Out of Sight, Out of Mind

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Monument to Emperor Nicholas I, the so-called gendarme of Europe, on St. Isaac’s Square in Petersburg, 13 October 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

Below the fold you’ll find an angry screed I wrote on Facebook a year ago. Since nothing has changed for the better since then, it’s as relevant today as it was then. Thanks to Comrade RA for the reminder. TRR

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Here’s the kicker. You literally cannot see almost any reaction on the part of almost any Russians to this mayhem in Syria caused by their government, none at all. Middle-class Russians and Russian intellectuals continue to lead their lives as they have before, chockablock with business and leisure trips to other parts of the “civilized world,” and other, more important activities. They don’t give a second’s thought to what is happening in Syria for one simple reason: because Islamophobia, if this is possible, is even more widespread in Russia than in Europe and the US. The Syrians blown to bits on a daily basis by Russian bombs are not just abstractions to Russians; they’re hateful abstractions, “terrorists.”

Most importantly, it would be news to 99.999% of Russians that the war in Syria started as a grassroots, non-violent, non-sectarian, extraordinarily popular, and extraordinarily determined revolution against the vicious, monstrous regime of Bashar Assad. A revolution that Assad has drowned in blood and used foreign allies (Hezbollah, the Iranians, and now the Russians) to put down.

The reason this would be news to most Russians is not only that their Goebbelsesque TV channels have been lying to them about what is happening in Syria (when they bother to talk about it at all, which is not always the case) but that they don’t want to hear news about more determined, more popular grassrooots revolutions against corrupt tyrants in other countries, because their own “snow revolution” of 2011–2012 was such an abortive miserable failure.

That is the other kicker. Since Putin faced popular discontent in 2011–2012 in a more or less visible form, he has become even more keen on the half-baked notion that all such popular uprisings are instigated by outside forces and powers. So now, echoing Emperor Nicholas I in the nineteenth century, he has dedicated himself to restoring Russia’s great power status by acting as a reactionary, anti-revolutionary gendarme in countries like Ukraine and Syria.

But this discussion is utterly moot in Russia itself, where way too many people are way too fond of their being “civilized” (i.e., being “white”) to give a thought to the untermenschen their bombs are obliterating in a “non-white,” “uncivilized” country like Syria.

Since they are not forced to think about it, they’d rather not think about it all. And they don’t.

What Russia Means to Me

Fyodor Vasilyev, The Thaw, 1871. Oil on canvas, 107 x 53.5 cm. Image courtesy of Wikiart
Fyodor Vasilyev, The Thaw, 1871. Oil on canvas, 107 x 53.5 cm. Image courtesy of Wikiart

A Circus, Psychopaths, and a Great Power: We Found Out What You Associate Russia With 
Guberniya Daily (Petrozavodsk)
June 14, 2016

On Friday [June 10], on the eve of Russia Day, we asked what you associate our country with. We suggested more or less decent answers and waited for the results to roll in. Ultimately, we learned that many of you associate our country with “a circus,” “psychopaths,” and “corruption.” And also with Putin. We got the impression that the respondents lived in different countries: some had it all bad, while others, on the contrary, had it all good. That is why a serious discussion, numbering over a hundred comments, broke out below the survey. So let us have a look at what many people associate Russia with.

First, the results of the survey:

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“I associate Russia with . . .” Putin: 204 votes, 22%; Bears, balalaikas, and vodka, of course: 125 votes, 13.5%; The tricolor, the double-headed eagle, and other symbols: 70 votes, 7.5%; Souvenirs: matryoshka dolls, Gzhel ceramics, Khokhloma tableware, etc: 43 votes, 4.6%; Stern men in uniform: 38 votes, 4.1%; The ballet, the theater, and the arts generally: 41 votes, 4.4%; Birch trees: 117 votes, 12.6%; actor Sergei Bezrukov and birch trees: 48 votes, 5.2%; Women wearing hats inside: 36 votes, 3.9%; My answer is not listed here; I’ll write it in the comments: 206 votes, 22.4%. A total of 928 people voted on June 10, 2016

As you can see, the answer “Putin” came in first place, “Bears, balalaikas, and vodka,” second, and “Birch trees,” third. It was in the comments that things got complicated.

Here are just a few of your answers (the original spelling and punctuation have been preserved):

I would like to associate it with birch trees. But, alas, I associate  it with Krushchev-era blocks of flats [khrushchovki] and Brezhnev-era blocks of flats [brezhnevki] ))

With a complete lack of prospects for a decent life.

Brezhnevki. Photo courtesy of Guberniya Daily
Brezhnevki. Photo courtesy of Guberniya Daily

A country where happiness is forever in the future.

Where can I answer “with a total f–ing mess”?

With beautiful girls

With bad roads and a country where it is extremely hard to find a good job (even with a university degree)

The Motherland, just the Motherland

With a slave mentality, neo-feudalism, the lack of a future, vatniks,* and a huge ego trip about its “greatness”

Recently, only with “seagulls,” cellos, and Panama hats . . .**

alas, I feel like splitting from here like Peter the Pig, a typical post-Soviet space with khrushchovki and rutted roads and yards that have not been repaired since Soviet times

With psychopaths.(

With people who work and earn less than a living wage.

With corruption, drunkenness, and parasitism . . .

Motherland, history, childhood,  family . . .

Minus all the sarcasm and crap written [here]. MOTHERLAND to me is MOM, CHILDHOOD AS A YOUNG PIONEER, THE COMMUNIST YOUTH LEAGUE, BIRCH TREES AND LAKES, SAYING FAREWELL TO KINDERGARTEN IN THE VILLAGE OF SNEZHNOYE, AND THE SIMPLE PRIDE THAT I AM A RUSSIAN

With a strong country!!! And Putin. 

Strange that nearly everyone answers in the present tense.=) Or is that how we should answer? Then,  apparently, I didn’t understand the question.  The country is ancient and large, with a difficult destiny and history. Loving the Motherland . . . in my view you love it no matter who rules it. True, then your love manifests itself differently at different times. What you cannot take away from it is the natural beauty and the people . . . The people in this country are still good. The times are often complicated. But you can get through them by looking at the beauty of nature and the spiritual beauty of people.=) Something like that.

To answer simply and cornily, Russia is the place where I learned to walk and talk. But to answer the question from the viewpoint of a person who is a citizen of Planet Earth: Russia is a multiethnic, multi-party country. It has become the rage in Russia to say what one thinks about Putin, about world politics and foreign policy. I am afraid it will soon become a ritual, like the morning conversation about the weather among the English.

Kickbacks and dog and pony shows.

With the permafrost.

With poverty

* vatnik = “Russian patriot and nationalist (An outspoken follower of Putin, who aims to compensate his meaningless life by glorifying the motherland. This insulting term derives from the name of an iconic Soviet padded uniform jacket issued during WWII.” Source: Multitran.ru

** A reference to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika (his surname means “seagull” in Russian), recently reappointed to another five-year term despite substantial allegations of corruptions against him and his family, and cellist Sergei Roldugin, implicated as Putin’s bagman in the Panama Files.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up

The Most Educated Nation on Earth

Natalia Sharina, librarian and
Natalia Sharina, librarian and “extremist”

Only pure Nazi scumbags arrest librarians. I say this as someone who worked for four years in a public library. I cannot imagine anyone ever arresting our librarians at a big public library in the Pacific Northwest for any reason related to their professional duties.

This should be yet another signal to Russians (“the most educated nation on earth”) to get off their self-satisfied butts and send the current regime down the drain, but they really, really like the freedom from responsibility that “life under dictatorship” gives them, so this story will be another source for sustained yawning here (if even that), like nearly everything else that has happened since Putin was triumphantly “elected” to a third term, including the recent abduction, murder, and gutting (“autopsy”) of a 18-month-old Tajik baby by Petersburg police and medics, who will all be getting off scot free for their hideous crimes, because they are normal “white” people, not “black asses.”

In response, I am expecting another vigorous round of whataboutism from many of my “progressive” Russian and Russianist (i.e., for all intents and purposes, Putinist) friends. They will be furiously searching for stories about the horrors of life in “enemy” countries like the US and Finland or wherever.

(Or Norway, Sweden and Denmark: for “progressive” Russian patriots, the Scandinavian countries are a special imaginary hell on earth they have to keep picking at rhetorically like a scab they do not want to heal ever. Search me why this is the case. Maybe it has something to do with the terrible “betrayal” to the international communist cause represented by social democracy, but look where we are now, my communist comrades!)

But no sensible leftist, liberal, hip contemporary art curator or just plain person on earth is going to keep buying this Russian “progressive” political song and dance at this mind-numbing rate of total societal breakdown. People who do not want to deal AT ALL with their own homegrown Nazi scumbags have no right to comment on the political affairs of other countries or hop around the globe preaching the evils of capitalism and “neoliberalism.”

A librarian. Unbelievable.

Photo courtesy of Rushincrash

Remembering (and Forgetting) Beslan

Remembering (and Forgetting) Beslan
David Frenkel
Special to the Russian Reader
September 9, 2015

On September 3, several dozen Petersburgers came to Malaya Sadovaya, a pedestrian street abutting the city’s main thoroughfare, Nevsky Prospect, to remember the victims of the September 2004 Beslan school siege.

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Activists lit candles and rolled out a banner featuring photographs of 334 victims. People who attended the event placed flowers and water bottles in front of the improvised memorial.

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The number of people who came on purpose to remember the most devastating terrorist attack in Russian history was few. Most passersby who reacted to the memorial made scornful or indifferent comments such as “Again…” and “Ah, it’s Beslan.”

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Though the event had not been coordinated with the authorities, police did not interfere.

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Country of Victory, the Country’s Victory, the title of an open-air photo exhibition featuring portraits of Russian Olympic champions and Vladimir Putin, was visible behind the mourners.

All photos by and courtesy of David Frenkel

On the Trolleybus

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A friend mailed the following story to me this morning.

I had an interesting trip to the agricultural fair yesterday. I bought some honey from Pskov and a few other things.

The most exciting part, however, was the trip back home on an overcrowded trolley bus.

It was filled with several distinctly different layers of passengers: old and not-so-old women who had been to the fair, young Tajik or Uzbek men, and students who seemed to be Russian. It was funny to observe how they interacted.

All the women from the fair first talked about various kinds of medical treatments and ways to “undergo serious medical tests” for free (by entering a program to test some new drug without actually taking the drug), but later everybody focused on the solo performance of an old woman who used to work in the Admiralty building.

She shouted that Putin and his gang were criminals, that they have destroyed the country, that there is no future for young people, and that she wanted her talented grandson to go abroad and not to have the life she and her son have had here. But it gradually transpired she hated Putin so much because he had sold Russia to the West and allowed “them” (meaning the Central Asians, as I understood her, because she was pointing at the young Central Asians on the bus) to “flood the country.”

She also said that Lukashenka was a great guy because he had not allowed this sort of thing to happen.

At the same time, she said that although “people chew out America,” she knows some people who went there and told her “the people there live wonderfully.”

So, the old women were rather agitated, the young Central Asian men smiled all the time (including at the angry old woman who was upset by their presence) and politely let them pass or sit down, and most of the Russian students stood with faces that did not express anything, except, maybe, a young woman who smiled at the woman’s speech and seemed to be interested.

The indignant woman was very well spoken and sounded educated. (And she was a “native Leningrader,” as she pointed out). She also came across as very reasonable and well informed—up to the point when she explained that Putin had sold the country to the West (and had betrayed Novorossiya, which in some way is probably even true).

She said that usually when she would talk about this, everybody would tell her they were not interested in politics. But then she said something that was hard to deny.

“Everyone says it’s all politics, politics, but it’s not politics, it’s life.”

She went on to say that, because she spoke about it openly and loudly, someone had once even attacked her on Insurrection Square, grabbing her by the arm. She had cried for help, but nobody had helped her.

Image courtesy of www.saint-petersburg.com

Nadya Tolokonnikova: There Is No “People”

narod 1

Nadya Tolokonnikova
June 18, 2015

It is not for nothing they are so fond of the amorphous and faceless word narod, “the people.” There is no “people.” There is you and me, and that guy with the mustache, passing by on the street. “The people” smacks of prison camp standardization. They say “the people” so the individual feels like a tiny grain of sand, faceless and alone.

“We should not have got involved in this Ukrainian business . . . But generally I don’t like talking about politics,” my acquaintance from a small Russian town quietly whispers to me. Political miracles begin to occur when the belief she has a voice is born in my acquaintance, the belief in her own stance, which might differ from the majority’s position and still have the right to exist.

So that this belief does not emerge, she is told she is “the people.” But do something to make her realize she is not alone. Show her people who think like she does. Let her believe there is something besides atoms, separated and frightened by TV and mutual distrust, hidden in the cells of their nuclear families, and venting their anger and resentment within those families.

Source: Facebook

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Images courtesy, via a Google image search, of the website Pereprava, where, unsurprisingly, the exact opposite sentiments are expressed.

The Kids Are (Not) Alright, Part 2

What’s wrong with this picture?

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What follows is an excerpt from the seemingly endless series of “grassroots” exposés of the irremediable “stupidity” of twentysomethings, “most ordinary” Russians, Ukrainians, amerikosy, etc., that are posted in such abundance on the Runet these days.

At work, I have a personal assistant, a young woman, Nastya, a Muscovite, 22 years old [sic], who is in her final year at law school. She asked me a question.

Wow, why do they build the metro so frigging deep? It’s inconvenient and difficult!”

“Well, you see, Nastya, the Moscow metro originally was dual purpose. It was planned to be used both as public transportation and as a bomb shelter.”

Natasha grinned incredulously.

“A bomb shelter? How stupid? What, is someone planning to bomb us?”

[…]

“Have you been to the Baltic States?”

“I have. I’ve been to Estonia.”

“Well, how was it? Was it a hassle to get a visa?”

“I was there under the Soviet Union. We were one country then.”

“What do you mean, ‘one country’?”

“All the Baltic States were part of the Soviet Union! Nastya, did you really not know that?”

“Holy shit!”

“Now you’re going to totally freak out. Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova were also part of the USSR. And Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. As well as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia!”

“Georgia! You mean those assholes there was a war with?!”

“The very same. You do know that the Soviet Union existed then collapsed? You were even born in it!”

“Yes, I know there some kind of Soviet Union that then collapsed. But I didn’t know it lost so much territory…”

I was riding in the metro and looking at the people around me. There were lots of young faces. All of them were younger than me by ten years, a dozen years. Were they all just like Nastya?! The zero generation. Ideal vegetables…

Source: Kazbek Magerramov (Facebook), via allmomente.livejournal.com

Among the numerous comments to this Zadornovesque anecdote, most of which empathize with the author’s blunt point and bewail the allegedly vegetable-like state of the “zero generation,” I couldn’t find a single comment pointing out that if silly Nastya were now indeed twenty-two years old, she would have had to have been born in 1992 or 1993, that is, one or two years after the actual Soviet Union actually collapsed in 1991. But in this shaggy-dog story, the first-person narrator tells dumb Nastya that she was somehow born in this magical land about which she is so woefully ignorant.

This logical gaffe makes me think the whole thing has been made up. Like half the “tales from real life” about the laughable simplicity of “ordinary blokes,” twentysomethings, pindosy, ukropy, women or, alternately, the gritty folk wisdom of cabbies, roaming the mighty virtual steppes of the Runet nowadays.

The kids are alright, really. It’s just that they have been left to their own devices. Which, like all the other discriminated and marginalized groups left to their own devices over the last twenty-four years by the state, the ruling classes, the mainstream media, and their allies in the newfangled virtual Kadet parties and Unions of the Russian People, makes them ideal figures of “fun,” scorn, and fear. And perfect stalking horses for transparent exercises in post-imperial melancholy like this one.

Putin’s Russia (how it pains me to type this phrase) is not just a pollocracy. It is also an “anecdotocracy.” Researchers of “post-authoritarian” societies like Russia really should be delving deeper into how polls and anecdotes have been used to help people to oppress themselves and make common cause with others impossible.