COVIDarity in Petersburg

COVIDarity
In self-isolation, Petersburgers read stories to children over the phone, hang out in online bars, and deliver free food to the elderly
Tatyana Likhanova
Novaya Gazeta
March 25, 2020

There are only penguins about, and they all look the same! You wouldn’t be able to pick out your own mom. And the snow is blinding, your beak is frozen, and your fins are tired. If you think you have problems it’s just because you’ve never been a little penguin in icy Antarctica. He lucked out in the end, however. He found a wise walrus who showed him how to find meaning and a source of strength in everything, to see beauty and come to the understanding that everyone has hard days, but no one can live our lives better than we can. Jory John’s Penguin Problems is one of the books that librarians in Petersburg’s Frunze District now read over the phone to housebound kids.

And not only children—there was a case when a depressed 25-year-old man asked the librarians to cheer him up with a story, and they did. The ten minutes when he became a child again, feeling warm and safe and protected, were the best medicine.

The project has a backstory. Fifteen years ago or so, one of the current on-duty storytellers, Marina, got a call on her home phone from a girl who was bored and dialing numbers at random. Marina read her a story, and the girl began calling every day to listen to one.

nov-1
Library storytellers Marina, Veronika, and Serafima. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta

When we were children, there was such a service—Stories by Phone—but it was a paid service and involved no choice or live communication. The voice on the other end of the phone was a recording.

Today’s Telephone Tales are read for free, but the storyteller’s most important duty is to help children feel that they are not alone, they are fun to be with, and the questions occupying them are important. The actual reading of a story usually takes around ten minutes, but a single call can last as long as forty minutes, as happened when Marina read a poem to an inquisitive child who kept having questions. Marina had to tell the child who legionnaires, musketeers, and cowboys were.

Children usually let the storytellers choose books for them. You cannot worry about the outcome with such excellent pilots in the world of children’s literature. Some children hear Ekaterina Panfilova’s The Ashones: A Tale from the Branch of a Rowan Bush, a glorious story of elves who bring comfort, the smell of buns spread with rowan berry jam, and a sense of security to a home. Others are treated to Karel Čapek’s stories of his wire fox terrier puppy Dashenka, poems by Mikhail Yasnov and Artur Givargizov, or something from the works of Roald Dahl or Nina Dashevskaya.

The three library storytellers—Marina Terekhova, Veronika Makarova, and Serafima Andreyeva—read only on weekdays:

  • Marina reads from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; call +7 (921) 595-1596.
  • Veronika reads from 12 to 3 p.m.; call +7 (911) 937-9849.
  • Serafima reads from 3 to 6 p.m.; call +7 (931) 357-5041.

Adults Only
While children are listening to stories read over the phone, adults now have the chance to drink and chat with a motley band of people without leaving home. In Petersburg, a fictional street featuring a dozen virtual drinking establishments could become an alternative to the “restaurant street” on Rubinstein. You can visit the online bar, the brainchild of Mikhail Shishkin, the director of a creative agency, at this link. When you click on one of the neon signs, you end up in a particular group video chat. Depending on the joint’s “capacity,” your screen will be divided into several windows (from four to twelve, depending to number of participants). It’s BYOB, as they say, with everyone drinking what they pour in their own non-virtual kitchens.

nov-2
The main page of the virtual Stay the Fuck Home Bar

The idea was a good one: the Petersburg online bar has been gaining popularity in different Russian cities and abroad. A week after it opened, it has not been so easy to find a free spot. As for the patrons, it’s the luck of the draw. There are interesting interlocutors, but you can run into a boorish jerk, just as in real life.

We Are Responsible for Those We Have Fed
Spouses Alexandra Sinyak and Yevgeny Gershevich are owners of Dobrodomik, a cafe that had been providing free daily lunches to as many as three hundred elderly people. Due to the coronavirus, it had to stop its Grateful Lunches for Pensioners campaign.

“But with their miserly pensions, our elderly patrons have grown accustomed to not spending money on groceries to make lunch, and so we can’t stop helping them overnight. Therefore, all the pensioners who visited Dobrodomik can call Alexandra, and we will be happy to bring them food,” the owners announced on the cafe’s social media pages.

Thanks to support from their partners at AgroInvest, Dobrodomik (“Good House”) was able to give away one ton of fruits and vegetables during the campaign’s first week.

The help arrives quickly. On March 20, 83-year-old Nina Zakatova wrote that she was running rather low on food, and it was hard for her to go out. On March 21, she found a full box of produce on her doorstep, including potatoes, onions, cabbage, apple, tomatoes, and tangerines.

In addition to distributing fruits and vegetables, the campaign delivered one hundred food parcels in its first week. Each parcel contained bread, milk, chicken, vegetable oil, pasta, rice, buckwheat, canned peas, and cucumbers.

nov-3
An elderly woman with a food delivery from Dobrodomik. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta

“An elderly person comes downstairs, you give them food, and in return you get a look that cannot be described in words,” the instructions continue. “You send a photo of the receipt and, preferably, a photo of a happy elderly person to Dobrodomik, and we will reimburse you.”

Of course, you can buy and deliver food without being reimbursed, if you have the means. Or you can donate money to Dobrodomik using the details on their website.  Or you can help with deliveries. You can also help clean the apartments of elderly people who live alone and cannot manage themselves, or you can help with repairs (Dobrodomik also offers this service), either by buying building materials or taking part in the repairs if you’re handy. Finally, you can donate unwanted clothes, shoes, and appliances.

Helping Is Easy—Easy Peasy
Meanwhile, a whole big family of other equally good houses has come under attack by the evil coronavirus—the ceramic houses produced by Petersburg in Miniature, a project run by the charity space Easy Peasy (Legko-Legko). The houses were made by disabled people in Easy Peasy’s studio on Bolshaya Pushkarskaya, but now the workers cannot get to the studio.

miniatyura-osobnyak-kshesinskoy-1

A replica of the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska’s mansion on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg, as produced by Easy Peasy’s disable craftspeople. Image courtesy of Petersburg in Miniature

Easy Peasy’s Tatyana Nayko made the following suggestion to people on the Facebook group page Petrograd Diaspora:

“I have an idea. Would historians, art scholars, tour guides, and journalists help us write the stories of buildings on the Petrograd Side? We will post the texts on our website and on social networks. During the quarantine, we will design new miniatures to go with your texts. Write to us about the houses where you live or about buildings that mean something to you, that are dear to your heart. People who are staying at home can entertain themselves while benefiting our project. We have to share our love of Petersburg with everyone now. Let’s write and then read the stories we have written about the houses we live in and the people who have lived in them.”

The same group page, Petrograd Diaspora, also published an announcement that Konstantin Sholmov’s Wonders and Adventures Creative Workshop would be releasing a series of entertaining video lectures on crafts for children. The first lecture (about the properties of different types of wood and ways of working and experimenting with them) has already been posted on YouTube.

Another area in which new grassroots campaigns have emerged is support for small and medium-sized businesses. Groups urging people to buy, order, and eat in their neighborhoods have been proliferating on social media.

The owners of a cafeteria on Aptekarsky Prospect have suggested that neighborhood residents organize themselves through the chat groups of residential buildings and office space renters in the same office buildings to avoid overpaying for orders when they are delivered by third parties. The cafeteria owners are willing to pay for delivery of bulk orders made by these groups.

Heads-Up
Together with the volunteer movement COVIDarity, Novaya Gazeta has launched the COVID Infobot on Telegram. This chatbot allows people to get prompt consultations on questions regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Russia. You can use the bot to see the latest infection statistics and read quick guides about symptoms and prevention. You can also use it to get help, for example, with buying or ordering groceries for someone in self-isolation, consulting with a psychologist, and finding out where to buy protective equipment. Your requests will be forwarded to the volunteers at COVIDarity.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Coffee Klatch Averted in Makhachkala

Six Activists and Journalists Detained After Refusing to Drink Coffee with Makhachkala’s Deputy Mayor
Novoye Delo
January 4, 2019

On January 4, OurCity (GorodNash) activists went to inspect Makhachkala’s main square, Effendi Kapiyev Square, after its reconstruction.

They were met by Makhachkala Deputy Mayor Effendi Khaydakov and a spokesman for the contractor, as well as city hall staffers.

After an exchange of opinions about the quality of the renovation and the completion date, the deputy minister invited the activists to go have a coffee, but they declined his offer and went on inspecting the square.

When the deputy mayor left to drink coffee, two police patrol squads arrived, detaining six people, including Svetlana Anokhina, Arsen Magomedov, Caucasian Knot journalist Musa Musayev, and two cameramen, one of them from city hall’s press service.

Magomedov told Novoye Delo by telephone that they were being taken to the Soviet District Police Department in Makhachkala.

After the square was cleared of activists, Makhachkala Mayor Salman Dadayev came out to chat with the remaining city hall staffers and townspeople.

P.S. Magomedov reported by telephone that all the detainees were released immediately after being delivered to the police department, and they have returned to the square to continue their inspection. Contractors recently handed the square over to the city.

makhachkala our cityOurCity activists in Makhachkala. Photo courtesy of RIA Derbent

What Does Makhachkala Have in Common with Yekaterinburg?
RIA Derbent
May 21, 2019

In Makhachkala, activists from the movement OurCity (Gorodnash) held a picket in support of Yekaterinburg residents protesting construction of a church in a city park.

The people who gathered on Saturday, May 18, also recorded a video message in which they voiced support for Yekaterinburg residents and proclaimed their solidarity with them against construction in park areas. Lawyer Arsen Magomedov said in the video that the Makhachkala activists had likewise been fighting plans to construct a church in the city’s Ak Gel Park.

Local activists have opposed construction of a church in the park since 2017. In September of that year, a memorial cross was dedicated on the site of planned construction in a religious service involving the Russian ethnic communities of Makhachkala, Kizlyar, and the Kizlyar District, as well as the Terek Cossacks of Dagestan. The Lenin District Court was already then considering a suit filed by activists challenging the legality of leasing land in the park for construction of a cathedral, a suit the activists won in December 2017. In April 2018, however, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the ruling by the Lenin District Court.

[…]

[T]he planned cathedral in Ak Gel Park was not the first or last target of Makhachkala urban activists opposed to redevelopment of the city’s green oases. Activists united to form the grassroots movement OurCity in January 2017 after Ramazan Abdulatipov, the former head of Dagestan, spearheaded a campaign to build an interactive museum, Russia Is My History, in Lenin Komsomol Park. After residents of Makhachkala protested, and thousands of people signed a petition opposing the plan, Abdulatipov announced that construction had been postponed in the wake of a “wide-ranging public discussion.” The same year, the now-united urban activists campaigned against plans to redevelop the square opposite the monument to Effendi Kapiyev. In both cases, activists managed to persuade courts to annul decisions by city hall to lease the land.

In December 2017, lawyer and urban activist Arsen Magomedov filed a complaint with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service about the Makhachkala City Property Committee’s  tendering of a lease to a 520-square-meter plot in 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution Park (aka the Dog Park), a complaint that was upheld. Magomedov used a similar method to annul bidding to construct a residential building in the green belt on Ali Aliyev Street.

Comparing the situation in Yekaterinburg and Makhachkala, Magomedov complained that, over two years of grassroots confrontation and court proceedings, neither the Russian Orthodox diocese nor the municipal or republican governments had engaged in dialogue with activists to resolve the dispute. According to Magomedov, people in Yekaterinburg were able to attract the attention of the federal authorities and win concessions “because the issue turned into a shooting war, with clashes, confrontations, arrests, and fights.”

The protesters in Makhachkala and Yekaterinburg say they are not opposed to building churches, but to the redevelopment of parks. Activists in Makhachkala have suggested moving the construction site one hundred meters away from the park to wasteland near the lake.

We talked to human rights defender and OurCity activist Svetlana Anokhina about what the protests in Yekaterinburg have shown us and how we should think about them.

Svetlana, do you think what has happened in Yekaterinburg will become an example for the entire country?

I’m surprised that what happened here in Makhachkala hasn’t become an example for the entire country. After all, we were able to organize a pressure group of ethnic Russians to file a lawsuit and write a letter to Patriarch Kirill in order to protect the city’s Muslim activists from possible attacks. The authorities tried to politicize outrage over plans to build a church in Ak Gel Park, because everyone understands that if the subject were raised by Muslim activists, they would immediately be accused of extremism and belonging to a nonexistent pro-Islamic sleeper cell, of course.

It doesn’t occur to the authorities that people just want to live a normal city with parks and trees. They don’t notice how they’re destroying the city.

But to make themselves heard, people in Yekaterinburg had to tear down fences and battle the police.

I don’t believe the folks in Yekaterinburg are wrong, or that their actions have been too radical, but such risks are impossible for us. This shouldn’t become an example for the whole country, because it was a spontaneous protest by desperate people, driven to despair by the authorities themselves, who sicked riot cops and martial arts club fighters on them. In my opinion, the protest itself was spontaneous, something you cannot say about the crackdown against the protest, which involved oligarchs and fighters from a martial arts club owned by an oligarch, and the Orthodox Church, which is structured like a military organization, and the police and the authorities. In this light, it is total nonsense to say that the grassroots protests were organized by outside forces, and that the protesters were too radical.

So this is the price for getting the president’s attention and his suggestion to conduct a survey?

You did hear what Yekaterinburg’s mayor said, didn’t you? That there wouldn’t be a referendum on the issue because it required a lot of preparation (a year!), but there would be some kind of public opinion poll. Someone countered him by pointing out that the referendum in Crimea was organized in two weeks.

I don’t like the fact that residents need to get through to the president to solve local problems. Issues like this should be decided at the local level, and if local officials cannot come to an agreement with ordinary people, it means they are not doing their jobs and should be replaced.

Thanks to Marina Ken for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

#STOP212 (Flash Mob)

mg_2082.jpg“The Moscow Case must be dropped.”

Prisoners of the Article 212 Case
Facebook
October 27, 2019

We are launching a flash mob, #STOP212.

Oaks are trees. Sparrows are birds. Russia is our fatherland. The Moscow Case must be dropped.

Recent successful grassroots campaigns have shown that large-scale solidarity actions are an effective weapon against the tyranny of the state.

Let us once again stand together against lawlessness and injustice by filling the streets with demands to stop persecuting the prisoners.

It’s easy to take part. Grab one of the three image files stored here and print it out. Or you can pick up a sticker from one of our friends in downtown Moscow: Chernyi Cooperative, Khodasevich Bookstore, Barking Store, and Delai Kulturu / DK.

Stick it on your smartphone or backpack and then hit the streets. Don’t be afraid of anything.

#стоп212_стикер 5х5cm

The Article 212 Case is our common cause.

Join us. It’s legal, and it’s beautiful.

delo212.ru/stop212

Thanks to Andrey Silvestrov for the heads-up. Images courtesy of delo21.2ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Squealing on Victims of the Great Terror: Who Wants to Tear Down Petersburg’s Last Address Plaques?

досто 25-табличкиThree Last Address plaques on the house at 27 Dostoevsky Street, in downtown Petersburg

Squealing on the Executed: Who Wants to Remove the Last Address Plaques?
Tatyana Voltskaya
Radio Svoboda
December 6, 2018

Alexander Mokhnatkin, a former aide to Russian MP Vitaly Milonov, filed a complaint with the Petersburg authorities, claiming the plaques mounted on houses throughout the city by Last Address had been erected illegally.

досто 25-улица и домThe plaques are barely visible from only ten meters away.

Andrei Pivovarov, co-chair of the Petersburg branch of Open Russia, wrote about the complaint on his Facebook page.

The city’s urban planning and architecture committee has already reacted to the complaint. It said the plaques, which bear the names of victims of Stalin’s Great Terror and have been placed on the walls of the houses where they lived just before their arrests and executions, were illegal.

досто 27-подворотняThere are two more plaques right next door, in the gateway of the house at 27 Dostoevsky Street.

“The informer decided the plaques were illegal advertisements? I wonder what for. The Stalinist Terror? He thinks they should be taken down. The Smolny responds to the snitch by indicating there were no legal grounds for putting the plaques up, and special city services would deal with them. It is difficult to guess when the wheel of the bureaucratic machine will turn, but, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, the country should know its snitches. I introduce you to Alexander Mokhnatkin, a man who has denounced people long ago victimized by the state and executed, and who has denounced the memory of those people,” Pivovarov wrote.

нев 111:полтав 3-3Unaware of the Last Address plaque on the wall next to her, a woman walks down Poltava Street, just off Old Nevsky, on a sunny day in October.

MP Milonov argues his former aide’s opinion is his personal opinion. Milonov, on the contrary, welcomes memorial plaques, but he does not like the fact that, currently, ordinary citizens have taken the lead in putting them up. He believes it would be better to let officials take the lead.

“I don’t think it would be good if there were lot of plaques on every house, as in a cemetery. The right thing to do, probably, would be to adopt a government program. The plaques would be hung according to the rules of the program, and protected by the law and the state,” argues Milonov.

нев 111:полтав 3-5When you step back ten or fifteen meters, the same plaque is nearly invisible to the naked eye.

He argues what matters most is “remembering the grandfathers of the people who now call themselves liberals squealed on our grandfathers and shot our grandfathers. Our grandfathers did not squeal on anyone. They died on the Solovki Islands. They were shot in the Gulag and various other places.”

Milonov admits different people wrote denunciations, but he believes the International Memorial Society has deliberately politicized the topic, using the memory of those shot during the Terror for their own ends. The MP argues that erecting memorial plaques should not be a “political mom-and-pop store.” Milonov fears chaos: that today one group of people will put up plaques, while tomorrow it will be another group of people. To avoid this, he proposes adopting official standards.

разъезжая 36-подъезд.jpgA Last Address plaque in the doorway of the house at 36 Razyezhaya Street, in Petersburg’s Central District.

​On the contrary, Evgeniya Kulakova, an employee of Memorial’s Research and Information Centre in Petersburg, stresses that Last Address is a grassroots undertaking. An important part of Last Address is the fact that the installation of each new plaque is done at the behest of private individuals, who order the plaques, pay for their manufacture, and take part in mounting them. Kulakova regards Milonov’s idea as completely unfeasible, since the municipal authorities have their own program in any case. The program has its own concept for commemorating victims of political terror, and the authorities have the means at their disposals to implement it. Last Address, however, is hugely popular among ordinary people who feel they can make their own contribution to the cause of preserving the memory of the people who perished during the Terror.

соц 6-улицаA Last Address plaque in the archway of the house at 6 Socialist Street, in central Petersburg.

Kulakov thinks it no coincidence Mokhnatkin has brought attention to the Last Address plaques, since previously he had taken an interest in the Solovetsky Stone in Trinity Square. Apparently, his actions are part of a campaign against remembering Soviet state terror and the campaign against Memorial.

Many Memorial branches in Russia have been having lots of trouble lately. In particular, Memorial’s large annual Returning the Names ceremony in Moscow was nearly canceled this autumn, while the Petersburg branch has been informed that the lease on its premises has been terminated. It has been threatened with eviction as of January 6, 2019.

черняховского 69-домThree Last Address plaques, barely visible from the middle of the street, on the house at 69 Chernyakhovsky Street, near the Moscow Station in Petersburg.

Historian Anatoly Razumov, head of the Returned Names Center, supports the concept of memorial plaques. He stressed they are installed only with the consent of building residents and apartment owners, and ordinary people welcome the undertaking. Moreover, people often put up the plaques not only to commemorate their own relatives but also to honor complete strangers whose lives have touched them. Razumov says people often find someone’s name in the Leningrad Martyrology. They then get written confirmation the person lived in a particular house. Only after collecting information about the person and obtaining the consent of the building’s residents do they erect a plaque.

“In Europe, such things are always under the protection of municipal authorities. I think we should also be going in the other direction: local district councils should do more to protect the plaques instead of saying they don’t meet the standards and they’re going to tear them down,” the historian argues.

Razumov argues that inquiries like the inquiry about the legality of the memorial plaques are served up under various attractive pretexts, but they are always based on the same thing: the fight against remembering the Terror. Some people want to preserve this memory forever, while others do everything they can to eradicate it by concocting hybrid or counter memories.

черняховского-все таблички.jpgThe plaques at 69 Chernyakhovsky Street commemorate Vasily Lagun, an electrician; Solomon Mayzel, a historian of the Arab world; and Irma Barsh. They were executed in 1937–1938 and exonerated of all charges in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Boris Vishnevsky, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, argues that Last Address and Immortal Regiment are the most important popular undertakings of recent years. He is outraged by attempts of officials to encroach on them. He says he has written an appeal to the city’s urban planning and architecture committee.

Translation and photos by the Russian Reader

Blood on the Tracks

nachinkin-3.jpgPetersburg activist Dmitry Nachinkin after he was assaulted by thugs. Photo courtesy of Activatica.org

Activist Who Sought Audit of Budget Beaten in Petersburg Suburb
Activatica.org
November 19, 2018

Persons unknown have assaulted and severely beaten activist Dmitry Nachinkin in the village of Pesochny in Petersburg’s Resort District.

Nachinkin closely monitored public procurements by the local council, often questioning their legality. In particular, his interest was provoked by the question of why most contracts were awarded to the same company.

The day before the assault, Nachinkin had been collecting signatures on a petition calling for mandatory public hearings on Pesochny’s budget.

The assault took place at six in the evening on November 18 in the activist’s yard. The assailants beat Nachinkin over the head with rebars, and then punctured the tires on his car. Despite his serious injuries, Nachinkin managed to get to a police station, where he was given first aid before being sent to hospital.

Nachinkin sent his own photos of the aftermath, writing, “Thanks, friends! It’s not as bad as it looks. My eyes and teeth were unharmed. Only my maxillary arch was fractured.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova for the heads-up.

Ekaterina Nenasheva: Fire Safety at Russian Shopping Malls

nenasheva-1.jpg

Ekaterina Nenasheva
Facebook
March 28, 2018

#KemerevoIsNotAlone #InsecurePlacesList #OkhotnyRyadShoppingCenter

What should you look for in terms of fire safety at a shopping center? I decided to call the Emergencies Ministry and find out everything firsthand.

“What, I’m supposed to reread you the whole booklet?”

The man on the other end of the line, whom I had reached after a couple of transfers, was not very happy to hear from me.

“What’s your district? You need to talk to your own fire inspector.”

I waited again to be transferred.

“You realize we now have these temporary reprieves for small businesses. It’s now impossible for us to carry out a normal fire inspection. We need a court order. We can, of, course, call a facility and find out what’s happening there. But beyond that . . .”

The fire inspector told me it was absolutely normal and legal to ask a shopping mall’s security guards and employees about their fire safety system. If doors are locked, why is that? How do they work? What would happen during a fire? If shopping mall staff and, especially, security guards had the least bit of training, they would easily be able to answer any and all questions.

The guys and I headed to Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall in Moscow. We immediately located the evacuation plan, which made it easier to find the emergency exits. The funny thing about the emergency exits at Okhotny Ryad is the plan says they exist, but in reality the doors are marked “Staff Entrance” and “Keycard Access Only.” Naturally, all of these doors are locked. All of them.

nenasheva-2

“We don’t have any exits,” said a guard, “only entrances from the outside.”

“I don’t know anything. Go ask that policeman over yonder,” replied another guard.

“What have I got to do with it?” the policeman wondered, laughing.

“Look, we have emergency exits in every shop. Got it?” replied a third guard, who had a mustache.

“Can we go and take a look at them?”

“No, you can’t. You know what? If something happens, we’ll save you. Got it?”

We could not understand how we would be rescued by guards who still did not know how the emergeny exits in their shopping mall worked. We went to pull on the other doors on the upper floors. We found ourselves outside the restrooms. A female cashier explained she did not know what exactly was beyond the door, but you could only get through it with a magnetic key. If there were a fire, she would exit the shopping mall via the regular entrance to the mall.

“What’s the big deal? You grab your stuff quickly and take off.”

nenasheva-3

Wherever we went, a mustached guy in a gray blazer would come running. He sweated and was out of breath. He had obviously hurried. He would stand off to one side and stare at us.

“Did you forget something? Well, what? What do you want?”

After asking his questions, the man would turn around and slowly walk away from us.

“Everything works here. Everything. The doors operate on magnetic keys, but in a fire they open automatically.”

“How does that happen?”

We were nearly chasing him in an attempt to continue the conversation.

“The guards line up in the corridors, and the emergency . . . begins.”

The dude swallowed half his words.

“Who the heck are you guys? Should I really be talking to you?”

Irriated, the mustached Mr. Suit vanished. Now we were certain the guards would save us.

So, what conclusions can we draw?

1. Shopping mall staff and security are obliged to know how the emergency exits function, and how the fire safety system is organized. It is our right to ask them about it. The staff at Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall are completely ignorant about the building’s layout, where the exits are, and how they work. Meaning that the guards, who are supposed to save us, have had no training whatsoever and have not even bothered to take a glance at how the building is laid out. Can we trust such people in an emergency? No.

2. The doors in the shopping mall are kept firmly locked. Neither staff nor security know  how they work. Can we trust a safety system like this? No.

3. The evacuation plan does not always synch with reality. Where the plan says there are exits, there are always signs saying, “Staff only.” The signs pointing to the emergency exits are confusing and could lead you into a dead end. This is scary. Given a system of signage like this, would you be able to escape if a fire slightly less ferocious than the one in Kemerovo broke out? No.

nenasheva-4

The Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall is a prime candidate for the #InsecurePlacesList. In addition, we encountered another problem: a total ignorance of fire safety rules on the part of mall employees. Therefore, I demand employees fix the problem. I will no longer be patronizing the Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall. Sure, it’s a local fix, but I will #boycott the mall. I also plan to relate our adventures to the Emergencies Ministry.

Do you go to Okhotny Ryad often? How do things stand in terms of fire safety at the shopping mall you frequent?

I am still proposing we do inspections of shopping centers right away. Sure, we are not professionals, but it’s enough to reach out to to mall employees and find out whether they know the rules. If they don’t, it is a clear violation of the law.

1. Go to your local shopping malls. Look and see what is going on with the emergency exits. Study the evacuation plan. Ask security guards and mall management about their arrangements. Record your findings by snapping pictures and making videos.

2. Write up the results of your spot checks and post them on social media. Identify and tag the shopping malls in your posts and tag the posts with the hashtags #KemerovoIsNotAlone, #InsecurePlacesList, and anything else you can think of.

3. Don’t hesitate to call the Emergencies Ministry and report violations, rude behavior, etc. It all helps.

After launching spot checks like this and expanding the list, we can think about filing class-action complaints against the shopping malls and continuing to publicize the issue on social media.

I regard posts about insecure places, like shopping malls, in which fire safety rules do not function, as an elementary tool of self-defense and a means of protecting my friends and loved ones.

Currently, any and all information and all spot checks are truly important. Unfortunately, no one else will do this work for us. So join us!

You can also post your findings on the Facebook group page Act!

P.S. Dmitry Gudkov and his Open Elections team are organizing training sessions for people who want to learn how to conduct fire safety inspections professionally.

Translated by the Russian Reader. All photos courtesy of Ekaterina Nenasheva

The Poster Maker

“I’ll Go All Out to Ensure Putin Loses”
Yelizaveta Mayetnaya
Radio Svoboda
December 5, 2017

“Citizen Putin! If there is a clampdown on public liberties under the pretext of terrorists attacks, it will be clear to everyone who is behind them!”

“Putin is war. Say no to war!”

“Dimon got what was coming to him. Let’s go after Vovan.”

“We live the way we vote.”

Dmitry Skurikhin, owner of a store in the village of Russko-Vysotskoye, near Petersburg, reacts immediately and visually to every political event in Russia.

Skurikhin immediately hangs each new poster on the front of the store, a small, two-storey building, so it is readily visible from the nearby bus stop. They usually do not stay up for long, however. The record is held by the slogan “Peace to Ukraine,” which stayed up for two weeks.

На митинге Навального

Skurikhin at a pro-Navalvy rally on the Field of Mars in Petersburg

43-year-old Dmitry Skurikhin is a local businessman, whose family owns three village shops. By local standards, he is well off. His family owns several cars, and they have everything they need. However, Skurikhin says the incomes of villagers have taken a nosedive in the past year: “They buy almost nothing, because they barely have enough for food.” Around six thousand people live in Russko-Vysotskoye. Very few of them are holiday cottage dwellers. The majority commute to work in Petersburg. Skirukhin was the first businessman in the village to open self-service stores, but “then the Pyatyorochka and Magnit chains moved in, and we croaked, of course.” He now sells toys, newspapers, clothings, and sundries.

He has been hanging political posters on his store, situated along a road, for almost four years. Before that, he pasted homemade bumper stickers on his car. Skirukhin recalls that the first bumper sticker read, “No new taxes!” The year was 2005.

Skurikhin: They had decided to raise taxes on us local businessmen then. It was one of those taxes you couldn’t avoid paying. Either you worked and paid the tax or you didn’t work and didn’t pay the tax. We businessmen realized they were clamping down on us. We joined forces and beat back the tax. It made such an impression on me that since then I haven’t been able to stop going. There are at least some improvements in our lives, specifically in our village. I’m a local grassroots activist, not even a region-wide activist, but a village-level activist. I was born here, and I live and work here. My kids go to school and kindergarten here. I think I have helped improve life in our village.

Radio Svoboda: How exactly have you improved life in the village?

Skurikhin: As they call it now, I was a municipal district council member from 2009 to 2014. At the time, our district authorities were running this interesting scam. They were “milking” the villages. They would buy heat from the producer and sell it to residents. They marked up the price one hundred percent. When the situation had reached a deadlock, it transpired they were charging residents, but not paying the producer anything. They were getting heat for free. The chair of the district council was mixed up in the scam. Thanks in part to my efforts, the gentleman was conveyed directly from the district chairman’s office to prison. That was in May 2012. Since then we haven’t had any disasters with our supply of heat and water.

We still have problems sometimes, but we are now longer in that disastrous state when a group of people affiliated with district officials were just robbing people by latching onto the flow of payments for housing and utilities. Then we had problems with the road. I organized a decent protest rally. A lot of folks turned out for it: 165 people, which is a huge number for our village. We demanded the road be repaired. The road was repaired. So, by starting with small changes like that, stirring people up, I have been trying to bring them round to the idea that fair elections, free speech, and democracy mean improving the welfare of society. On May 1, we had a rally that wasn’t about the roads (we’ve had the roads fixed), but was about healthcare, fair elections, and responsible authorities. Those were the topics of our rally. 45 people showed up. The rally was authorized. I always try and authorize events with the authorities, but we rallied at the skating rink on the edge of the forest.

Кто будет следующим

“Dimon got run over. Let’s go after Vovan.” This is a reference to Alexei Navalny’s film documentary exposé of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his untold riches, Don’t Call Him Dimon. “Vovan” is a humorous reference to Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, my time as district council member ended for a simple reason: our team doesn’t pay for votes. If you don’t buy yourself votes, meaning if you don’t pay off the right people during early voting, then you’re out of the race, because your opponents do pay for votes. United Russia paid 1,500 rubles per vote! All the other candidates lost.

Radio Svoboda: Did you prove in court they paid for votes?

Skurikhin: It’s impossible to prove in court, because the scam is quite competently organized. They don’t buy votes, but pay for the services of fake campaign workers, meaning they contract out their campaign. United Russia has a team of between ten and fifteen people, depending on the number of seats that are up for grabs in a specific municipal district, and they hire canvassers. But the canvassers don’t have to canvass. They just need to show up and vote ahead of time, for which they are paid 1,500 rubles a pop. That’s it. It’s perfectly legal. All the evidence is circumstantial. When I tried to get hired as a canvasser in a neighboring village, I was told I would not do, because I wasn’t registered in that precinct.

“How’s that?!” I said. “I’m a local resident. I have a store here. I know everyone in the village, and they all know me. I’ll canvass for you like nobody’s business.”

“No, no, you don’t fit us.”

“What’s the deal?”

“You’re registered somewhere else.”

It’s all clear, guys! You don’t need canvassers: you need voters, whom you buy off for 1,500 rubles apiece. I dubbed the technique “bribing a voter under the guise of paying a canvasser.” It works like a charm in all the villages, where the populace is not too savvy. The populace in general is not very savvy, but in the countryside it’s just unbelievable. The salary in these places is commonly 1,000 rubles a day [approx. 14 euros a day]. People who get a 1,000 rubles a day don’t suffer. I ran a counter-campaign against this.

When the villagers were going to vote, I would say to them, “Guys, are you really unaware that when they get seats on the council, they’ll shake a hundred times more out of your pockets?”

“I toss manure on a farm with a pitchfork for a 1,000 rubles a day. But here I’m getting 1,500 rubles for five minutes of my time. Maybe you’d like to go and pitch manure for me?” one guy told me.

That’s their whole rationale! There’s nothing more to say.

Radio Svoboda: When did you hang the first political banner on your store? How long did it stay up?

Skurikhin: It was the spring of 2014. My fifth daugther was born then. I decided to give my wife a present by building a politicized bus stop opposite the store. I fashioned the frame and the foundation. We didn’t have a stop there. People would always stand outside there, and the buses would stop to pick them up. I built a bus stop and draped it with posters. This was when the annexation of Crimea was happening. We had a couple of posters about Crimea: I demanded an end to the disgrace. Then there were posters demaning pay rises for ordinary doctors and school teachers. I was still a council member. I gathered information on how much doctors were paid in Russia. President Putin had literally just claimed that there were no doctors in Russia who were paid less than the average monthly salary in their regions. That was an outright lie. I wrote it on my poster, because I knew how much our doctors were paid. I had gathered the information in my capacity as a municipal district council member.

Radio Svoboda: How much did doctors really make then?

Skurikhin: The ophthalmologist in our village was paid 14,000 rubles, while the average monthly wage in Leningrad Region was 35,000 rubles. I think this as an absolutely proven lie. I hung it up on the bus stop. The local authorities were completely shocked by it. The stop had been turned into a shelter and was hung with banners and pasted with posters. They didn’t know what to do, so the posters stayed up for three weeks or so, I think. Then a major from Center “E” [the so-called anti-extremism police] in Petersburg came and had a long chat with me. That was April 1, 2014. I remembered the date, because it was the day the Russian State Duma issued a resolution condemning restrictions on freedom of speech in Ukraine. And I was sitting there chatting with this little vampire who was directly threatening me and my business.

“We will shut you down if you don’t stop it!” he told me.

The bus stop stood for a month, and then it had to be demolished. All that’s left is the concrete slab, where locals still wait to catch the bus.

Radio Svoboda: Who demolished it?

Skurikhin: I did, on orders from the local authorities. They told me either I had to demolish it and haul it away or they would do it themselves. Since then I have been hanging posters on the store.

I hung up the poster “I congratulate you on the 61st anniversary of the Dragon’s death. The Dragon is dead, but his cause lives on. // Russian citizens, stop being slaves. Become citizens. Kill the dragon inside you.” The poster, which showed Stalin in his casket, used to be coupled with the second part, about citizens, which was swiped by the polizei. The poster “Peace to Ukraine” broke all the records: it hung for two weeks.

Вторую часть плаката

The second part of this poster, featuring a dead Stalin and a call to “kill the dragon inside you” and “become citizens” was “swiped by the polizei.”

The local authorities, by the way, didn’t know how to react. The poster was hanging on my building. It’s my property and my land, and the poster belongs to me. It hung there for quite a long time. Other events took place, for example, the 2014 elections. I hung my campaign posters there. As a municipal district council member, I was competing for votes. I would hang up a poster. It would become stale, and I would hang up a new one. And then, when I clearly campaigned against Putin. . . For example, I had posted a banner reading, “Putin should resign.” It was 9.4 meters by 2 meters. The banner caught everyone’s eye: my store stands next to the road. Well, they just came and swiped the banner. I decided to hang up another banner. Since it was forbidden to demand Putin’s resignation, I demanded Putin be freed. Since he considered himself a galley slave, I wrote, “Free Vladimir Putin! Let’s free this galley slave. Otherwise, he and his pals will row [rake in] too much.” This banner was also 9.4 meters by 2 meters.

Radio Svoboda: It was probably removed immediately, no? 

Skurikhin: I don’t know why, but it stayed up for nearly two weeks. I saw policemen come and look at it. Maybe they didn’t get it? I can’t say how the authorities make decisions. But then they removed it anyway. I have been doing this on purpose. My goal is to ensure President Putin loses this election. During the last election, in 2012, I printed flyers and ensured that Putin got the least number of votes in our district in our precincts, although he won anyway, of course. Our precinct was among the ten worst precincts in Leningrad Region. Numbers decide everything in a democracy. I worked on the electorate the best I could.

Radio Svoboda: Do the security services often summon your for talks and try to reason with you?

Skurikhin: Earlier they did, but recently they have left me alone for some reason. I think they just realized, probably, that they should be talking to me in handcuffs, whereas talking to me just for the heck of it, what’s the point? Besides my chat with the major from Center “E,” a major from the FSB, a colonel from the FSO (Federal Protective Service), and the Investigative Committee summoned me. Each of my posters has been sent off for a forensic examination. Policemen photograph them, and the photos are sent to Center “E” and Saint Petersburg State University for analysis: they have this forensics examination center there. Their forensics experts study my posters and render their findings. If the findings are neutral, the posters are returned to me, accompanied by an official ruling refusing to file criminal charges against me. I’ve had around a hundred such posters. Each one is also accompanied by a description. The police also try to do everything by the book. In Nazi Germany, they incinerated Jews by the book. Here in Russia, they have been trying to shut me up by the book, to put it crudely.

Radio Svoboda: What grounds do the police have for removing posters from private property? How does it usually happen?

Skurikhin: First, they get a complaint either from the local council or from a resident: someone is unhappy with the poster hanging on my store. The police arrive and write me up for violating the regional law that all posters must be vetted with the local council. This little law was invented in Leningrad Region. I disagree with it, so I simply say it wasn’t so. They write me up, then they bring a slave from the local housing authority, whom they force to climb up and remove my poster. Then they leave. After which the situation proceeds as I’ve described it. Unfortunately, the forensics experts have concluded that two of my posters insulted the honor and dignity of the president and incited social discord. I try not to insult anyone. I think through all my posters and make sure that they are worded as properly as possible, because you don’t help things by insulting people. I want to persuade people to vote against Putin, persuade them we need democratic values, freedom, and liberalism. Yet two of my posters have been deemed insulting to Putin. They were the reason I was summoned to the Investigative Committee to talk with an investigator.

Radio Svoboda: Have criminal charges been filed in connection with the two posters?

Skurikhin: You know, I haven’t asked the police about it. But they did get me summoned to the Investigative Committee, where I was asked for an explanation. I was shown the findings of the forensics experts. The poster in question was “Putin is war. Say no to war.” As you remember, it was Anna Politkovskaya who said, “Putin is war.” The slogan was written with bloody smudges, so there was nothing in particular to interpret. It was clear as clear could be. The poster was deemed to have insulted Putin’s honor and dignity. I don’t think I insulted him, but the Investigative Committee does.

Radio Svoboda: What war did you have in mind when when you wrote the slogan?

Skurikhin: Any war. Because Putin is, in fact, war. We were flattening Ukraine at the time.

Radio Svoboda: Have they threatened to close your business?

Skurikhin: The major from Center “E” threatened me, but no one else has. It’s just I’ve been in business for twenty-one years, and all the agencies they could sick on me, I’ve been working with them for a long time. I have a good relationship with them. Most important, all of them are on my side. As they’re tearing down the posters, the policemen say to me, “Damn, what you write is true.” But they’ve taken an oath, they have their orders, they would immediately get hell from their commander, so they can’t say it that way. I can because I don’t have a commander. Firefighters, the guys at Health Inspection Services, they all understand what is happening in Russia. Most of them are smart people.

Против кого на самом деле надо сакции вводить

“Americans, don’t sanction all of Russia. Our head vampires got their jobs dishonestly and run things dishonestly. Sanction them!”

Radio Svoboda: Does your family support you?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. Sure, they worry about me. The situation in Russia is such that the most active dissenters are shot down. My kids are aged nineteen, fourteen, seven, and four. All of them are girls: I live in a flower garden. If I’m arrested, my wife will feed the family: she’ll be like Vassa Zheleznova. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we’ve talked it all throgh, of course. So that’s why I try and write slogans that are legal. I have studied a ton of material on the subject. What is an insult? It’s when you compare someone with an animal. The rest can be offensive and unpleasant, but it is not insulting in the criminal sense. You can say, “Skurikhin, you’re an idiot.” Yes, it’s possible for you to have this opinion. But I think differently. But if you say, “Skurikhin, you’re a jackass,” that is an insult.

Radio Svoboda: Have other businessmen put up similar posters?

Skurikhin: There were elections to the State Duma in 2016. As a member of Parnas (People’s Freedom Party), I ran in them in my own electoral district, the southwest  district of Leningrad Region. Sergey Naryshkin, now our top spy, ran in the same district. I made the rounds of all my businessmen friends and asked them to support me. I made banners that read, “Skurikhin and Parnas are your only worthy choice.” In our part of the world, most of the shops are village shops, and they are on private property, so I was able to hang them up for free. No other candidate got that kind of support. The rest had to pay for billboards. I spent 150,000 rubles on my election campaign. My wife later gave me a piece of her mind about that. I took second place in the elections in my own village. Only Naryshkin got more votes. I got support for my posters and ideas, for saying “Putin should resign.” My fellow villagers gave me the number two spot. In my native Lomonosov District, I took sixth place, and I took eighth place in the entire electoral district, which has a population of 500,000. What does that tell you? I would argue the outcome shows that liberal and democratic ideas are popular in society, but they simply never get conveyed to the voters, since the media are totally blocked. I have no other way of telling people Putin should have been dismissed from the Kremlin long ago. I only have my posters. But, generally speaking, it’s very hard for a Parnas member to get around United Russia on the first try.

Radio Svoboda: Do you attend all protest rallies?

Skurikhin: Yes, I try to go to all of them. At the last pro-Navalny rally, in June, I was wearing a “Sick of Him” t-shirt and carrying a flag. I was taken to a police station, but I escaped. This year there were also primary elections—Naryshkin gave up his seat in the Duma when he was appointed head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) in October 2016—and this year there were reelections. We also held events that, in my opinion, were meaningful to our district. I couldn’t let my people down, so I had to hightail it from the police station.

Radio Svoboda: Are you following the presidential campaign?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. I’ll go all out to ensure Mr. Putin loses the election, at least in my precinct. I support Navalny’s registration as a candidate and Ksenia Sobchak’s candidacy, because we need as many candidates as possible in the first round just to take votes away from Putin and get a second round. If there is a second round, that will be a significant victory in itself.

Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Grassroots Recycling as a Threat to Russian National Security and International Football

confedcup-31_sm

Football fans! You might want to know that this past Saturday, the monthly neighborhood collections of recyclables, organized by the Razdelnyi Sbor environmental movement, an entirely volunteer-run organization, were cancelled, apparently by the police or higher powers, in four of Petersburg’s districts (Central, Admiralty, Krasnoye Selo, and Kalinin), allegedly, because they were a “security threat” to the ongoing FIFA Confederations Cup.

Ironically, this same grassroots movement, which poses such a (non-)threat to national security in neighborhoods many kilometers away from the brand-new stadium on Krestovsky Island where some of the cup’s matches are being played, including the final—a stadium that was built at the cost of unbelievable cost overruns (i.e., kickbacks) and completion delays, precarious migrant labor (including slave laborers shipped in from North Korea, one of whom was killed in an accident on the site), and the demolition of the old Kirov Stadium, a nationally listed architectural landmark designed by the great constructivist architect Alexander Nikolsky—made a deal with cup organizers and FIFA to collect and process recyclable waste at the stadium after matches.

Meaning that, at the stadium itself, this same grassroots movement was seen not as a threat, but as a cynical means of showing fans that FIFA and the Russian government were all about “international best practices.”

This is a ridiculous, telltale story that someone other than lowly unread me and my crap blog should be reporting.

By the way, under normal circumstances, readers of my Facebook news feed would have got a message from Razdelnyi Sbor about Saturday’s collection points, a message I cut and paste and disseminate faithfully every month, because I want everyone I know to go the one-day collection points in their neighborhood with their recyclables, and because my partner and I go to our neighborhood spot in the Central District every month ourselves.

Last year, I even bought a Razdelnyi Sbor t-shirt, to support the cause and occasionally serve as a living, breathing, walking, talking advertisement for it.

I guess I’ll have to think hard about whether I want to wear the t-shirt again. I don’t understand how you can serve the authorities at their Big Event while letting down the ordinary people who support you in their neighborhoods with their volunteer labor and their recycling month in and month out.

A friend of mine was arguing on Facebook just yesterday that VK, the homegrown Russian social media where Razdelnyi Sbor has its community page, was where it was at, as opposed to snobby Facebook. But in the relevant recent posts on Razdelnyi Sbor’s VK page about the cancelled collections you won’t find word one criticizing the authorities for acting in such a brutal, stupid way towards a completely beneficial grassroots campaign. I would imagine the page’s moderators hastily scrubbed any such complaints, if there were any. I’m sure there were some.

This is the real Russia, about which I almost never read anything in the western media and, sometimes, in the Russian media, either. It’s a country where recycling enthusiasts (just like cycling enthusiasts, for that matter) are imagined as a threat to national security and as “agents of the west,” except in the one instance where they can make the authoritarian state’s Big Event seem more PC to foreign football fans, dishing out big euros for tickets, merchandise, food and drinks, and rooms. TRR

A huge thanks to Comrade Darya A. for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Razdelnyi Sbor’s website

Read more on this topic:

“We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Ekaterina Schulman

Ekaterina Schulman. Photo courtesy of Andrei Stekachov and The Village

Political Scientist Ekaterina Schulman on Why You Should Vote
Anya Chesova and Natasha Fedorenko
The Village
September 16, 2016

This Sunday, September 18, the country will vote for a new State Duma, the seventh since the fall of the Soviet Union. The peculiarity of this vote is that it will take place under a mixed electoral system for the first time since 2003. 225 MPs will be elected to five-year tears from party lists, while the other 225 MPs will be elected from single-mandate districts. Several days before the elections, The Village met with Ekaterina Schulman, a political scientist and senior lecturer at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). We talked with her about why you should vote if United Russia is going to win in any case, as well as about the changes in store for the Russian political system in the coming years.


The Upcoming Elections

The Village: On Sunday, the country will hold the first elections to the State Duma since 2011. The social climate in the city and the country as a whole has changed completely since that time. Protests erupted in 2011, and the people who protested on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue believed they could impact the political situation. Nowadays, few people have held on to such hopes. What should we expect from the upcoming elections? And why should we bother with them?

Ekaterina Schulman: Everything happening now with the State Duma election is a consequence of the 2011–2012 protests, including changes in the laws, the introduction of the mixed system, the return of single-mandate MPs, the lowering of the threshold for parties to be seated in the Duma from seven to five percent, and the increased number of parties on the ballot. These are the political reforms outlined by then-president Dmitry Medvedev as a response to the events of December 2011. Later, we got a new head of state, but it was already impossible to take back these promises. The entire political reality we observe now has grown to one degree or another out of the 2011–2012 protest campaign, whether as rejection, reaction or consequence. It is the most important thing to happen in the Russian political arena in recent years.

The statements made by Vyacheslav Volodin, the president’s deputy chief of staff, on the need to hold honest elections, Vladimir Churov’s replacement by Ella Pamfilova as head of the Central Electoral Commission, the departure of someone more important than Churov from the CEC, deputy chair Leonid Ivlev, and the vigorous sacking of chairs of regional electoral commissions are all consequences of the protests. If they had not taken place, nothing would have changed. We would still have the same proportional voting system, the same seven-percent threshold, the same old Churov or Churov 2.0. Continue reading ““We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Ekaterina Schulman”