“We shall never forget the memory of the heroes who fell in battle to liberate humanity from the yoke of fascism.” A nearly effaced Soviet war memorial in Berlin-Buch, June 1, 2019. Photo by the Russian Reader
In a recent radio broadcast, Ekaterina Schulman talked about torture in the Network case. She told listeners what she thought people should do if they were tortured by the FSB. They should do everything they are told to do, remember exactly what happened to them, and go public with the story of their torture.
I was quite surprised by this way of stating the matter. It is hard to remember, but a year and half ago or so I used to give the same advice myself. Nowadays, on the contrary, I don’t think it is very good advice. It could even be harmful. I would argue it is based on several misapprehensions.
Sometimes, torturers give up torturing their victims for some reason. This what happened to Dilmurod Muidinov, a defendant in the Petersburg subway bombing case.
Sometimes, torture can be endured. Sometimes, it cannot.
It’s also not clear what it is meant by the word “endure.” The accounts I read suggest people always attempt to conceal something from their torturers even when they have given in, as it were. In fact, they try and reduce the potential harm of the words they are made to say when they are being tortured. They fight over the wording of their “confessions” and barter over it as much as they are able.
I don’t know what happened during Igor Shishkin’s 24-hour interrogation, but I am certain it would not have lasted so long if Igor had just signed the statement the FSB field officers wanted him to sign.
Dmitry Pchelintsev has spoken at length about how he tried to change the wording of his statement, given under duress, when talking to the FSB investigator, how he spun his initial statement.
The FSB often tortures people in one place and interrogates them for the first time in another place. When they are tortured, people agree to sign anything whatsoever. During the first interrogation, however, they try and deny their guilt. At this point, it is sometimes enough for the investigator and state-appointed defense counsel to make it clear to a person they are on the same side as the torturers, and for field officers to suggest they will torture the person again in order to persuade them to give in.
2. You can recant the testimony you signed under torture
No, you cannot! Of course, you can try and prove you were tortured, which is almost impossible in practice. But the statement you signed stays in the case file all the same. The court can deem it proof of your guilt and the guilt of the people against whom you were forced to testify, even if you recant your testimony.
If you don’t talk publicly about being tortured, you will get a lighter sentence. If you talk about it publicly, you can be charged with new crimes, as happened in the cases of Pavel Zlomnov and Igor Salikov. You can be charged under more serious paragraphs of the Criminal Code for the same crimes, as in the case of Network defendants Ilya Shakursky and Dmitry Pchelintsev. You can be tortured again, as happened to Pchelintsev. You can be threatened, as happened to Viktor Filinkov. Your loved ones can be threatened and intimidated, as happened to Zlomnov and the Azimov brothers.
The arsenal the torturers have at their disposal is endless.
Nor it is guaranteed you will draw attention to your case by going public. Or, at any rate, that you will draw enough attention to your case to shut down the legal nihilism unleashed against you.
An example of this is the Petersburg subway bombing investigation and trial, which have taken place in nearly total media and public silence, despite public statements by three of the defendants that they were tortured in a secret FSB prison.
“People Haven’t Found Another Way to Voice Their Opinions and Make Themselves Heard” moloko plus
February 16, 2019
In early February, the home of journalist Svetlana Prokopieva was searched by the security forces, who suspect her of “vindicating terrorism.” If charged and convicted, she could face seven years in prison. In November 2018, Prokopieva shared her thoughts about the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk live on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. In December, Roskomnadzor, the Russian media watchdog, claimed the journalist’s statement could be interpreted as “vindication of terrorism.”
What do the people in Prokopieva’s hometown of Pskov think? We spoke with people who attended a rally there in support of her on February 10 and wrote down what they told us.
Nikita, 24, woodworker
I came to this rally to support someone whom the authorities are attempting to punish unjustly simply because she analyzed certain things on her radio program. And for that her home was surrounded by a SWAT team.
First, it’s a shame this is happening in Pskov. I’d always had the sense Pskov was a democratic city, a city of free speech. But things have a changed a bit, apparently.
I don’t think Russia has passed the point of no return yet, but, judging by such cases, it is trying to get there whatever the cost.
Rallies like this also give a boost to the people who attend them. You get the sense you’re not alone, that there are quite a few other people who think like you. Maybe this will also help Svetlana.
Maria, 40, homemaker
I came to this rally to support Svetlana, who back in the day wrote about us and really helped us. She got the attention of our region’s governor, who was then Andrei Turchak, because it was really hard to get to him. But Svetlana helped us with that.
The authorities just took our property. Rosimushchestvo [the Federal Agency for State Property Management] used photocopies of documents to register our house in their name, and so we lost everything. Then our daughter Serafima was born. The doctors diagnosed her with Down Syndrome. We were immediately faced with a whole slew of trials. But Svetlana wrote about us from the very beginning of this business. She found our family when we were still building the house. It was then we had given a gift to the city by restoring a fourteenth-century wall. My husband was given an award for that. They gave him an award, but then they confiscated our house.
Around the same time, there was the “Direct Line” TV program with Vladimir Putin. I think Svetlana is the sort of person who should be on the president’s team, who should work with governors and officials.
Svetlana did an investigative report and helped us. Turchak himself took charge of the matter of our house and an inspection team (sent by President Putin, I think) came to have a look. I would like our rulers to have incorruptible and honest people like Svetlana Prokopieva on their teams.
We don’t want revolutions. We just want there to be good people close to our president and our governors. Now we have a new governor. [Instead of persecuting Prokopieva], they should make her part of his team, and then everything would be terrific in our city.
Guslyana, 40, works in agriculture and handicrafts
I have read the newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya for fifteen years. It’s an excellent newspaper, one of the few independent newspapers in Pskov Region and Russia.
So, I think it’s quite important to defend a reporter from the newspaper, just like any independent reporter who tells the truth.
I think [the charges against Prokopieva] are fabricated and far-fetched. Lots of people say similar things publicly and privately. The lack of opportunities for peaceful protest cause certain people to become radicals, terrorists, and so on. I don’t consider what Prokopieva said a call for terrorism or vindication of terrorism.
It’s just getting at the root of the problem.
I would argue that when the authorities persecute journalists they are just trying to crack down on the independent press and intimidate activists and freethinkers.
God forbid the case should end with Prokopieva’s actual imprisonment. Whether it does or doesn’t happen primarily depends on us.
I would like to quote another of my favorite op-ed writers and journalists [sic], Ekaterina Schulman. She says the only effective thing is public scrutiny and grassroots protest. When they don’t work, nothing else will work at all.
Natalya, 65, pensioner, village councilwoman
I came to this rally because I had to come. That’s all there is to it. There was no way I would not come.
I think it’s a disgrace when a person is punished for her honesty and integrity.
When I heard about the case on Echo of Moscow radio station, the word “lawlessness” [bespredel] came to mind, since this is state-sponsored lawlessness.
I listened to the program on the radio and I wanted to find the article on the internet, but couldn’t find it. I recall, though, that what Svetlana had said was quoted verbatim on the radio program, as far as I understood. There was nothing criminal about it. Moreover, I agreed with her.
I believe we should value, respect, and help such people, not run them into the ground by filing criminal charges like that against them. If it weren’t for such people, the government would simply rot due to a lack of criticism. Maybe the government doesn’t want to be criticized, of course, but if wants to progress and see its mistakes, it has to have people like this. And help them.
Anya, 38, businesswoman
We came to Svetlana’s rally carrying placards about free speech. This illustration of a pencil clenched in a fest was used at the peace march in Paris in 2015 after the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. I was part of that demo in France four years ago, and now I am here. Of course, there are fewer of us in Pskov, but Pskov is not Paris.
All of us are in the media and on the social networks. We all voice our opinions. None of us is immune to this terror directed against us, actually. We want the right to speak our minds.
Svetlana, 38, content manager
I know Svetlana personally: my previous job had to do with the mass media. Personally, I want to live in a free country where I have the right to speak out, where I can voice my thoughts freely. It’s due to all these things that I’m here.
I read the article for which they are trying to bring Svetlana up on criminal charges. I didn’t find any vindication of terrorism in it. She was simply making an argument. She said nothing radical and made no calls for terrorism.
She merely discussed the situation and why it happened.
First, one of the speakers [at the rally] was right. I don’t consider it a terrorist attack. The individual could find no other way to voice his opinion so it would be heard. After all, he left a note, a message on a Telegram chat channel that he was opposed to the FSB’s use of torture.
How could he make himself heard? It turns out he couldn’t.
Pavel, 21, vigilante, guarding the rally
The people’s militia here in Pskov sent me to the rally to maintain order.
I gather [the authorities] are prosecuting a journalist for a critical article. I didn’t read the article, but I don’t think anyone has abolished freedom of speech [in Russia]. It’s another matter altogether that it falls under our country’s laws.
From the ethical point of view, however, she did nothing wrong, of course.
I believe that peaceful rallies like this one, only publicity and dissemination of information, can help individuals avoid criminal prosecution in Russia.
When we examine the campaigns, events, and public manifestations that might be dubbed signs of creeping re-Stalinization, the rehabilitation of Stalin, his emergence in the public space amid public approval, we see that each such instance was obviously organized directly or indirectly by the state, rather than by private individuals.
The monuments that have been erected recently and whose numbers have, indeed, been growing, have usually been installed under the auspices of local branches of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). This hardly makes them popular or grassroots endeavors. I would imagine everyone knows what the CPRF’s network of regional branches and our parliamentary parties amount to in reality, the extent of their loyalty to the regime, and the degree to which they coordinate all their moves with local and federal authorities.
It’s Even a Good Thing
Way back in 2002, a street in a city in Dagestan was named Stalin Avenue at the mayor’s behest. It did not happen because the locals came and surrounded town hall, threatening to set it ablaze if the mayor didn’t agree to their demands.
In 2009, in another political era, a line from the Soviet national anthem, “Stalin raised us to be true to the people,” was restored to the visual design of the Moscow subway’s Kurskaya station. Medvedev was then the president. The authorities responded to the indignation then voiced by arguing it was historically accurate. They had simply restored the station to its original appearance.
Since then, the Moscow subway has been rendered a powerful tool of pro-Soviet and Stalinist propaganda: there are the trains in which we encounter portraits of Stalin, and campaigns like this year’s “Times and Eras.” The pretext is sometimes stills from a film or historical memoirs. But you realize none of this comes from the grassroots, from ordinary folk, but from subway top brass or Moscow and federal authorities.
In Mari El, a life-sized monument to Stalin (one of the few; busts are usually erected instead) was erected on the premises of the local meat processing plant. As the town’s main employer and a major local business, the plant naturally could not afford to be in opposition to the regime, so it provided the venue for the monument.
2015 saw the opening of a Stalin Hut Museum in the village of Khoroshevo. It was something of a scandal, because the museum was sponsored by the Culture Ministry and personally approved by the culture minister.
A bust of Stalin was erected in Pskov Region in 2016, also with the knowledge and approval of local authorities.
Art exhibitions featuring images of Stalin in paintings of his era, paintings glorifying him and other Communist leaders, opened in Moscow in 2014, 2015, and 2016—for example, a show of works by Stalinist court painter Alexander Gerasimov, who authored the painting popularly known as “Two Leaders after a Rain.” These cultural treasures were shown in the Tretyakov Gallery not at the request of the art community or the museum’s staff.
What is important to understand is the following. It does not follow from the things I have listed that there are no people in Russia who would, at their own behest, erect a bust of Stalin at their dacha or even be willing to donate money to restore a monument to him. Because we see a video of ordinary people in Sevastopol standing and applauding during the performance of a song about Stalin by a strange man in white trousers does not mean they were all specially dispatched there by the local authorities.
Sergei Kurochkin, “Bring Back Stalin,” August 2015, Sevastopol
What is the function of state propaganda? Speaking from a hierarchically superior stance, it establishes norms. It informs its audience about what is correct, normal, and permissible. It generates the ambience that lets people know that gadding about with a placard depicting Stalin is, at very least, safe, if not commendable generally. It lets them know that numerous books rehabilitating Stalin’s regime, which pack the shelves of bookstores throughout Russia, will not be deemed “extremist,” that their authors, publishers, and distributors will not face criminal charges under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, unlike other books that someone might think to display prominently in a bookstore. People are given to understand this is normal and not punishable, that it is permissible and encouraged.
When television presenters and state officials tell us there is no need to demonize anyone, that we can take a look at the Stalin era from different viewpoints, but whatever we want to say, the war was won, this is a signal that those who actually feel positive feelings in this regard and those who felt nothing in this regard should suddenly have them, that those who had no opinion on the matter should suddenly have an opinion, because they have been told it is permissible, normal, and even a good thing.
“They Want Their Own Stalin”
Theoretically, conformism is a psychological norm. We can rue the fact, but it is nevertheless the case. Individuals are inclined to join majorities. Individuals are inclined to compare their opinions with opinions they imagine are generally accepted. Maybe this is not the noblest manifestation of our human nature, but it is a sign of a mental health. We people, who are social animals, behave in this way for our own safety and to adapt successfully to society. This endows those who speak on behalf of the state, on behalf of generalized authority, with responsibility. Russia’s national TV channels are not considered sources of information and news, but voices of the powers that be. People consume TV in this way.
Let me remind you that such a sweet, innocent New Year’s TV holiday special as Old Songs about What Matters was first aired on January 1, 1996. The first program imitated the Stalin-era film Cossacks of the Kuban (1950). The film was the frame for the star-studded cast’s song and dance routines. 1996 was a presidential election year. Even the hazards of competing with the Communists in a relatively free election did not intimidate Russia’s ideologists and spin doctors. It did not stop them from organizing such a pretty, funny, sly rehabilitation of one of the most terrible periods in the history of the the terrible Soviet regime. This is what we call normalization. Look, they say, it was not terrible; it was pleasant, even. You can make fun of it and smile a good-natured smile when contemplating it. That was when the process kicked off.
Old Songs about What Matters, Russian Public Television (ORT), January 1996
Let me remind you of another early public campaign of this kind. In 2008, which, again, seems like an utterly different political era, there was a TV program, Name of Russia, which purported to pick the one hundred greatest Russians. The idea had been borrowed from the BBC program 100 Greatest Britons (2002), but was done completely in its own way. TV viewers were asked to select the one hundred most outstanding figures in Russian history, leading ultimately to the selection of a single finalist. Huge, persistent efforts were made to persuade viewers that Stalin had “really” won the popular vote, but since this would have been disgraceful, [TV channel Rossiya, known until recently as Channel Two] made the necessary adjustments, and Alexander Nevsky emerged the victor.
Name of Russia: Joseph Stalin, Rossiya TV, 2008
How did this vote really go? Now, with the know-how and knowledge we have amassed since then, we can more or less imagine how the so-called people’s will was determined, especially on television. But Name of Russia was, perhaps, the first time we saw this model fully deployed. The implied message was: they want their own Stalin, but we, the powers that be, are still shielding them from this on the sly. We still need to rein them in a bit.
A similar story involving alleged popular voting occurred in 2013, when Rossiya TV had to pick ten views of Russia, ten pictures, landscapes or historical buildings that exemplified the country. Then, as you remember, an ambitious regional leader organized the voting in such a way that the Heart of Chechnya Mosque would win. Federal officials found themselves in an uncomfortable position, and once again adjustments had to be made to the vote count so the Kolomna Kremlin would win. The ambitious regional leader got pissed off at the cellphone companies Beeline and Megafon, and they were shut down in the Chechen Republic; one of their offices was even pelted with eggs, such was the great indignation over the defeat. I mention this to illustrate how such things are organized and what their real purpose is.
We must face the truth and realize we are dealing with state propaganda, with notions of what is normal, acceptable, good, glorious, great, and outstanding that have been defined and imposed by the state. These notions strike a chord because they are voiced on the regime’s behalf and because they draw their power from actually existing needs.
A Nationwide Need for Authoritarianism Has Not Been Observed
How can we encapsulate these needs, the reality behind Stalin’s “high” rating?
I was first asked this question at an event sponsored by the Böll Foundation in Berlin.
“How can people in Russia love Stalin?”
When a question like that is tossed right into your face, you start to understand the grassroots need for justice, as understood in a peculiar way, the need for a paradoxically anti-elitist Stalin, the Stalin people have in mind when they say, “If Stalin were around, he’d settle your hash.” This Stalin was the scourge of the nomenklatura, foe of the strong and rich, and champion of poor, simple people. The degree to which this conception is mythologized and savage is beside the point, but it does exist. Many people who utter this phrase mean to appeal to strict law and order, to equality, to a primitive apostolic simplicity.
It is a sin, especially for academic researchers, to quote conversations with taxi drivers, but I too have been forced to listen to tales of how Stalin had one greatcoat and one pair of boots, but look at the way folks today live as they please and can afford everything. Meaning that the anti-elite demand is clearly encapsulated in this rhetoric. But the very idea that there is something to which one can appeal, that it is permissible, normal, and safe, was planted in people’s minds by the machinery of state propaganda.
Let’s see how successful this state propaganda machine has been over the course of several decades. Here is the simple, most basic question, as posed by pollsters at the Levada Center: “How do you personally feel about Stalin?” Look at the pattern of responses from 2001 to 2015. It would be wrong to say that any radical changes—sharp increases in respect, admiration, and sympathy—occurred. There is no evidence of this.
“How do you personally feel about Stalin generally?” Surveys conducted in April 2001, April 2006, October 2008, February 2010, October 2012, March 2014, March 2015. Possible answers: 1. I admire him. 2. I respect him. 3. I like him. 4. I could not care less about him. 5. I dislike him. He irritates me. 6. I fear him. 7. I find him revolting. I hate him. 9. I don’t know who Stalin is. 10. Undecided. All figures given in percentages of respondents.
“Do you agree or disagree with those who say Stalin should be deemed a state criminal?” Polls conducted in February 2010 and March 2015. Possible answers: 1. I completely agree. 2. I rather agree. 3. I rather disagree. 4. I completely disagree. 5. Undecided. Figures given in percentages of respondents.
What emotions have decreased? Dislike and irritation. As part of the same trend, there has been a sharp increase in those would could not care less. What do we call that? The natural course of time. Indeed, Stalin is a quite heavily mythologized figure. When we are told that “our grandfathers fought in World War Two,” we must realize the grandfathers of the current generation of thirty- and forty-somethings saw no combat. Their grandfathers and grandmothers were children during the war years, meaning that for the currently active segment of the populace, the war happened a very long time ago. Stalin has been gradually fading into the pantheon of historical characters in which Napoleon is a beloved Russian cake rather than a French emperor, and Hitler is a meme from the cartoons shared on the VK social network.
Without discussing whether this attitude is moral and good, we do acknowledge it is inevitable, because living historical memory gradually fades away, and the symbolic field remains. So, we see that Stalin is not universally loved. Love of Stalin has not grown, and neither has the need to admire or like him increased. It would be wrong to say that the common folk adore Stalin more and more. It’s simply not true.
How do young people evaluate these distant historic periods? Here is the outcome of a survey on historical events of which we might be proud or ashamed. It was conducted among Russian and American students in 2015.
“Historical events of which students are proud.” Russia: World War Two, 63%; Gagarin’s space flight, 30%; War of 1812 (Fatherland War), 20%; Annexation of Crimea, 10%; Abolition of serfdom, 8%. USA: 1960s civil rights movement, 21%; War of Independence (1775-1783), 17%; World War Two, 16%; Space exploration, 13%; Constitution and Bill of Rights, 10%. Source: Higher School of Economics, 2015
“Historical events of which students are ashamed.” Russia: Stalinist terror, 18%; Collapse of Soviet Union, 11%; 1917 October Revolution, 9%; Execution of the Tsar’s family, 6%; Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), 5%. USA: Slavery and Jim Crow laws, 46%; military interventions (Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan), 36%; Genocide of local (Native American) population), 27%; Discrimination in today’s US (violation of women’s and minorities’ rights), 25%; Internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, 17%. Source: Higher School of Economics, 2015
The correlation between the primary source of pride, victory in the Second World War, and the primary source of shame, the Stalinist terror, illustrates the ambivalence that invariably entangles attempts at complete de-Stalinization, which is impossible as long as “victory” and “Stalin” are fused in the national imagination. Nevertheless, we see that young people have a quite healthy moral focus.
Let’s look at a slightly more realistic question. It does not have to do with a person that neither you nor your grandfathers have never seen, but with the period in which you would have rather lived.
“During the past 100 years, there have been different regimes in our country. The peculiarities of each of them had a marked influence on life in our country. When do you think life in Russia was best? (Mark one answer.)” Surveys conducted in June 1993, October 1994, and January 2017. Possible answers: 1. Before the 1917 Revolution. 2. During the Stalin regime. 3. During the Brezhnev regime. 4. During perestroika. 5. During the Yeltsin regime. 6. During the Putin regime. 7. Undecided. Figures given in percentages of respondents.
The outcomes in this instance are indeed interesting. For some reason, after 2014, there was sharp decline in popularity of the reply that the best time to live was before the 1917 Revolution. I don’t know why, but for some reason the amazing effect of the so-called Crimean consensus came down to the fact that this happy time “before tsarlessness,” as the saying goes, has lost its popularity for some reason. Very few people chose the Stalin era, as we see, and there was no change in this case: its popularity was low and has remained low. Meaning that maybe people “respect” Stalin, but no one is especially keen to live in the period during which he actually ruled.
The Brezhnev era is regarded as a more or less comfy, calm, peaceable time, but its popularity has been decreasing. No one likes perestroika or Yeltsin, for that matter. A good number of respondents were undecided, and since the time span from 1994 to 2017 is quite large, people decided that, given this paltry choice, our own time, perhaps, looked okay after all.
How do these figures—this attitude to Stalin and his era, which, as we have seen, are not at all one and the same thing—correlate with people’s overall socio-political views? I have borrowed data from Kirill Rogov’s research study “Proto-Party Groups in Russia: 2000–2010s,” for which I am extremely grateful to him. The data in question are the outcome of a so-called meta poll, meaning a summary of public opinion polls, conducted over the past eighteen years by the Levada Center.
Here is a survey on a topic most closely bound up with Stalin: “Does our country need a strong hand?”
“The Strong Hand: The Authoritarian, Leader-Centered Model. Are there situations in the country’s history when the people need a strong, authoritative leader, a ‘strong hand’?” Sixteen polls conducted from November 1989 to November 2016. Figures given in percentages of respondents. Possible replies: 1. Our people constantly need a ‘strong hand’ (dark brown); 2. Power should be concentrated in one set of hands (green); 3. We should never allow power to be surrendered completely to one man (light blue); 4. Undecided (beige).
Look at the darkest line, which matches the number of replies that a “strong hand” has been “constantly needed.” The second line represents the opinion that “sometimes this has been necessary, but not always” [sic], while the [light blue] line represents the opinion that it is not necessary in any case. Look at the right side of the chart. Here we also observed the quite strange turning point, as yet unexplained by researchers, that occurred after 2014. Perhaps five or seven years from now we will say the effect of 2014 and its impact on public opinion was not as it was described to us on TV. Look at the upward tendency of the third [light blue] line: after 2014, people suddenly began to say that in no case should all power be handed over to one person. The second line (“It’s sometimes possible, but generally not a very good thing”) has taken a nose dive. The upper line was headed downward, but starting in 2011 it climbed a little, before falling again after 2013. In 2014, it experienced a sustained, short-lived upturn.
What rights do Russians value the most? Let’s look at the trends of recent years.
“What rights Russians value.” The results of sixteen polls conducted between August 1994 and October 2015. Possible replies: 1. Property rights (light blue); 2. Free speech (darker green); 3. Access to information (light beige); 4. Freedom of religion (lighter green); 5. Right to leave Russia and live in another country (crimson); 6. Right to elect one’s own representatives to government bodies.
Here we also see the mysterious, counter-intuitive post-Crimea effect, when, in the wake of 2014, Russians gave access to information and freedom of speech a hard look, while experiencing a certain disenchantment in property rights.
Such are the interesting conclusions that Russians make from what they observe. However you look at this character, it clearly follows that we do not observe either a national yearning for authoritarianism оr the longing for a strong hand. Meaning we are dealing with an idea imposed on society about what it is like. Why is this done? Why are people told they long for the return of capital punishment when don’t particularly long for it? Why are they told that the whole lot of them want to resurrect Stalin? Why are they told they enjoy large-scale crackdowns?
European but Weak
The political regime, which wants, on the one hand, to concentrate power and resources in its hands, remain in power, and yet is not a full-fledged autocracy, does not have a well-developed machine of repression. It does not have a ruling ideology and the capacity for imposing it, and it does not want to be subjected to the procedures of democratic rotation. In fact, it finds itself in quite complicated circumstances.
It holds onto power by a whole series of pretty tricky tools. A considerable number of these tools relate to the realm of propaganda and represent different kinds of imitative models and patterns. Democratic institutions and processes are imitated, for example, elections, political parties, and a variety of mass media, which for all their variety report the same thing. Elections are seemingly held, but power does not change hands. Political parties exist, as it were, but no one opposes anyone. (This applies to the CPRF and the other so-called systemic or parliamentary parties.) This is on the one hand.
On the other hand, it is necessary to imitate autocracy’s rhetorical tools, meaning, roughly speaking, trying to appear in the public space as scarier than you are. Second, it is necessary (this is a subtle point, which is often not fully understood) to present oneself not as a terrible dictator, a bloody tyrant, but, on the contrary, as a civilizing, deterring force who is compelled, ruling over such a savage people with authoritarian tendencies, to keep it reigned in all the time, to constantly moderate its thirst for blood.
Meaning that it is necessary to transmit such ambivalent signals as “Let’s not demonize [e.g., Stalin], but let’s consider the issue from all sides.” It is necessary to pretend you are conceding and, simultaneously, resisting constant public pressure, which demands archaization, clampdowns, fire, and blood. If you didn’t resist the pressure, then everyone would have probably already been hung from the highest tree. Yet you are the selfsame power actor who generated the demand. You organized this entire normalization, to which you subsequently respond reluctantly, as it were.
Why is it necessary to fashion such a terrible reputation for one’s own people? To have an excuse for the crackdown on political rights, primarily voting rights, a crackdown in which you constantly engage. If people are savage, bloodthirsty barbarians, it makes sense to prevent them from electing the people they like at elections. For the time being you, a more or less civilized European, rule them, but if you let them have their way, they would immediately elect “Hitler” (the nationalist scarecrow) or Stalin (the left-wing étatist scarecrow). Both are arguments for limiting the rights of Russians to defining their own lives. Hence, the need for Stalin’s popularity.
What is my thesis? Filling society’s heads with false ideas about itself is meant to paint the government as the only “European” in Russia. Given the current social reality, this has long been untrue, to put it mildly. No, the dichotomy of the “civilized regime” versus the “savage society” does not exist, is not borne out by any reality, and cannot be measured by any instruments.
Our society is complex, multifaceted, and diverse. If we try to single out a public opinion, a common idea of values, as shared by the inhabitants of Russia (something that has been confirmed numerous times in research papers), we would see something like the following picture. We would see a society that espouses the values customarily identified as European. We would see a society that is individualist, consumerist, largely atomized, very irreligious, predominantly secular, and fairly intolerant of state violence, again, contrary to what is usually argued. It would be even more accurate to say that those who are intolerant of state violent are much better at joining forces and much more vigorously express themselves than those who put up with it.
We would see a society with values that researchers ordinarily describe as “European but weak.” We would see a society that is basically conformist, relatively passive, not terribly willing to express its opinion, and inclined to weaving the spiral of silence, which consists in people saying what is expected of them. Nevertheless, this society is not aggressive, not bloodthirsty, and does not long for the establishment of an authoritarian regime in Russia.
To govern a society like this with undemocratic methods, of course it has to be represented in a false manner. Of course you have to screw a little flag with Stalin embroidered on it into its head so as then to point at it and say, “See what they’re like.”
I urge everyone not to get involved in this game and not play up to those who engage in it much more seriously than we do, because these ideas about a wild and terrible people, first, do not capture the fullness and complexity of our reality, and second, hinder us, blocking our way to progress and development.
Ekaterina Schulman is a political scientist at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up
Police Search Homes of Torfyanka Park Defenders Grani.ru
November 14, 2016
Defenders of Moscow’s Torfyanka Park have had their flats searched by police. Olga Romanova, founder of the Imprisoned Russia project, reported the searches on her Facebook page.
According to Romanova, police visited the home of attorney Marina Verigina, who has been consulting the activists, and her husband Vladimir Grechaninov. Law enforcement officers broke into their apartment.
Police cordoned off Natalya Fyodorova’s stairwell and did not let her neighbors act as witnesses to the search, explaining they had brought their own witnesses with them. Fyodorova was loaded into a paddy wagon along with her disabled mother, her husband Boris, and her 18-year-old daughter. The door to the Fyodorovs’ apartment was cut down with a metal grinder.
After the search of his home, Pavel Alexeev was put in the paddy wagon with his underage son Alexander. Evgeny Lebedev and his wife were loaded into the paddy wagon with their underage daughter.
Police likewise searched the home of activist Vladislav Kuznetsov and his wife Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kuznetsov’s forehead was injured while he was detained. He was then handcuffed and a scarf was wrapped around his head.
In addition, Konstantin Yatsyn and his father Yuri Yatsyn were detained. It has been reported that several more families of Torfyanka’s defenders were incommunicado.
Natalya Kutlunina, a member of the Communist Party, has reported that her apartment has been searched as well. Law enforcement officers arrived there at six in the morning. Kutlunina is out of town, and the apartment was searched with her son present.
“The search lasted three hours,” wrote Kutlunina. “They confiscated placards, Party literature, my son’s and my husband’s laptops, and my younger son’s mobile phone.”
Meanwhile, OVD Info has reported that the search at the Verigina and Grechaninov household was still underway after 6:30 in the evening. Yet since lunch time law officers had refused to let lawyer Sergei Shank into the apartment, despite the fact he produced a warrant.
The people detained during the searches were taken to the Russian Investigative Committee’s Northwest Moscow District Office. According to RBC, each activist was escorted by fifteen to twenty police officers, and the arrests were filmed by employees of the national TV channel NTV.
All the detainees were interrogated as witnesses in a case opened up under Article 148 of the Criminal Code (insulting the feelings of religious believers) before being released.
OVD Info claims violation of Paragraph 1 of the article, which stipulates a maximum punishment of one year in a penal colony, is at issue in the case. Meanwhile, after his interrogation, activist Evgeny Lebedev wrote on the For Torfyanka Park! VK community page that a case had been opened under Article 148.3 (obstructing the activities of religious organizations), which carries a maximum penalty of a year of corrective labor or three months in jail.
Orthodox clerics want to build a church in Torfyanka. Local residents are opposed to their plans, and they have been protesting them since June 2015. The decision to permit construction of the church was made illegally. In the autumn of 2015, the Moscow Town Planning and Land Commission acknowledged this and canceled the permit, demanding that the construction site at the park be dismantled. However, this still has not been done.
Moreover, the park’s defenders have been assaulted several times by Russian Orthodox militants. In the early hours of February 13, militants from the Multitude (Sorok sorokov) movement attempted to start building the church without authorization, but they were stopped by police.
In the early hours of March 3, a camp set up activists maintaining a 24-hour vigil in the park was demolished with assistance from the police. Law enforcement officers drove the environmentalists from their tent and pushed them aside as persons unknown arrived in a GAZelle minivan, loaded up the tent and the activists’ personal belongings, and drove off. It transpired that the minivan belonged to the Losiny Ostrov (Moose Island) District Council.
In the early hours of August 29, police detained twelve people, claiming that activists had been trying to break the fence around the proposed construction site.
Ekaterina Schulman, political scientist
This is a bad story, and it is bad because of the numbers of people involved. Nine people have been detained. The police came to their homes at six in the morning and took them to the Investigative Committee on suspicion they have violated Article 148.1 of the Criminal Code (“Public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed to insult the feelings of religious believers”), for which the maximum penalty is a year in prison. Meaning that it is a minor offense. Why is the Investigative Committee involved at all? They supposedly deal with serious and very serious crimes in Russia, no? All the detainees are neighbors, husbands and wives, meaning the police carpet-bombed a neighborhood that had been protesting construction of a new church in a park. What is the magnitude of their crime, which did not involve violence? What, are they terrorists? If charges of insulting religious believers have been filed in connection with a complaint, then investigate the case the usual way. Dear Investigative Committee, as a law enforcement agency you are not in the best position nowadays, and if you think you are going to strengthen it by suddenly arresting a dozen ordinary Russians for the glory of the Russian Orthodox Church, you have another think coming. If you haven’t noticed, the trend now in Russia is against exacerbation, incitement, and extremism, and for keeping people calm during the economic crisis. The FSB at least pulled some terrorists from its sleeve who wanted to blow up shopping malls. People understand that, but what was your bright idea for cheering up the media scene? Source: Facebook
We were born to sin
We were born to sin
We don’t think we’re special sir
We know everybody is
We’ve built too many walls
Yeah, we’ve built too many walls
And now we gotta run
A giant fist is out to crush us
We run in the dark
We run in the dark
We don’t carry dead weight long
We send them along to heaven
I carry my baby
I carry my baby
Her eyes can barely see
Her mouth can barely breathe
I can see she’s afraid
She could see the danger
We don’t want to die or apologize
For our dirty God, our dirty bodies
Now, I stick to the ground
I stick to the ground
I won’t look twice for the dead walls
I don’t want a white pillar of salt
I carry my baby
I carry my baby
Her eyes can barely see
Her mouth can barely breathe
I can see she’s afraid
That’s why we’re escaping
So we won’t have to die, we won’t have to deny
Our dirty God, our dirty bodies
Political Scientist Ekaterina Schulman on Why You Should Vote
Anya Chesova and Natasha Fedorenko The Village
September 16, 2016
This Sunday, September 18, the country will vote for a new State Duma, the seventh since the fall of the Soviet Union. The peculiarity of this vote is that it will take place under a mixed electoral system for the first time since 2003. 225 MPs will be elected to five-year tears from party lists, while the other 225 MPs will be elected from single-mandate districts. Several days before the elections, The Village met with Ekaterina Schulman, a political scientist and senior lecturer at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). We talked with her about why you should vote if United Russia is going to win in any case, as well as about the changes in store for the Russian political system in the coming years.
The Upcoming Elections
The Village: On Sunday, the country will hold the first elections to the State Duma since 2011. The social climate in the city and the country as a whole has changed completely since that time. Protests erupted in 2011, and the people who protested on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue believed they could impact the political situation. Nowadays, few people have held on to such hopes. What should we expect from the upcoming elections? And why should we bother with them?
Ekaterina Schulman: Everything happening now with the State Duma election is a consequence of the 2011–2012 protests, including changes in the laws, the introduction of the mixed system, the return of single-mandate MPs, the lowering of the threshold for parties to be seated in the Duma from seven to five percent, and the increased number of parties on the ballot. These are the political reforms outlined by then-president Dmitry Medvedev as a response to the events of December 2011. Later, we got a new head of state, but it was already impossible to take back these promises. The entire political reality we observe now has grown to one degree or another out of the 2011–2012 protest campaign, whether as rejection, reaction or consequence. It is the most important thing to happen in the Russian political arena in recent years.
The statements made by Vyacheslav Volodin, the president’s deputy chief of staff, on the need to hold honest elections, Vladimir Churov’s replacement by Ella Pamfilova as head of the Central Electoral Commission, the departure of someone more important than Churov from the CEC, deputy chair Leonid Ivlev, and the vigorous sacking of chairs of regional electoral commissions are all consequences of the protests. If they had not taken place, nothing would have changed. We would still have the same proportional voting system, the same seven-percent threshold, the same old Churov or Churov 2.0. Continue reading ““We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Ekaterina Schulman”→