Given the sheer numbers of reactionary/counter-revolutionary events and incidents happening in Russia every day, and the equally astronomical quantities of reactionary/counter-revolutionary statements and actions committed by Russian officials high and low (e.g. East Aleppo) over the past couple of decades, it seems a nasty farce to commemorate, much less celebrate, the centennial of the Russian revolution(s) this year.
Present-day Russia and Russians have no copyright on revolution, and this stricture applies equally to self-identified “revolutionary” or leftist Russians, who have nothing to teach or say to anyone about revolution.
Clear the current Russian built and symbolic landscape of all the post-revolutionary tat and kitsch (nearly all of it reactionary, because what could be more anti-revolutionary than a cult of personality like the one generated around the dead Lenin) that clutters its physically and nominally (e.g., Insurrection Square in Petersburg), and you would find the wildly reactionary country that actually occupies the vast expanse between the Gdansk Bay and the Chukchi Peninsula.
It’s another matter that there are lots of Russians who. pluckily and smartly, individually and collectively, have been trying to overcome to this black reaction in bigger and smaller ways over the “miraculous” years of the Putin regimes. Unfortunately, however, their voices have mostly been muffled by the din of counter-revolution issuing from the Kremlin, the State Duma, and the post-Soviet Russian state’s ever-proliferating set of security forces and regulatory watchdogs, and by their own would-be allies among the brand-name liberals and leftists, most of whom have been concerned with promoting their own social and cultural capital, not making common cause with boring math instructors like “mass disorder stoker” Dmitry Bogatov or, more surprisingly, with the country’s endlessly resourceful independent truckers and other inspiring grassroots freedom fighters, none of whom have the time or the inclination to commemorate the famous revolution that, arguably, went counter-revolutionary more quickly than you can say Jack Robinson. TRR
Here’s a sunny existential question for a Sunday morning.
How can it be claimed that a person sees events “through Russian eyes” if that person is not Russian is any sense of the word, has not set foot in the country for years, has not lived in the country for years at a time, and garners their knowledge of the country and its politics only from the sources available to everyone else who doesn’t actually live in Russia, namely, the media?
And yet cutting-edge radio program This Is Hell! claims to have found just such a person for its latest broadcast.
I would very much encourage you all to listen to the program. My blog, The Russian Reader, is meant as an antidote to the casual Orientalism of almost everything uttered by hegemonic or would-be hegemonic American mouths when it comes to Russia, whether those voices aspire to be liberal or leftist, Russophilic or Russophobic.
And while you’re listening to the new edition of This Is Hell!, keep in mind that, over the past month or so, I’ve been seriously contemplating sending The Russian Reader on permanent hiatus (like its predecessor Chtodelat News, which died a cold, hard death because it was emphatically not supported by the group it nominally represented).
After a year in which I saw a steady and welcome rise in the number of readers on this website, my stats have dropped precipitously in the last two months, even though I have been trying, as always, to see events in Russia through the eyes of Russians, although I’m not Russian in any way and would never have the chutzpah to claim to be Russian, much less have “Russian eyes.”
My method has always to been to “collage,” as I like to put it, numerous and wildly different Russian points of view on what I think are the key topics in modern Russian politics, economics, society, and culture. I have done this by translating the words of hundreds of courageous, thoughtful and very different Russians, almost all of them in the thick of the events they describe and analyze in the magazine and newspaper articles, essays, Facebook posts, and informal reflections that make up most of what I publish on The Russian Reader.
The other five percent of The Russian Reader is given over to my satirical ruminations and, once in a while, serious editorials. I have never claimed they represent “a” or “the” Russian point of view since, I repeat, I am not Russian in any sense of the word.
I’ve been doing this for almost ten years now with no financial support and, if truth be told, very little other real support from anyone else. Yet I have been told by a fair number of smart and even influential people whose opinion I respect that my blog is invaluable and unique and needs to keep chugging along.
Maybe that is so, but if no one is reading it, quoting it, and especially sharing the articles published here with colleagues, friends, and opponents, there really is no point in going on with this.
It’s been a lot of work. Hard work should be rewarded in some way. Stony silence and precipitously falling numbers are not a reward for invaluable, unique work no one else is doing.
If you would not like to see the website go into a permanent coma, especially if you’re willing to support The Russian Reader in a meaningful way (one of the best ways is volunteering to translate things I could publish), let me know either in the comments under this post or via the email address listed in the left margin of this website.
Thanks for listening to my gripes. With any luck, we can get the site back on track in short order, but that will happen only if I hear a more or less loud mandate from you, my mostly anonymous and silent Russian readers. TRR
At night, the young women in Petersburg often sit in the windows, gaze at the street, and smoke. On a white night, they are visible from the ground even if the light in their flats has been turned off. I have several similar shots. All of them were takenfrom a distance, with a hidden camera, you might say. I don’t see it as unethical, because I’m not peering into windows and trying to see what’s inside. It is the young women who are showing themselves to the city. Moreover, this particular girl (I took the picture on June 17, 2017, on the Petrograd Side) has become an image, a symbol, which, in fact, makes the shot quite good.
—Vadim F. Lurie, July 2, 2017
My thanks to Mr. Lurie for his kind permission to reproduce his photograph here and his agreeing to respond to my questions about it in writing. TRR
Below, you will find a brief, eyewitness account of the rough custom to which people detained at the anti-corruption protest rally on the Field of Mars in Petersburg on June 12, 2017, have been subjected by police as the have been slowly “processed,” sometimes with no legal representation and in gross violation of their rights as detainees, by the police and courts.
The Russian “legal and law enforcement” systems are shambles, for the simple reason they don’t exist at all. They are fictions.
What does exist is the supreme will of the blood monkey who answered questions all day yesterday on TV or something like that, and the lesser wills of his cronies and satraps.
So when asking the question of who exactly ordered the arrests of the six hundred and fifty some arrestees of June 12, 2017, and the harsh sentences of five to fifteen days in the hoosegow and fines of up to 15,000 rubles most of them were handed by the city’s district courts (again, in conditions where many of them were dehumanized constantly, despite the best efforts of Petersburg’s wonderful Aid to Detainees Group and other volunteers and well-wishers to support them) you need look no farther than the head blood monkey in the Kremlin and his precious “power vertical.” They are the ones who gave the orders to treat the protesters this way, not anyone on the ground.
I was irked to hear the BBC’s Moscow correspondent refer, the other day, to the concurrent protests on Tverskaya, in Moscow, where a similarly large number of people were arrested, as “illegal.” Setting aside for a second the rights to free assembly and free speech enjoyed by all Russian citizens, as enshrined in the 1993 Russian Federal Constitution, the Petersburg authorities several years ago designated the Field of Mars as the city’s “Hyde Park,” the place where city dwellers could go, supposedly, to air their grievances without making a special application to the authorities. (This need to apply for permits is itself a mostly unconstitutional practice, backed, of course, by the country’s kangaroo higher courts, who are also a part of its so-called telephone justice system).
In reality, Petersburg authorities have let their so-called Hyde Park be used the way it was intended only when the numbers of protesters or their particular grievances have not been threatening enough, although, of course, police are still always on hand to photograph, videotape, and ID the protesters, and even copy down the slogans on their placards, which they immediately radio to their superiors. Just in case, you know, and to make sure the protesters know the state is monitoring them
When, on the other hand, the topics raised and/or numbers of protesters have not been to the liking of the powers that be, local or otherwise, Petersburg’s “Hyde Park” has instantly been deemed yet another no-go zone, the protests declared “illegal,” and the protesters and, sometimes, the counter-protesters, dragged off into paddy wagons and taken to police precincs.
Sometimes, the protesters are merely held in police custody for a few hours or overnight, and then released scot-free. But when the regime wants to teach them a lesson about how much freedom they really have in the world’s largest “sovereign democracy,” they get the book thrown at them, as we have seen over the past several days in Petersburg. That is, for one and the same legal/illegal act, either nothing will happen to you or your life will be scuttled for two weeks or a month (as in the case of “ringleaders” like Alexei Navalny, who was arrested at the door to his block of flats before he could get to the “illegal” protest and sentenced to thirty days in the slammer), and your already meager finances will have a nice dent put into them.
So, if I were a BBC or other foreign correspondent, I wouldn’t be so quick to dub any protest in Putinist Russia “illegal.” That’s tantamount to saying that the police and courts have the right to do with Russians detained for real or imaginary offenses what they will.
It’s also an admission on the part of these foreign correspondents that, in the case of the protesters, they don’t understand the offenses are wholly imaginary, i.e., trumped-up, that they are, in fact, a little bit of the ultra-violence, meted out in smallish doses to discourage the kids from coming out again. TRR
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16% of the St. Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission Facebook
June 15, 2017
I am deciphering my conversations with arrestees:
“We were driven to the courthouse in handcuffs, and tied to each other. We arrived, they untied us, and took us upstairs to the courtroom. We had no defense counsel. The court sentenced us to five days in jail and a fine. We were driven back to the police precinct, where we cuffed to chairs and each other. (The cuffs immediately caused pain to the second person.) The guy with the keys to the handcuffs went off somewhere. We were cuffed for two and a half hours. We asked to go to the toilet, to uncuff us, but our requests were ignored. This happened next to the cells. The cells were not locked.
“Then they uncuffed us from the chair, cuffed us to each other, put us in a van, and took us to [the temporary detention center at] Zakharyevskaya Street, 6.”
This incident occurred on June 13, at the 78th Police Precinct, in St. Petersburg’s Central District
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up on the link and Sasha Feldberg for the photo.
June 12 is a public holiday, Russian Sovereignty Day [sic]. Certain people have been trying to use our national holiday to destabilize the situation in the country. Alexei Navalny has called for Russians to take to the streets of their cities in protest against the current regime.
The administration of Saint Petersburg State University of Film and Television asks you to approach the question of involvement in such events responsibly, not to yield to such calls and other provocative proposals whose objective is inveigle young people in unauthorized mass actions and marches aimed at destabilizing public order, calls and proposals that are transmitted via social networks and other sources of information. We cannot let these people achieve their political ambitions illegally.
So, 658 people were detained [in Petersburg]. Minors whose parents were able to come and get them and people with disabilities have been released. Nearly everyone else will spend the night in jail.
There will be court hearings tomorrow. Everyone who can make it should come. The hearings will take place at the Dzerzhinsky District Court [in downtown Petersburg]. The first detainees are scheduled to arrive at the court at 9:30 a.m. Considering the number of detainees, we will probably be there into the night.
I was invited to speak at the rally on Sakharov Avenue. I planned to talk about why it was important to support the anti-corruption campaign despite our political differences. In short, in order to put a stop to reaction, dissenters need to be represented on a massive scale, so the elites would not even think about just trampling them or not noticing them. Everyone has the same goal right now: resurrecting political freedoms. The contradictions among people are secondary. Considering the scale of protests nationwide, things turned out quite well. You can see that people have stopped fearing crackdowns, and that intimidation no longer works. In Moscow, switching the rally to a stroll down Tverskaya was an absolutely apt response to the Kremlin’s behavior. Everyone who wanted to avoid arrest had the chance to do that. There were downsides as well, but given the colossal confrontation, they don’t seem important.
Of course, one cannot help but welcome today’s protests on a nationwide scale. We are witnessing the continuing rise of a new protest movement that emerged on March 26. This movement is indivisible from Alexei Navalny’s presidential campaign and owes both its virtues and weaker aspects to that campaign. Despite the fact that Navalny’s campaign could have launched a broad grassroots movement, on the contrary, it has been built like a personalistic, vertical political machine in which decisions made by a narrow group of experts and approved by the leader are mandatory for the rank-and-file. This raises the majority’s political consciousness to the degree necessary at each specific moment of the campaign. The leader’s political strategy, his objectives, and the meaning of decisions are not up for discussion. Navalny must be believed like a charismatic CEO. What matters is that he is personally honest and “he has a plan.” On the eve of the protest rally, authorized for June 12 in Moscow, the rank-and-file found out a new particular in the plan: everyone had to go to an unauthorized protest march, which would predictably end in arrests and criminal charges along the lines of the March 26 protests. The rationale of the organizers is understandable. They have to pull out all the stops to keep the campaign moving at a fever pitch, keep it in the public eye, and use the threat of riots to pressure the Kremlin. Moreover, this radicalization in the media reduces the complicated picture presented by Russian society to a simple confrontation: the thieves in the Kremlin versus the honest leader who has united the nation. This set-up renders all forms of public self-organization and all social movements secondary and insignificant, and their real interest ultimately boils down to making Navalny president. However, even Navalny’s most dedicated supporters should pause to think today, the day after June 12. Would his campaign be weakened if it were opened up to internal criticism, if horizontal discussions of his political program and strategy were made possible, and the political machine, now steered by a few people, turned into a real coalition, where differences did not get in people’s way but helped them agree on common goals?
“Sakharov Avenue is out,” Navalny said in his morning video message.
Navalny’s adviser Leonid Volkov put it more democratically.
“The hypocritical scum who dreamed up the ‘opposition rally on Sakharov’ will fry on a separate frying pan.”
The rally on Sakharov happened anyway. It was mainly attended by opponents of Moscow’s new law on the large-scale renovation of residential buildings: urban activists and residents of the buildings slated for demolition, as well as defrauded investors in residential building projects, foreign currency mortgage holders, and other victims of the construction sector. Many fewer of them came out, however, than on May 14, even considering that some of the outraged Muscovite anti-renovation protesters followed Navalny over to Tverskaya. Protests rise and ebb like the sea, and this time round the excitement was muted. These people—old women, families with children, old men—were not suitable for getting arrested at an unauthorized protest. Although they realize that Moscow’s problems are merely one logical outcome of the Russian political system, they are in no hurry to support Navalny and other inveterate oppositionists, for what is at stake are their housing and property, not supreme civil liberties.
Meanwhile, on Tverskaya, young folks realized that A.C.A.B. Around 700 people were detained in Moscow, and the social networks were flooded with even more photographs of derring-do amidst the so-called cosmonauts [riot cops]. The ultimate damage from the protest might be acknowledged only over time, when we know whether there will be new criminal cases, and if there are, what charges are laid against the protesters. But everyone loves looking at riot porn (and being involved in it), although this hobby devastates and dulls the senses as much as watching ordinary porn. This is the danger of protests “for all things good,” of protests focused on a certain political agenda or figure: neither fat nor thin, neither old nor young, neither socialist nor nationalist, but generally sweet and better than the old protest rallies. In this case, protest risks degenerating into a social order in which everything is decided by Sturm und Drang. Not the worse prospect, some would argue, but others would argue it would be a disaster. But whether you like it or not, “Russia has thousands of young people dreaming of revolution,” for the time abstractly encapsulated in the slogan “Dimon must answer for his actions,” and they have been taking to the streets.
Two worlds did not in fact meet in Moscow today. One world is the world of people who are mostly old, people whose property is threatened with eminent domain and who imagine politics as a way of building an urban environment. The second world is the world of bold young people (and their slightly older idols), who are hellbent on regime change. It would not be a bad thing if these worlds met and acted in concert. This is the only way for a democratic politics to emerge from this.
Notes from the field (the Field of Mars). Putting aside emotions:
1. It’s true there were lots of young people. And they are not afraid of anything.
2. There were many young families, who are likewise not afraid for their children.
3. “We’re fed up” is the key phrase.
4. There were slogans about healthcare, infrastructure, and pension. Well, and about corruption, too.
5. The out-of-town students came out because “it is wrong to drive the regions into a pit like this.”
6. There was a sense of support and public acceptance.
7) The people who came out were true patriots genuinely worried about the country’s future.
8) A spirit of freedom . . .
P.S. On the Six O’Clocks News last night, BBC Radio 4’s Moscow correspondent had the temerity to refer to yesterday’s protest march on Tverskaya as “illegal.” Is this the new tariff for keeping one’s press accreditation under Putin’s perpetual reign? TRR
So far it’s been a fairly rough spring in Petersburg, ex-capital of All the Russias. When it hasn’t been snowing, it’s been sleeting or raining, and the sun has mostly been in hiding.
Recently, my friend and comrade anatrrra took advantage of a rare stretch of sunshine to snap these photographs of the world’s most beautiful city and some of its denizens, many of whom were also outside to catch a few rays before (as at the end of anatrrra’s complete album) the snow made its hasty return.
My thanks to anatrrra for permission to reproduce these photographs here. TRR