Andrei Kolesnikov: Hooked on Militarism?

new hope“New Hope. All drug addicts quit using. Some manage to do it while alive.” Photo by the Russian Reader

Where Militaristic Infantilism Leads
Society’s Losing Its Fear of War Is More Dangerous Than What Happens in the Absence of an Anti-War Movement
Andrei Kolesnikov
Vedomosti
November 28, 2018

The “polite people” in the Russian military have taken to ramming ships, shedding their politesse. A military coming out has happened. Either so-called hybrid war has become more hybridized in terms of the variety of its methods or it has become more like good old-fashioned war, involving actual armed clashes. Politically, Russia has become not merely toxic but hypertoxic. A premonition of war prevails among more timid folks, although the footage of the ramming at sea, as painless and triumphal as a military parade on Red Square or a football match (“Crush him!”), still make military operations appear unscary and toylike. We will carry the day in any case, sans victims and blood (ours, that is), as in a cartoon by Putin.

This militaristic infantilism—the loss of the fear of war, the loss of the idea that war is terrible—is the worst outcome of our country’s daily intoxication with the thought of its own greatness for several years running. The army is greatly respected nowadays. People need to trust someone, and the armed forces have bypassed another institution, the presidency, in trustworthiness ratings.

Does this mean Russians are ready for a real war? To put it more plainly, are Russian parents willing to let their eighteen-year-old boys be called up to fight Ukrainian boys just like them? Does anyone understand what they would be fighting for? Is it really all about cementing the nation, “Crimea is ours!” and the personal ambitions of several high-ranking figures in the Russian establishment?

Since 2012, Russia’s collective identity has been built on negative foundations, on awakened resentment, which had been dozing, but had no thought of waking up. The plan has worked quite well. This resentment, however, is verbal and fictitous. Public opinion supported “coal miners” and “tractor drivers” verbally. In Syria, the official army and private military companies fought, or so Russians imagined, at their own risk. The proxy war with the US has gone very far at times, but in the summer of 2018 it did not stop the majority of Russians from abruptly improving their attitude [sic] to the States and the west in general.

But suddenly there is the threat of a real war. On the other side of the border, in the country [i.e., Ukraine] that the Russian imperialist mind never really considered sovereign, a mobilization is underway and martial law has been declared. Is this reality capable of changing popular opinion and rousing Russian civil society, which has a lot going for it except an anti-war movement? No, because so far the war has not been regarded as real.

Identification with the military is the last bullet in the Russian regime’s gun, but it is a blank or, rather, a prop. Exploiting what Russians regard as sacred—i.e., privatization of the memory of the Great Patriotic War [WWII] by a particular group—is a tool that is still in play, but militarism as such has lost its power to mobilize and consolidate Russians. If “German POWs” are marched around Novgorod on January 20, 2019, in an absurd attempt to reenact the NKVD’s Operation Grand Waltz, and on January 29, a military parade is held in St. Petersburg to mark the latest anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad, it will not raise Putin’s approval rating from 66% to 80%. Those days are gone. So, the props have been dropped in favor of direct action in the Kerch Strait, but its power to mobilize people is not at all obvious.

You can cynically throw the ashes of those who perished in the Siege of Leningrad to stoke the furnace of fading ratings as much as you want. You can march people dressed up as German POWs round Novgorod as much as you like. When, however, pollsters ask Russians between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four what countries they regard as role models, they list Germany, China, and the US. This is not because young Russians are unpatriotic, but because not everything comes to down to the top brass feeding on the poisonous corpse of the Stalinist past. The present day, progress, and visions for the future matter, too.

Can we do it again? We cannot. Nor is there any reason to do it. Infantilized by the regime, Russian society’s maturation will be measured by the numbers of people who are convinced that we cannot and should not do it again.

Andrei Kolesnikov is program director at the Moscow Carnegie Center. Translated by the Russian Reader

Surviving the Siege

“I Only Want to Take a Bath, Nothing More”
Alexander Kalinin
Rosbalt
May 15, 2017

Anna Yegorova is ninety-eight years old. She defended Leningrad all nine hundred days of the Nazi siege of the city during the Second World War. On the seventy-second anniversary of Victory Day, the combatant did not even get postcards from the government. But there was a time when she wrote to Brezhnev—and got a reply. 

Anna Yegorova. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

Anna Yegorova was born in 1918 in the Kholm-Zhirkovsky District of Smolensk Region. When she was ten, her parents decided to set out in search of a better life and moved to Leningrad with their daughter. They settled in a wooden house near the Narva Gates on New Sivkov Street, now known as Ivan Chernykh Street. Yegorova finished a seven-year primary school and enrolled in the Factory Apprenticeship School, where she graduated as a men’s barber.

“Oh, what beards didn’t I trim in my time,” the Siege survivor recalls.

After acquiring a vocation, the 19-year-old woman married Alexander Vesyolov, a worker at the Kirov Factory. As soon as the war broke out, her husband volunteered for the first division of the people’s militia. Nearly the entire division fell in battle during July–September 1941 on the southern approaches to Leningrad. Vesyolov is still officially listed as missing in action.

Yegorova was drafted into the air defense brigades at the war’s outset. The young woman served in a basement, equipped with seven cots, in one wing of the Kirov Factory. It was the headquarters of the local air defense brigade.

Yegorova still remembers the war’s outbreak, her military service in the besieged Leningrad, and victory in May 1945.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин
Anna Yegorova as a young woman. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

“How did the war begin? We were going to the cinema, but my mother told me I should go to the factory instead. Then I got a notice stating I had been drafted to serve in the headquarters of the local air defense brigade at the Kirov Factory. I spent all nine hundred days there. I was able to come home only once a month. My parents starved to death. Dad passed away on February 3, 1942. He was a first-class carpenter. His comrades made him a wooden coffin: they could not bury a carpenter without a coffin. Mom died a month later. They just carried her off to the Volodarsky Hospital in a blanket. I don’t even know where she is buried. Maybe at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, maybe in Moskovsky Victory Park,” says Yegorova.

Her duties included running to other parts of the city to deliver dispatches, carrying the wounded, and standing on guard at the factory, armed with a rifle. The young woman would look into the sky and watch what planes were flying overhead: planes emblazoned with red stars or planes bearing black crosses. Once, during a heavy bombardment, she was shell-shocked.

“I still remember how we chopped up houses in the Kirov District. Once, a girlfriend and I were dismantling a house near a railroad bridge, and a woman called out to us, ‘Girls, girl, come here, come.’ We didn’t go: we were scared. There were all kinds of people back then, you know. Once, this girl stole my food ration cards, and my mom’s earrings were also stolen,” recalls Yegorova.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин
Yegorova’s collection of war medals. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

The Siege survivor recounts how she would travel to the Krasnoarmeysky Market to buy linseed cakes and oilseed meal.

“The oilseed meal was like sawdust. Oh, how I gagged on that oilseed meal! But we had nothing to sell. We were poor.”

When Victory Day arrived, her house was nearly totally destroyed. Only an ottoman was rescued from the ruins.

Yegorova remarried after the war. Her new husband was a military officer, Nikolai Yegorov, who had fought not only in the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) but also the Finnish War (Winter War). In peacetime, Yevgorov became a first-class instrumentation specialist. In 1946, the Yegorovs gave birth to a daughter, Lydia. Yegorova worked as a secretary at the Kirov Factory, latter becoming head of a bread and confectionery department at a store.

In the late 1960s, Anna Yegorova wrote a letter to Leonid Brezhnev, secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. The essence of the message was as follows.

“Leonid Ilyich, no one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten. But it has so happened that I, a survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, awarded the medal For the Defense of Leningrad, and my husband, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, have to huddle with our daughter in a sixteen-square-meter room on Lublin Alley.”

Image courtesy of slideshare.net

Yegorova does not believe her letter reached Brezhnev personally, but she does think it wound up in the hands of a “kindly” secretary who helped the family move into a one-room flat in the far southern district of Ulyanka. She lived in the neighborhood for around thirty years. She was civically engaged, working with Great Patriotic War veterans. She says she even worked as an aide to Sergei Nikeshin, currently an MP in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, who was then quite young. Nikeshin and she inspected the fields then surrounding Ulyanka.

The certificate accompanying Anna Yegorova’s medal For the Defense of Leningrad. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

In 1996, Yegorova took seriously ill. She was struck down by deep vein thrombosis. Her left leg “was like a wooden peg.” Her husband Nikolai died in 1999.

“After that, Mom stayed at home. I took care of her. This is my cross. We would take her to the dacha only in the summer. Otherwise, she would move about only in the apartment. She would get up in the morning and make her bed, come into the kitchen and sit down on the couch. She would turn on  and call the station to request a song. She loved Boris Shtokolov’s “Dove.” Or she would request “A White Birch Weeps,” or something by Nikolai Baskov. But a month ago she took to her bed. Now all she does is lie in bed,” recounts her daughter Lydia Kolpashnikova.

Boris Shtolokov, “Dove” (a Russian adaptation of “La Paloma”)

Kolpashnikova is herself a pensioner. She has a third-degree disability. According to her, Petersburg authorities have practically forgotten her mother. True, three years ago, the Moscow District Administration called and said she could get a wheelchair. The women’s joy was short-lived. It transpired that the wheelchairs were used: they had been brought to Petersburg from Holland. To make use of the chair, they would have had to pay to have it repaired. The women decided to turn the gift down the gift.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин
Congratulatory cards and other memorabilia sent to Anna Yegorova over the years as a Siege survivor. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

Yegorova has received no substantial help from the local Siege survivors society. The organization can only offer trips to museums and theater tickets. This is not an option for Anna Yegorova, who is in no condition to leave her apartment. On memorial days—the Day of the Lifting of the Siege and Victory Day—however, cakes used to be brought to her. But this time around, however, she was completely neglected. According to the pensioner, the city did not even congratulate her.

Yegorova’s daughter Lydia decided to remind the authorities of her mother’s existence after hearing President Putin’s speech on TV. The president demanded that the heads of the country’s regions do a better job of caring for Great Patriotic War veterans.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин

“I clung to Putin’s words that veterans needed help, for example, if they needed help with home repairs. I called the district administration and asked them to repair our bathroom,” says Kolpashnikova. “Mom is completely ill. She is almost completely out of it. She has gallstones, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation. She is classified as a first-class disabled person. She survives only on sheer willpower. But now she cannot make it to the bathroom. I wipe her off in bed. She talks to me about the bathroom all the time, however. She wants to take a bath, but wants the bathroom repaired. The tile has crumbled in there. I called the Moscow District Administration and asked them to repair the bathroom, but I was told that ‘sponsors’ deal with these issues. Now, however, there is a crisis, and there are no sponsors. What sponsors were they talking about? Mom also needs medicines and diapers. There are social workers willing to run from one office to the next to get hold of diapers for free, but they also need to be paid to run around. The local Siege survivors organizations cannot do anything: they are the weakest link. I have no complaints against them.”

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин

Anna Yegorova gets gifts from the authorities only on round dates. When she turned ninety, they gave her a towel, and they presented her with bed linens when she turned ninety-five.

“I called them in the autumn. I said that Mom would be turning ninety-eight on November 25. I suggested they come and congratulate her. They said to me, ‘We don’t have the right. When she turns one hundred, we’ll congratulate her,” recounts the Siege survivor’s daughter.

Anna Yegorova does not want to ask the authorities for anything.

“I have no strength. What should I do? I cannot stand up straight. I fall. I just want them to fix the bathroom. I want to take a bath. That’s it.”

All photos courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

The Call of War

call-of-war

Smash the fascists in World War II and become a Soviet hero!
A New Online Strategy [Game] about the Second World War
Tank battles, naval and air war fought on historical maps! Command your troops and destroy the enemy with nuclear missiles! Are you ready to rewrite history?

ru.callofwar.com

NB. Call of War is an online game available in different languages. It was created by Bytro Labs GmbH in Hamburg Germany.

The Voting Dead

Vladimir Putin leading Immortal Regiment march in Moscow, May 9, 2016. Photo: Ilya Pitalev/Sputnik
Vladimir Putin leading Immortal Regiment march in Moscow, May 9, 2016. Photo: Ilya Pitalev/Sputnik

Proposal to Give Voting Rights to Those Killed in the War Made at Conference Financed by Petersburg City Hall
Fontanka.ru
May 20, 2016

The Alexander Nevsky Monastery has been hosting a conference entitled “Faith and Works: Corporate Social Responsibility in Times of Crisis.” Petersburg city hall’s department for relations with religious associations allocated part of the funds for the conference.

Andrei Ageyev, director of the Institute of Economic Strategies of the Russian Academy of Sciences spoke at the conference. Reflecting on the Great Patriotic War as a point around which society had consolidated, he proposed considering the possibility of giving the right to vote to the twenty-seven million Soviet citizens who died during the Second World War.

Explaining his idea to our correspondent, Ageyev noted that the dead could in this way have an impact on current affairs in Russia, with whose progress and salvation they were directly related. For example, their families could vote in their stead, Ageyev added.

“The Immortal Regiment marches are an example of this expression of opinion,” the scholar argued.

Ageyev also argues that the right to vote may have to be given to several previous generations, and not only to those who died in the war. The reason is the same: they must be able to influence current events since these events are a continuation of their own lives.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Sputnik

The Immortal Regiment: The Regime’s Human Shield

Crimea Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya leading the Immortal Regiment in Simferopol, Crimea, May 9, 2016. According to TASS, she carried a "wonder-working" icon of Holy Martyr Tsar Nicholas II.
Crimean Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya leading the Immortal Regiment memorial procession in Simferopol, Crimea, May 9, 2016. According to TASS, she carried a “wonder-working” icon of Holy Martyr Tsar Nicholas II that had been sent to Crimea from Moscow for the event.

The Regime’s Moral Defense: The Immortal Regiment as a Shield 
Andrei Kolesnikov
Forbes.ru
May 9, 2016

On December 5, 1966, sitting as his dacha in Pakhra, Alexander Tvardovsky, an agonizingly conscientious and grimly self-reflective poet, recorded in his diary thoughts that nowadays would cause the higher-ups to stop inviting him to receptions at the Kremlin, and hired “patriots” to douse him, as is the custom nowadays, with brilliant green disinfectant.

First, Tvardovsky writes about the essence of Victory Day and its semi-official recension, including the myth of the Panfilov Division’s Twenty-Eight Guardsmen, whose debunking now costs people their jobs.

“Those who perished in the war for the Motherland have a indubitable, sacred right to be remembered and honored. […] However, there is a considerable admixture of ‘educational policy’ in all this as well, considerations on how to manipulate the moods of the ‘masses’ […] such as the tomb of the unknown soldier organized recently (God forbid he should prove to be a known soldier), a lot of needless bother, like the five or six of the twenty-eight [Panfilov Division Guardsmen] who utterly embarrassingly turned up alive.”

Tvardovsky then goes on to write about what is totally and even furiously excluded from the national memory and reflections on the topic nowadays.

“No doubt those who perished on the eve of the war and during the war, not at the front, but in the mad regime’s prisons, camps, and torture chambers, also deserve to be remembered in this way.”

Half a century has passed since Tvardovsky penned this diary entry, but nothing has changed at all or has been reborn in circumstances reminiscent of the Brezhnev period in terms of ideology and political strategy. The regime’s legitimacy was then directly linked to memory of the war, moreover, the official memory of the war, with many of the unpleasant particulars concealed. Today, too, the regime feeds on the juices of the past, powerful evidence of the effects of path dependence in the vast nation’s collective consciousness. Back then, however, there were still a couple of things that brought people together like conquering outer space and romanticizing the 1920s. (Fidel Castro and Cuba reproduced the spirit of that era.)  Our day and age parodies the things that consolidated the Soviet Union. But then again, Nikita Khrushchev would never have deigned to be personally involved in launching rockets from a cosmodrome, as did Vladimir Putin, a man who endeavors to inherit the Soviet Union’s achievements.

The current Russian regime’s final privatization of the Soviet victory in the Second World War and the amazing propagandistic transformation of each new war, including the Syrian campaign, into a direct sequel of the Great Patriotic War has divided the nation instead of consolidating it.

And the minority, who are not at all against remembering the great war, but are opposed to hysteria, official narratives, vulgarization, schematic renderings of the war, marking “friends” with Saint George’s Ribbons, and rejecting critical takes on historical events, have been virtually excluded from the ranks of citizens.

If you did not take a Saint George’s Ribbon foisted on you at a football match, and your kid was not involved in an Immortal Regiment event at school, you are a renegade, not a citizen. Everything the state gets its hands on immediately acquires an imperative and moralistic aftertaste and helps to identify an individual as friend or foe. Strangers have no place in this political system. People who think about the Gulag, for example, have no place. They are attacked, even if they are children, as happened during a Memorial school essay contest, and declared “national traitors.”

In our hybrid political framework, these prescriptions and nearly obligatory moral codes, sometimes reinforced by the Criminal Code, have been rented not even from authoritarian systems but from totalitarian ones.  In this model, morality is immoral, Russia’s heroes are anti-heroes, and vice versa. The nation has repented of the repentance it felt thirty years ago. It turns out that iPhones can peacefully coexist with the most primitive variety of Stalinism, and supermarkets, with archaization of the mind.

The Great Patriotic War is used, including to sell nonexistent threats to the general public. These threats strengthen the authority of the man commanding the besieged fortress and expand the food supply of the military and security services elites.

Today’s Russian society is a society of people who have been insulted a priori and attacked before the fact. We were attacked in 1941, and we are attacked now. We are attacked, so we defend ourselves and conduct just wars. These wars are triumphal and victimless, and ennobled and sterilized by TV. They resemble computer games where the players have a big supply of extra lives.

You cannot die a hero’s death in such wars, although you can go as a tourist. (According to Christopher Coker of the LSE, modern war is often a continuation of tourism by other means.)

In the name of the Soviet victory in the Second World War, you can do anything whatsoever. You can even crack down on the opposition, conduct a wild goose chase for “national traitors,” annex Crimea, invade Syria, and do battle with “Banderites.” Ceremony, rather than real success, has become a ritual means of “consolidating” the nation. Anyone who has avoided being consolidated during collective rituals is an internal enemy.

The victorious official narrative is a set of rote answers in the absence of questions. It is the triumph of simplification, the refusal to understand that history is complicated. It is the refusal to imagine the war as a tragedy. The topic of the unnecessary sacrifices and wastefulness of the Stalin regime, which did not count soldiers and devalued their lives, has disappeared from the discourse. Simplifying complicated things has also ben a means of simultaneously justifying the current regime and Stalin’s regime at a single blow, of dividing the nation into right and wrong, moral and immoral, by tying the “right” folks together with a single Saint George’s Ribbon, by marketizing the war and making it fashionable.

Everything in Russia is hybrid: the wars in Donbass and Syria, the political system itself, and now the celebration of Victory Day. Sacred memory has been placed at the service of solving a single albeit blistering problem: preserving the power of the current leaders and current elites as long as possible. To do this, the regime takes cover behind the Immortal Regiment’s morally impeccable shield, which, however, makes it look even more immoral.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Roman Dobrokhotov and TASS. For more on this topic, see Peter Hobson, “How Russian Authorities Hijacked a WWII Remembrance Movement,” Moscow Times, May 6, 2016.

The War as Holy Writ

Victory Day parade in Moscow, May 9, 2016
Victory Day parade in Moscow, May 9, 2016

Communists Propose Equating Feelings of War Veterans with Feelings of Religious Believers
Grani.ru
May 8, 2016

A group of Communist Party MPs plans to submit a law bill to the State Duma that would criminalize insulting the feelings of war veterans and stipulate a punishment of up to three years of forced labor. As Gazeta.ru writes, if the draft law is adopted, Article 148 of the Criminal Code (violating the right to freedom of conscience and religion) would be amended.

The newly amended article, 148.1, is entitled “Insulting the feelings of Great Patriotic War [Second World War] veterans.” The Communists will send the bill to the government and the Supreme Court for review on May 10, immediately after the holidays.

There are three paragraphs in the new law. The first paragraph stipulates punishment for “public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed with the intent of insulting the feelings of Great Patriotic War veterans by deliberately distorting information about the Great Patriot War, or humiliating or belittling the heroism of the Armed Forces of the USSR.”

Violation of the law would be punishable by a fine of up to 300,000 rubles, or up to 240 hours of community service, or up to one year of forced labor.

The second paragraph stipulates criminal liability for “dismantling, moving, destroying or damaging Great Patriotic War monuments,” even if they are not listed as Great Patriotic War cultural heritage sites. In this case, a violation would be punishable by a fine of up to one million rubles, or up to 360 hours of community service, or up to one year of forced labor.

The maximum penalties are prescribed in paragraph three and cover the same actions, as listed above, if they are performed on May 9, or involve the abuse of office, or are committed by someone who has already been convicted of the same violation. In this case, the offender faces a fine of up to four million rubles, or up to 480 hours of community service, or up to three years of forced labor, and a ban on holding certain positions during the period in question.

Communist Sergei Obukhov, who is spearheading the initiative, coauthored the law on “insulting the feelings of religious believers,” adopted by the Duma in 2013 in the wake of the Pussy Riot trial.

In the explanatory note to the new law, Obukhov defends the need to protect the feelings of war veterans, drawing parallels with the adoption of law on insulting the feelings of religious believers. According to him, that law “does not extend to the belief in goodness and justice, the ideals for which the veterans of the Great Patriotic War fought.”

According to Obukhov, he and his colleagues have tried to draft the most non-repressive law possible, so the punishments stipulated do not include imprisonment. Obukhov calls the bill a “full-fledged legal mechanism for defending their truth about that terrible war as well as criminal protection of their honor and dignity.”

In November 2013, A Just Russia MP Oleg Mikheyev proposed punishing those who insulted the memory of the Great Patriotic War with up to seven years in prison or a fine of one million rubles. Mikheyev submitted a draft of amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedural Code to the State Duma.

Mikheyev proposed adding an article entitled “Insulting the memory of the Great Patriotic War” to the Criminal Code. The offense was described as follows: “Actions expressing clear disrespect for society and insulting the memory of the events, participants, veterans, and victims of the Great Patriotic War, and committed at the sites of Great Patriotic War monuments and the burial grounds of those involved in the Great Patriotic War.”

The draft law stipulated a fine of between 500,000 and one million rubles or the amount of the convicted offender’s income for a period of three to four years, or a prison term of up to seven years. Mikheyev explained this choice by analogy with Criminal Code Article 148 (insulting the feeling of religious believers), “insofar as both articles deal with the spiritual realm of human life, the realm of values.” As an example of “insulting the memory” of the war, he cited the articles of journalist Alexander Podrabinek.

In April 2014, Irina Yarovaya, head of the Duma’s security and anti-corruption committee, proposed criminalizing “desecration of days of Russian military glory and memorable dates” connected with the Great Patriotic War. The United Russia MP said the relevant amendments would be inserted into a draft law on “rehabilitating Nazism” during its second reading.

“We will propose equating liability for this crime with the liability for desecrating burial sites dedicated to the fight against fascism [sic] or victims of Nazism,” said Yarovaya.

Individuals accused of “desecrating days of military glory” were to face up to three years in prison, forced labor of up to five years, arrest for a period of three to six months, or five years in a penal colony.

Yarovaya said she had found a post on a social network containing a negative assessment of the May 9 holiday.

“I think such statements should be assessed not just morally or ethically, but from the viewpoint of criminal law,” Yarovaya said in this connection. “Because it is a deliberate crime aimed at desecrating the memory of the Great Patriotic War.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo, above, courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

Victoria Lomasko: We Won

lomasko-we won (stencil)Victoria Lomasko, We Won, 2015. Pen and ink on A4 colored paper

______

We Won

Victory Day 2015 was celebrated in Russian with great fanfare. Nearly all the veterans and witnesses of the war are dead, and now people who had nothing to do with it can privatize “the Victory.”

People from all the Soviet republics fought on the front lines or worked in the rear on behalf of the soldiers at the front, but now the victory has become the victory of ethnic Russians alone. Atheists fought for their communist homeland, but now they are dubbed “agents of Russian Orthodox civilization,” and Patriarch Kirill says a “divine miracle” played the decisive role in the victory. Soviet soldiers bore red flags emblazoned with hammers and sickles as they scrapped their way toward victory over fascism, but now Soviet symbols have been replaced by orange-and-black striped ribbons that originated in the tsarist era.

To be eligible to celebrate “the Victory” you have tie to St. George’s Ribbons to your clothing, your backpacks, your rearview mirrors, and your car antennae, adorn yourself with crucifixes, oppose Ukrainian independence, and be a flagrant homophobe.

This has been the route to public renown taken by the Night Wolves bike gang leader nicknamed The Surgeon, a Putin favorite who organized the To Berlin! “patriotic” motorcycle rally, and had the full support of Russian state media in this dubious and potentially offensive endeavor.

To find yourself labeled an “enemy” and a “Nazi,” however, it suffices to point openly to the way history has been distorted and to remind people that war is primarily an act of mass slaughter. This was the route taken by the Oleg Basov and Pyotr Voys, the artist and the curator who organized an exhibition entitled We Won, which police and the FSB shut down on May 8, a day after it had opened for a private viewing, and one day before Victory Day, May 9.

The art community did not discuss what happened, because what happened was too frightening for them to discuss.

Victoria Lomasko

* * * * *

Here is a translation of the statement the organizers of We Won posted on the exhibition’s Facebook page on May 7, 2015.

The country is celebrating a great victory.

The St. George’s Ribbon, portraits of Stalin, the red flag, and the word fascist are vigorously being replicated again nowadays, becoming a part of everyday life.

But we should clarify the situation. The St. George’s Ribbon is orange and black. It was awarded for military valor, and during the Second World War itself it was a decoration awarded in Vlasov’s Army, which fought on the side of the German Wehrmacht.

As a symbol of victory in the Great Patriotic War [the Soviet name for the Second World War], it was suggested by RIA Novosti news agency in 2006, and the government supported this proposal. The St. George’s Ribbon is now tied to backpacks, dogs, and Mercedes-Benz cars. It has become something commonplace, as if the rank of general or medals for heroism were handed out to everyone.

When heroism becomes a cult, and its symbols are reproduced en masse, its meaning is emasculated. The St. George’s Ribbon is today an identifying mark of the pro-Putin regime fans of Russian TV Channel One.

We won! Let’s take a look back at what this meant.

When counting the numbers of the dead, the margin of error amounts to millions of people.

The beheading of the Red Army’s command on the eve of the war, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and the shameful Winter War, which undermined the army’s authority, were only a prelude.

The illusion that the Soviet Union had unlimited human resources led to terrifying losses: seven Soviet soldiers for every German soldier.

In the postwar years, the military-industrial complex accounted for two thirds of the Soviet Union’s GDP.

These years also witnessed total poverty and devastation, a deformed civil society, an epidemic of fatherless children, concealment of the disabled from the general public, widespread reprisals against war veterans who had been in Europe during the war, and Stalinism’s postwar apogee. The list could go on.

The victory was seen as a justification of the Stalinist terror. Declaring ourselves victors blocks our chances to humanize and evolve our society today as well.

Cultural trauma and post-traumatic amnesia distort our identities. This is expressed in the brain drain of talented people to other countries, widespread alcoholism and drug addiction, and the monstrous lives led by the elderly and the disabled.

We won, and today the outcome of this discourse is a restoration of totalitarianism with an admixture of Orthodox fundamentalism.

Our exhibition does not question the heroism of the people, that is, the men and women who stood in muddy trenches and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

But we question the chimera of the great imperial past, which today is manufactured as the one and only indisputable core of Russian identity.

The Second World War was a monstrous bloodletting by the nations of Europe. A day of mourning is not an occasion for congratulation.

Source: Facebook 

The Ninth of May

anatrrra
May 9, 2015
LiveJournal

The Ninth of May
Seventy years of victory. An even more years of sorrow. But sorrow has no place on the ninth of May. People rejoice. This is a holiday. The veterans, to whose stories the younger participants in today’s festivities listened with curiosity, were the same age back then as some of the young women in these pictures are now. I wonder what kind of victory they will tell youngsters about in seventy years?

9mai15_20 9mai15_25 9mai15_47 9mai15_106 9mai15_183 9mai15_228 9mai15_266

anatrrra’s photographs are reprinted here with their kind permission. Their complete poignant photo reportage of grassroots Victory Day festivities in Moscow can be viewed here.

The Russian State of Mind in Stormy Weather

A State of Mind in Windy Weather
Galina Mursaliyeva
October 1, 2014
Novaya Gazeta

A conversation with psychologists about hatred, aggression, the Russian mentality, cognitive breakdown, the loss of social sensitivity, and society’s lack of self-confidence

The side mirror showed that the cars in the next lane were a safe distance from me. I switched on my turn signal and merged. I realized right away the mirror had deceived me. My car was almost a millimeter away from the front bumper of a black jeep: I had rudely cut off this “stealth” car. It was clear in a situation like this that no one would try and figure out whether this had been done purposely or accidentally. I was ready, or so I thought, for anything. I knew the other driver might deliberately overtake me and brake abruptly right in front of me. And yet, I wasn’t expecting what happened next. When the person in the car I had cut off drove his jeep in front of me for the second time, I deftly avoided a collision by moving into the far left lane, meaning he simply had no way to pursue me. But he found a way: he drove down the oncoming lane and once again put his jeep in front of me. This time I turned on the emergency lights and stopped. He walked up to my car.

“Well?”

“Well what? Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I could have caused an accident. But do you realize that after this you did something that could have got us killed?”

“So what? Maybe I would have kicked the bucket, but I would have taken you down with me.”

article-2209927-154136D1000005DC-491_634x360

There was not a shadow of doubt in his eyes, whitened with anger: one could “kick the bucket” for the sake of punishing one’s offender.

It is not that I recall this incident often, but that I have never forgotten it. Because I saw in a highly condensed form what has been happening with people everywhere—on roads, in supermarkets, on social networks.

“She was the godmother of my son, who is now twenty years old. I was very fond of her, and we were very close, but now that she supports all these Makareviches, I am forced to unfriend her. She has turned into a reptile,” writes a woman on a social network.

Those who call themselves liberals are no better. There is a new photo of a famous person who has more or less spoken out in favor of “Crimea is ours” posted several times a day on Facebook. People batter and pelt the photo with words like stones. “Another one has caved in.” “Creep.” “He used to be my favorite actor. Burn in hell.”

There is an amazing trait that unites everyone these days—their means of expressing hatred. “Fascists,” “traitors”: that is what everyone calls each other. And the verbs are also the same: everyone has “sold out,” either to the Americans or Putin.

You have to kill someone and eat them to take their power. Well, or poison yourself.

Dmitry Leontiev (head of the International Laboratory of Positive Psychology of Motivation and Personality at the Higher School of Economics, doctor of psychology, professor in the psychology department at Moscow State University, and Viktor Frankl Prize winner): It reminds me of an essay by Hegel, published two hundred years ago, “Who Thinks Abstractly?” He gives an example: you go to the market, and a market woman tries to sell you apples. You try them and say, No, I won’t buy them; they’re a bit sour. The market woman says something like the following to you. It is my apples that are sour? You are sour yourself, and you have a sour mug. And who the hell are you to give my apples a bum rap? I remember your parents: they were layabouts! So she begins to generalize: you were only talking about the taste of the apples, but in response she—

Attacks you personally?

Leontiev: The personal attack is only a detail. But here everything is brought into play, the broadest contexts. Hegel calls this generalization “abstract thinking.” According to him, it is the market woman, rather than the philosopher or scientist, who thinks the most abstractly, because she cannot focus on anything specific and generalizes everything. From my point of view, this is what is happening in our society. The great philosopher Merab Mamardashvili, who for me is quite comparable with Hegel, said, “The devil plays with us when we do not think precisely.”

And the devil is playing with us now: we have stopped thinking precisely. Say, neither the Ukrainians themselves nor we understand clearly what is really happening in Ukraine. But the huge number of people who never for a moment doubt they know exactly not only what is happening now but also what will happen next horrifies me. The number of clairvoyants and seers has gone off the scales. And the farther they are from the scene of events, the more accurately they know everything.

What is the cause of this epidemic?

Leontiev: It is a symptom of cognitive breakdown. Criticalness—the ability to filter incoming information, separate fact from fiction, and soberly assess the limits of one’s own knowledge—is considered one of the main mechanisms of the mature mind. Now it would appear that all the natural filters have come undone. The mind ceases to function: it just swallows readymade packaged texts and spits them back out. As soon as you try in a debate to clarify or specify something, your opponent, like Hegel’s market woman, responds by expanding the topic of the conversation to infinity, entwining anything whatsoever into it. This is the most important method of the usually unconscious manipulation now being used: lumping everything together. The topic of the conversation becomes fuzzy, and a lot of details irrelevant to it are entwined in the conversation.

The meaning of the word “opinion” has been devalued in our country. Any nonsense that occurs to someone is labeled an opinion. This assumption that all opinions are equal is a product of so-called postmodernism. Earlier, when experts were asked for their opinions, it was assumed they were the products of intellectual work in the fields in which the experts were professionally employed. It is then that real discussion can unfold, and we can find someone who can be trusted.”

Nowadays, on the contrary, there is often no trace of analytical and intellectual work in what are commonly referred to as opinions. A person gets some “kind of, like” bit of information from somewhere in left field. These “opinions” are not rooted: they can easily switch to their direct opposites. So I am very skeptical about the figure of eighty-five percent of the population who, according to pollsters, now support everything the Russian president does in Ukraine. This is largely a weather phenomenon. The wind has inflated this degree of support, but when it blows in the other direction, it will fall below zero.

You mean the majority of Russians have a heightened psychological “meteodependency” on the political climate? On the stance of the authorities?

Leontiev: What is the “Russian mentality”? Everything said about the peculiarities of the Russian psychology wholly conforms to the psychology of a normal child. This includes a rich mental and emotional life, but a spontaneous one. Hence the inability to control oneself, to keep promises. Small children can be quite cruel: they do not know what pain is, and do not value life. Our country has had a prolonged childhood; we have not succeeded in growing up. Life, both one’s own and that of others, has a low value.

Many things are caused by the inability to link cause and effect. There is no sense of time, of the dynamics of change: Russia is worried about territories, about not giving an inch. We have virtually no social institutions. The State Duma is like a kindergarten during naptime, when the minder has left the room. Everyone is bawling about his or her own thing.

Maybe it is time to replace the concept of “state of mind” with the concept of an “instinctual state”?”

Leontiev: I would rather speak about a state of mind in windy weather. Thinking is energy consuming, and people who have failed to grow up find it easier to throw words around. The fundamentals of humanity’s survival are simple and sound. They unite rather than divide people, despite all their differences. For example, it is good when people live, and bad when they die and kill, even under the most plausible pretexts. But we have a divided society, and in this situation it is important not to contribute to the polarization. It is a virus that has infected the country

Olga Makhovskaya (fellow at the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ph.D. in psychology, and writer): I would say that what is happening today is a reflection of the country’s biggest fault: we have frittered away our values. When they answer any question—whether to fight or not fight with Ukraine or the whole world, whether they are for or against Putin—people are guided by their fears rather than values. And I can say that there, at Maidan, even before the war the protest was not as encapsulated as it is in our country. Encapsulation is when everything happens in cliques: I go to a protest rally with my friends, but as for everyone else, I do not really know or understand how they live. When there is no overall consolidation, you are among a circle of friends but in a society of strangers. It is extremely difficult to get past the bouncers at the door. In Ukraine, there is definitely not this stark opposition between the intelligentsia and people of the land, for example. There, the latter are in fact the most respected, because the land will always feed you, whatever the regime. And these are grounds for personal dignity. They have greater reserves of values there than we do. There is a Russian proverb that says money cannot buy you love. But there is no comprehension that money cannot buy you anything valuable at all—neither freedom, life, talent nor friendship. It is these things that have failed in Russia today.

I think it is not just a matter of events in Ukraine. This segment of people who think alike, a whopping eighty-five percent, is also encapsulated. A person who is willing to kill someone else and himself in the process is not trying to clarify your stances on these issues. He is just ready to kill.

Makhovskaya: From my point of view, the figure of eighty-five percent is rather an indicator of society’s extreme lack of self-confidence than of public opinion. When a survey on happiness, for example, is conducted, and the vast majority says it is insanely happy, politicians see this as a lovely figure. But any psychologist will tell you that such uniformity indicates a state of helplessness. This is a society of old people and little children—of old people, who suffer from diminished intellect and have no future, and of children, who because of their age cannot be independent.

What is happening in our country today—the intolerance and hatred—is directly linked to the state of being in an axiological and normative vacuum. The social psychologist Durkheim called this condition “anomie.” It happens when old institutions, functions, and norms have been destroyed, and new ones have not yet formed. The main conditions for the emergence of a new set of values are the consolidation of society and an optimistic view of the future. But in Russia, values are promoted that divide people and narrow their horizons: money, power, and pleasure. Transient values camouflage the lack of eternal values—“Thou shalt not kill,” for example—of the old conservative attitudes to work, education, patience, love, and mercy.

Perhaps the Soviet legacy could also be making itself felt in this case. At school, we were made to memorize Nekrasov’s lines “The heart grown weary of hating / Will never learn to love.” But no one told us about the saying of Confucius: “If you hate, it means you have been defeated.”

Makhovskaya: What we remember in childhood is quite important, because we pass it on to our own children as a cultural code. If you cannot love because you cannot hate, it means you must hate: it is a terrible thing, of course, to send this message to schoolchildren. But nowadays there are no less alarming signals, first and foremost, the loss of sensitivity among most citizens. Social sensitivity is a sympathetic attitude to the problems of groups of people to which the individual himself or herself does not belong. Television has “scorched” its viewers by constantly raising the sensitivity threshold.

Why does everyone call each other fascists nowadays? What is the cause of this?

Makhovskaya: It is similar to the children’s game of good guys and fascists [i.e., something like the Anglophone games cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers]. Psychologists believe that the unbearable fear of death is overcome in such children’s games. Given the depth of the trauma caused by World War Two, a trauma passed from generation to generation in Russia, the power of post-traumatic stress syndrome and the relief a small victorious war gives to “inflamed” consciousness are understandable. Despite the fact we won World War Two, psychologically we have been left unappeased, inconsolable, and uncertain that it will never happen again. On the contrary, we have always been reminded that the enemy never slumbers, that we have to be prepared. We live with the convulsive readiness to attack or flee. Sooner or later, individuals cannot contain themselves and enter into conflict; an insignificant occasion can serve as the trigger. The abusive fascist phraseology comes from this same source.

There is another factor that affects how events are perceived—group favoritism. Members of one’s own group are perceived as better, more educated, smarter, prettier, and broader-shouldered.

I will illustrate what you are talking about with a quotation from writer Zakhar Prilepin: “[U]krainian POWs and Russian POWs differ even physiognomically. The Russians are whiter; their eyes are more bewildered and kinder. [The Ukrainians] are darker. They do not look you in the eye; there is something hunted and angry about them at the same time. Almost all of them are shorter than me.”

Makhovskaya: It is a classic example. When we at the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences studied how Soviet viewers perceived Americans during the first spacebridges with the US, we discovered that a couple weeks after the programs people could not recall either the faces of the “enemies” or what they had said. But as they tried to recall what they had seen, they confidently insisted the Americans were “reptiles.” They recalled the “good guys” in detail, with a tendency to add height, texture, and beauty: the people who had gone out to do battle with the ugly dwarfs from the US were simply cartoonish epic heroes.

Sadly, the level of our psychological culture is such that we do not cope with these cognitive distortions. Even more frightening is that this is the level of the politicians and their servants who induce hatred and broadcast negative stereotypes to the whole country.

__________

Editor’s Note. I usually do not have much truck with psychologistic explanations of political and social phenomenon, especially when it comes to Russia, where even before the onset of Putinism 3.0, the popular, public and academic discourses, both liberal and nationalist, were lousy with all-encompassing exegeses of Russian society’s ills (or virtues) based on a supposedly unique, perennial or horribly mutated (as a result of Stalinism, serfdom or perestroika—take your pick) mindset or mentality shared by most Russians or certain classes in Russia. The article translated above certainly possesses many of this approach’s defects, but in its own clumsy way it gives some insights into the zeitgeist in the country right now, details usually ignored or dismissed by, say, local leftist commentators, eager to inscribe everything going on into a more palatable, boilerplate “anti-capitalist” narrative. Whether we like it or not, the sheer hysteria of recent months and its effects on people’s sense of their possibilities, responsibilities, and limitations becomes a factor in political and public life every bit as material and potent as the Putin oligarchy’s need to bolster its financial fortunes or generate new venues for state-sponsored highway robbery.

Photo courtesy of The Daily Mail