Igor Yakovenko: Ordinary Racism

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Ordinary Racism: What Vladimir Solovyov, Andrey Illarionov and Mark Solonin Have in Common
Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
June 10, 2020

First, three quotes.

Quote No. 1. “I’m waiting for when Russia’s ‘beautiful people’ go to kneel before African Americans and repent. But where will they go? The US embassy? There’s not much space there. Maybe it would be better to go to the Pushkin monument [in downtown Moscow]? After all, [Pushkin’s] great-grandfather was brought from Abyssinia by force.” (Vladimir Solovyov, TV presenter)

Quote No. 2. “Non-punishment (or less severe punishment) for similar crimes by criminals of one group, who enjoy their privileged position, leads to impunity and, consequently, to an even greater increase in crimes and even greater aggressiveness on the part of this group of criminals.” (Andrey Illarionov, economist)

Quote No. 3. “At their own expense and effort, white people, often risking their lives (storms, crocodiles, snakes, virus-bearing mosquitoes) transported many, many Negroes from Africa to the very best (yes, yes!) country in the world. Compared with those who remained in Africa, the descendants of the people who were shipped away live in paradise.” (Mark Solonin, writer) 

These words were written by three very different people, who evoke contradictory feelings.

Solovyov has become a mascot of the Putinist information wars and incitement to hatred, deserves the deepest contempt and a criminal trial.

Illarionov has evoked respect and sympathy for his profound, scrupulous analyses, and his clear and consistent anti-Putinist stance.

Solonin, a meticulous researcher of the Second World War and a furious debunker of the official Soviet-Russian version, has furnished important food for thought about a crucial event in Russian history.

What all three men have in common is that they are racists.

Solovyov’s racism fits seamlessly into his overall profile. And this additional touch to a notorious scoundrel’s portrait would not be worthy of separate consideration if this exact same mockery of kneeling by American police officers and officials had not become a mass phenomenon, encompassing Russians with reputations as liberals, humanists and democrats, as so-called decent people.

The whole world watched the slow sadistic murder by a white police officer of a detained African American man, who was lying face down in handcuffs and clearly was not putting up any resistance. Police officials initially defended their sadistic police officer, saying that the victim had resisted, although the video showed that there was no resistance, and police “experts” initially lied that Floyd had died not as a result of suffocation, but due to the consequences of an incorrect lifestyle and bad habits. Only after the protests began, and the protests turned into riots, was the sadistic police officer dismissed from his post and charged with murder.

This story has many aspects, which we should examine separately, point by point. Solovyov and the “decent” people who have sided with him find it quite hilarious that police officers and politicians in the United States have been taking a knee in protest against racism. Many “decent” people are indignant, wondering why these officials should repent for something that was not their fault.

In 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt before the monument to the victims and heroes of the Warsaw ghetto during a visit to Poland. Brandt was not personally involved in the Third Reich’s crimes. On the contrary, he had spent his entire adult life fighting Nazism and was involved in setting up the anti-fascist underground. Hitler’s government stripped him of his German citizenship. Brandt was one of those Germans who had every moral right not to feel responsible for the Holocaust and the Third Reich’s other crimes. But he did not explain to the Poles and Jews that he wasn’t a Nazi, and that post-war Germany was not anything like the Third Reich. And by making that gesture, by kneeling, he clearly showed that he was not a Nazi and that Germany was not the same as the Third Reich. I think it is the same story with kneeling in the United States. People just want to visibly and demonstratively delineate themselves from racism and racists. In my opinion, they have succeeded.

Quote No. 2 is taken from Andrey Illarionov’s article “Institutional Racism in Reverse, or The Privileged Position of Black Criminals,” which was published on the websites Kasparov.ru and Echo of Moscow. The article is chockablock with statistics intended to prove that, although many more African Americans per million are killed by the police than other Americans, this is because African Americans are much more likely to resist and try to escape the police, and much more likely to commit violent crimes than the average white person.

Although Illarionov stipulates in his article that he does not touch on the “philosophical and ethical issues,” these issues simply scream from every line. Their essence is in the paragraph I have quoted, in which every word is a gem: “Non-punishment [of black criminals], who enjoy [!] their privileged position, leads to impunity and, consequently, to a even greater increase in crimes.”

The way George Floyd enjoyed his privileged position for eight minutes and forty-six seconds has been seen by millions of people on the planet. And unabashedly using their privileged position, American Blacks die on average several years earlier than their white fellow citizens. I was not able to find exact data on the distribution of deaths from Covid-19 in the United States as a whole (they write that there is no such data), but in some regions the statistics look like this. Blacks make up 30% of the population in Chicago, but they constitute 70% of coronavirus-related deaths in the city. African Americans make up 15% of the population in Illinois, but they constitute 43% of the coronavirus-related deaths in the state. And so on.

Illarionov’s article is meant as a commentary on the events triggered by an African American’s agonizing death. Illarionov writes that Blacks in the United States “enjoy their privileged position.” What has to be wrong with your brain to write something like that?

When statistics are used selectively and purposefully, they can “prove” anything or almost anything, prompting the most monstrous conclusions. For example, one of the favorite games of anti-Semites is counting up the number of Jews who were involved in the October Revolution, as well as who of them served in the Cheka and its successor agencies. True, the game usually involves tons of typical anti-Semitic lies, but even if for some reason we count honestly, it is quite possible that the percentage of Jews in these organizations was higher than the percentage of Jews in the overall population. And what of it? What conclusion does this statistic suggest unless it is part of a serious historical analysis? That “the Jews destroyed Russia”?

From Illarionov’s statistical analysis it directly follows that “the Blacks have gotten out hand,” that they “enjoy their privileged position,” their “impunity”, and that means the police should act more harshly towards Blacks to even the balance, as it were.

Andrey Nikolayevich, are you sure that pushing such conclusions on your readers is not tantamount to pouring fuel on the fire?

Mark Solonin writes how noble whites, risking their lives, brought ungrateful Blacks to the best country in the world. At first, I thought Solonin was being sarcastic, but then I looked over the entire text and realized the writer was absolutely serious. Over the course of 400 years, whites sold more than 17 million blacks into slavery and transported them across the Atlantic in the holds of ships. One in six died along the way, and of those who survived, half perished from disease and the sadism of slaveholders.

Solonin writes, “Compared with those who remained in Africa, the descendants of the people who were shipped off live in paradise.” In other words, Solonin does not seem to understand that people tend to compare their lives not with those who live in another continent, but with those who live in another neighborhood of the same city. He is apparently unable to understand the trauma of others, a trauma brought on by centuries of slavery and subsequent decades of discrimination, things that have ended just now, during our lifetimes, and as discrete manifestations have not yet ended. Solonin, apparently, is unfamiliar with the concept of historical and social inertia, which shadows the lives of the young men and women who grew up in Black neighborhoods, with their criminal subculture, poverty and drugs.

The spotlight of American racial upheaval has shone on the Russian “liberal” crowd, revealing spatters of racism even in places where it was categorically impossible to suspect they would be found. Viktor Shenderovich, a person for whom I have a great deal of respect, wrote that he considers it “a collective dislocation of the brain” to condemn a journalist who, when asked about his attitude to the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” replied that “all lives matter.” His detractors reminded the journalist of the Holocaust, asking him how he would respond to the claim that since not only Jews were killed, there was no need to “overhype” the Jews, because all lives matter.

Shenderovich’s reaction should be quoted in full.

“It is a monstrously vulgar analogy. And a false analogy. It would have been accurate in the time of the slavers or the Ku Klux Klan’s heyday, but none of this can be observed today. Blacks in the United States are not burned in ovens and do not have distinguishing insignia sewn on their clothes.”

Historically, in the milieu to which Shenderovich, Illarionov, Solonin, Solovyov (no matter how disgusting that might sound), and your humble servant belong, anti-Semitism is regarded as an absolute evil, an extremely indecent disease that must be carefully concealed. This is understandable, given the fact that the Holocaust swept through our land, many of our compatriots were its victims, and it was followed by decades of official anti-Semitism in our country. Therefore, someone who gives off the faintest odor of anti-Semitism immediately becomes an outcast. The tragedy of Blacks took place across the ocean. So, in my Facebook feed, I have no trouble finding the wildest racist statements, such as the proposal to “send all that biological waste back to Africa.” And the main thing is that, on the social media pages of quite “decent” people, such racism provokes no resistance.

Shenderovich thinks that the comparison between the Holocaust and the tragedy of Blacks in America is a “monstrously vulgar” comparison. “Blacks in the United States are not burned in ovens and do not have distinguishing insignia sewn on their clothes”? Nor is this the case with Jews at the moment. Despite the fact that any analogy is always lame by definition, the historical tragedy of the Jewish people and the Black population of the United States is quite comparable in terms of the number of victims and the depth of the trauma suffered by these peoples.

What is happening now in the United States and generates such profound misunderstanding among the Russian “liberal” crowd is not a “collective dislocation of the brain,” but a further development of humanism, in which the West is still at the forefront of humanity. The whole history of humanism is its expansion, the extension of empathy to more and more categories of Others, who are made equal not only in terms of legal rights, but also in terms of their right to empathy and compassion.

The fact that a person with a criminal past has become the symbol of the protest movement is a manifestation of the further evolution of the humanism that is so bitterly rejected by the majority of Russians, including the Russian “liberal” crowd. It is telling that even those Russian human rights activists who quite rightly speak out in defense of inmates who are beaten by guards in Russian penal colonies, insist that the victim “was not a moral person”—although at the time of his death, George Floyd had already served his time and was on the straight and narrow.

What the American spotlight has highlighted in Russian society, including its enlightened segment, bears a strong resemblance to a deep pathology. It is as if an old floorboard has become accidentally dislodged and a stench has filled the room. Either there is an old corpse below the floor, or the sewer pipes have burst. Life in our little Facebook and YouTube world had been so nice and amicable: it was so cozy when everyone could chew out Putin and Stalin in unison. And then the damned Americans screwed it all up with their problems!

Translated by the Russian Reader

Someone Else’s War

75

What’s wrong with this sentence?

“The 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II triumph is usually marked with jubilant crowds and a parade showing off the full force of Russia’s military might.”

Nothing’s wrong with that sentence. I’d like to blame the Putin regime, which has cynically colonized and misappropriated the “triumph” and tragedy of hundreds of millions of people in the former Soviet Union for its own dubious ends, for confusing the foreign press about the various meanings of Victory Day for the 144,499,999 Russians not named Vladimir V. Putin, but a recent painful conversation with a relative about the war persuaded me once again that western society mostly wants to be confused and ignorant about it, too.

I am not sure what the caption writer at the Washington Post meant by “jubilant crowds.” I lived almost half my life in Russia and saw no such crowds anywhere on Victory Day. What I did see a lot of was people for whom the war continues to mean something that it almost never meant for the parts of the world that emerged from the war triumphant, ascendant, and more prosperous than when they entered it, and were thus able to shrug off “horrors” most of their inhabitants never witnessed.

It is still very much a matter of debate in Russia, however, what it means to remember a war that ended seventy-years ago, that is, before most people in Russia were born, including its president, and how it should be remembered. In the Soviet Union, no family was untouched by the war, so everyone has a “war story” of some kind, if only the stories told to them by parents and grandparents.

This past weekend, one of my favorite purveyors of humanistic, grassroots journalism, Takie Dela, asked its employees (most of whom are in their twenties and thirties) to share some of these family stories of the war and its aftermath, along with photographs from their family archives. The first such story, “Someone Else’s Wife,” which I have translated, below, was told by Alyona Khoperskova.

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Someone Else’s Wife

The war had started six months earlier, and the death notices were delivered almost simultaneously to Nastya, my great-grandmother, and her girlfriends. The young women, almost girls by today’s standards, clung to each other and howled.

Nastya had two daughters, Alya and Lilya, the oldest of whom had not yet turned three years old. The oldest—Alya, Alenka (short for Albina)—is my grandmother.

Great-Grandmother Nastya at 18, before the war and marriage. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Grandmother Albina was two years old when her own father left for the front. She has only one memory of him. Her father had come home tired, washed his hands, and took her on his lap. At first she was embarrassed and scared, but then she grew bolder and reached into his soup plate with her little hands to fish out the fried onions that she adored.

“And he was terribly squeamish!” her mother would later tell my grandmother. “I was frozen, but he was laughing and kissing your hands. How he loved you! It was just something how he doted on you, Alya.”

It was written in that death notice that Nikolai Gorbunov had “died a hero’s death.” He had always put himself in harm’s way. He had always wanted to be first, doing everything conscientiously and thoroughly. Like my grandmother, he was a towhead in childhood, but he had black hair as an adult. My grandmother would learn all this later, after she grew up.

Throughout her childhood she considered another man her father.

Then there were only widows and children left in their large, four-family house. They began living like a single family, and that was how they lasted until the victory in May 1945.

“We four girlfriends,” recalls Grandmother, “had been sitting on the bench from morning like chicks, dressed only in our swimming trunks, looking to see whether Dad would come by. It was raining, but we still sat there, not wanting to leave.”

The soldiers walked by in groups, and only one lagged behind.

“I saw him, jumped off and ran to him, shouting, ‘Dad, Dad!’ I don’t know why— I just saw him and flew. He picked me up, hugged me, and carried me. I still remember how his heart was pounding.”

Grandpa (right) with a war buddy. They each believed the other had been killed and were reunited only fourteen years after the war. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela

My grandmother no longer remembers how her mother reacted when a strange man brought her child to her in his arms. And, of course, she doesn’t know how Nastya felt asshe carried her daughter away screaming and crying, “But it’s Papa. Papa has returned.” She only remembers that the soldier came to that bench every day afterwards to talk, treat her to candy, and read to her aloud.

Vasily was his name, and he stayed in Siberia: his entire family in Ukraine had been murdered by the fascists. He worked at the military garrison with Nastya and must have noticed her: she was strikingly beautiful, as I remember from the photos that my grandmother showed me as a child.

“He liked her very much, but he thought that he was not worthy of her,” my grandmother says. “Everyone knew that she was a widow, that officers of higher rank were ready to marry her. But since we children were attached to him, what could she do?”

All her childhood, my grandmother believed that Vasily was, in fact, her beloved father, who had recognized her on that dusty road. The fact that he was not her real father, she learned only at school. When a schoolteacher was giving her a dressing down, she wounded her by saying, “You are a stranger to him!”

“I don’t even know if I was as happy with my own father as I was with him,” my grandmother says slowly and quietly when I ask her to tell me about Vasily. “He doted on Lily and me: all year long he wore a simple soldier’s uniform, but we girls were dressed, shod, and did well at school. When my mother would chew us out, he always stood up for us: ‘But Nastya, they are just children! When they grow up, they will understand everything.’ He was an extraordinarily soulful man. A man who gave us a second life.”

I’ve heard this story of how my grandmother brought home the soldier who became her father and the best grandfather in the world for my dad hundreds of times since I was a child. But I never thought about what I’m asking now: “Did your mother love him?”

Great-Grandmother Nastya with her eldest daughter Albina. Photo from family archive. Courtesy of Takie Dela

My grandmother is silent for a long time, and I can hear over the phone how she gasps before answering.

“Mom would joke, ‘If Albina chose Vasily, what could we do?’ To be honest, I think Mom just accepted it. Because of how much he loved us children and took care of us. I think we were very lucky.”

This was in Reshoty, a small village in Krasnoyarsk Territory. All my childhood, my grandmother told me there was a military garrison here. She often recalled the chess set and the wardrobe given her to her mother by the prisoners, who, according to my grandmother, were wonderful, intelligent people and scientists. Now Wikipedia tells me that there was an NKVD prison camp in Reshoty, where “political” prisoners were sent, among others.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Scapegoats

anatrrra-dvornikiCentral Asian yardmen in Moscow taking a break from their work. Photo by and courtesy of Anatrrra

‘People shout “Coronavirus!” at me as if it were my middle name’
Lenta.ru
March 29, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in xenophobic attitudes towards people of Asian background around the world, even though the US has already overtaken China in the number of infected people, as have European countries, if you add up all the cases. However, according to an international survey of several thousand people, it is Russians who are most likely to avoid contact with people of Asian appearance, although one in five residents of Russia is not an ethnic Russian. Our compatriots of Asian appearance have been subjected to increasing attacks, harassment, and discrimination. Lenta.ru recorded their monologues.

“Being Asian now means being a plague rat”
Lisa, Buryat, 27 years old

Sometimes I am mistaken for a Korean, and this is the best option in Russia, when you are mistaken for Chinese, Koreans or Japanese. The disdainful attitude is better than when you are mistaken for a migrant worker from Central Asia, because the attitude towards them is clearly aggressive. At least it was before the coronavirus.

Now, basically, being Asian means being a plague rat.

A couple of days ago, a young woman approached me at work—I’m a university lecturer. The lecture was on fashion, and naturally I had talked about the epidemic’s consequences for the fashion industry. The young woman works in a Chanel boutique. She said right to my face that “only the Chinese have the coronavirus,” and she tries not wait on them at her store, but “everything’s cool” with Europeans.

My mother has to listen to more racist nonsense because she has a more pronounced Asian appearance than I do, because my father is Russian. For example, there are three women named Sveta at her work. Two are called by their last names, but she is called “the non-Russian Sveta,” although she has lived in Petersburg since the nineteen-seventies. And when I enrolled in school, the headmaster asked my father to translate what he said for my mother, although five minutes earlier my mother had been speaking Russian.

In the subway, she can be told that immigrants are not welcome here and asked to stand up. A couple of times, men approached her on the street and asked whether she wasn’t ashamed, as a Muslim woman, to wear tight jeans. She is learning English, and when she watches instructional videos, people in the subway, for example, say, “Oh, can these monkeys speak Russian at all? They’re learning English!” Police are constantly checking her papers to see whether she’s a Russian citizen. When I was little, we were even taken to a police station because the policemen decided she had abducted an ethnic Russian child—I had very light hair as a child.

Recently, she was traveling by train to Arkhangelsk, and children from two different cars came to look at her. At such moments, you feel like a monkey. (By the way, “monkey from a mountain village” is a common insult.)

Everyone used to be afraid of skinheads. Everyone in the noughties had a friend who had been attacked by skinheads. Everyone [in Buryatia] was afraid to send their children to study in Moscow. But being a Russian Asian, you could pretend to be a tourist: my Buryat friend, who knows Japanese, helped us a couple of times make groups of people who had decided we were migrant workers from Central Asia leave us alone. Another time, the son of my mother’s friend, who was studying at Moscow State University, was returning home late at night and ran into a crowd of skinheads. They asked where he was from, and when he said he was from Buryatia, one of them said, “I served in Buryatia! Buryats are our guys, they’re from Russia,” and they let him go.

Now all Asians are objects of fear. People shout “Coronavirus!” at me on the street as if it were my middle name. They get up and move away from me on public transport, and they give me wide berth in queues. A man in a store once asked me not to sneeze on him as soon as I walked in. I constantly hear about people getting beat up, and I’m very worried. My Buryat girlfriends, especially in Moscow, are afraid to travel alone in the evening. People also move away from them on transport and behave aggressively.

You can put it down to human ignorance, but you get tired of living like this. When you talk about everyday racism with someone, they say they worked with an Asian and everything was fine. This constant downplaying is even more annoying. You haven’t insulted Asians—wow, here’s your medal! It doesn’t mean there is no problem with grassroots racism in multi-ethnic Russia.

“When are you all going to die?!”
Zhansaya, Kazakh, 27 years old

On Sunday morning, my boyfriend, who is an ethnic Kazakh like me, and I got on a half-empty car on the subway. We sat down at the end of the car. At the next station, an elderly woman, who was around sixty-five, got on. When she saw us, she walked up to my boyfriend, abruptly poked him with her hand, and said through clenched teeth, “Why are you sitting down? Get up! We didn’t fight in the war for people like you.”

I am a pharmacist by education, and I have seven years of experience working in a pharmacy. The pharmacy is next to a Pyatyorochka discount grocery store. Recently, I was standing at the register when a woman of Slavic appearance, looking a little over fifty, came in. She came over with a smile that quickly faded from her face when she saw me. I only had time to say hello when suddenly she screamed, “When are you all going to die?! We are tired of you all! You all sit in Pyatyorochkas, stealing our money, and then act as if nothing has happened!”

I didn’t hold my tongue, replying abruptly, “Excuse me! Who do you mean by you all?” The woman was taken aback as if something had gone wrong. Then she said something about “CISniks” [people from the Commonwealth of Independent States], ran out of the pharmacy, and never came back.

I had always dreamed about driving a car since I was a kid. At the age of eighteen, I found a driving school, where I successfully passed the classroom training, and after three months of practice I had to pass exams at the traffic police. I got 100% on the written test the first time. But during the behind-the-wheel exam, the examiner began talking crap the minute I got into the car. When I introduced myself by first name, middle name, and last name, he said something I missed since I was nervous. Then he, a rather obese man, hit me on the thighs and screamed, “Do you want me to say that in Uzbek?”

I immediately unbuckled my seat belt and got out of the car. I gave up for good the idea of taking the driving test.

covid-19-coronavirus-actions-ipsos-moriResults of an Ipsos MORI poll published on February 14, 2020

“The chinks piled into our country and brought this plague”
Anna, Buryat, 27 years old

We live in a multi-ethnic country that supposedly defeated fascism, but now every time I go into the subway, the police check my papers as if I were a terrorist. People really have begun to move away from me, give me a wide berth, and throw me contemptuous glances, as if to say “There goes the neighborhood!”

I live near University subway station [in Moscow], and there really are lots of Chinese students there. I feel quite sorry for them: they are constantly stopped by the police in the subway, and people look at them with disgust and demonstratively steer clear of them. If there are Chinese people who have stayed here, they probably didn’t go home for the Chinese New Year. Where would they bring the virus from? If they had gone home for the holidays, they would not have returned to Russia, since the border was already closed by the end of the holidays. Accordingly, the Chinese who are here are not carrying the virus.

Recently, I was going down an escalator. My nose was stuffy from the cold, and so I blew my noise softly. I thought I was going to be murdered right on the escalator: some people bolted straight away from me, while others shouted that I was spreading the contagion.

Recently, in a grocery store, a woman and her teenage daughter were standing behind me. The woman said something to the effect that all sorts of chinks have come to our country and brought the plague. She said it out loud and without any bashfulness, aiming her words at me. She and her daughter were less than a meter away from me, as if I didn’t understand them. My level of indignation was off the charts, but I didn’t say anything.

Another time, I went into my building and approached the elevator. A woman and her children literally recoiled and almost ran out—they didn’t want to ride in the elevator with me! I said I’d wait for the next one. They were not at all perplexed by the fact that I spoke Russian without an accent.

“I will always be second class here”
Malika, Uzbek, 21 years old

Recently, a mother and daughter passed by my house. Tajik yardmen were cleaning the yard. The girl asked the mother why she was rolling her eyes, and the mother explained that the yardmen were probably illegal aliens and terrorists. I walked next to them all the way to the bus stop—it was unpleasant.

During three years of living in Moscow, I very rarely felt like an outsider: the people around me were always sensible, and I was almost never stopped by police in the subway to check my papers. But when I decided to leave the student dorm, I realized that I would always be a second-class person here. It took four months to find an apartment. A girlfriend and I were looking for a two-room flat for the two of us for a reasonable amount of money, but every other ad had phrases like “only for Slavs.” There were jollier phrases like “white Europe” or “Asia need not apply.” But even in cases where there were no such restrictions, we would still be turned down when we went to look at flats.

After a while, I started saying on the phone that I was from Uzbekistan. Some people would hang up, while others would make up ridiculous excuses. In the end, we found a place through friends, but the process was quite unpleasant.

I’m no longer bothered by such everyday questions as “Why is your Russian so good?” I like talking about my own culture if the curiosity is not mean-spirited. But I am terribly disgusted to see how my countrymen are treated on the streets and realize that I’m left alone only because I’m a couple of shades lighter. Because of this, people take me for a Russian and complain about “those wogs” to my face.

“He shouted that I was a yakuza and had come here to kill people”
Vika, Korean, 22 years old

I’m an ethnic Korean. I was born and raised in North Ossetia, and graduated from high school in Rostov-on-Don. I have lived in Moscow since 2015, and I encounter more everyday racism here.

One day a woman on the street started yelling at me to get the hell out of Moscow and go back to my “homeland.” Another time, a madman in the subway sat down next to me and shouted that I was a yakuza and had come here to kill people.

When I was getting a new internal passport at My Documents, the woman clerk asked several times why I was getting a new passport and not applying for citizenship, although I had brought a Russian birth certificate and other papers.

Once my mother was attempting to rent an apartment for us and humiliated herself by persuading the landlords that Koreans were a very good and decent people. I wanted to cry when she said that.

There is a stereotype that Asians are quite smart and study hard, that they have complicated, unemotional parents, and so on. As a teenager, I tried to distance myself as much as possible from stereotypical ideas about Koreans. Now I can afford to listen to K-pop and not feel guilty about being stereotypical.

Generally, we are not beaten or humiliated much, but I don’t feel equal to the dominant ethnic group [i.e., ethnic Russians], especially now, when everyone is so excited about Korean pop culture, generalize everything they see in it to all Koreans and can come up to you out of the blue and say they love doramas. That happened to me once. It is very unpleasant—you feel like a pet of a fashionable breed.

In questionnaires on dating sites you can often find preferences based on ethnicity, and they can take the form of refusals to date people of a certain race, as well as the opposite, the desire to date such people. It is not a sign of tolerance, however, but the flip side of racism—fetishization. It still reduces a person to her ethnic group, suggesting she should be perceived not as an individual, but as a walking stereotype.

“Several times it ended in attempted rape”
Madina, from a mixed family (Tatar/Tajik/Kazakh/Russian), 25 years old

I was born in Moscow. My Russian teacher from the fifth grade on liked to repeat loudly to the entire class, “Can you imagine? Madina is the best Russian and literature student in my class!” By the end of the sixth grade, my classmates were sick and tired of this, but instead of boning up on Russian, they decided to throw me a blanket party. They got together, backed me into a corner, and kicked the hell out of me.

I recently returned from doing a master’s degree abroad and was looking for an apartment to rent in Moscow. Several times, landlords offered to rent an apartment without a contract, explaining that I undoubtedly needed a residence permit. When I showed them my internal passport and Moscow residence permit, they turned me down anyway.

Before moving to the United States, I had to forget about romantic relationships for several years because several times it all ended with attempted rape under the pretext “You’re an Asian woman, and I’ve always dreamed of fucking a woman like you  in the ass.”

Nor was it strangers I’d met on Tinder who told me this, but guys from my circle of friends at school and university. There were three such incidents, and all of them combined racism, objectification, and a lack of understanding of the rules of consent.

“She looked at me like I was death, shoved me, and ran out of the car”
Aisulu, Kazakh, 22 years old

Recently, I was a little ill: I had a runny nose and sneezed once in a while. I wouldn’t even say it was the flu, just the common cold. I decided to attend lectures and put on a mask for decency’s sake.

I went into the subway, where people got up and moved away from me twice. I wasn’t particularly offended, but it was unpleasant when I stood next to a women after moving to another car and sneezed. She looked at like I was death, shoved me, and ran out of the car. That was quite odd.

I told a classmate about the incident, and she asked why I was wearing a mask, because it attracts more attention. I felt even worse, and took it off.

Translated by the Russian Reader

COVIDarity in Petersburg

COVIDarity
In self-isolation, Petersburgers read stories to children over the phone, hang out in online bars, and deliver free food to the elderly
Tatyana Likhanova
Novaya Gazeta
March 25, 2020

There are only penguins about, and they all look the same! You wouldn’t be able to pick out your own mom. And the snow is blinding, your beak is frozen, and your fins are tired. If you think you have problems it’s just because you’ve never been a little penguin in icy Antarctica. He lucked out in the end, however. He found a wise walrus who showed him how to find meaning and a source of strength in everything, to see beauty and come to the understanding that everyone has hard days, but no one can live our lives better than we can. Jory John’s Penguin Problems is one of the books that librarians in Petersburg’s Frunze District now read over the phone to housebound kids.

And not only children—there was a case when a depressed 25-year-old man asked the librarians to cheer him up with a story, and they did. The ten minutes when he became a child again, feeling warm and safe and protected, were the best medicine.

The project has a backstory. Fifteen years ago or so, one of the current on-duty storytellers, Marina, got a call on her home phone from a girl who was bored and dialing numbers at random. Marina read her a story, and the girl began calling every day to listen to one.

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Library storytellers Marina, Veronika, and Serafima. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta

When we were children, there was such a service—Stories by Phone—but it was a paid service and involved no choice or live communication. The voice on the other end of the phone was a recording.

Today’s Telephone Tales are read for free, but the storyteller’s most important duty is to help children feel that they are not alone, they are fun to be with, and the questions occupying them are important. The actual reading of a story usually takes around ten minutes, but a single call can last as long as forty minutes, as happened when Marina read a poem to an inquisitive child who kept having questions. Marina had to tell the child who legionnaires, musketeers, and cowboys were.

Children usually let the storytellers choose books for them. You cannot worry about the outcome with such excellent pilots in the world of children’s literature. Some children hear Ekaterina Panfilova’s The Ashones: A Tale from the Branch of a Rowan Bush, a glorious story of elves who bring comfort, the smell of buns spread with rowan berry jam, and a sense of security to a home. Others are treated to Karel Čapek’s stories of his wire fox terrier puppy Dashenka, poems by Mikhail Yasnov and Artur Givargizov, or something from the works of Roald Dahl or Nina Dashevskaya.

The three library storytellers—Marina Terekhova, Veronika Makarova, and Serafima Andreyeva—read only on weekdays:

  • Marina reads from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; call +7 (921) 595-1596.
  • Veronika reads from 12 to 3 p.m.; call +7 (911) 937-9849.
  • Serafima reads from 3 to 6 p.m.; call +7 (931) 357-5041.

Adults Only
While children are listening to stories read over the phone, adults now have the chance to drink and chat with a motley band of people without leaving home. In Petersburg, a fictional street featuring a dozen virtual drinking establishments could become an alternative to the “restaurant street” on Rubinstein. You can visit the online bar, the brainchild of Mikhail Shishkin, the director of a creative agency, at this link. When you click on one of the neon signs, you end up in a particular group video chat. Depending on the joint’s “capacity,” your screen will be divided into several windows (from four to twelve, depending to number of participants). It’s BYOB, as they say, with everyone drinking what they pour in their own non-virtual kitchens.

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The main page of the virtual Stay the Fuck Home Bar

The idea was a good one: the Petersburg online bar has been gaining popularity in different Russian cities and abroad. A week after it opened, it has not been so easy to find a free spot. As for the patrons, it’s the luck of the draw. There are interesting interlocutors, but you can run into a boorish jerk, just as in real life.

We Are Responsible for Those We Have Fed
Spouses Alexandra Sinyak and Yevgeny Gershevich are owners of Dobrodomik, a cafe that had been providing free daily lunches to as many as three hundred elderly people. Due to the coronavirus, it had to stop its Grateful Lunches for Pensioners campaign.

“But with their miserly pensions, our elderly patrons have grown accustomed to not spending money on groceries to make lunch, and so we can’t stop helping them overnight. Therefore, all the pensioners who visited Dobrodomik can call Alexandra, and we will be happy to bring them food,” the owners announced on the cafe’s social media pages.

Thanks to support from their partners at AgroInvest, Dobrodomik (“Good House”) was able to give away one ton of fruits and vegetables during the campaign’s first week.

The help arrives quickly. On March 20, 83-year-old Nina Zakatova wrote that she was running rather low on food, and it was hard for her to go out. On March 21, she found a full box of produce on her doorstep, including potatoes, onions, cabbage, apple, tomatoes, and tangerines.

In addition to distributing fruits and vegetables, the campaign delivered one hundred food parcels in its first week. Each parcel contained bread, milk, chicken, vegetable oil, pasta, rice, buckwheat, canned peas, and cucumbers.

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An elderly woman with a food delivery from Dobrodomik. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta

“An elderly person comes downstairs, you give them food, and in return you get a look that cannot be described in words,” the instructions continue. “You send a photo of the receipt and, preferably, a photo of a happy elderly person to Dobrodomik, and we will reimburse you.”

Of course, you can buy and deliver food without being reimbursed, if you have the means. Or you can donate money to Dobrodomik using the details on their website.  Or you can help with deliveries. You can also help clean the apartments of elderly people who live alone and cannot manage themselves, or you can help with repairs (Dobrodomik also offers this service), either by buying building materials or taking part in the repairs if you’re handy. Finally, you can donate unwanted clothes, shoes, and appliances.

Helping Is Easy—Easy Peasy
Meanwhile, a whole big family of other equally good houses has come under attack by the evil coronavirus—the ceramic houses produced by Petersburg in Miniature, a project run by the charity space Easy Peasy (Legko-Legko). The houses were made by disabled people in Easy Peasy’s studio on Bolshaya Pushkarskaya, but now the workers cannot get to the studio.

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A replica of the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska’s mansion on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg, as produced by Easy Peasy’s disable craftspeople. Image courtesy of Petersburg in Miniature

Easy Peasy’s Tatyana Nayko made the following suggestion to people on the Facebook group page Petrograd Diaspora:

“I have an idea. Would historians, art scholars, tour guides, and journalists help us write the stories of buildings on the Petrograd Side? We will post the texts on our website and on social networks. During the quarantine, we will design new miniatures to go with your texts. Write to us about the houses where you live or about buildings that mean something to you, that are dear to your heart. People who are staying at home can entertain themselves while benefiting our project. We have to share our love of Petersburg with everyone now. Let’s write and then read the stories we have written about the houses we live in and the people who have lived in them.”

The same group page, Petrograd Diaspora, also published an announcement that Konstantin Sholmov’s Wonders and Adventures Creative Workshop would be releasing a series of entertaining video lectures on crafts for children. The first lecture (about the properties of different types of wood and ways of working and experimenting with them) has already been posted on YouTube.

Another area in which new grassroots campaigns have emerged is support for small and medium-sized businesses. Groups urging people to buy, order, and eat in their neighborhoods have been proliferating on social media.

The owners of a cafeteria on Aptekarsky Prospect have suggested that neighborhood residents organize themselves through the chat groups of residential buildings and office space renters in the same office buildings to avoid overpaying for orders when they are delivered by third parties. The cafeteria owners are willing to pay for delivery of bulk orders made by these groups.

Heads-Up
Together with the volunteer movement COVIDarity, Novaya Gazeta has launched the COVID Infobot on Telegram. This chatbot allows people to get prompt consultations on questions regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Russia. You can use the bot to see the latest infection statistics and read quick guides about symptoms and prevention. You can also use it to get help, for example, with buying or ordering groceries for someone in self-isolation, consulting with a psychologist, and finding out where to buy protective equipment. Your requests will be forwarded to the volunteers at COVIDarity.

Translated by the Russian Reader

In the Land of Great Achievements

IMG_6258“Citizens! Given our level of indifference, this side of life is the most dangerous!”

Sergei Medvedev
Facebook
March 14, 2020

The cowardly “recommendations” of [Moscow Mayor Sergei] Sobyanin and the Defense Ministry regarding “voluntary attendance” of schools and universities instead of closing them altogether is a very bad sign. It means the authorities fear panic more than the virus itself and have chosen a cowardly hybrid strategy for evading responsibility. “Parents in this case know better,” it says in Sobyanin’s decree. Hang on a minute! This means parents will decide whether their children become potential carriers of the virus, not doctors or the federal epidemic headquarters. This is not just absurd, it is criminal. Just as you cannot be a little bit pregnant, you cannot declare a partial, optional quarantine. Either there is a quarantine or there isn’t one. Even one person who is not quarantined upsets the whole system.

It seems the authorities are torn between the growing need for a full quarantine (as the avalanche of news from abroad can no longer be hidden) and the impossibility of taking this step. The impossibility, as it seems to me, is purely technical: Russia simply does not have the level of governmental and public organization, the kind of screening, testing, equipment, discipline, and strict enforcement of the law that we have seen in China and,  in part, in Italy. Can you imagine the Moscow subway being closed? It would be a disaster not just for the city but for the country: if this megalopolis of twenty million people ground to a halt, it would be like cardiac arrest for the whole country. And secondly, for purely political reasons you cannot declare a state of emergency before April 22 [the scheduled date of a nationwide “referendum” on proposed changes to the Russian constitution] and May 9 [the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in WWII]. They must be marked in the pompous atmosphere of national holidays, not in the post-apocalyptic trappings of Wuhan, dressed in hazmat suits, getting doused with chlorhexidine.

Therefore there will be no quarantine, only cowardly half-measures like voluntary school attendance, “recommendations” for cutting down on public events (when the authorities want to ban a protest rally, they ban it, with no ifs, ands or buts), the partial restrictions on air travel (just take the ridiculous ban on flights to Europe, but not to the UK, dear to the hearts of oligarchs and members of parliament because they have children, families, and houses there), and so forth. Excuse the pun, but the regime has washed its hands of the problem and told the population that it is to up to the drowning to save themselves. You decide how to protect yourselves, and if something happens, well, we gave you “recommendations,” so we’re off the hook.

Meanwhile, the populace has been eating up tall tales about “just another flu,” reposting memes about more people dying every year from mosquito bites, shaming “alarmists” and “hysterics,” and leading a carefree life. It’s the typical infantile reaction of an unfree, patriarchal, closed society, which denies threats, displaces fear, and is ostentatiously careless.

Meanwhile, the virus has been here for a long time already, and hardly anyone believes the ridiculous figures of 59 people infected in a country of 146 million that is open on all sides. (Before the quarantine went into effect in China, the Chinese freely walked and drove back and forth over the Amur River in Russia’s Far East, while in European Russia, tens of thousands of our compatriots traveled to and from the most infected regions of Europe throughout February and March.) The longer this goes on, the more ridiculous the official figures will be, but the real figures will be ferreted away in overall mortality statistics for the elderly, among figures for “seasonal flu” and “community-acquired pneumonia,” while death certificates will contain phrases like “acute heart failure,” which is what they also write when someone is tortured to death. Just try and object: heart failure really did occur, and facts don’t lie!

I remember the terrible summer of 2010, when there was a heat wave, and the forests were on fire. Moscow swam in a scalding smog, and up to 40,000 old people died, according to unofficial estimates. Among them was my 83-year-old father. When the policeman came, wiping the sweat from his face, to a draw up the death report, he lowered his voice and told me that his precinct alone had been processing hundreds of people day, and that there were tens of thousands of such people citywide. However, there were no statistics on heatwave-induced deaths: the whole thing was disappeared into the usual causes of death for old people.

So, I’m afraid we will remain in the mode of “voluntary attendance,” of voluntary quarantines and voluntary mortality, a regime in which even getting diagnosed will be voluntary because we are the freest country in the world! The regime’s evasion of responsibility, the mighty smokescreen concealing the epidemic’s true scale, and the habitual carelessness of the populace (aggravated by the atomization of Russian society, its low levels of social capital, the absence of trust, discipline, and social solidarity, and the Gulag principle of “you die today, I die tomorrow”) will all boomerang back on us. Yes, the epidemic will reach its natural limits by summer, and maybe Merkel is right that sixty to seventy percent of the population will be infected, and many of these people will not even suspect they are sick. At the same time, however, not only will the [Russian] constitution and Putin’s [previous] terms [as president] be nullified, but so will many lives that could have been saved if not for the things mentioned above. But when did human lives ever count for anything in the land of great achievements?

Sergei Medvedev teaches at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Fedor Pogorelov: “A grand charge. We’re all going to die!” Footage of Zenit fans chanting “We’re all going to die” on March 14 at Gazprom Arena Petersburg.

 

Thousands of Zenit Fans Chant “We’re All Going to Die” at Match
Radio Svoboda
March 15, 2020

More than 30,000 fans attended Saturday’s match in St. Petersburg between Zenit and Ural in the Russian football championship. It was one of the last mass events in the city before restrictions were imposed due to the coronavirus infection. The restrictive measures come into force on March 16.

Fans of the Petersburg club chanted “We’re all going to die” several times.

They also hung up a banner reading “We’re all sick with football and will die for Zenit.” It is reported that the fans had their temperature checked. Zenit won the match with a score of 7-1.

Despite the threat of the coronavirus, the Russian Football League did not cancel matches this weekend. However, the possibility of taking a pause in the championship has been discussed. All the major European leagues have already announced a break, and play in the Champions League and the Europa League has also been suspended. On March 17, UEFA will discuss whether to postpone the European championship until next years.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

“He Fell on the Knife”: Moscow Jury Acquits Man Who Confessed to Involuntary Manslaughter of Gay

Moscow Jury Acquits Man Who Confessed to Involuntary Manslaughter of Gay Man
Takie Dela
February 7, 2020

A jury at Moscow’s Basmanny District Court acquitted a man accused of murdering homosexual Roman Yedalov, reports the LGBT group Stimul, whose lawyers represented the interests of the victim’s friend and mother in court. The website xgay.ru reports that the assailant’s name is Anton Berezhnoy.

The defendant admitted his guilt in part. He claimed, however, that he had not caused the death deliberately but accidentally: the victim had allegedly “[fallen] on the knife.” On February 6, when asked the question of whether Berezhnoy had caused Yedalov’s death or not, the jury said he had not, thus obviating the following question as to his guilt.

A final verdict will be handed down by the presiding judge in a few days but, according to law, the verdict cannot be a guilty one for the defendant. Stimul’s lawyers have already said they would appeal the court’s decision.

“The evidence and testimony presented in the trial convinced me that the altercation was provoked by the defendant,” said Anton Lapov, a lawyer for the injured party. “I’m convinced that it was this bloody outcome that the defendant envisaged. One person had their life taken, while another person was robbed of their health.”

The murder occurred in the early hours of June 29, 2019, at Kursk Railway Station in Moscow. Berezhnoy assaulted gay couple Roman Yedalov and Yevgeny Yefimov, who were returning to their home in the Moscow Region, and struck them with a knife.

The murder was captured on CCTV. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Yefimov’s wounds were not life-threatening and he survived, but Yedalov died on the spot. According to Yefimov, Berezhnoy shouted insults relating to their sexual orientation during the attack. Yefimov suspects that Berezhnoy followed them from a night club.

The Russian Investigative Committee launched a criminal investigation into the murder. Yefimov and the dead man’s mother were named as the injured party, while Berezhnoy was remanded in custody. During the trial, the prosecutor argued that the available evidence proved the defendant’s guilt. Yedalov’s mother told the court that she was proud of her son for defending his friend by stepping between him and the assailant.

In November 2019, Maxim Pankratov, the star of a video on the YouTube channel Real Talk in which children asked him questions about homosexuality, reported that he had been threatened. People on the street recognized him and shouted “Faggot! Pervert” as he walked past. Another group of strangers attempted to attack him at night, but he managed to escape. Pankratov underscored the fact that he had not talked with the children about sex and had not committed violent acts against them.

After the video starring Pankratov was posted, the Moscow police charged the channel’s creators with “promoting homosexualism [sic] among minors,” while the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case into sexual violence against minors. Investigators claimed that the conversations with children were designed to arouse them sexually and induce them to have sexual relations. The video was deleted after the scandal erupted.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Davydov: Extremely Knowledgeable Russians

KMO_173017_00047_1“Release political prisoners! They should not be in prison!” Muscovites rally in support of political prisoners on Sakharov Avenue on September 29, 2019. Photo by Pyotr Kassin for Kommersant. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Extremely Knowledgeable Russians
Ivan Davydov
MBKh Media
January 21, 2020

While you more or less grasp the sheer abnormality of the current Russian regime and even are aware of the nitty-gritty when it comes to certain things, you gradually learn to put up with a lot. You get used to it, you develop defensive skills. Constantly experiencing righteous anger is hard on the psyche. Nor does it happen on schedule, three times a day for twenty minutes, after meals, by way of clearing your conscience.

For example, you’re walking in downtown Moscow and you think, What the hell, it really has become nicer. Of course, you recall the savage corruption of the powers that be, and the trick they pulled with the elections last summer, and their persecution of ordinary people, but it has become prettier. There are the cozy shops and cafes, the lovely food courts, the new subway stations, and the Moscow Central Circle. Comfort and convenience trump righteous anger, and you catch yourself thinking, Well, they steal, naturally (I’m curious, by the way: is the word “naturally” accidental here or not? Probably not anymore), but they could just steal outright. Instead, they make improvements, and those improvements benefit more people than just them.

And it’s not that you forgive them for theft, election fraud, and last summer’s police dragnet against random passersby, but all of it recedes to the edge of consciousness, turning into cute, almost ordinary naughtiness.

But there are things you can’t put up with at all. It is impossible, for example, to forget that people are regularly tortured in Russia, including people who were allegedly planning a coup d’état, people who believe in God the wrong way (per our current laws), and the occasional lowlife whom the aces at the local police station have decided to frame for all the unsolved cases in the last couple of months.

I walk down the street, noting that Moscow has become prettier by any reckoning, and now, maybe, I’ll go into a cozy little cafe and have a cup of coffee. And almost certainly at the same time somewhere agents of the state will be torturing an ordinary person. This awareness pierces the brain like a nail—there’s no escaping it, it is painful and shameful. It’s a strange thing: I am not torturing anyone myself, but I’m ashamed for some reason. Or, rather, for some reason it’s me who is ashamed.

The same goes for awareness of the existence of political prisoners in Russia. More than two hundred people are in prison only because they allowed themselves to think something about the current Russian government that the current Russian government didn’t like. This is according to Memorial, which has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can believe its figures. More than two hundred people are being punished for incorrect thoughts, and it’s impossible to reconcile yourself with this fact in any way.

Neither the prettified streets of the big cities, nor the funky art exhibitions, nor the generous handouts the president has promised the disadvantaged and veterans can absolve the state of its guilt. This just should not be happening, but that’s the way it is.

A recent survey by the Levada Center provides some comfort. I am not the only one in Russia who is so knowledgeable: there are a fair number of us. By the way, the Levada Center has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can trust their findings. “Foreign agent,” after all, is something like a mark of quality, a certificate of non-complicity in the state’s lies.

When asked whether there were currently political prisoners in Russia, 23% of respondents answered yes, while another 40% answered that yes, there probably were political prisoners. Thus, a sizeable majority of people (63%) either know for certain or are reasonably sure that people are jailed in this country for thinking the wrong thoughts. The number of informed Russians has been growing. The poll was conducted in December 2019; in December 2018, 50% of those polled were aware of political prisoners. Analysts attribute this growth to the efforts of Moscow city hall, the noisy scandal over last autumn’s elections, and the protests ignited by the so-called Moscow Case.

I saw a happy tweet on Twitter from an opposition activist: “Hooray! Two thirds of Russians are aware of political prisoners! This is the result of our work! But we need more people to know.” I saw the tweet, but I immediately lost the link and forgot who wrote it. I wondered, however, whether there was much reason for celebration.

Two thirds of Russians are aware there are political prisoners in Russia, but this has not generated much of a furor. Even when the Moscow Case was in full swing, only a few hundred people in Moscow—a drop in the ocean—came out to picket in support of political prisoners. Thirty thousand people or so attended an “authorized” protest rally: this is nothing in a city of twelve million people. And in comparison with the number of people who are supposedly aware, it’s also nothing.

This means, apparently, that the vast majority of Russians consider the presence of political prisoners in the country to be the norm. I hope that, at least, they consider it an abnormal norm—that is, more or less the way I view corruption in Moscow. They see it as something unpleasant, of course, but not particularly terrible, as something they can live with.

Speaking of which, last summer the Levada Center published the results of a survey on the use of torture by the security forces. The numbers were absolutely terrible: 10% of Russians had experienced torture. This is not two hundred some people we’re talking about, but millions of people. 60% of those polled considered torture unacceptable, which is also seemingly a cause for joy. But that means that 40% either think torture is justified or haven’t formed an opinion on the subject: they are not moved by this sad, literally painful topic.

What’s the point in guessing, though? 30% of respondents stated outright that they considered torture justified in “exceptional cases.” I’ve never understood where the instinct for self-preservation goes in such cases. How can you be sure it won’t be you who turns out to be such an “exceptional case” for a tipsy policeman one day?

I don’t like it when folks chew out the “Russian people.” People in Russia are normal, on the whole, no worse than other people. Especially since I’m one of those people. There is no excuse for looking down on “the people.” It’s stupid and silly.

However, I see no particular cause for optimism when it comes to the polling data on awareness of political prisoners in our country. It points to a serious societal disease, and most important, it is completely unclear what the cure for it is.

But for starters, of course, all political prisoners must be released.

Thanks to Julia Murashova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Sergey Abashin: “Aliens” on Red Square

echo

A screenshot of the Ekho Moskvy website, showing the results of an online survey conducted on January 3, 2020. When asked “Does the abundance of migrants on Red Square on New Year’s bother you?” 68% of those who voted said yes, 26% said no, and 6% were undecided.

Will the Topic of Immigration Return to Russian Politics in 2020? “Aliens on Red Square” as a Factor in the 2021 Elections
Sergey Abashin
Liberal Mission Foundation
January 6, 2020

On January 3, the website of radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) asked its audience, allegedly liberal, whether it was bothered by the abundance of migrants on Red Square during New Year’s celebrations. Almost 4,000 people voted over the next twenty-four hours, with seventy percent of them answering “Yes.”  Although the survey lacks sociological representativity and is a purely rhetorical device, it does enable us to raise the question of whether immigration could be an important item on the social and political agenda in Russia in 2020. In my short comment, I will first analyze the wording of Ekho Moskvy’s question and show how it was manipulative before trying to link this story to recent trends in the debate on immigration and, finally, forecasting how the topic could evolve in the coming year.

The question (“Does the abundance of migrants on Red Square on New Year’s bother you?”) already sends a specific message that would have been decipherable by everyone who decided to take part in the survey. Instead of the neutral “How do you feel about…” the people who phrased the question immediately introduced the negative assessment implied by “bother,” inviting readers not to voice their opinions, but to agree or disagree with a stated stance in the absence of alternatives. The vagueness of the word “abundance”—how can it be quantified? what number or percentage is enough to render a verdict?—leaves a lot to the respondent’s imagination.

The notion of “migrants” is typically manipulative, of course. Who did the people who phrased the question have in mind? People who had come to Moscow from other parts of Russia, such as the Moscow Region and the Caucasus? Tourists from China and Italy? Migrant laborers from Ukraine and Central Asia? Formally speaking, all of them are migrants, and each of these groups could irritate the average Muscovite for some reason. In other words, “migrants” is a term that is already chockablock with stereotypes and laden with negativity.

Finally, the phrase “on Red Square on New Year’s” connotes a symbolic, even sacred time and space in which “migrants” are a priori contrasted as something alien, even if “migrants” also enjoy celebrating New Year’s and regard Red Square as a landmark in their own biographies, for example, as immigrants from the former Soviet hinterlands. Muscovites themselves might not even go to Red Square but, in keeping with the conceptual framework suggested by Ekho Moskvy’s survey, they should protect it from imaginary others.

Why, then, did Ekho Moskvy have to ask its listeners and readers a question about immigration in such a manipulative and negative form, putting it on a par with the current dramatic events in the Middle East? I am least inclined to imagine it was a deliberate conspiracy in service of a hidden agenda. It was, rather, a spontaneous reaction, a playing along with sentiments popular among listeners that encourage them to visit the radio station’s website.  And indeed we have seen signs in the past year that the topic of immigration has returned to the public agenda. After a surge in interest in immigration in 2013, during the Moscow mayoral election, and the highest recorded levels of antipathy to migrants, the topic of immigration gradually faded from the public eye, overshadowed by the economic crisis and the war in Ukraine.

According to polls conducted in the summer of 2019 by Levada Center, these numbers started to increase again after a twofold decline in previous years. A similar trend (among far-right groups and ideologues) has been noted by analysts at the SOVA Center, who write that the summer and autumn of 2019 saw a “partial revival of the traditional anti-immigrant discourse.”

Will the topic of immigration continue to be raised in various opinion polls, widening the debate to include, besides nationalists, liberals, leftists, and conservatives? The image of so-called aliens and others has always been an important constituent of self-identification, a building block of how we define ourselves, an obligatory component of the most varied ideologies. Given the recent warming (albeit not full normalization) in relations between Russia and Ukraine, the resulting vacancy for the role of aliens has to be filled by someone else, and “migrants” (less real than imaginary) are a strong and familiar irritant and a convenient tool for skewing public opinion.

Provided that a greater number of parties and new political figures are allowed to participate, the upcoming electoral cycle, which should end with elections to the State Duma in autumn of 2021, also creates conditions for both the opposition and pro-Kremlin groups to ratchet up the topic of immigration. The example of politicians in Europe and America who parlayed criticism of immigration policies into success at the ballot box is fresh in everyone’s mind.

Such conditions and examples are not sufficient, however, to revive the debate on immigration in the Russian political arena. The “reconciliation” with Ukraine and western countries may prove unstable and temporary. The Kremlin might choose to keep a tight rein on the elections and thus find it disadvantageous to let its opponents have a go at the topic of immigration. Despite the growth in anti-immigration rhetoric noted by pollsters and analysts in 2019, I would nevertheless cautiously suggest that immigration won’t dominate the political and public agenda in the new year.  Nor will it fade away, however. It will continue to fester, with parties as various as the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda and the radio station Ekho Moskvy fanning the embers. It will thus remain a political backup weapon that could go off at any moment.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Coffee Klatch Averted in Makhachkala

Six Activists and Journalists Detained After Refusing to Drink Coffee with Makhachkala’s Deputy Mayor
Novoye Delo
January 4, 2019

On January 4, OurCity (GorodNash) activists went to inspect Makhachkala’s main square, Effendi Kapiyev Square, after its reconstruction.

They were met by Makhachkala Deputy Mayor Effendi Khaydakov and a spokesman for the contractor, as well as city hall staffers.

After an exchange of opinions about the quality of the renovation and the completion date, the deputy minister invited the activists to go have a coffee, but they declined his offer and went on inspecting the square.

When the deputy mayor left to drink coffee, two police patrol squads arrived, detaining six people, including Svetlana Anokhina, Arsen Magomedov, Caucasian Knot journalist Musa Musayev, and two cameramen, one of them from city hall’s press service.

Magomedov told Novoye Delo by telephone that they were being taken to the Soviet District Police Department in Makhachkala.

After the square was cleared of activists, Makhachkala Mayor Salman Dadayev came out to chat with the remaining city hall staffers and townspeople.

P.S. Magomedov reported by telephone that all the detainees were released immediately after being delivered to the police department, and they have returned to the square to continue their inspection. Contractors recently handed the square over to the city.

makhachkala our cityOurCity activists in Makhachkala. Photo courtesy of RIA Derbent

What Does Makhachkala Have in Common with Yekaterinburg?
RIA Derbent
May 21, 2019

In Makhachkala, activists from the movement OurCity (Gorodnash) held a picket in support of Yekaterinburg residents protesting construction of a church in a city park.

The people who gathered on Saturday, May 18, also recorded a video message in which they voiced support for Yekaterinburg residents and proclaimed their solidarity with them against construction in park areas. Lawyer Arsen Magomedov said in the video that the Makhachkala activists had likewise been fighting plans to construct a church in the city’s Ak Gel Park.

Local activists have opposed construction of a church in the park since 2017. In September of that year, a memorial cross was dedicated on the site of planned construction in a religious service involving the Russian ethnic communities of Makhachkala, Kizlyar, and the Kizlyar District, as well as the Terek Cossacks of Dagestan. The Lenin District Court was already then considering a suit filed by activists challenging the legality of leasing land in the park for construction of a cathedral, a suit the activists won in December 2017. In April 2018, however, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the ruling by the Lenin District Court.

[…]

[T]he planned cathedral in Ak Gel Park was not the first or last target of Makhachkala urban activists opposed to redevelopment of the city’s green oases. Activists united to form the grassroots movement OurCity in January 2017 after Ramazan Abdulatipov, the former head of Dagestan, spearheaded a campaign to build an interactive museum, Russia Is My History, in Lenin Komsomol Park. After residents of Makhachkala protested, and thousands of people signed a petition opposing the plan, Abdulatipov announced that construction had been postponed in the wake of a “wide-ranging public discussion.” The same year, the now-united urban activists campaigned against plans to redevelop the square opposite the monument to Effendi Kapiyev. In both cases, activists managed to persuade courts to annul decisions by city hall to lease the land.

In December 2017, lawyer and urban activist Arsen Magomedov filed a complaint with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service about the Makhachkala City Property Committee’s  tendering of a lease to a 520-square-meter plot in 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution Park (aka the Dog Park), a complaint that was upheld. Magomedov used a similar method to annul bidding to construct a residential building in the green belt on Ali Aliyev Street.

Comparing the situation in Yekaterinburg and Makhachkala, Magomedov complained that, over two years of grassroots confrontation and court proceedings, neither the Russian Orthodox diocese nor the municipal or republican governments had engaged in dialogue with activists to resolve the dispute. According to Magomedov, people in Yekaterinburg were able to attract the attention of the federal authorities and win concessions “because the issue turned into a shooting war, with clashes, confrontations, arrests, and fights.”

The protesters in Makhachkala and Yekaterinburg say they are not opposed to building churches, but to the redevelopment of parks. Activists in Makhachkala have suggested moving the construction site one hundred meters away from the park to wasteland near the lake.

We talked to human rights defender and OurCity activist Svetlana Anokhina about what the protests in Yekaterinburg have shown us and how we should think about them.

Svetlana, do you think what has happened in Yekaterinburg will become an example for the entire country?

I’m surprised that what happened here in Makhachkala hasn’t become an example for the entire country. After all, we were able to organize a pressure group of ethnic Russians to file a lawsuit and write a letter to Patriarch Kirill in order to protect the city’s Muslim activists from possible attacks. The authorities tried to politicize outrage over plans to build a church in Ak Gel Park, because everyone understands that if the subject were raised by Muslim activists, they would immediately be accused of extremism and belonging to a nonexistent pro-Islamic sleeper cell, of course.

It doesn’t occur to the authorities that people just want to live a normal city with parks and trees. They don’t notice how they’re destroying the city.

But to make themselves heard, people in Yekaterinburg had to tear down fences and battle the police.

I don’t believe the folks in Yekaterinburg are wrong, or that their actions have been too radical, but such risks are impossible for us. This shouldn’t become an example for the whole country, because it was a spontaneous protest by desperate people, driven to despair by the authorities themselves, who sicked riot cops and martial arts club fighters on them. In my opinion, the protest itself was spontaneous, something you cannot say about the crackdown against the protest, which involved oligarchs and fighters from a martial arts club owned by an oligarch, and the Orthodox Church, which is structured like a military organization, and the police and the authorities. In this light, it is total nonsense to say that the grassroots protests were organized by outside forces, and that the protesters were too radical.

So this is the price for getting the president’s attention and his suggestion to conduct a survey?

You did hear what Yekaterinburg’s mayor said, didn’t you? That there wouldn’t be a referendum on the issue because it required a lot of preparation (a year!), but there would be some kind of public opinion poll. Someone countered him by pointing out that the referendum in Crimea was organized in two weeks.

I don’t like the fact that residents need to get through to the president to solve local problems. Issues like this should be decided at the local level, and if local officials cannot come to an agreement with ordinary people, it means they are not doing their jobs and should be replaced.

Thanks to Marina Ken for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader