National Unity Day Fiction

Historical Fantasy
Viktor Sigolayev, The Fatal Wheel: Crossing the Same River Twice (Alfa Kniga, 2012)

No one understood how our contemporary, an officer in the reserves and a history teacher, ended up in his own past, back in the body of a seven-year-old boy, and back in the period of triumphant, developed socialism, when, as far as our hero could remember, there was a lot more joy and happiness.

That is how an adult imagines it, but it transpires all is not as perfect in the sunny land of Childhood as the memory would suggest. It transpires that here, too, meanness and greed exist. There are thieves, bandits, and scammers of all stripes, although you did not notice them earlier, when you were a child. But now you have to do something about it. Now you have to fight it, because evil knows no obstacles in time. Enemies—cruel and insidious, clever and merciless—have again emerged on the horizon. Besides, some of them seem incredibly familiar to our hero.

So, the seven-year-old hero, who has two university degrees, combat officer experience, and a memory singed by the hard post-perestroika years, launches his own tiny war, allying himself with none other than the USSR State Security Committee [KGB]. He unexpectedly finds new friends there, the kind of friends for whom you can risk your life.

Source: LitRes

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Putin’s Russia can’t celebrate its revolutionary past. It has to smother it
Catherine Merridale
The Guardian
November 3, 2017

November always brings a welcome holiday for Russians. The day off work is about some great historical event, but most use it to catch up with their families. On 7 November 2017, it will be exactly 100 years since Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution, the one that people used to mark with anthems, weaponry and fireworks.

But this year’s official holiday commemorates not the revolution, but an uprising of 1612 against the Poles. National Unity Day was a tsarist invention that Vladimir Putin’s government relaunched in 2005. Marked on 4 November, its timing has been perfect. After three days on their sofas, will anyone really notice that there are no red flags?

The silence is like a dream in which the dreamer is being suffocated. Centenaries are special: everyone can count to 100. But so far Lenin and his comrades have not rated as much as a commemorative stamp. The man himself is still displayed – in a new suit – in the mausoleum on Red Square, but no one wants to talk about exactly what he did. The current Russian government makes ample use of history – no child is likely to forget the great patriotic war against fascism – but Lenin can’t be made to fit.

It is awkward enough, Moscow’s mandarins must think, that the Russian revolution was a people’s uprising against despotic rule, a fight against injustice and the gross excesses of the rich. With terrorism such a real threat, the Kremlin would be unwise to appear to condone violent revolt. Yet it can’t vilify a man whose corpse still lies in state, whose statue is a landmark in hundreds of towns. And what is it to make of Soviet power? If it condemns the Russian revolution, where does that leave Stalin and the people’s triumph?

So far the answer seems to be to keep things bland. Lenin, after all, is boringly familiar. If he will only stay that way, if young people decline to think, then even this annoying anniversary will pass. There are rumours that Russia’s new left may take to the streets this year to mark the anniversary with demonstrations, but most Russians under 50 regard the Soviet story as a dowdy relic, an embarrassment. The state wants it to stay that way, the province of those staunch old trouts who still sell apples outside metro stops. Its very language, “Soviet”, is an antique. It must be held back in the past, exiled along with dissidents, stretch nylon and bad teeth.

The Russian revolution was a moment when the veil of human culture tore. It was a season of euphoric hope, a terrifying experiment in utopia. It tested to destruction the 19th-century fantasy of progress. It was the work of tens of thousands of zealous enthusiasts.

Yet now their great-great-grandchildren are bored. This situation suits their government. A cloud of tedium hangs over any formal gathering that ventures to discuss the thing. Most choose the safest, dullest line. There is to be a round-table meeting held at [the] Smolny, for instance, the building from which Lenin launched the revolution, working around the clock. Scheduled for late November 2017, the theme will not be revolution but the centenary of Finnish independence.

I tried asking in the museums. The Russian state has preserved every relic of the revolutionary year, including Lenin’s pillow and his brother-in-law’s chess set. You can still run a finger around Stalin’s bath, the one that Lenin must have used before fleeing from Kerensky’s police. But nothing special has been planned, no big event, no cameras. The museum of Pravda, the Bolshevik party’s newspaper, is clearly short of funds. In Soviet times, schoolchildren visited in their thousands – it was part of their curriculum – but now the place relies on tourists.

To attract the schoolchildren back, the staff have been forced to adapt. “We call this the museum of tolerance,” my guide explained. “See? Everything in this room has come from somewhere in Europe. The typewriter there is German, the table is French.”

But mere avoidance doesn’t always work. A centenary of this importance is bound to be marked by someone; there has to be an official response. Ten months ago, the independent journalist Mikhail Zygar launched a website to track the events of 1917 as they unfolded, day by day. Belatedly, but with a considerably larger budget, the state-sponsored Russia Today responded with a handsome Twitter feed, lavishly illustrated with archival photographs and featuring imaginary tweets from some of the key figures of 1917. Both are useful resources, though neither has engaged with what the revolution means. That question haunts Red Square like Lenin’s ghost.

The Kremlin is saving itself for another anniversary next year. In July 1918 the Romanov family was shot. The solemn lessons of that crime are something everyone will understand. A strong state is what people need, the message goes, and Russia’s is a special one. Unlike the regimes of the west, it is not only patriotic but orthodox. That is why Nicholas II is now a saint and why his killing by the Bolsheviks was a martyrdom. Through him, right-thinking Russian people can remember every other martyr of the revolution that is now, thank heavens, safely past.

Victims unite a nation, everyone can grieve. In honour of the sacred dead (the millions, unspecified), a new cathedral has appeared in Moscow: vast, imposing, unavoidable. Help with the funds came from Putin’s close friend and confessor Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov.

In Russia now it is an idealised form of nationalism, not the people’s rule or social justice, that is feted and taught in schools. Russia is the new Byzantium, no longer proud to fly the red flag for the world.

There is one more anniversary that will not pass unmarked. The Cheka, Lenin’s feared secret police force, was founded on 18 December 1917. Its successors have included Stalin’s NKVD and the KGB of spy thrillers, but it will be the current lot, the FSB, who celebrate next month with the commemorative medals and champagne. As a lieutenant colonel in the service and its former boss, Putin could well be a star guest.

The fact that many of the revolution’s martyrs died at secret police hands is a mere detail. Lenin had no problem ordering the Cheka to carry out the wholesale execution of priests and the so-called bourgeoisie. By 1918 there were bodies piled up in the streets. But such truths are easily ignored. Shevkunov’s new cathedral to the revolution’s martyrs is itself a stone’s throw from the FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square.

That just leaves Lenin and his ghost. In life a restless politician, dangerous and quick, he lies on Red Square like a stuffed fox: moth-eaten and obviously dead. As the heart of Moscow has been reinvented as an orthodox and ultra-Russian space, his mausoleum appears more and more anomalous. But though there is no wish to celebrate the man, a preserved corpse remains a tricky object to throw out. As a former Soviet citizen remarked to me: “We have certainly learned one thing from our history, haven’t we? You must be careful who you pickle.”

Catherine Merridale is a historian. Her latest book, Lenin on the Train, is published by Penguin.

Neo-Stalinist Pulp Fiction

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SMERSH: Stalin’s Special Forces
Alexander Tamonikov, It’s a Pity We Didn’t Finish Them Off (Eksmo, 2017)

The time is 1946, the place, Lvov. SMERSH Captain Alexei Kravets has been appointed head of the local MGB office. The main job of its operatives is still liquidating gangs of nationalists. Among their ranks is Alexei’s personal enemy, Nestor Babula. Once again, the houses of peaceful Ukrainians and Poles are ablaze, and blood flows. The captain has been planning a decisive operation to destroy the bandits, but the hardened Babula is on the alert. The trap he sets is sprung, and a wounded Kravets is captured by the Banderites. The hour of reckoning has come. The only question is who will get off the first shot.

Source: LitRes

The Treacherous Path

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London’s Biteback Publishers have announced that this coming spring they will be publishing an autobiographical memoir, described below the fold, by Vladimir Yakunin, one of the most corrupt men in Russia.

It’s due in no small part to the large-scale, palbable treachery of Yakuin and his ilk (i.e., the current Russian elites) that the country finds itself in such a sorry state.

But Vladimir Yakunin is made of slightly different stuff than your run-of-the-mill Putin crony because a) he has been working overtime recently to launder his ill-gotten goods squeaky clean so his family members can live comfortable lives in the west; and b) for the past fifteen years he has been running an extensive active measures operation, Dialogue of Civilizations, for coopting, suborning, and otherwise neutralizing as many top-flight international academics, decision-makers, opinion leaders, and IR experts as he possibly can.

Previously focused on eponymous annual gatherings of these VIPs, under Yakunin’s generous patronage, in Rhodes, Yakunin has now transformed Dialogue of Civilizations into a so-called reseach institute, headquartered in downtown Berlin.

He was able to do this, in part, because the EU, unlike the US, has not placed him on its sanctions list. This would be inexplicable were it not for Yakunin’s furious gladhanding of god knows how many European officials and otherwise influential people over the years.

So, he is free to run amok in the EU and UK, a hardcore Russian Orthodox nationalist and “former” KGB officer (as Putin once famously said, there is no such thing as a “former” KGB officer), ultrarich and corrupt to the gills to boot, pretending to be interested in dialoguing with movers and shakers from the remnants of the democratic world.

“A publishing house is nothing without top class authors,” Yakunin’s latest pack of enablers (useful idiots) write without apparent irony on their website.

I wonder how much Yakunin has paid them to publish the book.

Yakunin’s previous vanity press outing, 22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World’s Foremost Thinkers, was published by New York University Press.

Although I don’t know how much that more subtly conceived pail of whitewash cost Yakuin (although that he did indeed pay for the book from his own pocket is frankly acknowledged by the book’s editors right up front), it did do the job of elevating the “former” KGB officer and now-former head of Russian Railways to the ranks of the world’s alleged “foremost thinkers,” as he was one of the twenty-two people with whom the editors conversed at length, alongside such leftist luminaries as Mike Davis and Immanuel Wallerstein.

In case you were wondering, I have never found a single review of the first book questioning the propriety of marshaling so many previously respectable figures and entities for the miserable task of making one of Vladimir Putin’s made men appear to be a respectable member of the world intellectual community.

Mum’s the word when Russian oligarchs and “former” KGB officers are footing the bill. Everyone wants to get paid and get along in life, right? TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

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The Treacherous Path
By Vladimir Yakunin

In 1991, Vladimir Yakunin, a Soviet diplomat and KGB officer, returned from his posting in New York to a country that no longer existed.

The state that he had served for all his adult life had been dissolved, the values he knew abandoned. Millions of his compatriots suffered as their savings disappeared and their previously secure existences were threatened by an unholy combination of criminality, corruption and chaos. Others thrived amid the opportunities offered in the new polity, and a battle began over the direction the fledgling state should take.

While something resembling stability was won in the early 2000s, today Russia’s future remains unresolved; its governing class divided.

The Treacherous Path is Yakunin’s account of his own experiences on the front line of Russia’s implosion and eventual resurgence, and of a career – as an intelligence officer, a government minister and for ten years the CEO of Russia’s largest company – that has taken him from the furthest corners of this incomprehensibly vast and complex nation to the Kremlin’s corridors.

Tackling topics as diverse as terrorism, government intrigue and the reality of doing business in Russia, and offering unparalleled insights into the post-Soviet mindset, this is the first time that a figure with Yakunin’s background has talked so openly and frankly about his country.

Source: Biteback Publishing

He Had a Way with Words

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Leader of World Proletariat with Female Gate Attendant Reflected in Security Mirror, SUV, and New Year’s Tree, December 18, 2016. 11 Lomanaya Street, Petersburg

Politics begins where there are millions, not where there are thousands; not where there are thousands, but only where there are millions does serious politics begin.
—Vladimir Lenin, “Speech at Russian Communist Party Congress,” March 7, 1918

We can identify something similar in rhetorical repetitions. They can act to unfold the “plot,” move the presentation along, develop and refine the arguments. In a word, they can serve the progressive or narrative movement of oratorical discourse. They also generate a kind of “dam” by provoking and intensifying expectation, since the “denouement,” explanation or conclusion at which the speaker drives, and with it the fulcrum bearing the main weight of the speech, is propelled forward. Building a phrase or passage can also be achieved by different means, with the same goal of transferring the main weight to the end. These progressive repetitions can be distinguished from others, which, on the contrary, suspend movement, not by building up its pressure, but by turning it inside itself, as it were, forming a kind of motionless whirlpool, whose funnel, figuratively speaking, swallows and absorbs all our attention. Obscuring the horizon, they cut off our sight lines, thus cancelling the aspect of motion. Precisely this type of repetition prevails in Lenin’s discourse and is characteristic of it, as we have seen in the examples cited. As I indicated in my analysis of these examples, Lenin’s preference for this kind of repetition has to do with the very essence of his discourse. He appeals neither to feelings nor imagination, but to will and determination. His discourse does not deploy a panorama for passive contemplation. It does not serve as a guide, leading the indifferent tourist along. It fights the listener, forcing him to make an active decision, and, to this end, it pins him against the wall. “Don’t move! Hands up! Surrender!” That is the nature of Lenin’s discourse. It does not allow for a choice. I would argue this is the specific essence of oratorical discourse, in particular, of the political speech.
—Boris Kazansky, “Lenin’s Discourse: An Attempt at Rhetorical Analysis,” LEF 1 (5), 1924: 124

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Tapestry Rug Portrait of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, April 27, 2017. Kuznechnyi Market, Petersburg. The rug was probably woven in Central Asia in the 1920s or 1930s.

 

Photos and translations by the Russian Reader. Texts excerpted from a special 1924 issue of LEF entitled “Lenin’s Language,” featuring essays by Viktor Shklovsky, Boris Eichenbaum, Lev Yakubinsky, Yuri Tynyanov, Boris Kazansky, and Boris Tomashevsky, and edited by Vladimir Mayakovsky. The English translations of the essays and Mayakovsky’s introduction, “Don’t Merchandise Lenin,” which was excised by censors from the original magazine, will be published in a special edition of a print journal later this summer. Watch this space for more details as they become available.

No Poet Is Illegal, No Poem Is Extremist

Poet Alexander Byvshev. Photo courtesy of OVD Info
Poet Alexander Byvshev. Photo courtesy of OVD Info

New Criminal Charges Filed against Ex-Schoolteacher Alexander Byvshev
OVD Info
January 17, 2017

On January 17, 2017, police searched the house of ex-schoolteacher Alexander Byvshev in the village of Kromy, Oryol Region. During the search, law enforcement officers confiscated a computer and other information storage devices. After the search, the suspect was interrogated at the local office of the Russian Investigative Committee.

As Alexander Podrabinek wrote on his Facebook page, Byvshev has again been charged under Criminal Code Article 282 (inciting enmity or hostility, as well as humiliation of human dignity). The charges were filed in connection with Byvshev’s poem “On the Independence of Ukraine,” which was published in February 2015 in several Ukrainian periodicals. As Byvshev himself noted, the poem is a “polemical response” to Joseph Brodsky’s eponymous poem.

On July 13, 2015, the Kromy District Court found Byvshev guilty of inciting ethnic hatred (Criminal Code Article 282.1) and sentenced him to 300 hours of compulsory labor for writing poems supporting Ukraine. He was also forbidden to work as a schoolteacher for two years. In autumn 2014, after one of Byvshev’s poems was declared extremist, Rosfinmonitoring placed Byvshev on its list of terrorists and extremists, and his bank accounts were blocked.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Making War on “War and Peace”

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Vladimir Putin and Ludmila Verbitskaya. Photo courtesy of alamy.com

There is no less genuinely patriotic crowd in today’s Russia than Putin and his cronies. They have a wild hatred for everything really good about the country, its history, culture, and language:

Ludmila Verbitskaya, president of the Russian Academy of Education, has suggested removing Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace from the school curriculum and replacing it with “works of spiritual literature.” According to her, children “cannot understand the full depth” of this work, but everyone should read the Bible.

Read the details (in Russian) and weep on RBC.

UPDATE. Comrade VK has drawn my attention to the following statement by Professor Verbitskaya. While it does complicate the picture a bit, it brings home again the thoroughgoing hypocrisy of the current regime, whose alleged conservatism consists only in battering, dispiriting, and tricking their would-be constituents by hook or by crook to keep themselves in power for as long as humanly possible.

“I have almost no free time, and so I am obliged to read what I still poorly understand due to the fact that my generation was deprived of it: the Bible. Since I was educated as a Russianist, I sense how imperfect my English is, and so before going to sleep I make sure to read something interesting, like Agatha Christie, in the original. But my favorite novel is War and Peace. I pick it up quite often and reread parts of it.”

Source: Zampolit.com