Post-Election

“Let’s defend our victory!” A poster from the campaign of Mikhail Lobanov, who ran for a seat in the Russian parliament in Sunday’s elections, urging voters to gather at the Indira Gandhi monument in Moscow at 7 p.m. on September 23 to discuss the campaign’s plans for contesting the attempt by the authorities to tilt the election in favor of the ruling party’s candidate by “stuffing the ballot boxes” with online votes.

Mikhail Lobanov. Telegram. 22 September 2021

A few days ago, the residents of Moscow’s Western Administrative District (ZAO) elected me as their MP. I know this because I myself stood up for every single vote over several nights and saw the tallies for each polling station. I am also grateful to everyone who supported me by voting electronically. And yet the remote electronic voting system has proven to be another tool in the hands of the fraudsters: they used it to steal the victory from us.

Therefore, I call on all residents of Dorogomilovo, Krylatskoye, Kuntsevo, Mozhaysksky, Vernadsky Avenue, Ramenki, Filyovsky Park and Fili-Davydkovo to come to a people’s meeting and together demand that the remote electronic voting results be annulled. Let’s show [the authorities] that the residents of the Western Administrative District cannot be deceived just like that.

In recent days, a new political force has emerged in the west of Moscow, and we are not going away. Now our team is preparing a complaint to the Central Elections Commission and a petition to the court. We have big plans, and we especially need your support now.

Tomorrow, September 23, at 7:00 p.m., at the monument to Indira Gandhi (Lomonosovsky Prospekt subway station).

https://fb.me/e/PNn1N9ma

A screen shot of the homepage of Russia’s remote electronic voting system (DEG)

Alexander Skobov
Facebook
September 21, 2021

The most lethal proof of the falsification of electronic voting in Moscow is not even the eighty thousand “extra” votes compared to the issued ballots. That was pure ballot stuffing, despite the historian Alexei Venediktov’s swearing up and down that the system was reliably protected from ballot stuffing. But another figure is even more deadly: the 700,000 people who revised their vote, which is a third of all those who voted electronically. Who are these people?

How many of them are weirdos who didn’t know who to vote for until the last moment and changed their decision three times a day? Maybe they are restless souls who struggled with the painful choice between the “party of power” and the opposition? Or the even more painful choice between the Stalinist Communist Party and the unelectable Yabloko? Don’t you think it’s funny?

The vast majority of these 700,000 people were people who voted “under guidance” for the first time and were not afraid to redo their vote. I think it would not be too bold to assume that for every one of them who was not afraid, there was at least one voter who was afraid, who did not believe in the anonymity of their vote. Yes, the electronic voting system in Moscow (the pride of the historian Venediktov) works perfectly — as a powerful tool for administrative and corporate coerced voting.

We can conclude that coerced voting is becoming the main form of electoral fraud in the era of late Putinism. And that the society practically does nothing to resist it. It has finally become the norm. It is an important element of the neo-totalitarian transformation.

The remote electronic system’s website shows that over 71,000 more “voters” voted online in Moscow than were issued electronic ballots.

Statisticians Claim Half of Pro-Kremlin Votes in Duma Elections Were False
Jake Cordell
Moscow Times
September 21, 2021

Half of all the votes cast for the ruling party in Russia’s parliamentary elections were likely fraudulent, according to analysis by independent statisticians.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party won a landslide victory in Russia’s State Duma elections over the weekend, securing 324 of the lower chamber’s 450 seats — a supermajority that allows them to enact changes to the constitution.

Russia’s opposition has alleged massive election fraud, and videos flooded social media during the vote showing apparent ballot stuffing. Questions have also been raised over a significant delay in the publication of online voting results in the capital Moscow, which eventually overhauled the voting leads secured in the offline vote by opposition candidates.

Independent data scientists and analysts said Tuesday that half of all the votes attributed to United Russia in the official results were probably fake — a level of falsification previously unseen in Russian parliamentary elections.

Prominent physicist Sergei Shpilkin, who has become well-known for his post-election data analysis of possible fraud, estimated on Tuesday that genuine support for United Russia was around 31-33%, while actual nationwide turnout was probably 38%. That compares with official results that saw United Russia score 50% on an official turnout of 52% — suggesting that around 14 million of United Russia’s official votes were fraudulent.

The analysis is based on analyzing results across Russia’s 97,000 individual polling stations to find anomalies and outliers that hint at possible falsification. Statisticians focus on the host of polling stations that recorded high turnout and high vote shares for United Russia — a strong correlation that hints at ballot stuffing.

Because it is believed that falsification does not happen in every polling station, Shpilkin is able to identify the “core” level of support for United Russia and turnout from these “honest” locations. This is then compared with the outliers and polling stations that show high turnout and strong pro-Kremlin votes to estimate the number of votes that were likely falsified on a national scale.

Opinion polls before the election showed nationwide support for the ruling party were at historic lows of below 30%.

Other independent statisticians and election monitors have reached similar conclusions in the wake of the vote, which the opposition has called one of the most fraudulent in Russia’s history.

Alexei Kouprianov, a biologist and big data analyst, also estimated that real support for United Russia was around 30%, not the 50% recorded in the official results.

“The analysis shows that the level of falsification in 2021 was enormous,” he wrote on Facebook. “It is clear from the honest polling stations that support for United Russia is falling and that the Communist Party is growing.”

Data scientist Boris Ovchinnikov said that Shpilkin’s estimate that 50% of United Russia’s votes were falsified should be seen as the “lowest estimate.”

“Deeper analysis could result in a higher estimate for the share of falsification,” he said.

The election monitoring Golos organization, which was banned from observing the elections shortly before the vote, also estimated that around a third of the official votes were fraudulent — a figure which tallies with half, or more, of United Russia’s votes being false.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed the “competitiveness, openness and honesty” of the elections, saying it was clear that “United Russia is the main preference of the voters.”

Alexei Venediktov. Photo: Andrei Nikerichev (Moskva News Agency), courtesy of the Moscow Times

Moscow To Check Electronic Votes for State Duma in Recount
Moscow Times
September 22, 2021

Moscow will conduct a recount of disputed electronic votes for seats in Russia’s lower house of parliament that will have no legal force, the head of the Moscow election observation headquarters Alexei Venediktov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency on Wednesday.

“Everyone is asking about the technical group’s recount of the votes, this, of course, is not a legal recount, this is a reconciliation in order to confirm suspicions or not confirm suspicions that it was counted incorrectly,” RIA quoted Venediktov as saying.

Russia’s opposition raised questions over the legitimacy of the results of the elections after the pro-Kremlin United Russia party won a landslide victory and took every district in Moscow.

E-voting results reversed early leads secured in the offline vote by opposition candidates and Kremlin-endorsed candidates saw huge swings in their favour and won every district after online votes were tallied.

Independent data scientists and analysts said that half of all the votes attributed to United Russia in the official results were probably fake — a level of falsification previously unseen in Russian parliamentary elections.

Questions have also been raised over a significant delay in the publication of online voting results.

Venediktov, managing editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, has come under fire for his overseeing and promotion of e-voting in Moscow.

“Former journalist Venediktov is a criminal and should be in the dock for his participation in electoral fraud,” allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny tweeted from his account.

The first two texts were translated by the Russian Reader.

Byudzhetniki

Byudzhetniki (state sector employees), as imagined by Yandex Zen. This image illustrates a 2019 op-ed piece claiming that 51.8% of all workers in Russia are state sector employees or byudzhetniki (and bemoaning that fact because, allegedly, it lowers GDP).

Alexander Skobov | Facebook | September 18, 2021

I am terribly annoyed by the word byudzhetniki [state sector employees], when it is used in relation to those [whose superiors] try and corral them into voting a certain way. And it’s not just that I worked in the public schools for almost twenty years and would have liked to see them try and force me to vote in a certain way. The fact is that the system of coerced corporate loyalty works exactly the same in the private sector as in the state sector. It is exactly the same in private companies. The byudzhetnik is largely a bogey of the liberal mindset. Do you think it is more difficult to make an employee of a private company “fall into rank” than a state employee? Just take a look at Google.

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sway

When the Night Lanterns Sway: It’s Useless to Try and Beat the State on Its Own “Legal Turf”
Alexander Skobov
Kasparov.ru
February 13, 2021

On February 9, Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s network of local teams, announced a flash mob for February 14, Valentine’s Day: residents of large cities should go into their courtyards at 8 p.m. and turn on their mobile phone flashlights. This is an attempt to adopt Belarusian know-how [see the article, below]. The idea is that residents of the same yard who are sympathetic to the protest movement but don’t know each other can get acquainted and create a grassroots network for rapid notification and mobilization.

Putin’s occupation army has reacted hysterically to the undertaking. A yahoo from the Assembly for Approving the Cutie Pie Slutsky’s Sexual Harassment (colloquially known as the State Skank) compared the flashlights in the courtyards with the signals of saboteurs guiding German bombers to their targets. The Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, and the Prosecutor General’s Office declared it a call for “mass rioting” and threatened potential flash mob participants with criminal charges. Roskomnadzor has been chasing down internet media officially operating in Russian Federation and forcing them to delete reports about the planned event.

The point here is not a “shutdown of law in Russia,” which, according to Vladimir Pastukhov, occurred after Navalny’s return. A completely anti-legal, multi-level system for cracking down on street activism has long been erected in Russia. It consists of three elements: 1) laws aimed at restricting the right to public expression of opinion; 2) a dishonest and broad interpretation of these laws by the police and the courts; 3) and pure lawlessness, as when the police engage directly in frame-ups and fakery, and the obedient courts pretend not to see it.

Those who tried to defend the Article 31 of the Russian Constitution [“Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets”] focused mainly on the third element and sluggishly butted heads with the authorities over the second element, while almost ignoring the first element. Meanwhile, it was all about the first element. The second and third elements were just an appendix to it.

The Code of Administrative Offenses contains an article that punishes involvement in unauthorized events. The shapes and features of this involvement are not described. They are listed in Federal Law No. 54 (“On Mass Events”). In particular, it says that at a mass public event, participants express their attitude to current socio-political problems by chanting slogans and holding up placards.

For many years, opposition activists have been looking for an “unauthorized” way to publicly voice their opinions that would not get them detained. For a long time, they unsuccessfully tried to prove in the courts that if they did not chant slogans and did not hold up placards, there was no protest rally as such. However, the list of ways of participating in a rally, as enumerated in Federal Law No. 54, is not exhaustive. That is, any way of voicing one’s stance is considered an indication of having participated in a public event. That is, expression of a position as such is considered “participation.”

The phrase “expressed [his/her] attitude to current socio-political problems” is often found in police reports on the arrest of people involved in unauthorized public events. The phrase sounds crazy and comical when it comes to legally justifying arresting people and charging them with administrative offenses. It was not invented by the police goons, however. It was borrowed from the definition of a protest rally contained in Federal Law No. 54.

In fact, this coinage, found in police reports and “court” rulings, expresses the collective unconscious of the bureaucratic police regime—its dream, its loftiest ideal. Ordinary citizens should not publicly voice their opinions on current socio-political issues. It is better for them not to have such opinions at all. Voicing opinions is the prerogative of the authorities.

Hence, the very fact that an ordinary citizen voices their socio-political position is considered an anomaly, a deviation from the norm, a violation of public order. And when you start arguing with the authorities at the police station or in “court,” asking them what socially dangerous or simply harmful actions were committed by a citizen who was detained for publicly expressing their position by attending an outdoor rally, they sincerely don’t understand what you are talking about. It is clear to them that publicly voicing a position itself is a socially harmful action if ever there was one.

Since (they say) the greatest geopolitical catastrophe happened, and we are now forced to temporarily recognize a citizen’s right to voice their position at least formally, we’ll load your opportunity to exercise this right with so many conditions that you’ll rue the day you tried to do it. And they really have been doing just this—purposefully, consistently, for the entire length of Putin’s rule.

The lawless authorities refuse to authorize opposition rallies at central and iconic locations under completely far-fetched and false pretexts, and our “managed” injustice system almost always takes the side of the authorities. On the other hand, the “legislators” in the State Skank seek to block any chance people have to publicly voice their stance without prior approval. As soon as the opposition finds a new way of protesting, enabling it to circumvent previously imposed bans, a new amendment or a new law immediately follows, sealing this loophole as well.

It is useless to try to win against the state on its own “legal turf” as long as it has the will and power to shut society up. The state’s will can be opposed only by society’s will not to obey anti-legal prohibitions. The point of unauthorized public events is that they demonstratively violate prohibitions on “unauthorized” expressions of one’s opinion.

I have already had occasion to write that prohibiting people from publicly expressing their attitude to current socio-political issues without permission is an important part of the system for manipulating the admission of players to the “political market.” The entire social and political system that has taken shape in Russia is based on this system of manipulation. In order to reliably guarantee citizens their constitutional right to freely express their attitude to socio-political issues peacefully and unarmed, we have to replace the entire socio-political system.

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sing

When the night lanterns swing,
And it’s dangerous for you to walk the dark streets,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I can’t love anyone anymore.

The girls kissed my feet like they were crazy,
A widow and I drank through my father’s  house.
And my cheeky laugh
Was always a success,
And my youth has cracked like a nut!

I sit on a bunk like a king at a birthday party,
And I dream of getting a drab ration.
I look out the window like an owl:
Now I don’t care!
I’m ready to put out my torch before anyone else.

When the night lanterns swing,
And the black cat runs down the street like the devil,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I’ve broken my lifetime record forever!

Lyrics by Gleb Gorbovsky. Source: a-pesni. Performance by Beseder and Lyonchik. Translated by the Russian Reader

A protest in Minsk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Belarusian Courtyard Protests Model for Latest Navalny Tactic
Window on Eurasia
February 13, 2021

Staunton, February 11 — The Navalny organization’s decision to shift at least for a time from mass public protests to smaller but perhaps even more numerous demonstrations in the courtyards of Russian apartment blocks is not a unique Russian innovation. Instead, it has its roots in what Belarusian protesters have been doing since last fall.

In Belarusian cities, MBKh journalist Arina Kochemarova says, this shift has led to the emergence of whole areas devoted to protests and to the first flowering of what many people there hope will result in the formation of local self-administration, yet another way they hope to undermine Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.

In these Belarusian courtyards, she points out, places that people have christened “squares of change,” people fly the white-red-white Belarusian flag, organize concerns and flash mobs, and in many cases get to know their neighbors better than they ever have in the past, something that by itself promotes solidarity against the government.

Yegor Martinovich, editor of Belarusian Nasha Niva newspaper, says that Belarusians made the shift because of the rising tide of repression and arrests of those taking part in major demonstrations. Fewer people are taking part in the courtyard protests, but at the same time, he suggests, courtyard meetings are forming a sense of solidarity for the future.

Courtyard protests are not only harder for the authorities to counter, but they also can take a variety of formats ranging from flash mobs to the emergence of genuinely independent community organization. “Civil society has begun to flourish everywhere which in general is a good thing. People have begun to unite,” the editor says.

The biggest problem with this shift, Martinovich says, is that the media pays a great deal more attention to one big demonstration than it does to many smaller ones, even if the smaller ones collectively include more people and have a greater impact. Moreover, Lukashenka is learning how to react, cutting off utilities where there are white-red-white flags.

Now, this Belarusian tactic is coming to Russia, intensifying fears among the authorities that the Navalny movement could develop the way in which the Belarusian one has. Russian officials have already made clear that they will crack down hard early on lest the shift from the streets to the courtyards takes off.

The Helmets Come Off

The Helmets Come Off
Alexander Skobov
Grani.ru
January 24, 2021

Alexander Skobov. Photo: Anna Plitman/Grani.ru

Ksenia Sobchak has equated the cruelty and violence against a woman who was kicked in the stomach by a riot policeman with the violence and cruelty against a riot policeman’s helmet, which was kicked around [during Saturday’s anti-Putin rallies] by “radicals.”

“This is all, or almost all, that you need to know about Ksenia Sobchak’s mental makeup,” writes Igor Yakovenko. It’s almost everything, because Sobchak’s short text contains another interesting tidbit. She also argues that resistance to tyranny is not only futile, but also harmful, because it pushes tyranny to get tougher. The “unbroken generation” will simply have to be “broken.” The bloodthirsty lady recommends relaxing and having fun.

In some ways, however, it is worth heeding Sobchak. We should not, indeed, hope for a “thaw,” for concessions from the authorities. The Putin regime is organically incapable of this, for the whole thing is built on criminal grandstanding. The very flesh and blood of the “new Putin elite,” Sobchak knows what she is talking about.

The criminal grandstanding is just a shell. The bottom line is that Putin’s regime  carried the germ of fascism from the get-go, and now this “alien” is finally hatching from the egg. The ruling class abhors liberal democracy, with its rule of law and its prioritization of human rights. It hates everything that limits its power over the serfs, and now it is trying to finally tear off the “hybrid” liberal-democratic bunting.

A riot policeman in Petersburg kicks a woman in the stomach when she attempts to ask why they have detained the young man they are escorting, January 23, 2021. Video: Fontanka.ru. Courtesy of Mediazona

Of course, the regime will respond to the protests with a further tightening of the screws—with new criminal cases, with new pogroms of opposition organizations, with new repressive and prohibitive laws. It will try and break the unbroken generation broken. I’m afraid that the new generation will not manage to avoid having this life experience. It must firmly understand that the current regime is an enemy with which compromise is impossible, and so everyone is faced with an extremely simple and tough choice of what way to choose in life.

One way is to capitulate, relax, have fun, and eventually become an accomplice of riot policemen who kick women in the stomach. The other way is to stand up for your own dignity, despite the price you have to pay for it, to resist by all available means, and ultimately to overthrow Putin’s fascist regime. And not worry about the fact that, meanwhile, some people are kicking a riot policeman’s helmet around.

The prospect of such a tough choice scares those who are used to living according to the principle voiced by a character in the epoch-making TV series Gangster Petersburg, a corrupt cop who was fond of saying, “I’m mean, but in moderation.” The fascist system increasingly and imperiously demands that they go beyond the moderate meanness that they are used to deeming permissible for themselves. And they feel uncomfortable about it.

Hence Sobchak’s long-standing complaints about escalating confrontation and mutual bitterness, about black-and-white thinking that admits no shades of gray. She now has to solve a truly existential question: who is she? A woman, or a riot police helmet?

Sobchak has not said anything fundamentally new. She has consistently defended the Putin regime from revolution. After all, revolution is worse than when a woman is kicked in the stomach. Revolution is when a riot policeman’s helmet is kicked around.

Protesters snowballing riot police on Tsvetnoy Boulevard in Moscow yesterday, January 23, 2021. Courtesy of Ksenia Larina’s Facebook page

The power of today’s protest was far from enough for revolution. Its reserves of strengths are unknown. In any case, it proved much more powerful than those who believed Fukuyama had expected. No one can predict when and why Putin’s autocratic fascist regime will be overthrown, and who will overthrow it. We must be prepared for a long period of resistance under a repressive dictatorship.

To avoid coming apart during this period, we must nurture in ourselves not only faith in the beautiful Russia of the future, but also a hatred of lies, meanness, and violence—a hatred for the powerful scoundrels who have trampled law and justice to death, a hatred for riot police who kick a woman in stomach, and a hatred for their helmets.

Five days ago, Alexander Skobov reported on his Facebook page that he had been summoned by the FSB for questioning at 2 p.m., January 27, 2021, at its Petersburg headquarters. Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Skobov: Coping with Putin’s Fascism Lite

“Russia Day, June 12.” Petersburg, June 8, 2015

Alexander Skobov
Facebook
October 2, 2020

My deepest condolences to the family and friends of Irina Slavina. The words get stuck in our throat, and we clench our fists, but something has to be said. We must force ourselves.

The fascist Putin regime has killed tens of thousands of people from its very emergence in 1999. It has killed them with carpet bombing and rocket and artillery attacks. But it has killed them outside of Russia—in the Chechen Republic, in Ukraine, in Syria.

The fascist Putin regime has also killed undesirables in Russia. Some have been struck down by assassin’s bullets in the entryway of their buildings, other with poison. Still others were denied timely medical care in prison. Nevertheless, within Russia, the fascist Putin regime has killed piecemeal, not by the thousands. Its crackdowns on dissenters have not been nearly as brutal as that of the fascist regimes of the past.

In comparison with the crackdowns of fascist regimes in the past, the crackdowns administered by the fascist Putin regime could even be called child’s play. For this reason, the fascist Putin regime has been dubbed a “hybrid” regime by some political scientists.

The lower level of brutality the Putin fascist regime has meted out compared to the well-known classic examples of fascism has rendered these crackdowns routine, almost ordinary, tolerable, as it were. At the same time, the utter inability to prove one’s innocence and protect oneself from blatant lawlessness and tyranny has become something routine, ordinary, seemingly tolerable, seemingly normal.

Has anyone ever wondered how humiliating it is to exist in this sort of everyday life, this twisted “normality,” about the constant torment it is for people with a heightened sense of justice and self-esteem? The fascist Putin regime kills people through this continuous torture—through the systematic humiliation of human dignity and the impossibility of proving that it is, in fact, abnormal, that things should not be this way.

Like the fascist regimes of the past, Putin’s improved postmodern fascism lite continues to destroy what makes people human and continues to destroy people who have preserved their own humanity.

Alexander Skobov, a left-liberal writer and activist, is a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

We All Live in a Yellow Submarine

ys_02The Yellow Submarine’s log book. Image courtesy of Felix and Marina Vinogradov 

We All Live in a Yellow Submarine
Ekaterina Nezvankina
Islands of Freedom (Iofe Center)

Bearing the proud name Yellow Submarine, the commune at 28 Primorsky Prospect [in Leningrad] arose in August 1977 and lasted for just one year. Its organizers were university classmates Alexander Skobov and Felix Vinogradov, who had dreamed about a place where everyone could experience personal freedom, where everyone could distance themselves from the current regime and express themselves freely.

The history of the commune’s emergence as a nonconformist association and, simultaneously, a haven for free thinkers originates in western culture. However, as Skobov notes, there were no concrete prototypes, meaning that its inner workings were shaped by the intuition of the people involved in it.

And so, a commune. What the heck is that, and what has brought us here? For nearly a year, several of us had been building magnificent castles in the air, which unexpectedly acquired an extremely firm earthly foundation. First and foremost, who are We? Let’s identify ourselves in full: students Marina Nikitina (Vinogradova), Felix Vinogradov, Tatiana Komarova, Alexander Skobov, Igor Malsky, Andrei Antonenko, and Alexander Volkov (aka Lupus). [From the commune’s log book]

The commune was located in a private, two-story wooden house (something rare for Leningrad) on Primorsky Prospect that Felix and Marina Vinogradov had rented not long before their son was born. The first people to join them in the commune were Skobov’s university crowd and several acquaintances from their school days. Later, Andrei Reznikov, one of the founders of the so-called Leningrad School, and Alexei Khavin, who was involved in creating the dissident magazine Perspektiva, joined the commune. Then the commune gradually became a refuge for Leningrad hippies and various acquaintances who were looking for temporary housing or simply а “crash pad.”

1009_crAlexander Skobov and Felix Vinogradov outside the Leningrad University history department, circa 1976–1977. Photo courtesy of the Iofe Foundation

One of the motives for founding an “island of liberty” like the commune on Primorsky was the desire to live an independent life and leave home.

“It was a way of dropping out of society,” Skobov said in a 1991 interview.

The commune was created not simply as vehicle for internal emigration and distancing from Soviet reality, but also as an alternative cultural and ideological space based on establishing certain shared values of freedom and mocking certain existing official norms. This was expressed even in the commune’s interior decor, including yellow walls with wild strawberries drawn on them and homemade ironic posters that played off Soviet and western symbols. The parodic decrees and decisions issued by the Yellow Submarine and its separate “holds,” as well as poems and songs that turned propagandistic clichés inside out, were an ironic response to the meaningless words of the official Soviet discourse. One inhabitant of the commune on Primorsky, Igor Malsky, even claimed that the communards collectively invented the folklore genre “sadistic verse.” The peak of the commune’s creative powers is considered the “rock poem” “Lazha” (“Crap”), among whose characters one can recognize the residents of the Yellow Submarine.

ys_10Felix Vinogradov, Seal of the Yellow Submarine commune, 1977. Image courtesy of Felix and Maria Vinogradov

In an interview with us, Skobov said that his idea, subsequently, of engaging in political activity, printing flyers, etc., came to him while living in the commune. Many participants named as their motive for moving into the commune the “total crap,” i.e., the lies that surrounded the celebrations of the October Revolution’s sixtieth anniversary and the adoption of the new Soviet constitution [in 1977]. As for revolutionary sentiments, Skobov said that those went no further than kitchen table conversations “berating the authorities.”

Daily life in the commune took shape as in a large family: arguments periodically arose among its inhabitants. The commune was supported by various means, but everyone tried to contribute in accordance with the main rule, “a little bit from everyone each day”: one person received a university stipend, another was working, while a third person “dragged it out of  their parents.” The refuge itself was a two-story wooden house whose first floor belonged to the “dissidents,” and the second to the “hippies.”

“Two rooms, two kitchens, a wooden staircase. All of it was quite exotic, except for the fact that the decor was even more exotic,” Skobov said when describing the interior. The commune residents took care of decorating and the “cozy touches” themselves.

We can divide the commune into two ideological centers: those who took part in publishing Perspektiva magazine (which was originally Skobov’s initiative), and those who were “Soviet hippies.” For example, Felix Vinogradov, one of the commune’s founders, was interested exclusively in the cultural aspect of the process—art, music, lifestyle, and language. All of it was inspired by western ideas of nonconformism, hence his choice of name for the commune.  His opposite number was Alexei Khavin, another striking member of the Primorsky scene. He was actively involved in the protest movement: he typed up leaflets on a typewriter in the commune and wrote articles criticizing the government for Perspektiva. Khavin was eager to go beyond kitchen conversations and do something more concrete.

The confrontation between the inhabitants of the first and second floors of the commune—the more bourgeois “upper level” and the anarchic “lower level”—at times began to resemble the intensity of a cold civil war, complete with mutual insults, reproaches, and accusations. [Andrei Antonenko and Felix Vinogradov, press release for the exhibition The Yellow Submarine Commune, 1977–2007]

This internal division could not but determine the community’s fate. Felix Vinogradov was the first to leave the house on Primorsky, followed by almost all the hippies.

The KGB took an interest in our magazine: its destruction was imminent, and our commune was threatened along with it. They didn’t nab us at the house itself. The thing was that its residents felt that something was brewing and departed to their own homes. My friend from the university, an idealistic hippie, rented apartments for the commune with me, and his father was a colonel in the Border Guards, and they were under the KGB. He worked in [the KGB’s famous local headquarters] on Liteiny Prospect. It was then a rather widespread phenomenon, not only here but also in Europe: the children of wealthy parents and security forces officers turned into hippies. And so this hippie’s dad pulled up to the house in a small truck filled with soldiers. They loaded up his things and drove him and his wife away. The others understood what was going on, and they left too. [Alexander Skobov, “Our Oppositional Communism Was an Oddity”]

ys_15Alexander Skobov, Tatiana Komarova, and Felix Vinogradov, 1977. Photo courtesy of Felix and Marina Vinogradov

The only residents remaining were those who were primarily interested in publishing Perspektiva and were organizing a meeting of opposition groups, which the New Left group planned to hold on the Karelian Isthmus. But because information about the upcoming meeting was leaked to the KGB, the group’s members were also forced to urgently remove everything from the commune having to do with their political activities. Alexander Skobov and Arkady Tsurkov were soon arrested, and the apartments of other members of the New Left group were searched, while the house on Primorsky Prospect was completely abandoned. After the dissidents left their Yellow Submarine, the house was razed, and no photos of it remain. But the phenomenon of the Yellow Submarine commune itself is one of the most striking examples of the “islands of freedom” adrift in the space of Soviet Leningrad.

Further Reading
Interview with Alexander Skobov, recorded at Memorial Research and Information Centre, 1991. Iofe Foundation Electronic Archive

Juliane Fürst, “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine: Life in a Leningrad Commune,” in Juliane Fürst and Josie McLellan, eds., Dropping Out of Socialism: Alternative Spheres in the Soviet Bloc (New York, 2016), 179–207

Alexei Sochnev, “Our Oppositional Communism Was an Oddity,” Russkaya Planeta, March 19, 2014 [Interview with Alexander Skobov]

A.F. Belousov, “Igor Malsky’s Memoir ‘The Crooked Mirror of Reality’: On the Origin of Sadistic Verse,” Lotman Anthology, vol. 1 (Moscow, 1995), pp. 681–690

Thanks to Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up. Translated by Mary Rees

 

Operation Pigsty (“Condoning Terrorism”)

merkulov-pezhichAlexander Merkulov (aka Aleksandr Peĵiĉ), pictured here, is the sixteenth person in Russia to face prosecution for “condoning terrorism”—that is, for publicly mentioning in print (virtual or otherwise) Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s alleged suicide bombing of the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices on October 31, 2018, and trying to understand his motives. Photo from Merkulov’s VK page courtesy of Elena Popova

Elena Popova
Facebook
July 9, 2020

We had only just sighed in relief that Svetlana Prokopyeva had not been sentenced to six years in prison, but had been fined simply for trying to talk about the need to deal with the reasons that push people toward terrorism, when suddenly there is a report of a new criminal case on charges of “condoning terrorism.”

Aleksandr Peĵiĉ is opposed to [compulsory] military service and violence.

I know him online, I saw him once offline.

I’m very worried about him. I wish him strength, health, and a speedy release.

“Condoning terrorism” doesn’t mean publishing a little post on Vkontakte about the bombing at the FSB building in Arkhangelsk.

“Condoning terrorism” is when investigators refuse to open criminal investigations into allegations of torture, when judges ignore testimony by defendants that they have been tortured. The FSB is the main terrorist.

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Petersburger Charged with “Condoning Terrorism” over Vkontakte Posts on Bombing of Arkhangelsk FSB Directorate 
Mediazona
July 8, 2020

According to the Russian Investigative Committee’s website, charges have been filed against a 23-year-old Petersburg man under Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code (“condoning terrorism”) over posts on VKontakte about the bombing in the reception area of the FSB’s Arkangelsk Directorate [on October 31, 2018].

According to investigators, from November 2018 to October 2019, the Petersburg man published posts about the bombing on VKontakte that “acknowledged the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct and warranting support and emulation, with the aim of encouraging others to carry out terrorist acts.”

According to Interfax, the man in question is Alexander Merkulov, who works as a food delivery person for a Petersburg restaurant. Investigators say that Merkulov was registered on VKontakte under the nickname Aleksandr Peĵiĉ. Fontanka.ru has identified Merkulov as a member of the LGBT movement and moderator of a social media community page devoted to Eurovision contestant Bilal Hassani.

The Petersburg court system’s press service told Fontanka.ru that the October District Court had remanded Merkulov in custody until September 5. Allegedly, he has fully admitted his guilt.

A bombing occurred at the Arkhangelsk Regional Directorate of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) [on October 31, 2018]. The bomb was, allegedly, detonated by 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky. In the wake of the incident, people around Russia have been criminally charged with “condoning terrorism” for making statements about Zhlobitsky.

Alexander Merkulov is the sixteenth person in Russia who has been prosecuted for, charged with, or accused of “exonerating” or “condoning” the alleged suicide bombing in the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices by Mikhail Zhlobitsky on October 31, 2018. The others are Alexei Shibanov, Nadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinSvetlana ProkopyevaAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Thanks to Yana Teplitskaya for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Operation “Pigsty”
Alexander Skobov
Grani.ru
July 6, 2020

Svetlana Prokopyeva did not even remotely “condone terrorism.” She merely tried to draw attention to its causes. I condone terrorism and, in some cases, I even approve of it. I condone the terrorism of the People’s Will. I approve of the terrorism of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs). I approve of the murder by Yegor Dulebov, a member of the SR’s Combat Organization, of Ufa governor-general Nikolai Bogdanovich, who had ordered soldiers to fire on workers protesting outside the home of a mining chief. (The so-called Zlatoust Massacre of 1903 left 69 people dead and 250 wounded.) I approve of the murder of Tambov provincial councillor Gavriil Luzhenovsky, who had distinguished himself in his crackdowns against revolutionary demonstrations, by Maria Spiridonova, future leader of the Left SRs.

The word “terrorism” refers to two very different concepts. One meaning is a politically motivated armed attack by people who are not representatives of the official state power on representatives of the official state power. In this sense, all partisans, insurgents, or mutineers (choose the word you like depending on your degree of sympathy for them) who are engaged in armed struggle with the government are “terrorists.” It is in this sense that the word “terrorists” is used by all governments facing armed resistance. For them, all insurgents are terrorists.

Another meaning of the word “terrorism” is a politically motivated attack by any group of armed people on any group of unarmed people. In this sense, the Russian National Guard troops who disperse a peaceful rally are just as much terrorists as a person who blows up subway passengers. This is not to mention the Russian occupation forces who bombed and shelled Chechen cities and the columns of refugees escaping them. They are the real terrorists. This is terrorism in the bad sense of the word. Terrorism in this sense cannot be condoned. Terrorism in the first sense of the word can be condoned and even approved.

On August 22, 1978, a group of Sandinista guerrillas fighting the hereditary dictatorship of the Somoza clan took the dictator’s entire puppet “congress” hostage. Somoza had turned the “congress” into a sinecure for relatives and friends. Somoza was forced to back down. The Sandinista manifesto was read on the radio, and around a hundred guerrillas and political prisoners were released from prison. Well, and if we’re being honest, the “terrorists” were also given a little money on top for their muskets, which cost money, too. The guerrillas were provided transport to the airport. On the way, their convoy was greeted by enthusiastic crowds.

The whole thing was called Operation “Pigsty.” It was organized and led by Edén Pastora, whose subsequent career was a topsy-turvy affair. After Somoza was defeated, Pastora opposed his own recent comrades-in-arms when he saw signs that tyranny was re-emerging in Nicaragua. Then he made up with them, after which he fell out with them again and (again) reconciled with them.

Pastora was drawn, of course, to the comrades of his youth. But as an old man he sold out completely. In 2018, he supported violent crackdowns on mass protests against pension reforms. (Yes, there were “pension reforms” in Nicaragua, too!) Pastora organized squads of titushky. It was a sad ending to the guerrilla commander’s long life. But he will still go down in history as the organizer and leader of Operation “Pigsty.”

I condone, and sometimes approve of, terrorism. If the beings who cynically and viciously fabricated the case of Svetlana Prokopyeva turned into victims, I would feel no sympathy for them. I regret that Russia does not have its own Eden Pastora, someone who could carry out, say, Operation “Tereshkovnik” surgically and bloodlessly, even if he sold out later. So, to be clear: this text of mine amounts to “condoning terrorism,” not what Prokopyeva said. Feel the difference.

Blessed are those who take up arms against tyranny. And no criminal laws can prohibit people from expressing sympathy with them. The ancient Athenians revered the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton as national heroes, and composed poems about them. They were the first mortals to be honored with (paired) bronze statues on the Acropolis. In a Russia liberated from Putin’s evil spirits, there will be a monument to Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk headquarters. There will also be a monument to Khava Barayeva, who blew herself up along with Russian occupiers. The monument will be erected in Moscow.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Skobov: The Myth of “Good” Liberals in Power

toppala

Alexander Skobov
Facebook
August 18, 2019

I have to reiterate my fundamental disagreement with mainstream liberal political analysts. Stated briefly, their big idea is that the Russian political elite consists of two parties, so-called civic liberals, who support bourgeois modernization, and the security forces, who support the restoration of the Soviet Union in both its manifestations—as a totalitarian political regime and as an economy totally subordinated to the state. All recent events are thus interpreted in the light of the alleged struggle between the two parties, i.e., the party of the security forces has gone on a decisive offensive.

This is a liberal myth. The Russian liberal crowd, who are mainly right-wing liberals, concocted the story that increasing crackdowns and the Putin mafia state’s transition from a soft-core authoritarian imitation democracy to a hard-core authoritarian regime has been opposed by a party of court (systemic) liberals, a party informally led by former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin.

Can anyone produce even a single bit of evidence corroborating the so-called Kudrin party’s opposition to the policy of increasing crackdowns? Right-wing liberals would tell me the Kudrinistas are forced to act out of the public eye and play by the rules governing infighting among courtiers (apparatchiks). The fact this infighting has no outward manifestations is no proof that there is no showdown between the two parties, they would argue.

Let’s assume this is true. Where, however, did Russia liberals get the idea there is even one cause for such a showdown? Kudrin and other systemic right-wing liberals have always advocated an authoritarian modernization in which a “progressive” elite imposes unpopular social and economic reforms on the unwashed masses with an iron hand. By and large, their ideal is shared by the so-called Russian fascists, i.e., the “patriots” and statists. The occupation regime running mainland China carried out the very same economic reforms after crushing dissenters on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Has Mr. Kudrin ever said publicly that he is a principled opponent of such methods of strangling the opposition? He has not. Then why have Russian liberals decided he opposes the mass detention of peaceful citizens for protesting in public at certain times?

Liberals should stop imagining they have intercessors in the top ranks of the Putin organized crime group. There are no such intercessors.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

When the Masks Come Off

800px-Red_Guards

Alexander Skobov
Don’t Underestimate the Enemy
Grani.ru
May 14, 2015

Igor Yakovenko has questioned the sanity of those MPs who supported Red Guardist Irina Yarovaya’s latest amendments to the anti-extremism laws. At issue is a ban on travel abroad for people whom the FSB has issued a warning about the inadmissibility of activities that, in the FSB’s opinion, are potentially fraught with terrorism, war, and genocide. Under the current rules for issuing warnings, no formal grounds are needed except the opinion of the agency issuing the warning. Meaning that if it wishes, the FSB can crank out warnings to anyone whose activities the authorities simply do not countenance.

Yakovenko asks, why not let the undesirables leave the country if you cannot stand them? Let them leave and thus reduce the ranks of the so-called fifth column. These measures will not stop an increase in protests, and if protests do kick off, they will only add fuel to the fire. Yakovenko’s conclusion is that the folks on the other side of politics are completely off their rockers. But I would not underestimate the enemy’s intellectual capacities. Yes, they suffer from an acute totalitarian itch to ban and restrict. But they know what they are doing.

In my opinion, Yarovaya’s notorious amendment to ban travel for “warnees” is absolutely rational and quite precisely calculated. It is targeted at the segment of Russian society that,  according to Yakovenko himself, suffers from pathological anemia and dystrophia of the will. These are successful and well-off people who still believe that if they have done nothing unauthorized, they will get off scot-free for their not entirely loyalist public activism. They have become accustomed to the fact that one can be involved in not entirely loyalist but quite respectable and moderate media, cultural, and human rights projects without especially risking one’s own comfort. Our stunted civil society largely rests on such lovers of performing  “small deeds” in their spare time.

And now take a guess at what percentage of these outstanding people would be willing to sacrifice travel abroad for the sake of continuing their outstanding social activism, who would be willing to sacrifice the principal attribute of the post-Soviet lifestyle, without which life would be unthinkable? Anyone like Yarovaya would realize that the majority of them will choose either to give up their activism or leave the country before receiving a warning. To predict these people’s future behavior it suffices to recall Ksenia Sobchak’s recent philosophical musings about the lives of frogs.

And where will all these popular newsmakers find themselves if they are banned from leaving the country for the piquant statements they occasionally permit themselves in public? This is not to mention the fact that many civic initiatives will simply be paralyzed if the people involved in them cannot take numerous business trips and attend various international clambakes.  The current regime is quite consistently pushing for the complete suffocation of not only the independent but even the semi-independent civic organizations that have managed to stay afloat. The period when Putin’s clique had a stake in maintaining a legal oppositional ghetto on the margins of public life, thus imparting a certain seemliness to its own image, has come to an end. In recent years, this image has become so disfigured the Kremlin has lost interest in touching it up. It has realized it no longer has anything to lose.

And so there will no longer be any legal bounds vouchsafing the opposition from crackdowns. Any public organization that violates the informal ban on discussing issues the regime finds touchy will be crushed. All the Kremlin’s recent significant steps, beginning with Moskalkova’s appointment and ending with the latest round of purges of semi-independent media, have been focused on this. In this long series of steps, however, the ability to ban any undesirable from traveling abroad is a symbolic step. It finally undermines the social milieu whose entire life strategy was built on the proposition that however disgusting Putinist authoritarianism was, it was better than Soviet totalitarianism because the freedom to travel abroad existed. That meant one could live with it, adapt to it, and come to terms with it. By obeying certain rules imposed by the regime, one could maintain a minimal amount of freedom.

This slightly dissatisfied milieu has become used to living high on the hog. Our consumptive civil society must come to its natural biological end. It must be replaced by professional revolutionaries who will have no such problems since their activism conforms with the law as interpreted by people who have arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to interpret it. For them, Yarovaya’s fascist laws will be neither more nor less than a profound insult to their moral sensibilities.

Alexander Skobov, a left-liberal writer and activist, is a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. Image courtesy of Wikipedia