What Are You Waiting For?

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On Sunday, RBC reported that the well-known Georgian jazz singer Nino Katamadze had announced she would no longer perform in Russia because she regarded the country as an invader. Her boycott is, of course, a response to the latest attempt by the Kremlin to bring what it regards as a colonial vassal to heel while using the incident to spark a moral panic on the home front.

Actually, no one should perform again in Russia, including Russians, until Putin and his fascist clique clear out of Dodge for good. It’s just funny that tiny, virtually unarmed countries like Georgia and Estonia have the moxie to stand up against the Kremlin, while much richer, stronger countries like the US, the UK, and Germany try to avoid the topic.

This is not to mention Russians themselves, who, especially in the capitals, have more means at their disposal to oppose tyranny than their poor Georgian ex-countrymen, who still hold them in the highest regard despite getting the Russian neo-imperialist treatment now and in the recent past with hardly a peep from “liberal” Russians.

Twenty years of nonstop Putinism has done such a number on Russian brains that you wouldn’t believe it unless you had witnessed it up close and personal for nearly the whole time, as I did.

It’s worse than you can imagine and it’s much, much, much worse than most Russians can imagine since, apparently, all they can imagine is inflicting Putinism on themselves and the rest of the world till kingdom come.

Correct me if I’m wrong. Show me the two million people who were just on the streets of downtown Moscow. Don’t believe the hype generated by “flash mobs” that are mostly ghosts in the social media machine.

The regime will go when millions of Russians hit the streets in all the major cities and everywhere else, too. That means two million people in Moscow, one million in Petersburg, hundreds of thousands in all the other big cities. This is what “the opposition” should be organizing toward. Neither the country nor the world has any more time for the Theory of Small Deeds 7.0 or whatever version Russia’s beautiful souls have recently launched.

I see lots of my Russian friends going to great pains and putting themselves through excruciating intellectual contortions to separate themselves and their country discursively from the current regime and government. That’s a cop-out. They either have revolt for real or things will get much, much worse very quickly.

As if they weren’t beyond awful right now. There are TWO show trials underway in Petersburg right now. Isn’t that enough to boycott Petersburg and Russia until further notice?

What are we waiting for? What are you waiting for? {TRR}

Image of Georgian flag courtesy of Wikipedia

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Welcome to St. Petersburg!

DSCN5677Two Russian National Guardsmen shake down a non-Russian and his friend (off camera) in the run-up to this summer’s FIFA World Cup. Photo by the Russian Reader

I remember when the G8 summit was held in Petersburg in July 2006. I will leave aside the counter-summit (aka the Russian Social Forum), held in then-already-doomed Kirov Stadium, that is, in a part of the city so far off the beaten path you had to want to be there very badly to get there, and the excellent job the Russian security services did making sure that social and political activists from other parts of the world’s largest country could not make it to Petersburg, much less to the forum.

I bring the summit up only because, the social forum aside, the city was pullulating with so many cops, riot cops (OMON), and Interior Ministry troops it was impossible not to notice them and realize how absurd and wasteful the security overkill was, especially since the summit per se was held in the newly refurbished Constantine Palace in the southern Petersburg suburb of Strelna, a site at least fifteen kilometers away from the central city and most of its inhabitants, and thus easily secured by a few hundred guards, policemen, and special forces troops.

Back in those halcyon days, I had a job that kept me moving round the city from morning to night, and so I would happen upon clusters of utterly idle cops, riot cops, and special forces troop in the oddest places on a regular basis while the summit was on. I remember how I once walked into an otherwise obscure, out-of-the-way courtyard late in the evening and found it chockablock with Russia police officers of some sort, possibly imported for the occasion from the other side of the country. They seemed almost ashamed to be hiding in that courtyard, protecting nobody at all from utterly nonexistent threats, and chainsmoking to kill the time.

Our beleaguered city’s next opportunity to shine in the international limelight will be during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Petersburg and several other Russian cities from June 14 to July 15.

I was reminded by a tiny incident I witnessed earlier today of the Russian police state horrorshow literally everyone in the city with their heads screwed on straight expects during the month the World Cup is in town.

By the way, all locals with an ounce of sense in their brains are planning to be somewhere else, if only at their dachas in the countryside, during that month.

When I exited my building earlier today I immediately spotted two Russian National Guard officers hassling two young men of “non-Slavic appearance.” The officers were conducting their shakedown squarely in front of the gateway that accesses the yard of the building next to ours, the only courtyyard left on our street connecting it with the street running parallel to it.

Once upon a time not so long ago, central Petersburg was chockablock with interconnecting, walkthrough courtyards, and natives in the know could cover long distances in the inner city navigating this extensive network of courtyards without having to emerge onto the actual streets.

But when the new era of “capitalism” and “democracy” dawned, and Petersburgers privatized their flats and turned their courtyards into impromptu car parks, many of them gated, locked, and otherwise blocked off their courtyards, a move that in many cases was probably illegally, although no has ever gotten in trouble, so far as I know, for establishing their own little gated communities this way.

The guardsmen were reading the swarthy troublemakers the usual bored riot act about their having the wrong paperwork when I squeezed my way around them. One of them said they would have to take the swarthy men down to the precinct and write them up, which probably meant they would hold them there long enough to make their serious intentions plain before “fining” (bribing) them and letting them go.

The preparations for the 2018 World Cup have already been a debacle for Petersburg and many of the other host cities, as well as segments of the local populace that the authorities want to go away during the festivities, including university students, dogs and cats, antifascists tortured and framed as “terrorists,” and migrant workers.

I thus took the shakedown I witnessed as a sign of things to come: the full force of the utterly lawless, mendacious, and violent Russian law enforcement machine would be unleashed against migrant workers, people who look funny or out of place, and even completely ordinary, unprepossessing local residents while the World Cup was underway.

So, my message to you out there in the wide world is take a thought for us back here in the Motherland and keep your TV turned off during the World Cup. The “beautiful game” need not be played and enjoyed at such a high human cost to the World Cup’s Russian host cities, but since ultraviolence and the gleeful trampling of human rights are the only ways the current Russian regime knows how to handle mega events like the World Cup and the Winter Olympics, not to mention the country’s day-to-day governance, show a minimum of solidarity with us here in the line of fire and don’t watch any of the matches on TV. It won’t cost you a thing, but the world’s TV executives and advertisers will notice.

I won’t even bother appealing to the jetsetters who are planning to travel to Russia for the World Cup. You are beyond the pale in any case, since you choose to live your lives in such a thoughtless, wreckless way. My only hope for you is that, at some point during your expensive, wasteful trip, Russia’s real reality will burst through the carefully packaged and securitized experience the Russian authorities have planned for you, and you realize you paid Satan a lot of money to watch a few bloody football matches in person. // TRR

No Contest

DSCN4290“March 18, 2018. Russian Presidential Election. Our Country, Our President, Our Choice! Russian Central Election Commission.” February 19, 2018, Ligovsky Prospect, Central Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Valery Dymshits
Facebook
March 4, 2018

I am somewhat surprised to see the ongoing discussion on whether to vote in the [Russian presidential] election or not. Some people write that if you don’t vote, your ballot will be used, and so on. Meaning it is assumed in advance the election commission is a band of brigands. If this is so, however, they can do whatever they want and, most important, at any level they can enter any figure they like in their official count. What difference does it make, then, if they use your ballot or not?

Actually, there is no election. Why be involved in something that does not exist? I think it is important not only to avoid attending this strange event oneself but also to explain to everyone why they should not attend, either.

DSCN2984On this “get out the vote” billboard, recently photographed somewhere in central Petersburg, a “vandal” has lightly crossed out the word “election.” Photo by the Russian Reader

Cities with populations over a million will have voter turnouts just over 50%, says a person close to the presidential administration.

All polling is a tool for actively shaping reality. Figures are used to try and suggest a particular interpretation of events, notes another source close to the administration. In his opinion, the downturn in Putin’s support rating can be explained by a lack of activity and mistakes during the campaign.

“In reality, the figure are much lower. The actual turnout is expected to be between 55% and 60%. Putin’s result will range, depending on the region, from 50% to 65%. It will be an accomplishment if the turnout in Moscow is over 50%.”

The difference between the turnout in major cities and the provinces could be as much as 20%. Usually, on the contrary, the turnout in the provinces is between 10% and 12% greater, says another person close to the presidential administration.

What happens next depends on the whether the mechanism for penciling in votes gets turned on or not. If the election is staged with the full use of the administrative resource, something I do not rule out, it does not matter who gets what in reality. If the elections are staged fairly, Putin’s result in cities with populations over a million will be lower, while his opponents’ will be slightly higher.”

The turnout in cities with populations over a million will be between 45% and 55%, the source believes.

Source: Yelena Mukhametshina and Olga Churakova, “Putin’s Rating Has Dropped Abruptly in the Major Cities,” Vedomosti, March 7, 2018

Translated by the Russian Reader. The emphasis, above, is mine.

Valery Dymshits: What Boycotting the Presidential Election Would Mean

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Valery Dymshits
Facebook
January 7, 2018

Recently, discussions whether it makes sense to boycott the presidential election or, on the contrary, whether you should vigorously exercise your right to vote have been flaring up on the web ever more emphatically. I was involved in one such discrete discussion. Its instigator, Alexei Kouprianov, recommended I publish my comments as a separate post.

There are currently no presidential elections in our country, neither elections with alternative candidates nor elections with a single candidate, neither competitive elections nor non-competitive elections. There are no presidential elections at all. For the time being, there are regions in Russia that are electoral anomalies, while all other regions do the right thing, so to speak. In those regions, you need not worry how long ballot stuffing has been going on, and it is no problem to rewrite the final official vote tally reports. So, for all intents and purposes, elections have been abolished. What matters, therefore, is not Putin’s apparent impending victory. The procedure could not even be passed off as a sound sociopolitical survey, answering the question of how many folks in Russia are for the Reds, how many are for the Whites, how many are for apples, and how many are for pears.

Since no election will take place, this should tone down the debate to a certain extent. This is my call for peace and a peaceable tone among those debating involvement and non-involvement in the election. Those who will go to the polls and those who do not are in the same straits. Neither the former nor the latter will be taking part or not taking part in an election, whatever they imagine they are doing, because objectively, that is, regardless of subjective impressions, you cannot take part in something that does not exist.

You cannot take part in it, not in the sense it is forbidden to take part, but in the sense it is impossible to take part.

The only thing that remains to be seen is what behavior is preferable given the circumstances.

The people currently involved in the electoral process have never been able to get back the significant numbers of votes stolen from them nor have they been able to make this highway robbery the subject of a serious public debate. This is possibly not their fault, since the Russian judicial system is dysfunctional, but that is not my point. The existing parties and candidates will try and raise the turnout by campaigning for themselves. In this wise, the candidates and the Kremlin are pursuing the same end. Later, a final vote tally will be whipped up for them in keeping with deals made before the elections or, on the contrary, they will be conned. This is no concern of ours. That is, the well-known scenario, implemented many times before, will be reprised. In short, we have been through this before.

What we have not been through before is a serious, well-organized boycott, although they were some calls for boycotts in the past. At least there is chance to find out on the ground whether we have a chance of organizing an election boycott or not, whether it has an effect on anything or not. This, at least, would expand our experimental knowledge of the subject.

Simple mathematical calculations have shown a decreased turnout increases the percentage of votes cast for Putin. But do we care what percentage of votes are cast for him, whether it is 65% or 75%, if the final figures are knowingly false and dictated by the top bosses? In the extreme case, if only solid Putin supporters turned out to vote, he would take home 100% of the vote, and that would be utterly unacceptable, because a European leader cannot win 100% of the vote, and Putin is well aware of it.

A noticeable decrease in the turnout, one that was clearly distinguishable from the statistical margin of error, would be tantamount to saying a considerable segment of the Russian populace had concluded that elections in Russia were wanting, to say the least. This would be an important political outcome.

For the time being I leave aside additional moral perks, say, deliberate non-participation in a fictitious process, non-participation in events approved by the Kremlin, etc.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

P.S. Every reporter or “Russia expert” who has written or been tempted to write something like, “With an 80% approval rating, Putin should easily cruise to victory in March,” should be made to read multi-talented Valery Dymshits’s short but sweet piece on why there are no such beasts as elections in Russia and the possible political benefits of a more or less massive non-turnout to the non-election scheduled for March.

I would like to add that every such reporter and “Russia expert” should be made to read this short primer on what amounts to common knowledge in Russia right before they are fired and drummed out of the profession, but the angel in me reminds me that some people cannot help liking and supporting tyrants and imagining that lots of other people like them, especially in “inferior” countries.

That it’s accredited journalists and academics involved in this baseless condescension should not surprise you. It’s always easier to get along in life if you say and do what the majority of your so-called peers and colleagues are doing, especially if you’re mansplaining a place where you don’t actually live and about which you are really quite clueless, and you get paid to do this more or less harmful work.

I thought the attack on the Russian pollocracy that was mounted by me and several other people several years ago had begun to make a dent, that some journalists and “Russian experts” were coming to see the light that polls and elections are nearly always rigged in Putinist Russia and thus provide us with nearly zero knowledge of what “Russians really think.” But I had forgotten that most reporters are lazy and many academics are dazzled by tyrants and numbers as “scientific facts.” With Putin’s self re-election just around the bend, push has come to shove, and the unprovability of his actually nonexistent popularity has been shoved back under the rug. TRR

Petersburg’s Kangaroo Courts

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Court bailiff posting a notice outside courthouse in downtown Petersburg. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Petersburg Observers
Facebook
June 20, 2017

On June 13 and 14, 2017, emergency courts, expressly forbidden by the Russian Constitution, were set in motion in St. Petersburg.

What were the peculiarities of the court hearings that took place on June 13–14, 2017, in St. Petersburg?

The unprecedented scale. On June 13 and 14, 2017, 943 administrative cases were heard by 123 judges in sixteen of St. Petersburg’s twenty-two district courts. The defendants had been charged with violating Article 19.3, Part 1 (“Disobeying the lawful order or demand of a policeman, military serviceman, penal system officer or Russian National Guard member in connection with the performance of their duties to protect public order and ensure public safety, as well as obstructing the performance of their official duties”) and Article 20.2, Part 5 (“Violation, by a participant of a public event, of the established procedure for holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, procession or picket”) of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code (KoAP). The overwhelming majority of those detained on the Field of Mars on June 12, 2017, were simultaneously charged with both offenses, regardless of the circumstances of their arrests.

The unprecedented speed with which cases were heard: zero minutes (eleven district courts), one minute (seven district courts),  etc.

The unprecedented numbers of cases heard by individual courts in a single twenty-four-hour period: 95 (Kalinin District Court), 106 (Krasnoye Selo District Court), 110 (Frunze District Court).

Violation of territorial jurisdiction. All the administrative cases should have been heard by the Dzerzhinsky District Court, in whose jurisdiction the Field of Mars is located. At the request of the persons charged with administrative offenses, their cases could also have been transferred to the courts in the districts where they are registered as residebts. In the event, the detainees were bused from police precincts to sixteen district courts. Their cases were assigned to judges regardless of territorial jurisdiction.

Violation of the right to a defense. No more than a quarter of the defendants enjoyed the services of a lawyer or public defender. Some judges rejected appeals for adjournment so that defendants would be able to secure defense counsel. Some judges gave defendants a ridiculously short amount of time to secure defense counsel. Defense attorneys and public defenders were physically unable to get into the majority of the courthouses, especially after six o’clock in the evening.

Violation of the right to a public trial. Information about the court hearings on June 13–14, 2017, was posted on the courts’ official websites only several days after the hearings themselves.  People who might have wanted to attend the hearings had no way of finding out what cases were being heard, nor when or where they were being heard. Judges’ rulings have not been published in full. Currently, only 26 of the 943 rulings, which have already taken force, have been published on the courts’ websites.

Violation of the principle of adversarial proceedings. There were no prosecutors or police officers present at any of the hearings, and the judges essentially acted as prosecutors.

Night courts are forbidden. But even on official court websites the starting times of hearings are listed well past midnight, e.g., 12:23 a.m. (Krasnoye Selo District Court), 12:45 a.m. (Kalinin District Court), 5:00 a.m. (Kolpino District Court), 5:20 a.m. (Frunze District Court).

Despite the violations, listed above, the St. Petersburg City Court has rejected all appeals filed, moreover, in the very same fashion as the district courts. This means the people who organized and launched the conveyor belt of emergency justice in St. Petersburg have direct control not only of the police and the Russian National Guard but also the of district and city courts.

P.S. The mass trials that occurred on June 13–14, 2017, in St. Petersburg, differed from extreme justice only in the sense that they were executed by regular judicial entities, rather than by specially instituted extraordinary courts with distinct powers.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Are you wondering how you might react to this nastiness, especially if you live far from Petersburg? Here’s one simple suggestion. FIFA’s Confederations Cup is currently underway at four venues in Russia (Kazan, Moscow, Sochi, and St. Petersburg). Take a gander at the match schedule and the list of corporate sponsors (which includes Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonalds, and Bud). Give them a call or send them an email saying that, because of the way the Russian leadership treats its own people when it comes to the freedoms of speech and assembly, and the right to a fair trial, you won’t be buying their products anymore, since they make common cause with flagrant tyrants.

You can also get in touch with the TV channels broadcasting the Confederations Cup matches in your city or country and tell them you won’t be watching the matches and why you won’t be watching them.

These are simple ways to show your solidarity with the six hundred and sixty some people who were arrested on Petersburg’s Field of Mars for no good reason on Russia Day, a national holiday celebrating the country’s independence from the Sovet Union, and then put through the kangaroo courts, as described above and elsewhere.

These are also effective ways of showing the Russian leadership, who set great store by their power to win bids to host major global sporting events like the Winter Olympics and the Football World Cup that we are not impressed by their prowess, especially when our Russian sisters and brothers live in conditions of such rampant unfreedom and poverty. TRR

Let’s Boycott All Contemporary Art

Editor’s Note. I’ve had it with “contemporary art” in general, not just Russian contemporary art or international art events held in Russia, fabled land of officially enforced homophobia. We think all people everywhere, progressive humanity and regressive humanity, the indifferent and the enthusiastic, everyone from Maine to Moscow to Melbourne, should boycott contemporary art. Otherwise, mouth breathers like the eurocuratorial nightmares caught shilling for the Putin regime in the article, below, will keep getting away with this fraud, which sucks up tons of intellectual, physical, financial, and technical resources that could be put to much better and more imaginative use elsewhere.

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When threatened by contemporary art, do the haka!

www.theartnewspaper.com
Moscow biennial curator and artists explain why we shouldn’t boycott Russia
While critics cry out against the country’s draconian anti-gay laws, cultural exchange is still important
By Sophia Kishkovsky
9 September 2013

Despite recent controversy over the country’s restrictive anti-gay laws, the curator of the Fifth Moscow Biennale says this is not the time to reject Russia. Her comments follow similar responses from the organisers of the Manifesta biennial, as critics call for a cultural boycott.

“I feel I am responsible to keep the platform going,” the Belgian-born Catherine de Zegher tells The Art Newspaper. The latest edition of the contemporary art exhibition opens on 19 September at the Manege Exhibition Hall.

De Zegher says that the biennale’s organisers have not placed any restrictions on what she can show. She adds that “only one or two” artists, whom she refused to identify, said they would pull out of the biennial because of the situation in Russia, but she convinced them to reconsider.

Visitors, however, are unlikely to see much art that aggressively confronts the country’s conservative laws. “I’m not a big believer in provocation,” De Zegher says. “Art that is very provocative is like fast food almost. It flares up, then it’s finished. Of course I do believe in activist gestures, and movement and action, but I think art works in a different way.”

Her comments echo those of the veteran German curator Kasper Konig, who is organising the next edition of Manifesta, Europe’s roving contemporary art biennial. Speaking at a news conference at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg on 5 September, Konig said the 2014 biennial will avoid “cheap provocations”. A petition calling for the biennial’s organisers to choose another city, postpone or cancel the exhibition has drawn nearly 2,000 signatures. Manifesta has responded with a statement on its website, expressing concern about the anti-gay laws but stressing that the biennial is based on “dialogue with those with whom we may disagree”. The biennial’s founding director, Hedwig Fijen, says that isolating Russia is wrong “especially as it deprives younger people of access to a broader scope of voices and points of view”.

“I think the 20th century was very much about shock and awe,” De Zegher says. “We’re entering another age, where there is more about collaboration, collective thinking.” Artists at the biennale are addressing controversial issues, she said, “but they are in nobody’s face”.

In the Moscow Biennale for example, the Chechen artist Aslan Gaisumov’s work touches on the intersection of religion and secularity, Islam and its relationship with Western culture, but does so with a sense of the “ambiguity of the negotiation between cultures, between religions, between the sexes, between ethnicities”, she says.

The Polish-born artist Gosia Wlodarczak, who has been working in Australia since the 1990s, is coming to Russia for the first time for the biennial. She explains why foreign artists should come to Moscow now by recalling her days as a student in Poland, when Communist rulers tried to crush the opposition Solidarity movement with martial law.

“I remember how important it was when anybody actually came [to Poland] instead of avoiding us. Every visit from somewhere else meant that people cared instead of just abandoning you, leaving you to your own,” the artist told The Art Newspaper as she worked on her intricate glass drawing installation in Manege, where the Kremlin is always in sight next door, outside the windows. “Every visit was like a contribution, and every exchange of dialogue was valued, because that’s how things change.”