Mikola Dziadok: Thinking about Mikhail Zhlobitsky

mikhail zhlobitskyMikhail Zhlobitsky. Photo courtesy of Mikola Dziadok

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
November 12, 2018

Thinking about Mikhail Zhlobitsky

It is easy to be a revolutionary and a rebel in revolutionary times. You don’t need to do a lot. You join the crowd, and history carries you along on its waves. It is harder to be a revolutionary when everything that can be forbidden has been forbidden, when humiliation at the hands of the powers that be is the rule, a rule challenged by almost no one, and when your friends and comrades are tortured in vans and the woods by the secret police.

During such times, the only thing that compels people to act is a sense of self-esteem and a fierce, merciless hatred of injustice. Unfortunately, people do not experience these feelings to the same degree. So, in the darkest times, lone champions come to the forefront.

People are slowly forgetting Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk office on October 31.  Many other things have happened since then, you see. Yet we know almost nothing about Mikhail. Decent photos of him have not surfaced, his real social media page is nowhere to be found, and we have heard nothing from his family. The trash written by the losers at Komsomolskaya Pravda and similar outlets (“bullied at school,” “wanted to blow up the college,” “mentally abnormal,” etc.) does not count.

We can only guess what Mikhail was like based on what he did.

Seventeen years old. Let us try and recall what we were up to when we were seventeen. We explored the world, made trouble, got drunk with friends, and learned how to have relationships with the opposite sex. We went to university and got our first jobs. If we look back, we will discover a fair amount of time has passed between those years and now. We lived through them. We had our share of fun, we had our share of sorrow, we had our share of experiences. Mikhail will not have these years to live through, because he valued two things—his sense of dignity and hatred of injustice—more than anything else in the world, more than individual happiness, pleasant experiences, etc. He valued them more than his own life.

Think about it. He gave up the most precious thing he had.

graff“Narrm/Melbourne, so-called Australia: Graffiti mural in memory of 17 year old Russian Anarchist-Communist Mikhail Zhlobitsky who died while carrying out an explosive attack against the FSB (Federal Security Service) Regional Headquarters in Arkhangelsk, Russia on October 31st.” Courtesy of 325

We can have different opinions about whether what he did was politically effective,  talk about how he could have accomplished more if he had gone on living, and so on. Essentially, though, he did something most of us would be incapable of doing.

“I’m waiting until I’m 18 years old so I’m responsible for my actions, not my parents. I don’t know what you all are waiting for,” Mikhail wrote in a chat room.

He could not have described himself better.

The Russian cops who leaked a postmortem photo of Mikhail on their Telegram channel, mocking him in the comments to boot, also showed us their true faces.

In the photo, Mikhail’s face was disfigured and burned by the explosion.

I have always believed an individual’s moral strength and their inherent sense of honor has only one dimension: a capacity for self-sacrifice. It runs the gamut from small things, such as giving up immediate pleasures for the sake of others, to revolutionary suicide, the deliberate rejection of life, for the sake of high ideals. What is the point of pretty speeches and big words if your basic need for safety and comfort suddenly outweighs everything else when push comes to shove?

Let us recall how many times each of us, including me, has put personal comfort above our causes.  We were tired at the end of the day and did not go the meeting. We did not go to the protest rally because we were afraid we would be detained. We had exams coming up. We had to finish writing our graduation thesis. It was our birthday. We had to feed the cat. We were not feeling all that great. Take your pick. Activism is cool, but we want other people to do it. We have more important things to worry about: life, family, work, parents, and fun. Or we say we will join the fight after we have done everything else we need to do. We have to think about the future. It would be better if we could be activists without getting into trouble, without getting expelled from university, without paying fines, without going to jail.

I have seen many would-be activists for whom personal comfort was the focus of their lives, although it could not be clearer that life works in such a way that if you want something social change and freedom, you have to give something up.

Mikhail did not talk the talk. He walked the walk. As long as we are afraid to make sacrifices even when it comes to little things, evil will press forward, using handcuffs, tasers, and paddy wagons to achieve its ends. Only a fearless few put themselves in harm’s way. You do not have blow to yourself or commit acts of violence to join their ranks. Besides violence, there is a huge arsenal of methods for effecting change, some of them even more dangerous. We need only remember that a willingness to suffer hardships, albeit tiny hardships, is a prerequisite for change. Revolutions are never comfortable.

Then today’s fearless loners will turn into groups, and the groups will turn into multitudes, and the people who forced seventeen-year-old boys to blow themselves up will be held to account.

Translated by the Russian Reader. My thanks to Mikola Dziadok for his kind permission to translate his essay and publish it here.

Atlantic City

There could hardly be a place in Petersburg more dispiriting than the far west end of Savushkin Street (of troll factory fame), but the sheer dreadfulness of the post-Soviet new estates, business centers, and shopping malls that have sprung up there and all around the city’s outskirts is exacerbated by the tendency of their developers to burden them with impossibly escapist and chirpy monikers. So, I emerged from the new Begovaya subway station last Sunday to find myself (briefly) in Atlantic City. {TRR}

atlantic city-1

atlantic city-2

Photos by the Russian Reader

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Books Are Not Bombs

Sergey Golubok’s letter to the customs post at Pulkovo Airport in Petersburg, dated 14 November 2018. Courtesy of his Facebook page

If you order a Masha Gessen book and have it sent to Russia via DHL, you might be asked to write the letter civil rights lawyer Sergey Golubok was asked to write today, confirming that the Masha Gessen book in question contained no calls for “extremist” and “terrorist” actions, did not vindicate terrorism, and would cause no damage to the economic and political interests of the Eurasian Economic Union’s member states and their national security, or the health and morals of its citizens.

The letter was addressed to the Russian customs post at Pulkovo Airport in Petersburg.

I hope the book Mr. Golubok ordered was the one about Ms. Gessen’s remarkable grandmothers, my personal favorite. {TRR}

Vyacheslav Lukichev: Interrogated for 36 Hours and Beaten

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Lawyer: Kaliningrad Anarchist Interrogated for 36 Hours and Beaten
OVD Info
November 8, 2018

Maria Bontsler, defense attorney of Kaliningrad anarchist Vyacheslav Lukichev, who has been charged with public vindication of terrorism on the internet, said her client had been beaten, according to a post published by Valentina Dekhtyarenko, manager of the human rights advocacy program at Open Russia, on her Telegram channel.

Bontsler claimed Lukichev had been beaten by six riot police (OMON) officers. She noted the police officers beat Lukichev in such a way as to leave no traces on the anarchist’s body. According to Bontsler, the beating occured on November 4, immediately after Lukichev was detained, in a room in which Lukichev’s [original,] state-appointed defense attorney was present.

Bontsler also claimed Lukichev had been interrogated for thirty-six hours.

Lukichev, 24, is suspected of publicly vindicating terrorism (a felony under Article 205.2 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) after allegedly publishing a screenshot of the suicide note allegedly left by [17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky].

[Zhlobitsky] has been alleged to have bombed the FSB’s regional office in Arkhangelsk [on October 31], killing himself and injuring three FSB officers.

Several minutes before the blast, a message about the attack was posted on Telegram in the open chat channel Rebel Talk [Rech’ buntovshchika].

The authorities have been investigating the incident as a terrorist attack.

Investigators claim Lukichev published a post on the Telegram channel Prometheus [Prometei] in which he called [Zhlobitsky] a hero.

At a court hearing, Bontsler said the phrase had been taken out of context.

Political activists in Perm, Krasnodar, Arkhangelsk, and Arkhangelsk Region have said police officers came to their homes or they received summons to police stations in the wake of the October 31 attack.

On November 3, the home of Danil Pinzhenin, second secretary of the Sochi municipal Komsomol [Communist Youth League] committee, was searched by police in connection with the incident.

Translated by the Russian Reader. The article has been edited to make it more readable and informative.

[sic]

sledkom-stampsA set of four 27-ruble stamps, celebrating the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, purchased at the Petersburg Central Post Office for 108 rubles on November 12, 2017.

After Dark, They Gonna Blow Up [sic]
Police Looking for Gang of Teenage Anarchists in Moscow
Yuri Syun
Kommersant
November 10, 2018

Kommersant has learned that FSB and police in Moscow are looking for a dozen young anarchists who could be involved in planning terrorist attacks and illegal trafficking of explosives. The chekists [sic] were made aware of the alleged underground organization as part of the investigation of the suicide bombing carried out by a second-year vocational school student [sic] at the FSB’s regional office in Arkhangelsk.

While checking the contacts of the vocational school student [sic], whose suicide bombing injured three FSB officers, investigators became aware of 14-year-old Kirill K., a student in the eighth form at School No. 1571 in Moscow. According to the chekists [sic], Kirill K. and the suicide bomber communicated by mobile phone over a long period and corresponded via Telegram, including the day the terrorist attack occurred in Arkhangelsk. Obviously [sic], it was his older comrade who had told Kirill one could manufacture explosives from ordinary household chemicals, including fertilizers, easily obtainable in hardware stores. During a search of the flat of the schoolboy’s parents, on Freedom Street, police discovered [sic] an improvised explosive device (IED) manufactured from ammonium nitrate, smokeless gunpowder, and bomb parts [sic]. According to investigators, the schoolboy could have assembled the IED for an attack during celebrations [sic] of National Unity and Harmony Day [sic].

The schoolboy was detained on November 2. Yesterday, the violent crimes and public safety case squad in the Russian Investigative Committee‘s Moscow office charged him with crimes under Articles 222.1 Part 3 and 223.1 Part of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (illegal purchase and possession of explosives or explosive devices, and illegal manufacture of explosives).

According to investigators, the suspect committed both crimes as part of an organized group. The group could have included the Arkhangelsk suicide bomber, as well as other, unidentifed persons. There could have been as many as ten people in this group, sources in law enforcement say. However, they have so far been unable to identify the vocational school student and schoolboy’s alleged accomplices. This may partly be due to the fact that Kirill, citing Article 51 of the Constitution, refused to testify and admit he manufactured explosives.

However, his lawyer, Sergei Ashanin, claims law enforcers did not find any explosive devices or parts of explosive devices at the flat of Kirill’s parents.

“Except for ten grams of saltpeter and gunpowder that fit in a glass yogurt jar, there was nothing else,” added the lawyer, refusing to comment on the case.

Ashanin plans to appeals the decision of the Presnya District Court, which remanded the schoolboy in custody. We should note the court’s decision was challenged not only by the suspect, his lawyer, and his legal guardian but also by the prosecutor. Consequently, the defense plans to insist in Moscow City Court that the schoolboy be placed under house arrest instead.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Crimea and Gays Be Damned (For the Record)

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This morning, I came across a flat-out lie (or an honest mistake), penned by a professor at one of the most august universities in the United States. But you would only know it was a lie or a mistake if you had been here in Petersburg to see what actually happened at Manifesta 10, and had some basic street smarts when it comes to the art scene and real grassroots politics here.

This partly explains why, for example, there is virtually no anti-war movement in Russia: because too many people whose avowed politics should make them natural leaders and organizers of a Russian anti-war movement (i.e., a movement against Russian imperialist military aggression, not a choir of angels hovering above all frays everywhere and quietly chiding “all parties to the conflict” on social media) have been more concerned to make the right impression on the right people in the big white world.

This is not to mention that virtually no one in the so-called Russian leftist art/activist community, especially in Petersburg, made even so much as a peep when the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly and, later, the State Duma passed the infamous homophobic laws , which are still safely and shamefully on the books in Russia.

I really don’t understand how, thirty or forty years from now, scholars and merely curious people will be able to get to the bottom of anything that happened in our time with so much abject propaganda camouflaged as journalism and “research” lying around everywhere.

“After the annexation of Crimea and the passing of a number of restrictive laws in Russia (not least the banning of so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’), it seemed macabre to many that the avowedly progressive European Biennale should take place in the State Hermitage museum as planned. The collective Chto Delat?, who were slated to participate in the biennale, wrote an open letter to star curator Kasper König, demanding that Manifesta 10 issue a public statement against the recent action of the Russian government. When their calls went unmet (aside from prompting critique of direct politicization in contemporary art) Chto Delat? and a number of Russian and Polish artists withdrew from the show.”

No Russian artists withdrew from the show whatsoever. That is a fact. Some local artists loudly withdrew from one part of Manifesta only to pop up quite prominently in another part of Manifesta. These same people mocked any “Polish artists” (?) who might have actually withdrawn from the show. They definitely attacked anyone outside Russia who called for an international boycott of the show. For literally all the Petersburg artists and curators involved, the show absolutely had to go on, Crimea and gays be damned. {TRR}

Photo by the Russian Reader

Black Joy and the Black Wave

black-power-687x1024“During their medal ceremony in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City on October 16, 1968, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ While on the podium, Smith and Carlos, who had won gold and bronze medals respectively in the 200-meter running event of the 1968 Summer Olympics, turned to face the US flag and then kept their hands raised until the anthem had finished. In addition, Smith, Carlos, and Australian silver medalist Peter Norman all wore human-rights badges on their jackets.” Source: Wikipedia. Photo courtesy of Storie di Sport

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This is it.

Today is Election Day, and we have been working hard all year to make sure that Black communities across the country have the information and resources that they need to turn out and vote.

Throughout 2018, we’ve had some ambitious training, mobilization, and voter contact goals; but our most important goal has been this: to empower Black Joy.

When Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, my heart sank. Racism, xenophobia, and other forms of fear-mongering were being used to rally millions on the far right, all at the expense of our freedom and well being. At that moment, I knew we as an organization had to do more. Black folks needed a political home that we could call our own. Where we could be our full selves, in community with each other, sharing and lifting up our stories for all to hear.

Two years later, there is one thing that I know for certain. Not only is Black Joy beautiful; it is an effective force to build political power in Black communities. 

Together with all of you, here is what Color Of Change PAC has accomplished in 2018:

  1. We held 87 Black Joy centered events across the country, attended by 14,355 individuals
  2. We started text conversations with 1,352,850 people on the importance of voting, urging them to support Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, Wesley Bell, and more
  3. We made 23,831 phone calls and knocked on 57,293 doors
  4. We opened community offices in Jacksonville, Miami, Detroit, Las Vegas, and St. Louis, where canvassers completed thousands of shiftsthroughout the election
  5. Our digital ads were seen 11,942,692 times in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and Nevada
  6. All in all, we made 2,376,138 voter contacts throughout the election cycle

These are the numbers, and, while they’re important, there’s a larger story to tell as well. Here is how we accomplished ALL of the above.

It All Started with Brunch

Last year, we did something we had never done before: we invited our members to the inaugural Black Women’s Brunch series in Detroit, Miami, and Las Vegas. Hundreds of people came together to share their stories and celebrate Black women and our experiences.

Our Black Women’s Brunch series was so successful that we decided to launch a national mobilization tour, including HBCU youth voter engagement events, Block Parties, and Black Leadership Camps. In total, we built community in all of the following cities (and more!):

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Dallas, TX
  • Durham, NC
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Miami, FL
  • Orlando, FL
  • Tampa, FL
  • Savannah GA
  • Lansing, MI
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • St. Louis, MO

Over the past year, 14,355 Color Of Change PAC members have come out to our Black Joy events. In total, we’ve had 87 events in 30 cities!

Our Black Joy event series has been a testament to the collective power and brilliance of Black people. We created a space where Black folks from all walks entered into community with one another, shared their stories, and discussed the importance of the upcoming elections. At these events, we danced to the Wobble, took selfies at our Flower Wall, laughed until we cried, and built strong relationships by launching squads committed to mobilizing voters after the brunch was over.


From Brunch to Building Black Political Power

We started with brunches, and we’re finishing this year with a nationwide movement. Here’s a snapshot of how it happened:

Stephanie, a voting rights activist, first heard about Color Of Change PAC when she received a text message from one of our organizers. The first event she attended was #ServeOurSister in Orlando, FL, where she helped create care packages for women like herself who had been through the criminal justice system. Later, in July, she attended a training camp with us in Jacksonville, where she learned important skills to mobilize Black voters across the state.

Today, Stephanie loves canvassing. Since starting her journey with Color Of Change PAC, she has gone on to recruit and lead other members to canvass their neighborhoods, sharing their stories and turning out the vote.  She and the rest of the Orlando Color Of Change PAC squad have mobilized thousands of Black voters by organizing phone banks, canvasses, and, yes, more brunches to train other leaders!

We couldn’t have made such a deep impact in Black communities across the country without meeting folks like Stephanie in person, and inviting them into our movement. There are countless stories like hers.

It’s because of volunteer leaders like Stephanie and supporters like YOU that we’ve knocked on more than 55,000 doors, made over 20,000 phone calls, and sent over 1.4 million texts this year.

Mobilizing Voters through Digital Strategy

This year we accomplished our goal of mobilizing as many Black voters offline as possible. But we knew from the beginning that we couldn’t reach everybody at a brunch or a canvass. We knew we had to think strategically about how to reach voters online as well. And we did!

  • In 2018, Color Of Change PAC digital ads were seen 11,942,692 times, reaching millions of voters
  • In our ads, we centered the stories and voices of our members. We asked them to record short videos about the importance of voting and why they were supporting candidates like Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, Wesley Bell, Gretchen Whitmer, and more
  • These authentic videos were POWERFUL and watched nearly half a million times. Here’s a thin slice of the videos that YOU have sent us this year:


Click here to watch the video and share the story of our work in 2018.

The Nation is Watching Us Win

As we’ve grown larger and more powerful this year, people have started to take notice:

  • Michael B. Jordan joined us in Atlanta to knock on doors to remind voters of their power
  • Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay created a video that tells the story of our program and thanked our volunteers for working so hard to turn out the vote
  • CNN came to one of our brunches and reported on our efforts to create a “Black Wave”

AND we’ve already started to win key races!

  • Wesley Bell defeated Bob McCulloch, the former St. Louis prosecuting attorney responsible for not indicting Michael Brown’s murderer
  • Stacey Abrams won the Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial primary, garnering over 420,000 votes and winning over 76% of the vote
  • Satana Deberry unseated Durham County District Attorney Robert Echols with 48.8% of the vote. She’s likely to become DA since there are no Republicans running against her this year

When I look back at the work we’ve done together, I can’t help but smile. By centering community and Black Joy, we’ve built an unstoppable movement. A “Black Wave” that’s already been out in force: canvassing, making calls, sending texts, sharing stories, and, most importantly, VOTING.

No matter what happens tomorrow, what we’ve built together this year is beautiful and powerful. Regardless of who wins or who loses, I’m incredibly proud of our work. Let’s wake up on Wednesday morning ready to continue to do the work that our elders pioneered for us. Let’s continue the work to make justice a reality for all Black people in America.

With gratitude,

—Arisha, Hope, Jennifer, Victoria, Kwesi, Shannon, Bhavik, Alicia P., Jade, Contessa, Ashley, Alicia W., Sonya, La’Nae, Dominique, Quiana, Candice, Sadie, Alecia, Daniel, Irving, Kortni, Jacinda, Ariana, Angie, Siera, Reggie, Patrina, Chad, Corina, Angela, Scott, Danie M., Charles, Bradley, Paige, Reagan, Vidal, Ashton—the ENTIRE Color Of Change PAC team

P.S. Text “VOTE” to 225568 to find out where to vote today and sign up here for our post-election strategy call. We’re already planning for what’s next and can’t wait to tell you about it and continue to empower Black Joy going into 2019 and beyond. Message and data rates may apply when texting.

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Editor’s Note. This letter from Color of Change PAC was edited ever so slightly to reflect the fact that Election Day 2018 will kick off later today, rather than tomorrow, in the United States. I was not paid to post this message.

I did post it only because I am encouraged by grassroots campaigns like this, even when they are organized on behalf of a political party for which I have grown tired of voting due to the near-complete lack of viable alternatives.

But even when a campaign like this is not ideologically perfect (what campaign is?) or might even fail (God forbid), it always serves as a tremendous school for the people involved in it, teaching them how to do the practical things all successful campaigns require and, more important, showing them that progressive causes advance themselves this way—as broad-based grassroots efforts that do not pull up stakes when an interim goal is reached or the movement encounters setbacks—or not at all.

While I understand better than most de facto outsiders why campaigns like this are hard to mount in Russia at the moment, I also know the country’s police state regime is not the only barrier. Right-minded Russians often chafe at the notion of focusing on “boring” cool-headed, long-term planning and painstaking organization over spontaneous “popular” outrage. Even ensuring good turnouts at protest rallies by making grassroots organizers personally responsible for small groups of “passive” supporters (and, thus, personally responsible for turning them out to crucial events) seems like a waste of time to them. It is always easier to post a call on social media and then act confused when hardly anyone shows up.

It is no wonder the only Russian word I can think of that would be the equivalent of “canvassing”—agitatsiya—sounds both terribly bolshie and wildly obsolete.

Liberal Russians, leftist Russians, anti-Putinist Russians, and just plain Russians who would like lots of things to change in their country are frequently guilty of a complete disdain for the nitty-gritty of politics and the idea that if you do not have political power in some meaningful way, you are simply disempowered and disenfranchised, not “ennobled” by your alleged distance from corrupt, crooked decision-makers.  {TRR}