“We are with Ingushetia for rights and against the lawlessness of the authorities! Crackdowns won’t stop us.”
“Putin Has Not Retreated, But Nor Have the People”: Petersburgers Picket in Support of Ingush Political Prisoners
Anastasia Belyayeva Gorod 812
October 24, 2019
In Petersburg, a series of solo pickets was held in support of Ingush activists, who were jailed after rallies protest the redrawing Ingushetia’s border with Chechnya. The picketers consider the situation in the republic critical, dubbing the arrests in the wake of the protest rallies the “Ingush Bolotnya Square case.”
The protests in Ingushetia kicked off in the autumn of 2018 after Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, then-head of Ingushetia, and Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, signed an agreement ceding large parts of Ingushetia to Chechnya, including land on which Ingush ancestral towers are located. Outraged by this secret deal, the Ingush populace launched a series of well-attended protest rallies in Magas, the Ingush capital. Activists and elders argued the decision was illegal and appealed to Vladimir Putin. The matter made it to the Russian Constitutional Court, which sided with Kadyrov and Yevkurov. The protests in the Ingush capital continued, eventually leading the authorities to arrest and charge activists.
“Free the political prisoners! #Ingushetia #TheIngushAreNotAlone.”
On October 23, each of the picketers on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg raised the Ingush flag and help up placards demanding the release of the jailed activists and a reconsideration of the decision to redraw the republic’s borders with neighboring Chechnya.
“We have come out today in downtown Petersburg to draw attention to a problem that the government has tried to hush up,” activist Marina Ken told Gorod 812. “We want to give people the chance to find out what has been happening in Ingushetia. The decision to redraw the borders was not made by ordinary people but by the authorities, and many dissenters are now in jail. People must understand that the problem concerns each of us as citizens of one country.”
None of the picketers was detained, although police checked their papers and photographed their placards.
“Free Musa Masalgov, co-chair of the Ingush National Unity Committee!”
Currently, over thirty people who opposed the redrawing of the Ingush-Chechen border have been jailed in remand prisons in different parts of the North Caucasus. They have been charged with calling for riots (as punishable by Article 212.3 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) and engaging in life- and health-threatening violence against law enforcement officers (punishable under Article 318.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). At the same time, a hundred people have been convicted on administrative charges. Many of the jailed activists have complained of poor conditions in prison and torture at the hands of the authorities. According to other activists and relatives of those who have been jailed, many of them have not been allowed to see their lawyers, while hearings in their cases have been held without them.
“Free Bagaudin Hautiyev, lawyer and chair of the Ingushetia Youth Organization Coordinating Committee!”
One of the most high-profile cases is that of political activist Zarifa Sautiyeva, who has been charged with violence against police officers. She has been jailed since July, and recently a court extended her term in custody until December 11, 2019. Activist Hava Hazbiyeva, who took part in the picket, believes many of the arrests are unlawful.
“Zarifa, for example, was just doing her job by broadcasting from the protest rallies. The charges against her have nothing to do with the truth. Besides, she has been constantly moved from place to place without explanation. Among the jailed activists are two elderly men, Ahmed Barakhoyev, an Ingush elder, and Malsag Uzhakhov, chairman of the Council of Teips of the Ingush People. Malsag has severe asthma and diabetes, so being in jail is real torture for him. He constantly suffers from elevated blood pressure and nausea, and he cannot breathe when he is transferred from one remand prison to another. However, we don’t observe any signs of an active investigation. The authorities are seemingly just playing dirty tricks,” she said.
Today’s crisis actually has deep roots, according to picketer Asan Mumji.
“In the twentieth century, the Ingush were subjected to severe repression, something that is remembered in nearly every Ingush family. People were then murdered by the thousands, but the current actions of the authorities are also a real crackdown. The Ingush people do not want to give up their land for any reason. Putin has not retreated, but nor have the people. By the way, the rumors that the Ingush want to join Georgia are a wild provocation. People have been acting within the law, wanting to right the wrong that has been done to them.”
All photos courtesy of Gorod 812. Translated by the Russian Reader
As the bombs rain down on Eastern Ghouta, we learn what at least one Russian sports expert deems “genocide”: the disqualification of Russian athletes from international competitions for violating international anti-doping rules. Unfortunately, I am sure he is not alone in his cruel, rampantly nationalistic views. TRR
“Помните, что творилось во время Олимпиады в Бразилии? Клишину, которая живет в США, пустили, а не пускали только тех, кто живет в России. Или Исинбаева в Рио – на дату начала соревнований к ней персонально нет никаких претензий, а ее не пускают. Как и других, которые даже по правилам ВАДА были чистые. Это же форма геноцида. Реагировать следовало по линии МИДа. По международной правовой линии, а не только в спортивные и гражданские суды обращаться”.
“Do you remember what went on at the Olympics in Brazil? [Russian long jumper Darya]Klishina, who lives in the US, was allowed to compete. Only those who live in Russia were not allowed to compete. Or what about [Russian pole vaulter Yelena]Isinbayeva in Rio? On the date when the competition started there were no grievances against her personally, but she was disqualifed, like others who were clean even under WADA’s rules. This is a form of genocide. The [Russian] Foreign Ministry should have reacted. We should have reacted in terms of international law instead of just appealing to sports and civil courts.”
— Instruct the Russian Federal Sport Ministry and the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN) to propose scientifically sound terminology for doping in sport for inclusion in a new edition of the International Convention against Doping in Sport.
Life in One of Russia’s Largest Communal Apartments
Yulia Paskevich Gorod 812
March 23, 2017
Apartment No. 2 at Detskaya Street, 2, on Vasilyevsky Island, is Petersburg’s largest communal apartment. At any rate, its tenants think so. City officials cannot say for sure how large the apartment is. According to certain documents, its total area is 1,010.7 square meters; according to other documents, the figure is 1,247.7 square meters. All we know for certain is that is contains 34 rooms and 40 common areas. Gorod 812 visited the apartment, concluding it was not the sort of communal apartment where one would want to live.
Art Around the Corner
During my first visit to the apartment, I was horrified. The odors gave me a headache, and I could not understand how people could live in such conditions. I then made a repeat visit, and I discovered the apartment had another, civil half. It left me with a murky impression. The apartment dwellers would tell me things were good, but they would not open their doors, although most of the people I encountered were decent and pleasant.
The apartment probably holds the record not only for sheer size but also for utter neglect. Visitors are usually shown the floor, which is caving in, the rotten wiring hanging overhead, and the crumbling walls. They are usually asked not to take off their coats and shoes at the entrance, as is the custom in most Russian homes, because the stroll down the hundred-meter-long hallway is cold and dirty. Some residents agree to speak with reporters only off the record. They do not want workmates to find out where they live.
The building the apartment occupies was erected in 1958, and is now surrounded by so-called elite residential estates. The Erarta Contemporary Art Museum is nearby. It is not a big hit among the residents.
The building’s first story was originally an outpatient medical clinic. In 1983, the clinic acquired a new building, and its old digs were remodeled as a dormitory for medical staff from the nearby Pokrovskaya Hospital and Children’s Infectious Disease Hospital No. 3. The numbers of doctors’ surgeries are still attached to the doors of some of the rooms in the apartment. There is not a single, thick load-bearing wall inside the apartment. The entire space has been divided by partitions, so voices and noises carry.
“When a neighbor in the next room sneezes, you say ‘Gesundheit’ aloud,” remarks Elena Pogor. “He thanks you.”
Nadezhda Khondakova, an employee at a medical center, took up residence on Detskaya Street in 1989, when three to four people lived to a room.
“I was born and raised in Karelia,” she says. “After graduating from medical college, I was assigned to the children’s hospital and got a place in the dormitory. The room had always been neglected. It was temporary housing, so no one paid much attention to maintenance. Besides, renovations were not carried out there right away.”
Outwardly, the apartment has seemingly been divided in two. The right half is cleaner and brighter, while the floor is sinking in the left half.
“As a technician said, the heating main runs under this half of the apartment,” Khondakova explains. “Every three years, we install a new floor, but they all rot.”
On March 1, 2005, the dormitory was officially designated an apartment, giving residents the right to privatize their rooms. But little has changed. The entry doors are still unlocked, so anyone can get into the apartment. Previously, homeless people would venture into the apartment to warm up or wash up, sleeping right in the kitchen. Residents try and avoid letting not only children into the hallway but cats as well. Who knows what might happen to them.
In 2011, the apartment was declared unfit for habitation. Two years later, Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko signed an eviction and resettlement notice. At the time of the signing, 27 families (62 people) officially resided in the apartment.
Old-timers recall the queues for the showers and toilets. There were two of each, and people started queuing for them at five in the morning. They also remember showdowns in the kitchen and rats. They lived modestly. If you ran out of something, you could borrow it from a neighbor without asking.
“You would leave detergent in the kitchen and someone would use half the bottle,” recalls Tatyana Pogor. “Spoons were stolen, people had their trousers swiped from the clotheslines. Half a chicken once vanished from the oven. That was unpleasant, but they left a note saying whether they found it tasty or not. Once, there was a knock-down-drag-out fight over the shower.”
When ten families had received authorizations for new apartments, the housing authority ceased issuing the authorizations.
“The apartments were issued chaotically,” says Khondakova. “It was not only people whose housing was subsidized who were affected. My neighbor Tatyana privatized her room and was resettled in a one-room apartment. I’ve been in the queue for separate apartment for twenty years, and I’ve never been offered anything.”
The residents tell me about about a drunken neighbor lady who was moved into a one-room apartment in the Moscow District, about a women who did not want to move out, and a family who happily took up a new life in the Petersburg suburb of Pushkin.
The activists argue the apartment should be resettled completely and everyone should be moved into separate accommodations.
“It’s not the district that issues us apartments. The city has been handling the resettlement,” Khondakova underscores. “We know where residential buildings are being built: Parnas, Veterans Avenue, and Shushary [in the far north and far south of the city, respectively.] But we have not said we want to live only on Vasilyevsky Island.”
After the ten families departed, the residents who were left behind divvied up the remaining space among themselves, including around 40 common spaces, such as washrooms, hallways, and the laundry room. Tatyana Lobunova’s 24-square-meter room includes 40 square meters of hallway and kitchen space, for which she pays the city’s housing authority 4,000 rubles a month [approx. 63 euros]. Khondakova pays rates between 7,000 and 8,000 rubles a month. However, a table in the apartment’s kitchen is littered with bills left unpaid by debtors. Some residents demonstratively refuse to pay the maintenance and cleaning fees for their rooms.
Residents are reluctant to let visitors into their rooms. As you gaze at the dilapidated kitchen and toilets, you imagine this shambles reigns throughout the apartment. But you would be wrong. The residents’ own rooms are clean and tidy. Many of them have equipped their rooms with small kitchens and cook food there. The doors to the different rooms vary as well. Residents sequestered behind more expensive doors do not want to chat with reporters, while the activists who demand total eviction and resettlement live in the part of the apartment where the floor caves in.
The author of a petition on Change.Org to resettle the apartment, a petition that has gathered nearly 18,000 signatures, has lived in the apartment six years. An actress at the Ne-Kabuki Theater, Tatyana Lobunova bought her room from builders. They had purchased the room for a song, plastered the walls, and resold it. Lobunova had lived in a communal apartment before. She grew up in a nine-family apartment on Konnogvardeiskaya Boulevard, in the city’s downtown. So the idea of living in a communal apartment did not intimidate her.
The cosmetic repairs in her room quickly crumbled. The new wooden window turned black and rotted, a crevice emerged under the wet wallpaper on the outside wall, and the room smelled moldy. A sofa was tossed out by way of combating cockroaches. Now the room is chockablock with cockroach traps. When I asked her whether she was really unaware of the investment she was making, she shrugs.
“I had to live on Vasilyevsky Island,” she explains. “A family theater means working nonstop. I get four hours of sleep a day. If I lived a ways from the theater, I would probably get no more than two hours of sleep a day.”
Lobunova stores letters from various officials in a folder. She produces one from the presidential administration, who advised tenants to exercise their right to turn to the local authorities to redress their grievances.
Currently, the number of proprietors who actually live in the apartment is not so great. People prefer to let their rooms for eight to twelve thousand rubles a month. It is hard to tell one renter from the next. There are people knocking about, and the heck with it.
A native of Pskov Region, Elena Pogor has lived in Petersburg around six years. Initially, she and her husband rented a room, but then friends suggested they live in the apartment at Detskaya, 2, up money to buy her own apartment or room.
“In Dedovichi, where I grew up, there are no jobs at all,” she explains. “The wages there run from seven to ten thousand rubles a month. You can earn twelve to fifteen thousand rubles a month at the regional power plant. We consider the people who work there wealthy.”
The room where she and her husband live is in the better-maintained part of the apartment.
“It all depends on people and upbringing,” argues Pogor. “We have made friends with the neighbor lady Roza and her daughter. They’re good, tidy people. It’s a shame the repairs were started and not finished. On the one hand, I could not care less. I’m not planning to stay here long in any case, but I want to live decently.”
A Potential Squat
The Vasilyevsky Island District Administration has its own plans for the apartment. In 2015–2016, an overhaul of the common property was undertaken. Workers showed up, removed the toilets, stripped off the tiles, poured cement floors in the bathrooms, and left. Tenants had to parquet the floor in the hallway themselves. The district administration has dubbed this exercise “works toward eliminating the apartment’s hazardous condition.”
The district administration told us that the “paperwork affirming the elimination of the hazardous conditions [was] currently being vetted.”
Eliminating the apartment’s hazardous status would facilitate its being sold as real estate. The question is, who would buy it and for how much. There is little hope the city’s communal apartment resettlement program would come to the rescue. It has being going sluggishly in the district: in 2016, it resettled a mere forty apartments there. So there is virtually no chance a huge communal apartment will up and vanish by itself. For the time being, the only prospect is that, as conditions worsen, the rent will grow cheaper.
Then the apartment will undergo its latest metamorphosis and turn into a squat.
For Your Information
Communal apartments will celebrate their one hundredth anniversary in the summer of 2018. There are 78,534 communal apartments in Petersburg, housing 250,027 families. 4,816 such apartments were resettled in the city during 2016.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Yulia Paskevich and Gorod 812
On the one hand, after Bolotnaya Square, it was no surprise. On the other hand, we have never believed what we do is political activity.
Some Ph.D. in philosophy did the forensic examination on us for the Justice Ministry. I won’t repeat the stupid things he wrote. We have gone through four court trials. Recently, the Supreme Court reimbursed one of the fines we had to pay, in the amount of 300,000 rubles.
We were labeled a foreign agent, allegedly, for making recommendations on how to improve the work of magistrates, doing research on the political preferences of trade unions, and advertising a book (which we didn’t publish) on political movements in Russia.
Similar allegations have been made against us to this day.
What has changed in your work since you were declared a foreign agent?
Four times a year, instead of once a year, we write a financial disclosure report. We have to hire a specialist to help us write it. Any violation results in an “irredeemable” fine of 300,000 rubles from the Justice Ministry. But we don’t know we violated.
The Women of the Don Foundation, which deals with gender issues in the North Caucasus, has suffered because of us. It was declared a foreign agent only because we sent them 10,000 rubles out of a sense of professional solidarity, to help them pay a fine. Now we are trying to explain to the authorities the money was Russian in origin.
We cannot work with state universities and officials. We cannot do fieldwork in schools, hospitals, etc. Business is afraid to help us; it is afraid of reprisals. As for the populace, when people find out who we are, they are immediately put on their guard, and the conversation becomes stiff.
I once got a call from a major public radio station. They told me they were putting me on the air in two hours. I warned them that CISR was a foreign agent. They said it was not a problem. Half an hour later, a young woman called me and said her bosses had decided not to trouble me: they needed a cultural studies person, not a sociologist. All electronic media are now closed to us.
Recently, the Justice Ministry redefined political activity.
According to one part of the new definition, all sociological research is classified as political activity, while another part claims that scientific and scholarly research is not political activity. So sociology is no longer scientific and scholarly research.
So how do you do your work nowadays?
For example, we have been researching temporary сohabitation among migrant workers. They support each other while having families back home. Such research requires so-called participant observation. First, you help the migrant worker out. You take him or her to the doctor, get their kid into a kindergarten, and invite them over to your place. Only then will they tell you what they really think about the world they live in. It might take years to get to that point. Whose agent you are, in this case, matters not a whit.
As for working with officials and civil servants, now everything is based on off-the-record interviews.
Initially, when you opened in 1991, did you work with the state? Whose agents were you then?
We were the agents of Boris Yeltsin and his folk. We were interested in working on topics relevant to the country: grassroots movements, Russian nationalism, the new gender studies. A social revolution was underway, and values were being revised.
Did you get money from the government?
We would sometimes participate in grant competitions and get a few crumbs. The times allowed for completing the research were paltry, and the financial reporting was complicated. But we were not fundamentally opposed to taking money from the government. That became a hard and fast principle sometime in the early 2000s.
We ran up against corruption, against demands for kickbacks and rigged outcomes. The Smolny [Petersburg city hall] would send us invitations to grant competitions, but we quickly realized they had already picked the winners. Or they would ask us to do research on topics like “The Danger from Muslim Migrant Workers in Petersburg.” But we are researchers and don’t do appraisals. We are interested in how migrant workers integrate, in the issue of xenophobia. We gave up on public financing.
What is the size of the usual private grant, and how much time does a study take?
No less than a year or two, often as many as three years. The budget for a study of this sort comes to about three million rubles or more.
Do the foundations who subsidize you set conditions?
The foreign foundations set only one: the research has to be academic research, serious scholarship involving participant observation, and not just getting people to fill out surveys and quickly summarizing the results. By the way, I should note that [only] one out of fifty sociology department graduates goes on to become a serious researcher.
Russian foundations require self-censorship. We did work in Tatarstan: the republic’s president must not be disturbed by the research outcomes. We agreed to censor ourselves. We were interested in finding out why young people were leaving Tatarstan.
And why are they leaving?
It’s a nationwide problem: ours is an avuncular society. If you are outside this circle, you won’t get a good education and you will not be able to set up your own business. All this is highly developed in Tatarstan. There are confessional issues within Islam to boot. Given the circumstances, young people leave the republic or join “extremists.” We recommended an amnesty for certain religious groups that do not call for violence.
We had just finished this study when we were declared a foreign agent.
How have the foundations themselves reacted to your foreign agent status?
Some foundations, even ones with whom were on very good terms, have parted ways with us. They are afraid of being put on the list of undesirable organizations that will be cut off from all official contacts with Russia.
On the other hand, we have received offers of assistance from foundations we had never heard of before. That has been nice.
Why do western foundations finance academic research?
The conscience of the capitalists has awoken or they are unhappy with their own offspring.
What Soviet value has been forfeited in vain?
It’s a pity people have stopped reading. But this is a socialist value. Under capitalism, in new technological circumstances, it could not have survived.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of CISR
Putin Proclaims National Idea Fontanka.ru
February 3, 2016
In Russia, there can be no other unifying idea than patriotism, argues President Vladimir Putin, as reported by TASS.
“This is, in fact, the national idea,” the head of state announced during a meeting with the Leaders Club, which brings together entrepreneurs from forty of the country’s regions.
According to Putin, this idea is not ideologized and is not linked to the work of a particular party, reports RIA Novosti.
“It is a common rallying point. If we want to live better, the country has to be more attractive to all citizens and more effective,” the president stressed.
Who Killed a Transsexual in Ufa and Why? Ufa1.ru
February 2, 2016
On Monday, February 1, Angela Likina was stabbed in the chest and killed in Ufa. The Ufa resident had gained notoriety in 2014, when a video recorded on a traffic police dashcam entitled “Ufa Traffic Cops Stop a Transvestite” [sic] went viral on the Web. Ufa1.ru found out who killed Oleg Vorobyov, who had changed his sex and become Angela Likina, and why.
The controversial video from the traffic police car dashcam recorded an inspector checking the papers of a female motorist. It transpired, however, that the motorist’s name, according to his internal passport, was Oleg Vorobyov. The inspector was very surprised by this. The motorist was a transsexual who had been preparing for a sex change operation for several years, becoming Angela Likina. The restricted video was leaked to the Web.
Later, the State Auto Inspectorate conducted a review of the incident, because the restricted footage should have not ended up on the Web. Angela Likina also commented on the video herself. She was surprised the incident had provoked so much interest among Web users.
“People die in accidents, children get hurt, cars are stolen, blood is needed to save someone’s life. Gentlemen, why are you setting records for likes and reposts about me? I honestly don’t understand,” said Likina, adding, “I don’t care how you live, what you do, and so on, so long as you are alive, healthy, and happy. But my life does not concern you in absolutely any way.”
How Did Oleg Live?
Ufa1.ru spoke with friends and acquaintances of Angela Likina, who talked about the life of the murdered woman. We found out this sad ending had emerged from a number of factors. Before becoming Angela Likina, Oleg Vorobyov had been married. Acquaintances confess that, outwardly, the couple were seemingly happy. They were raising two daughters, now aged fourteen and nine. The family lived in a private house, which also housed Oleg’s auto repair garage. Many of the people with whom we spoke said automobile owners were satisfied with Oleg’s work, that he had a magic touch.
Over five years ago, Oleg realized he was living in someone else’s body. He understood he wanted to change his sex and become the person he thought he was. Oleg began calling himself Angela Likina and started the complicated process of preparing to change his sex. He took hormone pills and began dressing like a woman. According to his internal passport, however, he remained Oleg Vorobyov. He could only change his name after finally changing his sex.
Five years ago, the Vorobyovs divorced, but the former husband and wife and their two children kept living under the same roof. The house was the wife’s property, and her former husband had an established business there. Several of the family’s acquaintances believe that Angela did not want to lose her income from the auto repair garage and spend money on renting a place to live. After all, she had to save up a large sum of money for the operation, and the medicines she took to prepare for the procedure were expensive. Close friends emphasize that Angela worked a lot, sometimes seven days a week.
At the same time, Ufa1.ru’s sources noted the Ufa resident simply had no choice.
“He once tried to rent a flat, but was kicked out. A neighbor had said, ‘I don’t want my children to see this!’ Consequently, he was evicted and didn’t even get his money back,” said one of our sources.
Friends of the family noted that those who have lived under the same roof with ex-spouses can imagine the atmosphere that prevailed in the Vorobyov house. Some say that the rows over living arrangements caused the Vorobyovs to come to blows. Things were aggravated by the fact that the head of the family had become a woman. Their children also became the targets of reproaches and ridicule at school.
“They would come home in tears, and sometimes refuse to go to school, but Angela loved her daughters and gave them a lot of time,” acquaintances noted.
Who Killed Angela?
According to friends, a boyfriend came to visit Oleg’s ex-wife on the ill-fated evening. The criminal investigation will shed more light on what exactly happened in the house. For now, the family’s acquaintances have their own hypotheses. Perhaps the man intervened in yet another family row. Maybe he stood up for his girlfriend and wanted to intimidate Angela by demanding she pack her things and leave. The row, however, escalated into something bigger.
“She was stabbed in the chest near the heart. She did not die immediately. She made it to a neighbor’s house, told him what had happened and who had done it, and an ambulance was summoned. Then Angela died in the neighbor’s arms. It was apparently too late to help her. I don’t know what was happening in the family. Angela was a good person, but strangers often beat her up. Her neighbors respected her choice. It is a bad thing when a person steals, kills or rapes, but everything else is a private matter,” said an acquaintance of Angela’s.
“The best human qualities—kindness, fairness, compassion, and unselfishness—were powerfully manifested in her. Unfortunately, that is a rarity nowadays. And she really never held a grudge against anyone, although there were a fairly large number of people who wished her ill. Most of them, it is true, were people who did not know her at all. They insulted and mocked her. You could say she was understanding about it: far from everyone in our city, or even our country, is ready to comprehend the decision to have a sex change. And that is another reason I have endless respect for her: the determination to go her own way to the end, to change her life fundamentally, the willingness to take one and overcome all the difficulties,” another girlfriend of Angela’s confided to Ufa1.ru.
“Apparently, Angela sensed her impending death. Not long before this she had asked forgiveness from her wife for all the rows that had happened between them,” said another family acquaintance.
Fire at Moscow workshop kills 12 people, including 3 children Boston Globe
January 31, 2016
ASSOCIATED PRESS, JANUARY 31, 2016, MOSCOW — A fire at a textile workshop in Moscow has killed 12 people, including three children, officials said.
The victims were not identified but were reportedly immigrants.
The Investigative Committee, the top state investigative agency, said the fire broke out late Saturday in northeastern Moscow, damaging more than 32,000 square feet of the structure.
Investigators said they are looking at negligence or arson as possible causes.
Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, said Sunday on his Twitter account that three children were among those who died, including a baby. He said the victims were migrant workers who lived next to their workplace.
Several dozen fire engines responded to the blaze, and it took firefighters about five hours to extinguish the blaze.
Investigators continued to sift through the rubble Sunday for evidence.
Many immigrants work in Russian factories, some of which have been investigated for hazardous working conditions. In April, a blaze on the outskirts of Moscow killed 17 migrant workers.
The death toll of Kyrgyz citizens (according to the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the Russian Federation):
1. Sajida Masaliyeva, born 1988. Home address: Village of Kyzyl-Bel, Batken District, Batken Region.
2. Toktokan Saliyeva, born 1983. Home address: Village of Tayan, Batken District, Batken Region.
3. Uulkan Saliyeva, born 1997, sister of Toktokan Saliyeva.
4. Isa kizi Aizat, born 1995. According to available information, Isa was a native of the Village of Kaiyndy, Batken Region.
5. Milikajdar uulu Koshonbay, born 1990.
6. Tologon Kozuyev, born 1991.
7. Manas, born 1995; brother of Tologon Kozuyev; no other details.
8. Daniel, 4-5 years old, son of Ergeshbay Japarov, a Russian national who perished in the fire; born in the village of Rout, Batken District, Batken Region; according to the victims, Daniel was a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic.
[Elena Bobrova:] You are something of a patriot yourself?
[Nikolai Kolyada:] How else should I relate to Russia? I love her whatever she be like. Like Gogol I can tell the whole unvarnished truth about her. And Nikolai Vasilyevich said such awful things about Russia. He sobbed bloody tears when thinking about the country. But not because he hated it. On the contrary, because he loved it. When foreigners start speaking badly about Russia, I begin to boil: “Shut up, it is none of your business. I have the right to say anything about her, but you do not.” Well, it is okay when Europeans or Americans sling mud at us: they have a hard time coping with the fact we are different, unpredictable, and freer than they are. But when our own people hate their own country, that is terrible. This morning, I was reading Facebook and I thought, “Why do you live here if you hate Russia so much?”
[Bobrova:] But you just said yourself we have a right to chew out Russia because we live here.
[Kolyada:] Chew out but not hate. But Facebook is just seething with hatred.
—Excerpted from “20% of the Petersburg audience are loonies,” Gorod 812 (print edition), February 1, 2016, page 34
Items one, two, four, and six translated by the Russian Reader
Audit Chamber Forecasts Meat, Milk, and Cheese Deficits
November 3, 2015 Lenta.Ru
The Audit Chamber argues that under the import substitution program, Russia may experience shortfalls of meat, dairy products, and cheese in 2016. This outcome is expected because raw produce from countries subject to the embargo are often used in food production, reports RIA Novosti.
“There is a risk of partial compensation of shortfalls of produce banned for import from a number of countries,” the Audit Chamber reported. It is likewise expected that in the medium term, problems with consumer demand might arise in the process of import substitution.
As the agency noted, after using high-quality products, shoppers refrain from [purchasing] “Russian counterparts with lower consumer characteristics.”
“Accordingly, support, ‘voting with rubles,’ should not be expected from consumer demand for domestic products in the event of their qualitative deterioration,” said the chamber.
It was reported on October 28 that ten suppliers of imported meat and dairy products, as well raw materials for confectioneries, had filed a complaint against supermarket chains with the industry’s good practices compliance commission. The reason for the complaint was the fact the chains had been fining the suppliers for stopping the supply of goods affected by Russian anti-sanctions.
On October 1, Russian agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzorreleased findings that 78.3% of cheese in Russia is adulterated, since it contains vegetable oils. According to the agency, this figure is as high as 45% in Moscow and Moscow Region. The overall level of adulteration in the dairy market is 25.3%, as revealed by monitoring conducted from January to September of this year.
According to a study done by the Roskontrol Consumers Union, 75% of the cheese and 58% of the butter sold in major Moscow supermarket chains is adulterated.
In August 2014, Russia imposed a produce embargo on EU member states, as well as the US, Australia, Canada, and Norway. In late June 2015, Moscow extended the embargo for a year. Later, the Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree extending the produce embargo to countries supporting sanctions against Russia. The restrictions were extended to Albania, Montenegro, Iceland, and Lichtenstein. The list of banned produce includes, in particular, beef, pork, fish, and milk. If imported into Russia, these goods are subject to destruction.
On June 24, 2015, Russian President Vladimir extended the counter-sanctions for a year, until August 6, 2016.
Price of Cucumbers in Russia Soars by 1,000 Percent!
November 2, 2015 Gorod 812
According to Rosstat, the price of fresh cucumbers in late October rose by almost a third in a week. In Petersburg, the price of cucumbers has soared by 500–1000% over the [last] month. Gorod 812 tried to get to the bottom of what has happened with cucumbers and whether we are threatened by a deficit.
Shopkeepers cannot keep up with rewriting price tags. A month ago, dimpled cucumbers cost a little over 20 rubles a kilo, but now the average price is 150 rubles a kilo. In small stores and produce markets, the price has already surpassed 200 rubles a kilo. On the web, farm-grown long cucumbers are selling for 525 rubles a kilo. They are more expensive than meat.
What has happened with cucumbers? Gorod 812 talked to producers and suppliers.
The first thing we have discovered is that a deficit has set in. There is a shortfall of cucumbers in Petersburg.
“[We are selling] only greenhouse-grown cucumbers and only on order. We have a contract with a greenhouse in Leningrad Region. We supply their produce to supermarket chains. At the moment, we are really standing in line waiting for the harvest. We are even giving some of our clients the runaround,” a source at the company Veles told us.
“There are not enough cucumbers?”
“There is a total shortfall. The price for them now varies from 80 to 160 rubles a kilo. But that is today. The prices change practically daily. There are no spiny, dimpled cucumbers at all. Everyone is trying to grown medium-sized cucumbers, because it is unprofitable to grow short cucumbers: their mass is too small. There are loopholes for shipping cucumbers from abroad, of course, but it is very expensive anyway,” our source at Veles said.
Gorod 812 contacted local cucumber producers. On the website of the agricultural enterprise Victory (Annino Village, Leningrad Region), cucumbers were listed at 85 rubles a kilo. We gave them a call.
“The information online is outdated. We have run out of cucumbers. We only have ingredients for borscht: cabbages, carrots, beets, and potatoes. We had cucumbers in the summer, because we have summer greenhouses. We don’t have winter greenhouses,” a source at Victory told us.
The situation with the scarce product is also tense in the warm climes of our country.
“It’s already cold. Cucumbers aren’t growing,” we were told by a farm in Volgograd Region that only a couple weeks earlier had still been selling cucumbers.
It was the same thing in Krasnodar Region.
The Flagma agricultural enterprise in Krasnodar was reluctantly willing to part with their cucumbers.
“We have very few cucumbers now. A client came yesterday. He offered a good price, but we couldn’t find him the tonnage he needed. We even asked around the greenhouses. They all said they couldn’t give us cucumbers, because the entire harvest is bespoken a month in advance. If you don’t need much, we can sell them to you for 100 rubles a kilo. The cucumbers are local Ghermans, pendular cucumbers.”
At the Petersburg company Gold, which supplies cucumbers from Belarus, the price for a kilo of cucumbers rose from 110 rubles to 115 rubles in fifteen minutes.
“It was 110 rubles for the previous batch. But now it is 150 rubles a kilo. There is little supply on the market, and Belorussia [sic] is running out. Wholesalers are starting to ship from other places, like Turkey and Azerbaijan. Delivery is more expensive, and the price is higher,” our source at Gold explained.
The online price for imported cucumbers starts at 1.35 euros a kilo, plus delivery costs. The previous supply chain of cheap cucumbers from the EU has been blocked by the produce embargo. Businesses are trying to organize the delivery of cucumbers from China and Moldova. Petersburg is mainly supplied with Turkish cucumbers. Local cucumber producers advise checking them carefully for nitrates and other chemicals just in case.
By the way, relatively inexpensive cucumbers (starting at 1.69 euros a kilo, i.e., around 120 rubles a kilo) can be found in hypermarkets in [neigboring] Finland.
In Leningrad Region, Gorod 812 managed to find only one producer of fresh cucumbers, the agricultural holding Vyborzhets. It has a virtual monopoly on the local market. Vyborzhets sells its produce to everyone, wholesale and retail buyers, on the same terms, at the same price. Long and medium-sized cucumbers go for 140 rubles a kilo; short cucumbers, for 190 rubles a kilo.
“What did you expect? Our businesses have realized there is going to be a cucumber shortfall, and are now trying to recoup their costs from previous years. It is a predictable situation. On the other hand, we cannot blame them. Back in the day, they almost declared bankruptcy when cucumbers were imported to Russia and our economy was demolished,” said Alexander Bykov, president of the Leningrad Region and Petersburg Farmers Union.
According to Bykov, the cost of producing local cucumbers has remained unchanged.
“Maybe it has increased a bit, depending on energy costs. There is no competition in this market. The term ‘competition’ is applicable if two producers grow produce using the same technology. But if two products are produced in different conditions, the price will be different. The Antimonopoly Service cannot pin anything on them. They are free to do their own pricing. Plus, there is a chain of middlemen and retailers who ratchet up the prices. One could force chain stores to contract directly with producers, thus bypassing the layer of intermediaries. But dealers usually own the storage warehouses and take the risks involved in selling the produce. Producers do not have big warehouses. They have nowhere to put produce,” explained Bykov.
It seems that Russia is returning to Soviet times. Those who were alive then will remember there were no cucumbers in winter at all. They would run out in October, and the first long greenhouse cucumbers would hit the shelves for March 8 [International Women’s Day]. They cost 2 rubles and 20 kopecks a kilo, the same price as baloney, while meat (beef) cost 2 rubles a kilo. Then the cucumbers would disappear again until summer. During the dacha season, the price for cucumbers would fall, but it was no longer the tasteless “eighth of March” long cucumbers that were on sale, but normal cucumbers. In Leningrad, they cost around 20 kopecks a kilo. The current deficit is also an omen from Soviet times.
“I think the authorities should pay attention to the shortfall of cucumbers in Petersburg. And pay more attention to agriculture, because it is the industry that can replace oil in Russia,” said Alexander Bykov.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Second image, above, courtesy of paperdaemon
Russian literature is often credited with a rich tradition of satire, parody, and absurdism, a tradition associated with writers otherwise as different as Gogol, Dostoevsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Kharms, Ilf and Petrov, and Zoshchenko. But this is a misconception. All these writers were stone-cold realists. You only have to live in Russia for a time and know the language well enough to realize they did not make anything up. They just had to turn on their tape recorders, so to speak. As reporter Elena Rotkevich did for the following article.
There is also no little irony in the fact that this article was going to press just as reports had begun coming in that the almighty Chinese economy was going pear-shaped. Although that now-dubious omnipotence seems to have been achieved at a totally unacceptable cost.
“The Hermitage is not particularly interesting to the Chinese”
July 6, 2015 Gorod 812
Red itineraries will be popular if they are pitched properly to tourists from the PRC. Tourist guide and interpreter Ekaterina Guseva shared her impressions of working with Chinese groups.
Are the Chinese really interested in Lenin?
I think the Chinese will find tours to Lenin and revolutionary sites interesting, especially the fifty-something generation. It is this generation that mainly comes to Russia, because they studied our history and know our literature and culture fairly well. The Chinese were raised on stories about the Soviet Union. It was Big Brother who helped them. They call us a great or militant nation, and they are very curious about how this great nation is faring right now. Do we still sing “Katyusha”? Do we respect Lenin? They often ask whether life under communism was good and whether we miss the communist regime.
We try and reflect the real facts when we answer them. For example, that apartments were distributed for free in the Soviet Union, but some people miss those times, while others don’t.
The most popular sight in Petersburg among the Chinese was the cruiser Aurora, but now, unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration. The main museums—the Hermitage, Peterhof—are not particularly interesting to them. They don’t like boring, highly detailed tours, for example, when the kinds of woods used in the unique parquet floor in the Throne Room are listed. They like something a little more fun.
Touring Lenin sites is not a bad idea. At present, they are not taken to Lenin museums. We only drive up to the Smolny, but we don’t go inside. The demand for red tours will hinge on the right advertising campaign and cooperation with Chinese tour agencies. We could combine Petersburg with Finland and Sweden: with the right revolutionary commentary, Scandinavia will also be popular. The main thing is pitching the material.
Have the numbers of Chinese tourists increased?
This year we had a 300% increase in the flow of tourists from China. We lack licensed Russian tour guides. We have gone public about the problem on more than one occasion since the deficit is made up for by illegals. Semi-legal Chinese tourist firms operating in Petersburg hire similarly illegal Chinese immigrants as tour guides. Someone lends them a young [Russian] woman licensed to lead tours in English or Spanish, and under the guise of this young woman, they show groups around the city. These illegals badly mangle our history, and they distort the characteristics of Russians and Russian culture. I myself once saw a female Chinese tour guide on the grand staircase [in the Catherine Palace] at Pushkin make a sweeping gesture with her hand, pointing to everything in the vicinity, and heard her say to her group, “The Russians stole everything you see here. They went everywhere with warriors, tried to conquer everybody, and stole and stole wherever they went.” We are trying to combat this, but there are lots of them, and a few of us.
Isn’t it time to do the signage on the streets, in the subway, and in museums in Chinese?
In terms of quantity, Chinese tourists outnumber all other foreign tourists, of course. But Chinese tourism is usually group tourism. Quite often they have a group visa, which theoretically does not imply they will be navigating the city independently. They don’t walk the streets or ride the subway on their own, only with a guide. So there is probably no need for this.
Is it hard to work with the Chinese?
It is a lot more pleasant to work with Chinese tourists than with Americans, for example, or Canadians because from the get-go they have a more positive attitude toward Russia and Russians. They buy the same souvenirs as everyone else: matryoshka dolls and scarves. And they love amber.
Can we trust opinion polls on the president’s popularity?
December 2, 2014 Gorod 812
Sociologists weekly poll Russians about their attitude to the president and government policies. Despite all the events happening inside and outside Russia, the level of trust in Vladimir Putin has remained virtually unchanged.
According to the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), nearly three quarters of the populace (72%) view the president’s actions positively. Can these figures be trusted? Sociologist Viktor Voronkov, director of the Center for Independent Social Research (CISR), discussed this in an exclusive interview with Gorod 812.
Can opinion polls be used to predict the near future, at least, whether stability or social upheaval awaits us?
The first thing I would note is that opinion polls are manipulative techniques that shape public opinion rather than reflect anything. You can interpret them as you like. This means, actually, that they are probably not amenable to interpretation.
In addition, most of the questions asked by polling centers are outside the competence of the people responding to them.
Sociology is generally not in the business of forecasting. That is not its function. Sociology studies the rules by which people live and act.
Is there a great difference between polls taken in authoritarian societies and polls in democratic societies?
In an authoritarian society it is more difficult, of course, to determine what people actually mean to say. Like the Soviet Union (although to a lesser degree), our society is now dominated by fear. The fear of saying the wrong thing, the fear that someone will use this information the wrong way, and so on. So just to be on the safe side, one has to stick to the mainstream when speaking.
But sociologists and the people in Kremlin probably realize this. Why, then, are so many polls conducted?
Their function is purely manipulative, but it is also has a lot to do with making money. The state manipulates public opinion polls and this, in turn, really influences people.
In general, the nature of public opinion in modern Russia is extremely primitive. There is Putin, whose rating is stable and basically cannot change rapidly. All other existing ratings are directly dependent on what President Putin says. You needn’t bother studying public opinion in Russia. It is enough to study the opinion of only one man, because in one way or another all other opinions will fall in line with this principal opinion.
We see, for example, how sentiments toward the US have evolved in recent years. In 1999, NATO bombed Kosovo. Putin condemned the US, and the country’s rating dropped to thirty-five percent. In 2001, the terrorist attack took place in New York. Putin expressed condolences: sympathy for Americans rose sharply, reaching seventy-five percent. We now have a negative outlook on the US, but if Putin decides tomorrow that we are friends with America, everything will change.
It doesn’t mean anything, except that people basically are not very concerned about it.
So the main objective of these polls is impacting the populace by publishing them in the media?
Of course. The media is mainly responsible for spreading the contagion of propaganda. I would say that in terms of impact on people, media publications of poll results are akin to horoscopes. Horoscopes, as we know, affect people’s lives. People try to interpret their lives in accordance with what the horoscopes say. It is the same with opinion polls.
But there is, nevertheless, real public opinion in Russia. Can one find out what it is?
Suppose you ask someone how he relates to the issue of “Crimea is ours” [Russia’s annexation of Crimea]. He says, “Yeah, it’s wonderful, it’s great, I support it.” You continue questioning him, asking him to tell you more. And the reply you hear is, “You know, I have no time for this. I’ve got work and kids. Spare me your nonsense!” So it is real life that is important, not sketchy answers to staged questions.
The fact that people give answers in no way means we can assess their behavior in terms of these answers.
Opinion polls reflect (at best!) attitudes, the values that society imposes, perhaps. But you would need to study people’s behavior, their real personal motivation, because there is no unambiguous connection between attitudes and behavior. People think one thing and then do something else altogether.
Is it like this in any society, closed or open?
It is easier in an open society. People tell you what they think, but again, this does not mean their behavior will match it.
But in a closed, Soviet-type society, on the one hand, a “small victorious war” raises the government’s rating, because everyone rallies around the leader. On the other hand, within the country, everyone criticizes everything. There is no confidence in the army or the police, not to mention the parliament and the courts. There is no real confidence in anyone.
But in foreign policy, society almost unanimously supports “its” powers that be. The bulk of Russia’s citizens have an imperial mindset: it was not for nothing they were raised as patriots for seventy years, beginning with Stalin’s ideological turnaround in 1934. So the people see any foreign adventure undertaken by the Russian government as a symptom of our being “picked on.” And their justification of any aggression—the invasion of Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc.—follows this. All these military actions were fully supported by the people. The 2008 Georgian War had exactly the same support. The annexation of Crimea is now supported for the same reasons.
In Russia, it is almost impossible to find out not what public figures and experts think, but what the “common man” thinks.
This is true. The common man has very little right to be heard anywhere. Current sociology and anthropology, which are not dominant in Russia, aspire to give the average man a voice. Hence the spread of so-called qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, methods, publications of interviews with “ordinary” people. Attempts are made to produce texts in collaboration with them. Some sociologists even just publish the texts of these people without commentary.
But why don’t Russian sociologists do this?
In Russia, sociology has adapted to serve the powers that be. And the powers that be have little interest in the real opinions of ordinary people. Our powers that be are even uninterested in the opinions of sociologists, except those who publicize what the powers that be themselves say, couched in academic discourse.
If economic difficulties worsen, will the mood of Russians change?
People have now had a taste of a relatively prosperous life. At least twenty percent of the population has seen what life abroad looks like, and they are unlikely to want to live under war communism or as in North Korea. But it is already clear that this little splash of the good life, which was due to high oil prices in the 2000s, has ended. Real income levels will now fall. Those who lived in poverty will feel almost nothing. They will go on living as before. But the so-called middle class, who are supposed to support the authorities because they live well, will feel this first and foremost.
So I think that a political crisis cannot be avoided, whatever propaganda or opinion polls are thrown at it.
See my previous posts on Russia’s authoritarian “pollocracy”: