You’re Not Invited to Our Molotov Cocktail Party

Does it make sense to torch military enlistment offices? The short answer is no. And here’s why not.

From the outset of the mobilization in Russia, military enlistment offices have been targeted by arson attacks. We realized that this appears striking and effective and may seem like a good way to voice your protest. But is this really the case? Let’s unpack it.

1. It is ineffective. Most often, arson does not damage individual records in any way — the fire is either put out in time, or there is no fire at all. There are no exact statistics here, but an analysis of news reports about the arson attacks confirms that in most cases they didn’t accomplish anything.

Moreover, the authorities have now started digitizing conscript databases, which will soon render the destruction of paper files meaningless.

2. It involves very (!) high risks. Statistics show that arsonists are very often tracked down by the police: 48% of activists involved in arson attacks have been detained.

If you are caught, a criminal case and a hefty prison sentence are virtually inevitable. Moreover, these arson attacks are most often charged as “terrorism” — and the people charged face up to fifteen years in prison if convicted.

3. It endangers others. Military enlistment offices are often guarded, which means that the watchmen may suffer. In addition, military enlistment offices are sometimes located in or near residential buildings, and the fire can spread to them.

4. There are other ways to resist that are safer and more effective. Considering all of the above, simply talking to friends and relatives (and writing on social media) about how to avoid mobilization seems to be a much more effective and safer means of resistance.

We have compiled a complete list of methods of online and offline resistance here.

What protest methods you choose is your decision alone, of course. But we urge you to be aware and prudent in this matter and not to give in to emotions. Much more good comes from activists who aren’t in jail.

Take care of yourself.💚

Source: Vesna Movement (Telegram), 10 January 2023. Translated by Hecksinductionhour


“Russian Army: A Time of Heroes Has Chosen Us.” Source: Igor Stomakhin, Facebook, 5 January 2023

On January 11, Vesna surprised me more than ever. Have you already read the post [translated, above] with (almost) the same name?

I’ll admit that I didn’t even know about this movement until February 24. But after the start of they full-scale invasion, they proved their mettle, unlike other public movements. From the earliest days of the war, they spoke out against the invasion and urged people to protest. Vesna announced mass protests while other liberal democratic organizations took no decisive action. Neither [Alexei Navalny’s] Anti-Corruption Foundation nor [opposition liberal party] Yabloko, for example, supported the call for mass street protests then. Vesna called for and was involved in the protests themselves, for which its members were persecuted and the movement was designated “extremist” by the authorities.

I try not to criticize methods and approaches to anti-war protests: everyone has the right to protest and resist as they are able and see fit. Today, however I want to speak critically about Vesna and respond to the piece, entitled “Does it make sense to torch military enlistment offices? The short answer is no. And here’s why not.”

Let’s analyze the arguments made in the post.

1. Ineffectiveness. Vesna claims that torching military enlistment offices makes no sense, since military enlistment records are not destroyed as a result of these actions. Indeed, many arson attacks on military enlistment offices have caused quite superficial damage: the flames did not spread into the offices where the paper files of conscripts might have been stored. However, this has not always been the case. For example, as a result of the actions taken by Ilya Farber (a village schoolteacher), the room in a military enlistment office where official documents were stored was destroyed by fire, as was a room at a recruiting office containing the personal belongings of employees. Moreover, we should bear in mind that the authorities and propagandists have a stake in downplaying the damage from such attacks.

When analyzing direct actions, it is also important to take into account what the guerrillas themselves say, and not to talk about the abstract results of possible actions. Did they want to destroy records at all? Moreover, it is not only military enlistment offices that are set on fire. For example, Bogdan Ziza, who threw a Molotov cocktail into a municipal administration building in Crimea, explained his motives as follows: “[I did it] so that those who are against this war, who are sitting at home and are afraid to voice their opinion, see that they are not alone.” And Alexei Rozhkov, who torched a military enlistment office on March 11, argues that the actions of guerrillas forced the authorities to withdraw conscripts from the combat zone.

If we talk about effectiveness in terms of direct action, then Vesna’s criticism is patently ridiculous: the movement has never proposed direct action tactics. If the railway saboteurs, for example, argued that torching military enlistment offices was “ineffective,” that would be a different conversation.

As for the digitization of draftee records, at the moment there is no information that it has been successfully implemented, except for claims by the authorities about staring the process. On the basis of the first wave of mobilization, the Moscow Times explained why rapid digitization of the Russian draft registration system is impossible under present conditions.

2. High risks. Indeed, people are persecuted for torching military enlistment offices. But anything else you do to counteract the Russian military machine is also fraught with high risks. You can now get a long stint in prison for the things you say. Not only Moscow municipal district councilor Alexei Gorinov (7 years) and politician Ilya Yashin (8.5 years) but also Vologda engineer [sic] Vladimir Rumyantsev (3 years) have already been handed harsh prison sentences for, allegedly, disseminating “fake news” about the army. To date, these sentences have been even harsher than those already handed down for anti-war arson. It is impossible to assess in which case it would be easier for the state to track you down and persecute you — after you torched a military enlistment office, or after you publicly posted the truth about the war. It all depends, primarily, on the security precautions you take.

3. Endangering lives. Vesna’s arguments on this score completely echo the wording of pro-government media and prosecutors’ speeches: allegedly, when a military enlistment office is torched, people could get hurt. Attention! Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, guerrillas have carried out more than eighty anti-war arson attacks and not a single living being has been harmed! The guerrillas carry out their actions at night and plan attacks so that people do not get hurt. This is how they are discussed on the direct action Telegram channels, and the guerrillas themselves say the same thing.

4, Unsafe and ineffective. As an alternative to arson, Vesna suggests educating friends and relatives about how to avoid mobilization. Educating is, of course, an important and necessary thing to do. However, it alone is not enough to stop the war. They mention no other effective methods of resistance in their post.

I have already said a few words at the outset about evaluating the effectiveness of military enlistment offices. I will also quote Peter Gelderloos in this case: “But beyond the strategic necessity of attacking the state with all means available to us, have those of us not faced with daily police intimidation, degradation, and subordination considered the uplifting effect of forcefully fighting back?”

I would suggest that you draw your own conclusions.

Finally, I have a few wishes. If you are planning any action that the state may regard as a criminal offense — a guerrilla action or an anti-war statement — please assess the risks and take all possible security precautions. To do this, use the guides that have been compiled online and study the know-how of forerunners. Keep in mind that even this may not be enough. Recommendations on physical security from the Combat Organization of Anarcho-Communists (BOAK) can be found in this article published DOXA. And to learn the basics of digital security, take a look the website Security in a Box.

You can find even more guides to security on the internet: don’t neglect perusing them and follow the rules they establish daily. The time you spend working through questions of security will in any case be less than the time spent in police custody in the event of your arrest after a protest action or a careless statement on the internet.

P.S. Vesna, please read How Nonviolence Protects the State, by Peter Gelderloos.

[…]

What can you do?

Study the safety guides mentioned in the introduction, if you thought it was not so important or had put it off for later.

How сan you take your minds off things?

Listen to the 10th edition of the podcast Zhenskii srok (“Women’s Prison Stint”) about how women revolutionaries fought the good fight and how they did time in Tsarist Russia. Among other things, the podcast explains what was mean by the term “oranges” back then and why officials and security forces were afraid of “oranges.”

Source: Ivan Astashin, DOXA Anti-War Newsletter #314, 11 January 2023. Translated by TRR


“White, Red, Black, Pale: Waiting for Horsemen.” Source: Igor Stomakhin, Facebook, 5 January 202

A column by ARMEN ARAMYAN, editor of DOXApublished by DOXA on 13 January in Russian.  

For many years the Russian opposition propagandised a particular manner of protest: clean, peaceful protest of the urban class, not dirtied with violence or even any pretension to violence. I was politicised at that time. I am 25, and I first went to a street demonstration when I was 17, in the second year of study at university. And I learned the lessons conscientiously: when somebody urges people to free a demonstrator who is being detained – that’s a provocation. If someone proposes to stay put on a square and not leave, or to occupy a government building – that’s a provocateur, and that person should be paid no heed.

We are better than them, because we do not use violence, and they do. Let everyone see us and our principles as unarmed, peaceful protesters, who are beaten by cosmonauts [Russian riot police] in full combat gear. Then they will understand what is going on. Why go on a demonstration? To express our opinion, to show that we are here. And if there are enough of us, that will produce a split in the elite.

Evidently, this strategy didn’t work. Whether it worked at one time is probably not so important now. I am convinced, by my own life experience, that it has failed. A year and a half ago, I recorded an inoffensive video to support student protests – and for that got a year’s house arrest. [Reported here, SP.] And in that year, the Russian authorities succeeded in destroying the remains of the electoral system, and invading Ukraine. No peaceful protest could stop them.

During that time, as the anti-Putin opposition de-escalated protests and adapted to new prohibitions — you need to give advance notice about a demo? OK. You need to set up metal detectors on site? Very good — the authorities, by contrast, escalated the conflict with society. They pursued ever-more-contrived legal cases — for actions ranging from throwing a plastic cup at a cop, to liking stuff or joking on Twitter.

We have been retreating tactically for a long time, and finally wound up on the edge of a precipice —in a situation where not to protest would be immoral, but where, at the same time, the most inoffensive action could result in the most serious sanctions. The neurosis in which a large part of Russian society now finds itself — all those arguments about who is more ethically immaculate: those who have left, those who have stayed, those who have half-left or one-quarter-stayed; who has the moral right to speak about something and who doesn’t — all this is a result of living in a paradox. 

For the first few weeks after the invasion, this logic of conflict — that the opposition de-escalates and the state escalates — reached its limits. Peaceful protests came to an end. Resistance didn’t stop: several hundred people, at a minimum, set fire to military recruitment offices or dismantled railways on which the Russian army was sending arms, and soldiers, to the front.

And when this started to happen, a big part of the opposition had nothing to say. Our editorial group was one of the first to try to report on these actions, despite the shortage of information. We were even able to speak to some of the railway partisans in Russia. But much of the independent media and opposition politicians were silent.

The silence ended on 4 October, when [Alexei] Navalny’s team announced that it would again open branches across the whole country, and support different methods of protest, including setting fire to recruitment centres. A month before that, in an interview with Ilya Azara [of Novaya Gazeta, SP], Leonid Volkov [leading member of Navalny’s team, SP] answered a question about radical actions in this way:

I am ready to congratulate everyone who goes to set fire to a recruitment office or derail a train. But I don’t understand where these people have come from, where to find them, or whether it’s possible to organise them.

Evidently, in the course of a month, something changed. In October, the branches began to collect forms from potential supporters, and on 23 December a platform was set up on the dark web, which could only be accessed via a TOR browser. Navalny’s team stated that the platform will not retain any details of its supporters. [In an interview with DOXA, Navalny’s team clarified that the branches would be clandestine online “networks”, SP.]

For some mysterious reason, news of the reopening of the branches, and of the setting-up of the platform, went practically unnoticed in the Russian media. In October, we were apparently the only (!) publication that talked with members of the Navalny team about the reopening of the branches. Organised antiwar resistance did not make it to the top of the news agenda.

It seems to me that, notwithstanding the mass of questions that political activists want to ask Navaly’s team about this, organised resistance is the only way left to us, out of the war and out of Putinism.   

I have had many discussions with antiwar activists and journalists lately, about how they assess their work, nearly a year after the start of full-scale war. The majority of them (of us) are burned out: they don’t see any point in what we are doing. I think part of the problem is that a big part of our activity concerns not resistance, but help and treatment of the symptoms — evacuation and support for refugees. Our activities don’t bring the end of the war nearer, they just alleviate its consequences.

You can count the initiatives focused on resistance on the fingers of two hands. And alas, they are not very effective. A comrade of mine, with whom at the start we put together guides about how to talk to your family members about the war, joked, bitterly:

The Russian army killed another hundred people while we were thinking about how to change the minds of one-and-a-half grandmas.

To get out of this dead end, we must together think of the future that we can achieve by our collective efforts. It’s time to reject fatalism: stop waiting for everything to be decided on the field of battle and putting all our hopes in the Ukrainian armed forces (although much will of course be decided there); stop relying on the prospect that Putin will die soon, that the elite will split and that out of this split shoots of democracy will somehow magically grow. We will not take back for ourselves freedom and the right to shape our own future, unless we ourselves take power away from this elite. The only way that we can do this, under conditions of military dictatorship, is organised resistance.

Such resistance must be based on cooperation between those who have remained in Russia and those who have left. And also those who continue to come and go (and there are many of them). Such resistance can not be coordinated by some allegedly authoritative organisation. It has to be built, by developing cooperation with other antiwar initiatives —especially the feminists and decolonising initiatives, that is, with organisations that have done a huge amount of activity since the all-out invasion and who bring together many thousands of committed supporters.

Most important of all, resistance must expand the boundaries of what we understand by non-violent protest and the permissibility of political violence. We can not allow the dictatorship to impose a language that describes setting fire to a military recruitment office, with no human victims, as “terrorism” and “extremism”.

Political struggle has always required a wide range of instruments, and if we want to defeat a dictatorship we have to learn how to use them; we need to understand clearly what each of them is good for. For many years we have paid no attention to methods of resistance that, although they are not violent, require much more decisiveness and organisation. It is to these methods that we need now to return.

There is no other way of building democracy in Russia (any democracy — liberal or socialist) without a grassroots resistance movement that can win widespread support. If the majority of opposition politicians in the pre-war period hoped that democracy could fall into their laps as a gift from the elite (as a so-called gesture of goodwill), then this year it has become completely clear: we will never have any power, if we can not ourselves take it in to our own hands.

Ulrike Meinhof [a leader of the Red Army Faction in Germany, 1970–72, SP] once quoted the words of a Black Panther activist [probably Fred Hampton, SP], spoken at a conference in February 1968 against the war in Vietnam:

Protest is when I say I don’t like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don’t like. Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too.

This comment was published by DOXA, an independent Russian web site that has grown out of a student magazine to become a prominent voice against the war. Translation by Simon Pirani

Source: “Russia: the time for protest has gone, it’s time for resistance,” People and Nature, 17 January 2023. Thanks to Simon Pirani for permission to reprint his invaluable translation here. ||| TRR


Berlin-Friedrichshain, January 2019. Photo by the Russian Reader

There is an interesting controversy on Twitter between DOXA (a left-wing media outlet) and the Vesna Movement (liberals) about violence.

Vesna wheeled out a text arguing that torching military enlistment offices is bad, and DOXA and other leftists responded by explaining why there is no way to do without such tactics now.

In response, the liberals and the publication Kotyol (“Boiler”), which took their side, have deployed a super argument: so why don’t you go to Russia and torch these places yourself, instead of advising others to do it? They also claimed that DOXA embraces Putin’s way of thinking by sending others to get killed instead of themselves.

I’ll join in the fray and answer for myself. First, it’s none of your damn business where I go or don’t go and why.

Second, waging an armed struggle requires financing, training, experience, support bases, and much more. Now of this exists now.

Third, if you liberal assholes had not consistently advocated against every form of illegal resistance for all Putin’s years and decades in power, if you had not demonized “radicals,” just as you are doing now, if you had not readily dubbed “terrorists” all those at whom the authorities pointed a finger, the situation in paragraph 2 would have been different.

Yes, it was you who shat your pants, soiling not only us, but everyone, including the Ukrainians.

The leftists are “talking shit” about violence, but are not traveling to Russia to torch things? Well, at least we’re talking shit!

Look at yourself. The bravest of you, and there are relatively few of those, raise money for the Armed Forces of Ukraine so that Ukrainians will fight and die on your behalf. But you yourselves advocate nonviolence, my ass. Which of us are the hypocrites? Who has embraced Putin’s way of thinking?

If you have at least a drop of conscience, you’ll recall what the liberals wrote in the late nineteenth century about the Decembrists and Narodniks and at least shut your traps on the question of violence.

Source: George Losev (Facebook), 17 January 2023. Translated by Thomas Campbell

What I Like About Photographs

“’What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.’ 
Karl Lagerfeld, German fashion designer and photographer.”

Source: Dmitry Markov, Facebook, 3 January 2022. I found the original text of the Lagerfeld quotation on Goodreads. ||| TRR


The origins of the town of Vorkuta are associated with Vorkutlag, one of the most notorious forced-labour camps of the Gulag. Vorkutlag was established in 1932 with the start of mining. It was the largest of the Gulag camps in European Russia and served as the administrative centre for a large number of smaller camps and subcamps, among them Kotlas, Pechora, and Izhma (modern Sosnogorsk). The Vorkuta uprising, a major rebellion by the camp inmates, occurred in 1953.

In 1941 Vorkuta and the labour camp system based around it were connected to the rest of the world by a prisoner-built rail line linking Konosha, Kotlas, and the camps of Inta. Town status was granted to Vorkuta on November 26, 1943.

Source: Wikipedia

“Prophecies about Ukraine”

The books on display, from left to right, are: I.A. Ivanova, “Yevgenia Negina: A Novel in Verse”; Klementina Bove, “Is That Really the Same Tatiana? (A Novel)”; A.S. Pushkin, “Yevgeny Onegin: A Graphic Guide”; I.V. Stalin, “Prophecies about Ukraine”

A textbook and resource guide store for school teachers, Lomonosov Street, Petersburg, today.

Source: Marina Varchenko, Facebook, 21 October 2022. Remarking on this post, “Marina Marina” wrote: “I got into a fight with a history teacher from Russia in the comments [to another social media post]. She doesn’t see any historical parallels at all. And she says that it was the Americans who made up the history of Ukraine. And that what she teaches there at home is the only truth in the world.” Translated by the Russian Reader

Cause for Optimism

From left to right, the Trinity (Izmailovsky) Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, and Singer House, in central Petersburg,
as photographed by Alexander Petrosyan

Yesterday I met a neighbor lady from our floor whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. She was in high spirits, and we talked for a minute about the current realities. I asked her how she managed to maintain such enviable optimism, and her answer amazed me.

“Why be sad?” she said. “We live in the heart of the city, and if they fire a nuclear missile, we would automatically find ourselves in the very epicenter. We would be instantly transformed into elementary particles. Isn’t that what many people can only dream of?”

Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 30 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. Our beloved Petersburg neighbor lady Ludmila Borisovna said something strikingly similar during the “tensions” in 2014.

Vladimir Ufliand: “The human world is fickle”

Vladimir Ufliand (1937–2007)

Мир человеческий изменчив.  
По замыслу его когда-то сделавших.  
Сто лет тому назад любили женщин.  
А в наше время чаще любят девушек.  
Сто лет назад ходили оборванцами,  
неграмотными,  
в шкурах покоробленных.  
Сто лет тому назад любили Францию.  
А в наши дни сильнее любят Родину.  
Сто лет назад в особняке помещичьем  
при сальных, оплывающих свечах  
всю жизнь прожить чужим посмешищем  
легко могли б вы.  
Но сейчас.  
Сейчас не любят нравственных калек. 
Весёлых любят.  
Полных смелости.  
Таких, как я.  
Весёлый человек.  
Типичный представитель современности. 

1957

Source

Joseph Brodsky recites “The human world is fickle” (1957) by his friend the poet Vladimir Ufliand

The human world is fickle.
It was planned that way by them who made it way back when.
A hundred years ago, people loved women.
But nowadays they more often dig chicks.
A hundred years ago, people went around ragged,
illiterate,
in kinky furs.
A hundred years ago, people adored France.
But nowadays they fancy the Motherland more.
A hundred years ago, you easily could
spend your whole life as someone's laughing stock
in a manor house
lit by greasy, guttering candles.
But nowadays.
But nowadays people don't care for emotional wrecks.
They like funny folk.
People full of moxie.
People like me.
A cheerful sort.
The very model of a modern bloke.

1957

The original poem and the video were gifted to her friends and acquaintances, today on her birthday, by the fabulously courageous and definitely cheerful Leokadia Frenkel, to whom I dedicate the translation, above. I also had the good fortune to be acquainted with the gentle, funny, gracious Vladimir Ufliand in real life. His photo, above, was taken by Vadim Egorovsky (1940–2020) in 1995, and is courtesy of Rosphoto and the Tamizdat Project. ||| TRR

“Telephone Terrorism”

Alexander Petrosyan, “Today on Sennaya Square [in Petersburg],” Facebook, 24 September 2022

In Petersburg, police have searched the homes of activists, as well as the home of Sota journalist Victoria Arefieva. The security forces broke down the door to Arefieva’s apartment, seized electronic devices belonging to the journalist and her sister, and detained her for forty-eight hours on suspicion of making a phoney bomb threat to the St. Petersburg City Court, Sota wrote on Saturday, September 24.

In addition, searches were conducted at the homes of persons implicated in the case of the Vesna Movement activists Yevgeny Fateyev and Valentin Khoroshenin, whom a court has banned from “engaging in certain activities.” The security forces also visited the home of activist Pallada Bashurova, against whom two “telephone terrorism” investigations have been launched, OVD Info reports. Yevgenia Litvinova, a member of the Petersburg Human Rights Council, was also detained in connection with a “telephone terrorism” case.

New protests against mobilization scheduled for September 24

According to Sota, the searches are connected with protests, scheduled for September 24, against the “partial mobilization”; law enforcement agencies thereby are attempting to prevent their coverage in the press. Vesna, a democratic youth movement, called on Russians to engage in a new round of protests in the wake of the first wave that occurred on the day Russian President Vladimir Putin made the announcement. “Mogilization [“grave-ization”] is actively going on all over the country. Soon thousands of our men could go to the front. We can and must oppose it!” Vesna said in a statement issued on September 22.

According to the online human rights project OVD Info, on September 21, the police detained more than 1,300 protesters in thirty-nine cities across Russia. Most of the arrests occurred in Moscow and Petersburg. In some police departments, the detainees were handed summonses to the military enlistment office right on the spot.

Source: Olga Lebedeva, “Homes of activists and journalists searched in Petersburg,” DW, 24 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Day of Knowledge: “It’s Not Scary to Die for the Motherland”

In twenty regions of Russia, a school pupil’s start-of-the-year supplies costs more than the average monthly per person income.
This schematic map of the country show how much of the average per capita income has to be spent to ready a pupil for the school year.
Source: Unified Interagency Statistical Information System (EMISS), Russian Federal Statistics Service (Rosstat); calculations by iStories

About one hundred thousand Russians have signed a petition to the president demanding that they be paid 10 thousand rubles [approx. 163 euros] for children’s school expenses as was the case in 2021.

But instead of Russian families, this year parents of schoolchildren from the parts of Ukraine occupied by the Russian army will receive 10 thousand rubles each, while Russian citizens are being expressly told to go to war so that they can afford to send their child to school.

We calculated how much it would cost to send off a pupil to school in Russia’s regions, and we talked with the parents of schoolchildren.

What we learned:

In twenty regions of Russia, buying everything needed for school costs more than the average per capita income for a whole month. For example, in Tyva, one family member has an average income of 15.5 thousand rubles [approx. 253 euros] per month.

This money is usually spent on the bare necessities: food, clothing, medical treatment, transport and other needs. A schoolchild’s kit in Tyva costs almost 24 thousand rubles [approx. 393 euros] — money that parents don’t know where to get. In another fourteen regions, more than ninety percent of income will be spent on school-related expenses.

Parents told iStories that many goods, especially clothes and notebooks, have risen in price twofold or more. And yet, wages have not increased, and some parents have lost their jobs altogether due to sanctions.

Many parents have had to take out loans for everyday needs (this is corroborated by the data: before the start of the school year, the number of applications for consumer loans increased by 20%) and scrimp on vacations.

Prices have increased by thirty percent, but I have no salary, so I’ve felt the difference enormously. The option that I found this year is credit cards. And we scrimped on vacation, of course. It has become quite expensive to take the children somewhere and liven up their leisure time. Whereas earlier I could afford to spend the weekend with my children somewhere in a holiday home in the Moscow Region, now we choose places without an overnight stay, and we take food along with us.

[…]

You take shoes for physical education, light sneakers. The kids hang out in them all day [anyway], so you save money on school shoes.

[…]

I tried to tell [the children] that war is always a very bad thing, that you should aways try to negotiate.

Natalia, Moscow, who is raising a son and a daughter, both in school

On average, I spent around 35-40 thousand rubles [approx. 660 euros] on everything. Clothes have become much more expensive compared to last year, and the quality has become worse. […] I am now on maternity leave, raising the girls alone. I get alimony. We have spent all the new allowances for children between 8 to 17 years old on school expenses. […] I think we will cope with it all. Everything will end and be fine — [the war] will not affect us in any way. I think that everything is being done here [in Russia] so that we do not feel the effect of special military actions.

Elena, Novgorod Region, who is raising two school-age daughters

In which regions of the country does a schoolchild’s kit cost more than the average per capita monthly income?

Could the Russian state afford to cover the expenses for all 15 million Russian schoolchildren?

Source: iStories, email newsletter, 29 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Igor Stomakhin, from the series When we leave the schoolyard… Moscow, 1980s

My street exhibition will open on the fence of Danilovskaya Alley on September 4 at 1 p.m. as part of the project #SundayKhokhlovskyStandoffs. Photos from my Moscow cycle of the 1980s–1990s will be presented. At 2 p.m., I will give a tour of the show beginning with an account of the capital in that vivid period when Soviet stagnation was replaced by Gorbachev’s perestroika. The defenders of Ivanovo Hill will treat guests to tea from a samovar, so you can bring sweets to share. Address: Kolpachny Lane, between house no. 7 and house no. 9.

Source: Igor Stomakhin, Facebook, 1 September 2022. Click the link to see a dozen more photos from Mr. Stomakhin’s poignant perestroika-era Moscow school series. Translated by the Russian Reader


“It’s not scary to die for the Motherland.”
“Conversations about what matters” — mandatory lessons on love for the Motherland — have been introduced in Russian schools. During these lessons the war in Ukraine will be discussed.
The lessons will be held every Monday before first period after the raising of the flag and the national anthem.
The first “conversation about what matters” will take place on September 5.
Pupils in the first and second grades will be told about nature in Russia. Pupils in the third and fourth grades will be told about how it is necessary to defend the Motherland. The teaching manuals cite proverbs that can be used to explain this to children: “It’s not scary to die for the Motherland,” “Loving the Motherland means serving the Motherland,” and “The happiness of the Motherland is more precious than life.”
On September 12, pupils in grades 5–11 will be told about the war in Ukraine. “We also see manifestations of patriotism nowadays, especially in the special military operation,” it says in the course packet.
And to pupils in the tenth and eleventh grades, the instructors, as they conclude the conversation about the “special operation,” should say the following parting words: “You cannot become a patriot if you only spout slogans. Truly patriotic people are ready to defend their Motherland under arms.”
Attending the “conversations” is presented as mandatory. If pupils skip them, instructors are advised to have a talk with their parents. If talking to them doesn’t do the trick, instructors are advised to cite the law, which states that the school curriculum consists of lessons and extracurricular activities.
By law, pupils may skip extracurricular activities at the request of their parents. Teachers are afraid, however, that in the case of the “conversations about what matter” school administrators will be keeping a close eye on attendance.
“We find ourselves in a reality in which you have to keep your own opinion to yourself to avoid losing your job, at best, or ending up behind bars, at worst,” says a teacher in one Moscow school. “There are those [teachers] who actively support state policy. If a teacher diverges from the subject matter of the ‘conversations,’ he might find himself in a dangerous situation.”

Source: Current Time TV (Radio Svoboda), Instagram, 1 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Continue reading “Day of Knowledge: “It’s Not Scary to Die for the Motherland””

Hellbent

Hellbent on having fun in the midst of a terrible war — a frightening panorama of Petersburg by virtuoso photographer Alexander Petrosyan. Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 7 August 2022


As Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds into its fifth month, Moscow is a city doing everything it can to turn a blind eye to the conflict. It is a champagne-soaked summer like any other in the Russian capital, despite the thousands of dead and many more wounded in a war increasingly marked by acts of savage brutality.

In Gorky Park, outdoor festivals, cinemas and bars were all jammed on a recent evening, with young couples twirling to ballroom dance music as others stopped for selfies along the Moscow river nearby.

“Yes, we are having a party,” said Anna Mitrokhina, one of the dancers at an outdoor dance platform on the Moscow river, wearing a blue-sequin dress and heavy eye-makeup. “We are outside of politics, we want to dance, to feel and have fun. I can’t worry any more and this helps me forget.”

Walk through the city or switch on a VPN to scroll through Instagram or Facebook and you might not even know the country’s at war, a word that the Russian censors have banned from local media and that, even among many friends, has become taboo.

A lifestyle Instagram blogger with more than 100,000 followers who was opposed to the war said that she had consciously decided to stop speaking about the topic — because of the official restrictions but also the backlash she received from subscribers.

“Nobody wants to hear about the war, the special military operation, any more, they tell me to stop talking about this and get back to normal topics like beauty and fitness,” she said, asking that her name not be used. “Every time I mentioned it I would get so much hate in my messages. It hurts me, it hurts my business. I stopped mentioning it. It just doesn’t exist for many people.”

“What hurts the most is it is not really [because of the law], there is just no desire to talk about this,” she said. “People are turning off.”

[…]

Source: Andrew Roth, “‘People are turning off’: Muscovites put the war aside and enjoy summer,” The Guardian, 30 July 2022

118 Years Ago Today

From Boris Savinkov’s Memoirs of a Terrorist:

It was a clear sunny day. When I approached the square at the Church of the Intercession [in Petersburg], I saw the following scene. Sazonov, sitting on a bench, was exhaustively and animatedly relating to Sikorsky how and where to sink the bomb. Sazonov was calm and seemed to have completely forgotten about himself. Sikorsky listened to him attentively. Borishansky sat on a bench in the distance, his face imperturbable as usual. Even further away, at the gates of the church, stood Kalyayev who, doffing his cap, crossed himself.

[…]

When I approached 7th Company of the Izmailovsky Regiment Street [currently known as 7th Red Army Street], I saw a policeman on the corner stand at attention. At the same moment, I noticed Sazonov on the bridge over the Obvodny Canal. He walked, as before, with his head held high, carrying the projectile at his shoulder. Immediately, I heard loud trotting behind me, and a carriage pulled by black horses rushed past.

[…]

Suddenly, a heavy, strange, unwieldy sound rent the street’s monotonous hubbub. It was if someone had struck a cast-iron stove with a cast-iron hammer. At the same moment, the broken glass in the windows rattled pitifully. I saw a pillar of grayish yellow, almost black smoke rising from the ground in a narrow funnel. This pillar, ever expanding, flooded the entire street to the height of the fifth floor. It dissipated as quickly as it rose. I thought I saw some black debris amid the smoke.

For the first second, my breath caught in my throat. But I was waiting for an explosion, and so I came to my senses more quickly than the others. I ran kitty-corner down the street to the Warsaw Hotel.

One hundred and eighteen years later.

Pokrovsky Square (Church of the Intercession Square) aka Turgenev Square, in central Petersburg
Izmailovsky Prospect in Petersburg. The former Warsaw Station, now a shopping and entertainment center, is in the background.
The end of Izmailovsky Prospect, with a clearer view of the former Warsaw Station. A statue of Lenin once stood in front of it.

Source: Aleksandr Ermakov, Facebook, 28 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader, since a copy of Joseph Shaplen’s 1931 English translation of Boris Savinkov’s Memoirs of a Terrorist is hard to come by in print and nearly invisible online. I also added the captions to Mr. Ermakov’s snapshots.


The routes taken by Savinkov, Plehve, and the members of the SR Combat Organization on 28 July 1904. Source: Visions of Terror

On 15 July 1904 [28 July 1904 in the reformed, post-revolutionary calendar], the notoriously oppressive and unpopular Minister of the Interior, Viacheslav Konstantinovich von Plehve stepped into his armored carriage, complete with an entourage of bicycle detectives, and set off from his dacha to the Warsaw Station on his way to regular meeting with Tsar Nicholas II, now residing at his summer palace in Peterhof. Plehve, who had already survived several attacks on his life, probably took this trip in stride, but as he approached his destination, a young man, Egor Sazonov darted towards his carriage and threw a bomb underneath its speeding wheels. Sazonov was just one of several assassins that day who were poised and ready to trade their own lives for the Minister’s. They were members of the Combat Organization (Boevaia Organizatsiia), the terrorist branch of the Socialist Revolutionaries who ultimately murdered a number of prominent political figures, most notably […] Tsar Alexander II.

Source: Visions of Terror

A More (or Less) Perfect Union

Russian naval vessels on parade on the Neva River in downtown Petersburg, July 2022. Photo: Alexander Petrosyan

I dreamt that all wars had ended and a united humankind was amicably celebrating good’s victory over human nature’s age-old curse.

Since my dream took place in Petersburg, the warships had been turned in recreational vessels, equipped with swimming pools, gyms, spas, dance halls, hotels, bars, restaurants, etc.

The towering masts were outfitted with convenient spots for those wishing to photograph the city’s river embankments from above. The deck was dotted with deck chairs, and the holds, instead of rockets and shells, housed barrels containing every variety of alcohol from around the globe!

I remember strolling around one of these ships, shooting a reportage about the triumphantly heavenly lives of its inhabitants, but I was not able to finish the dream. As always in the morning, the cat’s meowing and the children waking up on time woke me up. Otherwise, I would have been late for my next photo shoot.

Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 25 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


[…]

I never would have thought that I would speak out in defense of the Soviet Union. But now I am forced to do it.

I grew up in a small village in the middle of Russia. The adults in my life did not read samizdat and tamizdat, nor did they oppose the system — they just lived their lives. But from their conversations, loose talk, and slips of tongue, I was able to draw conclusions. I realized that I didn’t have to unconditionally believe the agitprop posters and the folks on the TV. Life was more complicated and, apparently, worse than the picture that the big bosses were trying to foist on us.

And yet there were certain things I took for granted. I knew that my country had clear, intelligible notions of good and evil, of how everything should work, and I considered them correct. Socialism had to emerged victorious. We didn’t seem to be doing everything right, but we knew what we were supposed to being doing.

To a large extent, of course, this belief was also based on a complete ignorance of how people actually lived outside the socialist bloc. There were simply no people in our midst who had seen it and could tell us about it. In our village, perhaps the only person who had visited this capitalist hell was my grandfather. He was in Vienna when the war ended. But he died before I was born, and besides, as my elders told me, he was a taciturn person and did not like to reminisce about his life.

I knew — just like Leonid Brezhnev, the guy on TV, who had fought in a real war — that it was wrong to even hint at using nuclear weapons. Nuclear war was terrible and the end of everything.

I also knew that we would never attack anyone. The Soviet Union had a militarist bent, and a sense of the coming war’s inevitability filtered into my childish mind. But there was only one possible scenario: the enemy would come to us, maybe even occupy our country, but then we would throw them out, win the war, and clean up the motherland. There was no other way. We wouldn’t attack first.

The Soviet Union, by the way, was bashful about its wars. It concealed its involvement in conflicts abroad. Only the Afghan War broke through the curtain of lies. I don’t know whether it was because of the magnitude, or because the giant was on its last legs and had even forgotten how to tell a fib.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (far left) and Russian military officers at the consecration of the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces, 14 June 2020. Photo courtesy of Spektr

Modern Russia is not shy. Go to the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces in Patriot Park. It is worthwhile and instructive. There are mosaics depicting Russian soldiers and heroes — the heroes of the Battle of Kulikovo, the Patriotic War of 1812, the Great Patriotic War … and a huge panel depicting the heroes of the wars that the Soviet Union waged after the Second World War. The figures in the foreground are easily identifiable as “Afghans,” but the picture’s authors quite clearly hint that it’s not just about veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

Soviet ideology was putrid and phony, but there was also a real humanism in it that filtered through the rot and falsity.

Modern Russia doesn’t even have this going for it.

[…]

Source: Ivan Davydov, “An apology for the Union: which USSR Vladimir Putin is resurrecting,” Republic, 21 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader