Source: Russia Beyond
Source: Russia Beyond
Vadim F. Lurie
March 19, 2018
An endless stream of Muscovites and out-of-town visitors headed to the concert marking the anniversary of Crimea’s “annexation.” And only the lonely voice of a man, heard by a few and jotted on a piece of paper on Tverskaya, quietly resisted the general hysteria.
Photograph by Vadim F. Lurie. Thanks for his kind permission to reproduce it here and translate his annotation. Translated by the Russian Reader
Because of the severe if not crippling margarine deficit in this district of the ex-capital of All the Russias, I have been reduced to buttering my toast with ricotta.
Pictured, above, is Unagrande Ricotta, my preferred brand, and the brand all the shops in my neighborhood (half of which are Dixie chain supermarkets) seem to have in stock all the time, suddenly.
Despite the Italian-sounding name, however, and Unagrande’s cutesy-pie Italian-tricolor-as-heart logo, it is manufactured not in Italy, which as an EU member, is subject to Putin’s anti-sanctions against the import of most EU produce to Russia.
What has bitten Russian taste buds especially hard has been the sudden absence of decent cheese, which, before the Putin regime decided to rule the world, had been imported to Russia in large quantities, mostly because the majority of domestic Russian cheeses were neither particularly tasty nor plentiful.
Crimea-is-oursism changed all that.
Russians traveling abroad now consider it their patriotic duty to stock up on cheese before heading back to the Motherland, where they will consume it with relish themselves or, since Russians like to share, to divvy up among their friends or have a cheese-tasting party. Likewise, Europeans welcoming friends from the Motherland have been known to serve their country’s finest cheeses before and after dinner.
There are even black market Estonian and Finnish cheese outlets, practically operating in broad daylight, in the farther flung corners of the city. A friend of mine has bought such zapreshchonka (banned goods) in these establishments, usually housed in inconspicuous kiosks, on several occasions.
No, my daily ricotta is produced not in Italy, as the name and the packaging insistently suggest, but at 130 Lenin Street in the town of Sevsk, in the far western Russian region of Bryansk.
Despite its exalted status as the new ricotta capital of Russia, Sevsk is a modest town whose population, according to the 2010 census, was 7,282.
To their credit, however, the Sevskians produce their delectable Unagrande Ricotta from whey, pasteurized cream, and salt. That’s it.
Unagranda Ricotta contains zero percent of the detestable and environmentally ruinous palm oil that other Russian cheese manufacturers have pumped into their cheeses, also bearing European-sounding names, to make up for real milk and cream, which have been in short supply and are more expensive, of course.
So I doff my cap to the honest dairy workers of Sevsk, who have managed to produce a delightful 250-gram tublet of perfectly edible and utterly non-counterfeited ricotta, which sells for 144 rubles (a bit over two euros) at my local Dixie.
I would still like to know, however, what has happened to all the margarine. TRR
Image courtesy of planetadiet.com
Suicide by Crimea
March 17, 2017
As long as Russia maintains its grip on the Ukrainian peninsula, significant changes for the better at home are impossible.
In the three years that have passed since the annexation of Crimea, a consensus has taken shape in Russia. Everything having to do with the Ukrainian peninsula is Russia’s internal affair, and far from the most important one.
The “accession” of Crimea has even quite succesfully happened in the heads of the regime’s opponents. In November 2016, while arguing on Facebook with Crimean Tatar journalist Ayder Muzhdabaev, Mikhail Khodorkovsky expressed a stance then supported by many publicly prominent liberals, including activists and intellectuals. Russian society, he argued, wants to deal with other problems. The opposition’s biggest task is regime change, but returning Crimea to Ukrainian jurisdiction by democratic means would be impossible because public opinion would be opposed. Crimea is not mentioned at all in Alexei Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign platform.
Russian media outlets generally considered “liberal” (these media usually eschew the word “opposition”) havealso swallowed the annexation and most of the rhetoric surrounding it without a peep. TV Rain, RBC (even before its top editors were replaced), and the online Meduza, which operates out of Latvia and is not not subject to Russian laws, have all long routinely called and depicted Crimea as part of Russia. The standard explanation—it is required by Russian law, and insubordination is fraught with penalties—sounds like an excuse. The law does not require that questions about Crimea be included in a quiz on knowledge of Russian cities (which was amended after public criticism) or that reporters term the annexation a “reunification” (Meduza edited the latter term to “absorption.”)
At the same time, Russian reporters usually have no problem demonstratively violating Ukrainian laws (which require them to enter the occupied territory through the checkpoint at Perekop) and flying to Crimea from Russia (as Deutsche Welle reporter Yuri Resheto did), because it’s cheaper, faster, and simpler, and because Ukraine’s rules are cumbersome, inconvenient, and nonbinding.
After that, you can write critical reports on human rights violations in Crimea till the cows come home, but it won’t change what matters. The voluntary observance of inconvenient Ukrainian rules is tantamount to acknowledging Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea, and hardly anyone in Russia wants to do that.
In fact, the seizure of Crimea has been the cause of many pressing problems in Russia that have been on the Russian opposition’s agenda. It has laid bare peculiarities of Russian society that existed longer before the attack on Ukraine.
For example, not only did the extent of imperialist moods become clear but also Crimea’s place in how Russians see themselves as a society and a nation. The imperial myth, still alive and well in Russia, was concocted during Catherine the Great’s reign. From the moment they were implemented, Peter the Great’s reforms had provoked a mixed response. They smacked of “sycophancy,” and modeling the country on Holland seemed somehow petty.
Catherine, on the contrary, conceived a great European power, rooted in antiquity, Byzantine’s direct heir, the Third Rome, a Europe larger than Europe itself. Her ambitious Southern Project, which involved defeating Turkey, uniting all the Orthodox countries in a single empire, and installing her grandson the Grand Duke Constantine on the throne in Constantinople, was brought low by political reality. The only one of her great fantasies she made come true was seizing the Crimean Khanate, in 1783.
The conquest was extremely atypical of Russia. A troublesome neighbor was not subjugated. Rather, the annexed lands were completely reimagined and rewritten. The rewriting was attended by the first mass expulsion of the Crimean Tatars. They did not fit at all into the pictures of the radiant past that Grigory Potemkin was painting in reality on the annexed lands. Crimea was resettled with Plato and Aristotle’s Orthodox descendants: Pontic Greeks, Great Russians, and Little Russians (i.e., Ukrainians). Naturally, all these particulars have been forgotten long since. What has not been forgotten is Crimea’s central place in the self-consciousness of a “great European nation,” as manifest, for example, in the absurd, endlessly repeated expression, “Crimea has always been Russian.”
The saying perfectly illustrates the peculiarities of historical memory in Russia. Crimea’s current “Russianness” is the outcome of over two hundred years of the uninterrupted genocide and displacement of the “non-Russian popuation,” which culminated during the Second World War. After the two Soviet deportations of 1941 and 1944 (ethnic Germans, Greeks, Bulgarians, Italians, Armenians, Karaites, and Crimean Tatatrs were deported), losses during battles, and the Nazi extermination of Jews and Crimeans, only a third of Crimea’s pre-war inhabitants were left. It was resettled with people from Russia and Ukraine, especially by military officers and veterans of the Party and the secret services.
Naturally, few people in Russia today regard Crimea as a conquered and ravaged country, in which a full-fledged state existed until relatively recently, an indigenous culture was long maintained, and Russians were never the ethnic majority even during the lifetimes of the present elder generation.
Regarding Crimea as a territory, not a society, and treating Crimeans as an annoying inconvenience, was a habit in Catherine’s times and has survived into the present. The formal excuse for the Russian incursion was the “defense of Crimea’s Russophone population,” and yet the “Crimea is ours” attitude of Russians to the peninsula’s residents has been quite skeptical from the get-go. They imagine the main business of Crimeans is leaching off tourists, and the only thing that attracts them about Russia is high wages.
Moreover, this opinion is common across the entire political spectrum. Sergei Parkhomenko, a liberal journalist and public figure, expressed it in a very telling way.
“If first you take five days to explain to the population of Crimea that if they return to Ukraine’s jurisdiction, their wages and pensions will be increased, and they’ll also be permitted to build even more chicken coops for holidaymakers in the coastal zone, and only then you ask them to vote in a referendum, 95% will vote for going back. […] These people have proved they could not care less what country they belong to. And if there is anyone for whom I now feel not an ounce of sympathy as I read about how they are being fooled, robbed, milked, and put under the rule of gangsters pretending to be officials and bosses, it is the population of Crimea.”
The massive support of Russians for the annexation has much more serious and immediate consequences than a display of deeply rooted chauvinism. Having signed off on “Crimea is ours,” Russians have deemed their own power above the law and sanctioned its use in violating all laws and treaties for the sake of higher interests or “justice.” The Russian authorities had behaved this same way previously, but now they have obtained the relevant mandate from society. Quite naturally, the crackdown following the seizure of Crimea has been chockablock with spectacular acts of lawlessness.
One such act was the demolition of commercial kiosks and pavilions in Moscow, which happened despite legalized property rights and court rulings. There was nothing accidental about the fact the Moscow authorities justified their actions by citing the law adopted for settling real estate disputes in Crimea. And the twenty-year-sentence handed down to Oleg Sentsov set a new ceiling for verdicts in political trials. Before Crimea, activists would get a dvushechka (two years) for especially vigorous protests. After Crimea, the Russian authorities have been sentencing people for reposts on VK and holding solo pickets.
Actually, any regime that tasks itself with establishing the rule of law in Russia will first have to annul this “mandate to lawlessness.” The Russian opposition’s attitude to Crimea shows the rule of law is not among its priorities at all. Bewitched by the figure of Putin, the opposition does not regard regime change as a product of the rule of law. The fact that it cannot offer a realistic scenario for regime change is not a problem in itself. Russia’s currrent regime does not presuppose a peaceful change of power. Systemic change might happen as it did in the Soviet Union, at the behest of the bigwigs and under the impact of external circumstances: the state of the economy, public sentiment, foreign policy factors.
The opposition’s most serious problem is that it doesn’t have a meaningful outline of what would come next.
If we believe the alternative to Putin is neither Navalny, Khodorkovsky nor anyone else, but a democratic state based on the rule of law, there are two obstacles in our way: Crimea and Chechnya. The opposition has no vision of how to establish control over Chechnya and incorporate it into Russia’s legal system, but it is possible in theory, at least. There is no such possibility with Crimea. It is impossible to hope for international recognition of the peninsula as part of Russia, and if we keep regarding it as part of Russia, it will thus remain a legal anomaly. Moreover, no rule rule of law is even formally possible without observance of international law.
When discussing Crimea, the Russian opposition evinces a notion of democracy that differs little from Putin’s, although it is consonant with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the European populists: that democracy is rule based on majority support and not burdened by the observance of laws, procedures, and international obligations. Khodorkovsky, for example, considers “democratic procedure” not the restoration of law, but the adoption of a decision on Crimea based on the opinion of the majority, which, allegedly, is against giving Crimea back to Ukraine. Navalny has suggested holding a new, “normal” referendum.
Yet what the majority really thinks, whether there is such a thing as public opinion on any issue and how to measure it, obviously means nothing at all either to Khodorkovsky, Navalny or many other members of the opposition. By the same token, since Putin is supported by the majority of the Russian population, there is nothing for the opposition to do at all. All these contradictions can be eliminated only by unconditionally recognizing both the illegality of Crimea’s annexation and the total impossibility of keeping it in the Russian Federation on any grounds.
With Crimea in tow, Russia has no positive alternative to the current regime. And as long as the Russian opposition is concerned only about regime change and avoids discussing Crimea, the only thing it can offer is a Putinist Russia sans Putin. Whoever ends up in his place, however, the changes won’t be too noticeable.
Nikolay Klimenyuk writes about politics and culture in Germany and Russia. He was an editor at Forbes Russia, Bolshoi Gorod, and other periodicals. He has lived in Berlin since 2014 and writes for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other German mass media. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader
“I Don’t Know How to Trim My Sails to the Wind”: The Head Editor of Radio Station for the Blind on His Dismissal for Speaking Out on Crimea
October 6, 2015
Oleg Shevkun, head editor of the online radio station of the All-Russia Society for the Blind (VOS), was fired after making comments on the air about the unlawfulness of incorporating Crimea.
“I think that, from the viewpoint of international law, the incorporation of Crimea was unlawful. And the countries that responded to it with sanctions are right. We got Crimea along with isolation from the rest of the world,” Shevkun said on the air.
The VOS confirmed to Yod that Shevkun had not worked since late September: he had resigned voluntarily. Shevkun, who is wholly visually impaired, told Yod about his firing and what he planned to do next.
Why did you start talking about the incorporation of Crimea on Radio VOS, which, according to its website, is engaged in “covering all aspects of the life, work, and adaptation of people with visual impairments”?
We have tried to stay away from politics on our radio station, but it turns out to be impossible. From September 14 to September 20, the VOS held a big festival entitled “Crimean Autumn.” The point of the festival was to gather the visually impaired people of Crimea and pass on the VOS’s know-how to them. Radio VOS was involved in the festival, and on the eve of the festival we got a question from a listener in Ukraine while we were on air: “Are you going to Crimea for reasons of conscience or because your job requires it?” I could have left the question unanswered, but I am used to speaking sincerely with people. I said that my conscience did not bother me, but that I considered the incorporation [prisoedinenie] unlawful from the viewpoint of international law, and was surprised how Crimea had become part of Russia. And that I was even more surprised that this idea had been supported by the residents of Crimea. Then I added that we were going to visit people who had supported this business, and we had something to offer them.
So you did not use the word “annexation” [anneksiia]?
No, I think I answered the listener’s question politically correctly. The head editor had to voice his own position on Crimea. And this was what I did. I should note that no one who called into the studio during this program disputed the unlawfulness of Crimea’s incorporation into Russia. Listeners said, Well, what of it? America breaks the law, too. If it is going to be “Well, what of it?” then we will be living by the laws of the jungle. Mom taught me not to steal, the Bible says, “Thou shalt not steal,” and in contentious situations you have to negotiate.
What happened after this broadcast?
At the festival in Crimea, one of the participants asked Alexander Neumyvakin, the president of the VOS, why management was not monitoring the content of programs on Radio VOS. Neumyvakin said there are different opinions, but the program was soon deleted from the archive. Vladimir Bazhenov, director general of the VOS cultural and sports rehabilitation complex, told me I would be fired after the festival.
How did he explain this decision?
The radio station survives on subsidies from the state. If the higher-ups find out we have been criticizing Crimea’s incorporation, blind people will end up out of work and without rehabilitation.
Do you think he was expressing his own fears or did he get a signal from higher up?
Bazhenov told me the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knew about what I had said about Crimea. But I think he was playing it safe. During the following program [at the festival], the blind people of Crimea said they had been shocked by what the head editor of Radio VOS had said, and had welcomed the “little green men” like family. In the evening, at the banquet celebrating the end of the festival, after one of the toasts it was announced that among us there was a certain person . . . Basically, he no longer worked at Radio VOS. And they called my name. I was asked to publicly renounce my beliefs; then, maybe, I could keep my job. I refused to refute my personal opinion. Bazhenov replied that, if that was the case, I should either resign voluntarily or they would fire me for cause and I would never be able to get a job again. I was not allowed to host my programs, for example, a talk show about new technologies for visually impaired people. We took second place with this talk show at a competition for radio programs in the Central Federal District. I used to think that such situations happened only in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books.
How did your colleagues react to your dismissal? Did they try and defend you?
My colleagues were told I had said on air that Crimea had been annexed, although this was not the case. There was a co-presenter with her own position and two listeners on the program in which we discussed Crimea. Everyone voiced different opinions, as should be the case when an important topic is discussed. The management objected: what had been acceptable two years was now impossible, and I should have sensed which way the wind was blowing.
What did you say?
I don’t know how to trim my sails to the wind. If I follow the wind all the time, what will be left of me?
Had you made any political statements on the air earlier?
When Russia’s isolation from the world began, we did the program “Navigator,” about the lives of blind people around the world, and we established a partnership with a radio station for blind people in Great Britain. We did a big interview with Seva Novgorodsev and Dina Rubina. We have tried to remain open despite the trends in society. We did programs with blind Ukrainian people, and they talked about what had changed for the better for them after the change of regime. “Crimea is ours” [Krymnash] was also in our programs. For example, I did an interview with Sergei Aksyonov, the head of Crimea.
Have you found a job yet?
I am still looking, but I am confident there will be work, despite all the complications. After my firing, a nasty text about me, entitled “Anatomy of Freedom” (by analogy, apparently, with “Anatomy of a Protest”), was leaked onto forums and social media. It explains to our listeners that I am an “American sectarian” and that I have “American curators.”
Why was it necessary to write and distribute a text like that?
After my firing, listeners were outraged and asked questions. The text explained to them who I was.
The text also says that “under your leadership, Radio VOS really became a ‘ray of light’ for many blind people.” Tell us how you got the job of head editor at Radio VOS and what you accomplished during your time in the post.
I was a pastor in the Evangelical Church, taught, and always dreamed of working on the radio. In 2011, VOS Radio was founded, and I began doing a show there on technologies for the blind. The ratings went up. In 2013, I was offered the job of head editor. Under my leadership, the team managed to increase our listenership by several times. We have a great team consisting of ten professionals, both sighted and visually impaired people. I am certain they will go on working at a high level. We have won prizes at different festivals where such famous radio stations as Echo of Moscow and Radio Russia were involved. Many new programs have come on the air, for example, a program about how blind people can solve everyday problems. On the show “Student Council,” students talked about how blind people should behave in a university cafeteria and adapt to life in a dormitory. We broadcast music by visually impaired musicians. It was very important to us to establish a dialogue with our listeners. For example, blind people sit at home and need to break out of this isolation.
The presenters give them the opportunity to call on the air; they guide them through the discussion, support them, and inspire them. For example, a man calls on the air and says he hesitates to use a white cane. The presenter asks him which is more shameful, to go out carrying a white cane or stay put at home. The man finally agrees he should get out of the house.
Or, for example, we had a blind man from Yekaterinburg, Oleg Kolpashchikov, who sails, on the air. He and his crew of blind people have traveled nearly around the world. Kolpashchikov talked about what it had been like when he lost his sight. He is even glad to be blind now, because it is disgusting to have to look at some people’s faces. He said all this in a pleasant bass voice, calmly, easily, positively. Maybe he said it crudely, but such words give confidence to people who have recently gone blind.
So you almost never discussed sociopolitical topics on the air?
Do you regret you expressed your opinion about the incorporation of Crimea and lost your beloved job?
The director general said he had not been happy with my political position for a long time. I did not hide my political views. For example, I came to work wearing a “I am praying for Ukraine” ribbon. My dismissal was a matter of time. I grew up on Radio Svoboda and Echo of Moscow, and cannot quickly cave in to a fickle world.
Governments, international organization, and concerned citizens in different countries have been protesting against the increasing discrimination against the Crimean Tatars. They have demanded an end to the crackdown. Only in one country have no such protests been heard.
Guess what country?
For more than a year, its citizens have pretended not to notice that their government has been behaving towards the Crimean Tatars along the lines of the Third Reich, having cast this people in the role of collective outcast. Moreover, it is not only officials and supporters of the regime who have behaved this way, but its opponents as well.
“Opposition,” “intelligentsia”: it is no longer possible to write these words in Russian without quotation marks. In this entire country of 140 million people you will hardly find ten people who have spoken out publicly in defense of the Crimean Tatars. Almost all my Moscow “friends” have been silent as well. When I appealed specifically to them here on Facebook, telling them in detail about the plight of the Crimean Tatars in Crimea, I got zero likes and zero reposts from those whom I had imagined as my addressees.
It is worth pondering this situation and evaluating it on its merits.
An entire people have been made second-class citizens in their country. People have been deprived of the chance to listen to the radio and watch TV in their own language, and children cannot even watch cartoons in this language! People are intimidated. Some of them have disappeared without a trace, others are in prison. The rest simply sit at home crying from fear, a sense of injustice, and despair. No one can be punished (at least not yet) for expressing sympathy with the Crimean Tatars. So why has the cat got your tongue, citizens?
It is just that no one really cares at all.
I think that even if the Crimean Tatars are shipped from Crimea in cattle wagons, as they were in 1944, I will read two or three posts about it in Russian on Facebook, amidst an account of sluts at a bar and snapshots of beloved doggies.
It is because of this, and not for some other reason, that I do not believe this country can essentially change for the better.
The damned eighty-six percent are to blame for everything? Is that right?
Look who is talking, fourteen percent.
Ayder Muzhdabaev is deputy chief editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. Image courtesy of Ukraine Today
To all the Crimea-is-oursians out there and their fellow travelers in the “we won’t give back Crimea even after Putin goes” camp (e.g., Navalny and other members of the opposition) and their apologists in “the West,” just read the article I have linked to, below, as an April Fool’s joke.
And entre nous, the “Crimean Tatars,” who are they anyway? They sound like something you would slather on your fish fingers, not a real people with real rights.
Sorry for the interruption: you can go back to feeling smug about being real white people.
March 29, 2015
Speaking about the motives of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the author [of the article “Why did we ‘surrender’ Crimea?”; here, in Russian] makes a common mistake: she deems the Putin regime ideological, as indicated by the fact she mentions ideas of the “Russian world” as a motivation for annexing Crimea and the subsequent aggression.
In reality, however, the Putin regime is a right-wing authoritarian kleptocracy. By default, its kleptocratic essence already presumes the absence of any underlying ideology. This is not to say that the regime’s elite does not espouse any ideas. It does. These ideas include anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism, and anti-liberalism. However, all these ideas are negative (anti-), and even in their totality they do not produce anything that could be called an ideology, i.e., a positive system of beliefs.
However, the authoritarian nature of the Putin regime already highlights the fact that the regime may utilize discrete ideological elements in those cases when it is necessary to consolidate power. The regime instrumetnalizes elements of conservatism and Russian nationalism (the “Russian world”) and antagonistic imperialisms and plants them in Russian society to mobilize it and consolidate the kleptocracy. But these elements of real ideologies are not directly related to the nature of the regime. In other words, “Russian worlds,” “traditional values,” and “our grandfathers fought fascism” are fairy tales for the poor.
However many Ukrainophobes there are in Russia and among the Putinist elite, the destruction of Ukraine as a state is not an end in itself for the Putin regime. The Russian kleptocracy needs the Russian-Ukrainian war only to maintain its hold on power in Russia.