Just for balance. Today, in the supermarket, I quietly eavesdropped on the conversations among the saleswomen (these were two different conversations). Irritated and indignant, these middle-aged women said that the members of parliament [who quickly passed laws enforcing Putin’s mobilization] should go to war themselves.
On the bus. A middle-aged woman in the front seat yells into the phone, not mincing her words. She says that there is a panic at work, that they have seven days to keep the guys from getting drafted. This was followed by instructions for direct action. The young fellow sitting with his back to her listened attentively, while the girls opposite him could not have cared less.
Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a trusted source and occasional contributor to this website, identified here as “AR” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader
This hurts a lot. I console myself with the fact that, as in private life, the most vital and beautiful thing is the process itself, when you are initially in a hole, but you fight to make things better. But can I please go back to the time when I have to confront myself, and not a crazy autocrat with a nuclear button?
I try to shift my focus from irritation towards Russians who support the war, and the collective Europe playing along [sic], to endless love. First of all, to people who are in Russia and are not afraid to speak out against the war. I am glad that I am living at the same time as you. Of course, we are far from being Iran, where people take deadly risks for their beliefs. But we’re cool, too. We’re doing what we can. If everyone in Russia were like us, the war would have ended today. Now, when it is important to support myself, I console myself with this thought, and I advise you to do the same.
Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a grassroots activist in Petersburg, identified here as “JA” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader
On the evening of September 21, in Petersburg, as in other cities, a protest was held against the mobilization of Russians for the war in Ukraine. The protest was called by the Vesna Movement. The protesters gathered at 7 p.m. on St. Isaac’s Square.
Riot police vigorously detained protesters, beat them with batons, dragged them on the ground, and put them on their knees. According to OVD Info, at least 444 people were detained in St. Petersburg.
Bumaga has put together a photo chronicle of the first popular protest in the city in the last six months.
Conscription Notice Russia. This channel was created to inform the residents of Russia about the delivery of conscription notices in our city! [sic] Write here with information about which addresses conscription notices in Russia are being sent — @maks_ge
“Prospect Mira. A conscription notice was just served to a man approximately 40-45 years of age. He was strolling with his wife and dog. Then they [the police?] went up to some young guys sitting on a bench and had a chat with them.”
“They’ve already started handing out conscription notices at the factories in the town of Gatchina in Leningrad Region.”
“The Gazpromneft filling station at Amurskaya 15A. Two men got into a scrap, and the attendant called the police. The cops came and gave them tickets. They threatened the men, saying that tomorrow, other people in uniform would come visit them at home — I think they meant the military conscription office.”
Source: Screenshot of the Telegram channel Where Draft Papers Are Being Handed Out — Russia. The channel was created on August 13, but only started posting on September 21. It already has over ten thousand subscribers. Thanks to VL for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Well, my prognosis was mistaken. I underestimated the regime’s vileness and meanness. As the supreme ruler declared a partial mobilization, the local military enlistment offices issued decrees concerning all reservists without exception.
This is totally fucked up. For example, “temporary residents must depart for their legal place of residence.” Accordingly, millions of unregistered men or men registered at their temporary residences in large cities must leave for their hometowns or home regions. Accordingly, all these millions of men are “lawbreakers” — they can be seized in dragnets, blackmailed with prison terms, locked up, beaten up, and anything else that our cops do with our citizens. When [the cops] are faced with passive resistance, they will indiscriminately rake in whomever they catch.
These people will certainly “engage in combat,” but that will happen later. What matters now is filling the quotas.
Putin has announced a “partial mobilization.” Only time will tell how “partial” it is, but it is already clear that the mobilization will affect many people. What options do those whom the Kremlin wants to mobilize have?
Become cannon fodder.
Go to jail.
Illegally flee the country. If you fail, you go to jail.
Go underground. If you fail, you go to jail.
Go underground and become a guerrilla. You could also go to jail.
I do not consider legal ways to avoid mobilization, since the rules of the game can change at any moment, and those who were not subject to mobilization yesterday will be subject to it tomorrow.
The choice isn’t great, but there is a choice.
Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 21 September. Mr. Astashin is a former political prisoner and human rights activist who now seems to be living in exile in Berlin. Translated by the Russian Reader
In the kitchen of a communal flat:
— Soooo, you live closer to the front door, don’t open it to anyone. If they come, tell them there are no men living here.
— I’ve been dodging the draft for so long I don’t even remember how to do it anymore. I’ve had so many chronic illnesses since then. Do you think it will help?
— At my work, a friend of a friend of a friend of a colleague is offering to drive [men] to Finland for 50 thousand rubles [approx. 855 euros]. Any takers?
— He’s definitely going to Finland? That’s too cheap somehow. What if he takes you to the military enlistment office?
— My pop says that he would volunteer himself, but he’s already sixty-seven, they won’t take him. But he’s weird that way. He never goes to the welfare office, because he believes you have to have pride: he didn’t work all his life to ask the state for something in his old age! His pension is 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 440 euros].
— Maybe he is also one of those people who have nothing, and who donates money to buy socks for soldiers?
— No, he believes that we have the strongest army and does not give them a kopeck. He says the people asking for that money are scammers.
Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a veteran human rights activist in Petersburg, identified here as “NN” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader
I have been extremely troubled by arguments that a mobilization in Russia is impossible. People are saying that everyone will run off, nothing will come of it, there is no logistics or anything else. This is all true, of course, but the stated goal of calling up 300 thousand reservists is quite realistic, in my unprofessional opinion.
I really don’t see any earth-shattering problems to it. There are military enlistment offices, there is transport. The uniforms will be fetched from Afghan War-era stockpiles. You know, those sand-colored uniforms, star-embossed belt buckles, and Kirza boots — there is probably a lot more of this stuff in the warehouses. The “mobilizees” will look, however, more like mobs of POWS than like an army, what with all of them wearing different uniforms, some sporting Kirza boots, and some in ankle-high combat boots purchased on the side from a cunning ensign. But still.
I have no doubt that our state will cope with the task of mobilizing men and delivering them to Ukraine. It will be done shabbily — five hundred men will lose fingers to frostbite while traveling in unheated train cars, and fifteen hundred will escape somewhere along the way — but that doesn’t mean that no one will get there.
To make the figures clearer, I should explain that about 400 thousand people live in our district in Petersburg, the Frunzensky District, which means that 600 men should be called up (taking into account the fact that our population is older than the average for Russia). In reality, it will most likely be even fewer, since the powers that be will probably decide to throw residents of the ethnic republics into the furnace again.
Over the past few months, our district authorities have just barely recruited about forty volunteers, since they were unable to use any of the state’s usual enforcement mechanisms. Now they will have all the tools of the military enlistment officer at their disposal.
I’m sorry, but I believe in the success of the mobilization at this stage and that the stated quantities are doable. I don’t believe in the success of Putin’s war. Unmotivated poorly armed cannon fodder is needed in this war, but the benefit from it is not so great, and it will arrive [in Ukraine] only in winter, by the time the front stabilizes somewhere near Henichesk.
It’s not enough to mobilize men. The powers that be still have to somehow mobilize industry. Here I see much less chance of success.
I feel a certain shameful schadenfreude. When I adopted the slogan “Putin = war” as my profile pice in 2014, readers of the Kupchino News made fun of me. The people then were solidly in the “Crimea is ours” camp. Now, for the sake of this selfsame Crimea, a place where, until 2014, Russians could go on holiday with no problems, your brothers and your children will have to go off and die. Not me. I left Russia after police searched my home for a second time and a criminal case was launched against me. When something really could still be done [to oppose the Putin regime] with minimal risks, you were extremely smart to stay at home. Well, now you will be extremely smart in thinking of ways to dodge the draft. What counts is keeping a low profile, isn’t it? The president knows what he’s doing!
However, after this schadenfreude, I immediately feel ashamed. After all, it was I who lost my fight for a Russia free of autocracy, fascism and militarism. By the way, in 2014 I had another profile pic: “Putin = hunger.”
Source: Deputy Volokhonsky (Vladimir Volokhonsky), Telegram, 21 September 2022. Mr. Volokhonsky is a well-known Petersburg grassroots pro-democracy activist and municipal district councilor, currently living in exile in Belgrade. He is also the editor-in-chief of the neighborhood news website Novosti Kupchino (“The Kupchino News”). Translated by the Russian Reader
President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s first mobilization since World War Two, warning the West that if it continued what he called its “nuclear blackmail” that Moscow would respond with the might of all its vast arsenal.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff,” Putin said in a televised address to the nation, adding Russia had “lots of weapons to reply.”
One-way flights out of Russia were selling out fast after Putin ordered the immediate call-up of 300,000 reservists, and Russia’s opposition called for protests.
Residents of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv dismissed Putin’s move as a mark of desperation and expressed confidence in their own armed forces to drive Russian troops from their country.
The European Union’s executive body told Putin to stop his “reckless” nuclear gamble, while Britain said the threats must be taken seriously.
Alexander Glushko says he spent the last fortnight of the Russian occupation of his hometown of Izium in northeast Ukraine jailed by Russian soldiers in the dank ruins of a police station where he was tortured with electric wires.
Pope Francis said that Ukrainians were being subjected to savageness, monstrosities and torture, calling them a “noble” people being martyred.
Source: Linda Noakes, “The Reuters Daily Briefing,” Reuters, 21 September 2022
Our own correspondent is sorry to tell Of an uneasy time that all is not well On the borders there’s movement In the hills there is trouble Food is short, crime is double
Prices have risen as the government fell Casualties increase as the enemy shell The climate’s unhealthy, flies and rats thrive And sooner or later the end will arrive
This is your correspondent, running out of tape Gunfire’s increasing Looting, burning, rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape Rape
Source: SongMeanings, as written by Colin Newman and Bruce Gilbert
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 toldiStories 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.
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.
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
Source: Current Time TV (Radio Svoboda), Instagram, 1 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
“A Russian national passport = social stability and security. Kherson Region: We’re together with Russia!” reads this purported (but, sadly, all too believable) billboard in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson, on which someone has written “Russia [rasha] is a shit hole [parasha], ZSU [Armed Forces of Ukraine],” in the lower right corner. Source: Nash Kherson (“Our Kherson”), Facebook, 20 August 2022
Five months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there remains a startling lack of understanding by many Western policymakers and commentators of the economic dimensions of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion and what it has meant for Russia’s economic positioning both domestically and globally.
Far from being ineffective or disappointing, as many have argued, international sanctions and voluntary business retreats have exerted a devastating effect over Russia’s economy. The deteriorating economy has served as a powerful if underappreciated complement to the deteriorating political landscape facing Putin.
Maxim Katz, “How the economy of Russia is dying,” 21 July 2022: “Today we’ll talk about the branches already affected by the upcoming crisis. We’ll talk about the automobile industry and real estate, cinemas, and air traffic. We’ll also discuss why China is not going to help Russia” (with English subtitles). Mr. Katz was declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian Justice Ministry on 22 July 2022.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, a two-word phrase sums up the current state of world geopolitics: “golden billion.” Speaking this week in Moscow, Putin declared that the “model of total domination of the so-called golden billion is unfair. Why should this golden billion of all the population on the globe dominate over everyone and impose its own rules of behavior?”
The golden billion “divides the world into first- and second-class people and is therefore essentially racist and neocolonial,” Putin continued Wednesday, adding that “the underlying globalist and pseudo-liberal ideology is becoming increasingly more like totalitarianism and is restraining creative endeavor and free historical creation.”
For most readers in the United States or Europe, a “golden billion” probably means nothing. But in Russia, this phrase has been around for decades as a doom-saying shorthand to describe a future battle for resources between a global elite and Russians. And since February, the Russian government has been deploying the theory to argue that Russia’s isolation after its invasion of Ukraine was not because of its actions — but because of an inevitable global conspiracy against it.
These complaints about inequality may seem rich coming from a man who has led an invasion that could help partially restore an empire, who has clung to power for decades while banishing his biggest opponent to prison and whose personal wealth wasonce estimated to be$200 billion. But at least some members of the Russian government seem to sincerely believe in the ethos behind these theories. And it may not just be Russians who find the idea persuasive.
Putin’s vague allusions to a golden billion over recent months obscure a far more conspiratorial history. The phrase comes from an apocalyptic book published in 1990, just as the Soviet era came to a crashing halt. Titled “The Plot of World Government: Russia and the Golden Billion,” the book was written by a Russian publicist named Anatoly Tsikunov under the pen name A. Kuzmich.
Tsikunov described an end-times conspiracy against Russia, with the wealthy Western elite realizing that ecological change and global disaster would see further competition for world resources, ultimately rendering the world uninhabitable for all but a billion of them. This elite realize Russia, with its natural resources, immense mass and northern location, needs to be brought under their control by any means necessary for their own survival.
This thesis was a twist on the widely disputed fears about global overpopulation developed by British cleric Thomas Robert Malthus in the late 18th century. However, it’s been given a modern, Russocentric update. In his 2019 book “Plots against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy After Socialism,” New York University scholar Eliot Borenstein writes that the idea fits into a broader, paranoid history.
The golden billion “gathers together many of the most important tropes of benighted, post-Soviet Russia (the need to defend the country’s natural resources from a rapacious West, the West’s demoralization of Russia’s youth, destruction of Russia’s economy, and destruction of public health) into one compelling narrative, a story combining historical touchstones (the Great Patriotic War) with science and pseudoscience,” Borenstein wrote.
Tsikunov died in unclear circumstances a year after his book was published, only adding to the mystique. But his idea was soon popularized by the anti-liberal Russian intellectual Sergey Kara-Murza, who stripped away its stranger edges and wrote in the later 1990s that the golden billion meant the population of higher-income democracies like those in the OECD or G-7 who consume an unfair proportion of the world’s resources.
More than two decades later, the theory is everywhere in the Russian government. Despite its conspiratorial beginnings, high-ranking Russian officials like former president Dmitry Medvedev and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have repeated it in public settings since the Feb. 24 invasion.
Even wild theories can have tactical uses.When Putin speaks about a golden billion, he uses it to tie Western exploitation of Africa and Asia recently with the backlash to the conflict in Ukraine. Though Putin has long presented himself as a voice of global conservatism, the righteous anger of anti-colonialism is no doubt a more potent force globally.
“Of course, this golden billion became golden for a reason. It has achieved a lot. But it not only took such positions thanks to some implemented ideas, to a large extent it took its positions by robbing other peoples: in Asia, and in Africa,” Putin said Wednesday. “Indeed, it was like that. Look at how India has been plundered.”
In South Asia, Africa and Latin America, stories of anger against domination and colonialism find a receptive audience. And these are three regions where countries have so far failed to rally behind Western efforts to isolate Moscow.
But the contradictions in Putin’s logic could undermine his story. Another tale of colonialism and domination is playing out now in Ukraine, which Putin has suggested is rightfully Russian land. As The Post’s Robyn Dixon reports, Putin is moving rapidly to annex and absorb the parts of Ukraine it currently holds, “casting himself as a new version of the early-18th-century czar Peter the Great recovering lost territory.”
Source: Adam Taylor, “The apocalyptic vision behind Putin’s ‘golden billion’ argument,” Washington Post, 22 July 2022
The Ukrainian authorities would never control the liberated areas of the Kharkiv region again, said the head of the temporary civilian administration of the Kharkiv region Vitaly Ganchev.
“We will receive comprehensive assistance. That is, Ukraine is not coming back here. And every time I am asked whether the Ukrainian authorities will return, whether we can feel calm, I […] tell everyone that no, none of those Nazis will be coming back here, we are going to build a decent life,” he said.
Source: TASS, Telegram, 20 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
The behavior of some Western countries is comparable to the behavior of these puppies. When the special military operation in Ukraine began, everyone seemingly barked in unison, spewing columns of flame and, periodically, sanctions. Realizing the futility of their actions, silence momentarily ensued, and then a plaintive whining was heard. All their supposedly noble efforts had played a cruel joke on them.
Thinking before doing is a luxury beyond the reach of some Western leaders. Who would have thought that an unprecedented number of sanctions against Russia would do absolutely nothing. The people are not rebelling, gasoline prices have not soared, and store shelves are chockablock with a variety of products. The analogy with the feckless barking of small puppies is more than apt, although it is an invidious comparison.
Source: Ramzan Kadyrov (“Kadyrov _95”), Telegram, 20 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
Truly revolutionary transformations are gaining ever greater momentum… These colossal changes are, of course, irreversible. Both at the national and global levels, the foundations and principles of a harmonious, more just, socially oriented, and secure world order are being developed — an alternative to the unipolar world order that has existed so far, which by its nature, of course, has become a brake on the development of civilization.
The model of total domination by the so-called golden billion is unfair. Why should this “golden billion” dominate the entire population of the planet, impose their own rules of behavior based on the illusion of exclusivity?! It divides peoples into first and second class, and therefore is racist and neocolonial in its essence, and the globalist, supposedly liberal ideology underlying it has increasingly taken on the features of totalitarianism, restraining creative endeavors [and] free historical creation!
One gets the impression that the West simply has no model of the future of its own to offer the world. Yes, of course, it is no coincidence that this “golden billion” became “golden,” that it achieved a lot, but it took up its positions not only thanks to certain ideas that it implemented. To a large extent it took up its positions by robbing other peoples in Asia and Africa! That’s how it was! India was robbed so much! Therefore, even today, the elites of this “golden billion” are terrified that other centers of global change could present their own scenarios!
No matter how much Western and supranational elites strive to maintain the existing order of things, a new era is coming, a new stage in world history!
And only truly sovereign states can ensure dynamic growth, set an example for others in standards of living and quality of life, in defending traditional values, lofty humanistic ideals, and models of development in which the individual is not the means, but the supreme goal!
Sovereignty is the freedom of national development, and therefore [the freedom] of each individual. It is the technological, cultural, intellectual, and educational viability of the state — that’s what it is! And, of course, sovereignty’s most important component is a responsible, industrious, and nationally minded, nationally facing civil society!
Source: Andrei Kolesnikov, “Vladimir Putin spun the turbine at GES-2,”Kommersant, 20 July 2022. I have removed Mr. Kolesnikov’s editorial asides and insertions from the text of the monologue quoted, above. Translated by the Russian Reader
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. On 22 June 2022, artist Yelena Osipova held a solo anti-war picket on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg. On 22 June 2022, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the official Russian government newspaper, published a lengthy interview with Mikhail Piotrovsky, the longtime director of Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum,, in which he justified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as part of his country’s greater historical and cultural “mission.” Ms. Osipova and Mr. Piotrovsky were born a mere eleven months apart, in November 1945 and December 1944, respectively. If Ms. Osipova’s bravery doesn’t bring honor on her hometown, it’s not for her want of trying. Despite having much greater resources at his disposal and a bigger bully pulpit, Mr. Piotrovsky has definitely brought shame on his city. As long it is run by people like him, Russia’s great “cultural capital” has no future. In any case, Ms. Osipova’s barely audible message makes a jarring juxtaposition with Mr. Piotrovsky’s arrogant, “learned” apology for Russian fascism. ||| TRR
Yelena Osipova, photographed in front of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt in downtown Petersburg on 22 June 2022. Photo courtesy of Irina Bogdanovskaya, as posted on the public Facebook page Yelena Andreyeevna Osipova. Artist. Citizen. Thanks to Maria Mila for the heads-up. The placard on the left reads, “To the unknown soldier, 1941–1945. He was buried in the earth.” The placard on the right reads, “22 June 1941–1945. In memory of the Patriotic/Second World War. Become a pacifist! Pacifism – pacificus – peaceable. Pacifists condemn all wars and campaign vigorously and publicly to prevent them.” On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Ms. Osipova was born on 11 November 1945, that is, six months after the end of the Great Patriotic War.
[Elena Yakovleva]: We have all been shocked by the fighting not only on the fronts of the special operation, but also on the cultural front, by all the attempts to cancel Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff concerts, and the Russian language. What is behind “cancel culture”? Having ourselves escaped from the dictates of ideology, are we now witnessing its return in the West?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: The attack on us in the realm of culture is, of course, a semblance of what we had in Soviet times, when all connections were cut off by command, at a moment’s notice, at the snap of someone’s fingers. I have the sense that the Soviet Union, with its ideological dictates, has spread to the West. I did not expect that I would read in liberal Western newspapers such things as “The Hermitage is an imperial museum that preaches imperial ideology. It should not be allowed anywhere! The Hermitage’s [planned branch] in Barcelona should not be opened under any circumstances!”
I have been inundated with ultimatums. How dare you not speak out against the special operation in Ukraine?! Go out and protest immediately! Why are there no protests in your country?
But in this case we should understand that we have been subjected to such a powerful attack in the field of culture because culture is an area in which we are absolutely competitive.
We have the initiative here. We are trendsetters.
Are we an exporting country?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Yes, and our cultural exports are more important than imports.
Our recent exhibitions abroad are a powerful cultural offensive, a kind of “special operation,” if you wish. Which many people don’t like, but we are advancing. No one can be allowed to thwart our offensive.
In response to calls to cancel Tchaikovsky, smart people in Russia have been saying, “We won’t cancel anything. On the contrary, we will continue to love the Europe that we learned about while studying at universities.” Is the asymmetry fundamentally important in this case?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Of course. Given our cultural advantage, we don’t have to loudly announce that we are reneging on one cultural agreement or another in response to their bans. They can do it unilaterally. There is definitely no need for bilateralism — precisely because we are winning.
I think that under no circumstances should we succumb (and we shall not succumb) to the seductions of “cancel culture.” I believe we are immune to it because we have already been “canceled” six ways to Sunday. First, the entire culture of Tsarist Russia was canceled, and then Soviet culture was canceled. Monuments were demolished dozens of times. But we also know something else: monuments come back, everything is restored. The knowledge that memory and culture come back is in our blood. That is why we are not eager to overdo it when it comes to “cancelations.” Besides, you can’t cancel Tchaikovsky, except, perhaps, performances of Tchaikovsky by Russian orchestras. But this is just unfair competition.
Why is the West so passionate about “cancel culture”? And about the dictates of “public opinion”?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: I would not exaggerate the difference between the dictates of Soviet ideology and “public opinion.” Public opinion is bound up with governments or regulated by them.
As for “cancel culture” in the West, it is part of a large wave that was born amidst BLM, and linked to the culture of guilt and repentance for guilt. It suddenly surged: they began pulling down monuments and not standing for the American flag. They think that Voltaire is bad, and this guy, and that other guy. It’s a little ridiculous. How much can you repent for the terrors of colonialism, which in fact was so entirely categorical? Or for the unfortunate slave trade, which after all began not in Europe, but in Africa?
They seemingly had already begun to sense that this road leads nowhere, but then Russia turned up by chance. So let’s “cancel” Russia, they said. Although the glee with which they have rushed to condemn us, to tear us up and expel us, again speaks to the fact that we are strong in culture.
When the Bizot group boycotts Russian museums, it’s just ridiculous. I was one of the people who founded the group, and I know that we actually created it to help museums do cultural exchanges unencumbered by politics. But now it’s apparently been ideologized on the Soviet model. If this Soviet-style infection has gone so far, let them be sick alone. We don’t need to be sick too. We have historical immunity against this. I think we will spread it to others.
Since it hasn’t succumbed to the hype of cancellations, has the Hermitage keep its exhibitions abroad going?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Not only the Hermitage. When the special operation in Ukraine began, exhibitions by Russian museums were everywhere. We have a Morozov [Collection] exhibition in Paris and exhibitions in Italy. Our most controversial exhibition, a Fabergé show, was in London. The Russian Museum had an exhibition in Spain.
This was our “special operation,” if you like, a great cultural offensive.
As soon as all the ideological sirens were turned on due to the special operation in Ukraine, we initially announced that we were pulling everything out immediately. But then we thought it over and said that we had been given guarantees. The organizers were quick to confirm them. We organized the Morozov exhibition in Paris in cooperation with the Louis Vuitton Foundation, and suddenly realized that this global commercial company was a much better partner in today’s “Soviet” Europe than government entities were. Having no freedom of maneuver, they were “ordered” to break off relations with us, while the business people who made promises to us did EVERYTHING to fulfill them. It was a matter of honor for them: they promised us that [they would send] everything back on time.
But then people in Russia started yelling, “Why did you take our treasures there? They’re worth so much money!” And all hell broke loss on the other side: “Since they’re worth ‘that much’ money, let’s impound them!” People with tormented mercantilist mindsets could not really understand the essence of the matter, so very provocative things were shouted on both sides. I must say that the provocation by the press was the main complication in this whole special operation. Yesterday, I was sent a copy of the FT featuring a discussion by journalists in their art (!) department on the topic of whether Russian paintings should have been impounded. It was due to such journalistic caterwauling that pieces from our museums were detained at the Finnish border. It was the weekend, and Finnish customs officers had read their fill of newspaper articles about how everything should be confiscated from the Russians. Although before and after that, ten of our truck caravans passed through their border post.
From our side, it was the bloggers shouted more. The journalists have been schooled by you.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Only there are few real journalists left and just a couple of newspapers. Everyone is like a blogger now. And bloggers don’t understand that this is a cultural offensive, that the Shchukin and Morozov exhibition in Paris is like the Russian flag flying over the Bois de Boulogne. Do you know how everyone appreciated it in Italy? They said, “If the Hermitage can leave its paintings with us at a time like this, it means that they know what they are doing over there in Russia.”
It is also very important that the protagonists of our exhibitions were [Sergei] Shchukin and [Ivan] Morozov, Russian businessmen from the Old Believers community who largely defined the evolution of European culture. Matisse was once asked if he would have painted Dance had it not been for Shchukin. “And for whom would I have painted it?” Matisse said. Shchukin suggested things, commissioned things, was capricious, and great works were born. I was recently awarded the Demidov Prize, and it was an occasion to recall how Nikolai Demidov and the great French jeweler Pierre Thomire created this Russian style of malachite with bronze. They had such fights! Thomire said they should do things one way, Demidov said no, it must be done another way. But consequently, there is the Malachite Canopy in the Hermitage.
Does a producer [sic] have the right to interfere in an artist’s plans like that?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: He absolutely has the right. Yes, sometimes such interventions can be bad. But sometimes they can be good. In the case of Shchukin and Morozov, it was a good thing. They were the RIGHT customers.
Let’s not forget that it was the Old Believers who revealed to us the beauty of the old Russian icons. They were the first to clean them and preserve them. And Shchukin brought Russian icons to Matisse, in particular, to reverse the influence of Persian miniatures on him.
At the Morozov exhibition, we presented Russian paintings collected by him and showed art through the collector’s eye. Morozov collected Manet and [Valentin] Serov, and I would hear people say when they were leaving the exhibition, “You look [at their paintings] and you realize that Serov is no worse than Manet.”
The Fabergé exhibition made a very big splash. That is another Russian phenomenon that influenced the West.
So, we in fact did undertake a big cultural offensive. And we came out of it, having done everything we had planned to do.
Europe has long been a cultural model for us. The “RG” had a conversation with the writer Eugene Vodolazkin about attitudes to Europe. With reference to Dostoevsky, we talked about the fact it is almost dearer to us than to the Europeans.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We recently held a round table at the Council of the History of World Culture at the Academy of Sciences, which we were going to call “Is Russia Europe?” but instead called “Is Russia Europe? Is Europe the EU?” The general sense of our debate was this: we are Europe, as much a part of it as France or Germany, and maybe more than the United States. If Europe were not us, Gogol would not have written Dead Souls while living in Italy. We recently held another round table on visual art, at which we recalled that Dostoevsky wrote about the Sistine Madonna.
This is our long-standing choice: we are inseparable from European culture and from Europe itself. The special military operation in Ukraine does not change anything. There have been plenty of disagreements and wars within Europe, from the Thirty Years’ War to the First World War. We are Europe and at some moments more Europe than many of its classic [sic] countries. And certainly more than the EU, which is now turning into the Soviet Union.
Of course, we also have an Asian aspect. But Peter the Great already knew how to balance all this wonderfully. We at the Hermitage understand this like no one else, because our main theme is world culture in the Russian context. I constantly talk about our right to be Europe, because in the south of Russia we have a Classical heritage — Chersonesus, Kerch, Taman. And whoever has a Classical heritage is Europe. In Norway, for example, there is no Classical heritage; there were neither Greek colonies nor Roman legions.
Therefore, it is all ours. We must dispose of it as our own, and not think that we are opposing Europe. Do we have different values? But they all have different values. Do we have special Orthodox values? But there are Orthodox values in Europe as well. In many ways they are consonant with Catholic values and not consonant with various secular ones. As an absolutely full-fledged and equal part of Europe, we will never be isolated. It’s just our sense of self. And the Hermitage is a symbol of this self-awareness. I keep repeating that the Hermitage is an encyclopedia of world culture written in Russian. The Hermitage’s Rembrandts, which have been in Russia for three hundred years, are Russian Rembrandts. The Russian Shakespeare is impossible without [Grigori] Kozintsev and [Innokenty] Smoktunovsky. Other doors — to Asia — are always open. But this does not cancel our presence in Europe.
Since people who value Russian culture have not yet gained the upper hand in Europe, must we now form a European model for ourselves?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We must form this model now. And we are forming it.
Although there seem to be no Shchukins and Morozovs in Russia nowadays.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Shchukin and Morozov shaped tastes. But now we are shaping, for example, international law. For many years, we have been carefully fashioning guarantees for the return of our paintings by changing international laws and creating immunity from impoundment. All this was first elaborated for Soviet exhibitions, and later, already in my own time, we constantly worked on developing it. The descendants of Shchukin and Morozov tried to sue us, so I urgently got the pictures out of Rome by plane. But every year we have strengthened our legal safeguards. We said, “Do you want our exhibitions? Then give us real guarantees. Spell it out in the contract: the exhibition will be returned on time even in case of lawsuits.” Europe accepted all these terms. The Americans didn’t, so we haven’t had any exchanges with the Americans for ten years. Although people who wanted to host exhibitions from Russia introduced a new law in the United States that enabled the government to give us guarantees and immunity. But it was too late; now it’s not enough. But with Europe, all the guarantees worked. In particular, when paintings from our Italian exhibitions were detained at the Finnish border, our diplomats and Italian businessmen helped us. They immediately sent all the paperwork to the Finnish government: “We gave guarantees, how can you not trust them?!”
At the last moment — even amidst the sanctions — our Western partners introduced a clause stating that prohibited luxury items do not include items that are in exhibitions of Russian museums abroad. It was even stipulated that Russian transport companies have the right to transport exhibitions throughout the EU. We didn’t take the risk — we transported [the exhibitions] in foreign vehicles — but this point was specially inserted. So, we not only look at Europe as a model, but also try and shape the international rules ourselves. This is quite important, especially now, when there are disputes about every [piece of art] in the world over who it actually belongs to.
Has the attitude towards the Hermitage changed among its Western fans?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We’ve been getting stabbed in the back a lot lately. Outside the country, the Khodorkovskys of the world have been slinging mud at us, while here at home, as always, certain people have been calling for draconian audits. On the other hand, we have gotten a better sense of who our friends are and who are our enemies. The “society of friends of the Hermitage” have proved their mettle. In Israel, for example, they comported themselves brilliantly. They immediately spoke out. “How can we be friends of the Hermitage, using this honorary title, and then suddenly severe ties [with the museum]?”
Mikhail Piotrovsky: It changed a lot. But besides those who have been writing maliciously about us, unexpected friends have appeared — for example, those French and Italian businessmen I mentioned.
What should we be doing in the field of culture?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: I think we have to do everything in such a way that we are seen, but we don’t have to travel anywhere at all to do this. After becoming director of the Hermitage, I announced a moratorium on exhibitions inside Russia because it was dangerous to transport things then: there were thieves everywhere, there was no money, no real insurance, either. So we didn’t send exhibitions around Russia for ten years. But now we are announcing a moratorium on exhibitions abroad.
I urge everyone now to look back at the experience of the Siege of Leningrad — at the know-how for saving things in an organized manner that was acquired then, at the understanding that when guns speak, the muses should not be silent. On the contrary, they should speak loudly. The experience of the Siege also taught us to address the world beyond the encirclement. During the Great Patriotic War, the Nizami and Nava’i exhibitions and evenings at the Hermitage were examples of this appeal. They showed the whole Soviet Union and the whole world that we remembered the great poets even in the midst of famine and war. Therefore, we are now, as part of the “Great Hermitage” program, going to be doing everything to make the whole world see us and, roughly speaking, envy us.
Now, for example, we are opening an exhibition of works by one of the most famous Danish artists, [Vigilius] Eriksen. He painted Catherine the Great and her court, and for the tricentennial of his birth he earned an exhibition at the Hermitage. We requested pieces from Denmark for the exhibition, but they were not given to us. Well, we have more of Eriksen’s works than they have in Denmark. So, an excellent exhibition is now opening in the Nicholas Hall featuring huge portraits of Catherine and the Orlov Brothers, accompanied by the amazing stories of how they were created, how they were repainted and the medals on the uniforms were altered. The exhibition is on the internet, including a lecture in English. We are broadcasting a message to Denmark: look, a small but very important piece of European culture is the great portrait painter Eriksen in the Hermitage.
What do you say to those who demand that you repent for Russian policy?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Our country has now shifted into another time. The first period of the Scythian War is over. We retreated and retreated, now we are not retreating. A pivot has been made. And it is already clear that it’s the final one. Everything began in 2014 in Crimea. Crimea created a situation in which there was no other way, in which we had to pivot.
Our country is making great, comprehensive transformations. And we, respectively, are part of them and with her. Working calmly and normally is our stance.
The Hermitage has done exhibitions about war many times. What can you say about how it’s perceived? For example, a totally pacifist reaction is not something I find congenial. Apparently, I’m a militarist.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We are all militarists and imperialists. (laughs)
First and most important, it is my country, and I must stand with it. I sometimes repeat the jingoistic formula: this is my country, such as it is. There are situations when it is absolutely clear that a person must stand with his country. In the West they understand that these are all substantive things — that we stand with our country. When a very serious issue is being resolved, there are no options.
I am currently reading Alexei Varlamov’s wonderful book about [Vasily] Rozanov, and [there is a section in it] about 1914 and his hyper-patriotic sentiments. This patriotism at the beginning of the 1914 war is [a phenomenon] known to everyone, but it has not been explained very well. We are somehow dismissive of it, but it was a quite important thing in fact. We, people of culture, must now understand our involvement in everything that is happening. A person involved in history, first of all, must do well what it is that he does [as a vocation], in keeping with the principle that when guns speak, the muses should also speak. And in keeping with the realization that culture, which for us stands above politics and everything else, will later ask us to account for what we did for it. As we were asked after the war, after the Siege: what did you do — on your own?
For me, the attitude to war is established by the great Pushkin in A Journey to Arzrum. Where is he rushing the entire book? To see the demoted Decembrists and then go into battle?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Arzrum was also the only foreign land Pushkin visited. It expanded the world for him. There is nothing wrong with the fact that a person wants to have the most complete set of sensations. This is especially true when he wants to embody his deep feelings in something, to see and do something new. If he has grounds for it, he throws himself into it. It is an element of self-esteem. I always say that Russian patriotism is a sense of one’s own historical dignity. An individual understands that he must go to war, while another person understands that he must do something else, but which is no less important. Behind this is a sense of one’s own historical dignity, the desire to live up to one’s history and the mission of one’s country. It sounds quite dramatic, but we understand our country’s historical mission. This feeling that our country is changing world history, and that you are involved in it, is crucial now.
Nor are things so simple when it comes to attitudes towards armed hostilities. On the one hand, war is blood and murder, but on the other, it is a means for people, for a nation, to assert themselves. Everyone wants to assert themselves, and in their stances on the war, they undoubtedly assert themselves. We have all been brought up in the imperial tradition, and an empire unites many peoples. It unites people by finding things that are common and important to everyone. It’s very tempting, but it’s one of the good temptations, let’s say. Although we don’t have to succumb to it, ultimately, and we must be able to regulate it within ourselves. Nor should we forget the principle that a person should do what he must do, come what may. For museums, “doing what we must” means preserving and promoting culture. And keeping in mind all the time what is beyond the besieged territory. And speaking not only to people inside it, but also “outside” it.
Hello, friends, have you lost your fucking minds by any chance? I don’t know how it looks in Moscow or Petersburg, but from where I’m sitting, it looks as appropriate as selling eclairs at the gates of Auschwitz.
Source: Dmitry Volchek, Facebook, 2 June 2022. Screenshot and translation by the Russian Reader
Approaching the 100-day mark in a war that he refuses to call by its name, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a man intent on conveying the impression of business as usual.
As his army fought its way into the Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk this week, Putin was making awkward small talk in a televised ceremony to honor parents of exceptionally large families.
Since the start of May, he has met – mostly online – with educators, oil and transport bosses, officials responsible for tackling forest fires, and the heads of at least a dozen Russian regions, many of them thousands of miles from Ukraine.
Along with several sessions of his Security Council and a series of calls with foreign leaders, he found time for a video address to players, trainers and spectators of the All-Russian Night Hockey League.
The appearance of solid, even boring routine is consistent with the Kremlin’s narrative that it is not fighting a war – merely waging a “special military operation” to bring a troublesome neighbor to heel.
For a man whose army has heavily underperformed in Ukraine and been beaten back from its two biggest cities, suffering untold thousands of casualties, Putin shows no visible sign of stress.
In contrast with the run-up to the Feb. 24 invasion, when he denounced Ukraine and the West in bitter, angry speeches, his rhetoric is restrained. The 69-year-old appears calm, focused and fully in command of data and details.
While acknowledging the impact of Western sanctions, he tells Russians their economy will emerge stronger and more self-sufficient, while the West will suffer a boomerang effect from spiraling food and fuel prices.
But as the war grinds on with no end in sight, Putin faces an increasing challenge to maintain the semblance of normality.
Economically, the situation will worsen as sanctions bite harder and Russia heads towards recession.
The words “war” and “Ukraine” were never spoken during Putin’s 40-minute video encounter on Wednesday with the prolific families, including Vadim and Larisa Kadzayev with their 15 children from Beslan in the North Caucasus region.
Wearing their best dresses and suits, the families sat stiffly at tables laden with flowers and food as Putin called on them in turn to introduce themselves. On the same day, eight empty school buses pulled into the main square of Lviv in western Ukraine to serve as a reminder of 243 Ukrainian children killed since the start of Putin’s invasion.
The closest he came to acknowledging the war was in a pair of references to the plight of children in Donbas and the “extraordinary situation” there.
Russia had many problems but that was always the case, he said as he wrapped up the online meeting. “Nothing unusual is actually happening here.”
Source: Mark Trevelyan, “Putin clings to semblance of normality as his war grinds on,” Reuters, 2 June 2022
‘At least as bad as Russia itself are the areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian armed forces in 2014 – Crimea and the so called “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk – and the small amount of territory Russia has taken this year. In Crimea, all civic activism, especially by the Tatar community, has been savagely punished. People are being sent to jail for many years for something they posted on line. The “republics” are ruled by lawless, quasi-state administrations. The list of human rights abuses – torture, illegal imprisonment, forced labour, terrorism against political opponents – is long. Most of the population of the “republics” left, years ago. Industry has collapsed. As for Kherson and other areas occupied this year, local government and civil society has been assaulted, opponents of Russian rule assassinated and kidnapped, and demonstrations broken up. Putin forecast that Ukrainians would welcome his army with open arms; I literally do not know of one single example of that happening. If people are looking for explanations about Ukrainians’ heightened sense of nationalism, part of it may be in the horrendous conditions in the parts of their country occupied by Russia. Who would welcome being ruled by a bunch of cynical, lawless thugs?’
Source: “In Quillversation: A Russian Imperial Project (Simon Pirani and Anthony McIntyre Discuss the Russian War on Ukraine),” The Pensive Quill, 1 June 2022
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