Persian Rugs

russian_carpet_on_the_wall

Antrr Ra
Facebook
January 2, 2018

For several days, Iranians have been openly protesting the corrupt system in their country. They have been protesting not only in the capital Tehran but also in at least fifty other cities. They had been promised more freedom and openness in terms of how the country’s budget is spent, and prices for food have been skyrocketing.

In Russia, the authorities have not promised anyone anything for a long time, and people have been staying at home, looking forward to the upcoming presidential elections.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Anatrr Ra for their kind permission to reproduce their remarks on my website. Photo courtesy of correctlydesign.com

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.

Leave Our Governor Alone!

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Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko (right) would rather be somewhere else. Photo courtesy of Turku.fi

I gather that Russia’s president for life is dismissing regional governors at a furious pace to shore up his shaky position against the wildly dangerous non-candidate Navalny in the run-up to next March’s self-reappointment to the post of Russia’s president.

I could not care less about all that as long as Putin leaves Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko alone. (Poltavchenko is the vaguely unhappy looking man on the right, in the picture above.)

Sure, Poltavchenko returned to his adopted hometown of Petersburg, after several years of bureaucratic carpetbagging, as an appointed satrap, who later obtained spurious legimitacy by winning a low-turnout, rigged election against a slate of astroturfed opponents. In a fit of uncharacteristic cynicism, Poltavchenko dubbed this farce “Democracy Day,” but we have forgiven him long ago for that outburst—by default, as it were, because 99.999% of us Petersburgers could give a hoot about local politics and have no clue about the Tammany Hall-style thuggery that once again covered the Cradle of Three Revolutions in shame on September 18, 2014. We are more the artsy, creative types here in the ex-capital of All the Russias. We go in for fo bo, hamburgers, craft beer, and conspicuous hipsterism.

In Petersburg, taking politics seriously is not cool.

But all the Sturm und Drang of 2014 matter less than Poltavchenko’s signal virtue, which consists in his striking tendency not to do or say much of anything, at least visibly or publicly. Unlike his colleague Ramzan Kadyrov, headman of the horrifying Chechen Republic, who is constantly running off at the mouth and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone, Poltavchenko has gone for whole weeks and months without saying or doing anything significant or noteworthy, much less frightening.

Whatever his other vices as a satrap and “former” KGB officer, it appears he would find it profoundly embarrassing to frighten anyone, especially just to show off, the way Kadyrov does it.

In an authoritarian political system in which making news means feigning to be a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth nationalist fascist Orthodox maniac, tabling Nazi-like law bills in the Duma as fast as they can be typed up and printed out, there is something to be said for a guy who always looks as if he is always bored out of his mind, as if he would rather be home watching TV, fishing in the lake next to his dacha or tinkering with his car.

Which, of course, is an old Lada, not a Land Rover.

Or so I’d like to imagine. TRR

 

Nemtsov: One Year Later

Boris Nemtsov was murdered exactly a year ago. Some of the men who organized and carried out his murder have been caught, but the name of the person who ordered the killing remains a mystery.

On February 27, at least 20,000 people in Moscow took part in a march in memory of the opposition politician, who was murdered right outside the walls of the Kremlin. Apparently, the march’s organizers did not expect such a large number of attendees, counting, apparently, on a more intimate event for Nemtsov’s friends and supporters. There was, accordingly, almost no political rhetoric on display except for ritualistic slogans such as “We remember,” “Russia will be free,” and “Free the political prisoners” (inescapable in the current circumstances).

However, the anti-crisis march Nemtsov himself had planned for March 1, 2015, consequently did not take place, and no one from his entourage contemplated doing anything like it during the year that followed his death.

For the second year in a row, the event was a memorial. The slogan on one placard, “I’m speechless,” was the apotheosis of this helplessness. The crowd was mostly silent. Only here and there did marchers sing the Marseillaise or shout anti-Putin slogans, but almost no one among their fellow marchers repeated the slogans. The homemade placards were even fewer than usual, although the sunny pre-spring weather clearly lifted people’s spirits.

The demonstrators, however, had not come to downtown Moscow just for a stroll but to express their mutual disagreement with something that, alas, no one bothered to articulate. Today’s Nemtsov memorial march resembled a political rally without a political agenda.

—anatrrra

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“Fight Back.” In Russian, the phrase (Boris’) is a play on Nemtsov’s first name (Boris). Photo by and courtesy of anatrra

Continue reading “Nemtsov: One Year Later”

The Shipping Forecast

While Manifesta 10’s “public” program sets all that is left of progressive humanity (i.e., the contemporary art world) on fire with its overly provocative metallic Xmas tree, actual public and political life stubbornly and unattractively creaks on in the city that progress and progressive humanity have forgotten, Saint Petersburg, former capital of All the Russias.

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This life is of no interest to almost anyone, practically, even in Petersburg itself, so take what follows the way I and many other radio listeners the world over consume the beloved “Shipping Forecast” on BBC Radio 4: as a series of pleasant but ultimately meaningless vocables that have absolutely nothing to do with the way we self-satisfied landlubbers lead our rich, perfectly dry lives.

Gubernatorial and municipal district council elections are scheduled for September 14 in Saint Petersburg. However, even before the pretenders began formally declaring their candidacies this month, many observers, including liberal journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, argued the fix was in, and the Smolny would never allow any serious opposition to the incumbent (the unelected Kremlin appointee Georgy Poltavchenko) or whatever other candidate the Kremlin might suddenly choose to run for the job.

And indeed that is what has happened. Perhaps the only (mildly) oppositional candidate with the popularity and support to make the race real, Oksana Dmitrieva of A Just Russia party, was nixed before she got to the starting blocks. She did not pass the so-called municipal filter: formal approval of her candidacy by a minimum of 156 district council deputies.

I could not find any report about any of this monkey business in English, but hilariously I did find a badly translated statement from the ruling United Russia party angrily denouncing Dmitrieva for having the temerity to suggest there was something fishy about her failing to get through the filter and demanding an apology from her.

Well, sayonara, fair Oksana. We, the enlightened Petersburg “public,” barely knew who you were anyway, so we won’t miss you.

However, really serious candidates, like Takhir Bikbayev of the “Greens Ecological Party,” a man whose name is synonymous in the minds of Petersburg voters with all things environmental and progressive, (that’s a joke: I really have never heard of him before nor, I gather, has anyone else), easily passed through the dreaded filter.

Meanwhile, opposition candidates are being purged right and left from the district council races or otherwise prevented from registering. One such victim of Putinist vigilance is Fyodor Gorozhanko, a well-known local grassroots housing rights advocate, who was dismissed from the elections after United Russia complained he had “misled” voters who signed a petition supporting his candidacy. A court has upheld the complaint.

How exactly did Gorozhanko “mislead” voters? On the standard-issue petition sheets voters sign to get candidates on the ballot, there is a blank where the candidate has to state whether he or she is “employed” and where. Since Gorozhanko works as a volunteer aide to Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy Maxim Reznik, he crossed out the word “employed” and pencilled in what he does now in lieu of gainful employment. This is how he “misled” voters. Gorozhanko plans to appeal the court’s decision…

Man, this local politics shit is so, so boring. I am going to switch on the “Shipping Forecast” and wait for a contemporary artist to make another provocative statement in public space about public space and history. Now that will be something to talk about.

P.S. While I was gussying up this post, incumbent Georgy Poltavchenko officially declared his candidacy. He will face stiff competition on September 14 from Irina Ivanova (CPRF), Konstantin Sukhenko (LDPR), Takhir Bikbayev (Greens), and Andrei Petrov (Motherland). I think it’s safe to say the vast majority of Petersburg will have never heard of any of these candidates except for Poltavchenko, of course, although Ivanova and Sukhenko are deputies in the city’s legislative assembly.

Oksana Dmitrieva (A Just Russia) and Anatoly Golov (Yabloko) were refused registration. Dmitrieva has claimed that Poltavchenko pressured municipal deputies into not supporting her candidacy and has filed complaints with the prosecutor general’s office and the central electoral commission.