Russian Soul Music

Since Masha Gessen quite literally believes that the Russian “liberal” intelligentsia is God’s gift to humankind, she writes the following nationalist nonsense with a completely straight face:

In the seven and a half months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, hundreds of thousands of Russians have left their country. Many of them are journalists, writers, poets, or artists, and they, along with some who are still in Russia, have been producing essays, poems, Facebook posts, and podcasts trying to grapple with the condition of being citizens of a country waging a genocidal colonial war. Some of their Ukrainian counterparts have scoffed at their soul-searching. Ukrainians, indeed, have bigger and more immediate problems. But they also have certainty—they know who they are in the world, while for Russians nothing is as it once seemed to be.

[…]

The last time people were writing in Russian so urgently was in the late nineteen-eighties. Soviet citizens back then had been confronted with their past—the Stalinist terror. That moment gave Russia, among other things, Memorial, the human-rights organization that, along with Ukrainian and Belarusian activists, won the Nobel Peace Prize last week. Now Russian citizens are being confronted with their present. The writers in exile have physically fled their country (as has much of Memorial’s leadership) and are trying to write their way to a new Russia. Their imagination extends far beyond the Russian constitution to a world that’s radically different, and better than not only Putin’s revanchist Russian World but the world we currently inhabit.

Source: Masha Gessen, “The War in Ukraine Launches a New Battle for the Russian Soul,” The New Yorker, 9 October 2022. The emphasis is mine.


“Yoga for your health.” Central Petersburg, 6 July 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

The queue for the ferry. There are Russian tourists behind me. (If you thought there were none of them [in Europe anymore], think again.) The boat arrives, but there’s not room enough for everyone and the guard closes the barrier just in front of us. Everyone stands there meekly, except my compatriots. As soon as the guard turns around, they dive under the barrier and run onto the crowded ship. They look like Moscow hipsters.

When did these people decide that everything is permitted them and that there are no prohibitions and rules? I missed this moment because the Soviet Untermenschen among whom I grew up considered themselves worse than everyone and were afraid of making a peep. Who instilled this hubris in them? How did they get it into their heads that they could go to war with the whole world and win?

(A spare boat was brought in five minutes later, of course, and it took us all away without any fuss or crush.)

Source: Dmitry Volchek, Facebook, 15 October 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

We Do Not Have to Be This Way

I read the following two passages just now in quick succession, quite by chance, while eating lunch:

1) “I would try to kill anyone who harmed or spoke ill of you. You would try to kill anyone who harmed or spoke ill of me. But neither of us would ever, under any circumstance, be honest about yesterday. This is how we are taught to love in America. Our dishonesty, cowardice, and misplaced self-righteousness, far more than how much, or how little we weigh is part of why we are suffering. In this way, and far too many others, we are studious children of this nation. We do not have to be this way.”

2) “In 2014, a U.S.-driven Maidan coup in Ukraine overthrew the elected government and burned down the trade union headquarters building in Odessa, killing 48 people. In opposition to the coup two Russian-speaking provinces of Eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, seceded. The democratic right to self-determination from the nationalist Kiev government which banned the Russian language must be recognized for the Eastern and Southern provinces. The neo-fascist Azov Brigade opened fire on the two newly-founded republics of the Donbas region, killing over 15,000 civilians. African immigrants in Ukraine attempting to flee the war were subjected to racial discrimination by the Zelensky government.”

Yesterday morning, while drinking coffee, I read the following two passages hard on each other’s heels:

3) “As a child, one of my grandmothers wandered Siberia with her mother (in the thirties). She told me many times about a crazy old woman they met. The old woman went around pointing her finger at passersby and saying, ‘The blood of the murdered innocents will fall on everyone. On everyone! On everyone! On everyone!’ I remembered this today. She was right.”

4) “This spiky looking object is an anti-suckling device. The artifact is made up of a nose ring with seven long (and sharp) spikes welded onto it. When the farmer decided that it was time for a calf to be weaned from its mother, they would use this item. The ring would be placed in the nose of a young calf—when the calf would try to nurse from its mother, the spikes would poke the mother causing her pain. The mother would then kick the calf away or avoid the calf to escape the discomfort of being poked.”

Sources: 1) Kiese Laymon, Heavy; 2) Various alleged ILWU members (including Angela Davis), “Stop the Ukraine War—refuse to handle military cargo,” MR Online (thanks to Marxmail for the heads-up); 3) Natalia Vvedenskya, Facebook, 11 October 2022 (translated by the Russian Reader); 4) Murray County Historical Museum, Facebook, 11 October 22. Photo, above, also courtesy of the Murray County Historical Museum.

Mobilization Dragnet Blues

Maxim Sokolov, but not the one the “housing authority” is looking for.

I’ve now had two visits “from the housing authority.” Both times it was middle-aged dames who visited me. The first one was wearing a headscarf, while the one today had a short haircut. The most amazing thing is that they were looking for an apartment with the same number as mine, but in the building next door. But they couldn’t find it, so they came to my apartment.

This is a rough recreation of today’s conversation:

— I need Maxim Sokolov . . .

— Meep! Someone came here asking for him two days ago. Like I said then, you have the wrong building.

— Yes, I know . . . But just in case . . .

— “Just in case” what?

— Well, just in case you’re hiding him under the sofa.

— He lives in another building! I don’t even know him.

— But I can’t find the apartment.

— You do realize that even if you come here ten times, the building number won’t change, and he won’t be here.

— But they send me looking for him so I can serve him a [mobilization] summons.

— Then tell them to buzz off!

She hesitates at the door.

— But there’s another one I can’t find.

And she shows me another summons.

— But there’s a different building number written here, too!

— Yes! But I can’t find it. In the building next door, the numbering starts with apartment no. 23, but here it says apartment no. 1 and apartment no. 3.

— What can I do? Should I write to you that he is not at this address because it’s a different address?

She sighs bitterly and stalks off.

Maxim Sokolov and Comrade Branov (whoever you are) — run, hide under the sofa, don’t live at your official addresses, save yourselves!

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a trusted source and occasional contributor to this website, identified here as “VA” for future reference. Photo of the odious Russian nationalist journalist Maxim Sokolov (who is the first Maxim Sokolov who pops up when you Google the name in Russian) courtesy of the equally odious RT. Translated by the Russian Reader

Cause for Optimism

From left to right, the Trinity (Izmailovsky) Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, and Singer House, in central Petersburg,
as photographed by Alexander Petrosyan

Yesterday I met a neighbor lady from our floor whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. She was in high spirits, and we talked for a minute about the current realities. I asked her how she managed to maintain such enviable optimism, and her answer amazed me.

“Why be sad?” she said. “We live in the heart of the city, and if they fire a nuclear missile, we would automatically find ourselves in the very epicenter. We would be instantly transformed into elementary particles. Isn’t that what many people can only dream of?”

Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 30 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. Our beloved Petersburg neighbor lady Ludmila Borisovna said something strikingly similar during the “tensions” in 2014.

Alexander Zamyatin: Emigration Is Reactionary, Not Revolutionary

At first glance, massive emigration reduces the potential for political change, because it mechanically subtracts from society the part of society that is critical of the authorities. To a large extent, of course, this is true, but we shouldn’t overestimate this factor.

My subjective observations tell me that one of the leading motives for emigration (let’s put the existential threat of mobilization aside for now) has been the loss of hope for a “normal” life. People have been fleeing because they felt things would only get worse, and that their former relatively prosperous (and sometimes quite lovely and promising) lives were collapsing, along with all their plans.

If you think about it, there is no potential for political change in this worldview. You can’t be a gravedigger of the old regime at the same time as you grieve for the opportunities lost in it.

Let’s take a hypothetical employee of the progressive wing of the Moscow Department of Transport (or any other corporation, bank, etc.) with liberal views, who remembers what a cool project he worked on in 2018 (or even in 2022), but now is leaving the country, because such projects will definitely not happen in the future. He went to protest rallies, voted for the opposition, watched [Maxim] Katz’s YouTube channel, and donated to OVD Info, so his departure is a loss for the opposition. But it’s not a loss for the revolution, because “I want everything to be the way it was before, only with no war and crackdowns, but with fair courts and honest elections” is essentially a reactionary demand. It’s about preserving things, not changing them..

It would be a mistake to think that revolution leaves us along with the emigration: resentment over the supposedly lost prospect of a prosperous Russia, which was stolen from us, is unsuitable fuel for revolution. The political emigration has no political program, because there is no bridge to the “normality” that supposedly existed before 2022 (or 2020, 2018, 2014, 2011, etc.). The emigration’s picture of the world completely excludes the social, economic and political contradictions that have brought us to the present moment and are leading us further, so now it contains nothing but shock, fear, and individual salvation.

Revolution cannot emerge from the failure of an evolutionary project. It will emerge as an alternative to the brutal dictatorship at a fatal crossroads in the country’s history, prompted by the need to radically solve the pressing issues of our coexistence. But the remnants of failed evolutionary trends will surely still play their own reactionary role.

Source: Alexander Zamyatin, Facebook, 29 September 2022. Mr. Zamyatin is a popularly elected member of the Zyuzino Municipal District Council in Moscow and the editor-in-chief of the website Zerkalo. Translated by the Russian Reader

“No Future”: Popular Reactions to Putin’s Mobilization

Outside Gostiny Dvor [metro station and shopping center, in downtown Petersburg]. The police are plucking out the protesters one by one and dragging them away.

Passersby ask, “What happened?”

Most either don’t read the news or support the mobilization.

They look at us like we’re idiots.

I asked a middle-aged woman whether she had any children.

“Two sons, so what?” she answered me defiantly.

Today I thought for the first time that there is no future.

[Comments]

Natalia Vvedenskaya

Just for balance. Today, in the supermarket, I quietly eavesdropped on the conversations among the saleswomen (these were two different conversations). Irritated and indignant, these middle-aged women said that the members of parliament [who quickly passed laws enforcing Putin’s mobilization] should go to war themselves.

Source: Galina Artemenko, Facebook, 21 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


On the bus. A middle-aged woman in the front seat yells into the phone, not mincing her words. She says that there is a panic at work, that they have seven days to keep the guys from getting drafted. This was followed by instructions for direct action. The young fellow sitting with his back to her listened attentively, while the girls opposite him could not have cared less.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a trusted source and occasional contributor to this website, identified here as “AR” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader


This hurts a lot. I console myself with the fact that, as in private life, the most vital and beautiful thing is the process itself, when you are initially in a hole, but you fight to make things better. But can I please go back to the time when I have to confront myself, and not a crazy autocrat with a nuclear button?

I try to shift my focus from irritation towards Russians who support the war, and the collective Europe playing along [sic], to endless love. First of all, to people who are in Russia and are not afraid to speak out against the war. I am glad that I am living at the same time as you. Of course, we are far from being Iran, where people take deadly risks for their beliefs. But we’re cool, too. We’re doing what we can. If everyone in Russia were like us, the war would have ended today. Now, when it is important to support myself, I console myself with this thought, and I advise you to do the same.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a grassroots activist in Petersburg, identified here as “JA” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader


On the evening of September 21, in Petersburg, as in other cities, a protest was held against the mobilization of Russians for the war in Ukraine. The protest was called by the Vesna Movement. The protesters gathered at 7 p.m. on St. Isaac’s Square.

Riot police vigorously detained protesters, beat them with batons, dragged them on the ground, and put them on their knees. According to OVD Info, at least 444 people were detained in St. Petersburg.

Bumaga has put together a photo chronicle of the first popular protest in the city in the last six months.

Source: “How an anti-mobilization rally — the first mass protest in six months — took place in Petersburg,” Bumaga, 21 September 2022. There are several more photographs of the protest rally at the link, including photos from a second, separate protest the same evening outside Gostiny Dvor (as described by Galina Artemenko, above). Translated by the Russian Reader


Conscription Notice Russia. This channel was created to inform the residents of Russia about the delivery of conscription notices in our city! [sic] Write here with information about which addresses conscription notices in Russia are being sent — @maks_ge

“Prospect Mira. A conscription notice was just served to a man approximately 40-45 years of age. He was strolling with his wife and dog. Then they [the police?] went up to some young guys sitting on a bench and had a chat with them.”

“They’ve already started handing out conscription notices at the factories in the town of Gatchina in Leningrad Region.”

“The Gazpromneft filling station at Amurskaya 15A. Two men got into a scrap, and the attendant called the police. The cops came and gave them tickets. They threatened the men, saying that tomorrow, other people in uniform would come visit them at home — I think they meant the military conscription office.”

Source: Screenshot of the Telegram channel Where Draft Papers Are Being Handed Out — Russia. The channel was created on August 13, but only started posting on September 21. It already has over ten thousand subscribers. Thanks to VL for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


Well, my prognosis was mistaken. I underestimated the regime’s vileness and meanness. As the supreme ruler declared a partial mobilization, the local military enlistment offices issued decrees concerning all reservists without exception.

This is totally fucked up. For example, “temporary residents must depart for their legal place of residence.” Accordingly, millions of unregistered men or men registered at their temporary residences in large cities must leave for their hometowns or home regions. Accordingly, all these millions of men are “lawbreakers” — they can be seized in dragnets, blackmailed with prison terms, locked up, beaten up, and anything else that our cops do with our citizens. When [the cops] are faced with passive resistance, they will indiscriminately rake in whomever they catch.

These people will certainly “engage in combat,” but that will happen later. What matters now is filling the quotas.

Source: George Losev, Facebook, 21 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Putin has announced a “partial mobilization.” Only time will tell how “partial” it is, but it is already clear that the mobilization will affect many people. What options do those whom the Kremlin wants to mobilize have?

  1. Become cannon fodder.
  2. Go to jail.
  3. Illegally flee the country. If you fail, you go to jail.
  4. Go underground. If you fail, you go to jail.
  5. Go underground and become a guerrilla. You could also go to jail.

I do not consider legal ways to avoid mobilization, since the rules of the game can change at any moment, and those who were not subject to mobilization yesterday will be subject to it tomorrow.

The choice isn’t great, but there is a choice.

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 21 September. Mr. Astashin is a former political prisoner and human rights activist who now seems to be living in exile in Berlin. Translated by the Russian Reader


In the kitchen of a communal flat:

— Soooo, you live closer to the front door, don’t open it to anyone. If they come, tell them there are no men living here.

— I’ve been dodging the draft for so long I don’t even remember how to do it anymore. I’ve had so many chronic illnesses since then. Do you think it will help?

— At my work, a friend of a friend of a friend of a colleague is offering to drive [men] to Finland for 50 thousand rubles [approx. 855 euros]. Any takers?

— He’s definitely going to Finland? That’s too cheap somehow. What if he takes you to the military enlistment office?

— My pop says that he would volunteer himself, but he’s already sixty-seven, they won’t take him. But he’s weird that way. He never goes to the welfare office, because he believes you have to have pride: he didn’t work all his life to ask the state for something in his old age! His pension is 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 440 euros].

— Maybe he is also one of those people who have nothing, and who donates money to buy socks for soldiers?

— No, he believes that we have the strongest army and does not give them a kopeck. He says the people asking for that money are scammers.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a veteran human rights activist in Petersburg, identified here as “NN” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader

Fairy with a Velvet Core

Maria Butina, a “State Duma deputy” and a “fairy with a velvet core,” is featured on the cover of the September 2022 issue of Semya (“Family”) magazine, wearing an outfit designed by the Russian women’s clothing brand Feminelli [sic] and produced in Kirov. Thanks to Sergei Medvedev for the heads-up.


Maria Butina, a Duma deputy who early gained notoriety as a pro-gun Russian operative in the United States, says that Russia schools should teach young people how to “profile” enemies of the state and then turn them in before they can do any further damage to their country.

Such “civic vigilance,” she says, can be taught and must not be confused with snitching about what someone says or does. Instead, it is about examining people at a glance and recognizing them as enemies (mk.ru/social/2022/09/07/mariya-butina-pedlozhila-vvesti-v-shkolakh-uroki-profaylinga-dlya-vychisleniya-vragov.html).

In reporting this, Anna Belova of Moskovsky komsomolets says that it is far from clear how children will be taught to do something that even professionals struggle with but that one thing is clear: it will only elevate the level of suspiciousness among Russians toward anyone who is different from the majority in any way, ethnically, religiously or behaviorally.

And that of course is precisely what Butina seems committed to doing. 

Source: Paul Goble, “Russian Schools Must Teach Youngsters How to ‘Profile’ Enemies of the State, Butina Says,” Window on Eurasia — New Series, 15 September 2022

Belly Dance

Source: Vit Ivanov, “Belly dance performed in camouflage Z-suits in Kurgan,” YouTube, 20 July 2022
“A video appeared a Kurgan community social media page, showing on which four women performing a belly dance with the letter Z on their backs. The footage was published on the community page ‘Oh, Kurgan’ on the VKontakte social network.”

I was alerted to this video by the Facebook feed of 7 x 7, an independent Russian media outlet that focuses on grassroots regional news, who described it as follows:

Kurgan residents perform belly dance in camouflage Z-suits

The students of the Roksolana Belly Dance Studio, along with their coach Tatiana Bikbova, performed a number at Museum Night. They even received a letter of thanks from the Kurgan Museum Association for their performance.

Video courtesy of Tatiana Bikbova’s social media page


100% of my female friends are feminists and activists. A significant portion of my friends are involved in social theater. And it would be great if everyone [in Russia] was like that. But it is obvious that this would be a false extrapolation.

When I say that the Russian people don’t give a shit about the war, a murmur of indignation arises: “But here, on Facebook, they do give a shit!” But if we look closely at Facebook, we see that it has only 9 million users in the Russian Federation. And we definitely filter our friends in terms of their views.

You know who gives a shit? Georgians give a shit. I visit a pediatrician, and she has children’s drawings hanging above her desk. [One of them featured] a yellow field, a blue sky, and the slogan “Stop Russia” [in English]. A female friend of mine goes to see a a fifty-year-old female GP, and she outlines a plan for an armed uprising to my friend. Over the last six months in Georgia, I have not met a single person who would say “I have nothing to do with politics” or “Where have you been for eight years?” Young Georgians understand Russian history better than Russians do and can tell you what kind of education one or another Russian political spin doctor had. These have been random [encounters], not friends from FB.

When I [was] going to Russia, the highway in the south [of the country] was full of military vehicles marked with the Z. The vehicles going in both directions had black license plates [indicating they belonged to the Russian military]. They slept in the parking lot next to me. Then I got to Petersburg, which has always been my home. And there [were] 5 million people walking around as if nothing [was] happening at all. Nothing had changed at all.

Nothing changed when elections were abolished. Nor when people were jailed [for protests and other political crimes]. Nor when Crimea was hijacked. And especially now.

And a hundred of our friends do not affect the result in any way.

Source: Leda Garina, Facebook, 10 September 2022. Ms. Garina is a theater director and feminist activist from Petersburg, currently living in Tbilisi, who recently traveled back home to regain custody of her teenaged daughter. Translated by the Russian Reader

Jesus Vorobyov: No Gods No Masters

Dronningen og putinen

Everyone is so anguished about the English Queen, as if she were not from a universe parallel to theirs, but their own mother. How does whether the queen exists or not affect the life of the ordinary little guy? All those kings, presidents, princes, etc., live in luxury at the expense of the working person who, in order to live decently, has to work every day from morning till evening, and no state budget pays for their expenses. But if you get sick or something else happens, and you can’t pay for yourself, then this state built by kings will immediately play hardball with you. So believe me, the fewer Kings and Bosses there are, the better and more freely a person can live. No gods no masters.

Source: Jesus Vorobyov, Facebook, 8 September 2022. Photo courtesy of the author. The italicized passage was in English in the original. Mr. Vorobyov shot to momentary fame during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader.

A Bill of Goods

“Commander [watch]. Death to spies: commissioned by the GRU of the USSR.”
Source: Kitenhome, where the watch is identified as a “vintage men’s wrist watch” from 1990. It is priced to sell at $29.99.

Only the blind can claim that Vladimir Putin wants to revive the Soviet Union. On the contrary, he has built one of the most Darwinian and irresponsible capitalist systems on the planet. Only its imperial ambitions and the normalization of permanent theft bear any relation to the late Soviet state. Only the fear of the return of a totalitarian regime, which struck several generations in Russia, has delayed a left turn among the young. But the war has finally started it.

After February 24, the protest against the Putin regime, amplified by antiwar sentiment, was embodied in a digital resistance movement. The global media has been largely silent about this fact, but military commissariats in Russia burn down every few days, freight trains with weapons or raw materials for military factories derail, and the walls of houses and fences are covered with huge pro-Ukrainian graffiti at night. Volunteers take care of Ukrainians forcibly displaced to Russia and help them flow to Europe. This resistance is horizontal and egalitarian, and it is mainly engaged in by twenty- to thirty-year-olds. What values drive them?

[…]

The range of the views of this new left is wide — from anarcho-federalism to social liberalism — but at its heart is a clear demand for equality and a restart of the state with an economy focused on personal self-realization, the satisfaction of basic needs, and the protection of rights. As Russians come to accept responsibility for the terror inflicted on Ukraine, we can expect turbulence to last for decades. But one reason for optimism is the likely fact that any new Russia — or several Russias — will be leftist.

Source: Nikolay V. Kononov, “The Russian Left Is Standing Against Putin’s War in Ukraine,” Jacobin, 4 September 2022. Thanks to Charles Keener and Marxmail for the heads-up. This same article was published in Tribune on 29 August 2022.


Mr. Kononov is identified by Tribune as the “editor-in-chief of Teplitsa Journal, a Russian-language media outlet about activism.” I had trouble finding this “journal” online until my boon companion suggested it might have something to do with the so-called Teplitsa sotsial’nykh teknologii (“Greenhouse of Social Technologies”), an organization that describes itself as a “support system for NGOs and activists.” Teplitsa Journal is only referred to as such in Mr. Kononov’s Anglophonic ventures outside the “hothouse” of Russia’s overhyped (and in fact mostly nonexistent) “anti-war movement.” Teplitsa Journal is not a “Russian-language media outlet,” but a section on Teplitsa’s website.

Among other things, Mr. Kononov recently published an interview there with the philosopher Artemy Magun. This passage in particular struck me as another “bill of goods,” this one intended not for wobbly-kneed western leftists, but for Russian “dissidents” eager to blame anyone else but the Russian regime and an overwhelmingly compliant Russian society for the brutal, utterly unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

— What is the source of the war?

— A mutual misunderstanding among three countries and cultures: Ukraine, Russia, or rather its leadership, and the West, by which I mean Europe and the US plus Japan and South Korea. Imperial chauvinism comes from Russia, nationalism comes from Ukraine. And on the third hand, there is the as it were universal imperialism of the United States, infused with their special version of civic nationalism.

US relations with other countries are based on soft power, hegemony. This involves not only the dominance of the dollar and financial institutions, not only technological innovations, but also the assertion of national democratic and humanistic values.

As for Russia, it is not only the collapse of one ideology and the misunderstanding of another, but also economic dependence. Russia does not have high-tech products, not only due to backwardness and corruption, but also because many markets have not been opened to it. The free trade space turned out to be not entirely free. For example, Russia was not admitted into the European Union, by and large, except for its energy resources. Do you remember the conversation with Ukraine in 2013–2014 about the common customs zone? Ukraine then refused to join the Russian-Belarusian customs union and was going to sign an association agreement with the European Union, and the Russian elites argued that the loss of its partners in production chains would be economically painful — and it really would have been. Why am I saying this? Imperialism as political economic rivalry among capitalist powers — this situation exists, it is not contrived. And until 2022, everything really did resemble the beginning of the twentieth century, before the First World War. But that’s why it seems to me that the economic factors that led to the war cannot be considered the main ones. Ideological and political [factors], in my opinion, were more important.

— And what are these factors?

— [After the collapse of the USSR and a sharp decline in its influence in the world], the rejection of communism or socialism as a kind of humanistic perspective became a framework factor. Instead, a liberal democratic ideology was proposed that is contradictory. It asserts a universal order of human rights, and at the same time electoral democracy, which is based on national sovereignty. Plus neoliberalism, which asserts the autonomy of economic entities and total competition among [them].

Now there is pressure from the West under the auspices of the universalist empire, aimed at building global liberal democratic institutions. The trick is that this global program and policy is not entirely global. The West, arriving [in the former Soviet bloc] with the universal idea of democracy, did not fully implement its program. They entered undemocratic countries, tried to build democracies there, but they were in no hurry to spend money — nothing like the Marshall Plan was offered anywhere else. Instead of strong support for these countries, a neoliberal political economy was devised, which played a disastrous role by turning their populace away from America.

Source: “In Russia, activism is an existential, heroic choice,” Teplitsa sotsial’nykh tekhnologii, 15 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The most discussed session at the congress was the session featuring spokespeople from grassroots anti-war initiatives, who were allotted the standard hour and a half for six presentations. Vika Fas of Feminist Anti-War Resistance (FAS) boasted that the movement, founded by activists on February 25, already had sixty cells in Russia and thirty abroad.

“If you don’t know about FAS yet, you should read about us on Wikipedia. I think it’s interesting to observe a grassroots initiative that has become so popular in six months… Feminism was not taken seriously until we gained media weight, but we need international support for our communities and assistance in the form of grants,” she said in a passive-aggressive manner.

Alexander Belik, a spokesperson for the Movement of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service, said that after February 24, they had fielded a good number of requests for assistance from military personnel already deployed in Ukraine.

“Everything is happening quite successfully: you can still refuse conscription and even from serving if you’re already serving there. Everything is possible with due perseverance,” he said.

The recorded live stream of the Congress of Free Russia (Vilnius, 31 August 2022).
The panel discussed by Ilya Azar begins at the 2:54:00 mark.

Maria Novikova thanked [the organizers] for maintaining gender balance at the session and explained that the NITKA project had tried out different formats, but had settled on an “unusual and creative” TikTok account.

“Our audience is not intellectuals who get everything as it is, but ordinary people who need enlightenment. Not only cringeworthy videos about Putin’s battalions are popular [on our account], but also serious videos about various aspects of the war in Ukraine and the crackdown in Russia,” she said.

NITKA, Novikova says, has already garnered more than nine thousand subscribers, and one video has been clicked more than two million times.

The project Media Partisans, according to Olga Demidova, arose when it became clear that due to the fact that large numbers of protesters were being detained by police during protests, “it [was] pointless to take to the streets in Russia.”

“At first, everyone [sic] wanted to stop the war and Putin, but it takes time.”

“Many saw that their protest did not bring results, and they were disappointed, so you need to choose small goals and set realistic tasks,” she explained.

Media Partisans has seven projects: for example, a Telegram channel featuring anti-war artwork and instructions on how to safely distribute leaflets and stickers, as well as the Brave Partisans bot (@bravepartizanbot), where you can get an assignment for a performance or posting leaflets.

Timofey Martynenko of the Vesna Movement boasted that the anti-war rallies and marches in late February and early March were held at the behest of his movement, and talked about other projects, in particular a service for sending appeals to State Duma deputies.

“The same people are seated in the State Duma, and it is vital to show them that a huge number of people oppose the war,” said the activist.

At the end of his talk, Martynenko said that Vesna does not believe that Russians have a “slave mentality” or that there is a “bloodthirsty ‘deep folk’ who love Putin.”

“It is vital to talk about the depoliticization of Russian society, about civic involvement, about how democratic institutions and the media have been destroyed.”

“The problem is not that we are monstrous imperialists at the genetic level, but the monstrous centralization of Russia and the destruction of local self-government,” Martynenko tried to persuade the audience.

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, conversations about TikTok and a service for sending appeals to Russian MPs seemed frankly lightweight, but the young people were clearly pleased with themselves. After the session, I asked the chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Refat Chubarov, who had traveled [to the congress] from Kyiv, what he thought about the anti-war movement in Russia.

“I would thank them for what they are doing, and it would be sincere. But it’s all very childish. And they also have to be very careful, because an incorrect diagnosis can lead to incorrect treatment,” Chubarov replied.

The head of the Mejlis said that he had gone up and talked to Martynenko because he strongly disagreed with his “pompous claims that Russians do not suffer from imperialism and servility.”

“About a million Russian nationals [sic] pulled up stakes and settled in occupied Crimea without any remorse. What the fuck? That’s what imperialism is. When we [Crimean Tatars] returned [to Crimea] in the late [19]80s, we didn’t evict a single [Russian] family. I personally purchased the rooms where my mom had been born. When we return to Crimea again, none of those who settled there after 2014 will [be allowed to] live in Crimea. No servility? But what is it when a mother says that her son is being held [as a POW in Ukraine], but immediately adds that he is defending Russian interests? What Russian interests?” said Chubarov.

Source: Ilya Azar, “On the threshold of great achievements: a congress of the Russian emigration took place in Vilnius,” Novaya Gazeta Europe, 4 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


[…]

The ballrooms of the Grand Vilnius Resort, set on a golf course on the outskirts of the Lithuanian capital, were a universe away from the front lines in the Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Donbas. And while the motto of the Congress of Free Russia was “Be Brave Like Ukraine,” this was a gathering of Russians who have fled their country out of fear of what Mr. Putin’s regime might do to them.

Hanging over the three-day gathering was the knowledge that — while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been hailed as a hero for refusing to flee Kyiv — many Russian dissidents who have stood their ground are either dead, or jailed by their government.

[…]

Source: Mark Mackinnon, “Russian dissidents squabble over how to ensure Putin’s defeat,” The Globe and Mail, 2 September 2022