You can point to various dates: fourteen years ago, when Russia invaded Georgia; twenty-eight years ago, when Moscow went to war in Grozny; thirty-one years ago, when the Kremlin got involved in the conflict in Moldova. Or we could quote Timur Mutsurаyev, who sang that “We’ve been three hundred years at war with Russia…” This would also be true, though that is a whole other story, of course. But for me, a person known in Russia as a khach and a churok[common Russian racial slurs for Central Asian, Caucasian, and dark-skinned people], it makes the most sense to say, “Dear Russians, welcome to New Year’s Eve in Grozny! We’ve been waiting for you. It’ll last forever for you, until it ends. And it’ll definitely end soon, and then it will be a New Year.”
What is this “New Year’s Eve in Grozny” on a symbolic level? It’s not just a tragedy. It’s the beginning of History, which, according to Francis Fukuyama, was supposed to have ended already. The tragicomedy is that the “end of history” didn’t occur in 2001. It occurred—as we can see now—in 1995, with the start of the First Chechen War, which painfully resembles the one underway right now in Ukraine. For examples, see here, here, and here, as well as this, of course:
But why was the continuation of the Russian Federation’s terrible, bloody, and inhumane war against its former colonies on February 24, 2022, such a shock for me, a Kazakhstani and, I’m sure, for many of you?
The simplest and most correct answer lies in the fact that its previous phases did not affect us. It all happened (I have in mind primarily the Chechen Wars) somewhere else, and involved non-white Muslims, gangsters, and terrorists. It was Russia’s internal affair, to which all so-called progressive humanity more or less gave its blessing. Well and what do you expect? It would hardly have befitted the US, after the Gulf War and in the midst of bombing Iraq, to stand up for Muslim Chechnya. But not everyone let Russia off the hook and forgot about this. The first foreign volunteers in unrecognized Ichkeria were, in fact, not Arabs or Afghanis but Ukrainians (see the interview with Aleksandr Muzychko, a.k.a. Sashko Bily). But even I (as, again, a Kazakhstani) thought before February 24 that if Russia were ever going to change, it would be due to civil war rather than military defeat. And so much more terrifying is the irony in the fact that people who previously didn’t care about the fate of Chechnya massively reposted an interview with [Dzhokhar Dudayev], the first president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, in which he predicted this war with Ukraine a full twenty-seven years ago.
But the reasons that prompted me to write this text have nothing to do with a foreigner’s apparent decolonial attack against white masters, one full of ressentiment along the lines of “Did you really think that the slaughter in Bucha wouldn’t happen after the ‘mopping-up’ (this term actually first came into use then) in the village of Novye Aldy? Did you really think there wouldn’t be a strike on the Kramatorsk train station after the missile strike on the Grozny central market? Did you really think that Russian soldiers wouldn’t commit war crimes if, after two wars in Ichkeria, only two people were convicted of war crimes—Budanov and Lapin? If all the people who gathered evidence and conducted investigations (Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, and Stanislav Markelov) were murdered, all three of them?”
No, not at all. First and foremost, I want to repeat for everyone in Central Asia, the Baltics, the North Caucasus, and Eastern Europe who hasn’t yet understood it (and there are fewer and fewer of these people with every passing day): our life didn’t just change into a “before” and “after” on February 24. Those thirty years since the collapse of the USSR took shape as History. That whole viscous, formless time—in which we had led our private lives, built nation-states, felt that we were, as Sergei Timofeev’s poem has it, “the underbelly of Europe” (or Asia), and watched wars in the Middle East—that whole time the History of the post-Soviet space had been going on outside of our private lives. Every attack by Russian officials on various minorities and every minute of propaganda TV broadcasts (as we all found out after the war was continued) were not just a way of consolidating the electorate of Russia’s ruling party, which allegedly had no ideology. No, they were all drops in the ocean of Russism, as Dzhokhar Dudayev called it, something with which we all collided on February 24, 2022. For thirty-one years it had been growing and maturing, and all of our hopes (including my own) for decolonizing Russian and Russia without a military defeat in a monstrous war, were lost. Future historians will describe this time as “the years of Russism and the struggle against it.” While we thought we had been living in an era of local conflicts, nation-states, and gradual democratization!
I thus declare with confidence that the most decolonial (in all senses) decision right now for everyone, for the whole world, is to completely support Ukraine. Because if it’s permitted to bomb even white Christian Europe, then it’s okay to “not sweat it” like China with the Uyghurs and just build concentration camps in downtown Paris. For anyone you want.
To sum up, I want to quote a poem by the Soviet poet Vladimir Burich, who was born in Kharkiv (cruel irony)—a poem we can all feel right now with our whole bodies:
The world is filling up with
among my letters I found
a bar of prewar soap
I didn’t know what to do
The prewar era is
a lost Atlantis
Our prewar era has truly gone under, and we are its last witnesses. Just as the Second World War turned the Great War into the First World War, the thirty-one years between the collapse of the USSR and the bombing of Kyiv on February 24, 2022, have crystalized. Our political philosophy, historiography, and humanities will change. Our whole understanding of social reality will change, whether we want it to or not. History, as is still often the case, is unfolding before our very eyes. Better not blink and miss it.
I dreamt that all wars had ended and a united humankind was amicably celebrating good’s victory over human nature’s age-old curse.
Since my dream took place in Petersburg, the warships had been turned in recreational vessels, equipped with swimming pools, gyms, spas, dance halls, hotels, bars, restaurants, etc.
The towering masts were outfitted with convenient spots for those wishing to photograph the city’s river embankments from above. The deck was dotted with deck chairs, and the holds, instead of rockets and shells, housed barrels containing every variety of alcohol from around the globe!
I remember strolling around one of these ships, shooting a reportage about the triumphantly heavenly lives of its inhabitants, but I was not able to finish the dream. As always in the morning, the cat’s meowing and the children waking up on time woke me up. Otherwise, I would have been late for my next photo shoot.
I never would have thought that I would speak out in defense of the Soviet Union. But now I am forced to do it.
I grew up in a small village in the middle of Russia. The adults in my life did not read samizdat and tamizdat, nor did they oppose the system — they just lived their lives. But from their conversations, loose talk, and slips of tongue, I was able to draw conclusions. I realized that I didn’t have to unconditionally believe the agitprop posters and the folks on the TV. Life was more complicated and, apparently, worse than the picture that the big bosses were trying to foist on us.
And yet there were certain things I took for granted. I knew that my country had clear, intelligible notions of good and evil, of how everything should work, and I considered them correct. Socialism had to emerged victorious. We didn’t seem to be doing everything right, but we knew what we were supposed to being doing.
To a large extent, of course, this belief was also based on a complete ignorance of how people actually lived outside the socialist bloc. There were simply no people in our midst who had seen it and could tell us about it. In our village, perhaps the only person who had visited this capitalist hell was my grandfather. He was in Vienna when the war ended. But he died before I was born, and besides, as my elders told me, he was a taciturn person and did not like to reminisce about his life.
I knew — just like Leonid Brezhnev, the guy on TV, who had fought in a real war — that it was wrong to even hint at using nuclear weapons. Nuclear war was terrible and the end of everything.
I also knew that we would never attack anyone. The Soviet Union had a militarist bent, and a sense of the coming war’s inevitability filtered into my childish mind. But there was only one possible scenario: the enemy would come to us, maybe even occupy our country, but then we would throw them out, win the war, and clean up the motherland. There was no other way. We wouldn’t attack first.
The Soviet Union, by the way, was bashful about its wars. It concealed its involvement in conflicts abroad. Only the Afghan War broke through the curtain of lies. I don’t know whether it was because of the magnitude, or because the giant was on its last legs and had even forgotten how to tell a fib.
Modern Russia is not shy. Go to the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces in Patriot Park. It is worthwhile and instructive. There are mosaics depicting Russian soldiers and heroes — the heroes of the Battle of Kulikovo, the Patriotic War of 1812, the Great Patriotic War … and a huge panel depicting the heroes of the wars that the Soviet Union waged after the Second World War. The figures in the foreground are easily identifiable as “Afghans,” but the picture’s authors quite clearly hint that it’s not just about veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
Soviet ideology was putrid and phony, but there was also a real humanism in it that filtered through the rot and falsity.
Modern Russia doesn’t even have this going for it.
Source: Ivan Davydov, “An apology for the Union: which USSR Vladimir Putin is resurrecting,” Republic, 21 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
The Ukrainian authorities would never control the liberated areas of the Kharkiv region again, said the head of the temporary civilian administration of the Kharkiv region Vitaly Ganchev.
“We will receive comprehensive assistance. That is, Ukraine is not coming back here. And every time I am asked whether the Ukrainian authorities will return, whether we can feel calm, I […] tell everyone that no, none of those Nazis will be coming back here, we are going to build a decent life,” he said.
Source: TASS, Telegram, 20 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
The behavior of some Western countries is comparable to the behavior of these puppies. When the special military operation in Ukraine began, everyone seemingly barked in unison, spewing columns of flame and, periodically, sanctions. Realizing the futility of their actions, silence momentarily ensued, and then a plaintive whining was heard. All their supposedly noble efforts had played a cruel joke on them.
Thinking before doing is a luxury beyond the reach of some Western leaders. Who would have thought that an unprecedented number of sanctions against Russia would do absolutely nothing. The people are not rebelling, gasoline prices have not soared, and store shelves are chockablock with a variety of products. The analogy with the feckless barking of small puppies is more than apt, although it is an invidious comparison.
Source: Ramzan Kadyrov (“Kadyrov _95”), Telegram, 20 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
Truly revolutionary transformations are gaining ever greater momentum… These colossal changes are, of course, irreversible. Both at the national and global levels, the foundations and principles of a harmonious, more just, socially oriented, and secure world order are being developed — an alternative to the unipolar world order that has existed so far, which by its nature, of course, has become a brake on the development of civilization.
The model of total domination by the so-called golden billion is unfair. Why should this “golden billion” dominate the entire population of the planet, impose their own rules of behavior based on the illusion of exclusivity?! It divides peoples into first and second class, and therefore is racist and neocolonial in its essence, and the globalist, supposedly liberal ideology underlying it has increasingly taken on the features of totalitarianism, restraining creative endeavors [and] free historical creation!
One gets the impression that the West simply has no model of the future of its own to offer the world. Yes, of course, it is no coincidence that this “golden billion” became “golden,” that it achieved a lot, but it took up its positions not only thanks to certain ideas that it implemented. To a large extent it took up its positions by robbing other peoples in Asia and Africa! That’s how it was! India was robbed so much! Therefore, even today, the elites of this “golden billion” are terrified that other centers of global change could present their own scenarios!
No matter how much Western and supranational elites strive to maintain the existing order of things, a new era is coming, a new stage in world history!
And only truly sovereign states can ensure dynamic growth, set an example for others in standards of living and quality of life, in defending traditional values, lofty humanistic ideals, and models of development in which the individual is not the means, but the supreme goal!
Sovereignty is the freedom of national development, and therefore [the freedom] of each individual. It is the technological, cultural, intellectual, and educational viability of the state — that’s what it is! And, of course, sovereignty’s most important component is a responsible, industrious, and nationally minded, nationally facing civil society!
Source: Andrei Kolesnikov, “Vladimir Putin spun the turbine at GES-2,”Kommersant, 20 July 2022. I have removed Mr. Kolesnikov’s editorial asides and insertions from the text of the monologue quoted, above. Translated by the Russian Reader
Specialists from Russian Ministry of Defense have started construction of 12 residential buildings in Mariupol in June 2022. About 2.5 thousand residents will occupy more than a thousand apartments in new five-storey buildings. The flats will be fully renovated.
Commercial and non-commercial property and social facilities, such as shops, will be on the ground floors. There will be recreation areas, children’s and sports grounds with full equipment, including play and exercise facilities.
In Mariupol, it will be one of the first such complexes.
Source: Russia House in Kathmandu, Facebook, 17 July 2022
So, what’s to be done? The United States needs to open a diplomatic channel with Moscow to get a clearer sense of what would be an acceptable settlement for all parties. Right before the invasion, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman indicated “possible support” for an approach in which Ukraine would pledge military neutrality and give up its bid for NATO membership. If it will stop the suffering of ordinary Ukrainians, why should the United States not encourage Ukraine to put that back on the table now? Given its ongoing struggles with corruption and undemocratic practices, Ukraine is still far from meeting the democratic criteria of NATO membership anyway.
Promises of unlimited support only embolden what is starting to be seen as the Ukrainian president’s “reckless stubbornness” in outright rejecting the possibility of territorial concessions. President Biden has repeatedly expressed that there are limits to U.S. assistance — it does not help Ukraine to pretend otherwise. It is rare that a war ends in total defeat, and it is not realistic to expect Moscow will fully retreat. U.S. policy must now shift to embrace this reality, and plan for the months ahead when deep divisions within the Western coalition grow, and when, in a lopsided war of attrition, Ukraine might lose even more ground.
Mark was born and raised on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He received a BA from UPenn, an MA from Columbia, and a PhD from USC’s Annenberg School. His doctoral research examined international transitions of journalism from statist to capitalist media models.
Mark worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign and the 2008 Obama campaign. During the Obama administration, he regularly provided political and policy analysis on MSNBC, FOX News, and CNBC. His writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, TIME Magazine, PBS, Politico, The Huffington Post, NBCNews.com, and elsewhere.
His knowledge about the role which media play in driving — and sometimes thwarting — democratic progress was what first caught the eye of EGF. And Mark was excited by the innovative and important work being led by Allyn Summa and Ian Bremmer at the new organization. Mark wanted to work in the world of ideas, but also knew that world all too often seemed unapproachable to most Americans. He wanted to help foster a conversation around the urgent foreign policy challenges our country currently confronts. EGF has enabled him to do just that.
He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two young sons. After a childhood on Cape Cod, he enjoys spending as much of his free time as possible at one beach or another. He is learning to whittle, but despite being from a long line of carpenters, has found it to be quite challenging. He loves reading, and George Saunders, Philip Roth and Marilynne Robinson are among his favorite authors.
What strikes me as particularly undeniable is that the absence of the feeling of belonging to a class is characteristic of children of the bourgeoisie. People in a dominant class position do not notice that they are positioned, situated, within a specific world (just as someone who is white isn’t necessarily aware of being so, or someone heterosexual). Read in this light, Aron’s remark can be seen for what it is, the naive confession offered by a person of privilege who imagines he is writing sociology when all he is doing is describing his own social status. I only met him once in my life, and immediately felt a strong aversion towards him. The very moment I set eyes on him, I loathed his ingratiating smile, his soothing voice, his way of demonstrating how reasonable and rational he was, everything about him that displayed his bourgeois ethos of decorum and propriety, of ideological moderation.
Kateryna burst into tears when describing how she saw some 2,000 dead bodies with her own eyes. The shooting made it impossible to go in and help, despite the desperate pleas of bystanders.
“Russian units were occupying our flats, and I saw them shooting at civilians from the streets from the apartments. I was travelling around with a medical kit, trying to evacuate them to the main hospital, but then the Russian soldiers captured it too, using the patients and medical staff as human shields.”
On her last day in Mariupol, the road was destroyed, so she had to travel on foot. She saw a car that had hit a tree, with the driver already dead inside.
But then she spotted a teenage girl sitting in the back of the car. “Get out, we need to leave, they’re bombing here,” Kateryna told the teenage girl. On the other side of the car, a woman was lying in a pool of blood, moaning.
She realised that these were the girl’s parents, but she knew that with projectiles flying overhead she could only help one person — so she had to make the horrifying choice between saving the mother or the daughter.
Seeing that the younger woman was still able to walk, she chose the daughter. When she got her down the stairs of the shelter, Kateryna saw that the woman’s shirt was so full of blood that she was not able to wring it out.
When she was finally evacuated from the Black Sea port city, thousands of dead bodies were still on the streets, but she received messages from friends saying that Russian soldiers forced the remaining civilians to clean up the bodies to hide their crimes.
Now safe in Warsaw, Kataryna believes she will never forget what she has seen.
Source: James Jackson, “‘I was praying we would die quickly,’ Mariupol survivor says,” Euronews, 12 July 2022
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. On 22 June 2022, artist Yelena Osipova held a solo anti-war picket on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg. On 22 June 2022, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the official Russian government newspaper, published a lengthy interview with Mikhail Piotrovsky, the longtime director of Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum,, in which he justified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as part of his country’s greater historical and cultural “mission.” Ms. Osipova and Mr. Piotrovsky were born a mere eleven months apart, in November 1945 and December 1944, respectively. If Ms. Osipova’s bravery doesn’t bring honor on her hometown, it’s not for her want of trying. Despite having much greater resources at his disposal and a bigger bully pulpit, Mr. Piotrovsky has definitely brought shame on his city. As long it is run by people like him, Russia’s great “cultural capital” has no future. In any case, Ms. Osipova’s barely audible message makes a jarring juxtaposition with Mr. Piotrovsky’s arrogant, “learned” apology for Russian fascism. ||| TRR
Yelena Osipova, photographed in front of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt in downtown Petersburg on 22 June 2022. Photo courtesy of Irina Bogdanovskaya, as posted on the public Facebook page Yelena Andreyeevna Osipova. Artist. Citizen. Thanks to Maria Mila for the heads-up. The placard on the left reads, “To the unknown soldier, 1941–1945. He was buried in the earth.” The placard on the right reads, “22 June 1941–1945. In memory of the Patriotic/Second World War. Become a pacifist! Pacifism – pacificus – peaceable. Pacifists condemn all wars and campaign vigorously and publicly to prevent them.” On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Ms. Osipova was born on 11 November 1945, that is, six months after the end of the Great Patriotic War.
[Elena Yakovleva]: We have all been shocked by the fighting not only on the fronts of the special operation, but also on the cultural front, by all the attempts to cancel Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff concerts, and the Russian language. What is behind “cancel culture”? Having ourselves escaped from the dictates of ideology, are we now witnessing its return in the West?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: The attack on us in the realm of culture is, of course, a semblance of what we had in Soviet times, when all connections were cut off by command, at a moment’s notice, at the snap of someone’s fingers. I have the sense that the Soviet Union, with its ideological dictates, has spread to the West. I did not expect that I would read in liberal Western newspapers such things as “The Hermitage is an imperial museum that preaches imperial ideology. It should not be allowed anywhere! The Hermitage’s [planned branch] in Barcelona should not be opened under any circumstances!”
I have been inundated with ultimatums. How dare you not speak out against the special operation in Ukraine?! Go out and protest immediately! Why are there no protests in your country?
But in this case we should understand that we have been subjected to such a powerful attack in the field of culture because culture is an area in which we are absolutely competitive.
We have the initiative here. We are trendsetters.
Are we an exporting country?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Yes, and our cultural exports are more important than imports.
Our recent exhibitions abroad are a powerful cultural offensive, a kind of “special operation,” if you wish. Which many people don’t like, but we are advancing. No one can be allowed to thwart our offensive.
In response to calls to cancel Tchaikovsky, smart people in Russia have been saying, “We won’t cancel anything. On the contrary, we will continue to love the Europe that we learned about while studying at universities.” Is the asymmetry fundamentally important in this case?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Of course. Given our cultural advantage, we don’t have to loudly announce that we are reneging on one cultural agreement or another in response to their bans. They can do it unilaterally. There is definitely no need for bilateralism — precisely because we are winning.
I think that under no circumstances should we succumb (and we shall not succumb) to the seductions of “cancel culture.” I believe we are immune to it because we have already been “canceled” six ways to Sunday. First, the entire culture of Tsarist Russia was canceled, and then Soviet culture was canceled. Monuments were demolished dozens of times. But we also know something else: monuments come back, everything is restored. The knowledge that memory and culture come back is in our blood. That is why we are not eager to overdo it when it comes to “cancelations.” Besides, you can’t cancel Tchaikovsky, except, perhaps, performances of Tchaikovsky by Russian orchestras. But this is just unfair competition.
Why is the West so passionate about “cancel culture”? And about the dictates of “public opinion”?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: I would not exaggerate the difference between the dictates of Soviet ideology and “public opinion.” Public opinion is bound up with governments or regulated by them.
As for “cancel culture” in the West, it is part of a large wave that was born amidst BLM, and linked to the culture of guilt and repentance for guilt. It suddenly surged: they began pulling down monuments and not standing for the American flag. They think that Voltaire is bad, and this guy, and that other guy. It’s a little ridiculous. How much can you repent for the terrors of colonialism, which in fact was so entirely categorical? Or for the unfortunate slave trade, which after all began not in Europe, but in Africa?
They seemingly had already begun to sense that this road leads nowhere, but then Russia turned up by chance. So let’s “cancel” Russia, they said. Although the glee with which they have rushed to condemn us, to tear us up and expel us, again speaks to the fact that we are strong in culture.
When the Bizot group boycotts Russian museums, it’s just ridiculous. I was one of the people who founded the group, and I know that we actually created it to help museums do cultural exchanges unencumbered by politics. But now it’s apparently been ideologized on the Soviet model. If this Soviet-style infection has gone so far, let them be sick alone. We don’t need to be sick too. We have historical immunity against this. I think we will spread it to others.
Since it hasn’t succumbed to the hype of cancellations, has the Hermitage keep its exhibitions abroad going?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Not only the Hermitage. When the special operation in Ukraine began, exhibitions by Russian museums were everywhere. We have a Morozov [Collection] exhibition in Paris and exhibitions in Italy. Our most controversial exhibition, a Fabergé show, was in London. The Russian Museum had an exhibition in Spain.
This was our “special operation,” if you like, a great cultural offensive.
As soon as all the ideological sirens were turned on due to the special operation in Ukraine, we initially announced that we were pulling everything out immediately. But then we thought it over and said that we had been given guarantees. The organizers were quick to confirm them. We organized the Morozov exhibition in Paris in cooperation with the Louis Vuitton Foundation, and suddenly realized that this global commercial company was a much better partner in today’s “Soviet” Europe than government entities were. Having no freedom of maneuver, they were “ordered” to break off relations with us, while the business people who made promises to us did EVERYTHING to fulfill them. It was a matter of honor for them: they promised us that [they would send] everything back on time.
But then people in Russia started yelling, “Why did you take our treasures there? They’re worth so much money!” And all hell broke loss on the other side: “Since they’re worth ‘that much’ money, let’s impound them!” People with tormented mercantilist mindsets could not really understand the essence of the matter, so very provocative things were shouted on both sides. I must say that the provocation by the press was the main complication in this whole special operation. Yesterday, I was sent a copy of the FT featuring a discussion by journalists in their art (!) department on the topic of whether Russian paintings should have been impounded. It was due to such journalistic caterwauling that pieces from our museums were detained at the Finnish border. It was the weekend, and Finnish customs officers had read their fill of newspaper articles about how everything should be confiscated from the Russians. Although before and after that, ten of our truck caravans passed through their border post.
From our side, it was the bloggers shouted more. The journalists have been schooled by you.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Only there are few real journalists left and just a couple of newspapers. Everyone is like a blogger now. And bloggers don’t understand that this is a cultural offensive, that the Shchukin and Morozov exhibition in Paris is like the Russian flag flying over the Bois de Boulogne. Do you know how everyone appreciated it in Italy? They said, “If the Hermitage can leave its paintings with us at a time like this, it means that they know what they are doing over there in Russia.”
It is also very important that the protagonists of our exhibitions were [Sergei] Shchukin and [Ivan] Morozov, Russian businessmen from the Old Believers community who largely defined the evolution of European culture. Matisse was once asked if he would have painted Dance had it not been for Shchukin. “And for whom would I have painted it?” Matisse said. Shchukin suggested things, commissioned things, was capricious, and great works were born. I was recently awarded the Demidov Prize, and it was an occasion to recall how Nikolai Demidov and the great French jeweler Pierre Thomire created this Russian style of malachite with bronze. They had such fights! Thomire said they should do things one way, Demidov said no, it must be done another way. But consequently, there is the Malachite Canopy in the Hermitage.
Does a producer [sic] have the right to interfere in an artist’s plans like that?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: He absolutely has the right. Yes, sometimes such interventions can be bad. But sometimes they can be good. In the case of Shchukin and Morozov, it was a good thing. They were the RIGHT customers.
Let’s not forget that it was the Old Believers who revealed to us the beauty of the old Russian icons. They were the first to clean them and preserve them. And Shchukin brought Russian icons to Matisse, in particular, to reverse the influence of Persian miniatures on him.
At the Morozov exhibition, we presented Russian paintings collected by him and showed art through the collector’s eye. Morozov collected Manet and [Valentin] Serov, and I would hear people say when they were leaving the exhibition, “You look [at their paintings] and you realize that Serov is no worse than Manet.”
The Fabergé exhibition made a very big splash. That is another Russian phenomenon that influenced the West.
So, we in fact did undertake a big cultural offensive. And we came out of it, having done everything we had planned to do.
Europe has long been a cultural model for us. The “RG” had a conversation with the writer Eugene Vodolazkin about attitudes to Europe. With reference to Dostoevsky, we talked about the fact it is almost dearer to us than to the Europeans.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We recently held a round table at the Council of the History of World Culture at the Academy of Sciences, which we were going to call “Is Russia Europe?” but instead called “Is Russia Europe? Is Europe the EU?” The general sense of our debate was this: we are Europe, as much a part of it as France or Germany, and maybe more than the United States. If Europe were not us, Gogol would not have written Dead Souls while living in Italy. We recently held another round table on visual art, at which we recalled that Dostoevsky wrote about the Sistine Madonna.
This is our long-standing choice: we are inseparable from European culture and from Europe itself. The special military operation in Ukraine does not change anything. There have been plenty of disagreements and wars within Europe, from the Thirty Years’ War to the First World War. We are Europe and at some moments more Europe than many of its classic [sic] countries. And certainly more than the EU, which is now turning into the Soviet Union.
Of course, we also have an Asian aspect. But Peter the Great already knew how to balance all this wonderfully. We at the Hermitage understand this like no one else, because our main theme is world culture in the Russian context. I constantly talk about our right to be Europe, because in the south of Russia we have a Classical heritage — Chersonesus, Kerch, Taman. And whoever has a Classical heritage is Europe. In Norway, for example, there is no Classical heritage; there were neither Greek colonies nor Roman legions.
Therefore, it is all ours. We must dispose of it as our own, and not think that we are opposing Europe. Do we have different values? But they all have different values. Do we have special Orthodox values? But there are Orthodox values in Europe as well. In many ways they are consonant with Catholic values and not consonant with various secular ones. As an absolutely full-fledged and equal part of Europe, we will never be isolated. It’s just our sense of self. And the Hermitage is a symbol of this self-awareness. I keep repeating that the Hermitage is an encyclopedia of world culture written in Russian. The Hermitage’s Rembrandts, which have been in Russia for three hundred years, are Russian Rembrandts. The Russian Shakespeare is impossible without [Grigori] Kozintsev and [Innokenty] Smoktunovsky. Other doors — to Asia — are always open. But this does not cancel our presence in Europe.
Since people who value Russian culture have not yet gained the upper hand in Europe, must we now form a European model for ourselves?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We must form this model now. And we are forming it.
Although there seem to be no Shchukins and Morozovs in Russia nowadays.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Shchukin and Morozov shaped tastes. But now we are shaping, for example, international law. For many years, we have been carefully fashioning guarantees for the return of our paintings by changing international laws and creating immunity from impoundment. All this was first elaborated for Soviet exhibitions, and later, already in my own time, we constantly worked on developing it. The descendants of Shchukin and Morozov tried to sue us, so I urgently got the pictures out of Rome by plane. But every year we have strengthened our legal safeguards. We said, “Do you want our exhibitions? Then give us real guarantees. Spell it out in the contract: the exhibition will be returned on time even in case of lawsuits.” Europe accepted all these terms. The Americans didn’t, so we haven’t had any exchanges with the Americans for ten years. Although people who wanted to host exhibitions from Russia introduced a new law in the United States that enabled the government to give us guarantees and immunity. But it was too late; now it’s not enough. But with Europe, all the guarantees worked. In particular, when paintings from our Italian exhibitions were detained at the Finnish border, our diplomats and Italian businessmen helped us. They immediately sent all the paperwork to the Finnish government: “We gave guarantees, how can you not trust them?!”
At the last moment — even amidst the sanctions — our Western partners introduced a clause stating that prohibited luxury items do not include items that are in exhibitions of Russian museums abroad. It was even stipulated that Russian transport companies have the right to transport exhibitions throughout the EU. We didn’t take the risk — we transported [the exhibitions] in foreign vehicles — but this point was specially inserted. So, we not only look at Europe as a model, but also try and shape the international rules ourselves. This is quite important, especially now, when there are disputes about every [piece of art] in the world over who it actually belongs to.
Has the attitude towards the Hermitage changed among its Western fans?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We’ve been getting stabbed in the back a lot lately. Outside the country, the Khodorkovskys of the world have been slinging mud at us, while here at home, as always, certain people have been calling for draconian audits. On the other hand, we have gotten a better sense of who our friends are and who are our enemies. The “society of friends of the Hermitage” have proved their mettle. In Israel, for example, they comported themselves brilliantly. They immediately spoke out. “How can we be friends of the Hermitage, using this honorary title, and then suddenly severe ties [with the museum]?”
Mikhail Piotrovsky: It changed a lot. But besides those who have been writing maliciously about us, unexpected friends have appeared — for example, those French and Italian businessmen I mentioned.
What should we be doing in the field of culture?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: I think we have to do everything in such a way that we are seen, but we don’t have to travel anywhere at all to do this. After becoming director of the Hermitage, I announced a moratorium on exhibitions inside Russia because it was dangerous to transport things then: there were thieves everywhere, there was no money, no real insurance, either. So we didn’t send exhibitions around Russia for ten years. But now we are announcing a moratorium on exhibitions abroad.
I urge everyone now to look back at the experience of the Siege of Leningrad — at the know-how for saving things in an organized manner that was acquired then, at the understanding that when guns speak, the muses should not be silent. On the contrary, they should speak loudly. The experience of the Siege also taught us to address the world beyond the encirclement. During the Great Patriotic War, the Nizami and Nava’i exhibitions and evenings at the Hermitage were examples of this appeal. They showed the whole Soviet Union and the whole world that we remembered the great poets even in the midst of famine and war. Therefore, we are now, as part of the “Great Hermitage” program, going to be doing everything to make the whole world see us and, roughly speaking, envy us.
Now, for example, we are opening an exhibition of works by one of the most famous Danish artists, [Vigilius] Eriksen. He painted Catherine the Great and her court, and for the tricentennial of his birth he earned an exhibition at the Hermitage. We requested pieces from Denmark for the exhibition, but they were not given to us. Well, we have more of Eriksen’s works than they have in Denmark. So, an excellent exhibition is now opening in the Nicholas Hall featuring huge portraits of Catherine and the Orlov Brothers, accompanied by the amazing stories of how they were created, how they were repainted and the medals on the uniforms were altered. The exhibition is on the internet, including a lecture in English. We are broadcasting a message to Denmark: look, a small but very important piece of European culture is the great portrait painter Eriksen in the Hermitage.
What do you say to those who demand that you repent for Russian policy?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Our country has now shifted into another time. The first period of the Scythian War is over. We retreated and retreated, now we are not retreating. A pivot has been made. And it is already clear that it’s the final one. Everything began in 2014 in Crimea. Crimea created a situation in which there was no other way, in which we had to pivot.
Our country is making great, comprehensive transformations. And we, respectively, are part of them and with her. Working calmly and normally is our stance.
The Hermitage has done exhibitions about war many times. What can you say about how it’s perceived? For example, a totally pacifist reaction is not something I find congenial. Apparently, I’m a militarist.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We are all militarists and imperialists. (laughs)
First and most important, it is my country, and I must stand with it. I sometimes repeat the jingoistic formula: this is my country, such as it is. There are situations when it is absolutely clear that a person must stand with his country. In the West they understand that these are all substantive things — that we stand with our country. When a very serious issue is being resolved, there are no options.
I am currently reading Alexei Varlamov’s wonderful book about [Vasily] Rozanov, and [there is a section in it] about 1914 and his hyper-patriotic sentiments. This patriotism at the beginning of the 1914 war is [a phenomenon] known to everyone, but it has not been explained very well. We are somehow dismissive of it, but it was a quite important thing in fact. We, people of culture, must now understand our involvement in everything that is happening. A person involved in history, first of all, must do well what it is that he does [as a vocation], in keeping with the principle that when guns speak, the muses should also speak. And in keeping with the realization that culture, which for us stands above politics and everything else, will later ask us to account for what we did for it. As we were asked after the war, after the Siege: what did you do — on your own?
For me, the attitude to war is established by the great Pushkin in A Journey to Arzrum. Where is he rushing the entire book? To see the demoted Decembrists and then go into battle?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Arzrum was also the only foreign land Pushkin visited. It expanded the world for him. There is nothing wrong with the fact that a person wants to have the most complete set of sensations. This is especially true when he wants to embody his deep feelings in something, to see and do something new. If he has grounds for it, he throws himself into it. It is an element of self-esteem. I always say that Russian patriotism is a sense of one’s own historical dignity. An individual understands that he must go to war, while another person understands that he must do something else, but which is no less important. Behind this is a sense of one’s own historical dignity, the desire to live up to one’s history and the mission of one’s country. It sounds quite dramatic, but we understand our country’s historical mission. This feeling that our country is changing world history, and that you are involved in it, is crucial now.
Nor are things so simple when it comes to attitudes towards armed hostilities. On the one hand, war is blood and murder, but on the other, it is a means for people, for a nation, to assert themselves. Everyone wants to assert themselves, and in their stances on the war, they undoubtedly assert themselves. We have all been brought up in the imperial tradition, and an empire unites many peoples. It unites people by finding things that are common and important to everyone. It’s very tempting, but it’s one of the good temptations, let’s say. Although we don’t have to succumb to it, ultimately, and we must be able to regulate it within ourselves. Nor should we forget the principle that a person should do what he must do, come what may. For museums, “doing what we must” means preserving and promoting culture. And keeping in mind all the time what is beyond the besieged territory. And speaking not only to people inside it, but also “outside” it.
The phenomenal Petersburg photographer Alexander Petrosyan snapped this hyperrealist folk-conceptual photo at this week’s international economic forum in Petersburg, where the honored guests include the Taliban and the “president” of one of the fake Donbas “people’s republics.” There has been a lot of coverage of the remarks made at the forum by this snapshot’s ostensible subject. I have excerpted one article about them, below. This excerpt is followed by my translation of an interview with Sergei Khestanov about the forum and the broader Russian economic outlook in the light of the war and western sanctions.
As is traditional, the forum was dominated by a plenary session involving Putin. Earlier in the week, Peskov announced that Putin would make “an extremely important speech”. A couple of days later, he went out of his way to insist that the president was not about to announce a mobilization. It’s unclear why this was necessary – it’s no longer early March when this rumor was widespread.
The speech itself (which lasted for almost 90 minutes) contained no surprises. Putin spoke Friday about how “crazy sanctions” were not hurting the Russian economy, but, instead, causing pain for the Western countries as they wrestle with a crisis caused by an ill-conceived coronavirus response. “Our special military operation has nothing to do with it,” Putin said. More than once, Putin insisted the Russian economy remained open for business and reaffirmed his belief that the West would come to its senses and that Western companies would soon return to operating in Russia as normal.
But the most interesting part was when the moderator, Margarita Simonyan (head of state-owned RT and a prominent hawk on Ukraine) began putting questions to Putin and Tokayev. Along with the president of Armenia, Tokayev was one of only two heads of state to travel to the forum. It was painfully clear that Tokayev’s presence was repayment for Putin’s support back in January when troops from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) helped to re-impose order in Kazakhstan and, at the same time, marginalize Tokayev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
However, Tokayev’s gratitude knows some bounds. That was apparent two days before he shared the stage with Putin when he gave an interview to state-owned Rossiya 24 in which he confirmed that his country would fully comply with Western sanctions on Russia.
Judging by what followed, Putin was aware of that interview. The highlight of the session was Putin’s attempt to pronounce his colleague’s name and patronymic – Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich. In January, when Kazakhstan was at the center of international attention as a result of civil unrest, Putin was already struggling with this difficult – but not impossible – name and twice uttered something incoherent. This time, at the start of his speech, Putin got it right – but during the Q&A session he again referred to Tokayev as “Kemel-Zhemelevich”, prompting a highly suspicious look from his supposed ally (this is clearly visible in the video).
Tokayev’s answers to Simonyan’s questions were far from the platitudes of an ally and some of what he said ran directly counter to Putin’s position. Diplomatic and courteous (Tokayev is a former UN Deputy General Secretary), the Kazakh president told Putin:
Kazakhstan “takes sanctions into account” (a response to a question from Simonyan suggesting the West must be pushing Kazakhstan to stop cooperation with Russia).
No economy can successfully pursue a policy of self-reliance and import substitution.
Ukraine’s accession to the European Union must be accepted as a new reality, even though its economy is in a dreadful condition.
The U.S., and the West in general, are not in the throes of a major crisis. At present, the U.S. economy is “modern and dynamic.”
That there are some Russian politicians, journalists and cultural figures who make “absolutely incorrect statements about Kazakhstan” and other states and “sow discord between our peoples.” This is likely to refer to occasional calls in the Russian parliament to protect the Russian-speaking population of Kazakhstan, which is concentrated in the north of the country. Such pronouncements are very reminiscent of the rhetoric in Russia about the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Finally, without prompting, Tokayev dismissed the possibility of Kazakhstan recognizing the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. He dismissed the republics – recognized by Russia – as “quasi-state entities.”
You can watch the whole of the plenary session here, or read a transcript here.
The scandal continued Saturday when Kazakh media reported Tokayev had turned down the Order of Alexander Nevsky bestowed on him by the Russian government. The official reason was that Kazakhstan’s president is not permitted to accept honors from foreign countries while in office – Russian state-owned media devoted half a day to reporting this explanation.
Source: “Showcasing Isolation,” The Bell, 19 June 2022
The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) wrapped up this weekend. The feelings it generated are complicated. On the one hand, there was a heated discussion of the forum in social media; on the other hand, it was mainly not economic news that was discussed, but the juicy scandals that happened at the forum. Does the international forum have a future in the face of total western sanctions? And have the speeches at the SPIEF made it clearer what will happen next with the Russian economy? We talked about this with Sergei Khestanov, a well-known economist who has developed dozens of financial theories and techniques. He also serves as an adviser on macroeconomics to the CEO of Otkritie Investments.
— Judging by the discussion of SPIEF on social media, the hottest guests were the Taliban (an organization that is banned in Russia) and Philipp Kirkorov. Is this due to the exoticism of their being at the economic forum or the absence of significant guests?
— The Taliban were just a kind of exotic highlight, I think. By the way, they were not particularly visible in the latter part of the forum. There weren’t many notable guests, really, but then again there hasn’t been an abundance of such guests for many years. What was unusual was that some guests of the forum (Russians, by the way) were asked not to advertise their participation and to wear name tags that did not spell out their companies and positions, lest they be hit by sanctions. From the economic point of view of, it doesn’t mean anything, but it is a quite interesting reflection on how the forum is seen.
— Was western business represented at the forum in general?
— It was practically absent. Many [western businessmen] simply cannot attend without spoiling their reputations, even those who have not yet abandoned the Russian market.
— And what was interesting from a substantive point of view?
— In terms of the forum’s substance, I would draw attention to the statement made by [Sberbank chief] Hermann Gref that the Russian economy would be able to reach the level of 2021 in ten years. That’s quite a frank recognition of the state of our economy. Vladimir Putin’s statement about banning audits of businesses is also welcome if the number of such audits is really reduced. However, it bothers me that they have been talking about this for so many years [without doing anything about it.]
— Putin also announced a reduction in the preferential mortgage rate to seven percent.
— Volumes of orders have been falling in the construction industry, so we need to support it. And since, as a rule, the construction industry is closely affiliated with local and, sometimes, regional authorities, the desire to support it is quite understandable. Plus, the industry is a multiplier, so helping it helps the metals industry, manufacturers of cement, lumber, and so on. However, the decline in volumes is not yet tremendous, so nothing terrible would happen without help, but nor do I expect the support to trigger a boom.
There is another danger here: real estate prices in Russia, especially in the megacities, are overheated. if the decrease in mortgage rates is not coupled with an increase in down payments, we could end up with a mortgage bubble. And then, under certain unfavorable circumstances, of which there might be many going forward, we could face a terrific downturn in prices and a serious mortgage crisis. I would not say that the danger is great now, but it cannot be ignored.
— Wait, what collapse? What crisis? It followed from Vladimir Putin’s speech that we have been successfully coping with western sanctions. Supposedly, foreign exchange earnings are so great that they almost equaled the volume of the frozen portion of Russian gold and foreign exchange reserves.
— Russia is bursting with money that it cannot digest because of import restrictions and the threat of frozen accounts. It turns out that money has been earned, but what to do with it? It isn’t possible to use it constructively. And this madness with shoring up the ruble is due to the fact that there is no demand for non-cash payments: exporters need controls, but they cannot sell currency. So, it’s like a pear is dangling in front of you, but you can’t eat it.
— But Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina in her speech suggested a way out for exporters: they should focus on the domestic market.
— Those are pretty words, but most exporters have been working for the domestic market for a long time. The problem is that the domestic market’s capacity is limited. For oil and petroleum products, for example, domestic demand accounts for about a quarter of current production. That is, if we refocus on the domestic market, we need to cut production threefold. Will that make things better?
Export industries perfectly satisfy domestic demand, and everything else is exported. This also applies to the metals industry, both ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and the oil industry, and the petrochemical industry. Nizhnekamskneftekhim, the world’s largest producer in its class of raw materials for plastics, supplies its products to both the domestic and foreign markets, but only a very small portion of what it produces goes to the domestic market, because such is the demand.
— And, for example, aluminum and titanium are used mainly in aircraft construction. Given current conditions in the domestic market, they can be used, at best, to make kvass cans.
— Exactly. The domestic Russian market is simply not able to absorb everything produced by exporters. So, this call to pivot to the domestic market is like that joke. “Bunnies, become hedgehogs, so the foxes won’t eat you.” “Great, but how do we do it?” “I don’t know — I’m a strategist, not a tactician.”
— To be fair, Nabiullina had also talked about structural adjustment in the past.
— What the Central Bank head said about structural adjustment is right, but it doesn’t make much sense yet. Unless we note the speech made by [Alexei] Kudrin, who said that it would take two to three months to develop a strategy. I consider him one of the most serious public figures in terms of macroeconomic analysis, so his words carry a lot of weight for me. Two or three months is a realistic amount of time, I think. It would bring us to the beginning of autumn, and all over the world at this time, business picks up after the summer lull. Plus, statistics for macroeconomic indicators will have been reported, and the relevance of the data will have increased. So I’m eighty to ninety percent in agreement with him.
— But what don’t you agree with?
— My main disagreement is that, since the sanctions have not yet ended, the effectiveness of strategies is low. No matter how good a plan is, it will have to be changed quickly and often. Moreover, so far most of the sanctions have impacted imports, and that is not so terrible. Of course, it’s sad that Ivan Sixpack can no longer buy a new smartphone, but this has little effect on the economy. Export sanctions are much more serious when it comes to filling the state coffers. But I think it’s too early to talk about them before next year.
— Well, so far, Ivan Sixpack does not seem to be suffering much. Many people say that the sanctions are not really hurting us.
— Since demand has dropped a lot, people are under the illusion that nothing terrible has happened. But by the second half of September, I think that stocks in the warehouses will be exhausted, and it will become clear what is happening with durable goods.
— Especially with spare parts for cars. This topic is now of concern to many people. A friend of mine is now glad that she didn’t buy a foreign car, as she had originally wanted, but a Russian-assembled Renault.
— She shouldn’t be too glad. Some of the spare parts for inexpensive Russian-assembled foreign cars are made in Russia, but only some. The rest are imported.
— So, we will have to establish a shuttle trading business for the delivery of spare parts.
— Maybe, but the whole business will be tedious, time-consuming and, accordingly, much more expensive. As in the 90s, people will have to buy cars that Russian spare parts fit. They will have to learn how to do their own repairs. In Soviet times, I went abroad to buy a used car with cardboard templates in tow to determine whether the wheels from a Lada would fit it, whether the filters would fit. I knew how to re-rivet brake pads. Basically, I can fix anything on a car, except the carburetor. Most of the motorists of that time could do the same. Maybe they couldn’t do everything, but they could do the most basic things like cleaning the spark plugs and changing the oil and filters. Those were the necessary skills. But nowadays, many people don’t even know how to change tires.
— They’ll have to learn. Once again the menfolk will gather in garages on weekends, although many people don’t have their own garages anymore. They only have spaces in multi-story parking lots, and you can’t repair a car there.
— And the skills have been lost. Of course, a parallel import market will be established, and people will learn how to do repairs, but it will be difficult for motorists. It will become immensely more expensive and more difficult to maintain a car.
— Speaking of cars. Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov announced plans to resume production not only of the Moskvitch, as discussed by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, but also of the Volga and even the Pobeda. The latter, by the way, was produced in the 50s. Is the [Russian] car industry really that bad off? What about the Chinese? Wouldn’t they help us? After all, they are switching to electric vehicles. Could they transfer the production of internal combustion engines to Russia?
— As I understand it, Manturov was actually talking about reviving the brands, not the cars of that generation themselves. Because if there is a demand for classic Ladas now, it’s not very big. In the back country, the fact that they can be repaired easily is appreciated. But all the other cars [of the period] were total tanks. I used to drive a Pobeda back in the day. It really, you know, encourages you to develop your shoulder muscles, because turning the steering wheel involves great physical exertion. The brakes are the same way.
But what they probably have in mind is producing new models under those brands, maybe even stylized to look like the old ones. Aesthetically, the Pobeda is beautiful — it’s just hard to drive it. The Volga 21 is beautiful, and so are the Moskvitches up to the 412 model. And if you also give it a two-tone paint job, like the Moskvitch 403, you could make a very popular model. Volkswagen also produced an updated replica of the Beetle.
— And how will they make them?
— They will probably buy the platforms from the Chinese, or [the Chinese] will even supply the assembly lines. Then designers will be commissioned to come up with designs, maybe even stylized to look like Soviet cars. And so the brands will be reborn.
— In conclusion, let’s return to the guests at SPIEF. In terms of foreign leaders, Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attended the forum. Chinese President Xi Jinping also made a short speech via video link. There is probably no point in asking whether SPIEF can now claim the role of the “Russian Davos.” I wanted to ask you abpit something else. Given the current conditions, is there any point to this event?
— Tokayev, I think, just couldn’t help but show up. Everyone paid attention to how he spoke relatively harshly about the DPR and the LPR. Of course, he is a professional career diplomat and spoke in such a way that you can’t find fault with him, so it’s quite difficult to extract any one definite message from his speeches.
— What about when he said that Kazakhstan had no choice but to support western sanctions?
— But this is quite obvious: he didn’t say anything new. It is clear that the economy of Kazakhstan cannot fight a consolidated decision by the western economies. This would not only be difficult, but also not really necessary. So, where its own interests are not affected, Kazakhstan can help Russia — but no more than that. By the way, the Chinese have the same attitude towards us.
— Is that why Xi Jinping not only did not come to SPIEF, but was also brief in his video message?
— There is not much to talk about in the current circumstances. So it’s not that Xi didn’t want to talk. There was nothing in particular for him to talk about. It is clear to everyone that the Russian economy is not doing very well. So, our corporations signed contracts with each other, which they happily reported before going their separate ways.
The question of whether SPIEF should be held is another matter: the degeneration of such forums is not only a Russian problem. The Davos forum has also been experiencing a lack of serious ideas. Ten years ago, the substantive part of it was much larger, but nowadays everyone is for all the good things and against all the bad things. And all other [economic] forums face similar problems: a lack of substance and a focus on narrow subjects. So, what is happening with the Petersburg Forum is not unique.
It’s hard to say what the reason is for this. Maybe the format has worn out its welcome. As in art, there is a fashion, a trend, and then times, traditions, and tastes change, and the format goes away. Maybe it is due to the fact that the world economy has been slowing down. When the forums were interesting, the economy was growing; intense economic processes were underway, and reforms were being undertaken in the countries of the former USSR and Eastern Europe. But now there is stagnation everywhere, even in the IT field, about which I know a thing or two. What can I say? Moore’s law has been disproven! The number of transistors on a single chip no longer doubles every eighteen months. So, this is a universal problem. I don’t know whether this trend is reversible or permanent, but for the time being it’s like this. Do you remember the Central Committee plenums in Soviet times? The “resolutions” that were “submitted for consideration” and instantly “approved”? The long tedious speeches about nothing? It’s all coming to look a lot like that.
Source: Tatyana Rybakova, “‘Do you remember the Central Committee plenums in Soviet times? It’s all coming to look a lot like that’: Sergei Khestanov on the St. Petersburg Economic Forum and the future of the economy,” Republic, 19 June 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
As of the morning of May 1, around a hundred billboards featuring the image of the iconic pensioner who gained famed after the events in Ukraine [sic] had been installed in different districts in Petersburg. Fontanka.ru has analyzed the scale of this visual statement. The news-related intrigue lies in the fact that state agencies have nothing to do with the campaign.
In the early hours of May 1, identical posters bearing the image of the famous pensioner holding a Soviet banner were officially installed in about one hundred outdoor media displays in Petersburg.
News about the woman broke out back in April, when she went out with a red banner to greet servicemen in Ukraine, confusing them with Russian soldiers. Her age, her deed, the reaction of the Ukrainian soldiers, and the video that went viral on the Net immediately turned her into a symbol of victory. The old woman’s face has appeared on DPR postage stamps, graffiti artists began to draw her in different cities in Russia, and so on. Even the Russian Federation’s delegate at the UN Security Council talked about her.
Currently, the images of the heroic old woman have been installed in the Central, Admiralty, Petrograd, Vyborg, Maritime, Kalinin, and Moscow districts. These include both large billboards and typical demonstrative surfaces [sic] along the roadways.
The urban spaces chosen for this campaign can be analyzed. The images have been installed near places of authority: on Suvorov Prospekt, next to the Smolny [Petersburg city hall], the seat of the Leningrad Region government, and the Interior Ministry building; on Tapestry Street, near the FSB building; on Horse Guards Boulevard, near St. Isaac’s Cathedral; and around the monument to Alexander Nevsky, outside the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.
However, many similar phenomena [sic] have popped up on Moscow Prospekt, Pulkovo Highway, and the October and Vyborg embankments.
Fontanka.ru has learned that state (regional or federal) agencies did not pay for the campaign. Petersburg advertising market insiders, on terms of confidentiality, informed our correspondent that they had heard about the proposal from representatives of a private individual in mid-April. “It’s definitely a businessman. We are sure of this at least, since we called each other when we began receiving preliminary inquiries,” one of the insiders said.
As for the scale, according to the information we have obtained, the order received was for the placement of one hundred billboards at an approximate cost of around ten million rubles [approx. 139,000 euros]. “And that’s if they got a discount,” one source added. Several of our experts more or less agreed with this figure.
If someone in the advertising market has more accurate information, Fontanka.ru is ready to listen to it with a full guarantee of anonymity.
Source: Fontanka.ru, 1 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
A Cult of Dementia
Putin’s red-brown ideology has taken the worst of Nazism and Bolshevism and mixed it with the cartoonish oligarchy from Dunno on the Moon. The final product has no equals anywhere in the world.
Just think about it. For several months now, Russian propaganda has been chewing over the image of a traitorous old Ukrainian woman who was waiting for the invaders with a Soviet flag. Compassionate Ukrainian soldiers gave her food, but took away her flag. That’s the whole story.
But no, the story didn’t end there. In Russia, the crazy old woman was made a real hero, and her image began to appear on buildings. But the occupiers have driven themselves into an ideological trap: no one except such “young Komsomol women” was looking forward to seeing them in Ukraine. The invaders were not greeted with flowers and bread, but were treated to Molotov cocktails and poisoned pies.
If you think about this story more deeply, the old lady with the Soviet flag perfectly reflects the main watchword of Putin’s Russia, its underlying doctrine, and the true purpose of invading Ukraine: our lives have sucked and we won’t let anyone else live either.
She is thus undoubtedly a hero to Russia, as is Pavlik Morozov. Russia has nothing to offer the world. It offers a rollback to the past and endless attempts to cash in on lost “greatness” instead of progress, old age instead of youth, betrayal instead of loyalty, and humiliation instead of pride. So, an old woman holding a Soviet flag is the most accurate symbolic depiction of modern Russia.
It’s funny, because the propagandists don’t care about Russian pensioners or about veterans of the Second World War. Old people in Russia live out their days (they live them out, they don’t live) in want and humiliation, in terrible conditions and hopelessness.
Source: Andrey Churakov, Facebook, 2 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
An art installation about import substitution has appeared in the center of St. Petersburg today. While some are recalculating advertising budgets and monitoring news about global brands resuming operations in Russia, others are replacing [them].
Source: Sostav.ru: Advertising and Marketing in Russia, Facebook, 27 April 2022, via Five Corners community page. Translated by the Russian Reader
It’s amazing how touchy Russians are about their language. If you have a slight accent or make a grammatical mistake now and then, you are automatically stripped of the right to discuss anything with them at all.
In any case, if you have any of these “speech defects,” Russians never fail to point them out to you. It’s not that they are grammar nazis. No, they’re flesh-and-blood nationalists.
By the way, these are the same Russians who have been ripping their precious language to shreds the last several years by filling it to the brim with unassimilated anglicisms and other garbage, and by utterly abandoning the fine traditions of painstaking translating, editing and scholarship that once existed in this country.
Russia, I’m afraid, is headed straight down the tubes to full-blown fascism. Every other country in the world should make contingency plans for that eventuality. ||| TRR, 14 April 2018
[Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe:] For example, when I first dressed up as Putin, I had the feeling that I had become some kind of colossal totemic maggot, which was about to burst from the shit it had eaten.
At the same time, I was not a villain, but a “forest sanitation worker” [sanitar lesa: animals such as ants, birds, wolves, badgers, etc., who “sanitize” their environment as predators and scavengers, are called sanitary lesa] and I had to devour our deceased country, the great Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, as soon as possible, so that a new life could begin as soon as possible.
[Interviewer:] Do you think he’ll consume us after all?
[Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe:] Yes, and quite soon. You know, in Bali, where I have lived for a very long time, there are lots of different parasites — wood beetles and termites. A luxurious teak cabinet in the style of the Dutch masters stands in the house. You use it every day, you have clothes hanging in it, but at some point you touch it — and it crumbles. It has simply been devoured. That’s what will happen to our country.