“I grew up really appreciating a curated journey.” – Young pop star, “Weekend Morning Edition,” NPR, 23 October 2021
It was fourteen years ago today that I began my own “curated journey” in blogging. For my first post, I translated this little gem of paradoxical “geopolitical” thought by the artist and writer Pavel Pepperstein.
Since that day, there have been 2,945 more entries (including this one) on this website, a very long detour on Chtodelat News, which I edited and almost completely wrote for over five years, generating another 793 posts in the process, and Living in FIN, a place for my occasional forays into Finnish poetry and South Karelian living, where I’ve made an even 200 scratch marks on the wall so far. So quite soon, maybe this year even, I will have reached out to the wide world 3,000 times in this peculiar roundabout way.
Knowing that these anniversaries were around the corner, I’ve been making speeches in my head, some more structured and constructive, others more grandiloquent and sentimental. But now that one of these anniversaries has actually dawned, I don’t feel like preaching to the choir. If you’re already here, it means you get it, whatever “it” is.
That means you might want me to keep making this website. How can you help me do that?
1. Ensure a steady flow of new “Russian readers” by getting the word out via social media. Every time any of you reposts what I write here, I immediately see the number of readers double, triple, quadruple and so forth. Last year, for whatever reason, you and I were grooving on the same inner plane more often than not, and I had nearly 175,000 views at the end of it. This year, though, the reposting — and thus the influx of new readers — has seemingly dried up, so I’ll be lucky to reach a third of last year’s encouraging audience numbers.
2. Donate money to me via PayPal or Ko-Fi. In addition to paying for hosting, internet and subscriptions to the Russian independent media I read and share here in translation, I would like to be able to pay the occasional guest translator a fee as well. And, if there is money left over, even pay myself a bit. Making this website, especially the translating, is a lot of work.
3. Follow me on social media (Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, Ello, Tumblr) and repost those heads-up whenever you can, thus getting more folks hooked on this funny website and letting me know that what I do here has value for more than just me and a few other people.
This is my 1600th entry since I started translating and writing articles about modern Russian politics, society, economics, art and culture, history, social movements, grassroots endeavors, and everyday life on this website nearly ten years ago.
My first post, dated October 23, 2007, was a translation of an excerpt from Viktor Mazin and Pavel Pepperstein’s fantastic 2005 book The Interpretation of Dreams. Provocative and surprising as ever, Mr. Pepperstein argued that
[o]nly the interim between Soviet socialism and capitalism was ecological. It was a time of crisis: the factories stood idle, and the air became cleaner. It is a pity, but those days (the nineties) came to an end, and now (under cover of patriotic speeches) our country is becoming a colony of international capitalism. They try and persuade us this is success, but it is not true. We should (my dreams tell me, and I believe them) put our beautiful country to a different use, for example, by turning it into a colossal nature and culture reserve. (After all, our country, like Brazil, produces the most valuable thing on Earth: oxygen.) We should close the borders to foreigners (but let anyone leave as they like), carry out a program of deindustrialization, and limit the birth rate.
Shortly thereafter, I was offered the job of editing another website, Chtodelat News, where I volunteered for nearly five years, publishing 740 posts and slowly figuring out what I wanted to say with this hybrid of translation, editorializing, and media collage, and how I could say it.
After the long stint at Chtodelat News, I revived the Russian Reader, trying to make it as pluralistic, polyphonic and, occasionally, as paradoxical as I could, while also fulfilling the brief I have tried to keep to the fore from the very beginning: covering stories about Russia which no other Anglophone media would bother with (although they thus miss tiny but vital chunks of the big picture) and giving my readers access to Russian voices they would not otherwise hear.
I had meant to celebrate my 1500th post on this beat, but that make-believe anniversary came and went without my noticing it. It was all for the best, however, since now nearly ten years have passed since I set out on this unpredictable journey.
Like the very first post on this blog, my 1600th post is a glimpse into Russia’s possible futures, as imagined by Grey Dolphin (aka Vladimir Gel’man), his fellow scribbler Grim Reminder (yours truly), Russian rappers GROT, and my friends at the Moscow Times. TRR
Russia: It Can’t Be Improved So Destroy It, or It Can’t Be Destroyed So Improve It? Grey Dolphin
September 27, 2017
The discussions about Russia’s prospects, currently underway among the conscious segment of Russian society, despite their public nature, in many respects resemble similar debates about the Soviet Union’s destiny, held in the kitchens of members of the intelligentsia and among politicized émigrés during the so-called stagnation. Relatively speaking, it was a debate between two parties. One party, the moderate optimists, grounded their expectations on hopes the country’s leadership would change course for one reason or another (or would itself change), and there would be a chance to change the Soviet Union for the better. (There were different opinions about what “better” meant and how to achieve it.) The other party, which included both moderate and radical pessimists, argued it was no longer possible or fundamentally impossible to improve the Soviet Union, and changes should be directed towards its total elimination. Time seemed to be on the side of the optimists, whose chances at success appeared realistic at perestroika’s outset, but in fact it was working inexorably on behalf of the pessimists. By the time the optimists seemingly got their chance, opportunities to improve the Soviet Union had largely been frittered away. History does not tolerate the subjunctive mood, and we do not know what turn events could have taken had perestroika been launched ten or fifteen years earlier. Those ten or fifteen years, however, passed only in conversations around kitchen tables, while the country’s leaders strove to prevent any change whatsoever. When the changes kicked off, the energies of both parties—the supporters of improving the Soviet Union, and the supporters of destroying the Soviet Union—had not exactly been exhaused in vain, but they had not been used very effectively.
Despite all the political and economic differences between the early 1970s and the late 2010s, the current conjuncture in Russia is not so remote from what it was then in the Soviet Union. Moderate optimists have proposed seemingly reasonable projects for improvements to the authorities and the public, but they themselves do not believe they can be realized “in this lifetime.” The moderate pessimists, if they had believed earlier in the possibility of improvement, have lost faith, while the radical pessimists never believed in improvements as a matter of principle. The optimists are waiting to see whether they will get the chance to improve at least something (and if so, when), while the pessimists are ready at a moment’s notice to exclaim, “Lord, let it burn!” For better or worse, however, so far there are no obvious “arsonists” in the vicinity who could and would want to demolish the current Russian political and economic order nor have any appeared on the distant horizon. Once again, as during the stagnation, time inexorably works on behalf of the pessimists. Sooner or later, yet another former optimist or, on the contrary, a person not involved in these debates will say something like, “Today’s Russia cannot be improved. It can only be destroyed.” (Essentially, this was what happened in the Soviet Union towards the end of perestroika. Of course, there were a different set of causes and other mechanisms in play then. What I have in mind is the rationale of transformation itself.) If and when the number of people supporting the verdict “destroy” reaches a critical mass, then the first of the questions posed in my post’s title will irreversibly be answered in the affirmative, occluding the second question altogether. The more news about events in Russia transpires every day, the more inevitable this outcome seems.
Translated by the Russian Reader
If God wants to punish a man, He strips him of his reason.
I often think the whole country has been punished.
As in a fantasy story, I can see a light glowing over people’s heads.
This is not a sign of holiness.
It is a sign of moral decay,
Decay of beliefs, principles, and ideas.
The nostrils are already used to the rotting smell,
And there are cadaver spots on the faces of children and adults.
Self-destruction at the mental level,
The nation jumps into the abyss with a cry of “Keep off me!”
We will soon go extinct like the mammoths.
Young mothers with Jaguars and Parliaments.
People will have coming to them the trouble they stir up
Everyone will be punished according to their whims.
Will purify gold from impurities.
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.
Will purify gold from impurities.
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.
An ancient serpent lashes the sky with a crimson tongue,
Its breath ripples over the television networks.
Through TV screens it animates the golem and generates ghosts.
In the skulls of those who ate their souls
And vomited them out indifferently with counterfeit vodka
In the snow in winter or summer in the dust.
Two abused dudes filmed it on a mobile.
Look online, search for the tags “degenerates,” “masturbate,”
“Suck,” “come,” “sex with babies.”
I’m waiting for the last fire, but you better run.
Nothing can be fixed here now. Lord, let it burn!
Will purify gold from impurities.
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.
Russia could ban Facebook next year if it fails to comply with a 2015 law requiring companies to store Russian citizens’ personal data on local servers, the state media censor said on Tuesday.
The U.S. social network would follow in the footsteps of LinkedIn, the social platform for professionals that was banned in Russia last year after a September 2015 law requiring companies to store Russian users’ personal data on localized servers.
The head of Russia’s state media watchdog Roskomnadzor warned that “there are no exceptions” to compliance with the data storage law seen by some observers as unenforceable.
“We will either ensure that the law is implemented, or the company will cease to work in Russia,” Roskomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov was cited as saying by the Interfax news agency.
He said the watchdog is aware of Facebook’s popularity, with an estimated 14.4 million monthly and 6 million daily users in Russia as of last year.
“On the other hand, we understand that this is not a unique service. There are other social networks.”
Twitter, Zharov said, has agreed to transfer by mid-2018 its Russian users’ data to Russian servers.
“We have no plans to investigate Facebook in that regard until the end of 2017,” he added. “We will think about it in 2018. Maybe we will investigate.”
There are no technical or legal justifications for banning Facebook in 2018, only political considerations. The principal political consideration would be the need to find ways of “celebrating” Putin’s auto-reinstallation as president for “another six-year term” (i.e., for life).
As a tyrant who brooks no opposition to his illegimate rule, Putin would have to celebrate his hollow victory by instituting a series of crackdowns against his foes, as he did after formally returning to the presidency in 2012.
One of these crackdowns could involve banning Facebook in Russia, as is strongly suggested by the article I have quoted, above.
But that would be the least of everyone’s worries once Putin essentially crowned himself tsar as a gift to himself for his stunningly bad performance as the country’s leader for eighteen years.
Since his entire reign has orbited not around solving the country’s problems, but around imbricating himself and his clique of “former” KGB officers into every corporate and institutional nook and cranny in Russia (and beyond) while stealing everything he can get his hands on and rewarding his satraps with the booty “for a job well done,” he has not had much time to solve any real problems.
Anyone who does not explicitly support Putin—and by definition only members of his clique really support him, in the sense that members of a mafia clan are loyal to their boss—is de facto opposed to him.
This might be especially true during the upcoming election, because, I would imagine, the majority of Russian voters are, at very least, quite weary of Putin and his oppositionless electoral “victories” by now and would be inclined to stay home on election day, even if they are not willing to march in the streets. (That might require too much effort.)
But a low turnout would still be a slap in the face to a man whose whole schtick the last eighteen years or so has been his alleged “wild” popularity, a schtick supported by the mainstream Russian press, corrupt Russian pollsters, foreign media covering Russia, and “Russia experts,” most of whom have no other gauge for measuring or probing “Russian public opinion,” so they rely on rigged, astronomically high popularity ratings.
If something around ten percent of voters in the two capitals (Moscow and Petersburg) and the non-ethnic regions showed up on polling day, the myth of Putin’s popularity would be dealt a near-fatal blow.
Putin would take his humiliation out on his treacherous non-constituency by unleashing a panoply of crackdowns, adopting a whole new raft of repressive laws at lightning speed, as happened in the wake of his 2012 re-election, and, perhaps, arresting a prominent figure from the opposition, such as Alexei Navalny, sending him down for hard time. Or worse.
Author photos courtesy of cetacea.ru and the Russian Reader
Here’s a sunny existential question for a Sunday morning.
How can it be claimed that a person sees events “through Russian eyes” if that person is not Russian is any sense of the word, has not set foot in the country for years, has not lived in the country for years at a time, and garners their knowledge of the country and its politics only from the sources available to everyone else who doesn’t actually live in Russia, namely, the media?
And yet cutting-edge radio program This Is Hell! claims to have found just such a person for its latest broadcast.
I would very much encourage you all to listen to the program. My blog, the Russian Reader, is meant as an antidote to the casual Orientalism of almost everything uttered by hegemonic or would-be hegemonic American mouths when it comes to Russia, whether those voices aspire to be liberal or leftist, Russophilic or Russophobic.
And while you’re listening to the new edition of This Is Hell!, keep in mind that, over the past month or so, I’ve been seriously contemplating sending the Russian Reader on permanent hiatus (like its predecessor Chtodelat News, which died a cold, hard death because it was emphatically not supported by the group it nominally represented).
After a year in which I saw a steady and welcome rise in the number of readers on this website, my stats have dropped precipitously in the last two months, even though I have been trying, as always, to see events in Russia through the eyes of Russians, although I’m not Russian in any way and would never have the chutzpah to claim to be Russian, much less have “Russian eyes.”
My method has always to been to “collage,” as I like to put it, numerous and wildly different Russian points of view on what I think are the key topics in modern Russian politics, economics, society, and culture. I have done this by translating the words of hundreds of courageous, thoughtful and very different Russians, almost all of them in the thick of the events they describe and analyze in the magazine and newspaper articles, essays, Facebook posts, and informal reflections that make up most of what I publish on the Russian Reader.
The other five percent of the Russian Reader is given over to my satirical ruminations and, once in a while, serious editorials. I have never claimed they represent “a” or “the” Russian point of view since, I repeat, I am not Russian in any sense of the word.
I’ve been doing this for almost ten years now with no financial support and, if truth be told, very little other real support from anyone else. Yet I have been told by a fair number of smart and even influential people whose opinion I respect that my blog is invaluable and unique and needs to keep chugging along.
Maybe that is so, but if no one is reading it, quoting it, and especially sharing the articles published here with colleagues, friends, and opponents, there really is no point in going on with this.
It’s been a lot of work. Hard work should be rewarded in some way. Stony silence and precipitously falling numbers are not a reward for invaluable, unique work no one else is doing.
If you would not like to see the website go into a permanent coma, especially if you’re willing to support the Russian Reader in a meaningful way (one of the best ways is volunteering to translate things I could publish), let me know either in the comments under this post or via the email address listed in the left margin of this website.
Thanks for listening to my gripes. With any luck, we can get the site back on track in short order, but that will happen only if I hear a more or less loud mandate from you, my mostly anonymous and silent Russian readers. TRR