“Authoritarian Democracy”: Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom

“I Don’t Impose My Opinion”
Maria Bobylyova
Takie Dela
April 11, 2017

Just as in Soviet times, schoolteachers are now forced to hold political information lessons, to talk with schoolchildren about the current political conjuncture. But a new generation of savvy schoolchildren has emerged. We talked with two teachers about their political stances and how they argue with pupils.

“We Must Raise Mentally Healthy Children with Traditional Family Values”
Thirty years old, Natalya lives in Stavropol, where she teaches history and social studies at school. She supports the current regime and teaches children to think freely, love the Motherland, and practice correct family values.

I support the current regime and the policies of our president. I don’t like everything that is done. For example, I don’t quite understand why the regions are not entirely rational in spending federal money. But basically I’m satisfied with everything, especially our foreign policy. I’m insanely proud that Crimea is now part of Russia. I believe this is historically just. If you look at past wars, about forty percent of them were over Crimea. I believe that when Khrushchev gifted Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, it was a big mistake. Crimea is strategically important to us and we cannot let our enemies make the region a sphere of their influence.

You don’t think it was done illegally?

Why illegally? Ninety-three percent of Crimeans voted in a referendum to join Russia. There was no pressure or coercion.

Are the subsequent sanctions fair?

They are inevitable consequences. If you want to take something, you have to understand there will be consequences. We are paying for them even now. But they’re trivial compared to the benefits: the Black Sea, Sevastopol, and the navy. We didn’t annex Crimea forcibly. We didn’t send in troops. There’s a propaganda campaign against our country underway in the world. We live in the provinces, but we have free access to all sources of information, and that’s good. Generally, having access to information is empowering, and the recent elections in the US have shown that.

You’re happy with the outcome?

Very much so. I supported Trump from the beginning. He didn’t voice such an anti-Russian stance as Clinton did. I don’t like her at all.

You weren’t embarrassed by his sexist attacks?

They’re trifles. He’s such an eccentric, extravagant man. Moreover, this is not only America’s sin but Europe’s as well. Things are far from normal when it comes to morality there. Their so-called tolerance alone suffices. They call it tolerance. I would call it something else.

They didn’t call Trump’s outburts tolerant.

It doesn’t matter. They’re in a state of degradation. Take, for example, all those same-sex marriages. They will cause the death of mankind, although I can’t say I’m against such relationships. Everyone has the right to a private life, and I won’t be the first to cast stones at such people. By the way, this topic really interests my pupils as well. For example, in social studies, we cover the topic of marriage, and we say that it’s a union between a man and a woman. Yet every time in class there is someone who says, “But what about same-sex marriages”?

How do you reply?

That it absolutely contradicts our country’s and our mentality’s moral foundations. And that it will cause mankind’s extinction.

But same-sex couples can also have children.

I believe this is wrong and has a bad effect on the children. If a child grows up seeing this example, he will think he can repeat it, too, and that there’s nothing wrong about it.

You believe homosexuality can be taught?

Yes, to a large extent. Even if there is something innate about it, it can either emerge or not under society’s impact. So society is obliged to beat it in time.

Do you have any LGBT pupils?

Absolutely not. I would have noticed. A girl once came to me for tutoring who didn’t hide the fact she was a lesbian, and she was clearly different from other children.

In what sense?

She openly told me she believed same-sex unions were normal.

What would you do if there were a same-sex couple in your class?

I would definitely tell the parents, as I did in this girl’s case. But her parents were aware: her family had given her a liberal upbringing . If parents consider it normal to raise their child that way, there’s nothing I can do and I won’t intervene, nor do I have the right.

What if you had the right?

I would talk with the teenager and find out the cause of the problem, probably more for myself, so that I would know how to raise my own children later. Because I really wouldn’t like my future child to turn out like that.

What would you do then?

I would have a talk with him. I would take him to a psychologist. I would do everything possible to fix it.

What if nothing helped?

That wouldn’t happen. In adolescence, children don’t have a clear position that cannot be broken. I would break it.

What if you found out a fellow teacher was gay?

It wouldn’t affect my relationship with him, but I wouldn’t let our families become chummy so my own child wouldn’t be exposed to his example. Children really do copy the behavior of adults. We must raise mentally healthy children with traditional family values. There are things we had nothing to do with devising and that we have no right to change: family, patriotism, and decency.  What kind of family can there be without children?

As I already said, same-sex couples can and do have children.

How is that? How can two men have a child? Only through a surrogate mother. But I don’t think you’ll find many women willing to bear a child for two gays even for money, not in our country, at least.

What about adoption?

That’s impossible in Russia, thank God. I think it is extremely wrong. Children should be raised in normal, full-fledged, traditional families.

What if you had to choose between an orphanage and same-sex parents?

Who said that an orphanage is necessarily a bad thing? I know many children from orphanages, and they are full-fledged individuals who are grateful to their minders and to the state, which provides them with both real estate [sic] and material support.  Many of the children in our school come from orphanages. They are all well adapted both in terms of education and in terms of socialization with other children. Our work involves smoothing out the differences and avoiding bullying and conflicts. We’re good at that here in the Caucasus.

You probably have multiethnic classes?

Yes, and different religions. It’s a very complicated topic, because we have many different ethnic groups. Turkmen, Chechens, Armenians, and even Syrians go to our school. Teachers have to deal with the topic of religions and ethnic groups delicately. Someone puts on Alisa‘s “Sky of the Slavs,” and you’re immediately on the lookout, because the song can provoke very different reactions and feelings from children. You always have to think before speak. Children react instantaneously. You aren’t able to reverse time or take back what you said. But religious topics really interest children.

Alisa, “Sky of the Slavs” (2003, dir. Oleg Flyangolts)

What exactly interests them?

They closely monitor the material well-being of priests, for example, the story about Patriarch Kirill’s watch and all that. They come to me and ask whether it’s true.

What do you tell them?

That I don’t know myself. Like them, I read the same news. But I think when it comes to religious issues there can be no freedom of interpretation.  No wonder we have a law against insulting the feelings of believers. Believing or not believing is a personal stance, but there shouldn’t be any blasphemy or mockery. What happened to Pussy Riot is indicative in this sense.

You think the verdict was fair?

One hundred percent fair, of course. If anyone would be able to go into a church and do as he wishes, what would become of us? We need to respect the feelings of believers, especially in our country, where Orthodoxy has always played such an important role. Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality: that’s how it was, and it’s still that way to some extent. Yet all religions are respected equally in our great country. I’ve never heard Vladimir Vladimirovich give a single speech in which he called on everyone to become Orthodox.

Do you like Putin?

A lot. He’s a charismatic leader, in my opinion: this is obvious to everyone. He arrived at a complicated moment and immediately won people over. There is something attractive about him. He always finds a way to get out of any complicated situation gracefully. He can joke or scold, but he always comes out the winner. He deserves to be the most influential politician in the world, and he is the most influential politician. The western media accuse him of being an authoritarian, but I would call it authoritarian democracy. It’s not the worse option for Russia.

Do you following the corruption scandals plaguing the regime?

Of course. Be we have to understand that corruption is a mindset in Russia. In my history lessons, I always tell the children about how Peter the Great decided to eradicate corruption and asked Prince Alexander Menshikov’s advice. Menshikov replied, “You’ll run out of rope and be left without subjects.” We know that Menshikov was the biggest embezzler in Peter’s court. So there has always been corruption and there will always be a corruption. Do you think that if Navalny took power he would beat corruption without getting bogged down in it himself? On the other hand, these stories are not always true. They are often just PR campaigns to tarnish someone who has fallen out of favor. Besides, I think corruption thrives partly due to our political passivity and popular legal illiteracy. If you decide to go with the flow, don’t be surprised when you get to the river bed and see what you see. You have to start with yourself.

How do you start?

Don’t give bribes, for example, even it makes things simple and quicker. Obey the law even in those particulars where you imagine you can violate it. However, there is much more order than before. I remember what happend under Yeltsin. [Although she would have been twelve when Putin took power — TRR.] Those were horrible times. I grew up in a village. There were five children in our family, and Mom traded hand-me-downs with the neighbors. We took turns wearing them out. Dad wasn’t paid his wages for months at a time, Mom couldn’t find a job, and Grandma wasn’t paid her pension. We had a garden. We grew what we could, and it was our only means of survival. I remember well how everything changed with Putin’s arrival.

In the material sense as well?

Of course. When I went to work at the school, I got a young specialist’s bonus for three years. Although I didn’t go to work at the school right away. I put in time as an administrator and a real estate agent, and I worked in management. So I have something to compare it with. I have worked at the school for six years and I sense the state’s support. I get a decent wage and I am able to satisfy most of my material needs. I feel calm and confident. I live in a country where there is no Chechen War to which soldiers could be sent.

Soldiers can now be sent to other wars.

If you mean Ukraine, I have no information our troops are fighting there, except for professional or special units. All the rest is western propaganda. I don’t like the war in Ukraine, just as I don’t like any war.

What about Syria?

What about Syria? Yes, we’re fighting there, but it’s not our country. Everything is calm within Russia. There are no longer any separatists sentiments, as there were under Yeltsin, and I am personally grateful to Vladimir Putin for this. Historically, we have been attracted by strong individuals who can establish order by any means. In this sense, I see Putin as a man of his word. He never makes promises he doesn’t keep.

Who is your favorite historical leader?

Peter the Great. Russia flourished under his reign. We got a navy and an empire, and we were victorious in war. Of course, there were excesses, but there is not a single politician in the world who doesn’t have them. Basically, you should always look at things objectively. So when we cover Ivan the Terrible, I always teach the children that besides the bad things there were also good things: centralization, the annexation of Astrakhan and Kazan, and the conquest of Siberia. Expanding territory is a good thing. It means resources, people, culture, borders, and a geopolitical position.

Do you think that Russia has its own way?

I really like the position of the Slavophiles. I like thinking that our history and our people are typified by a certain exclusivity. History proves it. We have never been ready for a single war, but we win all the wars we fight. This makes me proud, and I teach the children to be proud of this, to be proud of their country, its heritage, and its great culture. That’s what real patriotism is about. My pupils and I look at the facts together and learn to analyze rather than just label things and divide them into black and white. My job is to provide the children with full access to all historical information. I never impose readymade conclusions. For example, in the tenth grade we’re now studying the Emperor Paul. My children love him terribly and feel sorry for him. They say he was unloved by his mother, and then he was killed. Although I relate to him coolly, to put it mildly.

Do discussions arise a lot during your classes?

Constantly. I think it’s very important to let children speak. Our job, after all, is to educate individuals, not homogeneous clones. Our country needs strong, independent people who are able to think. Teachers who don’t let children speak undermine their own authority. If you’re not willing to argue, you’re a despot who imposes her own opinion, not a teacher. Children fear and hate you, and I don’t want that. One of the places that history happens is right outside the school building. So I never stop lively discussions, because they teach children to think and analyze. Of course, if a discussion goes on for three classes in a row, I’ll find a way to get back to the lesson plan. But I really like lively discussions. It’s so great when you see individuals growing up right before your eyes.

Are your pupils interested in politics?

Very much so, especially the upperclassmen. They watch the news, ask questions, and argue. Political debates happen both during lessons and recesses. They are interested not only in politics but also in everything that is going on, for example, the recent story of Diana Shurygina really agitated them. But they are also interested in the elections. They can’t wait to vote for the first time.

Do you voice your own political views to them?

I express my viewpoint, but I never impose it. I think children have a right to their own opinions, so I let everyone speak. There are lots of different children among my pupils, and I wouldn’t say all of them support the regime. They read RBC and Life and Meduza. I have a boy in the ninth grade, Yegor, who is an ardent oppositionist, and I find it fairly interesting to discuss things with him. He never descends to demagoguery,  but reads and watches lots of things, and supports his opinion with facts. I also watch TV Rain and listen to Echo of Moscow to be familiar with a different point of view and be able to rebut Yegor.

Are you trying to change his mind?

He and I just discuss things: he’s not going to change his mind, nor should he. It’s not my goal to impose my opinion. Although, of course, when my pupils grow up and become patriots, I’m pleased. It happens that a child transfers from another school. He sees everything in a bleak light and is quite unpatriotic. But then he learns to think critically and gradually realizes what a great history Russia has and what a great country it is. When I took over my own class from another history teacher, the children constantly referred to our country as “Russia.” But when, several months later, they said “We” instead of “Russia,” I was so proud I got goosebumps. Fifteen Armenians, three Turkmen, and five Russias are seated in front of you, and they all say “we.” They’re genuine patriots.

“I Feel Lonely, Insecure, and Misunderstood”
Olga lives in a regional capital in the central part of European Russia. She is fifty-four years old, and she has taught at a pedagogical college her whole life. Students are admitted to the college after finishing the ninth and eleventh grades, which means that Olga deals with teenagers between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. She is a liberal, but she tries to hide it, because most of the people around here don’t understand her.

I didn’t always have liberal views. When the Soviet Union collapsed and life got bad very fast, I was opposed to it and voted for the Communists. But then there was some trouble in my family and I came face to face with the system and the state. I saw from the inside how the laws and state agencies function in Russia, and my eyes were opened as it were. I realized what mattered is that a person has freedom and should have freedom. People in Russia are fond of saying that what matter is one’s health, while we can put up with the rest. I think that people should not have put up with anything and then they’ll be healthy. But if there is no freedom, health won’t be of any use to them.

Why do you hide the fact you’re in the opposition?

At first, I tried to talk with my colleagues and voice my disagreement with the current regime. They didn’t understand me. They would say, “Aren’t you Russian? Aren’t you a patriot?” Initially, I would argue. I’d say I was in fact a real patriot, and that Pushkin, Akhmatova, Vysotsky et al., were on my side, while they had only one person on theirs. Then I realized it was pointless. They are seemingly decent, pleasant people, but completely alien. Or I’m talking to a colleague who tells me how a friend of hers has made it big. He works in a company that produces asphalt. They’ve learned to dilute the asphalt somehow to produce twice as much so they could sell it under the table. This same colleague of mine claimed to be a patriot, yet she also was a driver and had to drive on those roads. I don’t understand that. I’m surrounded by people who watch the national channels and don’t want to know a thing. They have university degrees, but they watch Kiselyov and Solovyov and listen to them like zombies. So there is no one with whom to talk.

No one at all?

There are one or two people who will hear me out, and I’m grateful for even that much. However, sometimes I’m aware I’m not alone. Recently, during a continuing education course, I was pleasantly surprised by the progressive woman teaching the course. She talked about our regime’s idiocy and that we had to filter what the leadership was sending down to us from above, because we were responsible for the kind of teachers we graduated. She also advised us to watch Dmitry Bykov’s lectures, can you imagine? I was simply amazed there were people like that in our region.

Who do you vote for?

The last time, I just crossed out my ballot so no one would get my vote. I voted for Prokhorov during the last presidential elections, although everyone tried to prove to me he was a pet project of the Kremlin’s. Now they say Navalny is a pet project of the Kremlin’s,  although I have a hard time believing it. I read and listen to all the opposition politicians, including Navalny and Yabloko. My day begins with Novaya Gazeta and Echo of Moscow. I don’t watch TV except for RBC’s channel. When I catch Mom watching Channel One, I chew her out. But lately I’ve weaned her off it, thank God.

Do you broadcast your views to your students?

Directly, no, and besides, I can’t do it because I could be punished. Yet if you support the regime you can say anything at all. Like the school principal from Bryansk in that video. I’m 100% sure she was completely sincere. People like that can speak out, but I can’t. All I can do is introduce the younger generation to some works and give them the freedom to speak their minds and think. Making someone think like you is the biggest crime. They should think as they see fit. But our teachers sin by imposing their views. I teach Russian and teaching methods, and my students are future primary school teachers. So I can influence them only though quotations and by asking them to read things. Recently, I asked them to listen to Vasya Oblomov’s song “A Long and Unhappy Life.”

Vasya Oblomov, “A Long and Unhappy Life” (2017)

What political views do your students have?

They have different views, but many of them sincerely upset me. Recently, they asked me whether I would steal food and take it home if I worked in the cafeteria. They think there is nothing wrong about it. Everyone does it and it’s normal. I wonder where a sixteen-year-old gets this view of the world. Obviously, at home, although my past communist views had their origins in school. I remember our teacher telling us we had to be like Volodya Ulyanov [Lenin], and I really wanted to be like him. I would go to the library and ask for a book about Lenin, but the librarian would be surprised and suggest a book of fairytales. Later, when the teacher said I was like the young Volodya, it was the highest praise I could imagine.

Do you experience any pressure from up top in terms of what you can say and what you can’t?

There’s no direct pressure. The fact is we have quite heavy workloads. I think it’s done on purpose so we don’t have time to think and approach the work creatively. I’m buried in papers and forms, and there is no time to do anything worthwhile. Plus I’m forced to work one and a half to two jobs just to earn something, and that isn’t conducive to quality, either. Sometimes, we’re asked to go somewhere. Three years ago, we were ordered to attend a pro-Crimea annexation rally, and although I was against it I went anyway. But I don’t go to May Day demos. They ask me to go, but I say I don’t support the goverenment. They look at me funny and leave me alone.

You’ve never thought about changing jobs?

I have thought about it, and more than once, but it’s not so easy to find a job in our region. I really wanted to leave ten years ago or so, when we were buried in paperwork. But now I think, why the heck should I go? I love my work and I’ve been at it thirty years.

Has your life changed since Putin came to power?

You know, I did alright in the nineties, if it’s possible to say that. We got paid on time, and as for everything else our province is half asleep. But in the noughties I started to feel personally uncomfortable. When the old NTV was dismantled, and the news program Nadmedni was shut down, it made me tense. And then there have been all these strange laws, Crimea, and sanctions. I have no hope at all that anything will change.

So you watched the old NTV and yet voted for Zyuganov?

Yes. I arrived at my liberal views the long way around. On the other hand, if a person doesn’t change, she stagnates. Only there is no point in these changes. I feel lonely, insecure, and misunderstood. I look at the people around me, and they’re in a patriotic euphoria. Ninety percent of them really support the annexation of Crimea. I have always traveled to Crimea and I’ll keep on going to Crimea, because I love it and I have family there. But I try and avoid discussing the topic with them. They’re happy: they got a rise in their pensions. I agree that Crimea has always been ours, but the way it was annexed was wrong.

Does your liberalism extend to all areas of life?

Generally, yes. But there should be moderation in all things. For example, it’s wrong if a young woman with tattoos and a shaven head plans to be a primary school teacher. In any case, I imagine freedom as a certain set of internal constraints. Teaching is a conservative profession, and if you choose it, you have to agree to certain restraints.

What other things should teachers not let themselves do?

Rather, they shouldn’t demonstrate them openly. You remember how in Ostrovsky’s play The Storm, the sister-in-law tells Katerina she can do anything as long it’s hush-hush. If this is what our society is like, you shouldn’t rub someone the wrong way. It’s a private matter for everyone. If I were principal, I would not care less about sexual orientation. But I’m against making it a matter of public record and discussing these topics widely. It’s the same thing with religion.

What about religion?

In our country, if you’re a religious person, you can speak your mind freely and often impose your opinion as well. If you’re not, you are forced to keep your mouth lest you offend, God forbid, the feelings of believers. So I keep my mouth shut. I keep my mouth shut about one thing or another. Basically, I’m a cowardly person.

Translation and photography by the Russian Reader

Fighting the “Faggot Kids” in Russia

LGBT Teens Called “Faggot Kids” at Meeting with Russian Children’s Ombudsman
Ruposters.ru
November 2, 2016

Russian Children’s Rights Ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova

During a meeting in Tula featuring children’s ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova, homosexual teens were called “faggot kids,”  reports Kommersant newspaper

Denis Davydov,  director of the Safe Internet League, made the statement. Speaking at the meeting, he talked about the harassment organized against psychologist Lydia Matveeva. Her expert opinion had contributed to banning the [online] community Deti-404 (Children 404), which had helped gay children.

“Maybe you remember the website where underaged faggot kids held up signs and promoted this lifestyle?” said Davydov.

The remark provoked laughter in the auditorium. Davydov continued his speech, emphasizing that sects, “psychocults,” promotion of dangerous behavior and alternative realities, computer games, and “aggressive information” posed the main risks on the Internet to children.

Kuznetsova suggested tightening Article 110 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Incitement to Suicide”) by adding a paragraph to the article that would outlaw “inclining minors to suicide” by virtual means.

In turn, Nikolai Abramov, deputy head of Roskomnadzor‘s Tula office, proposed leaving Russia with three to five access points to the world Internet and filtering all data through these points.

On September 9, President Vladimir Putin dismissed Pavel Astakhov from the post of presidential envoy for children’s rights and named Anna Kuznetsova to the post.

Translated by a Sack of Potatoes. Thanks to Comrade Sergey S.  for the heads-up

Fleecing Foreigners Makes Us Happy, but Gays Make Us Sad

happiness
Image on the website of the Happiness pastry shop chain. The text reads, “OUR PRINCIPLES: Love, Quality, Care, Interest, Communication.”

Happiness Coffee and Pastry Shop Chain Introduces Surcharge for Foreigners
Paperpaper.ru
August 23, 2016

There is an additional fee for groups of foreigners at the Happiness (Schastie) coffee and pastry shop on St. Isaac’s Square in Petersburg. A Paperpaper.ru editor discovered this while visiting the establishment. A surcharge of ten percent is added to the final bill.

The reasons for the surcharge are not spelled out either in the menu or on the bill. As the establishment’s manager explained to Paperpaper.ru, the surcharged was introduced at the “director’s personal orders.” Besides, the manager assured us that a line explaining the practice would soon appear in the menu.

The surcharge was confirmed by phone calls to the Happiness outlets on St. Isaac’s Square and Rubinstein Street.

The chain’s management informed Paperpaper.ru that the surcharge was indeed enforced in all of its outlets, but only vis-a-vis groups consisting wholly of foreigners. The rule has been in effect since November 2015. According to the chain’s rules, waiters warn customers that a ten-percent service charge will appear on their bill. Management also confirmed to Paperpaper.ru that the rule would be spelled out in the menu.

Article 62.3 of the Russian Federal Constitution states, “Foreign nationals and stateless persons shall enjoy in the Russian Federation the rights and bear the obligations of citizens of the Russian Federation, except for cases envisaged by federal law or international agreement of the Russian Federation.”

In addition, Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees “equality of rights and freedoms of human and citizen, regardless of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, property and official status, place of residence, religion, convictions, membership of public associations, and also of other circumstances.”

_________

central

Message on the home page of the Central Barbershop website: “The services in our barbershops are provided in strict keeping with in-house standards of service [sic], operating procedures, and service [sic]. You can be refused a service if it does not according with the company in-house standards. It is prohibited in the barbershop to bring or imbibe alcoholic beverages, for the female sex to be present, [and] for member of a non-traditional orientation [sic[ to be on the premises.” Curiously, all this discrimination is absent from the English-language version of the same page, which only blandly states, “Men’s barber services are performed in accordance with European and American requirements.”

Petersburg Barbershop Refuses to Serve Homosexuals
Paperpaper.ru
September 6, 2016

The Petersburg barbershop chain Central Barbershop has refused to serve homosexuals, according to its website. Women are also forbidden from being in its barbershops.

“The issue concerns me, since there are lots of gays and lesbians around. I had a bad experience of interacting with this group of people, and I would not like to see them in my salons. It is terrible they are everywere. But this is not homophobia, because homosexualists [sic] have their own places, and they can go there,” said Mikhail Korets, founder of the barbershop chain.

According to Korets, his employees will politely refuse to serve gays, citing a lack of time or available barbers. He compared this kind of refusal with the work of security guards at nightclubs, which do not let people into their establishments by saying there is no room.

According to Yuri Gavrikov, head of local LGBT organization Equality (Ravnopravie), the Petersburg barbershop chain is involved in discriminating against people. He compared the chain’s decision with racial discrimination in the US during the 20th century.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up on the English-language website of the fascist barbers.

#quietpicket

 "#quietpicket Am I promoting heterosexuality when I hug my guy in the subway? Russian Federal Misdemeanors Code Article 6.21 (Promoting Non-Traditional Sexual Relations among Minors). Why not?"
“#quietpicket Am I promoting heterosexuality when I hug my guy in the subway? Russian Federal Misdemeanors Code Article 6.21 [Promoting Non-Traditional Sexual Relations among Minors]. Why not?” Placard, Petersburg Subway, July 24, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

This past May, I published a translation of Marina Simakova’s fascinating interview with Darja Serenko, a Moscow artist who had launched a long-term silent protest action and research project in the subway that she had dubbed Quiet Picket.

While riding the subway earlier today in Russia’s Northern Capital, I was glad to see a young woman sit down opposite me with a shoulder bag pasted over with a tiny placard hash-tagged #quietpicket.

Since she seemed a bit tense, as did the passengers around her, I went up and asked her whether it would be alright to photograph her placard. She smiled and said it would be. After that, the mood in the car seemed to lighten up a bit.

Elena Kostyuchenko: Homophobia Is the Cause

"Islamo-, homo-, xenophobia kill. #Orlando." Spontaneous memorial outside the US Consulate in St. Petersburg, June 13, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
“Islamo-, homo-, xeno- phobia kill. #Orlando.” Spontaneous memorial to the victims of the Orlando shooting outside the US Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 13, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie

Elena Kostyuchenko
Facebook
June 13, 2016

I have received lots of comments assessing my worth as a woman and a daughter, and a lot of the usual fare, such as “I wish you were dead” and “You’re not human beings.” But there is one more thing I would like to discuss.

When you write that “terrorists only need an excuse,” “the sexual orientation of the victims doesn’t matter,” and “I am mourning too, so how am I different from you?” you are closing your eyes to the cause of the murders.

Homophobia is the cause.

I don’t like the word. It is abstract, but it does a fair job of explaining how, in the last two years, nineteen of my acquaintances have been assaulted, two have been raped, and two have been murdered, and how over twenty people I know have been forced to leave the country. These have been people from my circle of friends, which is not so huge. Laws have been passed against us. We are unequal and officially deemed unequal according to Article 6.21 of the Russian Administrative Offenses Code. We do not have the right to marry and have joint custody of children. We do not have the right to visit each other in prison or hospitals. For the past three years, in the Russian hinterlands, there have been neo-Nazi groups operating who prey exclusively on LGBT. Television has vigorously inflamed the atmosphere of hatred and fear. There was a break, which lasted a year, for the Ukrainian war, but now we are the number one public enemies. Just watch the news.

I am glad you can live without noticing this, that it doesn’t concern you. I would also be glad not to know all the particulars, for example, how a bullet from a trauma pistol penetrates the eye, and the sound it makes, or what it is like to file a complaint against a guy your father brought over to “fix” you, or how to dial 911, because someone is trying to open your door, but the cops refuse to show up. And you sit there till morning with a little knife in your hand listening to someone trying to pick your lock. And then, in the morning, when the fuss has died down, you close the door, leave the house, and never go back there again. These are the things people close to me have gone through. Maybe your colleagues and friends have gone through some of these things. I am even certain they have.

I know how long a broken nose takes to heal (I can even compare, because noses get broken often), what it is like to get hit by a stone, a bottle, and a chunk of pavement, what it is like when your girlfriend is found strangled in a car, what it is like when the doctors say you can expect to go deaf, because the auditory nerves die off after a blow to the temple (I can tell you about that in detail: I went through it myself), what it is like when you are doused with urine and videotaped, what it is like when you are called into the director’s office and fired, forced to switch schools, universities, the place you work. I even know what it is like when your classmates rape you behind a garage. I know what it is like when a cop spits in your face while his buddies are suffocating your friend, and you cannot do a thing, because your arms are pinned behind your back, and all this is accompanied by jubilant cries of “faggots!” I know what it is like to dream of buying a plot of land, surrounding it with a fence three meters high, and raising your children in this cage, because it is the only way you can guarantee their safety.

Any conversation on the topic ends with the advice to “not stick your neck out.” When mass murders occur, the same attitude leads to comments that “it doesn’t matter what your orientation is.”

No, you really don’t know how my mom felt when she heard about the shooting at the gay club, or what I feel when I realize I have no way of reassuring her. “Everything will be okay.” Are you kidding?

The orientation of the people who were killed matters.

If it doesn’t matter to you, then you could give a fuck about the cause of the murders and why these murders happen again and again and again.

Elena Kostyuchenko is a journalist with Novaya Gazeta newspaper and a Russian LGBT rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AS for the heads-up

Two Hours in an Empty Tank

I am an anti-fascist anti-Faust . . .

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Nothing Russian about AIDS
Moscow City Duma Proposes Fighting HIV Epidemic with Heterosexual Monogamous Family
Alexander Chernykh
Kommersant
May 31, 2016

Yesterday [May 30, 2016], the Moscow City Duma discussed the spread of HIV in Moscow. Virtually no physicians spoke at the hearing. Instead, the deputies chatted with experts from the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISS), who told the MPs that HIV was part of the west’s information war against Russia and that, rather than preventing HIV, condoms were, on the contrary, an indirect cause of the epidemic. The deputies were thus led to conclude it was not HIV that needed to be combated, but the populace’s moral laxity.

Lyudmila Stebenkova, chair of the Moscow City Duma’s health care committee, opened the hearing. She reminded the MPs that, a year ago, they had discussed HIV “because there had been all sorts of insinuations in the press that we, allegedly, had a huge number of HIV-infected people.”

In May of last year, Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal AIDS Center, said that Russia had an HIV epidemic and called the situation a “national catastrophe.”

It was then Moscow MPs asked to verify the data and ordered a “well-grounded report on HIV infections.” To prepare the report, Moscow authorities turned not to doctors but to RISS, a government think thank founded by presidential decree in 1992. According to RISS’s website, the institute deals with “issues of national security provision” and “prevents the falsification of history.”

As Stebenkova explained, “Previously, they produced a stunning report on various NGOs funded by the west.”

RISS took nearly a year to produce the report. Yesterday, the institute’s deputy director, [Tamara] Guzenkova, presented it to Moscow MPs. According to RISS’s website, Ms. Guzenkova has nothing to do with medicine. She has a doctoral degree in history. In her publications, she has criticized the new Ukrainian authorities and spoken out on the “EU’s decline.”

She approached HIV from a familiar angle, arguing that “the problem of HIV/AIDS has been employed as part of the information war against Russia.”

In its report, RISS claims there are two models for fighting HIV. The western model includes “neoliberal ideological content, insensitivity to national idiosyncrasies, and the total priority given to high-risk groups such as drug addicts and LGBT.”

In turn, the Moscow model “takes into account the cultural, historical, and psychological idiosyncrasies of the Russian populace, and is based on a conservative ideology and traditional values.”

According to Ms. Guzenkova, when the international community proposes that Russia should employ western approaches to fighting the disease, it turns the epidemic into a “political issue” by “opposing Russia as country that permits itself to pursue an independent foreign and domestic policy.”

RISS’s deputy head Oksana Petrovskaya, who also has a doctoral degree in history and is a specialist on the history of the southern and western Slavs, continued comparing the two concepts. The institute’s website features her articles on the “fate of Russian cemeteries abroad” and the “identity crisis in Poland.”

Ms. Petrovskaya explained that Moscow was doing a better job of fighting HIV than Saint Petersburg, and then offered her own explanation why this was the case.

“The reasons are not only geographical and regional but also have to do with a focus on traditional values,” she said. “We can regard Moscow as a symbol of native Russian values, and Saint Petersburg as a symbol of Western European cultural values.”

RISS’s report is even more specific on this point.

“The earthy primordiality of the spontaneously emergent holy lands of Moscow is opposed to artificially and rationally organized Petersburg, the main component of whose myth has been the apocalyptics of the doomed city. Formed in the wake of perestroika, the counterculture of Petersburgers is based on a conception of personal freedom as freedom from contradiction.”

The report’s third co-author, Igor Beloborodov, a Ph.D. in sociology, heads RISS’s department of demographics, migration, and ethnic and religious issues. He listed the sources of HIV transmission.

“It is the contraceptive industry, which has a stake in pushing their products and, thus, in getting as many juveniles as possible to engage in early sex. The pornography industry: despite all our laws, you can get all the stuff you want in two clicks.”

Mr. Beloborodov also roundly criticized the sex products industry, dubbing them “lobbyists who have a direct stake in perverting the populace.”

He even argued the idea of sexual education for children had been imposed by the west in order to “demographically deter countries regarded as geopolitical competitors.”

But Mr. Beloborodov nevertheless believes condoms are the main enemy. He recounted his conversation with Spanish [epidemiologist] Jokin de Irala.

“He argues that contraceptives eliminate the self-preserving role of personal behavior. And that five [sexual] contacts involving a condom during adolescence are the equivalent of one unprotected contact.”

“Either way, no one has come up with a better means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and, in particular, AIDs, than the monogamous family—the heterosexual monogamous family, I should underscore—who are faithful to one another,” said Mr. Beloborodov. “And I hope no one will ever come up with anything better.”

It is worth noting that Mr. Beloborodov rather loosely recounted the stance taken by Professor de Irala. In interviews and articles, the epidemiologist has said that abstinence alone does not help, and he promotes the concept of “abstinence and condoms.”

MP Stebenkova stressed she was not opposed to condoms as a means of preventing pregnancy, but did not believe in their efficacy against HIV. She recounted how she had recently been told the story of a young woman who had protected sex and yet had still tested positive for HIV.

“The risk is still reduced,” Alexei Mazus, head of the Moscow AIDS Center, who attended the hearing, suddenly noted.

“But condoms do not provide total protection,” the MP snapped back.

Mazus did not bother to object.

In summary, Stebenkova told the audience that “this report will play a very large role in further action.”

“In the long run, it is not AIDS we must fight, but drugs and promiscuity,” she said.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Vivarium Works

P.S. This horrorshow reminds me of a completely anonymous TV “documentary” I saw on one of the then-new and possibly now-defunct local channels in the mid nineties while channel surfing late at night. The documentary claimed in no uncertain terms, but without producing a shred of real evidence, that Russia’s rampant drug addiction problem was a plot by the CIA. Since back in those halcyon days you could not find “documentaries” of this sort on the main channels and broadcast in prime time, it occurred to me that the “documentary,” consisting only of a montage of any vaguely relevant or suggestive footage the filmmakers could get their hands on, backed by an ominous voiceover narrative, was the handiwork of a group of disgruntled veterans from some recently disbanded KGB sub-directorate. Now all of those disbanded sub-directorates have reformed with names like the Russian Institute for Strategic Research and the Kremlin. They are literally on the verge of running the country into the dirt, alas. TRR

Tatiana Kosinova: Manmade Savagery (The Murder of Dmitry Tsilikin)

Manmade Savagery
Tatiana Kosinova
April 7, 2016
Cogita.ru

Tonight, police detectives in Petersburg arrested student Sergei Kosyrev, who confessed to the murder of journalist Dmitry Tsilikin. Kosyrev has dubbed himself the Cleaner and claims his motive for committing the murder was hatred.

Slain Petersburg journalist Dmitry Tsilikin. Photo courtesy of Cogita.ru
Slain Petersburg journalist Dmitry Tsilikin. Photo courtesy of Cogita.ru

On the morning of April 7, 2016, the website of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee’s Petersburg office reported that the office had detained a suspect in the murder of journalist Dmitry Tsilikin.

Tsilikin’s death was discovered on March 31, 2016. Relatives founded his body, covered with multiple stab wounds, in his own apartment. Investigators opened a case under Article 105.1 (murder) of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

Fontanka.ru’s Yevgeny Vyshenkov chronicled the search for Sergei Kosyrev in the early hours of April 7, 2017. Vyshenkov writes that after studying billing recordings of the journalist’s mobile telephone,  investigators intercepted the 21-year-old Kosyrev, who had called Tsilikin on the morning of March 27. Investigators had established that the journalist bled to death at five p.m. on March 27, 2016.

According to an article published today by Fontanka.ru, the murder suspect “called himself the Cleaner during questioning, and his life a crusade. Sergei Kosyrev, a 21-year-old student at the Hydrometeorological University, explained that the crime was a mission […] a crusade against a particular social group, […] and the feeling he had when he, allegedly, killed Tsilikin, was not dislike, as written in the arrest report, but hatred.”

Investigators have informed the media that Kosyrev holds right-wing views and is a fan of the Norwegian black metal band Emperor, whose “drummer stabbed a man to death in Lillehammer in for ideological reasons” in 1992.* Komsomolskaya Pravda writes that Kosyrev might turn out to be a “serial killer of gays.”

The gloomy stories involving the unsolved deaths and injuries of gays in recent years cry out to be seen as symptomatic.

As Masha Gessen wrote in The New York Times yesterday, “What no one has written in response to any of these deaths is that the Kremlin’s antigay campaign, which simultaneously pushes people underground and communicates to the public that homophobic violence will go unpunished, ensures that these shameful killings continue.”

Like the rest of the country, Sergei Kosyrev, a student at the Hydrometeorological University, has lived for the last four years in an atmosphere of increasing hatred for LGBT, “fifth columns,” “foreign agents,” and a whole list of official aliens and others compiled by official propagandists and state media. The security services do not see their actions as incitement of hatred and enmity, because they are busy searching for “extremists” among opposition-minded journalists, politicians, and lone picketers. However, the atmosphere of hatred and savagery is manmade, and sooner or later culpability will catch up with the people who have generated it in the shape of a war of all against all.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Correction. When this post was originally published, it contained a link to a different article on Fontanka.ru, not the article containing the passage cited by Tatyana Kosinova, in which it is alleged that suspected killer Sergei Kosyrev referred to himself as “the Cleaner,” etc., during question by police. I apologize for my error. May 18, 2016. TRR

* On 21 August 1992, [Bård “Faust” Eithun] stabbed Magne Andreassen, a gay man, to death in a forest just outside Lillehammer. Eithun was visiting his family there. He went to a pub and had a drink, but “the atmosphere didn’t suit him, so he decided to head home.” According to Eithun, while walking in the Olympic park, “this man approached me – he was obviously drunk and obviously a faggot […] it was obvious that he wanted to have some contact. Then he asked me if we could […] go up to the woods. So I agreed, because already then I had decided that I wanted to kill him, which was very weird because I’m not like this.” Eithun carried a knife because, as he explained: “It’s better to have a knife you don’t need than to not have one when you need it.” Once in the woods, Eithun stabbed Andreassen 37 times and then kicked him in the head repeatedly as he lay on the ground.

Eithun claimed that he felt no remorse at the time. In the late 1990s, he said of the murder: “I was outside, just waiting to get out some aggression. It’s not easy to describe why it happened. It was meant to happen, and if it was this man or another man, that’s not really important.” Ihsahn, his bandmate in Emperor, said that Eithun “had been very fascinated by serial killers for a long time, and I guess he wanted to know what it’s like to kill a person.”

The media has linked the murder to black metal and speculated that Eithun was motivated by Satanism or fascism, but in a 2008 interview he explained: “I was never a Satanist or fascist in any way, but I put behind me the hatred and negativity. Those feelings just eat you up from inside.” In a 1993 interview he had said “I am not a Satanist, but I praise the evil.” In an interview for the book Lords of Chaos he explained he had been “interested in Satanism but there are other things as well. Basically, I don’t give a shit.”Jørn Tunsberg of the band Hades Almighty said that the murder was “an impulse killing” and that “it had nothing to do with black metal.”

Source: Wikipedia