Terry Burke: Russiagate, Syria, and the Left

dezaOnce again, years of experience and research have been poured into an article challenging entrenched narratives on the anglophone institutional left, and once again, fear of retaliation from the purveyors of these entrenched narratives has made this challenge unpalatable even to left and liberal publishers with an obvious interest in countering them.

So, once again, the Antidote Writers Collective is pleased to participate in a decentralized effort to bring this challenge out into the open.

The following was initially published on CounterVortex with the understanding that the website’s publisher would be backed up by cross-posts from sympathetic websites in order to reduce the authoritarian left’s ability to target one vulnerable person with their classic arsenal of trolling, threats, abuse, and lawsuits.

Comrade of the zine Terry Burke has been a dedicated peace activist her entire life and has already heard the worst of it even from former comrades who have unthinkingly taken on Putinist narratives and allowed themselves to be played against the emergence of effective opposition to rising fascism in the United States. We salute her years of persistence and are proud to have her back. Enjoy.
Antidote Zine

Russiagate, Syria, and the Left
Terry Burke
CounterVortex
June 27, 2019

The last major national protest in the US was “Families Belong Together” in June 2018. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country demonstrated against the Trump administration’s policy of separating children and families at the border. People who had never protested before brought their families. It’s now a year later and the situation for immigrant families has only gotten worse. Where is the outrage?

Plans for an ICE raid targeting millions of immigrants. Initiating a military strike on Iran and then canceling it. Environmental policies that disregard climate change. Pulling the US out of treaties. Rising alt-right and nationalism around the world. Ignoring congressional subpoenas. Corrupt, incompetent people heading every federal agency. The list of destructive Trump policies seems endless.

Trump’s recent visit to London brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets. Where are the protests in the US? Where are the coalitions in the US organizing against Trump’s anti-democratic, inhumane policies? Where is the left?

Part of the problem is the enormous amount of disinformation that has been specifically directed at the left, disinformation that most people don’t recognize. The disinfo uses anti-imperialist language and is posted on “left” and “progressive” sites that usually have nominally accurate stories on Palestine, Israel, climate change, corporate corruption, and other progressive issues. In addition to the disinfo media sites, respected left authors have confused their readers by dismissing Russiagate as a hoax, claiming that Russian interference in the US elections has been greatly exaggerated to provide the Democrats an excuse for Clinton’s loss.

Eight years of steady disinformation on Syria have created a split in the peace movement. The enormous amount of time and energy spent debating Syria could have gone to building the peace movement instead of dividing it. The doubts raised repeatedly about Russian interference and Mueller’s investigation have weakened the opposition to Trump. Some people don’t know which news sources they can trust. Others restrict themselves only to sources that support their ideological line.

Steve Bannon famously said, “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.” That is exactly what has happened. There are thousands of new and unaccountable media organizations on the internet.

As Syria solidarity activists, we have been struggling against extensive, sophisticated disinformation regarding Syria for years—and it’s largely not from the US mainstream media. Syria is not Iraq, where the New York Times helped Bush lead us into war with fake information about WMDs. Syria is not Kuwait, where there were false stories planted about babies in incubators.

The mainstream media articles “demonizing” Assad are fundamentally true: his regime is one of the world’s most repressive, with a police and prison torture system of historic proportions. Unlike Iraq and Iran, and contrary to the propaganda claims, the CIA did not instigate a serious covert regime change operation in Syria. The US efforts in Syria are well documented in Shane Bauer’s recent two-part article for Mother Jones. He writes, “American involvement in Syria has been as fragmented and volatile as the conflict itself.” In this groundbreaking article, he documents how the US has spent billions, initially aiding the Free Syrian Army, but ultimately focused on combating ISIS, forbidding US-backed groups from fighting Assad’s forces.

His article corroborates the stories of anti-Assad Syrians of a genuine uprising against a brutal dictator evolving into a proxy war; of Assad bombing and starving civilians. The Syrian people were caught up in the fervor of the Arab Spring and surprised themselves (and the CIA) by going to the streets in the hundreds of thousands, demonstrating for democracy, overcoming their deep fears of reprisal.

However, most of the peace movement still doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Syrian people’s eight-year struggle against the Assad dictatorship. There have been so many articles in “progressive” media promoting Assad’s narrative of another US regime change effort that they have buried the voices of Syrians.

The voices of Syrian communists, anarchists, democracy activists, writers, artists, intellectuals, and nonviolence activists have rarely been represented in “progressive” media. The majority of these media’s articles on Syria have been written by non-Syrians and they usually promote Assad’s line that he is protecting his sovereign country from US-backed terrorists.

Research from the University of Washington has shown how dominant the pro-Assad political messaging is from an “echo system” of sites that follow Russian, Iranian, and Syrian government-funded media. Researchers examined Twitter conversations about the White Helmets (a Syrian volunteer rescue group) in the summer of 2017. There were four times as many tweets from the echo system as there were from other media sources. Articles from the echo system claimed the White Helmets were a “propaganda construct,” “crisis actors” who staged events, and “they worked with or were themselves terrorists.”

The UW study noted that this echo system of sites claiming to be “independent” and “alternative” shared the same stories and writers. A few of these sites are Global ResearchRTMint Press NewsSputnik NewsFree Thought ProjectThe Anti-Media21st Century WireVeterans TodayZero Hedge, and many others.

For Syria activists, the UW research wasn’t a surprise. It confirmed our experiences over the last six years, that our struggle to get the truth out was up against a substantial, coordinated disinformation effort. We were familiar with this “echo-system” well before the UW study. While they claim to be “independent,” their political line was almost always the same on Syria, Crimea, Putin, and Trump. They played a role in electing Trump by bashing Clinton, equating Clinton and Trump, going easy on Trump, and disparaging voting.

While the sites claim to be funded by their readers and ads, they actually have very few ads and do not disclose information on their funding sources. In 2013, a former writer at Mint Press News, Joey LeMay, told BuzzFeed News, “It was incredibly secretive.” The article goes on to say there were “barely any ads on the website, and whenever LeMay asked about where they got their money, ‘it was brushed off as a non-issue. I would go home feeling not squeaky clean,’ he said.”

The sites in this echo system have all also posted numerous Russiagate articles. It’s understandable that progressives would question how extensive and effective Russian propaganda was in the 2016 elections. The mainstream media hasn’t examined Russian propaganda that targets the left. The UW research has not been mentioned in mainstream or progressive media. But it’s not an either/or proposition: we can criticize Clinton’s campaign and still acknowledge that Russian interference helped Trump win in an election where Clinton won the popular vote by a substantial margin.

The claim that a few Facebook ads bought with Russian rubles could have influenced the 2016 election may have seemed preposterous back in 2016. However, since then, there have been numerous exposés of Russia’s sophisticated use of social media and information warfare—something we had thought was mainly the province of our CIA.

While Russian disinformation is a new concern for Americans, not so for Europeans. In June 2017 the Washington Post reported that “across the [European] continent, counterintelligence officials, legislators, researchers, and journalists have devoted years—in some cases, decades—to the development of ways to counter Russian disinformation, hacking and trolling.” There have been numerous articles on how Swedenthe Baltic statesFinlandGermany, France, Italy, and others are dealing with Russian cyber attempts to influence elections and sway popular opinion.

When well-known left writers like Glenn GreenwaldMatt TaibbiKatrina vanden HeuvelNorman Solomon, and Max Blumenthal immediately denounced the evidence of Russian interference back in 2016, it had a silencing effect. After that, few well-known left writers pursued the serious possibility of effective Russian involvement. In the two and a half years since Trump’s election, there have continued to be new articles and research on Russian bots, trolls, Twitter campaigns, fake accounts, and continued Russian interference in the EU, but the Russiagate authors have ignored this information. Dark Money author Jane Mayer has also written on how Russia helped elect Trump.

After the release of the highly biased Barr summary which seemed to vindicate them, Chris HedgesGlenn GreenwaldStephen CohenMatt TaibbiAaron MatePaul Street in Counterpunch, and Katie Halper from FAIR castigated the US press for its extensive coverage of the Russia/Trump allegations.

However, they wrote nothing revising their Russiagate-is-a-hoax position after the subsequent release of the redacted Mueller report in April and Mueller’s public statement in May. The Mueller report explicitly documents extensive Russian interference in the 2016 elections, but they have refused to acknowledge this.

Greenwald wrote on April 18 that “the actions in which Trump engaged were simply not enough for Mueller to conclude that he was guilty of criminal obstruction.” After Mueller clearly stated on May 29 that he would not exonerate the president for obstruction of justice, Greenwald wrote a series of articles on Brazil and wrote nothing to correct his earlier misstatements about obstruction.

It is critical to understand that the Russiagate narrative is Trump’s narrative. By insisting for over two years that Russian interference was overblown, these authors have been defending the worst president in US history.

The UW-identified echo system of “alternative” media sites has also had numerous articles promoting Russiagate skepticism and Barr’s disingenuous summary of the Mueller Report. Global ResearchMint Press NewsFree Thought ProjectThe Anti-MediaZero Hedge21st Century WireActivist Post, and others have also continued to argue for the Russiagate conspiracy thesis, despite Mueller’s statement and all the information on Russian cyberwarfare.

Even Fox News occasionally departs from supporting Trump’s position on Russian interference, as summed up in a May 2019 Newsweek headline: “Fox News Legal Analyst Says Mueller Evidence Against Trump ‘Remarkably Similar’ to Nixon, Clinton Impeachment Charges.” But the left’s Russiagate skeptics have not conceded anything. Stephen Cohen recently wrote that Russiagate “is the worst and […] the most fraudulent political scandal in American history.”

The echo system and the Russiagate authors have published very little criticism of Putin’s Russia. They have many articles criticizing the US mainstream media, the corporate ownership of US media, “censorship” by Facebook and YouTube, but nothing on the new law in Russia whereby people can be jailed for fifteen days for “disrespecting” the Russian government online. An open internet in the US means there are thousands of sites with articles criticizing the US, but even one site with critical articles in Russia could result in fines and jail time. The difference is dramatic, and there have been no articles from the Russiagate skeptics on this oppressive law.

It’s rarely mentioned that Hedges has had a weekly show on RT (formerly Russia Today) since June 2016, which is funded by the Russian government. He’s scathing in his criticism of the US, but it’s hard to find his criticisms of Russia. After the Barr summary, he chastised the US press for “one of the most shameful periods in modern American journalism” and somehow never mentions the Russian restrictions on “disrespecting” the Russian government online.

Rania Khalek is also paid by the Russian government. Her site In the Now is one of three that were recently exposed as being owned by RT. Facebook briefly took them down until a small mention of RT’s involvement was placed on the page – a mention most people will never notice.

It is difficult to determine the motivation of the Russiagate writers and the echo system. Kate Starbird at the University of Washington writes about the echo system that “[their] efforts […] consist of diverse individuals and organizations who are driven by a variety of different motivations (including political, financial, and ideological).”

There is a certain amount of hyperbole to the Russiagate articles. The investigation is blamed for “Manufacturing War with Russia,” for “Endangering American Security,” for “Media Malpractice,” for being “This Generation’s WMD,” for “Target[ing] Any Dissent in US,” and so forth. When examining these authors’ lists of articles, one would prefer they had spent as much analysis on the dangers of a Trump presidency as they have spent on promoting their Russiagate thesis.

Stephen Cohen talks about the origins of the allegation that Trump was an agent of the Kremlin. Was it “begun somewhere high up in America by people who didn’t want a pro-détente president?” He suggests that “this originated with Brennan and the CIA.” It is all speculation, with no corroborating evidence.

For a starkly different perspective, consult authoritarianism scholars Sarah Kendzior or Timothy Snyder’s interviews, writings, and videos for detailed documentation of Trump’s dealings with Russia. They have been warning for the last three years about the dangers of the US sliding into autocracy under Trump. They have researched Trump’s ties to Russia in the decades before the 2016 elections and have tried to warn us about what is coming.

Contrast Cohen’s speculation with Snyder’s detailed factual information. Snyder is a Yale historian who wrote The Road to Unfreedom about Russia’s return to an authoritarian government under Putin and the rise of nationalism in Europe and America. He has put together a series of videos to explain what is happening here and internationally. In a concise Twitter thread, he documents fifty very specific reasons (with citations) why Trump owes a debt to Putin. He discusses the people in Trump’s campaign and in the Trump administration: “It is astounding how many of them are more directly connected to the Russian Federation than to the US.”

Kendzior lived in Uzbekistan during its transition from democracy to autocratic rule. When she started covering the Trump campaign in 2016, it reminded her of what she’d seen from the regime in Uzbekistan. Her website and podcast Gaslit Nation, which she presents together with journalist Andrea Chalupa, is an unparalleled source of information about Trump and his Russian connections and crimes. Kendzior and Chalupa advocate impeachment hearings so that the rest of the country can learn about these crimes.

Snyder and Kendzior have no doubts about the Trump-Russia collusion. There are other independent authors and researchers who are documenting and exposing what’s happening. Even without the Mueller report, there is an enormous amount of public information about Trump’s ties to the Kremlin, Russian interference, and the loss of our democracy.

When Syria solidarity activists first read the November 2016 Washington Post article about Russian propaganda influencing the 2016 elections, we were relieved. Finally, the Russian propaganda we had struggled against for years was being exposed! We assumed the propaganda on Syria would also be exposed. We thought the propaganda sites on the internet would be discredited.

We didn’t anticipate that prominent left writers would immediately denounce the Russian propaganda story as the “new McCarthyism” and Russiagate and that they would still be defending this narrative two and a half years later, in the face of so much evidence.

We didn’t understand how difficult it would be for the techies at Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to discern propaganda from the truth and how clumsy they would be in taking down sites, usually with almost no explanation, and occasionally taking down legitimate sites at the same time.

From our viewpoint as Syria solidarity activists, we are still in the same position now as we were in November 2016. Disinformation still dominates the internet. Syrian and Russian planes have been bombing civilians in Idlib for the last month, initially bombing twenty-five hospitals. While Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International have condemned the strikes on hospitals, sounding the alarm, there is no international pressure on Russia and Syria to end them. The echo system of media sites is distracting the left with disinformation about Assad’s 2018 chemical attack on civilians in Douma being supposedly “staged” by the rebels.

The persistent Russiagate articles from prominent left writers have many progressives feeling unsure what to believe. It has put us in the strange position of claiming that a former FBI director is more trustworthy than Chris Hedges or Stephen Cohen. But there is much more information validating what Mueller has reported than there is for the Russiagate skeptics and Trump.

There is no easy solution to the problem of massive disinformation on the internet. Certainly, we should be listening to the voices of progressive Syrians, Venezuelans, Palestinians, Ukrainians, Sudanese, not media pages that follow Putin’s line. Information about who is funding web pages would be one step towards transparency. Independent university research labs could evaluate the accuracy of media sites.

Another voice we should be listening to now is the authoritarianism scholar based in St. Louis. Sarah Kendzior says the Trump administration is a transnational crime syndicate masquerading as a government and he should be impeached. It’s time for us to be in the streets.

Terry Burke is an activist with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (CISPOS) in Minneapolis. Thanks to Comrade Ed Sutton and Antidote Zine for the heads-up. The article has been edited slightly to meet this website’s unwritten standards. Photograph by the Russian Reader, December 15, 2018, Ligovsky Prospect, Petersburg. In Russian slang, the word deza means “disinformation.”

Advertisements

Nordkreuz (Battlestar Galactica)

nordkreuzNordkreuz (Berlin Gesundbrunnen), June 22, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Why was the Battlestar Galactica the only ship of the line to survive the diabolical Cylon plan to destroy the entire human war fleet and, along with it, all of humankind? Because it was so obsolete it had analog communication and computing systems that had never been integrated with the rest of the ships in the fleet and the planets they defended. In other words, the Galactica and its fearless crew were not on social media and were cut off from the internet.

Having been called a liar, a troll, a useful idiot, and “delusional” by social media interlocutors in recent days, as well as enduring the more or less transparent and utterly baseless accusation, leveled by a well-known Russian scholar based in German, that I was a racist non-entity who was writing and posting on Facebook under an assumed name, I decided earlier today to make my escape from our own planet’s Cylons and sever all relations with what really could be a perfectly decent tool for mobilization,  information, and debate if people could observe a minimum of politeness there.

The ambitions of Trotskyists, Russia discourse police, post-Soviet academics, and guru-like “anti-imperialist” hair farmers, however, are such that there is no room in places like Facebook for losers like me.

This genre scene is a placeholder, a visible promise that when I get my act together, I will publish a “real” post about the other Russias.

If you need to contact me for other reasons, write to me at the address listed on the left side of this page. I will respond to your letter. However, I will no longer be responding to jabs on Facebook and even perfectly peaceable notes on Facebook Messenger. If you cannot find me because you have no idea I have been producing this blog for twelve years, I am not interested in talking to you. {TRR}

Hasbara

Here’s a great example of Israeli hasbara targeting Russian speakers.

I found the short post on a friend’s Facebook news feed. It consists of three sentences attached to a powerful image of at least thirty missiles or rockets fired simultaneously.

The message reads (in Russian), “Israel today [sad face emoji]. This is exactly the instance when one photo is worth a thousand words. The world needs to know what’s really going on! — feeling down [sad face emoji].”

israel today-post

The post has been shared 6,800 times, garnered 451 likes, and elicited 173 comments in the 20 hours since it was published.

We are meant to imagine, of course, that the “photo worth a thousand words” is a photo of a Hamas rocket installation in the Gaza Strip firing its deadly cargo towards the utterly innocent state of Israel.

A simple Google image search turned up several instances of the same image, all of them bearing different dates and captions, none of which link the “photo” in question to Hamas or the current hostilities between Hamas and the IDF.

 

So, in fact, the photo is worthless, except to underscore something we already knew.

Zionist hasbaristas are utterly unscrupulous. They count on people not bothering to check any of their claims, but just to pass the “horrible truth” along, thus confusing more people about the real, complicated facts about the relationship between the state of Israeli and the stateless Palestinians. {TRR}

Russia and China: Together Forever!

china russia brothers forever“May the unbreakable friendship and cooperation of the Soviet and Chinese peoples flourish and strengthen!  // Always together!” Images courtesy of quora.com

If you are suffering from a post-National Unity Day hangover, the cure might be a little dose of Sino-Soviet friendship, as provided by Alexei Volin, Russia’s deputy communications minister.

There are lots of funny things in Russian officialdom’s latest rant against the evil west, not the least of which is the revival of the perennial cognitive disorder known as Sino-Russian friendship. I could be wrong, but Russia has as many good reasons not to cooperate with China and slavishly emulate its “success” as it does to turn around and run hard in the other direction.

This is not to mention the withering hatred of the Chinese among a good number of ordinary Russians, a hatred you can witness up close by reading the horrifying things Petersburg tour guides say, and Petersburg magazines and newspapers write about the Chinese tourists on which the city’s tourist economy has become increasingly dependent.

Finally, there is the nonsense, touted by Deputy Minister Volin, about the alleged lack of “alternative” social networks in Russia. Could it be that the good deputy doesn’t know the Russian government stole VK from its founder, Pavel Durov, just so it could have a social network its secret services surveil at will? Is it any coincidence that almost all of the utterly ordinary people the Russian security forces have lately charged with posting or, more often, reposting, “extremist” online have been caught doing it on VK? Hence, Facebook’s stable popularity and Telegram’s growing popularity among social and political activists, and people who merely want a safe space to say to other people what they think. {TRR}

________________________

Communications Ministry Says Creation of Alternative Social Networks and Instant Messaging Services Possible
Novaya Gazeta
November 4, 2018

Due to “unfair competition” faced by Russian and Chinese media, Russia could create alternative social networks and instant messaging services, said Alexei Volin, deputy minister of the Russian Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media.

“If Twitter, YouTube or Facebook continue down the path of throwing Russian and Chinese media out of their environment, we will have no choice but to create new distribution channels, and to think about alternative social networks and instant messaging services. Although we really hope it does not come to this, we certainly should be ready for it,” said Volin.

Volin made this statement during the Fourth China-Russia Media Forum, in Shangai. According to Volin, Russia and China should develop means aimed “not at discriminating against mass media from neighboring countries, but aimed at delivering our viewpoint and our content to other regions and other people.”

Earlier, Volin said the authorities would eventually have to give up banning information, since such methods were becoming ineffective.

“Sooner or later, they will have to be abandoned, because more and more people are getting around them without even noticing they are dealing with technology allowing them to bypass [sic] blocked content,” he said.

As examples of ineffective blocking, Volin cited the instant messaging services Telegram and WhatsApp, which operate in China despite being officially banned.

Telegram was banned in Russia in April 2018 by decision of the Tagansky District Court in Moscow. The ruling was based on Telegram’s refusal to hand over the [nonexistent] keys for decrypting correspondence among its users to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Despite the ban, most Russian users have continued to have access to Telegram.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Opinion Leaders Are Losers

The other day, I closed my Facebook accounts and pages, I hope for good.

Part of the reason I closed them was that a New York City writer whose books and opinions I admire greatly, and who has a huge following on Facebook, wrote a mean-spirited and divisive post on Facebook condemning “the Heartland,” meaning the middle part of the United States.

She labeled the place “heartless” and “dangerous” on the basis of her cursory perusal of an “interactive” map of the 2016 US presidential election results, published in the New York Times.

While the map she cited is certainly worth studying and full of surprises, I imagine the writer saw only red, literally and figuratively, and blew a fuse.

I doubted out loud, in the comments, whether the writer knew much about the “heartless, dangerous” Heartland. On the contrary, I know a great deal about it, since I was born and grew up there.

She did not respond to my petty, eminently ignorable objections nor did most of her thousands of self-satisfied, bien-pensant followers, certain that the “heartless, dangerous” (and completely imaginary) “Heartland” had irrevocably damaged their beautiful souls and beautiful lives in Clintonia.

But as reporter Issie Lapowsky and map expert Ken Field argue in an article published on July 26 by WIRED (“Is the US Leaning Red or Blue? It All Depends on Your Map”), there are maps, and then there are maps. For example, there is this map, devised by Mr. Field.

Dasymetric-Dot-Density-wKen Field, “Presidential election 2016: dasymetric dot density.” Courtesy of WIRED

To Field, there’s no such thing as a totally comprehensive map, but he says, “Some are more truthful than others.” The so-called dasymetric dot density map is one of them. The term “dasymetric” refers to a map that accounts for population density in a given area. Instead of filling an entire state or county with the color red or blue to indicate which party won, Field uses red and blue dots to represent every vote that was cast. On this particular map from 2016, there are roughly 135 million dots. Then, rather than distributing the dots evenly around a county, he distributes them proportionally according to where people actually live, based on the US government’s National Land Cover Database. That’s to avoid placing lots of dots in, say, the middle of a forest, and to account for dense population in cities.

Taken together, Field says, these methods offer a far more detailed illustration of voter turnout than, say, the map in Yingst’s tweet. That map uses different shades of red and blue to indicate whether candidates won by a wide or slim margin. But by completely coloring in all the counties, it gives counties where only a few hundred votes were cast the same visual weight as counties where hundreds of thousands of votes were cast. So, the map looks red. But on the dasymetric dot density map, it’s the blue that stands out, conveying the difference between the popular vote, which Clinton won, and the electoral college vote, which Trump won.

Why do I bring this sad business up on a website dealing with “news and views from the other Russias”?

Over the last several years, I have been fighting a similarly invidious myth about Russia and Russians. To wit, Vladimir Putin is incredibly popular, as conclusively shown, allegedly, by dicey “public opinion polls” and rigged elections, and his “base” is in the “Russian heartlands,” which are, apparently, just as “heartless” and “dangerous” and stupid as the US “Heartland,” and similarly prone to throw their electoral weight behind a tyrant, unlike, we are meant to imagine, the smart sets in Russia’s two capitals, Moscow and Petersburg.

I have been at great pains to show a discursive apparatus I have dubbed the “pollocracy” produces the results that both Putin’s quasi-fascist supporters and faux-liberal detractors need to cling to their respective security blankets. In the case of the so-called liberals, the security blanket consists in the notion that the world’s largest country is largely inhabited by woefully ignorant yahoos who have laid waste to any chance at building a democracy in the Motherland. As viewed by their opponents, the fake “patriots” in Putin’s camp, the same heartland yahoos are the country’s “pious,” “conservative” core and the source of the Putin’s ruling elite’s self-produced mandate to rule the country till kingdom come and particularly badly.

Seventy percent of why I do this website is to show that Russia actually consists of lots of other Russians and lots of other Russias that belie the dodgy “findings” of pollsters and the lazy clichés reproduced ad nauseam by Russian and international reporters, “Russia experts” (nearly all of them resident somewhere other than Russia), politicos, and spin doctors to prove a self-serving conclusion they arrived at long ago without bothering to find out whether it was true or not.

It’s not true. Just as it is emphatically not true the US “Heartland” is “heartless” and “dangerous.” Or maybe it and its mythical Russian counterpart, the “Russian heartlands,” are heartless and dangerous part of the time, but not all of the time and everywhere and on the part of every single woman, child, man, dog, and cat who live there. Nor, vice versa, are the alleged oases of high intellect and liberalism where pollsters, reporters, and opinion leaders (such as the well-known New York writer who, railing and trembling like the Prophet Jeremiah, condemned the place where I was born and grew up to the fires of hell) congregate, cities like New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Petersburg, utterly free of meanness, menace, vice, crime, bad governance, popular indifference, ignorance, and support for tyrants.

What does this have to do with abandoning Facebook? First, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to produce a quasi blog there that would complement and promote this website. Since I am nobody, however, more or less nobody was interested in what I wrote.

They did, however, hang on every word written by people like the New York writer, who, having achieved a modicum of fame, felt no compunction about compounding a rank prejudice about a huge part of her own country and all the people who live there.

So, I have found Facebook an incredibly dispiriting place to try get out my word, a word very few of my so-called friends, real and virtual, wanted to hear, much more wanted to share and spread with their own friends.

Second, the continuing crackdown on bloggers and social media users in Russia has meant that fewer and fewer Russians are willing to write anything interesting on Facebook and its Russian ripoff, VK. Judging by my own real friends, more and more of them have either been observing total radio silence or retreating into the little cubbyholes known as Telegram channels, where they are invisible and inaudible to all the world except their own clique. Since one important feature on this website has been translations of the pithy, thought-provoking things Russian activists and just plain Russians have posted publicly on Facebook and other social media, I was left staring at a once-overflowing well going drier by the minute.

Third, WordPress gives its bloggers some crude but decent tools to see where their readers are finding out about their blogs and blog posts. Over the last two years, as my readership here as continued to climb, the share of those readers who were turned onto my website or particular posts through Facebook has shrunk, meaning that my own friends, real and virtual, have been less likely to share my posts with their friends than complete strangers have been to look up Russia-related topics on the internet and find their way here.

So, rather than continue to pine for support from actually hostile liberal and leftist opinion leaders whose only interest in my Facebook posts and blog posts was to scavenge them for news and ideas they would instantly pass off as their own thoughts and finds without crediting me, I have decided to live without them in order to more fully embrace you, my anonymous, ever more numerous, faithful readers.

In any case, this website will continue to be promoted on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and Ello, as before, so it is not as if I am doing a disappearing act. I just wanted to stop pretending I had friends in places where I did not have them. {TRR}

 

The 1600th: Futurama

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

Grey Dolphin

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

___________________________

GROT, “Fire”
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.

Fire!
Will purify gold from impurities.
Fire!
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.
Fire!
Will purify gold from impurities.
Fire!
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!

Fire!
Will purify gold from impurities.
Fire!
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.

Source: rap-text.ru

Translated by the Russian Reader

___________________________

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.”

[…]

________________________

 

Grim Reminder

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.

Hence the constant need to designate enemies and cripple, vanquish, jail, disappear or murder them, be they Facebook, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Boris Nemtsov.

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