Sergey Yermakov: Protest Duckies and the Actionism of Fact

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Inflated rubber duckie at June 12, 2017, anti-corruption protest rally in Petersburg. The duckie was later detained by police. Photo courtesy of The Poke

Sergey Yermakov
Protest Duckies and the Actionism of Fact

The final performances by Voina’s so-called Petersburg faction could be termed “actionism of fact” by analogy with “literature of fact,” a project the LEF mob tried and failed to realize in the 1920s.

Voina took ordinary actions from the repertoire of protest and resistance, actions requiring no special skills—turning over a police car, torching a paddy wagon, dousing policemen with urine—and simply did them in their performances.

What happened to the performances due to their actions?

First, the performances simply were carried out, like ordinary actions, bereft of aesthetic and symbolic depth. (We will bracket the question of Alexei Plutser-Sarno’s defamiliarizing press releases.) “They really did it.”

Second, the actions were glorified by the very fact they were performed by the actionists. They were bathed in an aura of glory, but note that this aura was totally colorless. It had no density whatsoever, and it produced no distortions in the albedo. This was because the actions were as commonplace as could be, actions available to everyone, actions to which nothing was added except their execution. (Well, yes, and the group’s signature.)

The actionist readymade (or “readydone”) and actionism of fact, unlike the classic artistic readymade, have no need of a special aesthetic space, such as a museum. Unlike literature of fact (if this literary project had actually been implemented in the twenties), actionism may well avoid the traps of language and representation.

Voina thus directly took on the issue of politically effective action. There is a certain actionist Platonism to it, but if we bypass Plato (no matter how we regard the violence of his gesture) we cannot ask ourselves about art’s attitude and access to politics.

In the Republic, Plato does not suggest banishing all poets for fobbing off the phantom of excellence (εἰδώλων ἀρετῆς) on citizens instead of virtue (i.e., the thought of action). He would let the non-mimetic poets, who glorify the gods and sing the praises of good men (ἐγκώμια τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς), stay in the city. Voina’s Petersburg faction non-mimetically sang the praises not of citizens themselves, but certain actions as such, simply by performing them. Their implicit message was something like: Look, this is up for grabs for everyone, and yet if you carry out this glorious deed, you will not be unoriginal and overshadowed by us, because this is basically something anyone could do. This is a kind of democratic and non-hierarchical political Platonism.

Voina did these performances before the May 6, 2012, clashes between protesters and police on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow. They seemingly had offered the demos who took to the streets a possible repertoire of elementary actions. (Of course, the total number of such actions is much greater, and not all of them are either criminal or so primitive. What matters in this case is only the dimension itself.) But the demos did not heed their call, preferring to play at making witty posters, from the December 2011 rally on Sakharov Avenue to this day, and exchanging anti-regime memes in the social networks. (That is, the circumstances are in some way symmetrical to the exile of the poets. In this case, however, the demos itself has turned its back on genuinely political artists, immersing itself in the carnivalesque mimesis of the meme.) By rejecting the dimension of the glorious deed, however, the demos has refused to be itself, because it is eventful, rather than substantial, in contrast to the phantasm of the ethnos.

It took Pyotr Pavlensky half a dozen performances to get close to the place where Voina had arrived in the spring of 2011, that is, in order to torch the front door at FSB headquarters in Moscow. In many ways, the performance was a step backwards, for example, when it came to the question of withdrawal. The guerillas of Voina insisted on retreating in a well-conceived way and unexpectedly returning to strike again. (This is the only worthwhile “We’ll be back!” It is a far cry from Navalny and Co.) But Pavlensky, in many respects by way of accommodating an aesthetic impulse, stood his ground to the bitter end. He has thus proven to be a more direct follower of the National Bolsheviks than Voina when it comes to this issue.

So Voina is still waiting for its demos and valiant citizens back in the spring of 2011, scornfully gazing at rubber duckies, meme politics, and witty anti-Kremlin t-shirts.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Sergey Yermakov is a professional translator who was involved in several of Pyotr Pavlensky’s performances. My thanks to Mr. Yermakov for his kind permission to publish this essay here.

The Enemy Within Is Everywhere

The Russian National Guard Has Been Crushing the General Staff
Alexander Goltz, Military Observer
The New Times
June 5, 2017

A calling card of a militaristic society is the tendency of the authorities to respond to all challenges by means of force, military or otherwise. The Kremlin’s fear of so-called color revolutions has materialized into a buildup of the resources available to the recently minted Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya), which was designed to quell unrest. Unprecedented powers have now been added to its resources. 

 «Чтобы все было в ажуре». Экспонаты организованной Росгвардией выставки, которая посвящена технологиям правохранительных органов, Красноармейск, Московская область, 25 мая 2017 года. Фото: Антон Луканин/ТАСС“So that everything is just so” (Chtoby vsyo bylo v azhure). Exhibits at a trade show, organized by the Russian National Guard, dealing with law enforcement equipment. Krasnomarmeysk, Moscow Region, May 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Anton Lukanin/TASS

In the last part of May, when the public was distracted by the police raids on the Gogol Center and director Kirill Serebrennikov, almost no one noticed a new decree, issued by President Putin, which approved the “Regulations on the Tactical and Geographical Organization of the Forces of the Russian Federal National Guard.” At first glance, it is a run-of-the-mill and extraordinarily boring bureaucratic document. But that it is only at first glance. In fact, only a few lines in the decree point to a genuine revolution in the organization of Russia’s military.

“By decision of the President of the Russian Federation,” reads the document, “the units and divisions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, as well as other military formations and bodies, can be transferred to the tactical subordination of the district commander to perform tasks assigned to National Guard troops.”

A New Kind of War

In both Soviet and post-Soviet times, the possibility was envisaged that the Internal Troops of the Interior Ministry, on whose basis the Russian National Guard was established in 2016, could be subordinated to the Armed Forces. After all, an external foe could have gained the upper hand over the army, and to repel it, it would have been necessary to concentrate all the country’s military forces into a single fist. Units from the Internal Troops have been involved in all major military exercises in recent years under the command of the army. But it has never been suggested that army units would be subordinated to the command of the Internal Troops.

There were no hints in last year’s law, which instituted the Russian National Guard, that army units could be subordinated to Guard commanders, for such subordination could mean only one thing: the Kremlin regards domestic threats as much more dangerous than foreign threats. These domestic threats are so serious that, at some point, the Russian National Guard might lack the strength to repel them, although, according to its commander-in-chief, Viktor Zolotov, its troop strength has doubled in comparison with the Internal Troops (which had 187,000 men in its ranks before their reassignment), i.e., the Russian National Guard has close to 400,000 soldiers. The president’s decree means the authorities concede the possibility of large-scale unrest that would affect the entire country. Under such circumstances, all reserves would be deployed, and the army would be engaged in performing their notorious “internal function,” something the military has avoided like the plague both in Soviet and post-Soviet times.

In 2014, however, at a conference organized by the Defense Ministry, the generals, wishing to oblige the Kremlin, came to the stunning conclusion that so-called color revolutions were a new form of military action. Thus, in the new edition of The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, published in December 2014, we read that modern military conflicts are characterized by the “integrated use of military force and non-military political, economic, informational and other measures, implemented with extensive use of the populace’s protest potential and special tactical forces.” As we see, the “populace’s protest potential” is equated with the actions of enemy saboteurs.

Loyalty Counts

At this point, seemingly, it was incumbent that something be done. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has on several occasions ordered several military institutions (including the Academy of the General Staff, for example) to carry out research on how the Armed Forces should react to such threats, but the outcomes of this research are still unknown. Likely as not, the officers corps did not wish to dirty its hands by planning how to deploy troops against its own people. All they could force themselves to do was come up with the idea of subordinating the army to the Russian National Guard, thus shifting responsibility to it for using force on the streets of Russia’s cities. Yet the commanders of the army units assigned to the Russian National Guard will themselves have to decide, when push comes to shove, whose orders to carry out and how to carry them out.

Last summer, units of the Russian National Guard and the Airborne Forces engaged in joint exercises in Volgograd Region. Servicemen from two brigades of the Russian National Guard and the Special Ops Centers, as well the Fifty-Sixth Airborne Assault Brigade of the Airborne Forces were involved in the exercises: a total of four thousand men. However, a member of the Defense Ministry, Lieutenant General Andrei Kholzakov, Deputy Commander of the Airborne Forces, was in charge of the maneuvers. The general explained then that the exercises were the first to take place “after the reformation of the Internal Troops. We have been working out issues of interaction to understand how to cooperate in the future.” The reason why, during the initial stages, army generals were tapped to command the exercises is obvious. Their colleagues in the Russian National Guard did not have the know-how and experience to plan large-scale operations. But now, the president’s decree would have us think, the Kremlin favors loyalty over knowledge and ability, and it has subordinated the army to the police. By hook or by crook, the army is being prepared to put down its own people.

Russian National Guard Units in Russia (Districts and Cities Where Units Are Deployed. Source: www.rosgvard.ru

Super Law Enforcement Authority

The authorities, however, have not been hiding what jobs, the most important, as they imagine, the Russian National Guard will have to take on for the state. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin quite seriously dubbed it the “most belligerent military unity solving problems inside the country.” Even so, he underscored that the “Russian National Guard must be armed to the teeth, and not just to the teeth, but with the highest-quality weapons.”

True, the Guard itself is steadily becoming a super law enforcement body, a secret service backed up by thousands of troops. Relatively recently, for example, it transpired that the Guard was establishing a service for monitoring social networks on the internet.

“We see today the areas where we would like to develop. IT is in first place. […] The Russian National Guard plans to train IT specialists and specialists for monitoring social networks,” said Colonel General Sergei Melikov, deputy commander of the Russian National Guard.

According to Melikov, “such training groups” were already functioning at the Perm Military Institute.

Военнослужащие Росгвардии во время курса боевой подготовки, Московская область, февраль 2017 года. Фото: Дмитрий Коротаев/Коммерсантъ Russian National Guardsmen during combat training. Moscow Region, February 2017. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant

General Melikov claimed the new unit would tasked only with tracking terrorists and preventing their attacks. But it is more likely the cyber-guardsmen will identify groups of “rebels,” including people planning to take part in protest rallies.

In the meantime, the media has reported on the Russian National Guard’s intentions to obtain permission to perform investigative work, thus establishing their own version of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department (MUR). So far, high-ranking officials in the Guard have decisively denied this. However, General Melikov revealed that the Russian National Guard would train the appropriate specialists if the authorities decided to give them these powers.

Finally, the top brass has consistently been involved in guiding the National Guardsmen ideologically. It would seem their ideal is the NKVD, for the authorities have not limited themselves to naming an tactical division of the Guard after Iron Felix. So, in the very near future, Dzerzhinsky’s name will be resurrected, incorporated as part of the name of the Guard’s Saratov Institute. The Guard’s units and divisions are supposed to be given the insignias and honorary titles of glorious predecessors. Uniformed historians have been tasked with finding something heroic about the NKVD’s troops. It is curious what they will write about the involvement of these “glorious warriors” in wholesale deportations and whether they will use these “heroic examples” to educate the Guardsmen.

The Potential Enemy 

For the time being, the Russian National Guard’s commanders insist that its main objective is confronting terrorists and armed gangs, underplaying its role in dispersing civilians. But the same day the president’s decree was published, May 20, an article with the byline of Yuri Baluyevsky was published in the Independent Military Observer. In the recent past, Baluyevsky had been chief of the Armed Forces General Staff; he was later deputy secretary of the Security Council, and is now an adviser to the Russian National Guard’s commander-in-chief. His article is notable for its frankness.

“As a military man,” writes Baluyevsky, “I compare our country to a target. The center is the leadership and political elite. The second circle is the economy, the third, infrastructure, the fourth, the populace, and the fifth, the Armed Forces. Currently, it is not the Armed Forces who are being attacked, but the civilian population, since, compared with the military, it is the segment of society most vulnerable to the forces and methods of psychological warfare. The scenario for how events unfold is known from the color revolutions. The organizers get millions of people shouting ‘Down with the government!’ to take to the streets. The authorities start to lose control. Next come sanctions and an integrated attack on the country’s economy. The armed forces don’t know what to do. All of this leads the country to collapse. This is how a modern war could unfold.  The emergence of the National Guard is a response to the challenge to our society, to the threat posed by the use of so-called nonviolent resistance, which it would be more accurate to call a ‘color revolution.'”

Thus, society’s allegedly least responsible segment, the civilian population of one’s own country, has been transformed into a potential enemy against whom the Russian National Guard and the army will be allowed to use force. They will be allowed to use military force against their own people.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AKH for the heads-up

Life on the Installment Plan

“Sovcombank. Are you a pensioner? Your loan is approved!”

Half of Russians in Arrears Take Out New Loans to Repay Old Loans
Takie Dela
April 18, 2017

In 2016, according to the statistics of the United Credit Bureau (UCB), 45 million Russians with current loans took new loans from banks. More than half of these people intended to use the money to pay off outstanding loans.

The bureau’s analysis showed that 53% of borrowers took a new cash loan that was used to fully or partly repay existing loans. 27% spent more than half of the new loans to pay their debts.

On average, Russians borrow between 101 and 126 thousand rubles [between 1,650 euros and 2,080 euros, approx.] to repay debts. According to statistics, around half of the borrowers (56%) take the money to repay debts of 50 thousand rubles or less or debts over 500 thousand rubles (47%).

33% of those who take new loans before repaying old loans have a debt of 100 thousand rubles. Nearly a fifth of all borrowers (18%) have three outstanding loans and a total debt of 278 thousand rubles, while every tenth borrower has five or more outstanding loans and a total debt of 575 thousand rubles.

71% of those who have five or more outstanding loans have taken a new loan to repay the interest on the existing debt. 65% of those with four outstanding loans and 60% of those with three outstanding loans have done the same thing. Those who have only one outstanding loan are the least likely (42%) to use a new loan to make interest payments.

“The trend may indicate the growing popularity of loan refinancing programs, which many Russian banks have vigorously brought on line in the past year,” commented UCB’s director general Daniel Zelensky. “Borrowers who took out loans at high interest rates in 2015 naturally have wanted to refinance them on more favorable terms.”

He added that many borrowers have realized that now it is “irrational to service several loans in different banks at the same time.”

In May of last year, the National Credit History Bureau analyzed 3,700,00 Russian creditors and reported that the most indebted Russians were schoolteachers and physicians. Employees of the social sector and education sector spend 33.39% and 33.3%, respectively, of their income paying back loans. The highest ratio of monthly loan payments to income (33.56%) was recorded amongst pharmaceutical and medical workers.

According to UCB’s report, no fewer than 600,000 Russians are currently bankrupt. That is, they owe more than half a million rubles and have not made payments on their debts for three months.

Translation and photograph by the Russian Reader. If you found this article interesting, you might want to read “Kotlas: Russia’s Bankruptcy Capital,” posted here in December 2016.

Popular Protests in Novosibirsk Defeat Governor’s Plans to Raise Rates

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Rally against planned building maintenance and utility rate hikes, March 19, 2017, Novosibirsk. Photo courtesy of navalny.com

Novosibirsk Cancels Sharp Hike in Utility Rates in Wake of Protests
Yevgeny Kalyukov
RBC
April 19, 2017

Seven protest rallies in the region’s capital have forced regional leaders to give up their plan to raise rates for housing services and utilities by 15%.

RBC Novosibirsk has reported that Vladimir Gorodetsky, governor of Novosibirsk Region, has announced he will not raise rates for residential building maintenance and utilities by 15% beginning July 1, 2017.

During a briefing on Wednesday in Novosibirsk, Gorodetsky said he had signed an amendment to a decree adopted in December 2016. The amendment lowers the maximum rate rise to 4%.

Seven protest rallies have taken place in Novosibirsk in recent months. Protesters demanded the authorities either give up plans to increase rates so sharply or resign. Opposition politician Alexei Navalny was involved in the third rally.

“I hadn’t imagined the degree to which the protesters were dissatisfied. It’s a rare thing when my speech is more moderate in mood than the slogans shouted by rallygoers. My overall feeling was that the city had had it. Clearly, no one here can pay the new rates. And it’s a sure bet no one wants to pay for someone else to live well. We also have to understand the rate rise hasn’t come into force yet. Meaning the people coming out to the rallies realize there will other figures on their bills come June. I’m curious to see what will happen here in August when the summons to take to the streets, contained in the building maintenance and utilities bill, arrives in everyone’s apartment,” Navaly wrote in his blog after the rally.

On April 17, a petition calling for cancellation of the rate hike, signed by several thousand people, was delivered to Gorodetsky’s office.

“Believe me, I don’t listen just to the opinions of the people at the rallies. I have meet with the trade unions, the Public Chamber, and the Russian People’s Front. People said the burden was heavy,” Gorodetsky said on Wednesday by way of explaining his decision.

In keeping with the decree “On Maximum Increases in Payments Made by Citizens for Communal Services in the Municipalities of Novosibirsk Region in 2017,” signed on December 16, 2016, the amount of money charged to consumers of communal services would have increased by 15% as of July 1, 2017, in a number of towns and villages in the region, including Novosibirsk itself.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“We Are Treated like Schmucks”: Why Volga Region Pensioners Have Rebelled against the Regime

“We Are Treated like Schmucks”: How and Why Volga Region Pensioners Have Rebelled against the Regime
Yeveniya Volunkova
Takie Dela
April 4, 2017

What Happened?
Certain benefits for pensioners, disabled people, and other beneficiaries were cut in Samara at the beginning of 2017. Monthly payments for housing services and utilities were replaced by compensation for actual expenses. People now have to pay their bills first, then show the authorities the receipts, and only after that, if they have no debts, are they compensated for their expenses. The system has not been put through its paces and does not function, so there have been problems with assembling documents and getting compensation. In addition, a charge for major renovations has been added to the housing maintenance bill, a charge that many people do not pay as a matter of principle. Also, free public transportation for working pensioners has been abolished, and the number of free rides on the subsidized transport pass has been limited to fifty. This lasts many people two weeks; moreover, people complain the “rides” disappear more quickly. The frosting on the cake was the cancellation of monthly cash payments for working pensioners, who number 175,000 in Samara Region. People have lost their supplementary pensions, which ranged from 600 to 1,200 rubles. Non-working pensioners, whose pensions are over 19,500 rubles, have also been stripped of supplementary payments. The Samara administration did not give permission to hold a protest rally on the city’s central square, allowing it only in a remote neighborhood. Despite these precautions, the protesters packed the square.

The fourth large-scale protest by pensioners took place in Samara on April 2. The old folks first rebelled against Samara Region Governor Nikolai Merkushin in early February, when around 300 people attended a protest rally. The number of protesters has grown each time, and yesterday, according to unofficial statistics, around 4,000 people gathered on the square near the Athletics Palace. The protesters told our correspondent Yevegniya Volunkova what they were protesting and how they had succeeded in coming together when the rallies have not been mentioned on television at all.

***

Nina Dmitrievna and Tamara Petrovna

Both women are seventy-nine years old. They heard about the rally from flyers and the internet. Their main complaints are Mordovian produce in the city and a fountain during the plague.

We’re upset about our poverty, the judicial system, and very many other things. But first of all, we want to see Merkushkin replaced. He squanders money and imports everything from Mordovia, including crushed stone, paving tile, and cement. Whatever shop you go to, the produce is all Mordovian. It’s no wonder his nickname is the Mordvin Pasha. During these hard times for the region, he wants to build the best fountain in Europe on the river embankment. Is now the time for it? Replace the pavement and benches, sure, but why the heck do we need a fountain right now? My friends and two children live in poverty, and it’s hard to buy bread. But this stadium [Samara is one of the host cities for the 2018 World Cup — TD], good God, how much money they’ve embezzled, and it’s not clear whether they’ll finish it or not. They took their kickbacks, but there’s no money left to build the thing. If we could see that everything was being done on behalf of the people, we would put up with it, but they have been stealing. Merkhushkin pumped three million into the wall on Samara Square [the Wall of Honor on Glory Square, which cut off a beautiful view of the Volga and Zhiguli Mountains, popularly known as the Wailing Wall — TD). It’s in terribly bad taste! And so much money was spent.

Mikhail Viktorovich

Seventy years old, he heard about the rally from friends. His main complaint: how can he survive on his pension?

How the mean regime deals with veterans! Yesterday, villagers told me their family had a monthly pension of 8,000 rubles [approx. 133 euros] or so. What is that? How can a person survive? Today, I went to get milk and bread. I also bought some biscuits and something to put in a soup. 600 rubles [approx. 10 euros] was gone just like that. Is the governor here? He didn’t show up? Shame on him! He stole kopecks from pensioners. Down with our government! They have not made a single effective move to improve the well-being of veterans.

Irina Olegovna

Sixty years old, she heard about the rally from a girlfriend. Her main complaint is that she has been forced to work to survive.

My monthly pension is 7,700 rubles, and I used to get a veteran’s bonus. I worked as an educator my whole life. Merkushkin took way the 621 rubles I got as a veteran’s bonus. I have no husband and no support. I’m forced to work to survive, but I have a whole passle of ailments. Should I approve his policies? He can go back to his native Mordovia. Besides, he lies and lies and lies. He shamelessly lies that he gives us a pension. I wrote a letter to him asking him to help me find work. Do you think he helped me? He didn’t do a damn thing for me.

Valentina Andreyevna

Sixty-three years old, she found out about the rally from the internet. Her main complaint is shamefully low pensions.

I came out of a sense of solidarity. I don’t receive any discount benefits: my length of service was too short. There should other slogans here: “Decent pensions!” Give us a decent pension and we wouldn’t need discounts. We’ll pay for public transport passes, for apartment maintenance costs, and so on. But it’s impossible to live on our miserly pensions.

Valery Remizov

Twenty-two years old, he found out about the rally from the internet. His main complaint is bad roads.

I came to the rally to voice my dissatisfaction with Nikolai Merkushkin’s social policies. It’s a pity our pensioners have to stand in the cold, demanding a few miserable kopecks. I’m sick of the state of the roads in this country. I’m tired of the fact the regime treats me hypocritically not only as a disabled person but also as an individual. It treats everything as a resource that can be sent off to war, god knows where. And yet it cannot organize a decent urban infrastructure, a decent life. I think the government needs to revise its policy of restricting the number of rides on public transport one can take if you have a discounted travel pass. I ride public transport all the time and I travel around town more than the authorities think I do.

Emma Viktorovna

Seventy years old, she heard about the rally on the internet. Her main complaint is that the governor was decorated “for his contribution to cosmonautics.”

Merkushkin is impudent. He’s an outsider in Samara. My colleagues, who have worked all their lives at the cosmodrome, were decorated for their service. But why the hell did they did stick an honorary pin on him for his contribution to cosmonautics? He has made no contribution whatsoever to cosmonautics. A persons should be more modest. Yet our colleagues where shown on TV standing off to the side, while he was shown in close-up. How did Samara manage without Merkushkina? Probably, it didn’t manage. But little Nikolai showed up, and it has been once achievement after another since then.

“Roads are Samara’s second misery. The fools in power are the first.” Roads are one of Samara’s worst problems. Photo courtesy of Yevgeniya Volunkova/Takie Dela

Roman

Sixty-five years old, he heard about the rally from his grandson. His main complaint is that the restricted number of trips on the discounted public transport travel pass make it hard for him to travel to the Volga.

Can you deceive people like that? They compare us with Penza, where forty-eight rides is more than enough, supposedly. Samara is a huge city: fifty trips a month is not enough here. When I’m traveling, all my rides get eaten up by he transfers. It’s a huge city. In the summer, I want to go to the Volga to swim. How many transfers is that? Fifty trips runs out in two weeks. Then there are housing services and utilities. We are forced to pay for utilities, but the discounts come later, after we’ve paid. Yet officials have included a fee for major house renovations in our bills. I don’t want to pay it. What am I paying for? I’ve lived half my life in the same building, which is falling apart at the seams. Major renovations have never once been carried out in that building.

samara-metro-28
Samara Subway and Tram Map. Courtesy of CartoTalk

Nadezha Fyodorovna

Sixty-nine years old, she heard about the rally from reading flyers. Her main complaint is how the money owed to pensioners has been used to pay for the governor’s palaces and the World Cup.

That scumbag Merkushkin took away all our benefits. How did he dare? He built himself palaces on Rublyovka, four palaces at three hundred million each. Does he have a conscience? Today, he was on Channel Two saying he built all the roads for us. The roads are all good, and everything in Samara is good. Only our pensions will have to pay for the World Cup. He’s a real bastard, a scumbag. We should send him packing back to Mordovia, where he can choke on his sons and relatives. Let’s keep coming out for protest rallies and demanding he resign.

Irina Olegovna and Lyubov Andreyevna

Forty-six and seventy-seven, they heard about the rally on the internet. Their main complaint is that the regime embezzles money and treats people like schmucks.

Irina Olegovna: I’m not a pensioner, but I came to stick up for them. I’m outraged by the injustice that flourishes in our country. The authorities have found the right people to rip off: pensioners. They holler about being a super power, that they defeated the fascists. Who beat whom? What’s the standard of living in Germany and the standard of living in Russia? Who did they defeat? Pensioners and sick children?

Young people attended the rally this time to support the pensioners. Photo courtesy of Yevgeniya Volunkova/Takie Dela

Lyubov Andreyevna: We’ve been spat on from all sides. You cannot get in anywhere to talk to anyone, whether it’s housing services and utilities or healthcare. Everywhere they could not care less about us. I’m seventy-seven. I use the internet and I know everything. I was a decision-maker when I was employed, but now I’ve been utterly humiliated. Thank you, Navalny, that you exposed Medvedev. We must send him packing

IO: It’s absolutely clear to everyone that regime embezzles money, and the fact they are silent is additional proof that thievery is going on. What happened to Serdyukov and Vasilyeva are proven facts. There was a trial, and they were let go. They sold off the property of the defense industry and lined their pockets. I don’t understand who needed this demonstrative flogging. They pulled out their dirty underwear, showed it to everyone, and put it away. I’ll be damned!

LA: Because they consider us idiots.

IO: Stupid schmucks!

LA: Stupid schmucks, cows, that’s who we are!

IO:  I agree with you completely. But ultimately they have to understand a point of no return will be reached, when it all goes to hell. What, are they waiting until people come after them with pitchforks? The country has already reached the boiling point. What the heck do we need Crimea for when our country is poor? I used to support Putin. He inherited a heavy burden, the country was in ruins. He seemed decent. I believed he’d put the country in shape. But then I realized what was what.

LA: Putin works for the oligarchs, not for himself. And we cows will all die off.

Vasily Petrovich

Eighty-two years old, he found out about the rally from a flyer. His main complaint is that payments have not been made to people who went through the war as children.

Look, I’ve brought a newspaper from 2014. Merkushkin promised to make monthly payments of 1,000 rubles to people who went through the war as children. But he didn’t give us fuck-all. We spent the war on a collective farm. Cold and hungry, we supplied the front and the cities with produce, while we ourselves ate grass and dirt. We survived, we were victorious, and now what? Now we are dying in poverty.

“Stop Making Fools of Russian Dudes!” Protest rally in Samara. Photo courtesy of Yevgeniya Volunkova/Takie Dela

Lydia Nikolayevna

Sixty-eight years old, she heard about the rally on the internet. Her main complaint is that her family has been stripped of all benefits, and that the regime takes people for idiots.

I’m a history teacher, I worked my whole life. Three years ago, my daughter died, leaving me to take care of my granddaughter Lada. She’s thirteen and in the sixth grade. By order of the city administration, the city paid the difference in the housing services and utilities bills for her as an orphan for the whole of 2016. The payment was small, but it made a difference. I’m a veteran of pedagogical work and disabled. We were supposedly divided into two groups: “rich” pensioners, who got 19,000 rubles a month, and poor pensioners. Money was taken away from us under the pretext of giving it to the poor. Money was taken from 175,000 people and then returned, allegedly, but we still haven’t got the money back. I don’t think they took the money in order to give it back. I take my granddaughter to school. I have to transfer, and I use four rides on my discounted travel pass. When they limited the number of trips to fifty, they took us for idiots. They also sucker us out of rides. My friends recorded every trip and noticed that they were shorting us by ten rides. They run out before the month ends, and they kick us off public transport. They’re secretly stealing even from these crumbs, from the fifty rides, as if we couldn’t check how many rides we were getting. I feel ashamed of this regime. We worked honestly our whole lives, and now they’re punishing us, punishing orphaned children and disabled people. It’s disgusting.

Nadezhda

Sixty-one years old, she heard about the rally on the internet. Her main complaint is the thieves in the government.

I have been denied the chance to travel by public transport. I need to drop off and pick up my granddaughter nearly every day. Of course, the number of rides on the travel pass is not enough. It’s just digusting. Why did they decide to limit us? What made them think fifty rides was enough for us? Merkushkin says that somebody made a thousand trips in a month on a seasonal pass. That’s utter rubbish. Even if it’s true, does that mean everyone has to have their benefits slashed? How many crooks and thieves are in the government? How many cases of corruption have been proven? In keeping with Merkushkin’s line of reasoning, all governors should be hauled into the Investigative Committee, no?

Organizing People through Their Wallets

“Let’s Reforge Medvedev’s Palaces into Unlimited Rides for Veterans.” The fifty rides they get on their free transport passes is not enough for residents. Photo courtesy of Yevgeniya Volunkova/Takie Dela

The main organizer of the rallies, Mikhail Matveev, a Communist MP in the Samara Regional Duma, is certain that his best organizer, the person who gets people out to the protest rallies, is Governor Merkushkin himself, the man whose decisions have driven people to the edge.

“Our old ladies don’t just read newspapers and watch TV. They’re not as backwards as they seem. They read social networks and blogs. Young people tell them things. Plus, we leaflet mailboxes and residential building entryways. We printed around 15,000 leaflets for the March 19 rally. The printing was paid for by the party and by ordinary people. It’s not a lot of money, but we don’t have anymore. Residents help us by leafletting for free and printing the leaflets at home on their printers. But the main organizing factor is people’s wallets, and the main organizer is Merkushkin. It used to be that pensioners weren’t aware that the number of trips on public transport was limited, but suddenly they were kicked off buses. The pension checks arrived, they were 700 rubles less, and so on. Dissatisfaction has been growing. We are grateful to Governor Merkushkin for the fact that his blunt propaganda pisses people off. There are all the phrases he tosses off at meetings with constituents, like, ‘It was you who did it so that we did nothing for you,’ and so on. They make the rounds. There will be more protest rallies until we get the pensioners their benefits back and send the governor packing.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Pavel Chikov: A Managed Thaw

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Is a new thaw on the way?

A Managed Thaw: What the Reversal of Verdicts in the Dadin and Chudnovets Cases Means
Pavel Chikov
RBC
March 6, 2017

The Kurgan Regional Court quashed the verdict against Yevgenia Chudnovets and released her from a penal colony, where she had served four months of a five-month sentence for, allegedly, disseminating child pornography on the web. The Russian Deputy Prosecutor General almost literally copied the arguments made in the appeal by Chudnovets’s attoreny. Previously, during its consideration of the appeal, the selfsame Kurgan Regional Court had refused to release Chudnovets at the request of both the prosecutor and defense attorneys. The same court then denied the appeal against the verdict. The verdict was reversed only after the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Supreme Court intervened. Now Chudnovets will have the right to compensation for the harm caused her by illegal criminal prosecution.

The Chudnovets story unfolded at the same time as the even more high-profile case of Ildar Dadin. Dadin’s case was the first criminal case filed under the newly minted law on violating the law on public rallies, the first guilty verdict handed down under the new law. Dadin was taken into custody in the courtroom. Then came the shocking sentence of three years in a medium-security penal colony for a first offense, a moderately severe offense whose underlying cause was purely political, in a case tried in Moscow under the glare of all the media. During the appeals phase, the verdict was altered slightly, and the sentence reduced a bit. But then there was the drama of Dadin’s transfer to the penal colony, his arrival in a Karelian prison camp infamous for its severe conditions, the immense scandal that erupted after he claimed he had been tortured, and the harsh reaction to these revelations by the Federal Penitentiary Service. Then Dadin was secretly transferred to a remote penal colony in Altai over a demonstratively long period, after which the Constitutional Court, in open session, ruled that the relevant article of the Criminal Code had been wrongly interpreted in Dadin’s case. After this, the Supreme Court jumped quickly into the fray, granting a writ of certiorari, aquitting Dadin, and freeing him from the penal colony.

Politically Motivated Releases
The judicial system acted with phenomenal alacrity in both the Chudnovets and Dadin cases. Chudnovets’s criminal case was literally flown round trip from Kurgan to Moscow and back. Given current realities, this could only have been possible under the so-called manual mode of governance and with authorization at the highest level.

It calls to mind the instantaneous release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky from the same Karelian prison colony in December 2013, and the same sudden early releases, under amnesty, of the Greenpeace activists, convicted in the Arctic Sunrise case, and Masha Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, two months before their sentences were up. Of course, the record holder in this sense is the Kirov Regional Court, which in the summer of 2013 quashed Alexei Navalny’s five-year sentence in the Kirovles case.

In all these previous cases, the causes of the system’s sudden softness were self-explanatory. The thaw of December 2013 was due to the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Navalny’s pardon was clearly connected with his being able to run in the Moscow mayoral elections. It was hard not to doubt the narrowly political, tactical objectives of these targeted releases.

The latest indulgences—the sudden releases of Dadin and Chudnovets, the transfer of the last defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case, Dmitry Buchenkov, and the Yekaterinburg Pokémon catcher, Ruslan Sokolovsky, from custody in pretrial detention facilities to house arrest—have been greeted with a roar of approval from the progressive public. The liberal genie would have burst out of its bottle altogether were it not for the eleven-hour police search of the home of human rights activist Zoya Svetova in connection with the ancient Yukos case. The search was as sudden and hard to explain as the releases described above.

Federal officials have not tried to dampen the talk of a thaw. On the contrary, they have encouraged it. The president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, Supreme Court Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev, federal human right’s ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova, and Justice Ministry spokespeople have publicly supported decriminalizing the Criminal Code article under which Dadin was convicted.

Putting the Brakes On
Even earlier we had noticed that the number of politically motivated criminal cases had stopped increasing. Twelve years of defending grassroots activists, human rights activists, journalists, and heads of local NGOs mean we are sensitive to changes in which way the wind blows. It would be wrong to speak of an improvement. Rather, the brakes have been put on the slide into deterioration. There are still dozens of political prisoners doing time in Russia’s prisons.

Political scientists have spoken of an unloosening of the screws; lawyers, of necessary legal reforms. One way or another, it is clear these events did not began in February, and the changes have been implemented from the top, quite deliberately, but without any explanation.

Given the tactial objectives pursued in previous reversals of high-profile cases, there are serious grounds for assuming recent events are due to next year’s main political event, the presidential election.

Preparations for the election began last spring with a shakeup of the law enforcement agencies. The superfluous Migration Service and Gosnarkokontrol (Federal Agency for Drug Trafficking Control) were eliminated. A new political special forces unit, the National Guard of Russia, was established. The influence of the Investigative Committee has been sharply reduced, although from 2012 to 2016 it had been the Investigative Committee that served as the main vehicle for domestic political crackdowns.

The old framework has gradually ceased functioning. The effectiveness of show trials has waned. Leading opposition figures have grown accustomed to working with the permanent risk of criminal prosecution hanging over them. Some have left the country and thus are beyond the reach of the security forces, but they have exited politics as well. Protest rallies have not attracted big numbers for a long time, and NGOs have been demoralized by the law on “foreign agents.” The stats for cases of “extremism” are mainly padded by the online statements of web users in the provinces and “non-traditional” Muslims.

In recent years, the state has delegated its function of intimidation and targeted crackdowns to pro-regime para-public organizations. Navalny is no longer pursued by Alexander Bastrykin, but by organizations like NOD (National Liberation Movement) and Anti-Maidan.

Under a Watchful Eye
The foreground is no longer occcupied by the need to intimidate and crack down on dissidents, but by information gathering and protest prevention, and that is the competence of different government bodies altogether. It is the FSB that has recently concentrated the main function of monitoring domestic politics in its hands. FSB officers have been arresting governors, generals, and heavyweight businesmen, destroying the reputations of companies and government agencies, and defending the internet from the west’s baleful influence.

Nothing adds to the work of the FSB’s units like a managed thaw. Bold public statements, new leaders and pressure groups, and planned and envisioned protest rallies immediately attract attention. The upcoming presidential election, the rollout of the campaign, and good news from the courts as spring arrives cannot help but awaken dormant civic protest. Its gradual rise will continue until its apogee in March of next year [when the presidential election is scheduled]. Information will be collected, analyzed, and sent to the relevant decision makers by the summer of 2018. And by the autumn of 2018 lawyers will again have more work than they can handle. This scenario needs to be taken into account.

There is, of course, another option: the Kremlin’s liberal signals may be addressed not to the domestic audience, but to a foreign one. Foreign policy, which has remained the president’s focus, is in a state of turbulence. Vladimir Putin is viewed by the western liberal public as a dark force threatening the world order. Sudden moves toward democratization can only add to the uncertainty and, consequently, the Kremlin can gain a tactical advantage in the game of diplomacy. Considering the fact there are lots of politicians in the world who are happy to be fooled, the ranks of the Russian president’s supporters will only swell.

Pavel Chikov is head of Agora, an international human rights group. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. Translation and photograph by the Russian Reader

“Combating Terrorism” in Petersburg

Metal detectors in the vestibule of a Petersburg subway station. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru
Passengers walking through metal dectors in the lobby of a Petersburg subway station. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru

“The pair discussed combating terrorism[.]”
Christi Parsons and Tracy Wilkinson, “Trump and Putin have first official phone conversation amid European anxiety about future relations,” Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2017

From April You’ll Need a Doctor’s Certificate to Get through Metal Detectors in Petersburg Subway
Fontanka.ru
January 25, 2017

Starting March 30, the Petersburg subway will be equipped with special barriers to stop people, including those whose medical conditions prevent them from walking through metal detectors.

The Petersburg subway’s press service told Fontanka.ru the special barriers had begun to be installed last year as part of the Federal Law on Transportation Security. They were tested at the Tekhnologichesky Institut station, and during the entire time they were in service, no conflicts with passengers arose, subway management insists.

Since the new year, the barriers have been installed at several more stations. Passengers with pacemakers and metal implants should proceed as follows at these stations: they should press a special button on the barrier to summon a trained staff member. The staff member is obliged to check the relevant doctor’s certificate and, if there are any more questions for the passenger, send him to have his personal belongings inspected. Passengers without doctor’s certificates will not be allowed to enter the subway, warns subway management.

Not all passengers are aware of the changes, and they have had trouble getting through the turnstiles. A Fontanka.ru reader has told us that, on the morning of January 25, he had been unable to bypass the metal detector at the Grazhdansky Prospekt subway station, as he had been able to do on previously. The man, who had metal implants installed in his head during an operation, claims he waited ten minutes for a subway staffer to personally inspect his belongings. When the subway employee arrived, he told the man that, according to regulations, he would not let him into the subway without a doctor’s certificate.

“No warnings had been posted in advance,” writes the reader, angry at having wasted so much time.

Subway management could not confirm additional efforts would be made to inform passengers, noting the necessary signage had already been posted in station lobbies.

Translated by the Russian Reader