Our Blood Is Wine

Earlier this afternoon, my dog was feeling “agitated,” as she put it, so she asked me to lie down on the couch with her and watch this doco. Emily Railsback’s Our Blood Is Wine is unpretentiously lovely and informative and reassuring. It’s a treat for people like me who love Georgian wine, food, music, cinema and culture. You should watch it too, especially if you know nothing about Georgia. See below for a hint on signing up to the streaming service I watched it on. NB. This is not a paid endorsement of this service. ||| TRR

Our Blood is Wine
A Film by Emily Railsback

“Embraces both its subjects and the audience in a kind of cultural exchange that you rarely find.”
—Third Coast Review

Filmmaker Emily Railsback and award-winning sommelier Jeremy Quinn provide intimate access to rural family life in the Republic of Georgia as they explore the rebirth of 8,000-year-old winemaking traditions almost lost during the period of Soviet rule.

By using unobtrusive iPhone technology, Railsback brings the voices and ancestral legacies of modern Georgians directly to the viewer, revealing an intricate and resilient society that has survived regular foreign invasion and repeated attempts to erase Georgian culture. The revival of traditional winemaking is the central force driving this powerful, independent and autonomous nation to find its 21st century identity.

Source: Ovid Email Newsletter, 19 November 2021

Give the gift of OVID and your friends and family will be able to watch over 1,300 documentaries and films from around the world! From now until December 18th, get 50% off – just enter the promo code JOYFUL at checkout.
Purchase now: https://misc.ovid.tv/gift.html

Source: Facebook

The Post-Soviet Imaginary

“Tashkent 1930,” reads the caption in the original posting of this photo on Facebook. The girls are wearing shirts bearing the (Latin) abbreviation “UzSSR” (Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic). The cotton boll emblem on their shirts suggests they might be headed for the cotton fields as “voluntary” pickers, an abusive practice that is still common there. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up.
Anatoly Belkin, “Persimmon Vendor,” Imperial Porcelain Factory. Posted on Facebook by Andrei Yerokhin. Thanks to Sergei Damberg for the heads-up. Despite this figurine’s “old timey” (Soviet) appearance, underscored by the “Ovoshchprodtorg No. 17” (“Vegetable Retail Organization No. 17”) logo  on the stand, a commenter claims the work is by a modern artist.

The Cardiff Album

These are two of my favorite snapshots. I’m pictured here with the phenomenally brilliant Babi Badalov at the opening of his show The Cardiff Album at the Freud Museum of Dreams in Petersburg on November 3, 2008. The pictures were taken by the equally phenomenal Sergey Chernov. Below the second photo is the intro I wrote for the show. ||| TRR

Born in Lerik, Azerbaijan, in 1959, Babi (Babakhan) Badalov is a living embodiment of cosmopolitanism’s dark and spontaneously convivial underbelly. In his world, people do not travel from one country to another with polished ease, flashing their passports to the guards as they pass effortlessly through frontiers and effecting the shift from one language to another with fluency and grace. On the contrary, when you are a refugee, exile, migrant worker or itinerant artist, you manage these transitions as best you can, mangling the new idioms you learn and fusing them with half-remembered tongues you picked up along the way, mingling them with memories of a mother tongue that never matured into adulthood because at a tender age you left your mountain village for the capitals, where encounters with countrymen were few and furtive and somewhat beside the point. In the provincial capital, you learned the official language of artificial nationhood along with the (un)official language of the anti-imperial empire, neither of them your own, both of them suspicious (of you and of themselves). This was violence to be sure, but you turned this violence back upon itself, never fully learning any of these codes well enough to pass for a native. Nativity, after all, is naïveté, an identification both outwardly enforced and grimly self-willed. For an artist, whether of life or the brush, submitting to too many of these identity checks means submitting to kitsch and cliché.

Of course you submit to these as well—you cannot help but submit: you are an artist, not a fighter—but when you succumb you always go too far, giving the lie to the endlessly tautological chains of self-identity that pass for human speech, which, as Lacan and others tell us, is the inhuman machinery that undergirds and overdetermines our visibly silly search for selfhood. You do not need Lacan to tell you this, though, because you are confronted daily with its external effects, masked as real people in real lifeworlds, who are kind or cruel or indifferent but rarely anything other than language machines. In your poems, you disassemble these machines, heap their parts into great, disorderly piles, and then begin putting them back together in defiance of common sense and good taste and the rules of art. It is worse than that. You get the words all wrong: you pronounce them with the wrong accent; you confuse tenses, case endings, conjugations, and registers. You use, illicitly, the Latin alphabet when you write in Russian, and most of your Russian texts are chockablock with English. When you declaim your poems, whether aloud, in a smoke-filled room crowded with alcoholic crypto-nationalists, or with paste and scissors, as in your collages, it is hard not to escape the impression that a faulty robot has arrived from the island of misfit toys to tell us something we would rather not hear—that all our projects of empire- and nation-building have failed.

Your art is political, personal and politically (in)correct. This is what Adorno meant by the autonomy of art, but if he had met you he probably would have turned away in horror, as he did when his well-meaning German students enjoined him to join them on the barricades.

You ask us to join you on the barricades, but what does solidarity look like from there? It looks like this. For years, you live in wretched conditions in a magnificent squat in the middle of Petersburg. Outside, in the square, stands a monument to the greatest African-American poet of them all, Alexander Pushkin. Your comrades-in-arms are artistic scapegrace outlaws, and their ambitiously unambitious version of conviviality will finally lead to their tiny island’s recuperation by the new powers that be, for whom art is just window dressing for real estate and financial speculation. So when this experiment in direct democracy goes awry, you are induced by your family to return to your “homeland” of Azerbaijan and live the straight life. This is almost too much for me to imagine: for me you are the gayest man on the planet, in all senses of the word. When this becomes unbearable, you use the second half of a double-entry visa to make your way to England, that green and pleasant land that would have been a much duller place throughout its history without adventurers like you.

But you plan this particular adventure all wrong, just as you write poetry the wrong way. You declare asylum as soon as you arrive, but in the New Labour UK—in the midst of a war on terror that has also opened a front running straight down the middle of the country—you are treated both as a potential combatant and an obscure object of bureaucratic desire. At the first asylum center (prison) to which they send you, a riot—complete with helicopters, media coverage, and armored police—breaks out. When you tell the story later, it is quite funny, though of course there is nothing funny about it. After a grand tour of Britain with brief sojourns in another few such oases, your case is officially accepted for review and you are dispatched to Cardiff, where you are given a tiny stipend and a council flat. It is all very civil, except for the weekly check-ins with the UK Border Agency, the more or less constant threat of deportation, and the grinding poverty. That does not faze you, however; or rather it does, but you turn that fazing into art. What kind of art? Dolls made from scraps of fabric; dogs fashioned from Wellington boots; and “visual poems” patched together from clippings and other printed detritus, embroidered with whorls of off-kilter, ham-fisted linguistic ravings, and asylumed on the pages of an old photo album you pick out of a rubbish bin.

This is the Cardiff Album, the diary of your journey through the underside of UK immigration policy. You are the Persian Ambassador (a role you played at an evening in solidarity with Salman Rushdie held in the former Persian embassy in Petersburg in 1995), but the marvels you record on your visits to strange lands look like nothing so much as the end of history having its revenge on the last romantics. Your ambassadorial credentials are recognized only by a ragtag band of Welsh anarchists who make your case their cause célèbre, even though you are a celebrity only in the minds of the people you have stitched together in your wanderings and in “alternative” Azeri news outlets starved for news. When it looks certain that you will be deported, the first half of this inoperative community begins bombarding bureaucrats, parliamentarians, and airline officials with faxes, letters, and e-mails. I have not seen you in years, but I would rather not see you again in such circumstances, so I spend half an hour on the phone telling a Pakistani (or was he Bangladeshi?) call center operator that he should not be party to this horrible crime against human freedom that his airline is about to commit. I tell him to get up from his desk and leave work. What right did I have to tell him that? Rights are not given, they are taken. (Did Bakunin say that? Or was it Kropotkin? Or perhaps it was Gorky? Or maybe no one said it?)

Much as I would rather not seen you again, see you I do a couple days after my stupid conversation with your cleverer immigrant non-brother. You and I have nothing in common, just as no one really has anything in common with anyone else. It is too bad that more people do not realize this sad, happy fact. If more people did, they might actually be able to begin making something in common.

NB. The full Russian version of this text was published in Viktor Mazin, ed., Kabinet Iu: Kartiny mira III (Saint Petersburg: Skifiya, 2010). An abridged English version was published in Babi Badalov, Menilmontant Book (Murcia, Spain: Manifesta 8 & transit.cz, 2010). The Cardiff Album was exhibited in full at the Freud Museum of Dreams (Saint Petersburg) in November–December 2008. Parts of the album have also been exhibited in the group shows Monument to Transformation (City Gallery Prague, 2009); On Geekdom (Benaki Museum, Athens, 2007); Progressive Nostalgia (Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, 2007); and The Return of Memory (Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, 2007).

Source: Chtodelat.org

Kacia Karpickaja: A Month in a Minsk Jail

Kacia Karpickaja, courtesy of her Facebook page

Yulya Tsimafeyeva
Facebook
September 18, 2021

Belarusian actress and journalist Kacia Karpickaja spent a month in the detention center in Akrescina street. She has been recently released. Here is her story of how innocent women (about the “crimes” of her cellmates you can read in the end of the posting) are tortured just in these very minutes. I translated her story into English. If you want to share it, please, copy the English text as you could share only the Belarusian variant.

“I am breaking a month of my forced silence that I have spent at Akrescina (pre-trial detention center) with this funny photo. For the sake of additional security, this fact was not reported anywhere.

Why I was taken to the pre-trial detention center is a story for another Facebook post, and in this, I would just like to remind you that along with our political prisoners, people at Akrescina are still being tortured. 30 days there in today’s conditions was enough for me to come out with a bunch of new diseases — from pharyngotracheitis to cystitis and COVID (by the way, it was the vaccination that helped me to overcome the latter quite easily compared to my cellmates). And people spend there up to 60 days or more, depending on how many detention reports the officials would make up for them.

They are in insanitary conditions — they are never taken to the shower and are not even given toothbrushes. Sometimes you have to beg for centimeters of toilet paper.

They are not taken for walks for months (the air could only penetrate to our cell №15 from the corridor through the “feeding trough”, but all the time it was intentionally closed).

They stay there without mattresses (mouldy bread served us as a pillow, it would still be possible to sleep on the bare floor or a bunk bed, but the nights had been wildly cold for a long time – even hugging each other and holding a bottle of hot water between the legs we could not stop trembling. Our nights were full of exercises – squats, push-ups, planking – they helped us to warm up and fall asleep).

They have no dreams (at 2 and 4 am we were waken up to the roll call; there is no need to remind about a bright artificial lighting that is on day and night).

They are not given parcels from relatives (many women were taken from work or their dachas in skirts, dresses, and at night they had to lay on the cold floor until one of those who were to be released soon, took off her sweatshirts or pants or socks and passed to them. The toothbrush I inherited had been used by five people before me <…>).

They are half hungry (I had to pay more than 400 rubles (about 150 euros) for a month of detention, and for the money I had received an empty soup a liquid with a couple of potatoes and potato peels, mouldy bread and half a cup of tea or thin jelly two times a day. How these portions can refresh our men, I can’t imagine).

They are there without adequate medical care (in the cell №15 meant for two at most 20 women were kept – in the cold and stuffy air they all quickly began to get sick. All of them were attacked by coronavirus, which, like other diseases, was treated with paracetamol. Without any ability to move around the cell 3 by 4 meters in area, with poor nutrition all abruptly stopped going to the toilet. Sorry for these details, but in 30 days I was able to poo only three times).

They are kept there like guinea pigs. It even feels creepy to tell you how grown-up women and men, the detention center employees, are thrilled to watch in the peepholes and cameras how we cope with a new experiment invented by them. First, they put lice-ridden Alla Ilinishna and Marinka to our cell and waited that we should start being hysterical. But we found common ground with them, and a few days later, it were the guards who were “hysterical” and had to take so-called marginals from our cell to “roast”, because the situation was close to the epidemic of pediculosis. The staff was very worried about the state of their uniforms — they had to to toss our cell two times a day and fan us out, and it was so easy to catch at least a few insects.

Then another Marina was housed with us — she had intestinal disorders, she was all in shit, and in ulcers that flowed with blood, in the fungus. And she had a severe withdrawal syndrome. The detention-center staff were watching and expecting us to fail. But we just started washing Marinka over the hole in the floor and begged the nurse to give us antiseptic green dye to treat her wounds. We were forbidden to sit and sleep, we were insulted, but we didn’t stop joking and our laughter was heard from the cameras – all this was very annoying to the detention center staff.

I have some more things to remind, but I will describe all the tortures and crimes against Belarusians in detail in complaints to the authorities (although they will later say that these facts have not been confirmed, Azaronka (a notorious propagandist on the state TV) liked Akrescina). But for now, let me just briefly remind you what for so called delinquents in Belarus are tortured:

– For going out in a red dress with a white cape.
– For coming to support Maria Kalesnikava’s dad in the court (they wrote in the report “I wanted to release Maria Kalesnikava”).
– For bringing a flower to the place of Taraikouski’s murder.
– For messaging a news article from “extremist” telegram channels to her husband.
– For filming a demonstration in Lošitsa (district of Minsk).
– For telling a soldier “We will win”.
– For reading books by Belarusian writers on the train.
– For being not wanted by the new authorities of the Academy of Public Administration under the Aegis of the President of the Republic of Belarus.
– For chatting with Lebiadziny (district of Minsk) neighbors.
– For returning from France, where she married a Frenchman.
– For working in “Korpus” (an independent cultural venue), and when GUBAZIK came there, she “disobeyed” them (in fact, of course not).
– For being an IT-specialist who can know cyberpartisans.”

Kacia Karpickaja
Facebook
September 18, 2021

Гэтым вясёлым фота перарываю свой вымушаны месяц маўчання, які правяла на Акрэсціна. У мэтах дадатковай бяспекі факт гэты спецыяльна асабліва нідзе не афішаваўся.

Як я трапіла ў ЦІП – гісторыя на асобны пост, а ў гэтым я проста хацела б нагадаць, што разам з палітзняволенымі па крыміналцы нашых працягваюць катаваць на Акрэсціна. 30 сутак там у сённяшніх умовах мне хапіла, каб выйсці з букетам новых хвароб – ад фарынгатрахеіту да цыстыту і кароны (дарэчы, менавіта прышчэпка дапамагла перанесці апошняе досыць лёгка ў параўнанні з маімі сукамерніцамі). А людзі сядзяць там па 60 сутак і больш, у залежнасці ад таго, колькі пратаколаў ім захочуць накінуць.

Сядзяць у антысанітарыі – іх ніколі не водзяць у душ і не выдаюць нават шчотак з асаблівых рэчаў. Туалетную паперу часам прыходзілася выбіваць па сантыметры.

Сядзяць месяцамі без шпацыроў (паветра ў камеру №15 магло паступаць да нас толькі з калідора праз “кармушку”, але яе спецыяльна ўвесь час зачынялі).

Сядзяць без матрацаў (падушкай нам служыў спляснелы хлеб, а на голай падлозе ці шконцы спаць было б яшчэ магчыма, але ночы даўно дзіка халодныя – нават абдымаючы адна адну і заціскаючы паміж ног бутэльку з гарачай вадой мы не маглі супакоіць дрыжыкі. Ночы ператвараліся ў цыкл фізічных практыкаванняў – прысядаць, паадціскацца, пастаяць у планцы – неяк пагрэцца і заснуць).

Сядзяць без сноў (у два і чатыры ночы нас падымалі на пераклічкі; пра тое, што там суткамі гарыць яркае штучнае асвятленне, і нагадваць не трэба).

Сядзяць без перадач (многіх жанчын забіралі з працы ці лецішч у спадніцах, сукенках, і яны так і ляжалі начамі на халоднай падлозе, пакуль нехта з тых, хто выходзіў на волю, не здымаў з сябе байку ці трусы-шкарпэткі. Шчоткай, якая ў спадчыну дасталася мне, карысталася яшчэ чалавек пяць да гэтага, здаецца. А ў майцы хадзіла сама маці “Хлопотного дельца”).

Сядзяць на палову галодныя (за месяц харчавання я мусіла заплаціць больш 400 рублёў (каля 150 еўра), і за гэтыя грошы на абед атрымлівала пусты суп – вадкасць з парай бульбін і лупінай ад яе, спляснелы хлеб і два кубкі гарбаты ці кісель, якія запаўнялі толькі палову кубка. Як мясцовых порцый хапае нашым хлопцам, я не ўяўляю).

Сядзяць без адэкватнай медыцынскай дапамогі (у пікавы момант у двухмеснай камеры №15 утрымлівалася 20 жанчын – у холадзе і духаце ўсе хутка пачыналі хварэць. Усіх атакоўваў каранавірус, які, як і іншыя хваробы, лечыцца там з большага парацатамолам. Без магчымасці рухацца ў хаце 3 на 4 метры, з дрэнным харчаваннем усе рэзка пераставалі хадзіць у туалет. Ужо прабачце за падрабязнасці, але за 30 сутак я змагла зрабіць гэта толькі тры разы).

Сядзяць як паддоследныя. Мне нават неяк не па сабе расказваць, як дарослыя цёткі і дзядзькі з ЦІП кайфуюць, назіраючы ў вочкі і камеры за тым, як мы будзем змагацца з новым прыдуманым выпрабаваннем. Спачатку да вас падсяляюць Аллу Ільінішну і Марынку з вошамі, чакаючы, што ў вас пачнецца істэрыка. Але мы знаходзім з імі агульную мову, і праз некалькі дзён “істэрыка” здараецца ў дзяжурных, якія ўсё ж вядуць так званых маргіналаў з нашых камер на “пражарку”, бо сітуацыя блізкая да эпідэміі педыкулёзу. Супрацоўнікі вельмі перажываюць за стан сваёй формы – яны вымушаныя два разы на суткі праводзіць шмон у нашых камерах і прашчупваць нас, а так лёгка падчапіць як мінімум адзежных насякомых.

Пасля да вас падсяляюць новую Марыну – у яе расстройства кішэчніка, яна ўся ў гаўне, а яшчэ ў язвах, якія сцякаюць крывёю, у грыбку. А яшчэ ў яе жорсткі абстынентны сіндром. Супрацоўнікі ЦІП назіраюць і чакаюць, што мы сарвемся.

Але мы проста бяром і пачынам мыць Марынку над дзіркай у падлозе і выбіваем у медсупрацоўніка зялёнку, каб апрацаваць яе раны. Нам забраняюць сядзець і спаць, абражаюць, але мы працягваем жартаваць і з камер чуецца смех – усё гэта вельмі раздражняе супрацоўнікаў ЦІП.

Мне ёсць яшчэ што згадаць, але больш падрабязна я апішу ўсе катаванні і прамыя злачынствы ў дачыненні да беларусаў у скаргах у дзяржустановы (хоць яны пасля і скажуць, што дадзеныя факты не пацвердзіліся, Азаронку ж у нас падабалася). Але пакуль проста коратка нагадаю, за што ў Беларусі так здекуюцца з людзей у статусе правапарушальнікаў:

-Была на вуліцы ў чырвонай сукенцы з белай накідкай.
-Прыйшла падтрымаць тату Марыі Калеснікавай на суд (у пратаколе напісалі “хацела вызваліць Марыю Калеснікаву”).
-Прынесла кветку да месца забойства Тарайкоўскага.
-Пераслала мужу ў асабістыя навіны з “экстрэмісцкіх” тэлеграм-каналаў.
-Зняла на відэа дваравы марш у Лошыцы.
-Сказала вайскоўцу “Наша возьме”.
-Чытала ў электрычцы кніжкі беларускіх пісьменнікаў.
-Была непажаданай новаму кіраўніцтву Акадэміі кіравання.
-Перапісвалася ў чаце Лебядзінага з суседзямі.
-Вярнулася з Францыі, дзе выйшла замуж за француза.
-Працавала ў “Корпусе”, а калі туды прыехаў ГУБАЗІК, “аказала” ім непадпарадкаванне (насамрэч, вядома, не).
-Айцішніца, якая можа ведаць кіберпартызанаў.

“Joking Is Not a Crime”: Standing Up for Stand-Up Comedy in Russia

“Idrak is not the enemy”: stand-up comedians of different ethnicities support Idrak Mirzalizade, jailed for a joke about ethnic Russians
Novaya Gazeta
13 August 2021

Russian stand-up comedians Garik Oganesyan, Mikhail Shats, Danila Pererechny, Ilya Sobolev, Alexei Smirnov, Timur Karginov, Ruslan Bely, Slava Komissarenko, Alexei Shcherbakov, Garik Hovhannisyan and others have released a video in support of their colleague Idrak Mirzalizade, who has been jailed for ten days for joking about renting an apartment and ethnic Russians.

“There is a punishment for a comedian: if he tells an unfunny joke, no one laughs at that moment. But you can’t deprive people of their freedom for a joke. […] Being jailed for jokes is the penultimate step before being jailed for scientific theories. The ten days [in jail] that the court imposed on [Mirzalizade] is not a terrible punishment, but a very terrible precedent that says that it will now be officially possible to jail or punish someone for making joke. […] Today it’s us, tomorrow it’s you,” the stand-up comedians say in the video.

“Joking is not a crime”: #IdrakIsNotTheEnemy: the YouTube video released on August 13 by Russian comedians in solidarity with Idrak Mirzalizade, jailed for ten days on August 9 for insulting ethnic Russians

Among those who have stood up for Mirzalizade are his colleagues of different ethnicities: Russians, Armenians, Ossetians, Jews, and Yakuts. And yet Idrak himself has been jailed for “inciting hatred or enmity,” punishable under Article 20.3.1 of the Administrative Offenses Code.

On August 9, the Taganka District Court in Moscow jailed Mirzalizade for ten days for a joke about a mattress stained by ethnic Russians. He pleaded not guilty to inciting ethnic hatred. “The performance was humorous and was meant to ridicule xenophobia, in fact,” the comedian said. According to him, people of different ethnicities were present in the audience during his stand-up routine and they understood that the joke was directed against xenophobia. On appeal, the court refused to repeal the jail sentence.

The prosecutor’s office announced on July 30 that it had found “signs of humiliation of a group of persons singled out on an ethnic basis, as well as propaganda of their inferiority” in Mirzalizade’s joke about a mattress that ethnic Russian tenants had stained with feces. In the joke, the comedian is outraged that an ethnic Slavic neighbor looked at him with contempt while he and his brother threw out the mattress.

In late June, the comedian reported that unknown people had attacked him for a reward of fifty thousand rubles. He also stated that he had received numerous threats.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Idrak Mirzalizade. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Comedian Of Azerbaijani Origin Jailed Over ‘Anti-Russian’ Performance
RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service
August 9, 2021

A court in Moscow has sentenced a Russian stand-up comic of Azerbaijani origin, Idrak Mirzalizade, to 10 days in jail for allegedly inciting ethnic hatred.

The Taganka district court issued the ruling on August 9 after several pro-government media outlets accused Mirzalizade of insulting ethnic Russians in one of his performances.

Mirzalizade pleaded not guilty to the charges, but offered apologies to “all who felt insulted by some parts of my performance which were taken out of context.”

In June, he wrote on Instagram that two unknown men attacked him after he received several threats because of his performance.

He also posted a video showing the moment of the attack.

‘Over the past three weeks, I have received several thousand threats. A man went to a solo picket in Penza carrying a placard with the slogan “Idrak Mirzalizade is an enemy of the Russian people!” And a monetary reward was announced for my head, due to which I was attacked on June 23 in downtown Moscow. In this video, I tell you what happened.’  Posted on June 27, 2021, by Idrak Mirzalizade

Mirzalizade has said the performance that caused the controversy was about problems faced by non-Russians when they want to rent an apartment in the Russian capital.

In his performance, the comedian joked about what would happen if the perception of Russians by others was based on separate incidents, drawing a parallel with situations that shape prejudices about non-Russians living among Russians.

Adaptatsiya, “Life in a Police State”

Adaptatsiya performing “Life in a Police State” at Hanger 49 in Berlin on April 13, 2013

The same old faces in newspapers and on screens
We have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide
Some leave the country, having in reserve
Another homeland, but
Not everyone is so lucky, someone has to stay
And resist all the nastiness
Not let them destroy themselves and others
To prevent another 1937

Life in a police state

A friend of mine lost his job
Now he’s sinking to the bottom
His family has gone begging in the streets
And he’s started boozing, cursing fate
Seeing no ray of light in the pitch-black stupor
More and more innocent people
Commit suicide or worse
They give birth to abnormal children

Life in a police state

And my mother protected me from my father’s beatings
You were one of the few who pushed on till the end
And when everyone was tired, you rushed forward
But blocking your way were
Mobs of dirty soldiers and hateful cops
They serve the regime of assholes like them
The ones who build palaces and move capitals
And you’re so eager to go off and tune out

Life in a police state

And if you ask me what will happen next
I will keep my counsel because it’s a slippery slope
There is no cause for optimism and faith
There are prisons, fences, bars and walls
I still have friends and a beloved broad
But I’m one of those who doesn’t find that enough
I am afraid for all my loved ones
I see and I know where we are headed

Life in a police state

Source: Megalyrics. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tattered Sails (The History of Ashgabat Rock)

Tattered Sails (Rvanye parusa) performing at First Park in Ashgabat in 1998. Posted on the YouTube channel Ashgabat Rock Club. A billion thanks to Sofiko Arifdzhanova for posting this priceless gem on Facebook. || TRR

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimumahmedow. Image courtesy of Yandex

Ten Things Ashgabat has Banned in Neo-Totalitarian Turkmenistan
Window on Eurasia
February 16, 2021

Staunton, February 15 – One of the most powerful descriptions of what authoritarian regimes with totalitarian aspirations do when they come to power is at the end of Costa-Gavras’ 1969 film Z when the screen goes blank after the colonels take power in Greece and ban everything from Plato to mini-skirts.

While what has been happening in Turkmenistan seldom gets as much attention – it is after all the most closed off post-Soviet country about which what reporting there is often has been dismissed because there is not corroborating information – its record of bans is increasingly lengthy and disturbing.

Russia’s Zen.Yandex Central Asia portal has provided a useful listing of ten of the most noteworthy of the bans that the government there has imposed both under the country’s former leader Saparmurat Niyazov and under its current one, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow:

· People in Turkmenistan cannot use newspapers containing a photograph of the president as toilet paper. Given that almost every issue does, that limits the supply of what is a critical sanitary option.
· They cannot use air conditioners despite the fact that the country experiences extremely high temperatures in the summertime. This ban is intended to prevent excessive demand on the country’s weak power grid.
· People in that country cannot talk about politics on the telephone. Doing so would be unwise in any case given the monitoring the regime has put in place.
· Visitors to Turkmenistan have to go into quarantine to prevent the spread of a disease which Ashgabat says does not exist there.
· Turkmens are banned from using cosmetics or dressing in stylish clothes.
· They are banned from taking photographs on the street.
· No one is allowed to import black cars.
· No Turkmen is permitted to leave the country without special permission as a means of ensuring there will be enough workers for the economy.
· All social media are banned in Turkmenistan.
· No one is allowed to produce or disseminate anything that might be considered erotic. Men who run afoul of this rule are punished, but women who do are punished far more severely.

How I Was Friends with Billionaires

Igor Mints, Rustam Yulbarisov, and Sasha Mints. Courtesy of Rustam Yulbarisov

How I Was Friends with Billionaires
Rustam Yulbarisov
Zanovo
November 1, 2020

This is a saga of two families, of poverty and wealth, and of the twin brothers who helped me see the biggest difference between people.

I learned that humanity was divided into classes at School No. 963. My mother managed to get me into the first A class, which was considered a university prep class, in contrast to the proletarian B and C classes. We studied English, drawing, ballroom dancing, and even the Vietnamese martial art Việt Võ Đạo, which was taught by an Azerbaijani. The school fees were also higher.

I learned directly about the divisions between people from my friendship with my classmates Sasha and Igor. I don’t know what caused us to become friends, but now I am sure that it was inevitable, because we had too much in common. Our families had moved to Moscow from the regions. We lived in neighboring houses on the same floors. We were non-Russian, and they were also a little non-Russian. They were twin brothers, and I had a brother. They clobbered each other, and we clobbered each other. Our fathers worked as officials in the new Russian government. They even gave their sons identical jackets: green ones for us and purple ones for them, and our mothers gave us identical books—Monsters, Ghosts, and UFOs.

The book so fascinated us that we formed a club called UGS (UFO and Ghost Society) and got a notebook in which we recorded the mystical happenings in our courtyard. We would visit each other, watch movies on videotape, and play LEGO. I liked going to their house more because we had a one-room apartment and they had a five-room apartment. I had to lie that we had another room, a secret one. Most importantly, they had a computer, at which I sat with the twins in turn on the same chair, battling it out on Heroes of Might and Magic II, with its codes for black dragons. Our family would get a computer later.

Our friendship ended in the eighth grade. Igor and Sasha went to study at University Prep School No. 1501 (affiliated with the STANKIN, the Moscow State Technology University), taking with them all the classmates with whom I was friends. I stayed at School No. 963 because I acted in the theater club and didn’t want to get my life entangled in machine tool engineering, mathematics and economics.

I will always remember the conversation we had in the hallway at school. We were walking past the changing rooms on the ground floor and discussing our position in the world.

“We’re middle class,” I said.

“No, we’re upper class,” they said.

Their names were Igor and Sasha (Alexander) Mints.

We’re Not the Mintses

I can still tell which Mints is which. Igor has a longer face. He’s on the left. Sasha has a rounder face and a lower voice. He’s on the right. Igor was considered a bully, and Sasha was more easy-going. I was more friends with Igor, and my brother was closer to Sasha. Their mother, Marina, is in the middle. Photo: Irina Buzhor/Kommersant

In early 2020, the Basmanny District Court in Moscow arrested in absentia Boris Mints, owner of O1 Group, and his sons Alexander (Sasha) and Dmitry, and put them on the international wanted list. The Mintses have been charged with a serious crime—aggravated embezzlement, punishable under Article 160.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The punishment for the crime is ten years in prison.

The Russian Investigative Committee accused the Mintses of embezzling 34 billion rubles from Otkritie Bank when it bought bonds from O1 Group. According to investigators, in 2017, Otkritie’s chair, Yevgeny Dankevich, agreed with the management of O1 Group to buy its bonds, although he knew that the real value of the securities was less than half of their face value. O1 Group repaid its loans from Oktritie ahead of schedule with the money made from the sale of the bonds. Shortly after the deal was concluded, Otkritie and Trust Bank were taken over by the Russian Central Bank.

The parties sued each other in court in the UK. The Mintses moved to London before the investigation was launched, and Dankevich went into hiding in Israel. The banks petitioned the court to freeze $572 million of the Mintses’ assets, including the Tower of Lethendy in Scotland, four hotels, two estates, and a residential building in Haifa. In 2017, Forbes estimated that Boris Mints was worth $1.3 billion, but a year later he had dropped out of the top ranks. He said that the two banks, in collusion with the Central Bank, had launched a “campaign” against him due to “strong personal animosity.” In 2018, Mints had to sell Budushchee pension fund, which was one of the three largest non-state pension funds in Russia, to pay his debts. Budushchee (“Future”) had made losses for its clients two years in a row, losing “every eighth ruble belonging to pensioners.” “If we all crash, then the country will crash,” Mints said in an interview.

I have nothing to brag about. My biggest crime is slightly injuring a couple of neo-Nazis. I also shoplifted clothes from stores. When I was young, I didn’t have enough clothes. I wanted to look attractive in front of the girls, and not wear jackets handed down to me by older relatives.

“We’re not the Mintses,” my mother would tell us when we couldn’t afford something. That was the most frequent phrase she muttered when talking about our family’s financial circumstance. The second most popular phrase was “we don’t have any money.” My brother remembers his childhood as “cold and gloomy.” I was forever saddled with an anxiety about what tomorrow would bring.

The last time I met Mintses in our neighborhood was before I went to university. A friend and I were drinking beer outside when a foreign-made car passed by. I recognized my school friend at the wheel. He stopped and opened the window. I smiled and put the beer on the roof of the car to free my hand for a handshake.

“Take it off, you’ll scratch the paint,” he said.

The irony is that my father doesn’t just know Boris Mints. Their career paths had been similar in many ways: both started as officials in regional governments, and then transferred to the presidential administration—with one nuance.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Boris Mints. Photo: Vladislav Shatilo/RBC

Boris Mints earned his first capital during perestroika: “It was fabulous money at the time—140-150 thousand rubles.” He was an associate professor of higher mathematics at the Ivanovo Textile Institute when he started working at a youth center for scientific and technical creativity (NTTM) in 1987. Mints wrote programs for automating jobs at textile mills, and along with them, he sold computers through his NTMM, receiving non-cash payments from enterprises, which were then cashed out. This scheme—selling computers and converting the sales into cash through an NTTM—was also employed by the future oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In 1990, Mints became involved in privatizing the Ivanovo economy, heading its property management committee. In this capacity he met the head of the federal property committee, Anatoly Chubais, who hired him to join his team. Chubais then became the head of the presidential administration, and Mints was appointed head of the presidential office on local government. This position put him in contact with Russia’s leading lights, including Boris Yeltsin.

My father, Ildar Yulbarisov, graduated from the geology faculty of Moscow State University in 1981 and went off to explore the depths in the most remote corners of our Soviet homeland. In 1990, he was elected First Secretary of the Ufa City Komsomol Committee, but a year later he left because he “did not want to see the country and the Party fall apart.” My father enrolled in the Russian Academy of Foreign Trade in Moscow, while also working at the Bashkirian mission there. In 1994, my father returned to Bashkiria, where he worked for seven years. He would bring us chak-chak and Moscow sausage from Ufa.

The Mintses moved to Moscow in 1994. The Yulbarisovs had moved there in 1991. The two families crossed paths at Timiryazevskaya subway station.

“Dad, do you remember how you met Boris Mints?”

“I was hired to work in the administration of the President of the Republic of Bashkortostan. We knew the country’s leadership and the administration of the President of the Russian Federation, of course. One day Boris Mints showed up there. You and your brother went to visit them once, and your mother asked me to go pick you up. Boris opened the door. We greeted each other like old acquaintances. I told him that we were in the same system, and hinted that I would also like to move to Moscow. Then he invited me to his office on Staraya Ploshchad, and I invited him to Ufa for Sabantuy. There he met with President Murtaza Rakhimov. Mints was very pleased with the trip. When I accompanied on the way back, he said, ‘Murtaza is happy with you. You shouldn’t leave.'”

The 90s came to an end, as did the Yeltsin era. Vladimir Putin came to power, recruiting a new team. In 2000, Boris Mints left the presidential administration to invest in commercial real estate. In 2000, my father left the post of deputy department head at the Ministry of Ethnic Policy and went into the business of oilfield exploration. Mints was ranked among the top 100 richest people in Russia, and his son Sasha made it into the top ten most eligible bachelors in the country. In the Yulbarisov household, buckwheat and chicken on the table were replaced by pilaf and vak belyashi, which my father cooked with goose. I saved up the money I was given for lunch, spending it on dates with girls in cafes. I pretended that I wasn’t hungry.

The Mintses went to MGIMO to study international economic relations, while I continued a family tradition by majoring in journalism at Moscow State University.  Once our football team played at MGIMO. We went nuts in the stands, burning flares and, finally, pissing the hell out of their gym, because no one liked the rich kids from MGIMO, not even the rich kids from Moscow State.

What the Mintses Fear

Ildar Yulbarisov, the last First Secretary of the Ufa Komsomol Committee, 1990. Photo: Vechernyaya Ufa

“Dad, according to my rough calculations, we are 1,500 times poorer than the Mintses. Why is there such a difference, if you both worked in government, and then went into business?”

“No big business is created by the labor of the people who own it because it is impossible to create such value independently: there are physiological limits. Capital accumulates only if the surplus value that other people create is confiscated from them. And if you add financial fraud to capitalist exploitation, in which people “voluntarily” engage in wage labor, you get these incredible figures. I have never taken anything that belonged to someone else.”

“Maybe Mints worked harder and better than you?”

“He had a chance, and took it. It was facilitated by his personal qualities, upbringing, and system of values. He went into politics to achieve personal enrichment. I’m a simple Soviet man.”

“Did you want to take bribes and steal when you worked in politics? Or did you just not have the chance?”

“No. I was involved in two election campaigns. They would bring us cash and put it on the table. I didn’t take a kopeck, because I’m an idealist. I was 26 years old when I became a full-time Komsomol worker. I had a clear idea of what I was doing: helping people and improving life in the republic. My father taught me to be honest, and the Komsomol taught me to be responsible to the people. We had a big NTTM attached to the Komsomol city committee in Ufa. They sold everything there, and then would go booze it up at a restaurant. They gave me Italian shoes. I didn’t have to do what they did, since we lived well under communism. I had a salary of 525 rubles a month, your mother worked as a teacher and made another 220 rubles a month. We set half of it aside.”

“Are you comparing yourself to Mints?”

“No, we have had different lives. I’m not jealous, because we had unequal opportunities. There were much fewer opportunities to earn money working for the regional authorities. Today, it is obvious that the Russia inside the Garden Ring and the Russia outside it are two different countries.”

“What is the main difference between the Yulbarisovs and the Mintses?”

“Over three decades, capitalism in Russia has degenerated into its most savage form, dividing people into the poorest and richest strata. According to the most conservative estimates, five percent of the population owns seventy percent of the wealth in Russia. We are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, while the Mintses are at the top. But the situation on the moral ladder is different: the Yulbarisovs are at the top, while Mintses are at the bottom. We’re poor, but we’re honest.”

“You know that sounds like an excuse, right?”

“That’s exactly what it sounds like. I’m not worried about it. It’s you young people who are out of luck. Now wages are paid so people don’t die of hunger, and in addition there is the cult of consumption and the cult of success. The world is getting worse, but I’m sure there will be a limit. Either the people will revolt, or the Communists will come to power. Rich people like Mints are afraid of this.”

The Code for Black Dragons
Midway upon the journey of my life, I found myself in a forest dark. Then I found my Bodhi Tree and sat under it, wondering what the forest was, who I was, and where I was going. I recalled my childhood and formulated four truths that I understood from my friendship with the Mintses.

Truth No. 1. I realized that all my life I had suffered from envy, from unfavorable comparisons and the sense of my own inferiority. I even set aside a page in my diary where I write down all the people I have envied. The habit of constant comparison has nurtured in me a capacity for reflection and self-awareness: comparing myself with others, I become aware of my position vis-à-vis all phenomena in the world.

Truth No. 2. It’s not my fault. The dark forest existed before I showed up, and my path has been shaped by the objective layout of obstacles in the thicket. I have extended this truth to all people. We are not to blame for anything, and especially for our poverty, since we are not able to choose the families into which we are born or the societies in which we live. My son had no choice either.

Truth No. 3. I have to work because I have no property. I have extended this truth to all people. People are the same everywhere, and human need is everywhere the same. The poor man works to live, and the rich man lives off his work, repeating again and again, “If you work harder and better, you’ll become like me.”

Truth No. 4. Their family’s social class is a determining factor in the lives of individuals. But it is merely a historically transitory form, a flaw in the capitalist system that we can overcome through collective effort.

We sit in the same chair, playing the same game. Let’s enter the code for the black dragons and win at last!

But we have been separated by capital—by a billion-dollar chasm.

What can I set against a billion dollars of capital? Only my own existential experience. I’ve seen things you never dreamed of. A crowd dressed in black,  destroying the cozy streets of Copenhagen in a frenzy. Police sirens wailing in the rain, punctuated by singing. Hugs with a masked stranger: we were victorious then. I have seen things that we could have written down in our notebook. Those moments became mine forever, and I would never have wished for anything else.

I finished the text, opened a messenger app, and wrote to you. “Hello! This is Rustam Yulbarisov. We went to school together and were interested in things mystical. Do you still believe in aliens?”

Born in 1988, Rustam Yulbarisov works as a journalist in Moscow and is a socialist. Thanks to Bryan Gigantino for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader