Four and half years ago, we got the hell out of the city and settled in the country. Three circumstances happily combined to facilitate this: the issue of an apartment, which had been suffocating us; metal fatigue, so to speak; and the lack of the need to go to the office.
By this time I was grazing on the abundant meadows of freelancing, earning money as I had never earned by translating from German, writing articles for the German media, and working as a fixer for German reporters. After the tedium of an office human rights job, I had the sense I had finally yielded to sin, and my fall was as predictable as it was sweet.
Since then, the four of us have become five, the kids play in a two-story house, and I have my own study, where I pen valuable eternities, like Solzhenitsyn in Vermont. And then I go outside and deal with eternal values, like the roof, the sewer, firewood, sawdust, and so on.
I’ve long been able to earn a living without leaving the house, and increasingly I have no idea why I should go to the city. More and more often, my trips to the city are limited to the airport.
Time and distance have a salutary effect on mind and nerves. I have a nervous mind, and the big city and its hysterical intensity were claiming both my mind and my nerves. Life in the country is wonderful for its emptiness. It is your personal responsibility to fill the emptiness.
So, despite outward deprivations, my year has been peaceful and successful thanks to new ideas and the new wonderful people who have appeared in our midst recently, most of them in virtual space. In 2018, I would like to devirtualize my relationships with most of you. As for old friends, I would just like to see you.
With the beautiful Natasha Panova, without whom none of this would have happened.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of panoramio.com
The mishmash in people’s heads also comes in a number of flavors. Sometimes, you come across thermonuclear mixtures.
In October, we took a former police investigator who had worked on Petersburg’s major case squad to a round table of European prosecutors in Sofia. The man knows everything about Putin, all the nitty-gritty, all the cases from the early 1990s, the ties with organized crime, the origins of the Ozero Dacha Co-op, and how nearly its entire membership later migrated to the board of Rossiya Bank.
The cop ran the investigation of the Twentieth Trust Corporation, unofficially dubbed the Putin case, until September 2000, meaning when the dude was already president. Subsequently, of course, the case was shut down, and the investigator was put out to pasture.
I can confidently say the former investigator still has the most complete and systematized knowledge of Putin’s background.
In Sofia, however, this same man suddenly went completely off topic and publicly babbled something to the effect Ukraine should have been punished long ago, we will show them all, Russian liberals take orders from the US State Department, and other splendid nonsense.
After the event, I asked him what he had been going on about. He knew perfectly well what a criminal Putin was, but he had apologized for his other crimes.
His response was that in terms of domestics politics Putin was a criminal, but he supported him to the hilt when it came to foreign policy. It was a good thing, he said, Putin was president, and not the investigator himself. Otherwise, something disastrous would have happened to the world long ago, whereas Putin had preserved the peace.
Now that, if I am not mistaken, is a total muddle.
They are f***ed in the head. They are flying in droves over our house. They are launching rockets at random. They are Soviet rockets and they might fall on somebody. The wife urgently wants us to insure the house and wonders whether insurance would cover a chopper crashing in the garden.
The apotheosis happened on the afternoon of the fifteenth, when Pavel Antonov and I were having a round table on Skype with European prosecutors. (A little cheeky, of course.) Suddenly, the house shook with a roar, black shadows flashed on the ground, and a multi-gunned monster flew out of the Mshinsk Marshes. Our sons counted twenty-four fully-equipped battle helicopters.
You in the west are quite right to be tense. But hang on. This country will destroy itself. That is how it has always been.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of the author
Almost everyone in our precinct has had their court hearing and been convicted. Nearly everyone who tried to file appeals and not plead guilty was given the maximum sentence: up to fourteen days in jail + fines of 10,000 rubles and greater. Those who plead guilty and make no attempt to defend themselves get off easier: one of them got three days in jail. The only person in our precinct who got off without a jail term was the husband of a pregnant woman.
In this regard, everyone’s mood is dominated by legal nihilism. They have been chewing out the human rights activists, who they say have only made things worse. Apparently, that is the real objective of all these hearings.
By the by, there are truly random people among the detainees in our precinct, but they are more aggressive towards people like me than to the authorities. They give the protesters and human rights activists hell, and ask why we’re dissatisfied. (After thirty hours in police custody, there in other word for this than Stockholm syndrome.) [One person who commented on the original post, in Russian, suggested that these “random people” were, in fact, police provocateurs and spies. Planting them in the cells of political prisoners and dissidents had been a common practice under the Soviets—TRR.]
One of these random detainees is a lawyer. He came down on everyone harder than anyone else, saying we should withdraw our appeals and refuse legal assistance. What irony: he has a master’s degree in law.
Before they are sent to the detention center, the police forcibly take everyone’s fingerprints, although this is against the law.
We are in a decent precinct. The conditions are terribly unsanitary and crowded, but the staff treat us like human beings. They let us charge our telephones, let us have smoke breakes, and sometimes even take us to the can, where there is an actual toilet, not a stinky hole in the floor. On the other hand, among themselves they talk about how everyone who protested on the Field of Mars did it because they had been promised 5,000 rubles.
Yesterday, we spent the night in the cells. There were sixteen bodies and six beds, but we had mattresses, pillows, and bed linens even. Today, non-political prisoners were brought to the cells. (When one of them refused to remove his crucifix, four officers threw him on the floor, cuffed him, and forcibly removed the crucifix. Another of these prisoners is obviously in a bad way. He beats the walls, scratches the window until he bleeds, and screams. He wet himself in his cell, but no one has any intention of taking him to hospital.) So we spend the night sitting in the corridor.
Me and one other young man have still not been taken to court for our hearings.
Andrey Kalikh Facebook
Saint Petersburg, Russia
June 14, 2017
St. Petersburg’s Frunzensky District Court is the apotheosis of evil. The hearings began at eleven p.m. One, apparently very angry judge is handling the cases. Everyone is being sentenced to ten to fifteen days in jail, plus they are fined ten thousand to fifteen thousand rubles. We fearfully await the sentence he will give our friend the father with four children.
People are kept on the bus before the hearings. They are exhausted, the conditions are tortuous, and something has to be done about this court. It is monstrous.
UPDATE. Our dad with four children emerged from the courthouse at two in the morning. He had been fined 10,700 rubles [approx. 167 euros]. He said that of the 106 people who had been sentenced at that point, only six had got off with fines. Everyone else had been sentenced to five to fifteen days in jail, plus had been fined ten thousand to fifteen thousand rubles.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade SK and Andrey Kalikh for the heads-up