Boris Vishnevsky. Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle
Petersburg City Councilman Boris Vishnevsky Accuses Prigozhin Media of Slander Deutsche Welle
November 14, 2019
On Friday, November 14, Boris Vishnevsky, a Yabloko Party deputy in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, filed a complaint with the Primorsky District Internal Affairs Department, requesting it open a criminal slander investigation into articles published by Patriot media holding company, whose board of trustees is headed by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, as reported by Vishnevsky himself on his Facebook page.
Novaya Gazeta has reported that, beginning on November 7, Patriot’s media outlets have been running stories claiming that, in his capacity as a professor at the Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University (RGPU), Vishnevsky had sexually harassed first-year female students.
The basis of the charges is, allegedly, an email from a young woman named Kristina, who identified herself as an RGPU alumna and claimed Vishensky harassed her and other female first-year students in 2014.
On November 12, the national TV channel Rossiya 24 told viewers there had been “widespread complaints” against Vishnevsky, and students had been holding solo pickets against him outside the Legislative Assembly.
Meanwhile, RGPU has issued a press release. It stated there were no first-year students named Kristina enrolled at the university in 2014, Vishnevsky had never taught courses to first-year students there, and no allegations of sexual harassment had ever been made against him.
Vishnevsky has called the scandal an obvious “political hit job.”
Police officers usually realize that, whatever they do, they are breaking the law or disobeying standing orders, and since they are afraid of being found out, they definitely don’t talk to the press. Here we have a different story, which I don’t know how to explain. Petersburg opposition activists are well aware of a police officer from the “Third Department” by the name of Ruslan Sentemov, while other people have not heard of him, likely as not. For some reason, Sentemov operates quite openly, going so far as to give the local news website Fontanka.ru a detailed interview about his work.
I don’t knowwhat happened to Petersburg opposition activist Shakhnaz Shitik at the Yabloko Party’s Petersburg office, but this is what happened at the police precinct, as related by Shakhnaz. It has been corroborated by one police officer, nor has it been refuted by the other officers who were present. According to the shift commander, during the incident, all or nearly all the officers at the 78th Police Precinct were in the duty room and were separated from the incident by a glass door. I also understand that Shakhnaz’s account is borne out by the videotape that civil rights activist Dinar Idrisov and Petersburg city councilman Boris Vishnevsky have seen.
Sentemov and two of his colleagues (their names are also known) used force on Shakhnaz. They pressed her head hard to her chest, causing her agonizing pain. Consequently, in the incident report, according to the social defender, in addition to the injuries she suffered at the Yabloko office, damage to her cervical vertebrae was caused at the police station.
Moreover, the officers grabbed Shakhnaz’s telephone by sticking their hands down her painties. No public witnesses or female police officers were present during this search, nor was an incident report filed. Taken from her but not officially confiscated, her telephone lay in the police department, along with her blouse and other clothing, prior to the Public Monitoring Commission’s visit. During the incident, Shakhnaz was wearing a bra. The blouse was returned to her only at the hospital.
Concerning the sadistic tendencies of our police investigators and judges, I would argue this is an allegory, artistic embellishment. Otherwise, what kind of judicial system do we have? These were your words: the judicial system. The system includes the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court. Are they sadists, too? We should choose our words more carefully. I realize you wanted to rouse us, you wanted to get our attention. You did what you set out to do. Thank you.
The courts and law enforcement agencies are staffed by our fellow Russian citizens. They live in the places we live in. They [were] raised in the same families in which we were raised. They are part of our society. There are probably all kinds of different people everywhere, in all large organizations. If you have a look at the percentage of law enforcement officers convicted of crimes, it has recently increased and increased considerably.
This suggests the work of housecleaning has not stood still. It has intensified and produced certain results. In order to minimize this, however, we do not need repressive actions against the justice or judicial system. We need serious, multi-pronged, multi-faceted work. That is what we have been trying to do on this Council.
Open Russia Activist Whom Police Assaulted in October Detained in Lipetsk OVD Info
December 12, 2018
Alexander Kiselevich, the Open Russia activist assaulted by four police officers in October, has been detained in Lipetsk. He has reported the incident to OVD Info.
Kiselevich was stopped near his home by traffic police. After checking his papers, they asked Kiselevich to follow them to the Izmalkovo District Police Department, where he was charged with breaking Article 19.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code (disobeying a police officer’s lawful orders). The policemen told Kiselevich he would be taken to court from the police station.
In October, on the eve of an election to choose the head of the Izmalkovo District Council, Kiselevich was beaten by police officers before being taken to a psychiatric hospital for a compulsory examination. Kiselevich was thus unable to present himself to the competition committee, and his name was struck from the ballot
Kiselevich was charged with breaking Article 19.3 after the incident in October. The police claimed Kiselevich resisted them when they were forcibly delivering him to the psychiatric hospital.
Kiselevich is a well-known opposition activist in Lipetsk Region. In 2016, he was elected head of the Afanasyevo Village Council, but shortly thereafter the majority of council members voted to dismiss him. Kiselevich was charged with embezzlement (Article 160 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code).
UPDATE. Kiselevich has reported to MBKh Media that a court in Lipetsk has found him guilty of disobeying a policeman’s lawful orders and fined him 500 rubles. Kiselevich plans to appeal the sentence.
Elections to the State Duma and regional legislative assemblies throughout the country are scheduled for September 18, and the campaign, such that it is, is in full swing. Journalist and Yabloko Party member Boris Vishnevsky has behaved the way a real city councillor should during his first four years representing part of Petersburg’s giant Central District. So it is no wonder the ruling party, United Russia, has taken aim at him by running a loyalist like Maria Shcherbakova, longtime head of the Central District, against him in the city’s second single-mandate electoral district. And her campaign, it would seem, is pulling out all the dirty stops, confident it will never ever have to pay for its crimes. TRR
“Opposition candidate Boris Vishnevsky. Residents of the Central District! I must become a deputy in the [St. Petersburg] Legislative Assembly. To make this happen, transfer 1,000 rubles to my special election campaign account. Account no. 40810810956049000026.” The fine print in this counterfeit campaign poster creates the impression the poster was ordered by Vishnevsky himself and lists other fake details, such as the print run and the name of the print planting where the poster was, allegedly, printed, along with its address.
Friends and colleagues, especially those of you from the Central District:
The district has been pasted with fake ads, allegedly endorsed by me, suggesting that people transfer money to my election campaign account.
I think this is a reaction to my complaints against illegal campaigning on behalf of Maria Shcherbakova, United Russia’s candidate [for the seat in the Legislative Assembly currently held by Vishnevsky] and head of the Central District. Likely as not, the fake were posted early in the morning by employees of the housing and maintenance service. By the way, the number of the election campaign account is fake too, of course.
There is nothing surprising about this, friends. They don’t know how to campaign any other way and they won’t do it.
Complaints have been filed with the police, the prosecutor’s office, and the Municipal Electoral Commission.
First, don’t believe fakes.
Second, this is proof I have real support from people, and city hall is scared of me.
Third, when you see something like this, call my campaign headquarters immediately at +7 967 596 5021.
Maximum repost. People should be aware of dirty campaign tricks.
Translated by the Russian Reader
But that is definitely not how low the regime can go. That was just a party trick, so to speak.
Meanwhile, some more productive Petersburgers have produced this nifty map of the city’s subway system. Unlike all other maps of the system, and there have been plenty since it went online in 1955, this one shows the depths, in meters, of all the stations in the subway.
The deepest, at 86 meters, is Admiralteiskaya, a relatively new station, opened in 2011, and located near Palace Square and the Hermitage, as well as, naturally, the Admiralty.
What do Petersburgers do as they ascend and descend the long escalators that take them down into and up out of the underground, rides that can take over five minutes in the most profound cases? Well, they do lots of things, including reading, chatting, meditating, listening to music, etc. One thing they are not doing a lot of, I am afraid, is thinking about the upcoming elections. But that is no accident, just as it was no accident all those fake Vishnevsky campaign posters were plastered all over downtown. TRR
Source: VKontakte; thanks to Comrade DE and others for the heads-up
I have sent this to the Echo website. I hope they will post it soon.
I ask you to repost it.
Friday the thirteenth is a black day in the calendar.
It is no coincidence that on the same day the editorial staff of RBC, one of the best and most professional Russian media outlets, was gutted, the latest paranoid law bill authored by Irina Yarovaya was passed by the Duma.
First, if the bill is passed into law, the Federal Security Service (FSB) will have the right, after issuing a so-called official warning, to ban any citizen from traveling abroad for five years.
For your information, according to FSB Order No. 544, dated November 2, 2010, this “warning” can be given “to an individual in the absence of grounds for criminal prosecution in order to prevent the commission of crimes.” Only “pre-confirmed information” about the “outwardly (verbally, written or otherwise) manifested intent to commit a specific offense in the absence of signs of preparation to commit a crime or an attempt to commit a crime” has to exist.
Let’s translate this from legalese into Russian. There are no signs a crime is being prepped, there are no signs of an attempt to commit a crime, and there are no grounds for criminal prosecution. There is only “information” about the “intent to commit a crime,” information that has appeared out of nowhere and has been obtained god knows how.
Under such rules any undesirable or dissenter can be subject to a “warning,” including people shopped by informers to our beloved secret police for “verbally” or “otherwise” (say, by the look on their face) expressing the intention to commit a crime.
Second, criminal liability will be introduced for “failing to report a crime,” meaning for failing to shop someone to the secret police. As Igor Yakovenko has aptly put it, this will turn “squealing into a civic duty.”
Third, revocation of citizenship would be stipulated for crimes of a “terrorist and extremist tenor,” despite the fact that opposing the authorities is easily classifiable as “extremism.”
All three provisions are blatantly unconstitutional, but they were confidently passed in the first reading, with opposition from an overwhelming minority consisting of Dmitry Gudkov, Sergei Petrov, and Ilya Ponomaryov’s voting card.
You can bet your boots there will be a second and third reading, and the president will sign the bill into law.
I would like to say the Constitutional Court would be bound to quash the law, but considering how it has behaved in recent years there are no grounds for such political optimism.
The darkness is deepening.
However, that always happens before the dawn.
Boris Vishnevsky (Yabloko Party) is a member of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Nastya for the heads-up.
L’invitation au voyage
Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble!
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble!
Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
De tes traîtres yeux,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Des meubles luisants,
Polis par les ans,
Décoreraient notre chambre;
Les plus rares fleurs
Mêlant leurs odeurs
Aux vagues senteurs de l’ambre,
Les riches plafonds,
Les miroirs profonds,
La splendeur orientale,
Tout y parlerait
À l’âme en secret
Sa douce langue natale.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Vois sur ces canaux
Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l’humeur est vagabonde;
C’est pour assouvir
Ton moindre désir
Qu’ils viennent du bout du monde.
— Les soleils couchants
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D’hyacinthe et d’or;
Le monde s’endort
Dans une chaude lumière.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Start by taking a brick and shattering the glass.
Go from the kitchen (mind the steps!) to the dining room.
Sweep Peter Ilyich and Beethoven from the baby grand,
Unscrew the third leg. That is where you’ll find the loot.
Don’t traipse into the bedroom, don’t rifle the chest of drawers,
Lest you start to masturbate. The bedroom and the wardrobe
Smell of perfume, but except for rags from Dior,
There’s nothing you can hustle in the Old World.
Two hours later, when they announce the flight,
Don’t bolt for the gate. Stretch your legs and feign boredom.
In any crowd of passengers you will usually spy
A Jew with forelocks, kiddies in tow. Join their hora.
The next morning, when Zizi pulls up the venetian blinds
And tells you the Louvre is closed, grab hold of her wet curls,
Bury her stupid mug in the pillow and, snarling, “Bite!”
Do to her the thing that deprives the soprano of her trills.
When Will We Hear “Shoot Them like Mad Dogs”?
Boris Vishnevsky echo.msk.ru
January 13, 2016
“Enemies of the people,” “traitors,” “nothing is sacred,” “dancing to tune of western intelligence services,” “tried, with maximum severity, for sabotage.”
These are not snippets from a 1937 edition of Pravda or a speech made at a Party meeting during the same period.
This is how Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Republic of Chechnya, speaks of the opposition to Vladimir Putin and his regime.
For a complete resemblance to Stalin’s time all we are lacking are references to “monsters,” “humanity’s garbage,” and a “despicable bunch of scoundrels,” and demands to “wipe them off the face of the earth” and “shoot them like mad dogs.”
But never say never. We might hear these phrases soon as well.
Equating the opposition with a hostile force is a key feature of a totalitarian regime, which Russia is building at an accelerated pace.
In a normal country, after making such statements, Kadyrov, Jr., would be booted out of office overnight, at least.
In a normal country, however, he never would have been able to take office.
Boris Vishnevsky (Yabloko Party) is a deputy in the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Putin ally says opposition should be tried as enemies of the people
Andrew Osborn Reuters
January 13, 2016
MOSCOW (Reuters) – One of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile allies has accused the opposition of trying to exploit the economic crisis to destabilize the country, using Stalin-era rhetoric to suggest unnamed individuals be put on trial for sabotage.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, called the liberal opposition, which has only one lawmaker in the 450-seat parliament, enemies of the people, a phrase recalling language used during the reign of terror unleashed by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the 1930s.
“Representatives of the so-called … opposition are trying to profit from the difficult economic situation,” Kadyrov told reporters, according to a statement issued by his office late on Tuesday.
“Such people need to be regarded as enemies of the people and traitors. They should be put on trial, with maximum severity, for sabotage.”
Opposition figures and rights activists said they were alarmed by his words with some suggesting the police should look into them.
Mikhail Kasyanov, one of the opposition’s leaders and a former prime minister, said: “There is no such concept in our constitution, but from Soviet history it is widely known that in Stalin’s time that is what they called anyone who thought differently … and that such people were liquidated.”
Battered by low oil prices, Western sanctions and a falling ruble, real incomes are on the slide in Russia for the first time in Putin’s 15 years in power, presenting the Kremlin with a challenge of how to stop discontent bubbling over.
Kadyrov made his remarks ahead of a Russia-wide parliamentary election in September amid so far only limited signs of social discontent.
Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief-of-staff, said on Tuesday “radicals and extremists” must be prevented from getting into parliament in that vote, raising fears among the opposition that they will find it harder to contest such elections.
Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya since 2007 and Putin’s most high-profile ally in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus area of southern Russia, did not name the opposition figures he thought should be put on trial.
Starved of access to state media and restricted by strict laws on protests, Russia’s liberal opposition is still reeling from the murder last year of Boris Nemtsov, one of its leaders.
One of the suspects awaiting trial for carrying out Nemtsov’s murder, Zaur Dadayev, used to serve in Chechnya’s police and was described by Kadyrov after the killing as a “true patriot of Russia.”
Nemtsov’s daughter has said she wants police to question Kadyrov in connection with the case. Kadyrov told a Russian radio station in October the idea he was a suspect was “total nonsense.”
Petersburgers Protest Destruction of Mephistopheles Bas-Relief
August 30, 2015 Yodnews.ru
Novaya Gazetareports that a popular assembly to protest the destruction of a bas-relief featuring an image of Mephistopheles took place today, August 30, on Lakhtinskaya Street.
Protester with a handmade Mephistopheles t-shirt at Sunday’s rally
“This is not a rally; we are not using amplifiers and posters. People have just come out to show how they feel about vandalism,” said Alexander Kobrinsky, a deputy in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly.
About five hundred people attended the rally. They attached a temporary banner with a photo of the bas-relief to the facade of the building from which it had been knocked down.
The people who attended the assembly sang Mikhail Novitsky’s song, “This is our city, this is our city, / We will stand up for it! / This is our city, this is our city, / We will defend it from wild vandals!”
Folk singer and activist Mikhail Novitsky leads protesters in song
The Mephistopheles bas-relief on Lakhtinskaya was demolished on August 26. A petition has been posted on Change.org demanding that those involved in the sculpture’s destruction be brought to justice. It has gathered nearly 2,300 signatures of the necessary five thousand. [As of this writing, 4,887 people had signed the petition — TRR.]
Mephistopheles Facade Facing Orthodox Church Taken Down In St. Petersburg
August 27, 2015 The Moscow Times
A 100-year-old bas-relief depicting the mythical demon Mephistopheles has been removed from the facade of a historical building in St. Petersburg overlooking the nearby construction site of a new Orthodox church, local inhabitants said.
Mephistopheles House sans Mephistopheles
Mephistopheles is a mythical demon that appears as the devil in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust. The bas-relief of the character had been a feature of one of St. Petersburg’s minor landmarks, a building on Lakhtinksaya Street known as the House with Mephistopheles.
Local news outlets and social media users reported that the relief was removed from the building without explanation on Wednesday. According to one Facebook user, historian Dmitry Bratkin, the house was designed by 19th and early 20th century architect Alexander Lishnevsky.
“Naturally, the monument was under protection,” Bratkin said. “Or had been. Fifteen minutes ago, Mephistopheles was knocked off the facade.”
One resident of the building, Kirill Alexeyev, told independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta that “workers showed up at 10 in the morning, did not introduce themselves, and did not say who had sent them.”
Instead, the workers asked the building’s residents to move their cars away from the building to avoid being damaged by falling plaster, and then proceeded with the removal of Mephistopheles, Alexeyev said.
“I said: What have you done, this is after all a monument protected by the state,” he said, Novaya Gazeta reported. “They responded: Not to worry, it is old and dilapidated, and it will be restored in plaster.”
The promise of recreating a version of the bas-relief in plaster indicated that the demolition had been a “planned action,” supposedly approved by the authorities, instead of a grassroot stunt by activists displeased by the sight of a mythical demon, Alexeyev suggested.
However, a spokesperson for the city’s architectural monument preservation department, known by its Russian acronym KGIOP, denied any knowledge of the incident, Novaya Gazeta reported.
The removal of the historical bas-relief has also prompted protests by some local lawmakers. St. Petersburg municipal legislator Boris Vishnevsky has sent a complaint to KGIOP, while his fellow lawmaker Alexander Kobrinsky said he would ask police to open a criminal investigation on charges of destruction of cultural heritage sites, St. Perersburg’s Fontanka news agency reported.
Petersburg legislator Boris Vishnevsky poses with photo reproduction of Mephistopheles bas-relief
Some commentators also claimed that the removal of sculpture might be connected to the construction of an Orthodox church that would face the House with Mephistopheles.
“A couple of days ago, a cross was placed on the roof of the church that is under construction across [from the building],” Bratkin wrote on his Facebook page. “Yesterday, some sprightly people showed up and took photographs of the facade with the Mephistopheles, and today at 3 in the afternoon, a worker hung down from the roof and — whack, whack, whack.”
Russian Orthodox church currently under construction opposite Mephistopheles House
Natalya Levina, another local woman, said her neighbors had spotted “people from the church” looking around and inquiring about the “demon,” the Metro news agency reported.
Historical preservation activists have asked police and the construction firm that is building the church about who had authorized removing the Mephistopheles image, Levina was quoted as saying. Both organizations denied having any knowledge of who authorized its removal, she said, according to the report.
Lishnevsky, the architect, died during World War II after being evacuated to a hospital in Yaroslavl — a historical city 250 kilometers to the northeast of Moscow. Much of his work survived the devastation of the war and the secular policies of the Soviet Union.
The Mephistopheles bas-relief was created in 1910-1911, Fontanka reported.
All photos by and courtesy of David Frenkel. First article translated by The Russian Reader
Anti-Maidan Actions Shouldn’t Make Putin Feel Secure, Vishnevsky Says
February 22, 2015 Window on Eurasia
Staunton, February 22 – The Kremlin-organized Anti-Maidan demonstration in Moscow should not make Vladimir Putin feel secure because it was in reality an updated version of the Day of the Black Hundreds, Boris Vishnevsky says, groups organized by the tsarist regime to show support for the autocracy but that later did nothing to defend it.
Just as a century ago, demonstrators paid for by the regime or pushed to take part by their employers or officials went into the street to “denounce the revolution, praise autocracy, demand the preservation of the existing order and destroy ‘the enemies of the tsar and Fatherland,’” the Yabloko St. Petersburg city deputy says.
In its current incarnation, “the heirs” of the Black Hundreds denounce the Maidan, praise Putin and demand the destruction of ‘the Fifth Column,’” led by notorious Stalinists, supporters of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and demonstrating by their slogans – including “’Putin is Better than Hitler’” – their level of sophistication.
Also like their tsarist-era predecessors, the Anti-Maidan organizers are spectacularly unfortunate in identifying themselves in this way, as becomes obvious, Vishnevsky says, if one compares the Maidan and the Anti-Maidan and if one considers how the Black Hundreds groups behaved when push came to shove — and how the Anti-Maidan people are likely to.
In Kyiv, people came into the Maidan “to drive out a corrupt regime.” In Moscow, they “came to the ‘Anti-Maidan’ in order to express their loyalty and support to the powers that be.” They did not demand the regime meet its obligations to the people but only and instead that “the power not change.”
That may sound good to Putin and his backers, Vishnevsky continues, but he ought not to be too encouraged by this. That is because “when his power begins to shake, not one of those who came to the ‘Anti-Maidan will come out in his defense” – just as a century ago, “not one of the Black Hundreds types came out to defend the tsarist power.”
But if Putin does not care to look that far back in time, he might consider a more recent example, the St. Petersburg deputy says. None of those who had shouted “’Glory to the CPSU!’” or denounced “’the crimes of American imperialism’” came out to defend the communist regime when it began to fall apart.
Indeed, he suggests, like their predecessors, those in the Anti-Maidan who “equate Putin with Russia” and swear that they will ‘not give him up’” will betray him among the first. If Putin doesn’t believe that” – and he probably doesn’t – “then let him ask Yanukovich,” an even more recent victim of the delusion of those in power about how much support they have.
But there are more reasons for Putin to be worried. The extremist slogans on offer in the Anti-Maidan action, including anti-Semitic tropes that also link it with the Black Hundreds of the end of the Russian Imperial period, the lack of support from those whose names were invoked, and the small size of Anti-Maidan actions outside of Moscow should be of even greater concern.
As Forum-MSK.org points out today, the workers of the Urals Wagon Factory (Uralvagonzavod) who Putin sees as symbolic of his support among Russia’s silent majority and who were referred to be speakers at yesterday’s event in Moscow are anything but enthusiastic about him and his policies.
Lacking new orders, that plant is cutting back production plans and laying off workers, a situation that is replicated at many industrial sites around the Russian Federation and that hardly is an advertisement for the successes of the Putin regime or a reason for workers to give it more than lip service support.
Outside of the Moscow ring road, there were a number of Anti-Maidan actions. But because the PR needs of the regime were largely satisfied by the 35,000-person crowd in Moscow that could be shown on television and because the regional governments now lack the resources to do more, they were very small, in some cases no more than a handful and in others only a few dozen or a few hundred.
The Kremlin may not care a lot about the size – few in the Moscow media and even fewer Western reporters will cover anything outside of the capitals – but it probably should be worried that those taking part were in many cases the very Russian nationalist extremists it has been prosecuting and that their slogans were even more extreme than those in Moscow.
Moreover, the Kremlin’s PR specialists may be nervous about what happened when regional media picked up on that: In many cases, they were not afraid to say that “the meeting in support of Putin … failed.” That is exactly what a Karelian news agency did.
In Petrozavodsk, the republic capital, the agency said, a meeting had been scheduled as part of “an all-Russian action ‘in support of national leader Vladimir Putin’” with slogans like “’It is [time] to drive out ‘the fifth column.’” But in the event, Vesti.Karelia.ru noted, “only 15 people” came out in behalf of those ideas.
It may be that the men in the Kremlin won’t take notice of this; but there is no question that the people of Karelia will.
One of the strangest shocks I’ve had over the past couple years was discovering an advert for this sprightly academic tome in my favorite biweekly review of books:
In this unique volume from the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations and the Social Science Research Council, some of the world’s greatest minds—from Nobel Prize winners to long-time activists—explore what the prolonged instability of the so-called Great Recession means for our traditional understanding of how governments can and should function. Through interviews that are sure to spark lively debate, 22 Ideas to Fix the World presents both analysis of past geopolitical events and possible solutions and predictions for the future.
Interviews with: Zygmunt Bauman, Shimshon Bichler & Jonathan Nitzan, Craig Calhoun, Ha-Joon Chang, Fred Dallmayr, Mike Davis, Bob Deacon, Kemal Dervis, Jiemian Yang, Peter J. Katzenstein, Ivan Krastev, Will Kymlicka, Manuel F. Montes, José Antonio Ocampo, Vladimir Popov, Joseph Stiglitz, Olzhas Suleimenov, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Immanuel Wallerstein, Paul Watson, Vladimir Yakunin, Muhammad Yunus
Vladimir and Yakunin are common enough first names and surnames in Russia, so I thought that maybe the Vladimir Yakunin in question was a previously obscure philosopher or economist working in the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences or Tempe, Arizona.
What I didn’t know then was that the cumbersomely named World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations was a soft-power vehicle, vigorously headed by the one and only Vladimir Yakunin, for advancing Putinism 3.0’s new Cominternist “conservative” agenda, a wild melange of militant homophobia, “traditional Christian family values” (this from veterans of an organization previously and murderously committed to “militant atheism”), “anti-imperialism,” post-capitalism, “anti-fascism,” “anti-globalism,” anti-Americanism, anti-liberalism, a yearning for the (perpetual) “decline of the west,” etc. You name the flavor, they had it (almost).
The main thing, apparently, for the hundreds and thousands of “foremost” thinkers, pols, players, NGOists, bored middle-aged academics, IR chancers, and “youth leaders” invited by Yakunin to dialogue and confab in exotic locations like Rhodes was never to ask too hard (or at all) who was footing the bill for all this grassroots diplomacy and heavy thinking.
What a rare, perceptive friend Mr. Ruse had! At the time, the only other person on planet Earth, apparently, to notice that something was amiss with Yakunin’s largesse and the seating arrangements at his tea parties was Richard Bartholemew, who writes about religious affairs:
That’s quite a line-up of intellectuals. However, the key name here is not the most famous, and it has the penultimate position: Vladimir Yakunin runs Russia’s state-owned railways, and he is a part of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. He also co-founded the World Public Forum, which co-produced the book and which perhaps therefore has some bearing on why he’s among the “World’s Foremost Thinkers”.
As I’ve discussed previously, the WPF holds regular “Dialogue of Civilizations” events involving academics, activists, and religious leaders. The range of those involved is unusually broad – recent events have included input from figures ranging from Noam Chomsky, whose critical view of the place of American power in the world is doubtless congenial to Russia, through to Don Feder, an arch-conservative “family values” fulminator whose social views fit well with Yakunin’s activism on behalf of Russian Orthodoxy. WPF events have also involved Helga Zepp-LaRouche, and it is claimed that Yakunin has cited her husband Lyndon LaRouche favourably. More on all these links here and here. There’s also apparently some interest at the WPF in extra-terrestrial matters.
Another oddity I’ve noted before is that one of Yakunin’s fellow WFP co-founders is a US-based businessman who is closely involved with the neo-Pentecostal sector of the Christian Right, particularly Rick Joyner and William “Jerry” Boykin. More on that here.
* * * * *
Further shocks to my feeble mental health were to come as, intrigued by my chance discovery of the nexus between leftist grandees like Wallerstein and Russian’s head railwayman, I plunged into the weird and distinctly unwonderful world of the Yakuninshchina.
For example, when I visited the website of the WFP-affiliated Rhodes Forum in July of last year, I was greeted by the following surreal collage:
Far be it from me to cast aspersions on Professor Chomsky’s deservedly sterling reputation. In any case, it is clear the positive associations and cultural capital the website’s designers were trying to generate for Yakunin with this juxtaposition, probably made without Chomsky’s permission. (The site seems to have been completely redesigned since then, and the offending collage has vanished.)
But what prevented Chomsky or any other of Yakunin’s many forum guests and co-authors from doing a bit of due diligence into Yakunin and his ilk, and deciding whether their progressive causes and scholarly research were well served by dialoguing or associating with him in any way?
Piskorksi later helpfully turned up in Petersburg again in the autumn, this time not as an “anti-fascist” but as an “elections observer.” He was part of an international team putting its facile stamp of (pre-)approval on a farcical but successful bid to transform the “incumbent,” Putin appointee Georgy Poltavchenko, into a “popularly elected” governor, and, by the by, stack the mostly powerless municipal councils with the right sort of folk. (If, unlike ninety-nine percent of the population and the world, you’re actually interested in how it all went down, read this eyewitness account.)
On the other end, presumably, of the political spectrum, 22 Ideas to Fix the World co-editor Richard Sakwa has recently published a hilarious op-ed in The Guardian arguing that Putin may actually be planning to do an end-around on his detractors and liberalize the regime.
So, the furious networking Yakunin has been doing over the past ten years or so has not been without its dividends.
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But the really unfunny thing is that Yakunin has a day job as head of Russian Railways. What have they been up to lately?
Russia analyst Paul Goble explained the likely impact the cuts would have on people in rural and small-town Russia:
The importance of local and regional train service in Russia is far greater than in almost any other country, given the lack of decent roads in much of the country and the availability of critical services only in the oblast capitals. Without train service, for example, diabetics who need insulin face enormous difficulties in getting it in a timely fashion.
Indeed, in some cases, as in Pskov oblast over the last two decades, the increasing difficulty rural residents face in getting to the capital – there the authorities earlier cut back bus service and then snow removal efforts – has sent mortality rates skyrocketing, reducing life expectancy among rural residents by a decade or more.
Now that Russian Railways is posed to cut back rail services elsewhere, a similar pattern is likely to obtain, and a Russian government which claims that it is acting on behalf of ethnic Russians and what it calls “the Russian world” in Ukraine will be harming ethnic Russians at home in the most serious and immediate ways.
Ordinary Russians, of course, didn’t need Paul Goble to help them see how their lives would be drastically altered for the worse, as The Moscow Times reported on February 4:
“I am a schoolboy in Class 11 and I need to prepare for the Unified State Exams. Most students have tutors that live in Tver,” Yury Arakcheev wrote on petition site change.org after local trains from his town to regional capital Tver north of Moscow were canceled.
“A large number of people work or study in Tver and to leave at five o’clock in the morning and returning at 10 o’clock at night is not an option, especially if a person has a family or small child,” Arakcheev said in a petition addressed to the regional governor that has now 7,700 signatures.
Cancellations of suburban trains have launched a wave of popular anger in Russia, a country where social protests are rare.
Last month, residents of a small village in Zabaikalsky Krai threatened to block Russia’s East-West rail artery, the Trans-Siberian Railroad, after suburban train services were cut, local media reported.
Other protests have taken place against the cuts in particularly-badly affected regions.
Opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, currently under house arrest, has repeatedly raised the topic in his popular blog, dubbing the cancellation of train services a “genocide of Russians.”
On Jan. 12 Navalny said in a blog entry that a Facebook post he wrote about the issue was seen by almost 1 million people, making it one of his most popular posts on the social networking site ever.
But what if there is a connection between all his generosity and persistence on the soft-power front and the miseries endured by Yuri Arakcheev and people like him as they try and travel between home and work and school in Russia’s regions? (I won’t even mention the possible connections between those things and allegations of Yakunin’s family’s living large outside of Russia.)
What I mean to say is that it takes a lot of chutzpah to imagine that your academic career or political/moral cause or balance sheet is so earth-shatteringly important that you can’t even be bothered to do an elementary background check on who exactly is paying your junket to sunny Rhodes or using your university press’s good name to publish his cultural-capital-generating vanity volume.
Although in the space of this blog post and with the limited means at my disposal, I can’t strictly get from here to there today, I do mean to suggest that you might have been visiting harm on people like Yuri Arakcheev by pretending none of these considerations mattered or even existed when you were getting ready to hobnob with the world’s “foremost” whomevers, who rarely have to worry about reduced public services.
At any rate, I don’t think anymore, after digging a bit into Yakunin’s high-powered glad-handing, that it is exactly an accident there is so much “confusion” in the west over recent events in Russia and Ukraine.
There are less charitable ways of putting this, but I’ll stop while I’m ahead. I really can’t get there from here yet.