“Judgement Day”: Russia’s Rabid Crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses

yuri zalipayevIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Yuri Zalipayev an “extremist”? Should he be imprisoned for five years for exercising his right to freedom of conscience, as guaranteed by the Russian Constitution? Photo courtesy of jw-russia.org

Not Everyone Shall Be Guaranteed the Freedom of Conscience: How Russia Has Been Persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses
Marina Muratova
OVD Info
August 23, 2018

Believe what you will, but do not do it openly is how the freedom of religion should now be interpreted in Russia. The authorities have sent over fifty people to court for praying and reading the Bible together. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had their homes searched and been arrested like people suspected of grave offenses. The grounds for these actions is the argument that the practice of their faith is a “continuation of the activities of an extremist organization.” OVD Info investigated the charges.

Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views, and act according to them.
—Article 28, Constitution of the Russian Federation

Russia vs. the Jehovah’s Witnesses
23 criminal cases in 18 regions of Russia, 53 people charged, 13 suspects. 31 people released on their own recognizance, 9 people under house arrest, 26 people in remand prisons. Several people assaulted by police during searches of their homes, the doors of those homes kicked down in nearly all cases. Nighttime interrogations, confiscated electronic devices, papers, and money, blocked bank accounts.

On April 20, 2017,  the Russian Supreme Court shut down the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for violating the law against “extremism.” All 395 official chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were banned. The EU’s mission to Russia said the ruling could lead to arrests. That is what has happened.

The Charges
Believers gather to pray and read the Bible, meaning they continue the work of a banned organization, according to Russian police investigators. There are few exceptions: nearly all the Jehovah’s Witness who have been detained have been charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2 (“organization of and involvement in the work of an extremist organization”).

Danish national and Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen was, among other things, charged with financing extremist activities. The prosecutor submitted to the court records,  allegedly showing that money was transferred from the account of the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the church was shut down. It transpired the transactions in question had been executed by the bank itself after the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been dissolved as a legal entity. Another Jehovah’s Witness, Yuri Zalipayev, stands accused of inciting assaults on Russian Orthodox Christians and Muslims. Zalipayev’s defense attorney is sure police investigators cooked up their evidence and then tried to conceal the frame-up.  Arkadya Akopyan, a 70-year-old tailor, has also been charged with insulting Muslims and |Russian Orthodox Christians. There is no audio or video evidence, only a witness’s testimony.

arkadya akopyanIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Arkadya Akopyan an extremist? Photo by Diana Khachatryan. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Police Searches of Homes
Russian law enforcement authorities usually conduct searches simultaneously in the flats of several Jehovah’s Witnesses early in the morning. Jehovah’s Witness have often reported violations on the part of police during these searches. In the case of the Polyakov family in Omsk, the security services busted down the door to their flat, prevented the Polyakovs from telephoning relatives, and smashed Mr. Polyakov’s face. (Doctors recorded his injuries only two days later.) When the Polyakovs attempted to voice their disagreement with the actions of police  in the official search report, police wrested the form from their grasp.  During searches and interrogations in Penza, a police investigator forced six female Jehovah’s Witness detainees to strip naked.  In Saratov Region, the security forces mistakenly sawed off the door of the wrong flat. In another flat the same day, the police discovered banned literature in the sleeve of a child’s overcoat. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the police planted it there.

In the city of Shuya, Ivanovo Region, police interrogated a 10-year-old girl, and the list of items confiscated during the police search of her family’s flat included sheet music and a pupil’s grade book from a music school. In Kabardino-Balkaria, one group of security officers stormed a flat through the balcony, although the flat’s female occupant had opened the front door to another group of security officers. In Birobidzhan, 150 law enforcement officers took part in numerous searches carried out on the same day: the operation was codenamed “Judgement Day.” Police have seized digital gear, books, Bibles, diaries, photographs, and bank cards during the raids. The raids and subsequent interrogations have lasted several hours.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have not only been detained in their homes. Police caught up with Andrei Stupnikov of Krasnoyarsk at an airport at four in the morning as he and his wife were checking into a flight to Germany. A court later jailed Stupnikov, since he could have received political asylum, as the judge put it. Alexander Solovyov was detained when he stepped off a train after returning to Perm from holiday.

Custodial Measures
Most of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been charged with criminal offenses have been incarcerated in remand prisons.  The defense attorney representing Sergei Klimov of Tomsk told OVD Info that Klimov spent two months in a solitary confinement cell measuring 1.7 meters by 2.8 meters, allegedly, because it was impossible to find room for him in an ordinary cell. On August 8, at an appeals hearing, Klimov was left in police custody, but he was transferred out of solitary into gen pop.

After time spent in remand prisons, several Jehovah’s Witnesses have been released and placed under house arrest. Konstantin Petrov of Magadan spent 64 days in jail, while several Jehovah’s Witnesses in Orenburg spent 78 days in jail each.

Vitaly Arsenyuk, a resident of the town of Dzhankoy in northern Crimea, was charged with engaging in illegal missionary work, a violation of Article 5.25 Part 4 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code. After the first hearing in his case, in June 2017, Arsenyuk died of a heart attack.

Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have spent months in pretrial custody. Danish national Dennis Christensen has spent over a year in a remand prison. No one has yet been sentenced to hard prison time, but the courts have been indulgent to Jehovah’s Witnesses only on rare occassions. In 2017, a court acquitted Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak of Sergiev Posad, who had been charged with inciting hatred or enmity on the strength of a video recording of worship services. In May, an appellate court freed 55-year-old Alam Aliyev. On August 9 and 10, a court in Kamchatka overturned earlier decisions remanding Mikhail Popov in custody and placing his wife Yelena under house arrest.

Community Property
In all regions of Russia, buildings constructed or purchased by Jehovah’s Witnesses have generally been seized and turned over to the state. In Petersburg’s Resort District, the state took possession of a complex valued at around two billion rubles [approx. 25 million euros], a complex from which the authorities had received hefty tax payments for many years. Over the course of seventeen years, state inspectors never found a single violation at the complex, but now the local courts refuse to recognize the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the property or the official deeds to the complex.

Reactions
The EU delegation to the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, and human rights activists have spoken out against Russia’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Dennis Christensen’s arrest led to the initiation of legal proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. On May 15, 2015, the Kingdom of Denmark was admitted as a third party to the case of Christensen v. Russian Federation.

In response to the complaint filed with the ECHR, Russian envoys at the ECHR and UN claimed Jehovah’s Witnesses still had the right to practice their religion despite the dissolution of their congregations. It was at this same time, in the spring of this year, that the number of arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia went through the roof.

The International Memorial Society has already recognized 29 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses as political prisoners. A total of fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses have been subjected to persecution by the authorities.

  • Oryol: Dennis Christensen, Sergei Skrynnikov
  • Omsk: Sergei and Anastasia Polyakov
  • Penza: Vladimir Alushkin, Vladimir Kulyasov, Denis Timoshin, Andrei Magliv, and four more unnamed people
  • Tomsk: Sergei Klimov
  • Saratov: Konstantin Bazhenov, Felix Makhammadiyev
  • Village of Shirokoye, Saratov Region: Alexei Budenchuk
  • Magadan: Sergei Yerkin, Yevgeny Zyablov, Konstantin Petrov
  • Khabarovsk: Ivan Puyda, Vladimir Moskalenko
  • Naberezhnye Chelny: Ilkham Karimov, Konstantin Matrashov, Vladimir Myakushin, Aidar Yulmetiev
  • Orenburg: Vladimir Kochnev, Alexander Suvorov, Vyacheslav Kolbanov
  • Polyarny, Murmansk Region: Roman Markin, Viktor Trofimov
  • Shuya, Ivanovo Region, Dmitry and Yelena Mikhaylov, Svetlana Shishina, Alexei A., Svetlana P.
  • Vladivostok: Valentin Osadchuk
  • Nakhodka: Dmitry and Yelena Barmakin
  • Krasnoyarsk: Andrei Stupnikov
  • Perm: Alexander Solovyov
  • Sol-Iletsk, Orenburg Region: Boris Andreyev
  • Village of Perevolotsky, Orenburg Region: Anatoly Vichkitov
  • Kostroma: Sergei and Valeria Rayman
  • Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Territory: Mikhail and Yelena Popov
  • Beryozovsky, Keremovo Region: Sergei Britvin, Vadim Levchuk
  • Maysky, Kabardina-Balkaria: Arkadya Akopyan
  • Lensk, Yakutia: Igor  Ivashin
  • Pskov: Gennady Shpakovsky
  • Birobidzhan: Alam Aliyev
  • Yelizovo, Kamchatka Territory: Konstantin Bazhenov
  • Belgorod: Anatoly Shalyapin, Sergei Voykov

This list was supplied to us by the European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses and defense attorney Artur Leontiev.

Freedom of Conscience
OVD Info asked attorney Artur Leontiev, who has been handling the defense of Sergei Klimov and Andrei Stupnikov, as well as the case of the property owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, to comment on the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“Law enforcement agencies have been criminally prosecuting believers for ordinary, peaceful professions of faith, as when they gather in small groups to read and discuss the Bible, watch videos on biblical topics, and so forth. The security forces got it into their heads that this constituted a continuation of the activities of an organization dissolved by the court. However, the believers who have been charged with these crimes had nothing to do with the legal entities that were dissolved and were not parties to the proceedings in the Russian Supreme Court.

“Believers’ phones were tapped, their letters were vetted, and they were followed. The security service thus amassed a fair amount of operational material. I think the heads of the various agencies decided to use it to improve their conviction rates, all the more so since the peaceable Jehovah’s Witnesses were easy targets. They have always tried to be law-abiding. Even now they do not regard themselves as criminals. They evince no aggression, imagining the injustice that has befallen them is a misunderstanding that will soon be cleared up. Actually, they are faced with a choice: refuse to practice their religion or be prepared to endure all the delights of criminal prosecution. However, the law enforcers doing the dirty work in the locales often understand what is really going on, but they are guided by the principle of ‘I have my orders, and I have a family to feed.’

“The complaint (Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and Kalin v. Russian Federation, Case No. 10188/17) has been filed with the ECHR and accepted for review, the parties have exchanged comments, and the case has been expedited. Complaints have also been filed with the ECHR for each particular instance of criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“It is vital, however, the Russian legal system kicked into gear and operated not on the basis of expediency, but according to the law. Whatever you feel about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have the same right to their beliefs and the same right to a fair trial as other Russians.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Smile! You’re on Hidden Camera

sure we can

Center “E” Surveilled Belgorod Family or Nine Months via Camera Hidden in Flat
OVD Info
August 24, 2018

In Belgorod, officers of the Center for Extremism Prevention (aka Center “E”) watched a married couple for nine months using a camera hidden in their flat, reports TV Rain, citing defense attorney Anton Omelchenko.

The couple was suspected of involvement with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. A court gave Center “E” permission to use the camera for three months on three occasions.

“Law enforcement agencies put hidden cameras in homes to record people playing. Criminal charges were filed as a result. One of the cases in Belgorod simply slayed me: a married coupled in a one-room flat who were under surveillance for nine months round the clock. Everything was really noted in the case files. The couple would watch TV and say something negative about the regime, and the field officers would immediately write down, ‘Criticized regime.’ There was a complete transcript of the entire surveillance. I also found this shocking,” Omelchenko told the TV channel.

Since their case has not yet been heard in court, Omelchenko did not name the couple who were under surveillance. It is known they have left Russia.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

It’s All Free for the ROC

Dmitry_Medvedev_and_metropolitan_Varsonofius.jpegDmitry Medvedev, then President of Russia, and Varsonofius, then Metropolitan of Saransk, during National Unity Day in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Free for the ROC: Petersburg City Hall Allocates Two Land Plots for Church Construction
Alexei Kumachev
Delovoi Peterburg
July 31,2018

Petersburg city hall [aka the Smolny] has allocated two land plots for church construction in the Primorsky and Petrograd distrists. According to documents published on the Smolny’s website, the land will be provided free of charge. It was reported previously that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) had announced plans to build a Sunday school on Heroes Avenue and a church on Konstantinovsky Avenue.

The St. Petersburg Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate will receive a land plot on Krestovsky Island. The total area is 2,000 square meters. A ten-year lease will be signed within a month.

Earlier, it was reported the ROC’s plans for the lot on Konstantinovsky Avenue involved construction of 254 square meter church, a 400 square meter school building, a 32 square meter belfy area, and a 28 square meter baptistery.

The proposal to transfer the land to the ROC was made by Petersburg Deputy Governor Igor Albin at a meeting of the city government.

The estimated cadastral value of the land is ₽15 million. According to Anna Sigalova, deputy director for investments at Colliers International in Petersburg, the plot could be sold for around ₽300 million [approx. €4 million]. The analyst added the price could change if the plot were rezoned for residentialhousing construction.

In addition, the ROC will receive a land plot in the Krasnoye Selo District for free. This is the previously mentioned plot on Heroes Avenue. The total area of the site is 2,200 square meters.

The ROC plans to build a two-storey Orthodox school with its own church on the site. The work will be done by the congregation of the All Saints Church in southwest Petersburg. The term of the free lease is ten years. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko signed the documents ceding the land to the ROC.

On July 18, we reported the Petersburg and Leningrad Region Arbitrage Court had agreed to hear a lawsuit filed by the city’s Property Relations Committee (KIO) against the congregration of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Church (St. Petersburg Diocese, ROC) concerning the ownership rights to the church, which was built on the former grounds of South Primorsky Park, opposite the house at 24 Valor Street.

16 сентябрь 2015 (12)Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Church while still under construction in September 2015. Photo courtesy of the church’s website

The 16,600 square meter plot had earlier been rezoned for construction of religious buildings and handed over to the ROC. The church building itself, however, was constructed. without the necessary permits. The first hearing of the lawsuit, which claims the city’s right of ownership to the church in the park, has been scheduled for September.

In July 2017, the Smolny transfered a nearly 5,000 square meter plot of land in the elite [sic] village of Komarovo to the ROC. The media wrote at the time the summer cottage of Varsonofius, Metropolitan of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, could be built on the site. At the same time, Petersburg Legislative Assembly member Boris Vishnevsky drew attention to the fact that a nearly half-hectare land plot was transferred to the Petersburg Diocese only due to the house on it.

In 2013, the ROC leased the land until 2062. The plot’s value was estimated at ₽30 million. Later, officials explained why they had decided to transfer it to the ROC.

“The plot contains a piece of real estate, a house whose cadastral number is 78:38:0022359:29, and whose rightful owner is a religious organization [i.e., the ROC],” said Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Mokretsov.

According to Mokretsov, an inspection established the plot was used for religious purposes. The Smolny leased the plot to the St. Petersburg Diocese on July 25, 2017.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Who Cares, Right?

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Novaya Gazeta in Petersburg reported yesterday that Petersburgers who worked security at the football stadium in Nizhny Novgorod during the 2018 FIFA World Cup have not been paid their wages.

Since July 10, they have been living at the local train station. They have spent all their savings and now have no money to make the trip back home.

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Before they decamped to the train station, they were housed in the stadium itself in conditions as depicted in the photograph, above.

But you were glued to your TV sets the whole time, so what do you care? || TRR

Photos courtesy of the Express and KozaPress

The Voice of Rao

voice of rao.jpegIn Kandor City, on the planet Krypton, everyone fears the mysterious, awe-inspiring Voice of Rao, including the little “rankless” priestess Ona. Still from the TV serial Krypton, broadcast on Syfy in Ul Qoma, and on Ororo in Besźel.

Media Learns about Kremlin’s Order to Officials to “Reduce Media Activity”
Maria Bondarenko
RBC
April 27, 2018

The Kremlin has recommended federal officials reduce their “media activity” before Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. According to Kommersant, Dmitry Medvedev’s final public appearance is scheduled for May 3.

According to Kommersant newspaper, the public events Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attends on May 3, including a visit to the VDNKh, where he will chair a meeting on agricultural growth, will be his last before Vladimir Putin’s inauguration.

After May 3, according to the newspaper’s sources in the government and the Kremlin, federal officials will disappear from public view. The Kremlin has issued a recommendation to cabinet ministers and regional authorities to “reduce media activity” so as not to interfere with the “chief executive’s information agenda” on the eve of the inauguration, the newspaper’s sources said.

Medvedev conducted his last cabinet meeting on April 26. According to Kommersant‘s sources in the Russian White House, the prime minister arranged a buffet featuring champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and several officials were awarded the government’s highest honor, the Stolypin Medal of the First Degree. It cannot be ruled out the cabinet will meet on Saturday, May 5, to coordinate its actions before the presidential inauguration. According to the newspaper, however, this meeting will be held behind closed doors.

Putin’s inauguration is scheduled for May 7. Afterwards, the current government will resign. The president must then select a new cabinet of ministers. The day after the presidential election, March 19, Putin said he would make changes to the next government. However, he said nothing specific about changes in the cabinet. According to Kommersant, there is a “high likelihood” Medvedev will retain the post of prime minister.

Citing a source in the Kremlin, Kommersant likewise noted that after election to his previous presidential term, Putin personally held meetings with each potential minister and deputy prime minister, while Medvedev was more involved with the government’s overall structure. The newspaper’s source suggested this method would likely be used this time as well.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Minority Report

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But in 2000 Putin came to power. Now Putin was director of the FSB (KGB), the executive branch, as it were, of the Soviet government’s war against God. [In reality, Putin was director of the FSB from 25 July 1998 to 29 March 1999. He was acting president of Russia from 31 December 1999 to 7 May 2000, when he assumed the same office as the popularly elected president of Russia.—TRR.] or such a man to become president was therefore a profound shock and a stern warning for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It was as if the head of the Inquisition had become head of the World Council of Churches, or Himmler, the president of Germany after the war.

Nothing similar would have been tolerated in a western country. But it was tolerated in Russia, first, because, as surveys showed, most Russians still considered the Soviet Union to be their native country, and Lenin and Stalin to be heroes; and secondly, because the west clung on to the stupid belief that over seventy years of the most terrible bloodletting in history (far longer and far more radical than Hitler’s twelve years in power) could be wiped out and reversed without any kind of decommunization, without even a single person being put on trial for murdering innocent people in the name of Soviet power’s collective Antichrist.

The tragic farce has reached such a stage that the KGB has become a hero of Russia literature and film, with its own church in the middle of its chief prison, the Lubyanka in Moscow, not, as it might be thought, to commemorate the martyrs who suffered so terribly within its walls, but for the executioners.

The west concurred with this filthy whitewash. The official Orthodox Church (itself run by KGB agents) concurred. The masses of the Russian people concurred by voting Putin into power repeatedly.

And then the rebirth took place. Without repenting in the slightest of his communist past, and while gradually reintroducing more and more Soviet traditions and symbols, Putin underwent a conversion to Christ. Or rather, from being part of the body of the Soviet Antichrist, which was anti-, that is, against Christ, he is now preaching a form of Communist Christianity that, as Makarkin puts it, copies Jesus Christ, placing its own ideas in place of Christ’s and passing them off as His. And if the copy is a poor one (just as Lenin’s stinking body is a very poor imitation of the fragrant relics of the saints, and the murderous “Moral Code of the Builder of Communism” is a very poor imitation of the Sermon on the Mount) this does not matter, so long as the masses are taken in by it or, if they are not taken in by it, at least convinced that Christ and the anti-Christian state are now on the same side.

So the Russian revolution has mutated from one kind of anti-Christianity to another, from Lenin’s anti-Christianity, which was openly against Christ, to Putin’s anti-Christianity, which pretends not to be against Christ but to copy Him and take His place.

There can be no doubt this new, more sophisticated kind of anti-Christianity is more dangerous than the former, and closer to the kind that will be practised by the actual Antichrist himself at the end of time. For of that Antichrist the Lord said, “I have come in My Father’s name and you do not believe Me: if another shall come in his own name, him you will believe” (John 5:43). In other words, you have rejected the real Christ, and as a direct result you will accept an imposter, a man-god, for the real thing, the God-Man.

But we must not be deceived, remembering Putin’s words: “Once a chekist, always a chekist.”

Excerpted from Vladimir Moss, “Putin, the Communist Christian,” 23 February 2018. Mr. Moss’s text has been lightly edited to make it more readable. Photo by the Russian Reader

The Toponymic Commission Strikes Back

smolninsky rayon

A 1967 public transportation map of Leningrad’s former Smolny District. The red lines and numbers indicate tramlines. Nearly all of the line were decommissioned in the late 1990s and 2000s, although they were an important lynchpin in the entire tram system, which was once the largest in the world in terms of sheer length of tracks. In the late noughties, Tram Park No. 4, located at the spot marked by the encircled red number five on the map, was demolished to makeway for a flying-saucer-topped monstrosity known as the Nevsky Rathaus, developed by a company owned by Sergei Matviyenko, son of then-Petersburg Valentina Matviyenko.
The Rathaus’s ostensible purpose was move all of the city government’s farflung committees into a single office building, but since many of the most powerful committees occupy prime downtown real estate in their own gorgeous 19th-century buildings, there is no evidence that things have gone to plan. In turn, completion of the Rathaus has set off a storm of redevelopment in the immediate vicinity, much of it involving the constructi of needlessly large and invariably ugly “elite” housing blocks. Map from the collection of the Russian Reader

“Today, November 24, the [Petersburg] Toponymic Commission will decide whether the Soviet [Sovetskye] Streets will again be called the Christmas [Rozhdestvenskye] Streets, and Insurrection Square [ploshchad Vosstaniya] will be redubbed Church of the Sign Square [Znamenskaya ploshchad]. It will finally become clear who won the Russian Civil war, the Whites or the Reds,” wrote Petersburg’s best-known pop historian in the business daily Delovoi Peterburg the other day.

Forgive me for restating obvious historical truths, but most sane people know the Reds won the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks emerged victorious from the October Revolution, and the Soviet Union, in concert with its allies the United States and Great Britain, won the Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Fatherland (or Patriotic) War.

The reactionaries on the Petersburg Toponymic Commission could restore the “old” names to every street in the city, including streets that appeared on the map only during the Soviet period, but they cannot alter the outcomes of historical events, especially events such as the ones I have just mentioned, which had overwhelming consequences for Russia and the world, however negatively, positively or indifferently we evaluate them today.

Besides, real local historians and history enthusiasts know that the names of many streets changed several times even during the city’s tsarist period (1703–1917), not to mention the Soviet regime, where same thing also happened quite often as the Party line and public sentiment changed from one decade to the next.

First Soviet Street, for example, had several names during the period 1766–1923: New Carriage Street [Novaya Karetnaya], Carriage Street [Karetnaya], Old Carriage Street [Staraya Karetnaya], First Christmas Street [1-ya Rozhdestvenskaya], First Street, and, finally, First Christmas Street againm, before it was renamed First Soviet Street by the Bolsheviks in 1923.

If historical justice were the Toponymic Commission’s real concern they would restore the street’s original name, New Carriage Street. Right?

Twenty years ago or so, perhaps, the Toponymic Commission was doing vital work, but nowadays it is a tool of the blackest, most virulent political reaction.

Indeed, it was also a tool of reaction twenty years ago, too, and I thus am eternally gratefully to my late father-in-law, who never deigned to call Sophia Perovskaya Street and Zhelyabov Street by their newfangled “old” names of Greater and Lesser Stable Streets [Bolshaya Konyushennaya and Malaya Konyushennaya].

Officially empowered experts who can seriously contemplate changing Insurrection Square’s name after a hundred years (a decision they ultimately nixed, although they did rename Insurrection Street [ulitsa Vosstaniya], which runs north from Insurrection Square and Nevsky Avenue to Kirochnaya Street, Church of the Sign Street [Znamenskaya ulitsa]) are sending an unambivalent message to Petersburgers that from here on out their God-given right to rebel and rise up tyrants and thugs has been confiscated, as it were, however murderous and criminal the current and subsequent regimes are.

But it is ludicrous to think it will never occur to people to revolt simply because there is no longer an Insurrection Street or Insurrection Square in their city, one of whose nicknames, in Soviet times, was the Cradle of Three Revolutions.

It is just as queer to feign that, by redubbing the Soviet Streets the Christmas Streets, there was never any Soviet period in the city’s history. The signs and symptoms of the Soviet regime—good, bad, neutral, and controversial—are literally everywhere you look. Completely erasing these signs and symptoms from the collective memory and the visible cityscape will not accelerate real democracy’s advent. On the contrary, it will probably push that happy day farther into the future.

It is the Toponymic Commission itself that should be abolished. It has long been busy rewriting history, not engaging in the non-science of toponymy. In this respect, it has aped the current regime, doing its dirty deeds under the guise of restoring what was lost or doing rhetorical combat with nonexistent malevolent forces that, allegedly, have wanted to revise the outcome of the Second World War or something equally hilarious, impossible, and utterly imaginary.

What the Toponymic Commission and the current regime really want to do is transfigure history, the study of history, and collective and individual historical memory into a total, inedible muddle. If they succeed in pulling off this trick, or so they imagine, it will be easier for them manage and manipulate people and society, and diminishing their will to write and make their own history.

nevsk rathausThe Nevsky Rathaus and its telltale flying saucer, as seen at the far end of one of the now officially former Soviet Streets. Photo by the Russian Reader

P.S. It was oh so vital to immediately rename Petersburg’s long-suffering Soviet Streets. Of course, all good Christian men and women have rejoiced in this collective decision on the part of corrupt city officials and the city’s loyal opposition. But did anyone even peep when Tram Park No. 4 on Degtyarny Allegy (in the same part of town, the Sands neighborhood, that were home to the now-disappeared Soviet Streets) was demolished and, before this, nearly the entire tram network there was dismantled?

What have Petersburgers received in compensation for the deliberate destruction of public transportation in their city? What will they receive to make up for this clear attempt to erase the Soviet past while preserving Soviet decision-making methods and leaving all of the least progressive aspects of the Soviet mindset firmly in place?

First, there was the UFO aka the Nevsky Rathaus, built by the former governor’s son. Now we have been gifted with a gift none of us really wanted, the Christmas Streets, as if this city of five million or more were populated solely by wildly devout Orthodox toponymic history enthusiasts.

In the near future, like a triple layer of icing on an sickly sweet holiday cake, we will be treated to the total “reconstruction” of the Church of the Nativity of Christ in the Sands. This is yet another unwanted gift, a gift made possible, once again, through demolition, in this case the destruction of the cosy, pretty square at the intersection of Sixth Soviet Street and Krasnobor Alley. Local residents campaigned against this so-called urban planning decision. But who the hell are local residents, and what are their opinions worth when the current reactionary regime has been intent on beating it into everyone’s head that its own provenance is nearly divine?

What is worse, the city’s semi-official historical preservation mob indulges the regime in its “religious” aspirations.

This is yet another amazing story about how the nearly perpetual muddle in the heads of the city’s “finest people” (as one commentator called them when I published an earlier version of these remarks on Facebook) produces circumstances in which Petersburg is practically defenseless against urban planning stupidities and revisionist toponymic interventions. You can visit whatever truly satanic outrages on its tender flesh you wish, and most of the so-called opposition and its mostly silent, invisible supporters will either sign on to your crazy undertaking, keep its mouth shut or immediately surrender without putting up a fight.

One of the few exceptions in recent years (the bleak years of Putin 3.0) was when a bas-relief sculpture of Mephistopheles was removed from the façade of a building on the Petrograd Side, apparently on orders from a local housing authority official. A full-fledged public hullabaloo kicked off, featuring a well-attended opposition rally outside the offended building and, ultimately, the restoration of the demonic sculpture.

You see, that was a real crime against history and historical preservation. TRR