An endless stream of Muscovites and out-of-town visitors headed to the concert marking the anniversary of Crimea’s “annexation.” And only the lonely voice of a man, heard by a few and jotted on a piece of paper on Tverskaya, quietly resisted the general hysteria.
Photograph by Vadim F. Lurie. Thanks for his kind permission to reproduce it here and translate his annotation. Translated by the Russian Reader
Now, two years later, it is clear the annexation of Crimea has had only negative consequences for Russia. Crimea set off a chain reaction that gave rise to the war in eastern Ukraine (which would never had happened if not for the annexation) and, later, the military action in Syria, leaving thousands of people killed and producing hundred of thousands of refugees. Ukraine, Russia’s closest neighbor, has been made an enemy for years to come. Nobody in the world has publicly supported the annexation. In fact, most countries in the world have condemned it. Russia has been excluded from a number of international organizations and clubs, where its voice is no longer taken into account, meaning a huge blow has been dealt to the country’s image and its international status. The sanctions have greatly exacerbated the economic crisis, which has hit the quality of life in Russia hard. The number of poor people has increased, investments have decreased, and future prospects have worsened. The annexation has opened the way for the rise of hysteria and aggression and a political clampdown at home. This has had a devastating effect on culture, human relations, and human rights, and has generated all the conditions for Russia’s political self-destruction. The negative consequences are so numerous that it will be difficult to turn the situation in a positive direction. If the annexation continues, however, these negative effects will continue to grow. In terms of Russia’s interests, it was definitely a rash, mistaken, and criminal move.
EU urges more countries to impose sanctions on Russia over Crimea
Robin Emmott and Dmitry Solovyov Reuters
March 18, 2016
BRUSSELS/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The European Union called on Friday for more countries to impose sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula two years ago, but the Kremlin said Crimea was Russian land and its status non-negotiable.
In a statement issued on the anniversary of the formal absorption of Crimea into Russia, the 28-nation EU said it was very worried about Moscow’s military build-up in the region.
The EU also said it would maintain sanctions that ban European companies from investing in Russian Black Sea oil and gas exploration.
“The European Union remains committed to fully implementing its non-recognition policy, including through restrictive measures,” the European Council, which represents EU governments, said in its statement. “The EU calls again on U.N. member states to consider similar non-recognition measures.”
The Kremlin responded by saying the issue of Crimea could not be “a matter of negotiations or international contacts”.
“Our position is known: this is a region of the Russian Federation. Russia has not discussed and will never discuss its regions with anyone,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a teleconference with reporters.
“In this case we should treat with respect the expression of the will of Crimean residents and the decision which was taken two years ago,” he said.
Peskov was referring to Crimea’s referendum on secession from Ukraine in March 2014, which was followed by a formal request from the local parliament to the Russian Federation to admit it as a new subject with the status of a republic.
On Friday Putin will visit the construction site of a bridge being built to Crimea across the Kerch Strait to connect the Russian mainland with the peninsula, Peskov added.
NATO and the EU are concerned by Russia’s military build-up in Crimea, which they say is part of a strategy to set up defensive zones of influence with surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-ship missiles.
As well as the EU, the United States, Japan and other major economies including Australia and Canada have also imposed sanctions on Russia over Crimea, but others including China and Brazil have avoided direct criticism of Moscow.
The 28-nation EU imposed its Crimea sanctions in July 2014 and then tightened them in December 2014, banning EU citizens from buying or financing companies in Crimea, whose annexation has prompted the worst East-West stand-off since the Cold War.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, an armed separatist revolt erupted in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine that Kiev and its Western backers said was fueled and funded by Moscow. Russia denies the charges.
Alexander Reznik Back to the Future: Why Putin Criticizes Lenin RBC
January 26, 2016
Vladimir Putin has condemned Lenin for ideas that, in the president’s opinion, led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the ideas were those of Stalin, whom the head of state has avoided criticizing.
The Flow of Thought
On January 21, 2016, Vladimir Putin gave rise to another round of quasi-historical debate. Summarizing a discussion on reforming the Russian Academy of Sciences at a session of the Council for Science and Education, the president reacted to an excerpt from a poem by Pasternak, as quoted by the head of the Kurchatov Institute: “He managed the flow of thought[s] and, only thus, the country.”
Pasternak was writing about Lenin, and the president ventured his opinion of Lenin, too.
“It is right to manage the flow of thought. Only it is important that the thought leads to the desired result, not as it did in the case of Vladimir Ilyich. But the idea itself is correct. Ultimately, the idea led to the Soviet Union’s collapse, that is what. There were many such thoughts: autonomization and so on. They planted an atomic bomb under the edifice known as Russia. It did, in fact, blow up later. And we had no need of world revolution.”
Thus, consciously or not, the president marked the anniversary of the death of the Soviet Union’s founder. Many observers were quick to detect a hidden message in his remarks and once again raised the question of burying Lenin’s body. (Dmitry Peskov, the president’s press secretary, had to quickly announce that this issue “was not on the agenda.”) It is more likely that the remarks, delivered as the curtain was falling on a boring meeting, were made on the spur of the moment.
Putin had obviously specially prepared for his speech at the January 25 interregional forum of the Russian Popular Front in order to smooth over the impression made by his previous remarks. Replying to a question about Lenin’s reburial, he outlined his views on socialism in more detail. He admitted he had always “liked communist and socialist ideas,” and he compared the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism to the Bible. Later, the president mentioned mass repressions, including the “most egregious example,” the execution of the tsar and his family, the “breakdown of the front” during the First World War, and the inefficiency of the planned economy. Finally, Putin separately addressed the question of why, from his viewpoint, Lenin had been wrong in his dispute with Stalin over the nationalities question: Lenin had wanted “full equality, with the right to secede from the Soviet Union” for the republics.
“And that [was like] a time bomb under the edifice of our state,” said Putin, literally repeating what he had said in an 1991 interview. To strengthen the effect, he mentioned the transfer of Donbass to Ukraine.
Who Planted the Bomb and What Kind of Bomb Was It
Historians will find it difficult to ignore that in the first instance Putin has mistakenly attributed to Lenin the idea of autonomization, which meant the inclusion of territorial entities in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In reality, on December 30 and 31, 1922, Lenin dictated a few notes, which were included in the leader’s so-called political testament.
“I suppose I have been very remiss with respect to the workers of Russia for not having intervened energetically and decisively enough in the notorious question of autonomization, which, it appears, is officially called the question of the Soviet socialist republics,” wrote Lenin.
His secretaries called these notes a “bomb,” so evident was their explosive effect, since they were directed against the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Joseph Stalin, who was accused of a “Great-Russian nationalist campaign.” As a centralist principle, Lenin wrote, autonomization was “radically wrong and badly timed.” It was necessary to “maintain and strengthen the union of socialist republics” and be more sensitive to the nationalism of “oppressed peoples.” The union’s republics were granted the constitutional right to secede from the Soviet Union.
Formally, Lenin’s policy was approved, and thanks to the policy of indigenization, which historian Terry Martin has christened “affirmative action,” the 1920s were the heyday of national cultures. But by bypassing the Constitution and Party Congress resolutions, Stalin’s project gradually emerged victorious. By the late 1980s, the federal principles of Soviet power had been discredited as a screen concealing Moscow’s omnipotence as the center. So it is, at least, naive to believe that the presence of the constitutional right to secede from the Soviet Union (and Lenin’s responsibility for it) played a crucial role in the disintegration of the Soviet state.
At the Russian Popular Front forum, Putin clarified that, from the outset, he “had in mind the discussion between Stalin and Lenin about how to build a new state, the Soviet Union.” His speech showed that Putin’s attitude towards Lenin’s revolutionary project as a whole was not very different from that of establishment experts and commentators. Liberals, conservatives, members of the opposition, and “patriots” can forge a bond in their rejection of socialism, radicalism, and similar -isms. It suffices to carefully examine the responses to Putin’s speech to notice that dislike of Lenin is quite sincere and sometimes jealously competitive. Setting aside conservative fetishists of all things Soviet, sympathy for Lenin, on the other hand, remains the bailiwick of leftist intellectuals.
Putin’s activist dislike of Lenin is noteworthy, given his demonstrative neutrality towards Stalin. In Putin’s view, although Stalin was a dictator guilty of mass repressions, he de facto rejected Lenin’s revolutionary maximalism. We cannot rule out that the president has taken into account the growth of public sympathy for Stalin, warmed by the economic crisis and political developments in Syria and Ukraine.
Interest in the topic of the Soviet Union’s collapse may well be regarded as the hint of a veiled threat to today’s Russia that at some point can be used as the ideological basis, for example, of a public mobilization against “enemies.”
A Revolution for New Needs
The excitement generated by the statements of leading politicians about the distant past casts a negative light on Russia’s intellectual and political culture. The centennial of the 1917 Revolution is approaching. We can hardly expect success from the government’s project of reconciling the Whites, Reds, and Greens, as proposed by the culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky. Rather, the symbolic resources of the Russian Civil War will be exploited for the production of more and more new conflicts, as was the case with the Great Patriotic War. On the lines of the Banderites, it will be easy to construct new imaginary enemies of Russia. The president has discovered one such group of national traitors, revolutionaries and especially Bolsheviks. It will be harder to find heroes, but here the market, which previously has been successful in selling the image of Admiral Kolchak, will lend a helping hand.
In these memory wars, academic scholarship, which cultivates the specific language of dialogue and therefore seldom provides simple and definitive answers to debatable issues, will hardly be heard. Thus, Pasternak’s line about “managing the flow of thoughts,” which flustered Vladimir Putin, takes on a particularly alarming ring.
Alexander Reznik is a senior researcher at Perm State University and a member of the Free Historical Society. Translated by the Russian Reader
Deportation of Crimean Tatars Remembered in Petersburg David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
May 20, 2015
On May 19, Petersburg democracy activists commemorated the Soviet Stalinist government’s mass deportation of Crimean Tartars on May 18, 1944. Activists held a series of solo pickets on Nevsky Prospect before gathering for an evening event at Open Space, a co-working venue run by the organization St. Petersburg Election Observers.
Several activists, including Vsevolod Nechayev, leader of the Democratic Petersburg coalition, Andrey Zyrkunov of the liberal-democratic party Yabloko, and Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev, a famous local activist, took to the city’s main street with placards calling on fellow citizens to remember the anniversary of the deportation and blaming the current Russian authorities for preventing commemorations in Crimea itself.
Local activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev picketing on Nevsky Prospect, May 19, 2015. His placard reads, “Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars is a crime with no statute of limitations! A people’s memory cannot be murdered! Even according to the NKVD’s statistics, 44,887 deportees from Crimea died in 1944–1945.”
Apparently inured to pickets and demonstrations of various kinds, passersby mostly exhibited indifference. A couple of young men attempted to harass the protesters, but most passersby merely glanced at the picketers before continuing on their way.
Picketer handing out leaflets on Nevsky Prospect, May 19, 2015
In the evening, activists gathered at Open Space to continue their commemorations. Alexandra Krylenkova, leader of St. Petersburg Election Observers, is field coordinator of the Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights.
Activists viewed a documentary film about the deportation and chatted with Asan Mumdzhi, a member of the Crimean Tatar community in Petersburg.
They also talked via Skype with Zair Smedlya, head of the Qurultay of the Crimean Tatar People. Smedlya described the current situation in the Crimea. Police arrest protesters en masse even at authorized protests and auto rallies, but generally the authorities refuse to grant permission to hold such events.
“The same old story,” muttered someone in the audience.
The current Crimean authorities have tried to turn the commemoration of the 1944 deportation into a celebration of the fact that President Putin signed a decree “rehabilitating” the Crimean Tatars on April 21 of this year.
Mumdzhi compared this to Jews being “rehabilitated” by Germans.
Smedlya also claimed that people had been arrested for carrying Ukrainian flags, which is not illegal.
“Crimean policemen didn’t know the Ukrainian laws. Now they do not know the Russian laws,” Smedlya quipped.
The gathering ended with a screening of the Crimean Tatar-language film Haytarma, which tells the story of the highly decorated Soviet fighter pilot Amet-khan Sultan, who accidentally witnessed the deportation and managed to keep his family in Crimea.