Vladislav Inozemtsev: The Foreign Agent in the Kremlin

lakhta wreck

The Foreign Agent in the Kremlin
Vladislav Inozemtsev
The Insider
December 31, 2019

One of the crucial events of the past year was passage of the law on labeling Russian nationals as “foreign agents.” Although the law emphasizes that such “agents” should disseminate information from foreign media outlets and receive financial remuneration from abroad, the notion of “foreign agent” has a quite definite meaning for most Russians: someone who works on behalf of a foreign government to the detriment of their own country.

However, if you think hard about the new law and its implementation (the Justice Ministry has been charged with designating individuals foreign agents, but citizens and NGOs will probably also be able to take the initiative), the first thing that comes to mind is the man who signed it so showily into law on December 2—Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, who took office exactly twenty years ago today, albeit as acting president.

When Putin moved into the Kremlin, Russia was successfully emerging from an economic crisis triggered by a sharp drop in oil prices in the late 1990s and the ruble crisis of 1998. These two events largely brought to a close the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the transition from a planned economy to a market economy. Welcoming the new president, people believed him when he said, “The country’s future, the quality of the Russian economy in the twenty-first century, depends primarily on progress in those industries based on high technology and hi-tech products,” while the world took him at face value when he claimed, “Today we must declare once and for all that the Cold War is over. We abandon our stereotypes and ambitions, and henceforth we will jointly ensure the safety of the European population and the world as a whole.” It seemed that the coming decades should be extremely successful ones for Russia, and the country would inevitably takes its rightful place in the world economy and politics. However, events unfolded following a different scenario, and nearly all the trends that we can now ascertain as well-established suggest that if a CIA officer had taken charge of his country’s recently defeated enemy he would have done less damage to it than Putin has done.

First, Russia in the early noughties had very low labor costs: according to Rosstat, the average salary was $78 a month in 2000. Given that energy prices in Russia were then seven to ten times lower than in Europe, it was self-evident the country should decide to undertake large-scale industrialization by attracting foreign investors. The Central European countries, which in the late nineties and early noughties became successful industrial powers by attracting European capital (we can recall what happened with Škoda’s factories) were an example of the strategy’s wisdom.

However, despite what Russian authorities said at the time, preventing foreign capital from entering strategic industrial sectors became policy. Almost immediately after Putin came to power, the government began renationalizing assets that had been privatized in the nineties: instead of raising taxes on companies owned by Russian oligarchs, the regime commenced buying them out, constantly ratcheting up the price, culminating with Rosneft’s purchase of TNK-BP for $61 billion in 2013. In fact, taxes raised from the competitive sectors of the economy and redistributed through the budget went to buy assets in the extractive sector and were invested in rather dubious projects. Consequently, by the early teens, the share of raw materials (mineral products, ore, and metals) in Russian exports had reached 79–80%, as opposed to 50.4% of Soviet exports in 1989. Finally, in recent years, Russia has begun “diversifying” its raw materials exports by reaching out to China, effectively becoming an “energy appendage” not only of Europe but also of the whole world.

Second, as the economy became ever more dependent on extractive industries, Russia under Putin began to deindustrialize rapidly, resulting in a sharp decline in the demand for skilled workers, who could have been employed to develop the country on new foundations. According to various estimates, 16,000 to 30,000 industrial enterprises, which had employed over 13 million people in the late-Soviet period, were closed between 2000 and 2018. As of 2017, 9.9 million people were employed in Russian processing industries, as opposed to 21.7 million people in the RSFSR in 1989, although there was no significant increase in labor productivity. We can concede, of course, that a good many of these enterprises were not competitive, but most of them were never put up for auctions in which foreign investors were allowed to bid, the Russian government did not provide potential investors guarantees on investments in technically modernizing enterprises, and so on. Essentially, the government adopted a consistent policy of simplifying the industrial infrastructure, increasing dependency on imports, and most significantly, downgrading whole cities that had previously been important industrial centers. It would be no exaggeration to say that the bulk of Soviet industrial enterprises was destroyed not in the “accursed nineties,” but in the noughties and the early teens.

Third, the process went hand in glove with a demonstrative lack of attention to infrastructural problems and managing Russia’s vast expanses. About 700 airports were closed between 2000 and 2010, domestic passenger traffic dropped below international passenger traffic, and so many roads fell into disrepair and collapse that since 2012 city streets have been counted as roads in order to buff up the statistics. Infrastructure projects have been concentrated either in Moscow (e.g., the Moscow Ring Road, the Central Ring Road, expansion of the Moscow subway) or on the country’s borders as a kind of exercise in “flag waving” (e.g., Petersburg and environs, Sochi, Chechnya, the Crimean Bridge, the reconstruction of Vladivostok and Russky Island).

Consequently, rural settlements have begun dying out massively in most regions of the country: since 2000, around 30,000 villages in Russia have disappeared, and nearly 10,000 of them have eight or fewer residents. The number of residents in cities with populations ranging from 50,000 of 200,000 people has decreased: population reductions have been recorded in 70% of these cities, while the population has dropped by a quarter in more than 200 such cities. There has been a massive exodus of people from the Russian Far East.  Even the solution of longstanding problems that were handled for better or worse in the nineties has been abandoned, including disposing solid wastes, minimizing harmful emissions, and storing hazardous industrial waste. Russian infrastructure is close to collapse: depreciation of the power grids exceeds 70%, while 75% of the heating network is obsolete. Only 52.8% of local roads meet Russia’s poor standards. All attempts to remedy the situation are propaganda tricks more than anything, and yet budget funds for infrastructure are allocated regularly, just as taxes are collected from the populace.

Fourth, despite formal achievements, such as increasing life expectancy and reducing per capita alcohol consumption, the nation’s physical and mental health is verging on the disastrous. From 2000 to 2016, the number of HIV-infected Russians increased almost twelve times, reaching 1.06 million people, meaning that the threshold for an epidemic has been crossed. Spending on health care has remained extremely low. It is usually measured as a percentage of GDP, but a comparison of absolute figures is much more telling: in 2019, the government and insurance companies allocated only 23,200 rubles or €330 for every Russian, which was 14.2 times less than in Germany, and 29 times less than in the US, not counting out-of-pocket expenses.

Despite the huge influx of immigrants and migrant workers during Putin’s rule, the population of Russia (without Crimea) decreased by 2.7 million people from 2000 to 2019. Drug addiction has been spreading rapidly, becoming one of the leading causes of death among relatively young people in small towns. And yet the authorities see none of these things as a problem, limiting access to high-quality foreign medicines and accessible medical care (the number of hospitals has been halved since 2000, while the number of clinics has decreased by 40%), all the while believing the HIV crisis can be solved by promoting moral lifestyles. There is little doubt that Russia’s population should began dying off at a furious pace now that the reserves of economic growth have been exhausted.

Fifth, the formation of a bureaucratic oligarchy, able to appropriate at will what the authorities see less as “public property” and more as “budget flows,” has generated enormous corruption and blatantly inefficient public spending. A sizeable increase in spending on the space program—from 9.4 billion rubles in 2000 to 260 billion rubles in 2019—producced a drop in the number of successful launches from 34 to 22. Despite promises in 2006 to build almost 60 new nuclear power units, only 12 units have been brought online over the last twenty years. Programs for growing the military-industrial complex have not been consistently implemented: production of new weapons has been minuscule, amounting to only ten to twenty percent of Soviet-era production. The country’s only aircraft carrier has for the second time suffered combat-like damage during an “upgrade,” while its only 4.5-generation fighter has just crashed during a test flight.

The latest challenges posed to Russia by the development of information technology around the world have elicited no response whatsoever from the regime. On the contrary, the bureaucrats and siloviki have consistently acted to discourage researchers and innovators. The dominance of the siloviki in most government decision-making, their utter lack of oversight, and unprecedented incompetence have meant that much of the money that could be used effectively in the military sector and open up new frontiers for Russia has been simply been embezzled.

Sixth, Putin’s rule has been marked by the impressive “gifts” he has made to countries which the Kremlin has often identified as potential enemies. Around $780 billion was spirited from Russia between 2009 and 2019, whereas less than $120 billion was taken out of the country during the entirety of the nineties. The most important cause of this outflow was a law, passed in 2001, establishing a nine-percent tax on dividends paid to “foreign investors” or, rather, the offshore companies registered as owners of Russian assets. (The subsequent abolition of this measure in 2015 has changed little.) Much of this money was invested in passive sources of income in the west or spent on the luxurious lifestyles of Russian billionaires, thus supporting local economies in other countries.

Even more “generous,” however, was Putin’s gift to west in the form of the four million Russian citizens who have left Russia during his presidency: mainly young and middle-aged, well-educated, willing to take risks and engage in business, they now control assets outside the country that are comparable to the Russian Federation’s GDP. This wealth has been generated from scratch by talented people the Russian regime regarded as dead weight. The destruction of human capital is the biggest blow Putin has dealt to Russia, and it is no wonder western analysts argue Russia will need a hundred years at best to bridge the emerging gap.

Seventh, we cannot ignore the holy of holies: national security. We have already touched on the military sector in passing. It is a realm in which technological progress has largely boiled down to showing cartoons to members of the Russian Federal Assembly: space launches are still carried out using Soviet Proton rockets, designed in the sixties; the last of the Tu-22M strategic bombers rolled off the line in 1993; the Su-57 is based on groundwork done while designing the Su-47 during the late eighties;  and the advanced Angara (S-200) missile was developed as part of the Soviet Albatross program from 1987 to 1991. Things are no better in the secret services: agents sent on secret missions set off Geiger counters, like Lugovoy and Kovtun, blow their cover wherever they can, like Mishkin and Chepiga, or get caught in the act, as was the case with Krasikov.

The elementary inability to carry out their work in secret is the height of unprofessionalism: a handful of journalists can dig up nearly all the dirt on Russian agents, using information freely available on the internet. The same applies, among many other things, to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Donbass and the regime’s use of unprofessional, incompetent mercenaries from various private military companies.

Finally, eighth, President Putin’s foreign policy deserves special attention. Over the past ten years or so, the Kremlin’s own efforts have led to the creation of a buffer zone of neighboring countries that fear or hate Russia. If something like this could be expected from the Baltic states, which sought for decades to restore the independence they lost in 1940, no one could have imagined twenty years ago that Russia would make Georgia and Ukraine its worst enemies. However, our country’s principal “patriot”—whose daily bedtime reading seemingly consists of the works of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who once argued that Russia’s “imperial backbone” would be broken only when it lost Ukraine once and for all—has consistently sought to make Kiev recognize Moscow as its principal existential threat.

Similar sentiments have emerged in Minsk, where the authorities and populace of the country that suffered the greatest losses in the Great Patriotic War for the sake of the Soviet Union’s common victory have been nearly unanimous in their opposition to further rapprochement with Russia. We won’t even mention Russia’s damaged relations with the US and the EU: at the behest of Moscow, which is immeasurably weaker than the collective west, a new cold war has been launched that the Kremlin has no chance of winning but that could lead Russia to the same collapse suffered by the Soviet Union during the previous cold war. Meanwhile, Moscow’s hollow propaganda and its theatrical micro-militarism have been a genuine godsend to western military chiefs, who have been securing nearly unlimited defense budgets, just like the designers of advanced technology, who have been developing new weapons and gadgets in leaps and bounds.

I will not catalogue the current president’s other achievements—from destroying the Russian education system and nourishing a cult of power in society, thus generating a crisis of the family, to undermining Russian federalism and nurturing an unchecked power center in Chechnya. I will only emphasize once again that not just any foreign agent, after spending decades infiltrating the highest echelons of power in an enemy country, would be able to inflict such damage. I don’t consider Putin a foreign agent in the literal sense of the word, of course, but if it is now comme il faut in Russia to identify those who are working, allegedly, for hostile powers and thus inflicting damage on their own country, it is impossible to ignore what Putin has done over the past twenty years.

The current head of the Russian state should have a place of honor on the list of “foreign agents,” just as “Party card number one” was always reserved for Lenin in bygone days. And the west should be advised not to seek to undermine Putin’s regime but, on the contrary, do its utmost to extend his term in the Kremlin, simply because as long as Russia is so inefficient, backward, and profligate it poses no threat to the rest of the world, however much the strategists at the Pentagon try and convince the top brass otherwise.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

A Funny Thing Happened in Pryamukhino

Bakunin_PryamukhinoThe Pryamukhino Estate, birthplace of Mikhail Bakunin, circa 1860. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mala Vida
Facebook
July 20, 2018

On the Police Raid in Pryamukhino

The Pryamukhino Readings, an annual open conference, took place on July 7–8, 2018. This year, the conference attracted the notice of Russian law enforcement. Since the conference has taken place in a village school for the last eighteen years, the Pryamukhino village council and the Kuvshinovo district council were informed in advance about the conference, but they made no attempt to prohibit the event.

However, as the conference’s organizing committee later learned, police officers had visited the village council on July 6, 2018, on the eve of the conference’s opening day.

Several men in plain clothes, who showede all the signs of being law enforcement officers, attended the first day of the conference, July 7. They chatted with conference goers about abstract historical and philosophical topics, but they also wondered aloud whether there were any “terrorists” in modern Russia.

On the second day, July 8, two police cars and a car without license plates arrived at the gathering point right when the annual sightseeing excursion of Pryamukhino Estate and Pryamukhino Park was to begin. Eight policemen, including members of the Torzhok Intermunicipal Police Precinct, members of the precinct’s immigration desk, and plainclothes officers who produced no IDs (they were probably officers of Center “E” or the FSB) checked and photographed the passports of the sightseers. According to the police officers, a public nuisance complaint from an unnamed local resident was the grounds for their visit.

As a consequence of the documents check, a conference goer, Artyom Markin, a Belarusian national, was detained. He was informed he was “banned” from entering Russia, a fact that had not been brought to his attention either when he crossed the Russian border or when police checked his papers.

Markin was taken to the Torzhok Intermunicipal Police Precinct. He refused to communicate with secret service officers, since no written charges had been filed against him. He was then taken for a medical examination, because the police, allegedly, suspected him of having used psychoactive substances. After Markin refused to take the medical exam (i.e., his alleged drug use was not certified by physicians), and despite the fact that he had not shown any signs of drug use (conference goers testifed Markin had not used psychoactive substances and did not look out of the ordinary), a magistrate declared him guilty of evading medical diagnosis (Russian Administrative Offenses Code Article 6.9 Part 1) and sentenced him to three days in jail.

At the same time, on the afternoon of July 8, two of the plainclothes officers returned to Pryamuhino, explaining they had come again because, allegedly, they were looking for Markin’s girlfriend. Their presence and the need to protect conference goers from the illegal actions of the authorities generated considerable difficulties when it came to proceeding with the conference. The plainclothes officers left for Torzhok only after four in the afternoon.

After spending three days in jail, Artyom Markin was forced to leave Russia. He was issued a notification from the immigration desk of the Torzhok Intermunicipal Police Precinct prohibiting him from entering Russia until 2022.

We believe that recent events in Belarus (e.g., police roughly detained local anarchists on June 30, 2018, during a gathering in the woods), a possible call from Belarusian law enforcement and security services to their Russian counterparts, and heightened security during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia occasioned such furious actions on the part of the police. The ban on entering Russia, as issued to Artyom Markin, was justified, allegedly, in order to ensure “defense, national security or public order,” as stipulated by Article 27 of Russian Federal Law No. 114 (“On the Procedure for Departing and Entering Russia”), which outlines amendments to the law introduced during international sporting events.

Because the Pryamukhino Readings are an academic conference open to all comers, the organizers make an effort to get to know all of our attendees in order to ensure order and their own safety. However, we do not have the resources to prevent the use of force on the part of the police and curiosity on the part of the authorities.

The Pryamukhino Readings are an annual event run by volunteers. We do not cooperate with the authorities any more than is necessary for holding the conference. We have never supplied the authorities with personal information about our attendees or any additional information about them.

In the event of conflicts like the one described, above, our job is taking care of our out-of-town guests. However, we do not have the resources to provide qualified legal assistance on the spot.

We urge everyone to study the current Russian laws in order to better defend their rights when confronted by law enforcement officers, who often interpret the laws governing their own conduct too freely or falsely.

The Pryamukhino Readings Organizing Committee condemns crackdowns on social movements and independent public events, as well as the framing of social activists and the arbitrary use of administrative and other penalties in the absence of evidence and a demonstrable danger to the public.

The Pryamuhkino Readings Organizing Committee

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Anarchists Go on a Pilgrimage to Tver
Yulia Solovyova
Moscow Times
August 15, 2003

PRYAMUKHINO, Tver Region — Pavel Glazkov is fed up with people who hear the word anarchy and instantly conjure up thoughts of debauched sailors wreaking havoc and chaos.

Anarchism is a moral thing above all, Glazkov says, and it hinges on order, self-discipline and mutual assistance.

A graduate student from Tambov, Glazkov is in the process of writing a thesis on Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th-century philosopher whose ideas laid the foundation for modern anarchism. And he is active in spreading the gospel of anarchy. Glazkov posts leaflets at his university urging students to take action. At a children’s summer camp where he works as an educator, he tells children stories about anarchism before bedtime. The Tambov bar where he once worked as a bartender turned into a sort of a revolutionary circle full of conversation and debate, not unlike one of Bakunin’s many secret societies.

“I’m trying to educate people,” says Glazkov, 24, a gentle giant who wears black-rimmed glasses and two earrings in his left ear. “When I was a kid with an anarchy badge on my chest listening to the Sex Pistols no one told me what I was supposed to do as an anarchist.”

Late last month, Glazkov traveled 10 hours by train and bus to Pryamukhino, the Bakunin family estate in the Tver region, in search of like-minded people. What he found was an improbable mix: white-bearded intellectuals studying the Russian gentry culture alongside pierced and tattooed 20-somethings in black T-shirts and ragged jeans who were doing little more than frolicking in nature away from their parents’ control.

Glazkov spent a weekend in Pryamukhino. He took part in a scientific conference and civic duties like picking up trash in a park. At night he listened to romances—lyrical, sentimental songs—and drank vodka with the academics. Then it was time for a drunken rendition of the “Mother Anarchy” song by the kids, who described themselves as anarcho-communists, Marxists, Maoists, hippies and anti-fascist skinheads.

“It was great,” Glazkov enthused. “I met young people who are into ideas, and they don’t just stick to some stiff, outdated beliefs, but take them further.”

The Pryamukhino Free Co-Op was created in 1995, when a group of students from Moscow decided that Bakunin’s birthplace, which was formally protected by the state, actually needed protection from the state. Since then, a few dozen anarchists from central Russia and, occasionally, from abroad, have come here every summer to work in the park, scandalize the locals by skinny-dipping in the creek and debate anarchism around the campfire. They live in a cramped log house with a black anarchy flag flying from the roof and a sign over the door that reads, “Work is the best hangover treatment.”

The anarchist movement can encompass certain elements of other ideologies, such as Maoism and communism, while rejecting those components relating to authoritarian political control. The anarchist movement is not uniform, but this doesn’t appear to present a problem.

“What’s important is the rejection of the state, hierarchy, clericalism, dominance, all dogmas, everything that’s dead and rotten,” said Vasily Prytkov, who helped organize this summer’s co-op. “People who come here share these ideals.

Pryamukhino’s mixed appeal is the result of its rich heritage. In the 19th century, this traditional nobles’ nest was a nationwide cultural magnet. Bakunin’s parents and ten siblings were well-educated people known for their various talents, bon vivant habits and a taste for sophisticated company. Leading lights of the times, such as literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, novelists Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoi, and thinker Nikolai Stankevich, walked among the exotic plants that grew in the estate’s sumptuous park.

All in all, the Pryamukhino harmony, as the contemporaries described life on the estate, shared little of the rebellious spirit of its most famous resident—the man who was all passion and bustle and pure will, the prototype of Richard Wagner’s Siegfried and the very model of a thunderbolt-hurling revolutionary.

Bakunin believed that the state and capitalism are evil and must be destroyed. He fought for a society based upon justice, equality and freedom. Being more of a doer than a writer, he threw himself into the insurrections that burst across Europe like thunderstorms in his day. Bakunin is often contrasted with Karl Marx, and credited with forecasting the inevitable connection between state communism and the Gulag.

Bakunin’s prophecies came true in the Soviet Union, and although streets across the country were named after him, his legacy was forgotten or distorted, and anarchy became almost a swearword. Similarly, his family’s country estate was plundered and destroyed. The great park, with fish ponds, artificial waterfalls and hills, became neglected and overgrown.

Today, Bakunin’s followers include the ragtag members of the international New Left movement, who share the values of anti-globalism, pacifism, environmentalism and human rights. In Russia, they are few and have little formal organization, with few exceptions, including the groups Avtonomnoye Deistviye, or Autonomous Action, and the Russian branch of the Rainbow Keepers, a radical eco-anarchist group.

“Collective social activity is much more important than setting up formal organizations,” said Mikhail, 31, one of the founders of the Pryamukhino Free Co-Op, who asked that his last name not to be used. “In Russia, people don’t have faith left in collective action and social change. But it’s necessary to keep trying.”

The anarchists occasionally participate in joint actions and social protests like the annual anti-capitalism rally in Moscow. Otherwise they are largely invisible on Russia’s political landscape.

On a recent Sunday morning, a group of anarchists, looking slightly woozy from the night before, trickled into a garden. While some camp goers are serious about anarchism, others are clearly there for the lifestyle that the relaxed environment provides, especially given the fact that the Bakunin Foundation covers all transportation and food costs.

The anarchists settled on the grass among flowers and buzzing bees, where they conducted a meeting concerning the areas of the camp that needed the most work. Soon, armed with a variety of garden tools, they began trimming plants in the park and cleaning up a pond under the supervision of Sergei Kornilov.

Kornilov is a director of the Bakunin Foundation, which was created to promote the legacy of the Bakunin family and restore the estate. A former theater director who says he was too brainwashed to care about anarchism in Soviet times, Kornilov, 65, has dedicated his life to the Pryamukhino estate since he moved there from Moscow in 1998.

A tanned and energetic man who looks like a 19th-century aristocrat, Kornilov mapped out Pryamukhino’s future as an artist would. Tourists were to stay in the recreated interiors of the Bakunin house, and church services, grand balls and theater plays would be staged in the vaulted basement of the remaining south wing of the estate.

“I looked up plays about Mikhail Bakunin, and there weren’t any,” Kornilov said. “So I decided to write one myself.” Kornilov has written a trilogy of plays about Bakunin.

Meanwhile, Glazkov, the Bakunin scholar from Tambov, wrestles with applying his ideas to contemporary realities.

“Go tell a Muscovite whose relative was killed in a terrorist act that Russia needs anarchism and they’ll tell you, ‘What are you, crazy?'” he said. “People are tired of terrorism, Marxism, and other isms. What they want is stability and strong leadership.”

Mari Davtyan: The Personal Is Political

"I would hug you, but I'm just a text." "It's enough." Central Petersburg, July 8, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
“I would hug you, but I’m just a text.” “That’s enough.” Central Petersburg, July 8, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Mari Davtyan
Facebook
July 10, 2016

As expected, the reaction to the online flash mob #янебоюсьсказать #янебоюсьсказати [#IAmNotAfraidToSpeak] has got underway. It has been the classic reaction of a society in which there is an unspoken agreement to hush up violence. But now this approach has suddenly failed.

You can tell one, two, three or ten women they have only themselves to blame or they are all lying, but when thousands of women talk about it, it is much more difficult to hush up the problem. Especially when it is not only “crazy” feminists talking about the problem but ordinary, average women. So other gambits have come into play, for example, “Don’t talk or you will feel bad and ashamed later.” In fact, this painfully familiar gambit in circumstances of sexual violence is something women constantly hear individually.

But why should women feel ashamed? And who should be ashamed after acts of violence? The victim or the assailant? The point of the flash mob is that it is not shameful to suffer violence. It is shameful to rape, abuse, and commit violence. So that argument has been a nonstarter, and women have kept on writing.

Another fine example of illogic and lack of common sense is the argument that everyone who has been writing as part of the flash mob hates men. But let us take a look at what has happened. Thousands of women have written about the violence of men, which means that thousands of men have let themselves be violent toward women in one way or another. Who hates whom in this case? Such “logic” would suggest a completely opposite conclusion.

Then there is the favorite argument in all disputes recently: that Ukrainians and Americans are stirring things up to undermine Russia’s moral foundations. However, I haven’t figured out what to do with the fact that it has been not only Ukrainians and Americans attacking those foundations. The flash mob has spread to almost every part of the former Soviet Union.

Of course, it will not do to deny the obvious any longer. But why is there such a urge to do so? Because once you have said A, you have to say B. If you recognize the problem, you have to recognize all these stories have quite specific “heroes” who let themselves commit violence, meaning we have to turn from victims to assailants and take a hard look at them finally. We will see they are not only “sick” maniacs but often as not are average men. That means many of them will have to take a look at themselves and admit what they have done.

But there is no great urge to admit what they have done, of course.  After all, life before was comfy. There were no dressing-downs and punishments for doing such things, but now suddenly they have to admit that what they did and probably have forgotten long ago is actually a crime. It is always hard to to reject the “privilege” to do as you like.

This means we have to recognize that male socialization encourages violence, justifies violence, and normalizes violence.

So, no matter how unpleasant it is to many people, we will have to have a serious talk about solving the problem legally and politically. (This is an answer to question of what the whole point was.)

But the first step has been taken, and women have successfully defended their right to speak, while a good number of decent men have already taken the second step.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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I Am Not Afraid to Speak: Russian Online Flash Mob Condemns Sexual Violence
Katie Davies and Maria Evdokimova
The Moscow Times
July 8, 2016

Thousands of women in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have taken to social media to share their experiences of sexual violence in an online flash mob.

Women and girls began posting their stories under the hashtags #янебоюсьсказати and #янебоюсьсказать (“I am not afraid to speak”), following the example of Ukrainian social activist Anastasia Melnichenko.

“I want us— women—to speak today,” Melnichenko wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday detailing her experiences of harassment.

“We do not have to make excuses. We are not to blame. Blame always lies with the rapist.”

For many of the women taking part, it was the first time they had spoken about their ordeals.

“I’m so happy that women are starting to talk about this,” wrote one Facebook user, Anna.

“#IAmNotAfraidToSpeak that one day I went with my dad to visit some friends at their dacha, a decent and beautiful family. The father of my dad’s friend lived there and a few families would gather there to spend the summer weekends together.

“There were three children there—myself, and two other girls, one of whom was his granddaughter—aged around five to six years old. I woke up early in the morning, and that same grandfather was lying next to me, drunk, with his hand in my underwear. I ran from the room and hid. I’ve said nothing to my parents.”

Many of those taking part hope to change perceptions of sexual violence, with many arguing that society still finds the victim at fault. A number of prominent Russian women have also joined the flash mob to tell their stories, including Galina Timchenko, founder of the Meduza news website; singers Victoria Deineko and Anita Tsoi; actress Evelina Bledans; and journalist and business woman Alyona Vladimirskaya.

“Everyone who says, ‘Women bring it on themselves by wearing a short skirt,’ listen to my story,” Vladimirskaya wrote on her Facebook page Thursday.

“I was seven months pregnant. It was summer. A sunny day. I went to the shop by my house; I wasn’t feeling well. I was sick, and I looked it.

“When I came to the entrance of my building, there was a young man behind me. I didn’t think that I needed to be afraid of young men in such a state. He pushed me to the wall, took out a large kitchen knife, pointed it at my stomach and told me to undress.

“I was terrified that he would hurt my unborn child and I took off my blouse. He began to masturbate over my stomach then demanded that I turn around and bend over. I began to vomit. He did not care.

“A neighbor saved me. He came down the stairs and saw this and shouted. It was enough to make the rapist run.”

Others draw attention to abuse taking place within the family. Research by American charity RAINN has found that in cases of sexual violence, 72 percent of adults, and 93 percent of children know the perpetrator.

“I was six years old when my cousin asked me if I’d like to ride on his bike with him,” one Facebook user, Olya, wrote. “I couldn’t ride a bike without training wheels, of course I agreed. We rode to a wooded area, where he took off his shirt, lay on top of me and began masturbating. Then we rode home, and he acted as if nothing had happened.

“I was ten years old when another cousin, probably around 20, made sure there were no other adults in sight, took out his genitals and waved them in front of my face. I ran away from him.

“Both cousins were from a decent, stable family. They did not become criminals or murderers, they live quietly with their wives and raise their children.

“Violence isn’t in the papers or on the television, it is happening to the neighbors we meet on the staircase, our classmates, our close friends, sisters, the girls we sit next to on the metro.

“Everyday violence is the norm in the lives of all women.”

A number of men also hoped to break boundaries by sharing their stories on the issue.

“It was in the beautiful city of Saratov, and I was 12 years old. I was waiting for a trolleybus home, when a man in a gray jacket approached me,” one Facebook user, Andrei, wrote. He said, ‘Help me carry this stuff and I’ll pay you.’ It was hard to say no to an adult.

“We went under the bridge, passed two fences surrounding some shacks. We went another 30 meters. No one was around. The man stopped and unzipped his fly, and asked me to put it in my mouth. What happened next was instinctive—I hit the man with my both hands and ran away. I could not bring myself to leave the house for three days after that.”

Others offered a different perspective.

“When I was 15, I used to hide in the bushes near ponds and masturbate while girls changed their clothes,” a man called Nikolai admitted. “I also tried to get under womens’ skirts in crowded metro trains. I did not recognize it as a bad thing. I can no longer find those girls and ask their forgiveness, so I ask you. Please talk to your children [about this problem], help those in need.”

The flash mob has drawn widespread support from across the Russian Internet, with many hoping to start a larger discussion on the problem of sexual violence in society as a whole.

“This is an unprecedented and momentous event,” Maria Mokhova, a director at the Syostry, or Sisters, crisis center told the Moscow Times. “It is a big step forward for society as a whole to finally get rid of the taboo of talking about sexual abuse.

“I want to thank every one of these strong, beautiful women for their contribution. The flash mob turns all eyes on the problem that must be discussed. Society must support and protect its children and ensure their security.”

Katya Kermlin joined a kickstarter business to create a wearable panic button—formed in the shape of a ring—after she was attacked 16 years ago. She applauded the fact that more men and women were speaking out.

“This is stunning and goes beyond just statistics: every fifth woman … every third case of violence … 45 percent of people experienced harassment. Every time is the first time. Even if it happens several times in your life,” she said.

“Thousands of episodes of sexual abuse. Hundreds of flashbacks involving strangers, co-workers, boyfriends, relatives, family friends, bosses, tutors, doctors. And the mistrust, denial, understatement: you must have misinterpreted it, sweetie; he didn’t mean it; it was just a joke.”

“All this darkness turns out to be much closer than we believe,” said Russian artist Artyom Loskutov to the Afisha Daily website, one of many men sharing his shock with the hashtag. “I really did not expect that so many people I know—women and girls—have been victims of violence and harassment, many from a very young age. It is hard to imagine how anyone can live in silence with this kind of trauma.”

Not all reactions to the flash mob have been positive, and the flash mob continues to attract a backlash on social media and from some commentators.

Talking to the state-owned Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper, psychologist Olga Makhovskaya claimed that the flash mob was caused by desire for “cheap popularity and attention.”

“In this case, they [the flash mob’s participants] need psychologist’s assistance,” Makhovskaya said.

Sociologist Natalya Zorkaya from the Levada Center pollster said that Russian legislation’s vague definition of abuse left men “unable to see the line where their actions start to violate the law.”

“Victims of abuse should speak up and share with others to help them finally leave behind the fear they live with,” Zorkaya said.

UPDATE. Anastasiya Melnychenko, “In Russia and Ukraine, women are still being blamed for being raped, The Guardian, July 12, 2016