Do Black Lives Matter in Russia?

ponaexaliAnush Avetisyan’s opinion piece in the Stavropol Pravda newspaper. The sidebar contains a summary of polling data on (the mostly negative) Russian attitudes towards ethnic minorities and migrants. Courtesy of Anusha Avetisyan’s Facebook page

Anush Avetisyan
Facebook
June 5, 2020

I haven’t written about racism, the death of George Floyd, or the protests all these days. It hurts me to think and talk about it. No matter how childish it sounds, I would have liked to have been on the scene at that moment and saved Floyd by getting personally involved. When I was a second-year student of journalism, I needed such help. I couldn’t breathe, either. I was suffocated by constant reminders that I was an “other,” that I and my kind had “ruined the neighborhood,” that I was “desecrating Russian culture,” and that I was a “blackass.” (Sorry!)

I had thought that once I found myself among educated people, I would finally forget what discrimination and nationalism were. But no. Even more often was I forced to hear comments like “Why are so you normal, when all wogs act like they’ve just come down from the mountains?”

Maybe because you have a lot of prejudices?

I was the only person in my class to graduate from school with distinction, and the teacher decided to congratulate me by saying the following to my schoolmates: “Look, you lot should be ashamed. Even she, a NON-RUSSIAN, could do it!”

During lectures on the cultural history of Stavropol Territory, my female university classmates were eager to prove that Caucasians were originally not from the Caucasus, and that “national minorities” (as they called all non-Russians) had no place in Russia. My classmates would ask me mockingly why I didn’t cover my head with a scarf and celebrate Ramadan. This proved not only that they were ignorant of the history and culture of other countries, but also that they viewed all people with dark hair and thick eyebrows as an undifferentiated black mob of non-Russians with cultures, traditions, and values they found incomprehensible.

When I got a job on the radio, the editor tried to make me lose my “Caucasian accent.” I still don’t understand how I could have had one, since we spoke Russian at home all our lives. Unfortunately, my dad does not know Armenian, as he grew up in Petersburg.

As my colleague Fatima Tlis has correctly pointed out, I could not and cannot even imagine that my schoolteacher, my classmates, and my employers would take to the streets to protest the fact that nationalism made it hard for me and others like me to breathe in Russia. Would the ethnic Russian population have protested the death of a Caucasian, Tajik, or Armenian at the hands of the police?!

The problem of racism exists here in the United States, but it was in this country that I first felt at home. This can be said by many immigrants from all over the world, by people of various nationalities. Here “others” are accepted and given the same opportunities.

I found this copy of an opinion column in the Stavropol Pravda that I wrote as a second-year journalism student in my grandmother’s personal belongings. She trusted me with her innermost secrets. Among letters from her son, audiotapes of her daughter singing, and postcards from her beloved granddaughters, I found my cri de coeur, neatly clipped from the newspaper. My grandmother, the closest person in the world to me, knew how important the subject was to me, how much anguish I feel when faced with injustice.

#GeorgeFloyd #BlackLivesMatter

Anush Avetisyan is a journalist at Voice of America and lives in Washington, DC. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

In the Year 2035

“Will You Choose This Russia?”: Federal News Agency Releases Pro-Constitutional Amendments Ad in Which Male Couple Adopt Child as Sad Music Plays 
Bumaga
June 2, 2020

The Petersburg-based news website Federal News Agency, affiliated with Yevgeny Prigozhin and the so-called troll factory, has posted a pro-constitutional amendments ad on social media that shows two gay men adopting a child, thus reminding viewers that one of the proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution would enshrine the concept of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

[. . .]

The action of the Federal News Agency video takes place in the year 2035. In the ad, a boy is collected from an orphanage by an adoptive father who is preparing to introduce him to his adoptive mother. “Mom” turns out to be another man, who is a recognizable caricature of a homosexual. As sad music plays, the boy gets upset, and a female employee of the orphanage spits on the ground and walks away. The video ends with the couple kissing and the phrase, “Will you choose this Russia? Decide the future of the country—vote for the amendments to the Constitution.”

The video has been heavily criticized on social networks for homophobia and its unrealistic portrayal of homosexuals. Many viewers did not understand the connection between the events in the video and the Constitution.

[. . .]

The video was created by the Patriot Media Group, which includes Federal News Agency and other media outlets associated with the troll factory. Patriot’s board of trustees is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, “Putin’s chef.”

Nikolai Stolyarchuk, the head of Patriot Media Group, said that the video was not aimed against the LGBT community, but defended “the institution of the family as a union of a man and a woman.” According to Stolyarchuk, homosexual couples should not adopt children. He added that this was only the first video in a large series of ads. The campaign, according to Stolyarchuk, was funded exclusively by Patriot, not by the Russian state.

The actor who played the role of “Mom”, told Coda that he was neutral towards homosexuals and did not think that the video would generate such a strong public response. He said that although he had never voted before, on July 1 he would vote against the amendments to the Constitution because he had been detained by police and fined for violating self-isolation rules.

photo_2020-06-02_15-14-34Actor Alexander Filimonenko plays “Mom” in the homophobic campaign ad. Photo courtesy of social media and Coda

The vote on the amendments to the Constitution has been scheduled for July 1, despite the ongoing coronavirus epidemic in Russia.

In Petersburg, activists demonstrating against the proposed constitutional amendments have been detained by police on several occasions. On March 15, activists laid carnations outside the doors of the Constitutional Court on Senate Square. They called their protest action a “funeral event.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Muruzi House

brodThe young woman (left) and the late Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky (right) have nothing to do with the story, told below, of a Central Asian female migrant, working as a residential building caretaker in Petersburg, and her temporarily misplaced daughter. In recent days, however, this “graffiti” portrait of the Nobel laureate, which was quickly painted over, has been the talk of Brodsky’s hometown. The brutal conditions in which Central Asian migrant workers live in Petersburg and other Russian cities are virtually never the talk of the town, although it is their poorly paid drudgery that makes it possible for the “natives” to lead such rich spiritual and intellectual lives, chockablock with fine poetry and heated debates about “street art” and aesthetics. Photograph courtesy of the Instagram page Dom Muruzi

George Losev
Facebook
May 28, 2020

While I was at work, I found a little girl outside the entrance of a residential building. She was calling for her mother, her mommy. She was lost. Although the girl could speak Russian, she was unable, of course, to say where she lived and when she had last seen her mommy. But she was enjoying playing with a broken plastic motorcycle.

I couldn’t go to the police. Who knew what problems with papers the little girl’s family had? In any case, the police would shake down the girl’s mother and father and rob them.

An old lady in the neighborhood with whom I organized an ACSC (ad-hoc committee for saving the child) agreed with my assessment. During the ten minutes of our existence as a committee, we couldn’t come up with anything. Fortunately, the mother—a local building caretaker—showed up and fetched her daughter.

How disgusting it is to live in a society where you can’t go to the police, because the police are robbers and looters with blank stares.

George Losev is a housing authority electrician and revolutionary leftist activist in Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: #outdoorwallpaper

darya-wallpaper-2b

[darya apahonchich]

our private life has been invaded by the public, by the state. our borders are not where they used to be.

but you cannot order people not to be poor, you cannot order them to keep their distance if they have nowhere to hide or stand apart.

i have turned my house inside out with wallpaper.

#outdoorwallpaper
a tiny city apartment poem

darya-wallpaper-1a

1.
we
urge you
not to drink
from the common
cup
of poverty

darya-wallpaper-1b

darya-wallpaper-2a

2.
we have wallpaper and you have wallpaper
and the virus flies freely
in dwellings
only you come to us
with fines and billy clubs,
but you don’t invite us to your house

darya-wallpaper-2aa

darya-wallpaper-3a

3.
what if
what if
my body has become
home to the virus
I think
I am caring
for my loved ones,
but in fact
I am destroying them.
what if
what if
my heart has become
home to
the virus of violence?

darya-wallpaper-3b

Darya Apahonchich has been posting the texts and photographs of her outdoor wallpaper poems on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks to her for her permission and her assistance in republishing them here. Translated by the Russian Reader

And Now We Have to Prove We Got Sick on the Job

pni-no 10Psychoneurological Resident Treatment Facility (PRTF) No. 10 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of City Walls

And Now We Have to Prove We Got Sick on the Job
Galina Artemenko
MR7.ru (Moy Rayon)
May 18, 2020

The first case of COVID-19 at Psychoneurological Resident Treatment Facility (PRTF) No. 10 in Petersburg was at the very beginning of April. All efforts were made to hush up the story, but they failed. MR7.ru reported that the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and three other relevant agencies had recommended that the regions remove the most severely disabled people from PRTFs. The ministry had also recommended that  social welfare facilities switch their employees to long live-in rotations while raising their salaries. Finally, the chief public health physician in the Petersburg office of Rospotrebnadzor had issued an order permitting volunteers to work at PRTFs.

The virus spreads most quickly in closed places such as hospitals, barracks, and residential treatment facilities. And we have heard the sad stories of infection at the nursing home in Vyazma, and the deaths of elderly people in nursing homes in Italy and Sweden. I hope that, after the pandemic, the conclusions will be clear. PRTFs are factories of misery, and facilities housing over a thousand patients should not exist.

On condition of anonymity, Nastya (her name has been changed), a young attendant at PTRF No. 10 told us about her experiences during this time. PTRF No. 10 houses more than a thousand people living with severe disabilities, who are cared for by approximately 400 staff members. According to official reports, more than 400 people at the facility have been infected, and two disabled girls who lived there have died.

At the beginning of April, we all got phone calls: they were asking people whether they were willing to volunteer for long rotations. We were told everyone would be under observation to make sure covid did not get into the residential treatment facility and to keep the patients from getting ill. But the director said there would be no long rotations, because there was no money, and we were supposed to get extra pay for that. But he was unable to pay bonuses to the staff. So we were not shut down and kept working as normal. As during an ordinary quarantine, access to the residents was closed to their parents. But we kept coming in for our shifts as usual—until April 8, when our residents started going off to hospital with pneumonia, while the first case of covid was confirmed on April 10. The same day, the tenth, people from the district office of Rospotrebnadzor came to the facility. There was a meeting, where we were told the decision had been made to shut us down. So we began working on long rotations. Right now, while I’m in hospital, only two wards [at the PRTF] are on watch. They’re under quarantine, while all the rest are clean.

So when they had called and assembled all us volunteers, all of us were locked up in the facility. Hermetically sealed.

We had been promised the ward would be divided into a red zone and a clean zone, but that had not been done. We made the zones ourselves. Well, what I mean is that we assigned the residents to one of two stations so, at least, they wouldn’t be going back and forth. We had two stations on the ward, connected by corridors.

Yes, we have one doctor on duty on the ward, but he or she is a psychiatrist, not an infectious disease specialist.

We did not have any PPE, only gloves, which have always been issued in the residential treatment facility, and the cotton-gauze bandages that we sewed ourselves. The first week was more or less okay. We worked. And then everyone began to get sick—both residents and staff. Everyone’s temperature started to rise. At first, everyone on the ward tried to treat themselves with Antigrippine. We had smears taken on April 13. There were still smears that came back negative, but on April 22, everyone’s smears came back positive, so I think that of the sixty people or so whose smears had come back negative [on April 13], they were false negatives, meaning that the entire facility was sick. Staff who had mild cases went home, while those with more severe cases went to hospital. And the residents also went to hospital.

I was also taken to hospital. When I got there, we were heavily fed malaria pills. I had almost no fever, but I had a cough and was gasping for breath. I have been in hospital since April 20.

The money? I don’t know whether they will pay us—they didn’t even pay all the wages they had promised. We didn’t sign anything about agreeing to work with covid. We took our management’s word for it. Now we have to prove that we worked with covid and got sick at work.

I know that [Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov] came to the facility, and he and the director agreed that not only the doctors would get paid, but also the nurses, and the attendants, and the cafeteria workers, because everyone had worked directly with covid.

The residents didn’t understand what was happening. And we didn’t understand at first either, we didn’t know what the condition was until we got sick ourselves.

No, I wasn’t scared, I just wanted to go home. Well, it was scary when the young male residents on the ward started having disorders, and the psychiatric hospital wouldn’t accept them because our facility was under quarantine.

Residents who were ill with covid were taken to regular hospitals without being given psychiatric medication. That’s rough. I ended up at the same hospital as an old woman from our facility. I saw how the hospital nurses could not cope with her—they simply could not put her diapers on. Until she was transferred to the psychosomatic ward, I took care of her. Ordinary nurses and attendants don’t have the skills to interact with such people. They don’t know how to dress them, how to feed them, how to give them medicine. I think it was very wrong on the part of the municipal health committee or whoever was involved in this, that such people were sent to ordinary hospitals. This is intolerable. They pissed and shat themselves, and they yelled, and some of them smashed everything up and behaved badly. The staff at ordinary hospitals do not encounter this [ordinarily]. And they were without psychiatric medication. Later, they learned how to tie them down.

What will happen next? As long as we all sit on our asses waiting for something to happen, there is no hope that everyone who was cheated will be paid properly. But we are afraid that if we start this commotion, it will bounce back on us quite hard. So far I have started alone, but one soldier does not make a battle. They will take it out on me and my family. I will be fired and fired with cause, and then I will not be able to get a job anywhere.

PRTF No. 10 in Petersburg had previously been closed for quarantine due to the coronavirus. A patient at the facility had recently returned from treatment for other ailments at another facility, where he contracted the coronavirus. Ivan Veryovkin, the head of PRTF No. 10, then suddenly removed his facility’s intensive care unit from infection surveillance and suggested that volunteers come in the morning and leave in the evening.

As MR7.ru has argued recently, the epidemic has shown that PRTFs are “factories of misery,” and it is time to shut them down.

Translated by the Russian Reader. In case you were wondering who, exactly, was housed in Psychoneurological Residential Treatment Facility No. 10 in Petersburg, the Russian version of Wikipedia has the depressing answer. (The only other language in which there is an article on the subject is French, but the French article merely explains what PRTFs are in Russia.)

By the end of the twentieth century, there were 442 official PRTFs in the Russian Federation, but by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, their number was 505. According to data for 2019, there are about 650 PRTFS in the Russian Federation, housing 155,157 patients. Most of these patients (112,157) are officially incapacitated.

According to the data for 2003, more than half of all patients in PRTFS (68.9%) were people with reduced intelligence: people who had been diagnosed with mental retardation and various types of dementia. At the same time, intellectual disabilities in persons transferred from orphanages are often associated not so much with a real decrease in intellectual capabilities, as with pedagogical neglect [sic], lack of proper training and education, insufficient rehabilitation programs, and lack of rehabilitation centers for post-orphanage training.

According to information for 2013, during the year, about a thousand people were admitted to PRTFs in Moscow; in total, 10,500 patients lived in PRTFs in the city (of which 8,245 were men aged 18-58 years). About 5,000 were admitted to PRTFs from orphanages without undergoing psychiatric re-examination.

Don’t Mention Mikhail Zhlobitsky! (The Case of Nadezhda Belova)

belovaNadezhda Belova. Photo from the VK group page Free People of Voronezh. Courtesy of OVD Info

Voronezh Activist Released After Day in Jail for Comment on Bombing at FSB Office
OVD Info
May 14, 2020

Voronezh grassroots activist Nadezhda Belova has been released after spending twenty-fours in a temporary detention center in connection with a criminal investigation into alleged “exoneration of terrorism.” It was Belova herself who reported the news to OVD Info.

The woman was released on her own recognizance. At the moment, she is suspected of having “exonerated terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) by commenting online about [the October 2018 suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk offices of the FSB]. Belova had been a witness in the case for the last month. In late March, her home was searched by police, and she and members of her family were interrogated.

In recent days, a police investigator had visited Belova at home and summoned her to an interrogation on May 13, which she went to accompanied by OVD Info attorney Sergei Garin. After Belova was questioned, she was jailed for the night in the temporary detention center, and then interrogated again the next morning. According to Belova, she was pressured into saying it was she who had posted the commentary, although she denied any wrongdoing.

According to her, a women was purposely placed in her cell who intimidated her, smoked cigarettes, used profane language, and forced her to clean up the dishes in the cell.

“Yesterday and the day before yesterday, I was a free person, but today, I’m sorry to say, they have been trying to turn me into an out-and-out convict—they have humiliated me. First they handcuffed me, then they said I could go to the toilet only in handcuffs and escorted by a wardress. I want women to know what can happen [to them], what a performance can take place. I have been humiliated to such an extent, dragged through the mud, and I don’t know why. Even if I wrote those thirty words, why such degradation?” Belova said.

During the morning interrogation, according to Belova, the investigator threatened to arrest and jail her for the next two months.

“Today, [the investigator] said to me, ‘Either you wrote this or you’re going to spend another twenty-four hours in the detention center and tomorrow, at my request, you’ll either be put under house arrest or remanded in custody for two months. Or they’ll let you go—but I can’t say what will happen,'” said Belova. “The argument was that I could tamper with witnesses who had allegedly testified that the comment was written in my style, and that I could pose a danger to them.”

The activist has been summoned to another interrogation the following day, supposedly to verify whether she had deleted the comment or not. According to Belova, the investigator has a folder containing her various social media comments and personal messages, and he threatened her that if she continued to engage in activism, there would be other criminal cases.

UPDATE: May 15, 2020. Ekaterina Seleznyova, OVD Info’s legal aid coordinator, has informed us that Belova has been pressured by investigators into confessing not only to posting the comment but also to wrongdoing.

A local grassroots activist, Belova campaigned against the cancellation of direct bus service from Voronezh to Novaya Usman [in the summer of 2019], collecting signatures at people’s gatherings. In this regard, complaints were filed against her, alleging that she was organizing riots. Belova was also actively involved in protests against fare increases.

On October 31, 2018, 17-year-old local resident Mikhail Zhlobitsky detonated a bomb in the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk. Three FSB employees were injured, and the young man himself was killed. 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 investigated the incident as a terrorist attack.

In Russia, at least ten criminal cases of “exonerating terrorism” have been opened in connection with the October 2018 bombing in Arkhangelsk. In March, a resident of Kaluga, Ivan Lyubshin, was sentenced to five years and two months in prison for commenting on the topic on the internet.

Nadezhda Belova is the latest in a growing list of Russians who have been prosecuted or are facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky on social media or in the traditional media. Belova has joined the ranks of Lyudmila Stech, Oleg Nemtsev, Ivan Lyubshin, Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Davydov: A Poor Excuse for a Belarus

800px-Europe-Belarus.svgHow many Belaruses would fit into Mother Russia? Eighty-three! And yet, as Ivan Davydov argues, the current Russian regime is a “failed police state,” unlike the Belarusian regime. Neither fish nor fowl (although most certainly foul), Putin and his vassals have tanked their country’s economy while also signally failing to save people’s lives, nor have they been able to conjure away the coronavirus pandemic (rhetorically, if not in reality) as successfully as their frenemy the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

A Poor Excuse for a Belarus: The Collapse of Vladimir Putin’s Police State
Ivan Davydov
Republic
May 14, 2020

My apartment looks onto the Yauza River and the park on the shore. In peacetime, there are crowds of people strolling there when the weather is good. And lots of shishkebabers, who are famously to blame for all our troubles.

For more than a month now, I have been locked up like all law–abiding Russians, making only occasional trips out of the house on urgent business. I watch the world mostly from my balcony, and my world has narrowed to the size of this selfsame park.

Going to parks has been prohibited in Moscow by a special decree of the city’s all-powerful mayor. In parks, the coronavirus is particularly brutal, tracking down rare passersby, lonely morning jogging enthusiasts, and mothers with children, attacking and devouring them. On construction sites, on the contrary, the virus is weak and cowardly: it is afraid of construction workers, whom it does not touch.

Parks are a different matter.

The irresponsible residents of my neighborhood would still go to the park. Not in droves, as was the case before, no. They would go in small groups, as families, apparently. Joggers occasionally popped up, and bicyclists flashed by. Children made their way to the playgrounds (which were also closed, of course). In other words, they violated the mayor’s wise orders.

To put a stop to this unbridled lawlessness, police patrols would come to the park. The guardians of law and order would park their car on a hillock and stand around smoking and watching people walking. Once, when it was particularly cold, wet snow was pouring down, and only a lone madman was sitting on a bench, they went up to the madman and forced him to sign some papers.

And once they went down to the park and fed the ducks, pointedly ignoring the people walking around, before returning to their car. Oh yes, and a couple of times they shouted into a megaphone about the fact that going to parks was temporarily prohibited, and that citizens should look out for themselves and their loved ones.

I will explain later what this pastoral sketch was all about, but in the meantime let us look through the window at our neighbor to the west. It is a fascinating story.

A Wonderful Neighbor
While the rest of the world has been in quarantine, Alexander Lukashenko has gained fame as a maestro of fiery speeches and colorful aphorisms. He has suggested treating the coronavirus with vodka, a bath, and field work. He has advised Belarusians who have lost their jobs to find a job and get to work. (It’s brilliant, really, and simple, like all brilliant solutions.) He advised overly light-minded men to be patient and not to mix with other men’s women for a while. Lukashenko is a president with real gusto, not a president who talks about ancient battles with the Polovtsy from his bunker.

To the frenzied delight of Russian jingoists, Lukashenko held a parade on May 9 [Victory Day], attracting crowds of people, including the elderly. And the very elderly—veterans, in fact. But that was only half the trouble. He also said that after the parade, the statistics on the incidence of pneumonia had gone down. He confessed (he’s an honest man) that he had feared an increase in the incidence of pneumonia, but it didn’t happen. “Well, what did we end up with? There has been a significant reduction in pneumonia in Minsk: it dropped by half yesterday. And I made the sign of the cross yesterday: God grant that we will continue giving hell to pneumonia like this.” Fresh air, he said, helps a lot.

And if Lukashenko had wanted, he could have said that people who died from the coronavirus had begun resurrecting after the parade. (As of May 12, according to the official statistics, 142 people in Belarus had died from the coronavirus.) Why? Because he can, that’s why. He can stamp out any protest. He can ignore the reports from the doctors.

It’s not even the Swedish model. The Swedish model, whose success is a matter of debate (a debate we will have later) stipulates that big public events not be held, and citizens behave responsibly. The Belarusian model assumes that there are no citizens. There is a populace that absolutely obeys the decisions of the supreme leader. Happily for us, the new virus is not the medieval black death: clearly, the country will not die off if you purposely avoid imposing a quarantine in order to save the economy. The Belarusian president made his choice by deliberately deciding to sacrifice a certain (non-essential) number of inhabitants, who cannot be saved by vodka or field work.

And after Vladimir Putin announced a “phased exit” from the semi-imposed non-quarantine, Lukashenko condescendingly praised his junior comrade, saying that Russia had followed the Belarusian path.

The Russian Miracle
But in fact, Russia has its own special path. The “non-working weeks” battered the economy considerably, but it is questionable whether they were able to protect residents. When the quarantine was imposed, there were very few cases. When the government started lifting the quarantine, Russia shot up to second place worldwide in the number of infected people.

Discussing the reliability of Russian statistics is a risky business: nowadays, the prosecutor’s office does not see much difference between well-founded criticism and “spreading fake news” about the coronavirus. But we will not make any arguments, we will just note what respected officials and politicians have been saying.

On May 12, Anna Popova, the head of [Russian federal consumer watchdog] Rospotrebnadzor, said that 28.4% of people identified in Russia as infected with the coronavirus were hospitalized. At the time, the total number of people identified as infected was around 230,000; a simple mathematical calculation gives us approximately 65,000 people in hospitals. (In fact, the real figure is another ten thousand less, since we are not taking into account the people who have recovered). But the next day, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said at a cabinet meeting that there were more than 100,000 Russians hospitalized with the coronavirus. You would agree that all this makes it seem that our government is surprisingly footless and fancy-free with statistics, even with their own official statistics, with statistics intended for the public.

On May 13, the Moscow Health Department reported that 60% of those who died with a diagnosed coronavirus had not been included in the coronavirus fatality statistics for capital, because they had died from “obvious alternative causes.” The governor of Petersburg also reported that there had been a spike in the incidence of pneumonia in the city: the indicators were “five and a half times higher than the average.” Since the first of March, 694 residents of Petersburg have died from pneumonia, and 63 from the coronavirus.

Perhaps this is the reason for the Russian miracle of rather low mortality rates from the coronavirus infection. Especially if you remember that Russia is not only made up of capital districts and metropolitan areas, that in the regions, as a rule, all or almost all media outlets are controlled by the local administrations, and it is even easier for them to turn statistics from an enemy into an ally.

And why did the head honcho announce the end of the “non-working weeks”? Well, it’s not so hard to turn a terrible virus into a non-scary one. It’s like with elections: what matters is not what really happened, but who counts the votes and how they count them.

Amulets for MPs
But what’s really going on? In fact, our high officials are afraid, and they are trying to protect themselves by turning the nightmare into a joke and not standing on ceremony with the public. Saving your own life is more important than standing on ceremony.

On May 13, Igor Molyakov, an MP from A Just Russia, asked State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin why some of their colleagues were coming to sessions of parliament not wearing their MP pins, as required by law, but wearing quite different pins featuring a white cross on a black background. Molyakov added that he was a dog breeder himself and would like to know whether it would be possible for him to wear the pin of his kennel club instead of the Russian tricolor on his lapel.

Volodin’s answer, I hope, will go down in the annals: “Let’s ask the people who are wearing these pins, but as far as my colleagues have told me, they are special devices for repelling the virus.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if, one day soon, MPs ran naked around the State Duma building on Okhotny Ryad banging on pots: this method of fighting pestilence has been described by anthropologists. And we can only pray that no one tells them that fresh human flesh, for example, staves off the virus. They would believe them.

Dmitry Peskov, the president’s press Secretary, has fallen ill. And now he remembers regretfully the “virus blocker” that he wore and then stopped wearing after he was mocked in the press.

Here it is important to understand that the people wearing the miracle badges and warding off the virus with life-giving white crosses are the same people who explain why “phasing out restrictions” at the peak of the epidemic is justified, and make decisions that affect our lives.

Of course, they themselves get sick and get infected, but let’s not forget that we will be treated in slightly different hospitals, if push comes to shove.

It’s hard to stop. For dessert we have another intellectual delicacy, this time from Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov. He has explained why masks cannot be distributed for free in the city during the mandatory mask regime: “Yesterday, we adopted a resolution not to give out free masks, but to hand out money. There are a lot of people in our city, both visitors and non-visitors, and people from other regions. How should we should distribute these masks? We should make you show your passport and ask where you are registered.”

The virus, you understand, asks to see people’s residence permits and attacks only native Petersburgers. It presents no danger to out-of-towners and migrant workers, nor can they themselves infect anyone. Governor Beglov is in charge of Russia’s second largest city, the home to millions of people and a “pneumonia outbreak” that, of course, has nothing to do with the coronavirus.

By the way, Beglov’s “money” amounts to 800 rubles [approx. 10 euros] for pensioners and members of large families to buy masks.

A Failed Police State
But let’s go back to my park. I started with it to illustrate the fact that the police state in Russia has failed. There has been a lot of overkill, and people all over Russia have been pretty annoyed, but the police have been unable to ensure compliance with the imposed restrictions. They are good at breaking up peaceful protest rallies, but bad at everything else.

The government had a choice. It could have engaged the citizenry in dialogue, rejected intimidation in favor of education, sought compromises where possible, and, of course, provided direct financial assistance to those forced to stay at home. It could have made Russia’s citizens its allies instead of making them the targets of an incoherent police dragnet. To do this, however, it would have had to see the populace as citizens, but we have a big problem with this sort of thing in Russia.

The government could have done it, but it was impossible—forbidden—for the government to do it.

It would have been possible to issue endless prohibitions of varying degrees of savagery and to force the population to comply with them using an old and proven argument—the police billy club. But that didn’t work out either. It turns out that there is no police state in these parts. There is a useless system of governance that starts to crumble at the first serious test. Ensconced in his bunker, the head honcho denounces the immorality of the Spartans, while his subordinates are decked out in life-saving amulets, expecting that by summer everything will have somehow worked itself out.

The reason they terminated the “non-working weeks” is that they simply could not enforce the lockdown measures. And they decided to rescue the economy since they had been unable to save people. But there was a tiny twist: they did this only after after the economy had been dealt a serious blow.

The Russian state makes war on Russian citizens as if they were the main threat when, in fact, there are no real threats to it, but it simply vanishes when there is a real threat. This is exactly what Putin has built over the last twenty years. This is the whole “Russian federal system”—terrifying, unsinkable, tending to totalitarianism. It’s a poor excuse for a Belarus. It’s a slightly rotten Belarus.

Take care of yourselves and help each other. No one else is going to help us.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Masked Men Invade and Search Kaliningrad Woman’s Apartment over Social Network Repost

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A screenshot of the Popular Self-Defense movement’s page on the VK social network. If you’re in Russia, you should think twice about reposting anything the PSD posts about suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Otherwise, masked men might break down your door, as just happened to Lyudmila Stech in Kaliningrad.

Masked Men Invade and Search Kaliningrad Woman’s Apartment Over Social Network Repost
Novyi Kaliningrad
May 8, 2020

In Kaliningrad, masked security forces officers broke into the apartment of a local resident, Lyudmila Stech, and conducted a search. As transpired, she is suspected of publicly exonerating terrorism because of a post on a social network. The incident was reported to Novyi Kaliningrad by a friend of the Kaliningrad woman.

“They broke into her apartment at 6 a.m. today. First they knocked on the door and said they were from Rospotrebnadzor [the Russian federal consumer watchdog]. When Lyudmila didn’t open it, they broke the window,” our source said.

According to the source, the search of Lyudmila Stech’s apartment lasted about four hours. Stech’s router and mobile phone were confiscated, and then Sech herself was taken away for questioning. By evening, she had been released on her own recognizance. She was informed that she was suspected of committing a crime under Article 205.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (public calls to carry out terrorist activities; public exoneration or promotion of terrorism) due to a post on the Russian social network Vkontakte (VK).

“No copies of the documents that she was forced to sign were given to her. She received only a certificate for work, ” says the suspect’s friend.

Novyi Kaliningrad has learned that the Kaliningrad women has been charged over an incident in October 2019 in which she allegedly reposted a post, published on the group page of the Popular Self-Defense (Narodnaya Samooborona) dealing with 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who in 2018 set off a bomb in the building of the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk, killing himself and [injuring] three FSB employees.

Kaliningrad has already seen a similar case. In the fall of 2018, FSB officers detained Kaliningrad resident Vyacheslav Lukichev. According to investigators, the antifascist had posted a text on the Telegram channel Prometheus that called anarcho-communist Zhlobitsky’s deed “heroic.” Lukichev admitted during the investigation and during the trial that it was he who had published the post on the Telegram channel, but he argued that the content of the text had been incorrectly interpreted. In March 2019, Lukichev was found guilty of vindicating terrorism, under Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code, and fined 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,066 euros at the then-current exchange rate].

Thanks to Novaya Gazeta for the heads-up. Lyudmila Stech is the latest in a growing list of Russians prosecuted or facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky on social media or in the traditional media. Stech has joined the ranks of Ivan Lyubshin, Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On March 5, OVD Info reported that Oleg Nemtsev, a trucker in Arkhangelsk Region, had been charged with the same “crime.” Translated by the Russian Reader

A New Low

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In Oryol, Rescue Divers Rise from the Depths Holding Portraits of WW2 Heroes
Ivan Suverin
GTRK Oryol
May 6, 2020

Rescuers in Oryol hit upon an original way of paying tribute to war heroes and taking part in the Immortal Regiment procession while rising from the depths.

To make a spectacular entrance from beneath the waters of the Oka River holding photographs of WW2 heroes, the divers from the search and maneuver group had to laminate the photos. However, there were no bystanders at this magnificent spectacle. On shore, only a few volunteer rescuers formed an honor guard to greet the watermen [sic]. The event was specially timed to occur between Diver Day [May 5] and Victory Day [May 9].

This time, professional and volunteer rescuers paid special tribute to those who fought and died for the Motherland far from dry land. This group includes not only sailors and military divers, but also marines, as well as infantrymen who were involved in river crossings under heavy enemy fire. One such hero was pictured on one of the photos.

“One of my ancestors, Dmitry Nikitovich Adoniev, was born on May 9, 1921. The day of the great victory was the same day as his birthday, meaning you could not have thought up a better gift. He is [sic] a Hero of the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Hero’s star for crossing the Dnieper,” explained Andrei Nekrasov, head of the Oryol branch of the Russia Student Rescue Corps.

Flowers were laid on the water in honor of those who fell in battle before reaching the shore. The volunteers finished their tribute at the Monument to the Liberators of Oryol. The Emergencies Ministry reported that, despite the restrictions associated with the pandemic, rescuers have several more ways to pay tribute to the memory of heroes and veterans.

Thanks to Andrey Churakov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader