Responsibility?

In the new episode of the project "The Last Line" Chulpan Khamatova again recites the verse of Alya Khaitlina. In today's poem, she reflects on responsibility, guilt and humility. Already in the first stanza she asks a rhetorical question that many of us have asked and continue to ask ourselves: "Whose fault is it all?"

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The text:

Until nightfall, until nausea, you think, what should be done?
Bags under your eyes, a mouse in a noose in your fridge.
Whose fault is it all? It’s probably yours.
Someone has to take the rap [responsibility] already, right?

You loved the wrong folk. You sought the wrong ways.
At a party you wrinkled your nose and didn’t finish dessert.
Something like this was bound to happen,
Throwing us back a thousand years.

Let them take me away, let them say it's her,
Let them send me to prison, spit on me and sling mud.
But just let this terrible war stop,
Let it live on only in books — in Cyrillic, in Braille, in frilly fonts.

Let them send me to the back of beyond.
To where hell freezes over, to where nothing ever gets off the ground.
Just let the belligerents stop shooting right now,
Let them all drop off the radar, fizzle out, dissolve.

I’ll be doing time in prison, I’ll be sweeping floors,
And at night, to get to sleep, I’ll look at the flock
Of living, lively children who were saved.
Let them hate me if they will.
But let them grow up.

Source: "'Responsibility.' Chulpan Khamatova, Alya Khaitlina. Last Line Project," Spektr Press (YouTube), 27 January 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. Ms. Khamatova lives in Riga. Ms. Khaitlina, according to her Facebook page, lives in Munich.

This photo of a Petersburg police officer and patrol van is probably from Zaks.ru’s archives, but it’s what they pinned to this article.

Petersburg law enforcement officers interrupted a solo picket of activist Alevtina Vasilyeva, who took up position facing Gostiny Dvor holding a placard featuring a popular pacifist slogan. This was reported by the human rights project OVD Info, which cited her spouse.

The police took Vasilyeva to the 28th police precinct [a few blocks from my house, which I haven’t seen for four years now].

Apparently, the picketer faces a fine for “discrediting the army” (per Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code). The maximum possible [fine for this offense] is 50 thousand rubles.

UPDATE, 3:35 p.m. Vasilyeva was released from the precinct after being cited for “discrediting the army.”

Source: “Female picketer with pacifist placard detained at Gostiny Dvor,” Zaks.ru, 28 January 2023. Translated by An Otherwise Currently Unemployed Translator Who Could Really Use Your Moral and Financial Support Instead of Your Stony Silence

A Little Song about the Physicist Sakharov


A statue of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov was unveiled Monday in St. Petersburg, despite criticism from his widow who said today’s Russia has failed her husband.

The 10 1/2-foot bronze statue depicts the Nobel peace laureate, slightly stooped but with his head held high, standing with hands tied behind his back atop a stone pedestal on a square that was named after him in 1996.

The monument by sculptor Levon Lazarev’s was unveiled a few weeks after a city commission in Moscow gave the green light to a stalled plan for another statue of Sakharov in the capital.

Yelena Bonner was opposed to both statues, saying Russia has failed to live up to Sakharov’s ideals of freedom and democracy since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It is out of place to erect a monument to Sakharov in today’s Russia,″ the Interfax news agency quoted Bonner as saying. She said she was not consulted.

“There’s no money to publish his works widely, so that people would finally read them, but they can put up a monument,″ Bonner told Russia’s TVS television by phone from Boston, where she lives.

The unveiling drew about 100 people, among them intellectuals and former dissidents who supported a transition to democracy at the time of the Soviet collapse.

A physicist who helped design the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Sakharov became a staunch promoter of human rights and world peace, and spent seven years in internal exile for speaking out. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

Source: “Monument to Sakharov Unveiled in Russia,” Associated Press, 5 May 2003


A Little Song about the Physicist Sakharov

The physicist Sakharov
Was one bad dude.
Oh, how he made us seethe!
Why do we suffer that fool?

It later suddenly transpired
That he was a real good cat.
We felt sorry for the poor man
And guiltily ate our hats.

Now it’s been ascertained
That he was bad news after all.
We’re seething once again.
Why did we suffer that fool?

If again it turns out
That he was, in fact, a good egg,
Ah, we'll regret it again,
And put on guilty mugs.

8 August 2022

Source: German Lukomnikov, “New Poems,” Volga 1 (2023). Thanks to ES for the suggestion. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian prosecutors on Monday declared as “undesirable” the U.S.-based foundation that preserves the legacy of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov as Moscow continues to crack down on dissent in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The activities of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation (ASF) “constitute a threat to the foundation of Russia’s constitutional order and security,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.

Under Russian law, individuals believed to have cooperated with an “undesirable” international NGO face steep fines and jail terms.

ASF, based in Springfield, Virginia outside Washington, says its goal is to promote Sakharov’s works to “support peace efforts and anti-war events.”

The organization chaired by mathematician Alexei Semyonov has not yet commented on Russia’s latest designation.

Russian authorities have declared more than 70 organizations — including media outlets focused on exposing fraud and corruption in Russia — “undesirable” between mid-2015 and early 2023.

Sakharov, once feted as a hero of the Soviet defense industry for his role in developing the Soviet nuclear bomb, became one of the U.S.S.R.’s most prominent dissidents from the late 1960s. 

He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his work against the nuclear arms race he had helped precipitate, though he was not permitted to leave the Soviet Union to accept the award.

Sakharov became one of the most distinctive personalities of the perestroika era, rising to the status of a national moral authority.

Arrested in 1980 after denouncing the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Sakharov was sent into internal exile in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, then closed to foreigners.

After six years in exile, during which he undertook several hunger strikes, Sakharov was released over a telephone call by reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Source: “Russia Labels U.S.-Based Sakharov Foundation ‘Undesirable,’” Moscow Times, 24 January 2023

Dmitry Golynko-Volfson, 1969-2023

Dmitry Golynko-Volfson (standing, far right), with Viktor Sosnora’s literary club, in 1987 or 1988.
Photo by Viktor Tikhomirov. Courtesy of Elena Novikova

Mitya and I met in 1987 at Viktor Toporov’s translation seminar at the Leningrad Youth Palace. Translations and all sorts of quasi-literary and professional news were discussed at the beginning of the seminar, while at the end there were readings, first by the novices, then by the old-timers. One day Toporov announced, without a tinge of his usual irony, that a young genius, fourteen–year-old Dmitry Golynko, was about to read. And indeed, a young man, almost a boy, got up and read his own rendering of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which reproduced the meter, stanzaic form, and length of Wilde’s original. Everyone sat listening, their mouths agape. Mitya and I quickly became friends. Mitya also attended Viktor Sosnora’s literary club at the Tsiurupa Recreational Center on the Obvodny Canal. About once a week, Mitya hosted the Sosnorovites at his own home on Bronnitskaya Street. They took turns reading their work and drank tea — Mitya’s mother strictly ensured that there was no alcohol, not a single drop. Thanks to his mother and her friends, who rubbed shoulders with the dissidents, Mitya was a child prodigy and a polyglot, a treasure trove of all sorts of knowledge. He memorized the poems of Gorbanevskaya and Brodsky, not to mention Sosnora. I don’t know whether his own poems from that period have survived, most likely not. But there is a website that contains slightly later pieces, from the late 1980s, and they show that he already wielded an intricate mastery of versification. Sosnora’s training was manifested not only in Mitya’s virtuosic and diverse technique. He also chanted rather than recited poems, and, like his mentor, he subscribed to the tragic model of the damned poet. And he set himself daunting tasks: never content with what he had already done, he consistently sought out new architectonics and fearlessly discarded old forms like spent rocket stages.

In the 1990s, he wrote large complex multipart poems. Enchantingly witty, they featured elements of kitsch and parody, an abundance of neologisms and anachronisms, and a carnival debunking of literary centrism (e.g., “The Tale of the Istanbul Lady Treasurer,” “Sashenka, or A Diary of an Ephemeral Death,” and “Dead Ears, or The Death of Anton Petrovich Shchedrikov-Saltyn”). We could call this his neo-baroque or postmodernist period. Gradually, as the 1990s drew to a close, this baroque harlequinade was adulterated with “cyberpunk”: hi-tech and dystopian subject matter emerged in his poems, while humor and eccentricity yielded to sarcasm. In the early 2000s, Golynko-Wolfson abruptly altered his style: he began producing gloomy serial compositions, ringing the changes on one or two colloquial phrases, sometimes obscene, deploying these “idioms” in an endless monotonous spiral spinning down into nothingness, into the black hole of the Real. Starting with “Elementary Things” (2002), his texts are dominated by an aesthetic of the abject. His poems explore various gradations of alienation and reification (commodification) at the micro-level of human and non–human relations; they are chockablock with cold despair, misanthropy, and often (let’s be honest) misogyny. The latter is a trace of romantic wounds. (Mitya was loved by wonderful young women, but every one of these affairs, of which, I confess, I was a little jealous, ended in a breakup, and Mitya wound up alone.)

Acting the role of the accursed poet at some point ceased to be an act. Friends left the country and died, and his circle of friends fell apart. For some time Mitya was sustained by his academic research, his collaboration with Moscow Art Magazine and other contemporary art periodicals, and the latest philosophical concepts. (He continued to be a polyglot.) But as a poet — as an outstanding poetic innovator who had created not one, but several original poetic systems — he clearly did not receive the recognition he deserved, at least at home in Russia. He was fired from the Institute of Art History, where in 1999 he defended his PhD dissertation, “The Contemporary Russian Post-Avantgarde: Styles, Models, Strategies.” At Borey Gallery, which published his first book Homo scribens (1994), the Petersburg fundamentalists [a right-wing group of writers] had firmly established themselves. The atmosphere in Russia was becoming poisoned. I noticed more and more often that when Mitya spoke or read, the corners of his lips drooped in a disgusted, contemptuous half-smile, and his face was like a mask. He was consumed by an object-oriented disgust, and it was this disgust that fueled his writing. At some point, it turned on him as well. For the last three or four years, he had been slowly killing himself with alcohol. I watched it happened, horrified, realizing that there was nothing I could do. (Once upon a time, when his mother died — and she died young, and Mitya, still very young, was left an orphan — he moved for a while to a communal flat on Rubinstein, provided by a friend, to collect his wits, as they say. One day he telephoned me at the boiler plant where I worked and said that he wanted to make himself eggs sunny side up, but he couldn’t manage it. Couldn’t I come over and help him? I went to the flat, made the fried eggs, and sat with him in the kitchen as he ate them, before quickly returning to my shift. I remember his shaking hands and childish confusion. I will always remember them.)

Dmitry Golynko-Volfson — a poet of metaphysical orphanhood and despair — has left behind a huge legacy. With his departure, a similarly huge hole has formed in Petersburg’s cultural fabric — and in my heart. Goodbye, dear friend, and forgive me.

Source: “In memory of Dmitry Golynko-Volfson (9.12.1969—6.01.2023): Alexander Skidan on the late poet and New Literary Review author,” New Literary Review, 7 January 2022. Translated by Thomas H. Campbell, who met Mitya in 1995 and for several years lived a few doors down from him on Bronnitskaya. His funeral and wake took place earlier today in his hometown of Petersburg. You can read more tributes to him by his fellow poets here (in Russian).

UPDATE: 16 January 2023. Eugene Ostashevsky writes: “For a pdf of Dmitry Golynko’s 2008 UDP book As It Turned Out, please go to https://uglyducklingpresse.org/publicat…/as-it-turned-out/ and click on ‘View Digital Proof.’ The book is bilingual and includes work from the 1990s and the 2000s.”

Down in the Hole

Oleg Grigoriev
Pit

Digging a pit? 
I was.
Fell in the pit?
 I fell.
Down in the pit? 
I am.
Need a ladder? 
I do.
Wet in the pit? 
It's wet.
How's the head? 
Intact.
So you are safe?
I'm safe.
Well, okay then, I'm off!

Original text. Translated by the Russian Reader



Putin last week took part in a meeting with the mothers of soldiers killed in the war in Ukraine. The title “soldiers’ mother” carries a lot of influence in Russia — and Putin was famously humiliated by a group of soldiers’ relatives in his early years as president. Unsurprisingly, Friday’s meeting included only those trusted to meet Putin and the gathering passed off without awkward questions. Putin — who now rarely communicates with anyone outside of his inner circle — once again demonstrated a complete detachment from reality.

  • The Russian authorities have been nervous of organizations of soldiers’ mothers since the mid-1990s. During the first Chechen war (1994-1996), in which the Russian army was humiliated, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers was one of the country’s leading anti-war forces and held the state and the military to account.
  • For Putin personally, any encounter with soldiers’ mothers stirs unhappy memories of one of the most dramatic incidents of his first year in the Kremlin. In August 2000, the inexperienced president was subjected to a grilling by the wives and mothers of sailors who died in the Kursk submarine disaster. The transcript of the meeting immediately appeared in the press and a recording was played on Channel One, which was then owned by Kremlin eminence grise Boris Berezovsky. Presenter Sergei Dorenko subsequently claimed that, after the broadcast, Putin called the channel and yelled that the widows were not genuine and that Berezovsky’s colleagues “hired whores for $10.” Ever since that encounter, the Russian president has avoided in-person meetings, favoring stage-managed gatherings with hand-picked members of the public.
  • This time, of course, there were no surprises. The Kremlin carefully selected the soldiers’ mothers who were invited to attend. At least half of those at the meeting turned out to be activists from the ruling United Russia party and members of pro-Kremlin organizations. 
  • The most striking speech at the event was close to parody. It was given by Nina Pshenichkina, a woman from Ukraine’s Luhansk Region whose son was killed in 2019. Pshenchkina later became a member of the Public Chamber of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic and has attended almost every official funeral and official celebration. She told Putin that her son’s last words were: “Let’s go, lads, let’s crop some dill” (in this context, “dill” is an insulting nickname for Ukrainians).
  • Putin’s speech was also striking. First, he told the assembled mothers that Ukrainians were Nazis because they kill mobilized Russians soldiers who did not wish to serve on the front line. Then he embarked on a long, strange discussion about why we should be proud of the dead. “We are all mortal, we all live beneath God and at some point we will all leave this world. It’s inevitable. The question is how we live… after all, how some people live or don’t live, it’s not clear. How they get away from vodka, or something. And then they got away and lived, or did not live, imperceptibly. But your son lived. And he achieved something. This means he did not live his life in vain,” he said to one of the mothers.

Why the world should care

It would be an error to assume that Putin has completely abandoned rational thought. However, it is instructive to watch him at meetings like this, which provide a window onto the sort of information he consumes. At this meeting with fake soldiers’ mothers he quoted fake reports from his Defense Ministry and, seemingly, took it all seriously.

Source: The Bell & The Moscow Times email newsletter, 28 November 2022. Written by Peter Mironenko, translated by Andy Potts, and edited by Howard Amos. Photo, above, by the Russian Reader

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

Victor in Broad Daylight

Victor in broad daylight.

My roommate Victor is a completely unique person. He is sixty-seven years old and an absolute image of our Soviet life from the 1970s to the 2010s, with all the paradoxes peculiar to the time. He is a fervent [Russian Orthodox] believer and yet he believes everything said on the radio about the atrocities committed the Ukrainian army. On the other hand, he is perplexed how military operations were launched without consultations. Victor worked as a driver, but also played music in bands. He knows all the western groups of the 70s and all the stars in both the West and Russia. He has seen every Soviet film and remembers all the scenes, all the actors, all the songs. A lot of happy memories are consolidated in him, as well as a lot of regrets about the past. Basically, he’s a typical chip off the old Soviet block. In him you have the songs, you have Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones and Alla Pugacheva and Eldar Ryazanov and [Leonid] Gaidai and Muslim Magomayev and everyone else, down to the last detail. You might say that he and I are living in the USSR from Khrushchev to Putin. It’s funny, but interesting. It’s Russia.

Source: Anatoly Zaslavsky, Facebook, 5 August 2022. Mr. Zaslavsky is a well-known Petersburg painter currently undergoing treatment at the city’s Botkin Hospital. Victor is his roommate at the hospital and has already featured in earlier social media dispatches. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

The folding seats clapped,
The October’s curtains came down.
The rider finally galloped
Off toward the radiant dawn,

Faded show bills on the wall,
Blue ticket stubs on the floor.
Dusk on Nevsky had almost fallen
As we came out on the corner.

The jeans were Polish, the beret a sham.
Wow, we had enough for Kagor.
We had to live. Return bottles and pass exams.
To live and live till we got to here.

5 August 22

Source: Vadim Zhuk, Facebook, 5 August 2022. Mr. Zhuk is is a well-known Russian actor, screenwriter, TV presenter, and poet, whose poem “A Skeleton in the Closet” was published here last month. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

On March 18, Irina Gen, a teacher of English in Penza, made an anti-war speech to her eighth-graders while explaining why they would not be able to travel to competitions in the Czech Republic. She told them about the shelling of the maternity hospital in Mariupol and the downed Boeing. One of the pupils recorded the teacher’s speech on a dictaphone and sent the recording to the security forces. A criminal case was opened against Gen ten days later. Today she was sentenced to five years of probation with a ban on teaching for three years. She had [originally] pleaded not guilty.

Source: Dmitry Tkachev, Facebook, 4 August 2022. Mr. Tkachev cites, in the comments, this article about Ms. Gen’s case, published in Mediazona the same day. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ramil Niyazov: This War Didn’t Begin Only Eight Years Ago

Ramil Niyazov, protesting next to the Abai Qunanbaiuly monument in Almaty in July 2019 with a placard that reads, “‘Glasnost exposes the paltriness of authoritarianism,’ N. Nazarbayev, 1987.” Photo courtesy of Vlast (Kazakhstan)

What, for so many centuries, has your soul been seeking here, Rusich? / You have so much land that you cannot embrace it all.

My heart has grown rooted to these bare gorges and cliffs. / So why have you come here to die again?

Khas-Magomed Hadjimuradov, “New Year’s Eve in Grozny” (1999)

You can point to various dates: fourteen years ago, when Russia invaded Georgia; twenty-eight years ago, when Moscow went to war in Grozny; thirty-one years ago, when the Kremlin got involved in the conflict in Moldova. Or we could quote Timur Mutsurаyev, who sang that “We’ve been three hundred years at war with Russia…” This would also be true, though that is a whole other story, of course. But for me, a person known in Russia as a khach and a churok [common Russian racial slurs for Central Asian, Caucasian, and dark-skinned people], it makes the most sense to say, “Dear Russians, welcome to New Year’s Eve in Grozny! We’ve been waiting for you. It’ll last forever for you, until it ends. And it’ll definitely end soon, and then it will be a New Year.

What is this “New Year’s Eve in Grozny” on a symbolic level? It’s not just a tragedy. It’s the beginning of History, which, according to Francis Fukuyama, was supposed to have ended already. The tragicomedy is that the “end of history” didn’t occur in 2001. It occurred—as we can see now—in 1995, with the start of the First Chechen War, which painfully resembles the one underway right now in Ukraine. For examples, see here, here, and here, as well as this, of course:

“Grozny. Aleppo. Mariupol. Kharkiv. Fascists Z Murderers.” Image courtesy of Radio Svoboda

But why was the continuation of the Russian Federation’s terrible, bloody, and inhumane war against its former colonies on February 24, 2022, such a shock for me, a Kazakhstani and, I’m sure, for many of you?

The simplest and most correct answer lies in the fact that its previous phases did not affect us. It all happened (I have in mind primarily the Chechen Wars) somewhere else, and involved non-white Muslims, gangsters, and terrorists. It was Russia’s internal affair, to which all so-called progressive humanity more or less gave its blessing. Well and what do you expect? It would hardly have befitted the US, after the Gulf War and in the midst of bombing Iraq, to stand up for Muslim Chechnya. But not everyone let Russia off the hook and forgot about this. The first foreign volunteers in unrecognized Ichkeria were, in fact, not Arabs or Afghanis but Ukrainians (see the interview with Aleksandr Muzychko, a.k.a. Sashko Bily). But even I (as, again, a Kazakhstani) thought before February 24 that if Russia were ever going to change, it would be due to civil war rather than military defeat. And so much more terrifying is the irony in the fact that people who previously didn’t care about the fate of Chechnya massively reposted an interview with [Dzhokhar Dudayev], the first president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, in which he predicted this war with Ukraine a full twenty-seven years ago.

But the reasons that prompted me to write this text have nothing to do with a foreigner’s apparent decolonial attack against white masters, one full of ressentiment along the lines of “Did you really think that the slaughter in Bucha wouldn’t happen after the ‘mopping-up’ (this term actually first came into use then) in the village of Novye Aldy? Did you really think there wouldn’t be a strike on the Kramatorsk train station after the missile strike on the Grozny central market? Did you really think that Russian soldiers wouldn’t commit war crimes if, after two wars in Ichkeria, only two people were convicted of war crimes—Budanov and Lapin? If all the people who gathered evidence and conducted investigations (Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, and Stanislav Markelov) were murdered, all three of them?”

No, not at all. First and foremost, I want to repeat for everyone in Central Asia, the Baltics, the North Caucasus, and Eastern Europe who hasn’t yet understood it (and there are fewer and fewer of these people with every passing day): our life didn’t just change into a “before” and “after” on February 24. Those thirty years since the collapse of the USSR took shape as History. That whole viscous, formless time—in which we had led our private lives, built nation-states, felt that we were, as Sergei Timofeev’s poem has it, “the underbelly of Europe” (or Asia), and watched wars in the Middle East—that whole time the History of the post-Soviet space had been going on outside of our private lives. Every attack by Russian officials on various minorities and every minute of propaganda TV broadcasts (as we all found out after the war was continued) were not just a way of consolidating the electorate of Russia’s ruling party, which allegedly had no ideology. No, they were all drops in the ocean of Russism, as Dzhokhar Dudayev called it, something with which we all collided on February 24, 2022. For thirty-one years it had been growing and maturing, and all of our hopes (including my own) for decolonizing Russian and Russia without a military defeat in a monstrous war, were lost. Future historians will describe this time as “the years of Russism and the struggle against it.” While we thought we had been living in an era of local conflicts, nation-states, and gradual democratization!

I thus declare with confidence that the most decolonial (in all senses) decision right now for everyone, for the whole world, is to completely support Ukraine. Because if it’s permitted to bomb even white Christian Europe, then it’s okay to “not sweat it” like China with the Uyghurs and just build concentration camps in downtown Paris. For anyone you want.

To sum up, I want to quote a poem by the Soviet poet Vladimir Burich, who was born in Kharkiv (cruel irony)—a poem we can all feel right now with our whole bodies:

The world is filling up with

postwar people

postwar things

among my letters I found

a bar of prewar soap

I didn’t know what to do

wash

cry

The prewar era is 

a lost Atlantis 

And we

the miraculous survivors

Our prewar era has truly gone under, and we are its last witnesses. Just as the Second World War turned the Great War into the First World War, the thirty-one years between the collapse of the USSR and the bombing of Kyiv on February 24, 2022, have crystalized. Our political philosophy, historiography, and humanities will change. Our whole understanding of social reality will change, whether we want it to or not. History, as is still often the case, is unfolding before our very eyes. Better not blink and miss it.

Source: Ramil Niyazov-Adyldzhyan, “This War Didn’t Start Eight Years Ago,” Sibir.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 8 July 2022. Mr. Niyazov is a Kazakhstani poet. Translated by the Fabulous AM

A Skeleton in the Closet

Anton Balazh, Kuznechny Lane (Leningrad), 1988-1990. Courtesy of Vladimir Golbraikh

When it rumbled and rattled,
And the soup in the pot bounced on the table,
He jumped up, and then crumbled.
The toys turned their faces straightaway—
It was not their toyish business.
He climbed into the closet.
He lay inside it and slept.
Then he woke, wailed a bit and wept,
Nibbled at the mushy potatoes on the floor,
And grabbing the blue dog,
Went back into the closet.
He was not long for this world.
Someday they’ll find his skeleton
Among the moldering blazers and skirts.
Those who find it might laugh—
A skeleton in the closet! But no one will laugh.
They will remove this little skeleton,
Clutching the colorless dog,
And carry it out into the terrible white world.

30 June 2022

Source: Vadim Zhuk, Facebook, 30 June 2022. Thanks to PZ for the heads-up. Vadim Zhuk (born 1947) is a well-known Russian actor, screenwriter, TV presenter, and poet. Translated by the Russian Reader

Pleased to Meat You

Dana Sideros

In English lessons at school
it was dictations that scared me most
because I would mix up meet and meat,
ship and sheep, chick and cheek.

I would write
The ship eats green grass.
The big sheep goes to sea at dawn.
I like this fried meet.
Grandma’s cheeks are yellow and funny.

If a native speaker hears you,
one of the teachers told us,
if a native speaker hears you,
they’ll find it painful, and you’ll be embarrassed.

My English has grown a bit since then,
but it is still hamstrung and stunted.

On an island in the middle of the ocean
My clumsy English and I
chatted once with a hostel mate, a Chinese woman.
She told me she had traveled by bus
through Texas, Louisiana, and Florida,
but then in Florida, in Miami,
homesickness had caught up with her,
because she did not find a Chinatown there.
Her story was exactly the same as mine.
I had traveled the same route,
and for some reason it was in Miami,
a city of dancing in the streets, beaches, cocktails, happiness, and sunshine,
where I’d also felt like going home
to the dirty gloom of Moscow in November.

But earlier, on the outskirts of Orlando,
my poor English and I
told a homeless guy,
sitting on the sidewalk in a bad neighborhood,
that my country
had, a year earlier, attacked its neighbor
and taken away the island of Cream
(I still don’t remember the word for “semi-island.”)
People always thinking up some shit, he nodded,
vaguely motioning
towards a better neighborhood.

My lopsided English and I
bought a summer dress
(baby, why do you hide your figure),
looked for a laundromat
(I had to wash my clothes),
explained the rules of a board game
(and then these guys die and go home the same way).

Language wasn’t the problem, it turned out.
I, a native speaker of Russian,
hear native speakers of Russian,
and all the words are muddled.
But my clumsy Russian and I
don’t despair — we memorize words
and phrases that come in handy in conversation.

If someone slaps you,
turn the other chick.
Pleased to meat you.

Source: Dana Sideros, Facebook, 26 June 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. Dana Sideros is a Russian playwright and poet, currently living in Portugal. The photo of her, above, is by Slava Kovalevich.

Bir sum, bir som, bir manat

They brandish sabers and dig themselves trenches in the Caucasus,
they stride out on the balcony half-naked to admire the sunset,
they are lermontovs duelling on mount mashuks
and putins trading rubles for soms and manats,
they are an endless mishmash of Dostoevsky and ant, fancying themselves the universe’s biggest riddle,
they are a plague posing as a wacky mixup and a joke,
they are you, they are them, they are all of you, and — may you croak, you reptiles

Source: Yuri Leiderman, Facebook, 30 May 2022. Thanks to him for his kind permission to translate and publish his poem, which he says was inspired by this Facebook post, an “explainer” for Russians traveling to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, to secure non-Russian bank cards (and thus be able to pay for services outside of Russia, whose payments and bank system has mostly been severed from the rest of the world). The author includes recommendations for “cultural fun” along with detailed advice on how to secure the desiderata. Images courtesy of Wikipedia. A commenter (on Mr. Leiderman’s Facebook page) wrote that the explainer “reeked of cannibalism.” Translated by the Russian Reader