(disseminating information containing hidden insertions affecting the subconscious human mind)

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Yakutsk Reporter Fined for Violating Law on Freedom of Mass Information
OVD Info
July 25, 2019

The Yakutsk City Court has fined journalist Mikhail Romanov 30,000 rubles for violating Article 13.15.9 of the Administrative Offenses Code (abusing freedom of mass information), Interfax reports.

Earlier, it was reported a beat cop had charged Romanov with violating Article 13.15.1 of the Administrative Offenses Code (disseminating information containing hidden insertions affecting the subconscious human mind)

Administrative charges were filed against Yakutsk vechernii (The Evening Yakutsk) reporter Mikhail Romanov after he published an article in April about Yakutsk libertarian Anton Ammosov. Romanov’s article detailed how Ammosov, a former employee of the Northeast Federal University, was beaten by FSB officers, threatened with torture, and had his home searched for posting comments about the Network case and the suicide bombing at the FSB’s offices in Arkhangelsk.

OVD Info has published Ammosov’s story.

Romanov told OVD Info about his interrogation at a police station on July 4. He noted then that the charges against him had been filed at the FSB’s behest.

Earlier, Ammosov recounted that, in November 2018, he was suddenly detained and taken to the local FSB headquarters, where he was beaten, threatened with torture by electric shock, and interrogated after he posted comments on the website ykt.ru.

In January 2019, Ammosov learned that he had been fired from his job. After reports of Ammosov’s persecution were published, an FSB field officer who had interrogated him hinted there would be consequences for this.

Image courtesy of ResearchGate. Translated by the Russian Reader

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They Are Who They Are

gorzhush“Tomorrow, the whole world will write about this. I am proud of my profession. #FreeIvanGolunov…” Vedomosti.ru: Vedomosti, Kommersant, and RBC will for the first time…” Screenshot of someone’s social media page by Ayder Muzhdabaev. Courtesy of Ayder Muzhdabaev

Ayder Muzhdabaev
Facebook
June 9, 2019

Russia’s “liberal opposition journalists” have been vying to praise each other as they celebrate a feast of “disobedience.” They just stood in the crossfire, that is, in timid solo pickets. And now, risking having their offices torched, three newspapers have produced editions with the same headline in defense of a colleague detained by police on trumped-up charges.

They have never nor would they ever publish a newspaper with the headline “I Am/We Are Crimean Tatars,” a people their country has been murdering and imprisoning on trumped-up charges by the hundreds for the last five years.

They have never nor would they publish a newspaper with the headline “I Am/We Are Ukrainians,” a people their country has been murdering by the thousands and imprisoning by the hundreds on trumped-up charges for the last five years.

It suffices to say they would even find printing the headline “I Am/We Are Oleg Sentsov” terrifying. It would never occur to them because they know how life works in the Reich, where Ukrainians are “fascists,” and Crimean Tatars are “terrorists,” just like Oleg Sentsov. So “I-ing” and “we-ing” is taboo to them.

They are delicately integrated into the Russian Reich. They feel it in their bones. They are one of the regime’s vital props. The hybrid dictatorship badly needs to pretend there is a political struggle in Russia and the country has a free press. They help it in its quest to destroy the western world and attack other countries.

They always only do things that won’t get them in serious trouble. They would never do anything that poses the slightest risk of exposing them as real enemies of the Reich.

We enter this in #TheChroniclesOfTheRussianReich.

Translated by the Russian Reader

i-we

The front page of Vedomosti, June 10, 2019: “I Am/We Are Golunov.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

Joint Communique on the Ivan Golunov Case by the Editors of Vedomosti, Kommersant, and RBC 
We Demand Maximum Transparency from Investigation
Vedomosti
June 9, 2019

Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter with Meduza, was detained on June 6 on suspicion of attempting to produce and distribute narcotics.

We welcome the fact that the court has ordered house arrest for Golunov rather than remanding him in custody in a pretrial detention facility.

However, we do not find the evidence of Golunov’s guilt, as provided by police investigators, convincing, while the circumstances of his arrest raise serious doubts that laws were not broken in the conduct of the initial investigation.

We cannot rule out the possibility that Golunov’s arrest has something to do with his work as a journalist.

We demand a detailed inquiry into whether the Interior Ministry officers who were complicit in Golunov’s arrest acted legally. We insist that the outcome of this inquiry be provided to the media.

We expect law enforcement to comply strictly with the law. We demand maximum transparency from the investigation. We will closely monitor the investigation’s progress. We encourage relevant public organizations to join us.

We believe implementation is fundamentally important not only to Russa’s journalism community but also to Russian society as a whole. We demand that everyone obey the law and the law be obeyed with regard to everyone.

Translated by the Russian Reader

upside down cake

Pineapple upside-down cake. Stock photo

Nearly the entire leftist and liberal Russian intelligentsia have thrown their ferocious but scattered energies into a campaign to free a well-known journalist on whom the cops planted narcotics. It is obviously frame-up and rightly makes folks in the world’s largest country indignant.

But it also makes people think they are fighting the good fight when most of the fights they should be fighting or should have been fighting long ago they ignore altogether, like the fight against what their own government and armed forces have been doing in Syria, or the kangaroo court trials against antifascists in Penza and Petersburg (the so-called Network trials), and the alleged (Muslim Central Asian) accomplices of the alleged suicide bomber who, allegedly, blew himself up in the Petersburg subway in April 2017.

I shouldn’t even mention the case of the so-called New Greatness “movement,” an “extremist group” set up, concocted, and encouraged from its miserable start to inglorious finish by the FSB (KGB). Its so-called members did nothing but attend a couple of “political” discussions organized by the selfsame FSB.

All these young people have been framed, and many of them have plausibly claimed they were tortured by FSB officers.

That is, whole groups of innocent people (mind you, I am only scratching the surface here, leaving out scores if not hundreds if not thousands of the regime’s other victims at home and abroad) have been railroaded by the mighty Putinist state, but they have not been granted an audience, so to speak, by progressive Russian society because progressive Russian society cannot identify with any of them in any way.

But it can identify with the nice white middle-class reporter from Moscow. And it does want to remind itself of its essential goodness and compassion from time to time, so everyone has jumped on the bandwagon to get the reporter out of jail.

Or, rather, engage in a frenzy of virtue signaling that may not actually get him out of jail.

Bully for them, but no one notices that many of these grassroots campaigns are patterned like hysterias and moral panics. They are also identical to other suddenly emergent internet-powered fads, like the recent craze for Game of Thrones or “Facebook flash mobs” that involve, say, posting a picture of yourself from twenty years ago and explaining what you were up to way back then.

It has to be something, anything, except the things that matter a million times more, like the Russia air force’s endless bombing of Syrian children and Syrian hospitals, and the Putin regime’s endless, vicious hunt for “extremists” and “terrorists” like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Network “terrorists,” the “New Greatness” extremists, the conspicuously othered (and, thus, forgotten) Petersburg subway “terrorists,” and on and on.

These witch hunts are discussed publicly by virtually no one, and their victims (this is especially the case with the Central Asian “subway bombers”) are mostly left to fend for themselves.

What matters about the reporter is that he is white, innocent, and “one of us.” Apparently, he doesn’t believe in “extremist” nonsense like antifascism, anarchism, Islam or Jehovah’s Witness doctrine.

The reaction to the case is a symptom of liberalism that is utterly white and nationalist, meaning it is not liberalism at all.

It is white nationalism with a human face, Great Russian chauvinism turned upside down.

“They cannot do this to one of us.”

But “they” have done to it to thousands of non-white, non-Russian others over the years, including Chechens, antifascists, Syrians, Crimean Tatars, businessmen, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Krasnodar’s farmers, truckers, environmentalists, anarchists, LGBTQ+ activists, Central Asian migrant workers, Ukrainians, anti-“reunification” Crimeans, the passengers of MH17, US voters, etc.

Almost no one batted an eye when they were “destroyed” (this is the regime’s pet dehumanizing verb for when it murders or obliterates its enemies), neutralized or otherwise royally fucked over by the Putin regime.

It is all over but the shouting unless the shouting becomes a lot more inclusive quickly. June 9, 2019 || THE RUSSIAN READER

redman.JPGPhoto by the Russian Reader

“This is too much, even for Russia.”
Meduza editor on BBC Radio 4 morning news broadcast, commenting on the arrest of Meduza reporter Ivan Golunov, 9 June 2019

But declaring all Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremists” and organizing a witch hunt against them is not too much, “even for Russia”?

I had it with Meduza after the ham-fisted, blatantly misogynist way it handled its recent in-house #MeToo scandal. The scandal revealed the actual shallowness of the website’s liberalism.

Of course, Meduza should defend its reporter from police railroading.

But the fact it has managed to make the story go international in a matter of days and then, using this bully pulpit, suggest there is nothing worse going on in Russia than Golunov’s persecution, also reveals something about the depth of its liberalism or, rather, about what passes for liberalism in Russia.

Unlike liberalism in other countries, Russian liberalism has no time for anybody but the rather narrow segment of Russians it recognizes as full-fledged human beings.

I would guess this amounts to less than one percent of the entire population, but I am probably being too generous. June 9, 2019 || THE RUSSIAN READER

crisisRussia does not have to worry about a crisis of democracy. There is no democracy in Russia nor is the country blessed with an overabundance of small-d democrats. The professional classes, the chatting classes, and much of the underclass, alas, have become accustomed to petitioning and beseeching the vicious criminal gang that currently runs Russia to right all the country’s wrong and fix all its problems for them instead of jettisoning the criminal gang and governing their country themselves, which would be more practically effective. Photo by the Russian Reader

Free the Network case defendants, the Jehovah’s Witnesses facing charges and the ones already doing jail time, ditto for the Crimean Tatars, Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko, the Ukrainian sailors, Yuri Dmitriev, the Petersburg subway bombing defendants, the myriads of Russian businessmen in prison after they were set up by rivals and taken down by the FSB for a good price, the New Greatness kids, and hundreds of other Russian “outlaws” whose names I cannot remember or, worse, have never heard.

Free them first, and the day after you free them, free Ivan Golunov.

While you Are at it, stop making war in Eastern Ukraine and stop bombing innocent Syrians. And bring the people responsible for shooting down Flight MH17 and killing everyone on board to justice.

The day after you have done all these things, free Ivan Golunov.

But don’t be such arrogant, self-important pricks as to appear on the world’s most respected radio and TV network and claim the Golunov case is the worst thing that has happened under Putin’s reign.

Anna Politkovskaya was murdered, for God’s sake. And so were Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.

I could start another list of reporters, activists, politicians, etc., who were murdered, probably on the orders of the Kremlin or with its blessing, over the last twenty years.

Boris Nemtsov was murdered only a few hundred meters from the Kremlin.

God forbid I should mention “convicted pedophile” Sergei Koltyrin. Even the most hardcore human rights advocates in Russia have abandoned him and made mention of his name taboo, although I am reasonably certain he was set up just like the saint-like Ivan Golunov, only on charges so devastating that his former allies abandoned him and he abandoned himself to the nonexistent mercies of Russia’s nonexistent justice system.

But, definitely, the worse thing that has happened under Putin’s reign is the house arrest of Meduza reporter Ivan Golunov on what are undoubtedly trumped-up drug charges. June 9, 2019 || THE RUSSIAN READER

barney fife

P.S. As I was assembling this collage of reflections inspired by the collective hysteria among the Russian liberal intelligentsia over reporter Ivan Golunov’s dubious arrest, it occurred to me that, perhaps, my own reaction and that of Ayder Muzhdabaev, whose “outburst” leads off this montage, were not sufficiently charitable.

But then I read and translated what the editors of Kommersant, RBC, and Vedomosti published on the front pages of their newspapers today. Their milquetoast appeal to Russian law enforcement—a multi-headed hydra that has spent the last thirty years proving again and again it is one of the most brutal, vicious criminal gangs in the world, an army of thugs who routinely terrorize the people they have sworn to protect, a mob of degenerates who will stop at nothing, including the routine use of torture, to get their man—sounds more like an appeal to US TV sitcom cops Barney Miller and Barney Fife.

Do these hardened (?) newspaper reporters really believe an appeal like this will have a real effect on the investigation of Golunov’s nonexistent crimes?

It is also worth remembering (as Sergey Abashin did on his Facebook page earlier today) that the free press warriors at Kommersant recently fired a reporter for writing negative comments about Valentina Matviyenko, formerly Putin’s satrap in Petersburg, currently chair of the Federation Chamber, which rubber-stamps all the odious, wildly unconstitutional laws sent its way. In protest at the firing, the newspaper’s entire political desk immediately resigned as well.

That, by the way, is real solidarity, although it probably won’t get them their jobs back, quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, RBC has been a shell of its former militant self after its owners fired three top editors three years ago and, again, a whole slew of reporters resigned along with them.

RBC used to have an investigative reporting desk that would be the envy of any newspaper anywhere in the world. Nowadays, it mostly reports the kinds of “news” its oligarch owners and the Kremlin want it to report.

The 2011–2012 fair elections protests were mostly an extended exercise in virtue signaling and “creativity,” not a serious attempt by the grassroots to force the Kremlin to hold fair elections, much less to attempt regime change. Russian society has paid heavily for its frivolousness then.

Why, then, has it not yet figured out what its foe is really like? Why does it appeal for justice and fairness to authorities who have proven beyond a reasonable doubt they are hardened criminals? Finally, why does it imagine that reposting Ivan Golunov’s articles on Facebook is real solidarity? Does it think the regime will fall if, say, a million people repost these articles? Five million?

Photo of Don Knotts as Barney Fife courtesy of Wikipedia

“A Great City Deserves a Great Library”: Petersburg Professors Defend the Publichka

Literary scholar Dmitry Kalugin picketing the entrance to the Russian National Library (“Publichka”), February 9, 2017, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Serafim Romanova/Novaya Gazeta

Professors Stand Up for Librarians
Serafim Romanov
Novaya Gazeta Sankt-Peterburg
February 9, 2017

“Have you heard they want to merge the Russian National Library with the Lenin Library in Moscow?” Boris Kolonitsky, a senior researcher at the St. Petersburg Institute of History (Russian Academy of Sciences) asked passerby.

On February 9, a “professors’ picket” took place outside the Russian National Library’s main building on Ostrovsky Square. Lecturers from the European University, the Higher School of Economics, and other institutions rallied to preserve the so-called Publichka and defend its former head bibliographer Tatyana Shumilova [who was summarily dismissed from her post last week for speaking publicly about the negative consequences of the merger.]

Most bystanders heard about these developments for the first time. But after a short briefing, passersby agreed it would be wrong to merge one of the country’s most important academic and cultural institutions.

“It is not so much the library, St. Isaac’s or anything else that causes people to protest, as it is the fact that no one reckons with them,” Viktor Voronkov, director of the Centre for Independent Social Reseach, explained to Novaya Gazeta. “Why is everything being centralized? To make it was easier to control. The entire country is being formed up into a [power] vertical, and it is the same way in every field.”

“It matters that people from the outside, people who don’t work at the library but understand its value, speak out,” said journalist Daniil Kotsiubinsky, who organized the rally.

“The people who came here today are not random, but one of a kind. Petersburgers should listen to them.”

As the rally was drawing to a close, the overall enthusiasm was disturbed by a police officer.

“We’ve got a solo picket here,” the guardian of order reported on his cell phone, asking the picketers to show him their papers.

“It’s an A4-sized placard,” the policeman reported. “What does it say? ‘A great city deserves a great library.'”

Historian Boris Kolonitsky shows the group’s placard to a policeman. February 9, 2017, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Serafim Romanov/Novaya Gazeta

Translated by the Russian Reader

No Canaries in the Coal Mine: The Demise of RBC

CanaryInACoalMine_2

Vasily Gatov
Canary in a Coal Mine: RBC and the Public Interest in the Counterintelligence State
Carnegie Moscow Center
May 14, 2016

Authoritarian regimes have seemingly learned how not to stifle freedom of speech completely, using censorship or administrative strictures to send signals about the acceptability or unacceptability of criticism on specific topics. In the peculiar circumstances of the counterintelligence state, however, an interest in how the state functions can itself be regarded as dissent.  

Over the past few years, it has become popular among political scientists, analysts, and the military to dub any complicated and complex process “hybrid.” Complex military operations are now “hybrid wars,” electoral authoritarian countries, “hybrid regimes,” and mass media distributed on multiple platforms, “hybrid media organizations.”

The news for Friday, May 13, fully reflected the clash between different hybrids in the Russian public space. The dismissal of the top editors at RBC, a hybrid mass media organization that had become the main public affairs outlet under a hybrid regime engaged in a hybrid war with the western world, was a practical manifestation of the strange realm that has taken shape in our country and a continuation of its logical evolution or degradation.

Common Sense as a Measurement
RBC’s top editors, Elizaveta Osetinskaya, Roman Badanin, and Maxim Solyus, who left the company “by mutual agreement,” had done the impossible in the space of two years. Along with the team they assembled, they turned an important, major media outlet with serious image problems into an exemplar of high-quality, ethically motivated, high-impact journalism.

Moreover, writers and editors with different views peacefully coexisted at RBC. I never once heard the term “liberal terrorism,” which conservatives and patriots love to mention, applied to RBC. High-quality editorial work means just this: maintaining high standards in news production while fulfilling one’s mission to the community by supporting investigative reporting and representing a spectrum of opinions through individualized public affairs, op-ed journalism and personalized, presenter-driven TV programs.

It is difficult to maintain academic objectivity when the latest round of “personnel changes” has put an end to yet another media outlet that was faithful to its professional mission. It is difficult but necessary: the emotional or partisan mode of reacting inevitably exaggerates the weight of momentary, politically motivated explanations of events. Yes, the easiest way of interpreting the firing of RBC’s editors (and, apparently, the exodus of its editorial staff) is as the consequence of their having published articles and investigative reports that directly violated Putin’s strictures on the privacy of his family life. However, this explanation, even if the editors themselves proudly accept it, is neither exhaustive nor sufficient for understanding the full complexity of hybridity.

Over the past sixteen years, journalists and their workplaces, media outlets, have been the key enemy of the system of political power emerging in Russia: not only “opposition” and “liberal” journalists but basically all journalists who approached their work with at least a minimum of regard for professional and ethical standards. Media organizations are the only segment of business (and politics) towards which the Putin administration has applied, with varying intensity, a scorched earth policy from day one to the present day.

Since the days when Walter Lippman wrote his treatise Public Opinion, the bible of ethical journalism, we know that the basis of the journalist’s profession is serving the public interest through the opportunities provided to journalists by the specific status accorded to them by law. In all societies, except totalitarian dictatorships, the public interest is always diverse and multifaceted. Some people need confirmation that the course set by their leaders is the right one. Others find it vital to take a critical, analytical approach to current policy. Still others want the salacious details and shabbiness that enables them to affirm their overall contempt for the authorities. And this is not the full range of interests. The public interest and the work of media to satisfy it are, in a way, a means of measuring reality against common sense. It is this simple principle that explains the presence of freedom of speech and self-expression among the basic civil and political rights.

The greater the discrepancies between political and economic reality and common sense, the more critically and meticulously journalists and the media should treat such aberrations. This is a means of subjecting societies (true, only democratic societies) to self-reflection and self-cleansing. (I have in mind the term “self-questioning,” which is hard to translate into Russian). Although, in recent decades, even authoritarian regimes have learned from the mistakes of their predecessors not to stifle free speech entirely. The growing criticality of the media has become a signal to them that they need to correct, mitigate or change policy; it has been a kind of canary in a coal mine. In turn, as Haifeng Huang, a professor at University of California, Merced, has argued in his paper “Propaganda as Signaling,” authoritarian regimes make vigorous use of censorship or administrative strictures (such as firing editors) as a tool to signal society about the acceptability or unacceptability of criticism on certain topics.

It is now utterly clear the Russian regime that took shape between 1999 and 2015 has no need of any “canaries.” Vladimir Putin, who, ironically, was speaking at the anniversary of VGTRK (All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company) literally when the news of the firing of RBC’s editors was reported, expressed his basic expectations for the media. He spoke of the media’s role of “communicating our […] work” several times. Moreover, the current Russian state has nothing to signal anymore. It really is tired of the fact that journalists have the desire to explore and investigate something other than the alleged treason of opposition figures.

Independence Is Worse than Opposition
The fate of RBC (as well as all the other onshore Russian media that have attempted to have an editorial policy independent of the need to “communicate our work”) was preordained not in 2011, when Vladimir Putin, concerned about the weakness of his handpicked successor, decided to return to the presidency, nor even in 2002, when the Law on Media, which until then had been preserved in its original 1991 redaction, was opened up for amendments on direct orders from the president.

The expulsion of dissent in any shape and size from the public mind was preordained when Vladimir Putin was appointed head of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) [in 1998] and the restoration of Andropov’s counterintelligence state was launched. The difference is that dissent, in this concept of the state, does not consist in criticizing the regime’s political practices, as Soviet dissidents did. Dissent now consists in the selfsame public interest in why and how the state functions, as described above. Dissent now consists in shaping an interest in the personal lives and personal businesses of state officials, including those of the head of state.

Robert Pringle, a professor at the University of Kentucky and one of the CIA’s principal specialists on the late Soviet Union, described this model in two significant articles (Robert W. Pringle, “Andropov’s Counterintelligence State,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 13.2 (2000): 193–203; Robert W. Pringle, “Putin: The New Andropov?” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 14.4 (2001): 545–558). Andropov was himself an ascetic and an opponent of corruption, but he consistently and quite harshly took on anyone who had the courage to focus on the late Soviet regime’s corruption and moral decay.

Yuri Andropov’s construction of the counterintelligence state between 1967 and 1984 was dictated by the need for total control over all “mass information processes.” The KGB’s Fifth Directorate saw no difference between a single copy of a seditious text and an attempt to mimeograph a dubious work. Both were regarded as unambiguous challenges to the CPSU’s monopoly on power. Perhaps what lay at the heart of the counterintelligence state was the animal fear experienced by Andropov in Budapest in 1956, when the future KGB chief and Soviet leader watched from the Soviet Embassy as the Rákosi regime collapsed.

Reinforced by the Arab Spring, “orange revolutions” took the place of Budapest 1956 in Putin’s worldview, while dissidents were replaced by journalists, who did not swear allegiance to the regime and did not take its money. (The Fifth Directorate saw the former as voluntary assistants, and the latter as paid agents, who could always be blackmailed by producing signed receipts for their “fees.”). Even the political opposition, whose size and and impact, except for the brief period from 2011 to 2012, the Kremlin has always understood and monitored, has not been such an unambiguous, despised target as independent, mission-driven journalism.

The mystical “Revision Number Six” (2000) describes journalists and the media as equal, if not greater, enemies of a regime that would turn Putin into the permanent and irremovable “leader of the country, thus enabling a long-term policy for consolidating and strengthening the state.” Among the possible secret areas of operations to be pursued by the Russian Presidential Administration, “Revision Number Six” lists not only gathering information on all journalists who cover Russian domestic and foreign policy but also subjecting them and the media to direct and indirect pressure, including forcing bankruptcies, generating organizational difficulties, and issuing threats to owners unable to control the editorial process.

Step by step, consistently and steadily, the Putin administration has squashed all more or less large-circulation, mass-audience media, not even because they were in opposition to it, but because they were independent of the Kremlin’s direct and indirect guidance on what could and could not be brought up for public discussion. Alternatives remain, of course, from Vedomosti to Slon, from TV Rain to Meduza. But looking back at yesterday, literally and figuratively, we can say with certainty that journalism, as an organized process based on editorial independence and a sense of public mission, is politically doomed in today’s Russia.

The regime’s hybridity is rapidly short-circuiting, a process described by Hannah Arendt.

“Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only where common sense has lost its validity. Before the alternative of facing the anarchic growth and total arbitrariness of decay or bowing down before the most rigid, fantastically fictitious consistency of an ideology, the masses probably will always choose the latter and be ready to pay for it with individual sacrifices—and this not because they are stupid or wicked, but because in the general disaster this escape grants them a minimum of self-respect.”*

Until yesterday, RBC’s editorials boldly and recklessly challenged (at least, outwardly) this circle of silence and emptiness around common sense. RBC’s investigative reports, analytical articles, and expert publications were the quintessence of common sense, not acts of information warfare or the intrusion of a “flu-stricken nose” into healthy public space. They manifested the quixotic desire to be the agent of public, civic interest in how the state is organized, and why and where it must change.

It is really pointless for the counterintelligence state to fight suspicion and thievery, official lawlessness and the use of power for personal gain, not because it does not want to improve, but because when someone points out where things must be improved, the counterintelligence state regards it as an act of aggression, as something more dangerous than current shortcomings.

Vasily Gatov is a Visiting Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of TænketankenThanks to Comrade MT for the heads-up

* Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Cleveland & New York: Meridian Books, 1962), page 352

The Showdown at Petersburg’s Zubov Institute

Editor’s Note. The latest news from the front lines in the confrontation between the Russian Institute of Art History (Zubov Institute) in Petersburg and the Russian Federal Ministry of Culture is that Jamilya Kumukova, chair of the trade union committee at the Institute, has been threatened with firing in the run-up to a protest rally scheduled for July 9.

_____

(Original at www.anticapitalist.ru)

An Academic Treasure Trove Doesn’t Want to Be a Klondike for Bureaucrats

A fight has erupted in Petersburg over the Russian Institute of Art History [also known as the Zubov Institute and abbreviated “RIII” in Russian]. The Ministry of Culture has been carrying out a hostile takeover of the institute in an attempt to get its hands on the institute’s premises, [a nineteenth-century mansion in downtown Petersburg]. Researchers and graduate students have been trying to fight off the siege.

1. zub-entrance

It all began in May 2012, when President Vladimir Putin signed a decree increasing salaries for scientists and scholars. The Ministry of Culture, which had just then been headed by Vladimir Medinsky, ordered the research institutes under its jurisdiction to increase salaries. But no funds for this increase were earmarked in the state budget. To fulfill the president’s decree, RIII director Tatyana Klyavina had to cut seventy-one positions. But that was only the beginning.

In 2013, the Ministry of Culture ordered yet another salary increase (of 28%), which would have meant dismissing a further fifteen employees. Klyavina refused to raise salaries through layoffs, for which she was subjected to a vigorous harassment campaign and eventually fired after leading the Institute impeccably for twenty-one years.

The Ministry of Culture got ready to celebrate. After all, by 2018, when salaries were slated to be increased to 200% of current levels, no one at all would have been left in the Institute. This meant it could already relocate the remaining miserable clutch of useless scholars to any old outbuilding, thus freeing the famous mansion with a view of St. Isaac’s Cathedral for more pressing needs, and merge the Institute itself with the first comer.

Today, the state has no use for research on Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, and Malevich. What it needs are people to carry out practical “monitoring” of Russian culture and compile exhibition booklets. It thus does not understand the essence and purpose of the research conducted at the institutes under its jurisdiction. Despite its incompetence, however, like a bull in a china shop it goes through the motions of “reform” and “modernization.” The main thing is not to deviate from the general line, and let the consequences be damned.

But whomever the Ministry sent to cajole the Institute’s indignant staff, it only aggravated the situation. After all, the RIII, which was founded in 1912 and in whose halls such renowned literary scholars, art historians, and musicologists as Yuri Tynyanov, Boris Eichenbaum, Boris Asafyev, Viktor Zhirmunsky, and Antonin Preobrazhensky worked, has experienced revolution, civil war, Stalin’s purges, and the Siege of Leningrad over its history. In the 1990s, it regained its autonomy and original name. The Institute’s staff has thus developed immunity to all manner of crackdowns and takeovers.

2. osminkin
“Mr. Medinsky, research is a profession, not a hobby!”

Today, news from the Zubov Institute resembles reports from the front lines. Here is a brief chronicle of recent events.

On June 31, Culture Minister Medinsky descended on the RIII without warning. Locking himself in the director’s office, Mr. Medinsky refused to talk to staff, leaving Andrei Karpov, acting director of the Ministry’s oversight and personnel department, to act as his “hellhound” in the waiting room. Mr. Karpov, who currently heads the ministerial committee auditing the Institute, took his role as guard so seriously that he struck cinema department grad student Olga Yevseyeva, who had come to give the minister a letter written by the Institute’s graduate students.

On July 2, an emergency meeting of RIII staff took place. In the middle of the meeting, the new director, Olga Koch, appeared in the hall, accompanied by private security guards. The guards said they had been hired by the Institute’s new management to  protect historical valuables, although in the Institute’s hundred-year history not a single rare manuscript or musical score has ever disappeared from the building.

The art scholars unanimously stood up and turned their backs to Koch, stamping their feet and chanting, “Get out!” After the director ran out of the room as if she had been scalded, the assembly continued, adopting a strongly worded resolution. Here are its principal points:

1. We voice our lack of confidence in the ministerial commission headed by Andrei Karpov, who permitted himself to use force against a graduate student of the Institute.

2. We voice our indignation at Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky’s arbitrary decision to shift the work of the Ministry’s departments to the Institute.

3. We protest against the transformation of the Institute into a high-security facility in connection with the hiring of a private security firm to work at the Institute.

4. We demand that Minister Medinsky retract his statement that the apartments in the wing of the Institute are “handed out right and left.”

5. We voice our lack of confidence in acting director Olga Koch, who publicly threatened staff with a “crackdown,” and we demand that the decree appointing her, dated June 18, be rescinded.

6. We are sending a telegram to Russian President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev.

7. We voice our support for the Russian Academy of Sciences.

On July 3, graduate students from the RIII and the European University held a series of solo pickets in support of Institute staff and against the Ministry of Culture’s policies. The young people stood outside Petersburg city hall, the city’s legislative assembly, and the entrance to the Institute with placards reading, “Mr. Medinsky, research is a profession, not a hobby” (a play on Medinsky’s statement that the “government won’t be funding a hobby”), “Save the Zubov Institute!,” and “No to Mass Layoffs at the Zubov Institute.”

The graduate students handed out leaflets that read as follows:

For the second month running, we, researchers and graduate students at the Russian Institute of Art History, have been forced to defend our right to do research instead of doing that research. In May 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree ordering an increase in the wages of scientists and scholars to the average cost of living in their regions.

This good intention, however, was brought low by the total lack of additional funding. The new effective managers from the Ministry of Culture, led by Vladimir Medinsky, took the easy route and decide to fire everyone whose research was not sufficiently in demand. In their opinion, demand is nothing more than the amount of money earned. But the humanities cannot be reduced to a monetary equivalent.

By cutting back on basic research and firing specialists who are unique in their fields, Russia is rapidly turning into a peripheral power, capable only of supplying raw materials to more developed countries. What is more, it is forever losing access to the history of its art and culture, which means irrevocably losing its capacity for nurturing full-fledged individuals and citizens. So defending the Zubov Institute is for us today not just a matter of professional honor but also a civic duty.

The same evening an open street conference in support of the Zubov Institute took place. It took the form of a Street University—lectures and meetings of students and teachers held outdoors and open to all comers. Street University was established in 2008 during the campaign against attempts to close the European University in Petersburg under false pretexts.

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Street University in Defense of Zubov Institute, July 3, 2013

In that case, the authorities backed down, and the European University continued to operate in its old mansion on Gagarinskaya. What will happen in this case?

Both RIII staff and graduate students attended the conference, along with colleagues from friendly institutes. Tamara Ismagulova talked about the history of the Zubov Mansion, how the institute was established, and how it survived during the hard years of the Stalinist Thermidor. Yevgenia Hazdan talked about the journal Annals of the Zubov Institute, which was first published in the 1920s, lasting all of four years. Who would have thought that the recently revived journal might repeat the fate of its predecessor?

Sociologist Oleg Zhuravlev from the European University Institute in Florence argued that what is happening to the Zubov Institute is consistent with the overall trend in Europe of cutting spending on science and education, a trend that reveals the contradiction between democracy and the market economy.

Dmitry Golynko, from the contemporary artistic culture department, shared his recollections of the department’s work during the nineties, when the Institute was a hotbed for cutting-edge research in art. Pavel Arseniev and Roman Osminkin read poems, and at the evening’s conclusion a researcher from the musicology department even played several songs on the accordion, including “If I Had Mountains of Gold.” It was a quite symbolic coda, because the whole point of the conflict between the Ministry of Culture and the Zubov Institute is the Ministry’s insatiable desire to turn art scholarship into a gold mine.

5 July 2013 — Roman Osminkin, Russian Socialist Movement

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(Original at  www.colta.ru)

Dmitry Golynko-Volfson
3 July 2013
The Language of Violence: Scholarship and Power in the Russian Federation

Literally overnight, the Russian Institute of Art History (also know as the Zubov Institute for its founder, Count Valentin Zubov) was transformed from a quiet academic oasis (as Petersburgers are used to seeing it) into the epicenter of a scandal, a tense standoff between the academic community and managers from the Ministry of Culture. At the Ministry’s behest, Tatyana Alexeevna Klyavina, who for over twenty years had skillfully and competently managed the Institute, preserving its pleasant working environment and atmosphere of unconditional mutual respect, was fired. Thanks to her efforts, both during the momentous nineties and the stable (and allegedly sated, but in reality very sparingly state-subsidized) noughties, the RIII’s team of researchers had been able to focus on basic academic research without personally worrying about urgent economic problems. In addition, her tenure was focused on making sure the Institute maintained a well-calibrated balance between classical, traditional art scholarship and experimental, innovative, future-oriented research. Tatyana Alexeevna was also the long-time chair of the contemporary artistic culture department, which I had the good fortune to join in 1995. In the nineties, the department was a unique place where cutting-edge research in postmodernist theory was combined with the direct involvement of researchers in shaping the new culture and new art of the legendary post-perestroika period.

Открытие выставки "Тициан" в Москве
Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky

The confrontation between Institute staff and the Ministry slowly but relentlessly escalated throughout the first six months of this year (after the newly appointed Minister Vladimir Medinsky had announced plans to reform the research institutes under his jurisdiction). The showdown between researchers and bureaucrats shifted into an active phase after Klyavina was fired, and Olga Koch, former rector of the Saint Petersburg University of Culture and Art, was named acting director. Institute staff was openly hostile to Koch’s top-down appointment and refused to cooperate with her on any issues related to academic planning. In addition, at meetings of the academic council and the staff union, which were open to the press, they passed toughly worded resolutions and proposed strategic methods for resolving the conflict (from shifting the Institute to the jurisdiction of the Russian Academy of Sciences to putting it under the care of the municipal government).

The conflict reached an obvious climax on Friday, June 28. As a result of a visit by Culture Minister Medinsky to the RIII that was deliberately kept secret from the Institute’s researchers, a monstrously absurd “brawl” took place in the waiting room of the director’s office, which was widely reported in print and online media. Unfortunately, I witnessed this shameful episode. Since the minister had locked himself in the director’s office and refused to meet with research staff, who were demanding an explanation, his aide, Andrei Karpov, acting head of the Ministry’s oversight and personnel department, began using brutal methods to pacify the researchers besieging the office—simply put, he started pushing them. In particular, this portly gentleman, intending to slam shut the door to the waiting room, pushed Olga Yevseyeva, a graduate student in the cinema department, and Anna Nekrylova, deputy director for research, who had come to Olga’s rescue, in front of numerous witnesses and the press. (Medical personnel at an emergency room attested the injuries they received.)

After the battle, Vladimir Medinsky “went out to the people” after all, reassuring staff that the Institute would be preserved, and Count Zubov’s mansion, a tasty morsel for developers, would not be expropriated. However, it was clear that a point of no return had been passed. The already difficult dialogue between scholars and culture bureaucrats had moved from the mild, evasive language of administrative accommodation, persuasion, and intimidation to the jargon of institutional violence (or “mythical violence,” to borrow Walter Benjamin’s term). Olga Serebryanaya has offered a curious analysis of this incident from the standpoint of Hannah Arendt’s theory of violence. She writes, “Medinsky does not explain his position or try to convince the researchers that he is right; [instead] he sets a limit on their involvement.” (It is telling that Medinsky pointedly refused to take a letter from the graduate student body delivered to him by Olga Yevseyeva.)

Ex-Zubov Institute Director Tatyana Klyavina

In addition to a painful emotional state, this protracted conflict has caused staff to have well-founded, troubling doubts about the Institute’s immediate future. These doubts have to do with both practical, administrative and financial, matters (whether salaries will be paid on time) and more abstract, theoretical questions — how the Institute’s academic and research policy will shape up, and what the scenario and trajectory for future fundamental changes is. In fact, the reorganization of the Zubov Institute, which has caused a flurry of discontent, is a consequence of the revamping of the entire system of the humanities in Russia, a painful revamping carried out by the authorities that, according to many experts and observers, seriously threatens to destabilize (if not destroy) this system. Against the backdrop of the massive public campaign currently unfolding in support of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the tense situation around the Zubov Institute is a vivid symptom of the communicative impasse and total absence of feedback between basic science and scholarship and the state agencies supervising it.

Over the past six months, the Ministry of Culture has changed directors in four of the five institutes under its jurisdiction. We have to assume that it is planning (and already eagerly implementing) a radical renovation of the entire infrastructure of academic art scholarship, its transition into the realm of the strictly practical and utilitarian. But what are the criteria and parameters of this renovation, aside from the rather vague demands for efficiency and optimization, regularly voiced by officials? In December 2012, the Ministry of Culture circulated a proposal for staff at its research institutes to include in their scholarly work the “creation of calculation methods, cumulative indices based on the use of expert assessments, for determining the effectiveness of institutions working in the field of the performing arts and folk art.” The Ministry of Culture envisions the future of art scholarship as part of a major government contract that would stipulate the specific cognitive services academic researchers provide to the state. The state commission launched by the Ministry of Culture suggests that a researcher’s routine work will range from calculating efficiency indices and optimization coefficients (thus equating the researcher to an economic consultant) to drafting concepts for the long-term development of the industry under the auspices of “national projects” (thus saddling the researcher with the role of manager).

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Russian Institute of Art History (Zubov Institute)

Hardly anyone today would dispute the fact that the humanities in Russia are in need of an urgent and comprehensive transformation. But the direction of such reforms should still be determined by taking into account the interests, opinions, and wishes of the humanities scholars themselves, rather than by the impulsive decisions of state officials, which paradoxically combine neoliberal technocracy with elements of Soviet economic planning. Apparently, the only chance to settle the administrative conflict that has now broken out at the Zubov Institute is to organize a dialogue between researchers and the authorities not in the “brawling” mode, but as a conceptual and ideological debate. If the authorities nevertheless do not dare to listen respectfully to the academic community and sit down to constructive negotiations with it, then I am afraid the dark and dismal prospects now looming on the horizon will become quite inevitable realities. The research institutes, the cognitive factories where academic researchers, despite many years of precarity, have been diligently engaged in producing new meanings and promoting knowledge, will gradually and inevitably be dismantled. Fighting today to save the Zubov Institute and other research institutes under the Ministry of Culture’s jurisdiction also means fighting for (the seemingly long ago reclaimed) freedom and autonomy of the humanities.

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Footage by Sergey Yugov of the Street University in defense of the Zubov Institute, held on July 3, 2013. More footage from the event can be found here, here, here, here, and here.