimir Putin, “Address to Russians on the 2018 Pension Reform,” 29 August 2018

Alexei Tsvetcoff
Facebook
August 29, 2018

Putin’s speech was supremely intelligible. It boiled down to this. We could just as well not change the retirement age over the next ten years, but we are going to do it anyway merely because we want to do it. We are going to fuck each of you over to the tune of one million rubles at least, because we like lining our pockets with the money, and no opposition can do anything to stop it.

We are not going to raise the taxes of the oil and gas bourgeoisie, because we are the oil and gas bourgeoisie. The Pension Fund’s palaces and the palaces per se of the ruling class are beautiful, but there is no need to touch them. Let them be. Anyway, things could be a lot worse, believe you me.

The speech was an open declaration of class warfare on the majority on behalf of the ruling minority. It was a rude statement by the modern-day equivalent of Yuri Olesha’s Three Fat Men, a group of people rendered insolent by their impunity.

The tsar in his mercy granted indulgences. He took three years off the proposed new retirement age for women, and six months off the retirement age for the first cohort whom the reform will roll over, as well as promising guaranteed employment and property tax benefits for pre-pensioners, and so on.

This summer’s political upsurge has borne preliminary fruits, but they are decorative. The wave of opposition to the proposed reforms must rise higher and higher, and popular hatred must adopt really effective guises, meaning guises that frighten the regime.

A genuine mobilization of society would smash this reform, conceived by thieves, to smithereens, and maybe some other things as well—if such a mobilization occurred, of course.

If the entire country takes to the streets in September, we shall soon see a new speech by Putin, in which he says he has changed his mind. Now the authorities will be gagging, demonizing, isolating, and banning vigorous opponents of their mean-spirited reform on a daily basis. All of us, therefore, must become vigorous opponents of the reform.

Alexei Tsvetcoff is a well-known Marxist writer and manager of the Tsiolkovsky Bookstore in Moscow. Thanks to Valentin Urusov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Opinion Leaders Are Losers

The other day, I closed my Facebook accounts and pages, I hope for good.

Part of the reason I closed them was that a New York City writer whose books and opinions I admire greatly, and who has a huge following on Facebook, wrote a mean-spirited and divisive post on Facebook condemning “the Heartland,” meaning the middle part of the United States.

She labeled the place “heartless” and “dangerous” on the basis of her cursory perusal of an “interactive” map of the 2016 US presidential election results, published in the New York Times.

While the map she cited is certainly worth studying and full of surprises, I imagine the writer saw only red, literally and figuratively, and blew a fuse.

I doubted out loud, in the comments, whether the writer knew much about the “heartless, dangerous” Heartland. On the contrary, I know a great deal about it, since I was born and grew up there.

She did not respond to my petty, eminently ignorable objections nor did most of her thousands of self-satisfied, bien-pensant followers, certain that the “heartless, dangerous” (and completely imaginary) “Heartland” had irrevocably damaged their beautiful souls and beautiful lives in Clintonia.

But as reporter Issie Lapowsky and map expert Ken Field argue in an article published on July 26 by WIRED (“Is the US Leaning Red or Blue? It All Depends on Your Map”), there are maps, and then there are maps. For example, there is this map, devised by Mr. Field.

Dasymetric-Dot-Density-wKen Field, “Presidential election 2016: dasymetric dot density.” Courtesy of WIRED

To Field, there’s no such thing as a totally comprehensive map, but he says, “Some are more truthful than others.” The so-called dasymetric dot density map is one of them. The term “dasymetric” refers to a map that accounts for population density in a given area. Instead of filling an entire state or county with the color red or blue to indicate which party won, Field uses red and blue dots to represent every vote that was cast. On this particular map from 2016, there are roughly 135 million dots. Then, rather than distributing the dots evenly around a county, he distributes them proportionally according to where people actually live, based on the US government’s National Land Cover Database. That’s to avoid placing lots of dots in, say, the middle of a forest, and to account for dense population in cities.

Taken together, Field says, these methods offer a far more detailed illustration of voter turnout than, say, the map in Yingst’s tweet. That map uses different shades of red and blue to indicate whether candidates won by a wide or slim margin. But by completely coloring in all the counties, it gives counties where only a few hundred votes were cast the same visual weight as counties where hundreds of thousands of votes were cast. So, the map looks red. But on the dasymetric dot density map, it’s the blue that stands out, conveying the difference between the popular vote, which Clinton won, and the electoral college vote, which Trump won.

Why do I bring this sad business up on a website dealing with “news and views from the other Russias”?

Over the last several years, I have been fighting a similarly invidious myth about Russia and Russians. To wit, Vladimir Putin is incredibly popular, as conclusively shown, allegedly, by dicey “public opinion polls” and rigged elections, and his “base” is in the “Russian heartlands,” which are, apparently, just as “heartless” and “dangerous” and stupid as the US “Heartland,” and similarly prone to throw their electoral weight behind a tyrant, unlike, we are meant to imagine, the smart sets in Russia’s two capitals, Moscow and Petersburg.

I have been at great pains to show a discursive apparatus I have dubbed the “pollocracy” produces the results that both Putin’s quasi-fascist supporters and faux-liberal detractors need to cling to their respective security blankets. In the case of the so-called liberals, the security blanket consists in the notion that the world’s largest country is largely inhabited by woefully ignorant yahoos who have laid waste to any chance at building a democracy in the Motherland. As viewed by their opponents, the fake “patriots” in Putin’s camp, the same heartland yahoos are the country’s “pious,” “conservative” core and the source of the Putin’s ruling elite’s self-produced mandate to rule the country till kingdom come and particularly badly.

Seventy percent of why I do this website is to show that Russia actually consists of lots of other Russians and lots of other Russias that belie the dodgy “findings” of pollsters and the lazy clichés reproduced ad nauseam by Russian and international reporters, “Russia experts” (nearly all of them resident somewhere other than Russia), politicos, and spin doctors to prove a self-serving conclusion they arrived at long ago without bothering to find out whether it was true or not.

It’s not true. Just as it is emphatically not true the US “Heartland” is “heartless” and “dangerous.” Or maybe it and its mythical Russian counterpart, the “Russian heartlands,” are heartless and dangerous part of the time, but not all of the time and everywhere and on the part of every single woman, child, man, dog, and cat who live there. Nor, vice versa, are the alleged oases of high intellect and liberalism where pollsters, reporters, and opinion leaders (such as the well-known New York writer who, railing and trembling like the Prophet Jeremiah, condemned the place where I was born and grew up to the fires of hell) congregate, cities like New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Petersburg, utterly free of meanness, menace, vice, crime, bad governance, popular indifference, ignorance, and support for tyrants.

What does this have to do with abandoning Facebook? First, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to produce a quasi blog there that would complement and promote this website. Since I am nobody, however, more or less nobody was interested in what I wrote.

They did, however, hang on every word written by people like the New York writer, who, having achieved a modicum of fame, felt no compunction about compounding a rank prejudice about a huge part of her own country and all the people who live there.

So, I have found Facebook an incredibly dispiriting place to try get out my word, a word very few of my so-called friends, real and virtual, wanted to hear, much more wanted to share and spread with their own friends.

Second, the continuing crackdown on bloggers and social media users in Russia has meant that fewer and fewer Russians are willing to write anything interesting on Facebook and its Russian ripoff, VK. Judging by my own real friends, more and more of them have either been observing total radio silence or retreating into the little cubbyholes known as Telegram channels, where they are invisible and inaudible to all the world except their own clique. Since one important feature on this website has been translations of the pithy, thought-provoking things Russian activists and just plain Russians have posted publicly on Facebook and other social media, I was left staring at a once-overflowing well going drier by the minute.

Third, WordPress gives its bloggers some crude but decent tools to see where their readers are finding out about their blogs and blog posts. Over the last two years, as my readership here as continued to climb, the share of those readers who were turned onto my website or particular posts through Facebook has shrunk, meaning that my own friends, real and virtual, have been less likely to share my posts with their friends than complete strangers have been to look up Russia-related topics on the internet and find their way here.

So, rather than continue to pine for support from actually hostile liberal and leftist opinion leaders whose only interest in my Facebook posts and blog posts was to scavenge them for news and ideas they would instantly pass off as their own thoughts and finds without crediting me, I have decided to live without them in order to more fully embrace you, my anonymous, ever more numerous, faithful readers.

In any case, this website will continue to be promoted on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and Ello, as before, so it is not as if I am doing a disappearing act. I just wanted to stop pretending I had friends in places where I did not have them. {TRR}

 

Is Maxim Shulgin an “Extremist”?

Maxim Shulgin

Open Russia Human Rights (Pravozashchita Otkrytki)
July 20, 2018

Remember the story of Maxim Shulgin, the Left Bloc activist from Tomsk? He was charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282 for posting songs on the VK social network. When Center “E” officers searched his flat in April and took Shulgin to their headquarters, they beat him up on the way there and pushed him against the heater in their car, causing burns to his body. We published his account.

Other Left Bloc activists were detained the same day. When they refused to testify against Shulgin, they were threatened with violence and told they would be charged with criminal offenses as well. When Shulgin was delivered to Center “E” headquarters with a bandaged arm, they decided the threats were real and answered the investigator’s questions.

Now the witnesses have recanted their testimony, recording a video in which they recounted what happened that day.

Our attorney Andrei Miller has been working on the Shulgin case. We immediately had Shulgin’s beating certified by a physician, and the evidence has been submitted to the Investigative Committe’s military investigation department. However, the issue of whether charges will be filed in connection with Shulgin’s bodily injuries has not yet been resolved.

_________________________

Human Rights Open Russia (Pravozashchita Otkrytki)
April 30, 2018

“‘Guys, I can’t breathe,’ I said. They kicked me and said, ‘Are you alive down there?'”

Maxim Shulgin, a 28-year-old Left Bloc activist from Tomsk, recounted how Center “E” officiers detained him and what happened to him afterwards.

Tomsk Center “E” officers raided the Left Bloc’s offices yesterday.

“We were standing there smoking when a GAZelle van without license plates roared into the yard at full speed. The door opened, and guys wearing masks and caps came running out. I thought it was neo-Nazis who had come to shut us down. But then I realized they don’t drive around in GAZelle vans.”

The Center “E” officers forced the Left Bloc activists to lie face down on the floor. They confiscated their telephones, meaning the detainees had no connection with outside world until later that night and were unable to tell anyone what had happened to them. The detainees were taken to Center “E” headquarters, while Shulgin was handcuffed and taken home for a search of his flat.

“There were four field officers, wearing balaclavas, caps, jeans, windbreakers, and sneakers. They were carrying pistols, and their faces were covered. They addressed one of their number as ‘Pasha’ or ‘Pavel.’

“The worst nightmare was in the van. I lay between the front and back seats, and the men put their feet on me. They deliberately turned on the heater under the front seat, although it was three or four in the afternoon and eighteen degrees Centigrade outside. They did this on purpose, so I would find it hard to breathe, and if I hadn’t put my arm against the heater, one whole side of my body would have been burned. ‘Guys, I can’t breathe,’ I said. They kicked me and said, ‘Are you alive down there? Be patient, bro. We’ll arrive soon, and everything will be okay.’ They also beat the left side of my body. When I took too long answering their questions, they would beat me just like that, apparently because they enjoyed it.

“On the way, they asked about our plans for May Day. They commented that Russian extremists had degenerated. Now I can’t really remember [what they said], because I could not breathe and my arm was burning.”

The Center “E” officers confiscated all the equipment and political campaign materials in Shulgin’s flat. Then they took him to their headquarters, where the other Left Bloc activists were waiting.

“When [the Center “E” officers] saw my arm was burnt, they got a bit scared. I rode in the back seat on the way from my house. One of them said, ‘Sorry, bro.’ Another one laughed and punched me in the side. Good cop, bad cop, in short.”

The field officers and a public defender forced Shulgin to testify, threatening to arrest him. He was shown an order to instigate criminal proceedings, dated April 27. The charge was violation of Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1, allegedly, for saving songs on the VK social network that “incited hatred towards a particular social group, i.e., law enforcement officers.”

“After they thrashed me, my thought was to get out of there first thing. I signed a form releasing me on my recognizance. The idea that policemen are a social group is laughable, of course. Apparently, there is the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and police officers.”

Along with the charge sheet, Shulgin was shown the results of a forensic examination that concluded that four of the songs on his VK page were “extremist”:

  • Chetverio, “Fuck, Pigs!”
  • Dukhi tsekha (Spirits of the Shop Floor), “Cop President”
  • Nichego Khoroshego (Nothing Good), “Molotov Cocktail”
  • Plokhie Dyadki (Bad Guys), “Cop”

Translated by the Russian Reader

A Funny Thing Happened in Pryamukhino

Bakunin_PryamukhinoThe Pryamukhino Estate, birthplace of Mikhail Bakunin, circa 1860. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mala Vida
Facebook
July 20, 2018

On the Police Raid in Pryamukhino

The Pryamukhino Readings, an annual open conference, took place on July 7–8, 2018. This year, the conference attracted the notice of Russian law enforcement. Since the conference has taken place in a village school for the last eighteen years, the Pryamukhino village council and the Kuvshinovo district council were informed in advance about the conference, but they made no attempt to prohibit the event.

However, as the conference’s organizing committee later learned, police officers had visited the village council on July 6, 2018, on the eve of the conference’s opening day.

Several men in plain clothes, who showede all the signs of being law enforcement officers, attended the first day of the conference, July 7. They chatted with conference goers about abstract historical and philosophical topics, but they also wondered aloud whether there were any “terrorists” in modern Russia.

On the second day, July 8, two police cars and a car without license plates arrived at the gathering point right when the annual sightseeing excursion of Pryamukhino Estate and Pryamukhino Park was to begin. Eight policemen, including members of the Torzhok Intermunicipal Police Precinct, members of the precinct’s immigration desk, and plainclothes officers who produced no IDs (they were probably officers of Center “E” or the FSB) checked and photographed the passports of the sightseers. According to the police officers, a public nuisance complaint from an unnamed local resident was the grounds for their visit.

As a consequence of the documents check, a conference goer, Artyom Markin, a Belarusian national, was detained. He was informed he was “banned” from entering Russia, a fact that had not been brought to his attention either when he crossed the Russian border or when police checked his papers.

Markin was taken to the Torzhok Intermunicipal Police Precinct. He refused to communicate with secret service officers, since no written charges had been filed against him. He was then taken for a medical examination, because the police, allegedly, suspected him of having used psychoactive substances. After Markin refused to take the medical exam (i.e., his alleged drug use was not certified by physicians), and despite the fact that he had not shown any signs of drug use (conference goers testifed Markin had not used psychoactive substances and did not look out of the ordinary), a magistrate declared him guilty of evading medical diagnosis (Russian Administrative Offenses Code Article 6.9 Part 1) and sentenced him to three days in jail.

At the same time, on the afternoon of July 8, two of the plainclothes officers returned to Pryamuhino, explaining they had come again because, allegedly, they were looking for Markin’s girlfriend. Their presence and the need to protect conference goers from the illegal actions of the authorities generated considerable difficulties when it came to proceeding with the conference. The plainclothes officers left for Torzhok only after four in the afternoon.

After spending three days in jail, Artyom Markin was forced to leave Russia. He was issued a notification from the immigration desk of the Torzhok Intermunicipal Police Precinct prohibiting him from entering Russia until 2022.

We believe that recent events in Belarus (e.g., police roughly detained local anarchists on June 30, 2018, during a gathering in the woods), a possible call from Belarusian law enforcement and security services to their Russian counterparts, and heightened security during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia occasioned such furious actions on the part of the police. The ban on entering Russia, as issued to Artyom Markin, was justified, allegedly, in order to ensure “defense, national security or public order,” as stipulated by Article 27 of Russian Federal Law No. 114 (“On the Procedure for Departing and Entering Russia”), which outlines amendments to the law introduced during international sporting events.

Because the Pryamukhino Readings are an academic conference open to all comers, the organizers make an effort to get to know all of our attendees in order to ensure order and their own safety. However, we do not have the resources to prevent the use of force on the part of the police and curiosity on the part of the authorities.

The Pryamukhino Readings are an annual event run by volunteers. We do not cooperate with the authorities any more than is necessary for holding the conference. We have never supplied the authorities with personal information about our attendees or any additional information about them.

In the event of conflicts like the one described, above, our job is taking care of our out-of-town guests. However, we do not have the resources to provide qualified legal assistance on the spot.

We urge everyone to study the current Russian laws in order to better defend their rights when confronted by law enforcement officers, who often interpret the laws governing their own conduct too freely or falsely.

The Pryamukhino Readings Organizing Committee condemns crackdowns on social movements and independent public events, as well as the framing of social activists and the arbitrary use of administrative and other penalties in the absence of evidence and a demonstrable danger to the public.

The Pryamuhkino Readings Organizing Committee

Translated by the Russian Reader

_____________________________________

Anarchists Go on a Pilgrimage to Tver
Yulia Solovyova
Moscow Times
August 15, 2003

PRYAMUKHINO, Tver Region — Pavel Glazkov is fed up with people who hear the word anarchy and instantly conjure up thoughts of debauched sailors wreaking havoc and chaos.

Anarchism is a moral thing above all, Glazkov says, and it hinges on order, self-discipline and mutual assistance.

A graduate student from Tambov, Glazkov is in the process of writing a thesis on Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th-century philosopher whose ideas laid the foundation for modern anarchism. And he is active in spreading the gospel of anarchy. Glazkov posts leaflets at his university urging students to take action. At a children’s summer camp where he works as an educator, he tells children stories about anarchism before bedtime. The Tambov bar where he once worked as a bartender turned into a sort of a revolutionary circle full of conversation and debate, not unlike one of Bakunin’s many secret societies.

“I’m trying to educate people,” says Glazkov, 24, a gentle giant who wears black-rimmed glasses and two earrings in his left ear. “When I was a kid with an anarchy badge on my chest listening to the Sex Pistols no one told me what I was supposed to do as an anarchist.”

Late last month, Glazkov traveled 10 hours by train and bus to Pryamukhino, the Bakunin family estate in the Tver region, in search of like-minded people. What he found was an improbable mix: white-bearded intellectuals studying the Russian gentry culture alongside pierced and tattooed 20-somethings in black T-shirts and ragged jeans who were doing little more than frolicking in nature away from their parents’ control.

Glazkov spent a weekend in Pryamukhino. He took part in a scientific conference and civic duties like picking up trash in a park. At night he listened to romances—lyrical, sentimental songs—and drank vodka with the academics. Then it was time for a drunken rendition of the “Mother Anarchy” song by the kids, who described themselves as anarcho-communists, Marxists, Maoists, hippies and anti-fascist skinheads.

“It was great,” Glazkov enthused. “I met young people who are into ideas, and they don’t just stick to some stiff, outdated beliefs, but take them further.”

The Pryamukhino Free Co-Op was created in 1995, when a group of students from Moscow decided that Bakunin’s birthplace, which was formally protected by the state, actually needed protection from the state. Since then, a few dozen anarchists from central Russia and, occasionally, from abroad, have come here every summer to work in the park, scandalize the locals by skinny-dipping in the creek and debate anarchism around the campfire. They live in a cramped log house with a black anarchy flag flying from the roof and a sign over the door that reads, “Work is the best hangover treatment.”

The anarchist movement can encompass certain elements of other ideologies, such as Maoism and communism, while rejecting those components relating to authoritarian political control. The anarchist movement is not uniform, but this doesn’t appear to present a problem.

“What’s important is the rejection of the state, hierarchy, clericalism, dominance, all dogmas, everything that’s dead and rotten,” said Vasily Prytkov, who helped organize this summer’s co-op. “People who come here share these ideals.

Pryamukhino’s mixed appeal is the result of its rich heritage. In the 19th century, this traditional nobles’ nest was a nationwide cultural magnet. Bakunin’s parents and ten siblings were well-educated people known for their various talents, bon vivant habits and a taste for sophisticated company. Leading lights of the times, such as literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, novelists Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoi, and thinker Nikolai Stankevich, walked among the exotic plants that grew in the estate’s sumptuous park.

All in all, the Pryamukhino harmony, as the contemporaries described life on the estate, shared little of the rebellious spirit of its most famous resident—the man who was all passion and bustle and pure will, the prototype of Richard Wagner’s Siegfried and the very model of a thunderbolt-hurling revolutionary.

Bakunin believed that the state and capitalism are evil and must be destroyed. He fought for a society based upon justice, equality and freedom. Being more of a doer than a writer, he threw himself into the insurrections that burst across Europe like thunderstorms in his day. Bakunin is often contrasted with Karl Marx, and credited with forecasting the inevitable connection between state communism and the Gulag.

Bakunin’s prophecies came true in the Soviet Union, and although streets across the country were named after him, his legacy was forgotten or distorted, and anarchy became almost a swearword. Similarly, his family’s country estate was plundered and destroyed. The great park, with fish ponds, artificial waterfalls and hills, became neglected and overgrown.

Today, Bakunin’s followers include the ragtag members of the international New Left movement, who share the values of anti-globalism, pacifism, environmentalism and human rights. In Russia, they are few and have little formal organization, with few exceptions, including the groups Avtonomnoye Deistviye, or Autonomous Action, and the Russian branch of the Rainbow Keepers, a radical eco-anarchist group.

“Collective social activity is much more important than setting up formal organizations,” said Mikhail, 31, one of the founders of the Pryamukhino Free Co-Op, who asked that his last name not to be used. “In Russia, people don’t have faith left in collective action and social change. But it’s necessary to keep trying.”

The anarchists occasionally participate in joint actions and social protests like the annual anti-capitalism rally in Moscow. Otherwise they are largely invisible on Russia’s political landscape.

On a recent Sunday morning, a group of anarchists, looking slightly woozy from the night before, trickled into a garden. While some camp goers are serious about anarchism, others are clearly there for the lifestyle that the relaxed environment provides, especially given the fact that the Bakunin Foundation covers all transportation and food costs.

The anarchists settled on the grass among flowers and buzzing bees, where they conducted a meeting concerning the areas of the camp that needed the most work. Soon, armed with a variety of garden tools, they began trimming plants in the park and cleaning up a pond under the supervision of Sergei Kornilov.

Kornilov is a director of the Bakunin Foundation, which was created to promote the legacy of the Bakunin family and restore the estate. A former theater director who says he was too brainwashed to care about anarchism in Soviet times, Kornilov, 65, has dedicated his life to the Pryamukhino estate since he moved there from Moscow in 1998.

A tanned and energetic man who looks like a 19th-century aristocrat, Kornilov mapped out Pryamukhino’s future as an artist would. Tourists were to stay in the recreated interiors of the Bakunin house, and church services, grand balls and theater plays would be staged in the vaulted basement of the remaining south wing of the estate.

“I looked up plays about Mikhail Bakunin, and there weren’t any,” Kornilov said. “So I decided to write one myself.” Kornilov has written a trilogy of plays about Bakunin.

Meanwhile, Glazkov, the Bakunin scholar from Tambov, wrestles with applying his ideas to contemporary realities.

“Go tell a Muscovite whose relative was killed in a terrorist act that Russia needs anarchism and they’ll tell you, ‘What are you, crazy?'” he said. “People are tired of terrorism, Marxism, and other isms. What they want is stability and strong leadership.”

Where Did You Go? (Day 44)

44th day“The forty-fourth day of Sentsov’s hunger strike.” Post on filmmaker Askold Kurov’s Facebook page

Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has completed the forty-third day of his hunger strike. His only demand is that Russian authorities release the other Russian political prisoners they have imprisoned during their illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Unfortunately, I have the growing sense that even the most progressive Russians, whatever that means, are so impressed by the nonstop international football party that has been unleashed on the streets of their major cities that they are less and less able to focus on what matters in the near term (the government’s plan to raise the retirement age, the pending retrial of Yuri Dmitriev, the mind-bending Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, Sentsov’s hunger strike, six more years of pitch-black Putinist reaction). They behave and talk like people who have richly earned a celebration.

In the grand scheme of things, none of us deserve a celebration. We are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and we deserve to be crushed.

Viewing our fallen world more realistically, however, we probably do need to give ourselves a break, no matter how dire the circumstances, every once in a while, but only after we have done our work, especially the collective grassroots work that keeps our societies from slipping over the edge into the abyss of lawlessness, reaction, and fascism.

With few exceptions, Russia’s hyper-educated populace, however, checked out of hands-on politics long ago. They are literally the most holiday-prone bunch I have ever encountered in the world. Nearly everyone I know is endlessly on vacation, on the road, not at home, checked out, off the radar in internal exile, you name it.

This was my roundabout way of saying the truly heroic Mr. Sentsov’s chances do not look good. // TRR

* * * * * * * * * *

Many of my western leftist friends have been having a field day with the White Pride House’s disgusting treatment of immigrant families and children from Latin America, as they should be.

But when it comes to the Kremlin’s disgusting treatment of nearly everyone under its own black hole sun, from Oleg Sentsov and the alleged Penza-Petersburg “terrorists” to Yuri Dmitriev and Oyub Titiev, mum has been word among western leftists.

This is not to mention the Kremlin’s escapades in Syria and Ukraine, the wretched treatment of migrant workers from Central Asia in Russia itself, or the fact Russia is basically off limits to the refugees and asylum seekers whom, in some cases, it has helped to generate, as in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia has been witness a slow but noticeable exodus of its own asylum seekers and more quiet exiles, including dozens if not hundreds of political activists, and thousands of LGBT people, now that the country has been officially and virulently homophobic for several years.

None of this gets even so much as a look-in from most of my western leftist friends, who, at best, are happy to have me rattle on about these things ad nauseam, but probably think I have been lying or exaggerating these past ten years.

In any case, nothing the Kremlin ever does figures in either their political activism or political thinking (except in complaints about “anti-Russian hysteria” in their local mass media). They are loath to show solidarity with grassroots Russian activists, even Russians in serious trouble like the young antifascists implicated in the total frame-up known as The Network Case.

No, the wroth of western leftists is always and only reserved for the Great Satan, the cause of all evil in the world, the country that invented imperialism, racism, capitalism, nepotism, and daltonism, the United States of America.

Why they should be so implicitly sympathetic to the hyper-reactionary, neo-imperialist, homophobic, anti-working class, rampantly state capitalist, kleptocratic, illiberal, anti-intellectual, wildly corrupt nationalist and racist regime in Russia is beyond my powers to comprehend.

But their silence speaks louder than their words, as does their pointed failure, when it comes to people I know personally, to engage meaningfully with all the things I have written and translated over the last ten years.

This is especially palpable now the World Cup is underway. Even politically engaged liberals among my acquaintances have obviously given the Russian regime a free pass for the month.

Actually, they have been giving it a free pass since 1999, but I won’t mention discuss this long, ugly story now.

What I meant to say was that Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov is dying, and the western left pointedly has nothing to say about why he is in “jail” (as the Moscow Times quaintly puts it, although he is actually incarcerated in a maximum security penal colony north of the Arctic Circle) and why he was sent there for twenty years.

It is pathetic. It is also part of the reason why “the masses” generally trust the western left about as far as they can throw it. Because just like Donald Trump and Theresa May, there are species of despotism, tyranny, and even genocide the western left really quite fancies or, at least, can countenance in the name of “anti-imperialism.”

To put it bluntly, I am afraid the western left would rather Oleg Sentsov and his ilk just crawled under a rock and died. They only muddy what should be a crystal-clear view of “geopolitics.” // TRR

Zeitgenossenschaft

almost violence

Judging by virtual and real encounters in recent weeks, Russophonia has been doing its darnedest to descend into a war of all against all.

Thus, at the birthday party of an old family friend, a group of Russian physicians—people who run whole departments of hospitals and even whole hospitals—artlessly segued from running down the birthday boy’s grandson, who was seated only a table’s length away from them, and is one of the sweetest young men I have ever met, to making baldfaced statements such as “Putin is the guarantee of stability,” “There should be more than one currency in the world,” and outright nationalist assaults, prompted partly by the fact I had been introduced to the other guests not by name, but as a “citizen of country X.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the Russophoniacal political spectrum, which looks a lot like the opposite end, only it is topsy-turvy and striped, a well-known Ukrainian provocateur decided to take a few swipes at me on Facebook by claiming I “defended” Russia.

What he really meant by this, I could not figure out for the life of me, but I gathered that the point of his mostly incoherent remarks was that, since I write about Russia and edit a website about Russia, I was thus inadvertently or even deliberately legitimizing the country.

The problem for professional Russophobes like him is that Russia exists and has existed for a long time. No one can wish it away, just as we cannot wish away climate change, rampant poverty or racism. But we can wish for a world without any of these things or a lot less of these things, and we can make that world a reality.

Russians can also wish for a more democratic, egalitarian Russia and make that a reality, too. If, like me, you are not in a position to engage directly in the country’s democratization by virtue of your nationality, you can at least help people in Russia campaigning for a freer, fairer country by writing about them and, more generally, by providing or seeking a clearer, more detailed picture of what has been going on in Russia, and what the causes of current events in Russia really are, refusing to accept the lazy non-explanations of Russophobes, Russophiles, crypto-Putinists, and bored academics alike.

My Ukrainian detractor was not having any of it, alas. My unwillingness to accept the falsehood that Russians are mostly bad to the bone was more proof I was soft on Russia.

The crux of our disagreement was that I refused to concede that there are inordinately large numbers of bad or stupid people in Russia, as compared with other countries. On the other hand, I do believe, on the basis of long years of in-country observation, conversations with thousands of Russians, and intense and extensive reading of the Russian press and the relevant literature, that Putin’s alleged popularity is an authoritarian construct, not an expression of the popular will.

This is an argument that needs to be made in full, which I have done in bits and bobs over the last few years, often by translating the work of Russian observers who have made similar claims. That is, it is, at least, a rational argument that has a good deal of evidence to support it.

I definitely do not believe in collective guilt, which my Ukrainian interlocutor seemed to think was as natural as the sun rising in the morning.

My detractor believed in lots of noxious things and decided he could dump them down my throat by way of debunking the ten-plus years of hard work I have put in covering Russia from an angle no one else covers it.

Several of my comrades and friends were party to this ridiculous conversation, but instead of defending me or at least pointing out the flaws in the Ukrainian provocateur’s completely blowsy argument, they just let him spit in my face repeatedly, although his only real object was to get my goat and disparage my work.

Here we arrive at an actual—not imaginary—problem in Russia these days: the lack of solidarity among people who should otherwise feel it and exercise it towards each other and, in its absence, the sickening phenomenon of people standing by idly and silently as out-and-out bullies—the police, Putin, NOD, “Cossacks,” Russian physicians, Ukrainian provocateurs, and so forth—beat up other people physically or verbally or both.

In the aftermath of solidarity’s triumph in the Yuri Dmitriev case, a groundswell has been seemingly gathering to support the nine young Penza and Petersburg antifascists abducted and tortured by the FSB, and then accused, absurdly, of being wannabe terrorists supposedly hellbent on causing mayhem during the March presidential election and upcoming World Football Cup.

If the groundswell really does exist, the credit for it should go to an incredibly tiny group of people who decided they had to make a lot of noise about the case at all costs. Most of these people are 100% Russians, whatever that means, and I have rarely been so inspired as I have been by this group of people, most of whom are also fairly young and predominantly female.

In fact, if you read this and its predecessor, Chtodelat News, you will find lots of stories, some of them going ten years back, chockablock with smart, courageous, team-oriented, democratic, egalitarian Russians.

Russia thus has every chance of becoming a democratic, egalitarian country in the foreseeable future. But the same could be said of the United States and a whole host of other countries—the vast majority of countries on earth, I would imagine—that either have strayed too far from the democratic path or never were quite on track in the first place.

Democracy is not an essential feature of some peoples and countries, while despotism is an essential feature of other peoples and countries. If you believe that canard, it will not be long before you are saying the Jews are entirely responsible for the mess we are in, the Palestinians are capable only of terrorism, the Americans are too blame for all the world’s problems (including problems they really did not have a hand in causing) or your own people (fill in the blank) are too corrupt, swinish, and stupid to govern themselves, so a dictator like Putin or Assad has to do the job for them. There is no alternative, in other words.

Democracy is something we do together. We either practice hard and try to make every note bend just right or we don’t practice at all or not often enough, in which case a cynical cacophonist like Putin or Trump gets to call the tune for us. Not because we are inherently racist or authoritarian, but mostly because we are too scared, indifferent, busy, self-absorbed, lazy and sorely tempted not to listen to our better natures and see the good in others.

But we are obviously not essentially good, either. We are the political animals who have the power to make and remake ourselves and our societies in ways that are better and worse. We also have to decide all the time what constitutes better and worse.

If you do not believe this, you do not believe in the power of politics and do not understand the “mystery” of human being. Ultimately, you think that some humans or all humans are too wayward and disorganized to get their act together, and therefore should be policed.

I did not think up this distinction between politics and policing myself. A far wiser and thoughtful man than I am, the French philosopher Jacques Rancière did, but as the years go by, seemingly becoming nastier and darker, I see how his distinction does get to the heart of the matter.

This is simplifying the matter unforgivably, but you are either on the side of politics or the side of the police.

Politics is messy and usually not particularly satisfying, but it is the only way we have to approximate knowing all the things we have to know to make and enact good decisions that affect us all.

Policing, on the other hand, is easy as pie. Entire groups, classes, peoples, and groups are declared out of bounds and thus subject to police action. If you argue with the police about their inclusion of a particular group of people on its list of “not our kind of folks,” they will say what police always say on such occasions—”Oh, so you’re in cahoots with them?”—and rap you over the head with a truncheon.

In the years I have been editing websites and deliberately misusing social media for the same purposes, I have been rapped over the head with heavy verbal truncheons so many times I am now permanently punch drunk.

Most of the policing, unsurprisingly, has been meted out by Russophones, many of whom really do suffer from chauvinism of a kind that, at best, does not brook the possibility that a non-native Russophone could have anything worthwhile to say about Russian politics and society. The Ukrainian provocateur was from this school of opinion

Since there are something like twenty people in the world—seriously!—who genuinely support what I do here, I guess I will keep doing it, but the other day’s round of kangaroo boxing left me seriously wary about people whom I had considered comrades. // TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader