Bad Habits

I’m fortunate to be friends, acquaintances and colleagues with many, many Russians from the worlds of contemporary art, academia, literature and social activism (and, sometimes, all of them at once). That’s why I’ve been able to see, time and again over the last dreadful year and a half, the plain truth of the bad habits mentioned by New York Times reporter Anton Troianovski, in his dispatch from Moscow yesterday:

Russia’s most recent high-profile outbreaks involve the inner circle of President Vladimir V. Putin, who has been in isolation himself after several members of his staff tested positive. Many Russians, however, have developed a laissez-faire attitude toward the virus, questioning the need to be vaccinated and often wearing masks around their chins, if at all.

Just yesterday, in fact, I was looking at photos of an art exhibition opening in Siberia, posted on Facebook by a real-life acquaintance (and featuring a wonderful cultural historian and curator I’ve know since 1995). The opening looks like a super-spreader event to me, and it looks exactly like most other such events chronicled by many of my Russian friends during the pandemic.

Thanks to VN for these photos. I’m sure my reading of them is not the takeaway he intended, but having lost two Russian friends and several acquaintances to covid, I feel genuinely distressed about Russian society’s “laissez-faire attitude” to public health and the well-being of their fellow citizens. But since I lived in Russia for half of my adult life, its wanton cruelty and suicidal tendencies are all too familiar to me. ||| TRR

The Fix Is In: Sevastopol

“@novaya_gazeta !! The ballot box at Polling Station 98 in Sevastopol is being stuffed right now, Novaya Gazeta’s correspondent reported. This can be seen on the video surveillance system. About 20 minutes after the site closed, a man is stuffing ballots, and a woman is helping him. Video: Nadezhda Isayeva, Novaya Gazeta.”
#TheFixIsIn

The Fix Is In (Social Distancing)

More evidence that #TheFixIsIn in the 2021 Russian elections, this time from Novaya Gazeta via election observers from A Just Russia party: “The head of the Central Elections Commission, Ella Pamfilova, said that the three-day voting is necessary so that voters can observe social distancing. These are photos of Polling Station No. 343, in Petersburg’s Vyborg district, in the middle of a working day.”

 

Navalny’s Musicians

13 musicians not allowed to perform at City Day concert in Moscow due to support for Navalny
The Village
Tasya Elfimova
September 11, 2021

The Federal Protective Service (FSO) did not allow several musicians to perform at a concert in honor of City Day in Moscow due to their alleged support of Alexei Navalny.

Sergei Sobyanin and Vladimir Putin were planning to attend the celebration, so the FSO vetted the lists of performers in advance. The FSO did not admit thirteen people to the performance without explaining the reasons. Dmitry Klyuyev, an employee of the State Academic Chapel Choir, believes that it happened because the musicians were in the leaked databases of Alexei Navalny’s projects or had taken part in protest rallies.

Four employees of the chapel choir, three people from the Svetlanov State Orchestra and six people from the team of directors were removed from the concert.

“The organizers are in shock, no one has explained anything to them,” Klyuyev said.

Source: OVD Info

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Gudkov, “Aquatic Disco,” a song inspired by Alexei Navalny’s revelations that the blueprints for “Putin’s palace” contained a room labeled as such

Moscow Police Use Leaked Personal Data To Investigate Navalny Supporters
RFE/RL Russian Service
August 18, 2021

Moscow police are using leaked online personal data from projects linked to jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny to investigate people who have supported the Kremlin critic.

The OVD Info website said on August 17 that police had visited some 20 individuals who registered for online projects developed by Navalny associates or donated to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and his other projects.

According to OVD Info, police are demanding explanations from the people as to how their names were included in the leaked data related to Navalny’s online projects and why they are involved with him.

In June, a court in Moscow labeled FBK and Navalny’s other projects and groups extremist and banned them. Under Russian law, cooperation with such groups is considered illegal and may lead to criminal prosecution.

Police have not said how they obtained the people’s personal data from Navalny’s websites.

One person, who was not identified, told OVD Info that police asked him to file a legal complaint against Navalny to accuse him of sharing personal data.

Journalist and municipal lawmaker Ilya Azar, whose personal data was among those leaked, wrote on Telegram late on August 17 that police had tried to visit him as well, but he was not at home.

“They talked to [my] neighbors about some personal data leaked on the Internet,” Azar wrote.

One such leak took place in April, when the online campaign called “Freedom to Navalny” was reportedly compromised.

Navalny associates said at the time that a former FBK worker had “stolen” all the personal data of those who registered at the pro-Navalny site.

After that leak, the Moscow [subway] fired dozens of workers whose personal data turned up among the names of Navalny supporters.

 

Bad Memories, Unpopular Opinions, Wacky Icons

September 8, 2018
I don’t care what they call themselves or what names they are called — liberals, intellectuals, anarchists, communists, socialists, plain old good people — but given the utter silencing of the topic of Syria in the provisionally anti-Putin grassroots and political discourse in Russia, it is difficult to see these various democratic and progressive forces as a force per se, and even more so as a force for good and renewal. The full picture of what is happening nowadays includes the bombing of Idlib, and not only the beloved “social agenda” vis-a-vis the unpopular pension reform, if only because the regime has had to find the money for the bombs, missiles and planes in people’s pockets. But everyone keeps their lips sealed, not realizing that cowardice on this occasion is read as cowardice on all occasions among “the common folk” that they are perpetually trying to save.

September 8, 2017
“However, his new position as head of the local police will not bring the main character the peace for whose sake he pursued it. After the opening of an oil refinery, the city is plunged into the chaos of crime. Attempts to deal with the oil company lead to disastrous consequences for his entire family. The tragedy forces the hero to compromise his principles and set out on the path of revenge.”

September 8, 2016
From the annals of Russian pollocracy, which I’ve decided to redub poleaxeocracy.

File this one under “aiding and comforting the enemy.”

Stalin was “quite popular,” too. God only knows how that ended up.

In any case, “being popular” and “good governance” are two entirely different things.

It’s strange how much capital of all kinds has been spent over the past 17 years to convince the Russian people and everyone else this isn’t the case.

So if US researchers really were wasting their time trying to figure out whether Putin is “in fact popular,” this only goes to show . . .

What? That either the researchers have fallen for this stupidity or they think Russians are degenerate morons.

There are no circumstances under which you can objectively determine whether Putin is “in fact popular,” because the question itself is irrelevant.

It’s like asking people whether they think Michael Corleone is “really handsome.”

Michael Corleone’s job is not “being handsome.” It’s running the Corleone mob.

Greg Yudin
September 8, 2016
A wonderful story. I have just been sent confirmation of my text yesterday about the Levada Center of a sort that I couldn’t have hoped for.

If you remember, the Justice Ministry has been hassling the Levada Center over a study conducted jointly with the University of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is somehow supported by the Pentagon, and from this it follows that Pentagon money directly lands in the pocket of the Levadovites, who in return report secrets about Russian public opinion. We won’t bother discussing this paranoia, so let’s move on.

The joint project with Wisconsin most likely refers to the research that Scott Gelbach from Wisconsin did with the Levada Center’s involvement. A colleague sent me an article on this research that has just been published. Actually, the goal of Gelbach, Timothy Frye from Columbia University and their team was to find out “Is Putin’s popularity real?” (as their article is entitled). They needed the Levada Center as a partner for conducting an “experiment” as part of a public opinion poll. In this experiment, they wanted to rule out the “fear factor” on the part of the respondents. (I’ll be writing a separate post about the “experiment.”) As a result of the experiment, it transpired that “Putin is in fact quite popular.” Moreover, they claim that, in reality, Putin’s ratings, per their experiment, may even be somewhat underestimated due to “artificial deflation.”

Once again, read these lines: the authorities want to shut down the Levada Center because of a study that claims that Putin is “in fact” even more popular than people think!

And not just claims, but informs the whole world about it in perfect English. I wonder if the Anti-Maidan movement knows about this?

September 8, 2016
“So begins a yearlong series of plays chronicling Russian leaders.”

Enough already. I’d like to hear a play or program about the history of Portugal or Mali or Ecuador or Malaysia.

BBC Radio 4 and all the other high-tone media outlets in the so-called western world have so-called Russian history and culture coming out of their ears and noses.

This only works to the advantage of the Putinists, because, almost without exception, these various “serious” entertainments and furrowed-brow documentaries and exposés simply reinforce the tired home truths (i.e., lies) about Russia’s history and present that the regime itself is fond of shoving down everyone’s throats. Not to mention the fact that getting so much attention satisfies the vanity of the Russian powers that be.

But really, there is a big, big world out there we’d like to hear about more often. A world without Putin and “Russia.”

September 8, 2015
Over-the-top late-Soviet “ritual” lacquered panels, commissioned by the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism in Leningrad in the early nineteen-eighties, and brilliantly and flawlessly executed by a group of six “retooled” icon painters from the village of Mstyora, near Suzdal, a place famed for its distinctive school of icon and lacquered box painting.

Although the panels were officially commissioned, they have not been exhibited until now, apparently. Head to the revamped Museum of the History of Religion (nowadays, sans the atheism) in downtown Petersburg to check them out.

Photos by Comrade Koganzon. Translated, where necessary, by the Russian Reader

Death to F—-ts

“Death to faggots.” Photo courtesy of Baza via Mediazona

Performers at show in honor of Yaroslavl patriotic club’s 20th anniversary smash stage prop with the inscription “Death to faggots” using sledgehammer 
Mediazona
August 31, 2021

During a performance by the military patriotic club Paratrooper in Yaroslavl, the regional news website 76.ru has reported, the performers used a sledgehammer to smash a stage-prop brick inscribed with the phrase “Death to faggots.”

According to the website, a performance in honor of the club’s 20th anniversary was held at the Dobrynin Palace of Culture in Yaroslavl on August 29. The performers took their comrade, placed a prop shaped like a white brick, inscribed with the phrase “Death to faggots,” on him and smashed it with a sledgehammer.

Andrei Palachev, the head of Paratrooper, explained to 76.ru that the club members had been joking.

“The kids just decided to make a joke and drew this inscription at the last moment. Faggots have no business being in Russia at all. […] And why should [the performers] be punished? They just don’t like fudge packers, and I don’t like them either. The family should be traditional: a boy and a girl, and not all this faggotry,” Palachev said.

Igor Derbin, the palace of culture’s director, stressed that this part of the performance had not been vetted with him.

“We are outraged. Initially, the event was supposed to be pleasant and joyful. We weren’t expecting their stunt. It was not planned in advance or agreed upon, because they knew that we would not allow it. By doing what they did, they canceled all the good impressions made by the event,” he added.

Taras Sidorin, the head of the Yaroslavl branch of the veterans organization Defender, said that he had filed a complaint with the police about the incident. “We consider such outburst incitement to murder. […] There were small children in the audience. This behavior is simply unacceptable,” he said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Important Stories

A screen shot of the front page of the IStories website

Telegram banned Roman Anin’s account the day before journalist was labeled “foreign agent media outlet”
Maria Efimova
Novaya Gazeta
August 20, 2021

Telegram has banned the account of Roman Anin,* editor-in-chief of iStories [in Russian, Vazhnye istorii — “Important Stories”].* He reported the incident to Novaya Gazeta himself.

“I couldn’t log in to Telegram yesterday, because my account was deleted, and it says in English that my account is banned. I haven’t been able to restore it yet,” Anin said.

Anin doesn’t know why his account was deleted. Although he has contacted the messenger service’s support team, they have not replied.

Today, the Russian Justice Ministry placed iStories, Anin and several of the publication’s journalists on its register of “foreign agent media outlets.” TV Rain* and the journalist Stepan Petrov* were also added to the list.

Earlier this week, iStories journalists Irina Dolinina* and Alesya Marokhovskaya* reported that persons unknown had mounted a spam attack on their phone numbers. “SMS messages from shops, banks and other places with different codes [were] being sent non-stop,” Dolinina said, also complaining about the incessant “dead calls.” Before that, persons unknown tried to hack and organize a spam attack on the phone of Irina Pankratova, a journalist with The Bell.

Late last year, after iStories published an investigative report about businessman Kirill Shamalov, Vladimir Putin’s [former son-in-law], there were attempts to hack the Telegram accounts of Anin and the other authors of the report. There were attempts to hack their Facebook accounts as well.

* Placed by the Russian Justice Ministry on its register of mass media outlets functioning as foreign agents.

Translated by the Russian Reader. As I just discovered, you can easily support iStories by going to the donations page on their website. I was able to donate 3,000 rubles (approx. 35 euros) in a matter of seconds. And you can read some of their investigative reports in English while you’re at it.

“On the evening of April 9, 2021, the FSB searched the home of iStories editor-in-chief Roman Anin. The search lasted almost seven hours. At the same time, a search was also carried out in the publication’s editorial offices.”

TASS [23.08.21]

TACC [23.08.21, 11:45]
Власти США поддерживают контакты с представителями движения “Талибан” (запрещено в РФ) на ежедневной основе, сообщили в Белом доме.

Source: Telegram

TASS [23.08.21, 11:45]
The US authorities have been maintaining contacts with representatives of the Taliban movement (banned in the Russian Federation) on a daily basis, the White House reports.

Photo by Vadim F. Lurie, who kindly gave me permission to reprint it here. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Grass Is Always Greener on Our Side of the Fence

“What do we need Europe for? We have Petersburg. And it’s a lot better.” Source: St. Petersburg Photo Diary (public Facebook page)

Russia records highest covid-19 mortality rate for third day in a row
Radio Svoboda
August 14, 2021

For the third day in a row, Russia has recorded the highest number of deaths from the novel coronavirus infection since the beginning of the pandemic. On Saturday, August 14, the authorities reported 819 deaths, according to the federal crisis management center.

A year ago, the Russian authorities declared victory over the pandemic, but due to the low level of vaccination and the spread of new strains, the number of reported infections has increased four times, and the death toll has increased six times compared to the previous summer.

On August 14, 22,144 new cases of infection by the novel coronavirus were recorded in Russia. 19,550 people recovered. The official death toll for the entire pandemic has reached almost 170,000.

Using data from Rosstat, the Russian federal statistics agency, independent demographers and statistical researchers have estimated that the real number of deaths from the pandemic is three and a half times higher,  in excess of 600,000.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Joking Is Not a Crime”: Standing Up for Stand-Up Comedy in Russia

“Idrak is not the enemy”: stand-up comedians of different ethnicities support Idrak Mirzalizade, jailed for a joke about ethnic Russians
Novaya Gazeta
13 August 2021

Russian stand-up comedians Garik Oganesyan, Mikhail Shats, Danila Pererechny, Ilya Sobolev, Alexei Smirnov, Timur Karginov, Ruslan Bely, Slava Komissarenko, Alexei Shcherbakov, Garik Hovhannisyan and others have released a video in support of their colleague Idrak Mirzalizade, who has been jailed for ten days for joking about renting an apartment and ethnic Russians.

“There is a punishment for a comedian: if he tells an unfunny joke, no one laughs at that moment. But you can’t deprive people of their freedom for a joke. […] Being jailed for jokes is the penultimate step before being jailed for scientific theories. The ten days [in jail] that the court imposed on [Mirzalizade] is not a terrible punishment, but a very terrible precedent that says that it will now be officially possible to jail or punish someone for making joke. […] Today it’s us, tomorrow it’s you,” the stand-up comedians say in the video.

“Joking is not a crime”: #IdrakIsNotTheEnemy: the YouTube video released on August 13 by Russian comedians in solidarity with Idrak Mirzalizade, jailed for ten days on August 9 for insulting ethnic Russians

Among those who have stood up for Mirzalizade are his colleagues of different ethnicities: Russians, Armenians, Ossetians, Jews, and Yakuts. And yet Idrak himself has been jailed for “inciting hatred or enmity,” punishable under Article 20.3.1 of the Administrative Offenses Code.

On August 9, the Taganka District Court in Moscow jailed Mirzalizade for ten days for a joke about a mattress stained by ethnic Russians. He pleaded not guilty to inciting ethnic hatred. “The performance was humorous and was meant to ridicule xenophobia, in fact,” the comedian said. According to him, people of different ethnicities were present in the audience during his stand-up routine and they understood that the joke was directed against xenophobia. On appeal, the court refused to repeal the jail sentence.

The prosecutor’s office announced on July 30 that it had found “signs of humiliation of a group of persons singled out on an ethnic basis, as well as propaganda of their inferiority” in Mirzalizade’s joke about a mattress that ethnic Russian tenants had stained with feces. In the joke, the comedian is outraged that an ethnic Slavic neighbor looked at him with contempt while he and his brother threw out the mattress.

In late June, the comedian reported that unknown people had attacked him for a reward of fifty thousand rubles. He also stated that he had received numerous threats.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Idrak Mirzalizade. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Comedian Of Azerbaijani Origin Jailed Over ‘Anti-Russian’ Performance
RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service
August 9, 2021

A court in Moscow has sentenced a Russian stand-up comic of Azerbaijani origin, Idrak Mirzalizade, to 10 days in jail for allegedly inciting ethnic hatred.

The Taganka district court issued the ruling on August 9 after several pro-government media outlets accused Mirzalizade of insulting ethnic Russians in one of his performances.

Mirzalizade pleaded not guilty to the charges, but offered apologies to “all who felt insulted by some parts of my performance which were taken out of context.”

In June, he wrote on Instagram that two unknown men attacked him after he received several threats because of his performance.

He also posted a video showing the moment of the attack.

‘Over the past three weeks, I have received several thousand threats. A man went to a solo picket in Penza carrying a placard with the slogan “Idrak Mirzalizade is an enemy of the Russian people!” And a monetary reward was announced for my head, due to which I was attacked on June 23 in downtown Moscow. In this video, I tell you what happened.’  Posted on June 27, 2021, by Idrak Mirzalizade

Mirzalizade has said the performance that caused the controversy was about problems faced by non-Russians when they want to rent an apartment in the Russian capital.

In his performance, the comedian joked about what would happen if the perception of Russians by others was based on separate incidents, drawing a parallel with situations that shape prejudices about non-Russians living among Russians.