What You Have to Do to Be a “Foreign Agent” in Russia

Darya Apahonchich. The inscription reads: “Not only a body, but also a person.” Courtesy of Kommersant via Ms. Apahonchich’s Facebook page

Аn “agent” due to wages: foreign agent status threatens teachers
Oleg Dilimbetov and Marina Litvinova
Kommersant
April 7, 2021

A job at a foreign institute of higher education or a salary from a foreign employer can be grounds for obtaining the status of a so-called foreign agent. This transpired during the the hearing of a lawsuit brought against the Justice Ministry by Petersburg teacher and activist Darya Apahonchich. She had requested that the ministry specify the reasons it had forcibly registered her as a “private individual acting as a foreign mass media outlet functioning as a foreign agent.” The ministry provided the court with written proof of her employment at a French college [in Petersburg] and the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The ministry confirmed that the “foreign funding” received by a potential “foreign agent” does not necessarily have to have anything to do with subsequent “dissemination of information” or “political activity.”

Ms. Apahonchich was placed on the register of so-called individual media foreign agents on December 28, 2020, along with three journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov. At the time, the Justice Ministry did not explain what specific reasons had caused them to assign her this status. In March, Ms. Apahonchich filed a lawsuit in Petersburg’s Lenin District Court, claiming that the obligations imposed on her by the Justice Ministry due to the new status violated her rights under the Russian Constitution and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). On April 5, during a preliminary hearing of the lawsuit, Ms. Apahonchich was informed of the Justice Ministry’s objections to her claims and finally learned the reasons she had been entered into the register.

The ministry told the court that the woman [sic] had received foreign money transfers from Sweden, Germany, France and Finland. As Ms. Apahonchich explained, these were official fees for participation in festivals and exhibitions and her work as a teacher.

Thus, she was paid 35 thousand rubles by the Finnish Museum of Photography.  She received Another 112 thousand rubles from the French college [in Petersburg], where she taught Russian. She received about 60 thousand rubles from friends via the PayPal transfer system, and these transfers were expedited by Deutsche Bank (Germany). [That is, Ms. Apahonchich had received the fantastic sum of approximately 2,220 euros at current exchange rates — TRR.] In addition, Ms. Apahonchich was imputed with having received bank transfers from her employer, the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The Justice Ministry stated that the source of these funds was Norway, and the intermediary was Sweden. The activist herself claims that she performed work at the Red Cross under a [Russian] presidential grant.

As for “dissemination of information,” the Justice Ministry pointed out that Ms. Apahonchich had reposted on social networks the article “Feminist Fairy Tales: Princesses Fighting the Patriarchy,” published by Radio Liberty (which has been deemed a so-called foreign agent media outlet by the Russian authorities). The ministry also told the court about the YouTube channel “Feminists Explain,” where Ms. Apahonchich has discussed the topic of gender equality, and her article about domestic violence, published on the website Colta.ru. In addition, the woman [sic] had appealed on social networks for solidarity with the defendants in the case of the Network (deemed a terrorist organization in the Russian Federation and banned) and LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova.

“The list of my sins is long but honorable: I taught Russian as a foreign language, participated in international festivals, and voiced solidarity with  the regime’s victims. Yes, I also accepted financial assistance from friends from abroad,” Ms. Apahonchich said when asked to comment on the Justice Ministry’s position. “It is clear that they brought the house down on me for solidarity: for solidarity pickets, for public discussions with friends. The situation was not what it is now: everyone seems to have gone off the rails. We’re in trouble, we need help.”

Her lawyer Alexander Peredruk noted that the Justice Ministry had not even tried to prove to the court that there was a connection between the foreign funds received by his client and her activism.

“Based on the Justice Ministry’s position, if you publish something on social networks, it does not matter whether you receive foreign funds directly or indirectly. And it is very difficult to independently monitor the matter: when collaborating with an LLC, you cannot know for certain whether it receives foreign money,” the lawyer said. “The Justice Ministry argues that the separately existing evidence of receiving funds from abroad and publishing on social networks is enough. They have not tried to establish a direct connection between them.”

The Justice Ministry told Kommersant that the law sets quite clear criteria for inclusion in the register. In the case of “individual media foreign agents,” it is sufficient to “distribute news reports and materials intended for an unlimited number of persons,” as well as to receive “money and (or) other property” from foreign states, organizations and nationals, or “from Russian legal entities receiving money from these sources.” To obtain the status of an “individual foreign agent,” it is enough to receive “foreign” money and “distribute news reports and materials” created by a “foreign agent media outlet” or “participate in the creation” of such “news reports and materials.”

“The legislation specifies neither the need for an obligatory link between the receipt of foreign funds and the dissemination of news reports and materials, nor evidence of the individual’s political activity,” the Justice Ministry confirmed to Kommersant.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Our Thaw

Sergei Yolkin, “Thaw.” Courtesy of RFE/RL via Radikal.ru

Our Thaw: a fair court decision as evidence of a catastrophe
The cautionary tale of an “extremist” comment
Ivan Davydov
Republic
April 11, 2021

Let’s start with the good news: “The Kalinin District Court of St. Petersburg refused to grant investigators their request to place under house arrest a local resident accused of exonerating terrorism. This was reported on Friday by the joint press service of the city’s courts. The court imposed a preventive measure against the defendant, Alexander Ovchinnikov, by forbidding him from doing certain things until June 6. In particular, Ovchinnikov is not allowed to leave his apartment between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, to be in places where mass public events are held and to use the internet.”

We should make it clear that we are talking about a terrible state criminal: “The 48-year-old Ovchinnikov was detained on April 7. Law enforcement agencies believe that in August 2020 he posted ‘comments justifying terrorism’ on the RT News in Russian community page on VKontakte.”

First, let us note the uncharacteristic humanity exhibited by the investigators in the case. They could have tried to get Ovchinnikov remanded in custody for such actions, but no, they reined themselves in and only sought house arrest for the perp. Second, this really is good news. The court refused to put Citizen Ovchinnikov under house arrest, deigning instead only to slightly complicate his life. Staying at home at night is much better than staying at home all the time. And sitting around with no internet is incomparably better than sitting in jail.

The court did not make a cannibalistic ruling at all – another reason to rejoice!

When hearing such news, it is customary to joke, “It’s the Thaw all over again.” And also to say (just as jocularly), “Another victory for civil society!” But in this particular case, the second joke is not particularly appropriate. Civil society was not interested in Ovchinnikov’s plight, and no one made any effort to fight for his freedom.

This does not mean that the criminal will escape punishment: the investigators are working, and the court is waiting. There is a good possibility that for his terrible acts (“committed using the media or electronic or information and telecommunications networks, including the internet”), Ovchinnikov could face a heavy fine measuring in the millions of rubles (it’s the going thing nowadays: the big bosses would do not agree to less — times are difficult, the state coffers are empty, people are the new petroleum) or even a stint in prison.

The price of meekness
To be honest, I don’t know what kind of comment Citizen Ovchinnikov left on “RT’s official page.” It is quite possible that it was something stupid. And this is a telling aspect of the story: as part of my job, I have to keep track of trending news via feeds from the wire services. A few years ago, Ovchinnikov would have been a star. All the sane outlets would have written indignantly that a person was being tried for a social media comment. The insane outlets would have written something like, “A dangerous accomplice of terrorists was neutralized by valiant law enforcement officers in the president’s hometown.” We would know, perhaps, not only what exactly Alexander Ovchinnikov did to upset Margarita Simonyan’s underlings, but also all the details of his biography.

Nowadays, however, Ovchinnikov’s case is routine. There are dozens of such cases underway, and you can’t keep track of all of them. A story like this would only arouse interest if a more or less well-known person was under attack. Or the context would matter. We shouldn’t forget that among the criminal cases opened in the wake of January’s pro-Navalny protests, there are two that directly involve social network posts – the so-called Sanitary Case* and the “Involving Minors in Unauthorized Protests” Case. People will be put on trial, and they will be sentenced to prison, fines or probation.

The lack of public interest is understandable and even, perhaps, excusable. But it says a lot about how the Russian state and Russian society have mutated. Everyone regards cases like Ovchinnikov’s as commonplace. Meanwhile, the powers that be have usurped the right to punish people for their words, including words that are obviously insignificant. (Terrorism, of course, is a disgusting thing, but it is unlikely that a comment, even on the page of a propaganda TV channel, will somehow contribute particularly strongly to the success of world terrorism, and I assure you that those who are eager to jail people for social media comments also get this.) The authorities have come up with a lot of different reasons to punish people for their words. Thousands of specialists are busy searching for the wrong words, lives are broken, and careers are made.

But for us civilians it has also become commonplace. We have got used to it, recognized the right of the authorities to do as they like, and stopped being particularly indignant.

When the state is focused on lawlessness, norms are shaped not by deliberately repressive laws, but by our willingness to put up with how they are applied.

Norms and savagery
Fining or jailing people for the comments they make on social networks is savage, after all. Savage but normal. In a short while we’ll be telling ourselves that it’s always been like this. For the time being, however, searching the homes of opposition activists’ parents who have nothing to do with their children’s activism, interrogating journalists and political activists in the middle of the night, and torturing detainees after peaceful protests do not seem to be the norm. But it’s a matter of time — that is, a matter of habit. None of these things have sparked outsized outrage, so they too will become the norm.

But I have a sense that harsh crackdowns on peaceful protests have almost become the norm. What is surprising is when the security forces behave like human beings, as was the case during the Khabarovsk protests, for example. You mean the police didn’t break up the demo? What do you mean, they didn’t beat you? Was something the matter?

I remember how I was struck by a news item reported by state-controlled wire services after the first rally in support of Sergei Furgal: a little girl was lost in the crowd, and the National Guard helped her find her parents. The cops did their jobs, for a change, and that was amazing. The normal performance of their duties by the security forces looked like something completely crazy. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, we are now surprised when a court makes an utterly meaningless ruling that is not at all cannibalistic. It’s the Thaw all over again!

The norm looks wild, and wildness is the norm. So, perhaps, it is possible to describe where the Putinist state has arrived in its political devolution over the past few years. This is its supreme accomplishment.

If we follow the dictionary definitions, we should conclude there has been no state in Russia for some time. This is a different, new growth, and it is most likely malignant.

But this only works in one case – if society capitulates. A creepy monster like ours can only flourish in the ruins of society.

P.S. A trenchant critic might object: as if “they” do not have such a thing — putting people on trial for their words, and persecute for comments. Yes, it happens, of course, it happens. The most democratic of the democratic countries are not averse to biting off a little piece of their people’s freedoms, while grassroots activists, militants guided by the loftiest ideals, are happy to trample on other people’s freedom, and new centers of power, like the social networks, do not want to lag behind.

Recently, Facebook blocked a page run by a group of Moscow amateur historians who posted a text about the capital’s Khokhlovka district for a month for “hate speech.” Try to guess why. [Because “Khokhlovka” sounds similar to “khokhly,” a derogatory term for Ukrainians — TRR.]

Yes, in some sense, the Motherland, having made it a matter of policy to distance itself from the wider world, is following a global trend, however strange that may sound. Well, so much the worse for “them.” And for us. It is thus all the more important to remember how valuable freedom is.

* “The Sanitary Case is a series of criminal cases initiated for alleged violations sanitary and epidemiological norms during the January 23, 2021, protests in Moscow. It has been recognized by human rights defenders as part of the ongoing political crackdown in the Russian Federation. The defendants in the case are FBK (Anti-Corruption Foundation) employees Lyubov Sobol, Oleg Stepanov and Kira Yarmysh, municipal deputies Lyudmila Stein, Konstantin Yankauskas and Dmitry Baranovsky, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, Alexei Navalny’s brother Oleg, head of the trade union Alliance of Doctors Anastasia Vasilyeva, and former FBK employee Nikolai Lyaskin.”

Image courtesy of Radikal.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Homeless People in Petersburg Can Receive Pensions and Medicines Without Residence Registration

Members of Nochlezhka’s staff in the charity’s courtyard, 2019. Photo courtesy of their website

Court Rules in Favor of Nochlezhka: Homeless People in Petersburg Can Receive Pensions and Medicines Without Residence Registration
Takie Dela
March 30, 2021

On March 30, the St. Petersburg Charter Court upheld the right of homeless people without residence registration [propiska] to access social support from the city. The court recognized that the city government’s current provision, according to which assistance is provided only to people with residence registration, should be abolished. Takie Dela was informed about the ruling by Vitaly Isakov, a lawyer with the Institute of Law and Public Policy.

“Lack of registration is no longer an excuse for turning down a person who wants to register with the welfare agencies and receive benefits. The Charter Court’s decision is generally binding from the moment it was announced, and is not subject to appeal,” Isakov said. “The city government should abolish the regulations that the court found inconsistent with the city’s charter. In particular, they should remove the wording that requires residence registration.”

The lawyer also stressed that in the event of a legal conflict, Petersburg courts would not be able to enforce the current procedure for registering for social benefits, in which providing proof of residence registration is mandatory. “If a homeless person asks to be registered for benefits, but he is refused, he has the right to cite the Charter Court’s decision,” Isakov said.

The homeless charity Nochlezhka filed an appeal with the court in September 2020. The organization noted that among their clients there were those who did not have permanent residence registration in Petersburg. Because of this, they could not obtain the special social welfare registration and count on social benefits from the city.

Nochlezhka said that they had written appeals to city officials and defended the interests of clients in the courts, but had received refusals over the past five years. Subsequently, they decided to submit a request to the Charter Court, which makes sure that the city’s laws and bylaws comply with the city’s charter.

Since only the governor, a group of five legislative assembly deputies, or municipal districts can submit such requests, Nochlezhka turned to Petersburg parliamentarians and found deputies who agreed to sign the request. They also engaged lawyers from the Institute of Law and Public Policy, who drafted the request and, along with Nochlezhka’s lawyers, submitted it to the Charter Court.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Mandatory residence registration, known as propiska, is a relic of the Soviet era that was ruled unconstitutional by Russia’s newly minted Constitutional Court in the mid-1990s.  The ruling, however, sparked fierce resistance from such regional leaders as Yuri Luzhkov, then mayor of Moscow, who claimed that it would provoke widespread “emigration” from rural and poor areas to wealthy cities like his, thus flooding and disabling their social services. The court’s ruling was thus never enforced, meaning that Russians are still obliged to register their domiciles with the authorities, even when renting a flat. Consequently, a person’s ability to do a variety of important things — from applying for a job, a loan or a library card to receiving welfare benefits and getting married — depends on having a propiska in the city or town where they live and thus need to do those things. As a volunteer with Nochlezhka in the 1990s, I saw with my own eyes how the lack of a propiska prevented homeless people from getting help and restarting their lives, especially finding gainful employment and a place to live.

Mercy

Aung San Suu Kyi will appear in court virtually today for a hearing, postponed after Myanmar’s military junta blocked mobile-data networks. Ms Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader until she was deposed in last month’s coup, faces at least five charges, including corruption. They are probably designed to disqualify her from the election promised by the junta after the year-long state of emergency it declared ends. The real emergency is in the streets. Many Burmese have heeded the call to arms of Myanmar’s parallel government, formed by members of Ms Suu Kyi’s party elected to the parliament last November. Protesters defend their barricades with slingshots and Molotov cocktails. Soldiers respond by dragooning neighbours into dismantling them, while rampaging through cities, kidnapping and shooting protesters and non-protesters alike. Over 260 Burmese have been killed. Businesses were asked to join a silent strike today, after a seven-year-old girl was shot dead in her home in Mandalay yesterday.

Source: The Economist Espresso, 24 March 2021

Crooks lay in a weighted state waiting for the dead assassin while the rust pure powder puffs, a shimmering opaque red. Papers spread, no-one driving, we hurled direct ahead, the windows dark-green tinted, the hearse a taxi instead. Snow storms forecast imminently in areas Dogger, Viking, Moray, Forth, and Orkney. Keeping cover in denuded scrub, the school destroyed raised the club, panic spreading with threat of fire. Crowding beneath a layer of foam, refugees intertwined, alone. Within the institution walls, in pastel blue, clinical white, slashed red lipsticked, mercy nurse tonight. Seems like dark grey stockings in the raking torchlight with a four a.m. stubble, a midnight transvestite.

__________________

On Tuesday, the Kuibyshev District Court of St. Petersburg handed down the first sentence to a participant of the unsanctioned protest action on January 23.

Protesters then gathered, among other places, on Nevsky Prospekt. Petersburg resident Andrei Lomov was found guilty of pushing Russian National Guardsmen during an attempt to break through a police cordon.

The court took into account the extenuating circumstances (Lomov has seven children) and did not satisfy the state prosecutor’s request to sentence the Petersburger to three years in a penal colony, instead ordering the protest rally participant to serve two years of probation.

Source: Delovoi Peterburg

Спустя неделю, 31 января, Невский и прилегающие улицы оградили так, что участники митинга не могли подобраться к главной городской магистрали. Зато они дошли до Мариинского дворца. A week later, on January 31, Nevsky and the surrounding streets were fenced off so that protesters could not get close to the city’s main thoroughfare. But they did get as far as the Mariinsky Palace. Photo: Sergey Yermokhin/Delovoi Peterburg

Translated by the Russian Reader. The emphasis is mine.

Vasily Kaluzhnin: There Lived an Artist on Liteiny

Vasily Kaluzhin: There Lived an Artist on Liteiny. Poster for the exhibition at the Anna Akhmatova Museum in Fountain House (St. Petersburg), 19 March-18 April 2021

Svetlana Smaznova
Facebook
March 19, 2021

The honor of discovering Vasily Kaluzhnin belongs to the Petersburg writer Semyon Laskin (1930-2005). His novel The Hostage of Eternity recounts the tragic life of the Leningrad artist Vasily Kaluzhnin, a friend of Yesenin, Akhmatova, and Klyuev.

Vasily Kaluzhnin, Palace Square in the Siege, 1941. Tempera on canvas. Photo by Svetlana Smaznova
Vasily Kaluzhnin, Nevsky Prospekt in the Siege, 1941. Tempera on canvas. Photo by Svetlana Smaznova
Vasily Kaluzhnin, Portrait of a Woman, 1920s-1930s. Charcoal on paper. Photo by Svetlana Smaznova

________________

“Damn it, old man! Well, why aren’t you painting?” reads the handwritten inscription on one of Vasily Kaluzhnin’s self-portraits. Addressed to himself, Kaluzhnin’s words sound like a confession of faith. Painting was his only god, and this deity’s temple was a room in a communal apartment on Liteiny Prospect, chockablock with paintings.

The word “miracle” suits best what we know about the artist Vasily Kaluzhnin (1890-1967). He miraculously survived the Siege of Leningrad and the Stalinist crackdowns, and his body of works has been miraculously preserved. Most important is the miracle of his paintings and drawings. Black charcoal “lace,” sanguine drawings, now thick and almost brick-colored, now delicate and transparent. The besieged city, a pearly fog on the Nevsky, emptiness and grandeur. Post-war landscapes of Leningrad and Murmansk, portraits, and genre scenes, painted freely, without fear of being accused of “formalism.”

Vasily Kluzhnin, Murmansk, 1950s-1960s. Tempera on cardboard. Courtesy of Mikhail Ankundinova. Image courtesy of the Akhmatova Museum at Fountain House

The work of the artist Vasily Kaluzhnin is presented in the museum of the poet Anna Akhmatova for a reason: Akhmatova and Kaluzhnin were neighbors. And not so much geographically (the artist lived most of his life at Liteiny, 16, across the street from Akhmatova), as in the sense that they inhabited the same cultural and historical space. Their destinies were connected by invisible threads, and their lives were lived in close proximity to each other. They were born and died within a year of each other. Both of them lived long lives, sharing with their generation the full fate of the twentieth century. Both felt a sense of belonging to world culture, in whose space the paths of the poet and the artist so often intersected.

A photo from the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Mikhail Kuzmin’s literary career (1925) is the only document that records the fact that Akhmatova and Kaluzhnin were acquainted, along with a small dark drawing, made with thick charcoal, depicting either Akhmatova or Dante in profile. For Kaluzhnin, the poet who lived across the street from him was of the same magnitude as the great Dante Alighieri. The drawing was probably produced in the 1920s.

Vasily Kluzhnin, Sunbathing, 1930s. Charcoal and sauce on paper. Courtesy of Mikhail Ankundinov. Image courtesy of the Anna Akhmatova Museum at Fountain House

The exhibition represents only a small part of Kaluzhnin’s artistic legacy: ballet and theater sketches, nudes, landscapes, and portraits from the 1920s to the 1960s. One of the important themes is the besieged city and the evacuation of paintings from the Hermitage, made in different versions and media, from colored pencil to paints. The exhibition also includes rare photographs and documents from private collections.

Source: Akhmatova Museum at Fountain House

Thanks to the Five Corners community Facebook page for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Kronstadt as Revolutionary Utopia: 1921-2021 and Beyond

Kronstadt as Revolutionary Utopia: 1921-2021 and Beyond

March 20-21, 2021

Conference to be streamed on Twitch, including discussion/questions and answers

Saturday, March 20, 2021
1) Welcome and opening event – 9:30am Pacific/12:30am Eastern/4:30pm GMT/7:30pm Moscow

2) Historians’ panel – 10:00am Pacific/1:00pm Eastern/5:00pm GMT/8:00pm Moscow

  • Konstantin Tarasov, “Kronstadt self-government in 1917”
  • Simon Pirani, “Kronstadt and the workers’ movements in Moscow and Petrograd, 1921”
  • Dmitriy Ivanov, “Kronstadt 1921 uprising, political identities, and information flows”
  • Alexei Gusev, “Kronstadt Uprising of 1921 as a part of the Great Russian Revolution”

Lara Green moderating

3) Panel: “Disinformation and Counter-Revolution, 1921-2021” – 11:30am Pacific/2:30pm Eastern/6:30pm GMT/9:30pm Moscow

  • Ramah Kudaimi, “The People Want: Syria’s Uprising”
  • Lara el-Kateb, “Disinformation in the age of social media: The case for the Syrian revolution”
  • Omar Sabbour, “On the continuities between imperialism and vacuous anti-imperialism”
  • Javier Sethness, “Marx/Plekhanov vs. Bakunin; from Kronstadt to Neo-Stalinism”

Shon Meckfessel moderating

4) Film screening: The Russian Revolution in Color (2005) – 1:00pm Pacific/4:00pm Eastern/8:00pm GMT/11:00pm Moscow

Sunday, March 21
1) Welcome and opening event: recap of day 1, and agenda for day 2 – 9:30am Pacific/4:30pm GMT/7:30pm Moscow

2) Panel: “The After-Lives of Kronstadt” – 9:45am Pacific/12:45pm Eastern/4:45pm GMT/7:45pm Moscow

  • Mike Harris, “In the Spirit of Kronstadt”
  • Danny Evans, “A Spanish Kronstadt? The Barcelona May Days of 1937”
  • George Katsiaficas, “Enduring Problems of Communist Parties’ Suppression of Popular Movements”
  • Dmitriy Buchenkow, “The problem of power in the anarchist worldview”

Laurence Davis moderating; Irina Sisseikina interpreting

6) Film screening: Maggots and Men (2013) – 11:30am Pacific/2:30pm Eastern/6:30pm GMT/9:30pm Moscow

  • Q&A with Cary Cronenwett, Ilona Berger, and Zeph Fishlyn afterward

7) Kronstadt 1921 and the Social Crises of 2021 – 1:00pm Pacific/4:00pm Eastern/8:00pm GMT/11:00pm Moscow

  • Lynne Thorndycraft, “Kronstadt: Why It Matters”
  • Tom Wetzel, “Worker Congresses as a Form of Working Class Political Power”
  • Bill Weinberg, “Syria: Lessons from Kronstadt 1921”

Javier Sethness moderating

8) Closing event with words from cosponsors – 2:30pm Pacific/5:30pm Eastern/9:30pm GMT/12:30am Moscow

Montage of Attractions

Kirill Rein
Facebook
March 5, 2021

I finally came across this photo. I practically grew up next to this monstrosity, a talking map of the October Revolution, located in the Smolny Garden between Smolny Prospect, 6, and School No. 157. Every hour, I think, it turned on and loudly, in a well-modulated voice, read out the chronology of the October uprising. Lights flashed on, clearly marking the places captured by the Bolsheviks, and at the end it played something rousing that was audible throughout the garden, something like “Hostile Whirlwinds” or the Internationale. From the side, you could sneak up top on iron stairs designed for maintenance work: smoking there was an unalloyed, incomparable pleasure in the fourth grade. I remember that when I couldn’t find the thing there, I was totally surprised.

Thanks to the Five Corners community page for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Kirill Rein, photographer unknown. Translated by the Russian Reader

Over the Transom

From a friend in Leningrad:

“L. and I got our second covid shot today. There are no queues here. The majority of the population, as you know, is afraid and has no plans to be vaccinated, and no public awareness campaign is underway. L. telephoned the clinic, and they signed us up for the next day!”

Meanwhile, according to the Moscow Times, the pollocracy rolls on, scientifically confirming all our worse fears about the deplorable Russisch hoi polloi (some of which may be true if only in the sense that “independent polling” in Russia is meant to reinforce the authoritarian “mindset” it pretends to unmask by asking “ordinary people” whether they’ve stopped beating their wife):

Nearly two out of three Russians believe the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is a bioweapon created by humans, a survey by the independent Levada Center polling agency said Monday.

According to Levada’s results, 64% of Russian respondents said Covid-19 was artificially created as a new form of biological weapon. That compares with 23% who said the virus emerged naturally and 13% who couldn’t answer.

[…]

Vaccine hesitancy is also on the rise, with 62% of respondents saying they don’t want to get Russia’s Sputnik V jab compared with 30% who do. Younger Russians were more skeptical of the domestically manufactured vaccine than their older counterparts by a 74-to-56 margin.

Among the most cited reasons for declining interest in Sputnik V are fears of side effects, incomplete clinical trials and the sense that “there’s no point” in a vaccine, Levada said.

Still, four out of five Russians said they or someone they know had already gotten sick with Covid-19, while 28% said they have not come across anyone who got sick.

Levada conducted the survey among 1,601 respondents from 50 regions between Feb. 18-24.

Completing this depressing picture, Masha Gessen finally admits to what I’ve long thought was the reason that she and lots of other “liberal” Russians had nothing to say about the Yuri Dmitriev case and other sketchy frame-ups of Russia’s undesirables (e.g., the Network Case defendants and the Jehovah’s Witnesses) perpetrated by the country’s insecurity services: because when the Kremlin and its info cronies “heinous” political prisoners and dissidents, it work. Proper people like Gessen don’t want to have anything to do with their solidarity campaigns. To wit:

The Russian regime has used both its vast media infrastructure and its judicial system to vilify its opponents. An army of Kremlin trolls appears to be working to keep Navalny’s old xenophobic statements in circulation, and on occasion it seems to have manufactured new ones (I am not repeating the fake here). Perhaps the most egregious example of smearing a political opponent is the case of the memory activist Yuri Dmitriev, who has been convicted of sexually abusing his adopted daughter. There is little doubt that the persecution of Dmitriev is political, but the charge is so heinous that I, for one, have refrained from writing about the case. Amnesty hasn’t named Dmitriev a prisoner of conscience, either. As the Kremlin continues to crack down on the opposition, I would expect many more opposition activists to be revealed to be indefensible, as though only morally impeccable people had the right to be free of political persecution.

The City of St. Peter the Apostle

MBKh Media Northwest
Facebook
February 12, 2021

On Palace Square, accompanied by an orchestra, Vyacheslav Makarov, chair of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly, presented letters of thanks and certificates of honor to the soldiers and officers of the Special Police Regiment who worked at the pro-Navalny protest rallies. This news was reported on the parliament’s website.

“Your faithfulness to the call of duty and exemplary attitude to the performance of your duties vouchsafes the defense of law and order, and the protection of the lives and safety of our citizens. You have been entrusted with the huge responsibility of being the guardians of our beloved city of St. Peter the Apostle,” Makarov said.

According to OVD Info, the security forces detained 575 people at the protest rally on January 23 in St. Petersburg, and 1,336 people at the rally on January 31.

Photos courtesy of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly’s website. Thanks to Nancy Enskaya for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

Kill the Bill (That Will Kill Independent Culture and Education and Introduce Total Censorship in Russia)

“This is direct censorship. Withdraw the bill—don’t disgrace yourselves!”
Nikolai Nelyubin
Fontanka.ru
February 8, 2021

Vladimir Putin has received a letter from the progressive intelligentsia. The masters of culture, science and education have asked the guarantor not to touch the law on education by introducing “licenses for educational outreach.” For the depths are lower, and Gorky has nothing to do with it.

Professionals in culture, education and research involved in educational outreach work in our country, are concerned about the future of culture, education, and research. The reason is the draft law “On Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On Education in the Russian Federation,'” adopted by the State Duma in its first reading, which, in particular, would make official vetting of “educational outreach programs” mandatory.

On February 8, more than a thousand Russian professionals in the field of educational outreach published an open letter to the authorities demanding that they reject the amendments, since they  would “open the door to repressive regulation and censorship.” [See my translation of the open letter, below—TRR.]

On February 9, the details of the legislative initiative are slated for consideration by the State Duma Committee on Education and Science, chaired by Vyacheslav Molotov’s grandson Vyacheslav Nikonov. The bill could pass its second reading as early as February 10.

A co-author of the legislation, Dmitry Alshevskikh, a United Russia MP representing Sverdlovsk Region, earlier shared with Fontanka.ru his arguments for adopting the new norms, which would destroy “anti-Russian propaganda” disguised as “educational outreach.”

“Certain forces are trying to introduce Bandera,” the people’s deputy explained.

The authors of the open letter to President Putin, Prime Minister Mishustin, State Duma Speaker Volodin, and all the co-sponsors of the sensational bill are no strangers to post-postmodernism in art, but in this case they are unanimous. There is nothing to be quibble about: we are getting closer to obscurantism and pathological tendencies that are better to nip in the bud.

It will be more difficult to work
Supporters of the independent cultural scene are convinced that the regulations governing educational outreach would complicate the work of people who organize exhibitions, lectures, discussions, and other public events.

“There are currently no requirements for vetting exhibition projects and the educational programs that accompany them (lectures, seminars, and meetings) except for cases when the project is funded by state grants,” says Tatiana Pinchuk, director of Petersburg’s Street Art Museum, about the current state of affairs.

Natalia Karasyova and Elizaveta Zinovieva, co-founders of the Big City Art project, which holds “art breakfasts” featuring lectures and excursions, are afraid of the vagueness of the mechanisms for obtaining a license, the lack of a list of documents for making such application, and, importantly, the cost of the entire procedure.

“It will be virtually impossible to obtain a license due to the cost and bureaucratic hurdles. So, we will be operating outside of the law,” they say.

Moreover, players on the independent education market cannot understand what exactly they would have to license.

“It is not clear from the bill what exactly ‘educational outreach’ includes,” wonder the women at Big City Art. “It is one thing to get a license for an educational center, and another thing to get one for small-scale meetings and blogging.”

Art scholar Anastasia Pronina also argues that the bill is vaguely worded.

“Officials would have additional levers for pressuring and regulating us, while those engaged in educational outreach work would find themselves in a tough spot,” says the curator. “If the bill is passed into law, it will be a problem to vet the topics announced by our speakers, and we will be obliged to draw up contracts for all our lectures and public events. The lectures at Benoit 1890 Cultural Center are educational in nature and free to attend. During the pandemic, we have introduced a nominal entry fee to regulate attendance. Our project promotes contemporary art in a bedroom community in Petersburg. I think it is clear that this is not an easy job, and we are grateful to all the lecturers who speak to our audiences for free.”

Curator Lizaveta Matveeva notes that a separate item in the draft law would require organizations that partner with and hire foreign specialists to obtain special permits.

“This is another go-round in our government’s maniacal desire to rid us of the presence of foreign colleagues and stop the dissemination of their ‘values and information,'” Matveeva argues. “My field cannot function without interaction with foreign colleagues, without a bilateral exchange of know-how. Culture and art cannot survive in isolation. Our country has already been through this experience, and it led to nothing good.”

Where have the censors been rummaging?
“The more vague a law is, the more repressive it is,” Matveeva argues. “Currently, oversight is implemented correctively, but there are concerns that this draft law and subsequent secondary laws may introduce preventive regulation that would require vetting educational materials before they are published, and this is real censorship.”

“It could reach the point that talking about Andy Warhol’s paintings would be considered promotion of the western way of life,” say Karasyova and Zinovieva. “It is absurd, but it is possible.”

According to the organizers of informal cultural events, censorship can manifest itself even more easily in the field of contemporary art. The young women give examples.

“This could concern projects that criticize the government by artistic means, or projects produced in cooperation with foreign colleagues,” they say.

“If cultural institutions are required to clear every exhibition project involving a cultural program with the state, then implementing any project would turn into a bureaucratic hell,” argues Pinchuk. “Also, it is not clear how broad the powers of the supervisory authorities would be. If they don’t like the theme of an exhibition or the subject of a lecture, would they simply ban it?”

Historian Lev Lurie is horrified.

“Educators also tell us about Ohm’s law, after all,” he says. “The question arises: aren’t they hyping the achievements of foreign scientists? Maybe they underestimate the successes of the virologists from the Vector Center in Novosibirsk? We need balance in the natural sciences, too! So, now we need to expand the training of these facilitators. Retired officers—political workers—can handle it. If, God forbid, [Vyacheslav] Makarov is not re-elected to the [Petersburg] Legislative Assembly, he could well attend such events, because he has a sense of who has the “Siege of Leningrad gene” and who doesn’t. He could run such events himself, but monitoring them is more important.”

Who would be affected by the law?
No one has actually counted how many independent educational platforms there are in Russia today. It is clear that this sector was growing quite dynamically until quite recently. There are professional educational platforms and schools, and there are hobby clubs.

“Meetings and lectures are also held in bookstores, libraries, cafes, independent galleries, and other places,” Matveeva explains.

“Based on the blanket statements [in the draft law] we can surmise that a project dealing with the oeuvre of a single artist and a show of his works would be defined as educational outreach since an analysis of the artist’s career constitutes, in one way or another, dissemination of information about the artist’s know-how and expertise,” argues Pinchuk. “Along with doing exhibition projects, museums, including the Street Art Museum, also do cultural and educational projects, and various events—meetings, seminars, and lectures—are held as part of these projects. During these events, knowledge about art is disseminated, and members of the cultural scene share their know-how and competence. That is, the activities of museums fall under the definition of educational outreach as provided in the draft law.”

It comes down to money
“Russian citizens, including vulnerable segments of the populace, would thus also lose the opportunity to gain knowledge from highly qualified specialists on a regular, often pro bono basis,” it says in the open letter to Russian officials.

Matveeva answers the question “why.”

“If organizers and lecturers have to produce and reproduce paperwork to get permission to hold each of their one-off lectures in a library or a cafe, it would be easier not to organize anything at all and wait for better times to arrive in Russia,” she says. “Many events are organized by enthusiasts, by professionals passionate about their work. Events are often held for free or for a nominal fee. They are attended by people who don’t have the opportunity to pay for an expensive course or time to study, but they can periodically go to lectures to learn something new, and maybe meet and hobnob with other people. Educational events are also popular among the elderly: for them it is a form of leisure.”

Karasyova and Zinovieva agree.

“If commercial educational events simply increase in price and part of the audience peels off, then non-profit organizers are likely to fall by the wayside, as they will not be able to carry the costs,” they say.

Lurie is categorical.

“People will show up and say that you are not telling the right story about hedgehogs. ‘You can’t talk about hedgehogs like that,******!” they will tell you. ‘And if I give you fifty thousand, will I be telling the right story about hedgehogs?’ you will ask. ‘Well, for fifty it would be better, but for sixty it would definitely be a good story about hedgehogs.’ That’s all you need to know about this law,” he says.

What history teaches us
“Increasing the amount of paperwork has never helped the cause of popular education,” Pinchuk argues.

There are also examples in history of how to introduce state control.

“The Cultural Revolution in the USSR at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s,” recalls Lurie. “Then all private NEP outfits were put under control. They became state-owned. They were made part of the overall structure. In particular, the Knowledge Society (Obshchestvo “Znanie”) emerged from this arrangement. Or there were the times of [Konstantin] Pobedonostsev, when a bailiff came to every event and could shut it down.”

“We are being dragged into the Middle Ages. Or into the USSR,” says Marina Rudina, an employee of the Russian Museum who specializes in its educational and research work. “This know-how was perfectly tested back then. There is a persistent sense of obscurantism. And, from my point of view, strange information is flowing from every corner, including from federal and state TV channels. We need protection from extremist influences? There is already a law for this. I don’t understand why we have this business about ‘combating extremism’ in the new law again. Apparently, this is a clear formula: there are only enemies everywhere, and we must defend ourselves from them. Are we going to sacrifice everything?”

Lurie recalls other specific examples.

“We feel great about the valiant deeds of Alexander Matrosov and Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, Valentina Tereshkova and Dmitry Donskoy. We don’t expect anything bad. The problem is that there is imperfect censorship in Russia. There are no firm guidelines, for example, on whether Pobedonostsev and [Georgy] Malenkov are positive characters, and so we don’t know what to expect. There is uncertainty. We are afraid to talk positively about Malenkov. What if suddenly it turns out that he was working against the Motherland?”

To avoid this, says Lurie (who even at the start of Putin’s constitutional reforms spoke about the inevitability of total censorship), there must be “special people” who attend excursions and other events, lectures, and quests, either openly or undercover.

The historian sketches a new dystopian novel on the go.

“They will write a note to their superiors. They will have to record everything with surveillance devices so that it won’t be their word against [their opponents]. Then it will transpire that someone berated Matrosov. This means that a regulation stating that Matrosov cannot be derided will be needed. After all, such thoughts about Matrosov could be whispered by the enemy, while an educator might not have known it was forbidden. We must protect educators!”

“Why are they doing this?”
“The bill will drive another nail in the coffin of private cultural institutions in Russia. It seems that the current policy is aimed at ensuring that there are fewer and fewer educated people with a broad outlook, and that knowledge outside of the school curriculum can only be obtained abroad,” Pinchuk argues.

“The censorship and repressive laws already adopted by our government have greatly changed the climate and environment, and have complicated the already extremely difficult lives of cultural professionals,” says Matveeva. “We can no longer publicly and openly touch on certain topics, we cannot work with certain organizations, and it is better for us not to receive grants from international organizations and foundations. Given that the government provides no support to artists, art historians, and other producers of culture and art, it is not quite clear how officialdom expects people to work and support themselves.”

“Why are they doing this?” Rudina asks, immediately answering her own question.

“To completely obliterate education, to make it impossible for there to be flights of thought and broad spaces to think. There should be many opinions, many sources of knowledge and trends. When everything is regulated, is approved by people at the top, this is direct censorship, the exclusion of any opinions other than those ‘approved by the government line.’ Just withdraw the bill—don’t disgrace yourselves!”

Late last year, Petersburg MP Elena Drapeko told Fontanka.ru that voters had asked the State Duma to introduce censorship in Russia.

As of February 9, over 210,00 people had signed a petition against the proposed amendments.

__________

This session of Petersburg’s Street University, held on Elf Square in the city center circa 2008-2009, would have been impossible under the proposed amendments to the Law on Education. 

__________

February 8, 2021

Open Letter

To:

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin

Chairman of the Russian State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin

Russian Federation Council Members A.A. Klimov, E.V. Afanasyeva, A.V. Vainberg, L.N. Glebova, and O.V. Melnichenko

Russian State Duma Members V.I. Piskarev, A.G. Alshevskikh, N.I. Ryzhak, A.K. Isaev, R.D. Kurbanov, I.V. Belykh, N.V. Poklonskaya, D.I. Savelyev, A.V. Chep, A.L. Shkhagoshev, E.A. Yampolskaya, V.V. Bortko, S.M. Boyarsky, O.M. Kazakova, E.G. Drapenko, A.M. Sholokhov, O.L. Lavrov, S.A. Shargunov, O.M. Germanova, V.Yu. Maksimov, N.N. Pilus, and S.B. Savchenko

Russian Federal Minister of Culture O.B. Lyubimova

Russian Federal First Deputy Minister of Culture S.G. Obryvalin

We, the undersigned, are cultural, educational, and academic professionals engaged in educational outreach work in Russia, as well as Russian citizens concerned about the future of culture, education, and research in our country. We write to you in connection with Draft Law No. 1057895-7 “On Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On Education in the Russian Federation’” (hereinafter referred to as “the Draft Law”), which was passed by the State Duma in its first reading. If the Draft Law becomes law, it will, in our opinion, open the door to repressive regulation and censorship. In its current form, it threatens the constitutional rights of Russian citizens and the growth of our country’s educational and cultural fields due to its vague wording and rawness.

The Explanatory Note to the Draft Law states, “The federal draft law is aimed at improving the legal regulation of educational activities in the Russian Federation,” and “the draft law […] would generate additional conditions for developing human culture, encouraging individual socialization, and motivating individuals to form an active civic stance.” However, it contains no detailed comparative risk-benefit analysis proving that the stated goal would be pursued, rather than its opposite.

At the same time, the rules and regulations that would be issued if the Draft Law were passed, as well as the content of the Draft Law itself, have rightly caused fears among professionals that administrative barriers to educational outreach work would be raised that infringe on constitutionally protected rights and freedoms, including:

  • the right to education (per Article 43, Paragraph 1 of the Russian Federal Constitution)
  • the right to seek out, receive, transmit, produce and disseminate information (per Article 29, Paragraph 4 of the Russian Federal Constitution)
  • and freedom of literary, artistic, scientific, technical and other types of creativity, as well as freedom of instruction (per Article 44, Paragraph 1 of the Russian Federal Constitution).

The Draft Law is extremely restrictive

According to Article 43, Paragraph 5 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, “The Russian Federation establishes federal educational standards, [and] supports various forms of education and self-education.” In its current version, however, the Draft Law and the accompanying regulations adopted if it is implemented (as suggested by the public statements of its authors) are aimed not at supporting but at limiting educational outreach as sponsored by federal cultural and educational organizations, as well as by independent platforms, private organizations, and grassroots groups.

The text of the Draft Law defines educational outreach work as “activities, implemented outside the framework of educational programs, that are aimed at disseminating knowledge, skills, values, know-how and competence in order to develop individuals intellectually, spiritually, morally, creatively, physically and (or) professionally, and meet their educational needs and interests, and that touch on relations regulated by this federal law and other legislative acts of the Russian Federation.” The vagueness of the wording means that educational outreach work can be defined as any public activity in which knowledge and competencies are disseminated. Hence, we can conclude that educational outreach work could include not only individual lectures and workshops organized by licensed educational institutions, but also exhibitions, festivals, conferences, the work of popularizers of science and art, openly accessible blogs and vlogs, and much more.

The Draft Law introduces redundant regulations and opens the door to censoring educational outreach work

The Draft Law prohibits incitement to social, racial, ethnic or religious strife, and incitement to actions contrary to the Russian Federal Constitution. At the same time, the dissemination of information for these purposes is already prohibited by current Russian federal legislation, whose norms are also applicable to educational outreach work (per Article 10 of the Federal Law “On Information,” Article 13 of the Federal Law “On Countering Extremism,” and the corresponding provisions in the Administrative Offenses Code and the Criminal Code).

Currently, oversight is implemented correctively (ex post). We are concerned that the secondary legislation could introduce preventive (ex ante) regulation requiring that educational materials be approved before they are published, thus restricting freedom of opinion, as well as significantly complicating the work of law-abiding educators while not affecting the activities of banned extremist organizations.

The Draft Law is isolationist

The Draft Law obliges educational organizations to obtain the approval of the executive authorities when negotiating educational agreements with foreign organizations and foreign nationals involving expenditures. The provision would cover not only financial contracts involving state educational institutions (to which the laws on public procurement apply), but also other agreements, including non-financial cooperation agreements, which are signed in large numbers by all major educational institutions, as well as contracts made by non-governmental educational organizations.

The introduction of additional restrictions and controls on international exchanges and the engagement of foreign nationals by educational organizations inevitably entails an additional bureaucratic burden that most non-profit independent organizations would not be able to handle because they lack the necessary resources. Consequently, international exchanges would face the threat of significant cuts, leading to the stagnation of culture and research in Russia: growth in these fields is impossible without a constant exchange of know-how and ideas with colleagues from other countries. The lack of an opportunity to build stable, permanent relations with the international professional community would inevitably lead to a lag in the growth of culture, research and education in our country.

Educational outreach is carried out not only by large state institutions, but also by independent non-profit organizations, as well as by grassroots groups who find it difficult to secure the minimal resources needed for engaging foreign colleagues and implementing international projects. In this regard, introducing requirements for obtaining additional permits to engage foreign nationals in educational outreach projects would make it impossible to implement grassroots and non-profit undertakings. Russian citizens, including vulnerable segments of the populace, would thus also lose the opportunity to gain knowledge from highly qualified specialists on a regular, often pro bono basis.

The Draft Law delegates unregulated oversight to the Government

The Draft Law adopted by the State Duma in the first reading is extremely vague: it does not specify procedures and boundaries for overseeing educational outreach work, does not delimit regulatory entities, and does not define the types of international cooperation pursued by educational organizations that would require official approval. Essentially, the State Duma (a legislative body) has wholly delegated policymaking in the educational outreach field to the Government of the Russian Federation (an executive body) without setting any criteria and restrictions. This makes it possible, when adopting secondary legislation, to interpret the will of the legislators quite broadly, in a variety of directions. The vagueness of the wording, as well as the delegation of further rule-making to the Government of the Russian Federation, raises concerns in the professional community that the regulation would be repressive and involve censorship, thus considerably complicating the implementation of educational outreach work.

Oversight and restriction of educational outreach based on extremely vague reasons, thus allowing for varying interpretations “on the ground,” are contrary to the constitutional rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. In this regard, we, cultural, educational, and academic professionals engaged in educational outreach work in Russia, call on you to reject Draft Law No. 1057895-7 “On Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On Education in the Russian Federation,’” as its adoption, in our opinion, would open the door to repressive regulation and censorship due to its vague wording and rawness.

[Signed, in the original, by Lizaveta Matveeva (St. Petersburg), curator of the Main Project of the Seventh International Moscow Youth Biennale, the Art Prospect International Public Art Fair, and the DYI Fair, and 1,002 other signatories]

Thanks to Susan Katz for asking me to translate the open letter and sending me the link to the article from Fontanka.ru. Both texts were translated by the Russian Reader