Igor Yakovenko: Ordinary Racism

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Ordinary Racism: What Vladimir Solovyov, Andrey Illarionov and Mark Solonin Have in Common
Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
June 10, 2020

First, three quotes.

Quote No. 1. “I’m waiting for when Russia’s ‘beautiful people’ go to kneel before African Americans and repent. But where will they go? The US embassy? There’s not much space there. Maybe it would be better to go to the Pushkin monument [in downtown Moscow]? After all, [Pushkin’s] great-grandfather was brought from Abyssinia by force.” (Vladimir Solovyov, TV presenter)

Quote No. 2. “Non-punishment (or less severe punishment) for similar crimes by criminals of one group, who enjoy their privileged position, leads to impunity and, consequently, to an even greater increase in crimes and even greater aggressiveness on the part of this group of criminals.” (Andrey Illarionov, economist)

Quote No. 3. “At their own expense and effort, white people, often risking their lives (storms, crocodiles, snakes, virus-bearing mosquitoes) transported many, many Negroes from Africa to the very best (yes, yes!) country in the world. Compared with those who remained in Africa, the descendants of the people who were shipped away live in paradise.” (Mark Solonin, writer) 

These words were written by three very different people, who evoke contradictory feelings.

Solovyov has become a mascot of the Putinist information wars and incitement to hatred, deserves the deepest contempt and a criminal trial.

Illarionov has evoked respect and sympathy for his profound, scrupulous analyses, and his clear and consistent anti-Putinist stance.

Solonin, a meticulous researcher of the Second World War and a furious debunker of the official Soviet-Russian version, has furnished important food for thought about a crucial event in Russian history.

What all three men have in common is that they are racists.

Solovyov’s racism fits seamlessly into his overall profile. And this additional touch to a notorious scoundrel’s portrait would not be worthy of separate consideration if this exact same mockery of kneeling by American police officers and officials had not become a mass phenomenon, encompassing Russians with reputations as liberals, humanists and democrats, as so-called decent people.

The whole world watched the slow sadistic murder by a white police officer of a detained African American man, who was lying face down in handcuffs and clearly was not putting up any resistance. Police officials initially defended their sadistic police officer, saying that the victim had resisted, although the video showed that there was no resistance, and police “experts” initially lied that Floyd had died not as a result of suffocation, but due to the consequences of an incorrect lifestyle and bad habits. Only after the protests began, and the protests turned into riots, was the sadistic police officer dismissed from his post and charged with murder.

This story has many aspects, which we should examine separately, point by point. Solovyov and the “decent” people who have sided with him find it quite hilarious that police officers and politicians in the United States have been taking a knee in protest against racism. Many “decent” people are indignant, wondering why these officials should repent for something that was not their fault.

In 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt before the monument to the victims and heroes of the Warsaw ghetto during a visit to Poland. Brandt was not personally involved in the Third Reich’s crimes. On the contrary, he had spent his entire adult life fighting Nazism and was involved in setting up the anti-fascist underground. Hitler’s government stripped him of his German citizenship. Brandt was one of those Germans who had every moral right not to feel responsible for the Holocaust and the Third Reich’s other crimes. But he did not explain to the Poles and Jews that he wasn’t a Nazi, and that post-war Germany was not anything like the Third Reich. And by making that gesture, by kneeling, he clearly showed that he was not a Nazi and that Germany was not the same as the Third Reich. I think it is the same story with kneeling in the United States. People just want to visibly and demonstratively delineate themselves from racism and racists. In my opinion, they have succeeded.

Quote No. 2 is taken from Andrey Illarionov’s article “Institutional Racism in Reverse, or The Privileged Position of Black Criminals,” which was published on the websites Kasparov.ru and Echo of Moscow. The article is chockablock with statistics intended to prove that, although many more African Americans per million are killed by the police than other Americans, this is because African Americans are much more likely to resist and try to escape the police, and much more likely to commit violent crimes than the average white person.

Although Illarionov stipulates in his article that he does not touch on the “philosophical and ethical issues,” these issues simply scream from every line. Their essence is in the paragraph I have quoted, in which every word is a gem: “Non-punishment [of black criminals], who enjoy [!] their privileged position, leads to impunity and, consequently, to a even greater increase in crimes.”

The way George Floyd enjoyed his privileged position for eight minutes and forty-six seconds has been seen by millions of people on the planet. And unabashedly using their privileged position, American Blacks die on average several years earlier than their white fellow citizens. I was not able to find exact data on the distribution of deaths from Covid-19 in the United States as a whole (they write that there is no such data), but in some regions the statistics look like this. Blacks make up 30% of the population in Chicago, but they constitute 70% of coronavirus-related deaths in the city. African Americans make up 15% of the population in Illinois, but they constitute 43% of the coronavirus-related deaths in the state. And so on.

Illarionov’s article is meant as a commentary on the events triggered by an African American’s agonizing death. Illarionov writes that Blacks in the United States “enjoy their privileged position.” What has to be wrong with your brain to write something like that?

When statistics are used selectively and purposefully, they can “prove” anything or almost anything, prompting the most monstrous conclusions. For example, one of the favorite games of anti-Semites is counting up the number of Jews who were involved in the October Revolution, as well as who of them served in the Cheka and its successor agencies. True, the game usually involves tons of typical anti-Semitic lies, but even if for some reason we count honestly, it is quite possible that the percentage of Jews in these organizations was higher than the percentage of Jews in the overall population. And what of it? What conclusion does this statistic suggest unless it is part of a serious historical analysis? That “the Jews destroyed Russia”?

From Illarionov’s statistical analysis it directly follows that “the Blacks have gotten out hand,” that they “enjoy their privileged position,” their “impunity”, and that means the police should act more harshly towards Blacks to even the balance, as it were.

Andrey Nikolayevich, are you sure that pushing such conclusions on your readers is not tantamount to pouring fuel on the fire?

Mark Solonin writes how noble whites, risking their lives, brought ungrateful Blacks to the best country in the world. At first, I thought Solonin was being sarcastic, but then I looked over the entire text and realized the writer was absolutely serious. Over the course of 400 years, whites sold more than 17 million blacks into slavery and transported them across the Atlantic in the holds of ships. One in six died along the way, and of those who survived, half perished from disease and the sadism of slaveholders.

Solonin writes, “Compared with those who remained in Africa, the descendants of the people who were shipped off live in paradise.” In other words, Solonin does not seem to understand that people tend to compare their lives not with those who live in another continent, but with those who live in another neighborhood of the same city. He is apparently unable to understand the trauma of others, a trauma brought on by centuries of slavery and subsequent decades of discrimination, things that have ended just now, during our lifetimes, and as discrete manifestations have not yet ended. Solonin, apparently, is unfamiliar with the concept of historical and social inertia, which shadows the lives of the young men and women who grew up in Black neighborhoods, with their criminal subculture, poverty and drugs.

The spotlight of American racial upheaval has shone on the Russian “liberal” crowd, revealing spatters of racism even in places where it was categorically impossible to suspect they would be found. Viktor Shenderovich, a person for whom I have a great deal of respect, wrote that he considers it “a collective dislocation of the brain” to condemn a journalist who, when asked about his attitude to the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” replied that “all lives matter.” His detractors reminded the journalist of the Holocaust, asking him how he would respond to the claim that since not only Jews were killed, there was no need to “overhype” the Jews, because all lives matter.

Shenderovich’s reaction should be quoted in full.

“It is a monstrously vulgar analogy. And a false analogy. It would have been accurate in the time of the slavers or the Ku Klux Klan’s heyday, but none of this can be observed today. Blacks in the United States are not burned in ovens and do not have distinguishing insignia sewn on their clothes.”

Historically, in the milieu to which Shenderovich, Illarionov, Solonin, Solovyov (no matter how disgusting that might sound), and your humble servant belong, anti-Semitism is regarded as an absolute evil, an extremely indecent disease that must be carefully concealed. This is understandable, given the fact that the Holocaust swept through our land, many of our compatriots were its victims, and it was followed by decades of official anti-Semitism in our country. Therefore, someone who gives off the faintest odor of anti-Semitism immediately becomes an outcast. The tragedy of Blacks took place across the ocean. So, in my Facebook feed, I have no trouble finding the wildest racist statements, such as the proposal to “send all that biological waste back to Africa.” And the main thing is that, on the social media pages of quite “decent” people, such racism provokes no resistance.

Shenderovich thinks that the comparison between the Holocaust and the tragedy of Blacks in America is a “monstrously vulgar” comparison. “Blacks in the United States are not burned in ovens and do not have distinguishing insignia sewn on their clothes”? Nor is this the case with Jews at the moment. Despite the fact that any analogy is always lame by definition, the historical tragedy of the Jewish people and the Black population of the United States is quite comparable in terms of the number of victims and the depth of the trauma suffered by these peoples.

What is happening now in the United States and generates such profound misunderstanding among the Russian “liberal” crowd is not a “collective dislocation of the brain,” but a further development of humanism, in which the West is still at the forefront of humanity. The whole history of humanism is its expansion, the extension of empathy to more and more categories of Others, who are made equal not only in terms of legal rights, but also in terms of their right to empathy and compassion.

The fact that a person with a criminal past has become the symbol of the protest movement is a manifestation of the further evolution of the humanism that is so bitterly rejected by the majority of Russians, including the Russian “liberal” crowd. It is telling that even those Russian human rights activists who quite rightly speak out in defense of inmates who are beaten by guards in Russian penal colonies, insist that the victim “was not a moral person”—although at the time of his death, George Floyd had already served his time and was on the straight and narrow.

What the American spotlight has highlighted in Russian society, including its enlightened segment, bears a strong resemblance to a deep pathology. It is as if an old floorboard has become accidentally dislodged and a stench has filled the room. Either there is an old corpse below the floor, or the sewer pipes have burst. Life in our little Facebook and YouTube world had been so nice and amicable: it was so cozy when everyone could chew out Putin and Stalin in unison. And then the damned Americans screwed it all up with their problems!

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Very Model of a Modern Major General

General Moskalkova and Human Rights
Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
June 29, 2018

Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s human rights ombudsman and a retired police major general, visited Ukrainian prisoner of conscience Oleg Sentsov on June 28, 2018, which was the forty-sixth day of his hunger strike.

“Sentsov is in good physical shape. He is up and walking. He is interested in current events and watches football on TV. He is writing a screenplay,” Major General Moskalkova reported.

The major general was joined in her visit to Sentsov by Anatoly Sak, human rights ombudsman of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District and a former prosecutor. Sak’s account of the visit is like an expensive frame for Moskalkova’s humanity.

“Tatyana Nikolayevna is a wonderful woman!”

According to the Yamalo-Nenets prosecutor-cum-human rights ombudsman, this was Sentsov’s appraisal of Moskalkova.

Sak continued to “quote” Sentsov.

“Thank her very much and thank you for not forgetting me!”

According to the local human rights ombudsman, Sentsov’s heart was brimming over with love for his jailers, while if you believe Moskalkova, the Polar Bear Concentration Camp, situated north of the Arctic Circle, is the perfect vacation spot, especially if you combine your stay there with a long hunger strike.

Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, did not believe her colleague. Worse, she refused to recognize her as a colleague.

“I don’t believe that ombudsman, and I can’t bring himself to call her a human rights ombudsman,” Denisov said.

She explained why.

“We flew there on the same plane. Then she rode past me in a motorcade as I stood on the roadside trying to figure out what was happening. She does not pick up her phone, she does not respond in any way. That is why I do not believe any of Moskalkova’s statements.”

The Russian jailers, whose ranks undoubtedly include Moskalkova and Sak, did not let Denisova see Sentsov. The refusal was delivered with the trademark bullying for which the Russian bureaucracy has always had a flare, especially its policemen and jailers. The prison guards told Denisova “no one had forbidden anything,” meaning her meeting with Sentsov. At the same time, none of the prison staff would accept her written application to visit the inmate. As described above, Moskalkova, who had flown there on the same plane as Denisova, subsequently flatly refused to acknowledge her presence. Keep in mind that prior to the trip they had conducted lengthy negotiations on visiting inmates.

All of the ferocity and, simultaneously, the absurdity of Putinist Russia has been concentrated in the Sentsov Affair. The man was forcibly made a Russian national, and he has not been turned over to Ukraine on these ground. A police major general who is in charge of defending human rights claims a man who has been on hunger strike for forty-six days feels fine. The Ukrainian human rights ombudsman is not allowed to see a citizen of her country, and yet the guards claim no one has forbid her to do anything.

The chances of saving Sentsov are fewer with each passing day. International pressure must be ratcheted up to a fundamentally different level than where it is currently. Putin must be made to feel that Sentsov’s death would lead to unacceptable losses for him personally.

It is now a matter of days.

Thanks to Dmitry Dinze for the heads-up. Oleg Sentsov is now in the fiftieth day of his hunger strike. Translated by the Russian Reader

Igor Yakovenko: The Anthropology of Death

741071a6-33e3-49e8-a47b-c5324a07c8ebThe funeral of Roman Filippov, a Russian fighter pilot whose plane was shot down in Syria on February 3, 2018. Filippov was buried in Voronezh on February 8. This photo was posted on the Russian Defense Ministry’s Facebook page. Courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg

Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
The Anthropology of Death
February 13, 2018

On the TV program Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, Russian MP Vyacheslav Nikonov suggested honoring Roman Filippov, the SU-25 pilot who was killed in Syria on February 3, with a minute of silence, the American expert [sic] Gregory Vinnikov retorted, “He quit his hut and went to fight for the land of Syria.”

This provoked Nikonov and Solovyov’s other guests to try and kick Vinnikov out of the studio. Ultimately, they were joined by Solovyov himself, who told the studio and home audience that there is a “respect for death” in Russia, and so Vinnikov had to leave.

When Dmitry Gudkov was still an MP, he tried twice, in February 2015 and February 2016, to ask his fellow MPs to honor the memory of Boris Nemtsov, assassinated a few steps away from the Kremlin, with a minute of silence. The MPs refused both times. The degree to which death is respected in Putinist Russia depends on the dead person’s political stance.

In recent years, the Putin regime has murdered over ten thousand Ukrainian citizens, and, in cahoots with the Assad regime and its accomplices, has murdered several hundred thousand Syrian citizens. No one on Solovyov’s program or in the Russian State Duma has ever proposed honoring these victims of Putinist fascism. The degree to which death is respected in Putinist Russia depends on ethnicity and nationality. The death of “one of our boys” is deserving of respect, while the death of a stranger or outsider is not.

Roman Filippov was a fighter pilot. He flew an attack aircraft in the skies of a foreign country. His objective was to “destroy ground targets,” which included killing people on the ground. We do not know how many Syrians were killed by Filippov, but he was an enemy of the Syrian people. When he was dying, Filippov cried out, “For the boys!” Neither Syria nor its people have attacked Russia. Filippov and his military buddies (“the boys”) attacked Syria and its people on Putin’s orders. The Syrians have been fighting a war at home against invaders (Russians, Iranians, Turks) and the puppet dictator Assad.

Putin awarded the title of Hero of Russia to Filippov, who was made an invader by his grace and was killed as an invader in a foreign country. Tens of thousands of people attended Filippov’s funeral in Voronezh. The media say the figure was thirty thousand. Judging by the photographs and videos from the scene, this is no exaggeration. I don’t agree with those who claim all those people were forced to attend. Many of them clearly believed a hero who had perished defending the Motherland was being buried. Television has a firm grip on them.

A few days after Filippov’s funeral, a number of Russian nationals, employees of the Wagner Group, a private military contractor, were killed in a clash with the US-led coalition. These are the selfsame Russian servicemen whom Putin has camouflaged as “mercenaries.” It is more convenient if he can lie and say Russia has no troops there. It is not known for certain how many Russian soldiers were killed during the incident. Some sources have claimed that six hundred were killed, while other sources have reported it was two hundred. RIA Novosti News Agency reported that one Russian was killed, and he was a member of Eduard Limonov’s The Other Russia party to boot. Meaning that since he used to be in the opposition, we need not feel sorry for him.

Just like Filippov, these people died because Putin dispatched them to Syria. They were just as much invaders as Filippov. However, their “heroism” has for some reason been passed over in silence. The likelihood any of them will be awarded the title Hero of Russia is nill. They will be shipped home and buried in the ground quietly and anonymously. I can guarantee no one on Solovyov’s program will suggest honoring their memory. In Putinist Russia, the only “respectable” death is a death acknowledged by the authorities and confirmed on television.

The Putin regime has a flagrantly necrophiliac tendency. Even under Stalin, there was nothing like this savoring of death and pride in the fact that more Russians perished in the Second World War than anyone else. Nowadays, this corpse rattling has become the the country’s principal moral lynchpin.

Not all corpses can be rattled, however. The Putin regime differs in this sense from Hitler’s Germany and other fascist regimes, which divided people into superior and inferior races. The Putin regime also endows ethnic Russians with special qualities: a particular spirituality and other manifestations of an extra chromosome. Even amongst ethnic Russians, however, the regime has constantly differentiated. Suddenly, the descendants of Siege of Leningrad survivors were discovered to have special genes. However, these genes were not discovered in all descendants, but only amongst Putin and the members of his retinue. It now transpires the regime has a rating for Russian nationals who have perished in a foreign country, defining which of the dead deserves to be remembered, and which deserves to be forgotten.

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Masks Come Off

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Alexander Skobov
Don’t Underestimate the Enemy
Grani.ru
May 14, 2015

Igor Yakovenko has questioned the sanity of those MPs who supported Red Guardist Irina Yarovaya’s latest amendments to the anti-extremism laws. At issue is a ban on travel abroad for people whom the FSB has issued a warning about the inadmissibility of activities that, in the FSB’s opinion, are potentially fraught with terrorism, war, and genocide. Under the current rules for issuing warnings, no formal grounds are needed except the opinion of the agency issuing the warning. Meaning that if it wishes, the FSB can crank out warnings to anyone whose activities the authorities simply do not countenance.

Yakovenko asks, why not let the undesirables leave the country if you cannot stand them? Let them leave and thus reduce the ranks of the so-called fifth column. These measures will not stop an increase in protests, and if protests do kick off, they will only add fuel to the fire. Yakovenko’s conclusion is that the folks on the other side of politics are completely off their rockers. But I would not underestimate the enemy’s intellectual capacities. Yes, they suffer from an acute totalitarian itch to ban and restrict. But they know what they are doing.

In my opinion, Yarovaya’s notorious amendment to ban travel for “warnees” is absolutely rational and quite precisely calculated. It is targeted at the segment of Russian society that,  according to Yakovenko himself, suffers from pathological anemia and dystrophia of the will. These are successful and well-off people who still believe that if they have done nothing unauthorized, they will get off scot-free for their not entirely loyalist public activism. They have become accustomed to the fact that one can be involved in not entirely loyalist but quite respectable and moderate media, cultural, and human rights projects without especially risking one’s own comfort. Our stunted civil society largely rests on such lovers of performing  “small deeds” in their spare time.

And now take a guess at what percentage of these outstanding people would be willing to sacrifice travel abroad for the sake of continuing their outstanding social activism, who would be willing to sacrifice the principal attribute of the post-Soviet lifestyle, without which life would be unthinkable? Anyone like Yarovaya would realize that the majority of them will choose either to give up their activism or leave the country before receiving a warning. To predict these people’s future behavior it suffices to recall Ksenia Sobchak’s recent philosophical musings about the lives of frogs.

And where will all these popular newsmakers find themselves if they are banned from leaving the country for the piquant statements they occasionally permit themselves in public? This is not to mention the fact that many civic initiatives will simply be paralyzed if the people involved in them cannot take numerous business trips and attend various international clambakes.  The current regime is quite consistently pushing for the complete suffocation of not only the independent but even the semi-independent civic organizations that have managed to stay afloat. The period when Putin’s clique had a stake in maintaining a legal oppositional ghetto on the margins of public life, thus imparting a certain seemliness to its own image, has come to an end. In recent years, this image has become so disfigured the Kremlin has lost interest in touching it up. It has realized it no longer has anything to lose.

And so there will no longer be any legal bounds vouchsafing the opposition from crackdowns. Any public organization that violates the informal ban on discussing issues the regime finds touchy will be crushed. All the Kremlin’s recent significant steps, beginning with Moskalkova’s appointment and ending with the latest round of purges of semi-independent media, have been focused on this. In this long series of steps, however, the ability to ban any undesirable from traveling abroad is a symbolic step. It finally undermines the social milieu whose entire life strategy was built on the proposition that however disgusting Putinist authoritarianism was, it was better than Soviet totalitarianism because the freedom to travel abroad existed. That meant one could live with it, adapt to it, and come to terms with it. By obeying certain rules imposed by the regime, one could maintain a minimal amount of freedom.

This slightly dissatisfied milieu has become used to living high on the hog. Our consumptive civil society must come to its natural biological end. It must be replaced by professional revolutionaries who will have no such problems since their activism conforms with the law as interpreted by people who have arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to interpret it. For them, Yarovaya’s fascist laws will be neither more nor less than a profound insult to their moral sensibilities.

Alexander Skobov, a left-liberal writer and activist, is a former Soviet dissident and a political prisoner. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This Is Your Brain on Russia

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“I had always thought better of you.” Graffiti on Vasilyevsky Island, Petersburg, July 24, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

More people need to listen to Peter Pomerantsev:

The new Russia doesn’t just deal in the petty disinformation, forgeries, lies, leaks, and cyber-sabotage usually associated with information warfare. It reinvents reality, creating mass hallucinations that then translate into political action. Take Novorossiya, the name Vladimir Putin has given to the huge wedge of southeastern Ukraine he might, or might not, consider annexing. The term is plucked from tsarist history, when it represented a different geographical space. Nobody who lives in that part of the world today ever thought of themselves as living in Novorossiya and bearing allegiance to it—at least until several months ago. Now, Novorossiya is being imagined into being: Russian media are showing maps of its ‘geography,’ while Kremlin-backed politicians are writing its ‘history’ into school textbooks. There’s a flag and even a news agency (in English and Russian). There are several Twitterfeeds. It’s like something out of a Borges story—except for the very real casualties of the war conducted in its name.

[…]

“If previous authoritarian regimes were three parts violence and one part propaganda,” argues Igor Yakovenko, a professor of journalism at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, “this one is virtually all propaganda and relatively little violence. Putin only needs to make a few arrests—and then amplify the message through his total control of television.”

[…]

Ultimately, many people in Russia and around the world understand that Russian political parties are hollow and Russian news outlets are churning out fantasies. But insisting on the lie, the Kremlin intimidates others by showing that it is in control of defining ‘reality.’ This is why it’s so important for Moscow to do away with truth. If nothing is true, then anything is possible. We are left with the sense that we don’t know what Putin will do next—that he’s unpredictable and thus dangerous. We’re rendered stunned, spun, and flummoxed by the Kremlin’s weaponization of absurdity and unreality.

Peter Pomerantsev, “Russia and the Menace of Unreality: How Vladimir Putin is Revolutionizing Information Warfare,” The Atlantic, September 9, 2014

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Here is a tiny illustration of how reality really is up for grabs in the Kremlin’s increasingly hot “cold civil war” against Russian society and, now, the rest of the world:

As I stand in the courtyard of a Moscow arts and craft center, a dark-haired, 20-something woman turns to me and asks: “Is this the venue for the ‘Is Vladimir Putin God?’ lecture?”

She smiles nervously, seemingly worried that I’ll think she’s crazy.

She’s not. The title of the lecture is actually “Will Putin Become God by Divine Grace?” but I decide not to correct her. Instead, I nod and show her the way to one of the oddest events in the Russian capital this year.

The lecture took place on Sunday and was first advertised by well-known radical Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Enteo on VK, the Russian version of Facebook. In the post, Enteo promised to reveal the answers to the following questions:

“Is it possible to bow down to Vladimir Putin as God on earth?

“Will Vladimir Putin’s will fuse with the will of God?”

“Will Vladimir Putin receive endless pleasure through the completeness of the knowledge gifted to him by God?”

Not surprisingly, the lecture stirred up controversy online, as some Internet users accused Enteo of blasphemy, while others suggested he’d lost his mind.

“Let’s get this straight, Dmitry,” one VK user wrote. “Do you believe Putin will sit at the right-hand side of God’s throne when he dies?”

“Possibly,” replied Enteo.

The lecture kicks off with a hip-hop track by an African rap duo now based in Russia. The title: “I Go Hard Like Vladimir Putin.” When the song ends, Enteo fiddles with his laptop until Putin’s face appears on the screen behind him.

The Orthodox activist then addresses the audience of roughly 80 or so Muscovites, an apparent mixture of curious hipsters and true believers. (There’s also a middle-aged man in a suit that a fellow journalist immediately suspects of being an agent of the FSB, Russia’s principal security agency.)

“I’ll keep it brief, in the style of the subject of today’s lecture,” Enteo says.

At times his voice is barely audible, but when he quotes Putin, he makes sure to speak louder.

The hipsters behind me erupt in ironic applause. Enteo presses a button on his laptop, and the photo of Putin is replaced by swirling psychedelic images and low-volume break-beats. He proceeds to read a poem by Vladislav Surkov, the mysterious Kremlin ideologue. The overall effect is an atmosphere reminiscent of a secret cult meeting held at a nightclub.

Enteo then takes us through the history of Putin’s apparent transformation from hard-nosed KGB officer to Orthodox Christian believer. “Putin realized that his goal in life was God, and the Almighty entered into the body of Vladimir Putin,” Enteo says. “Then Vladimir Putin began to do good deeds, like break up opposition meetings.”

At one point, the activist curiously declares: “We disappoint Vladimir Putin. While he tearfully prays for us at night, we smoke hashish.”

The lecture lasts about an hour, before Enteo builds on a final riff in which he determines that, yes, Putin will transform into a godlike being, and like all good Orthodox believers, eventually grow a beard.

After a brief Q&A, the crowd files out. “That was creepy,” says one attendee.

Others seem puzzled by the whole affair.

“It’s a response, in many ways an ironic one, to Putin’s de facto domination of everything from the economy to the media,” says Anna Arutunyan, author of The Putin Mystique, who attended the lecture.

“Most of it, of course, is just Enteo publicizing himself, but some of it is also taking what we see around us to its grotesque logical conclusion.”

Russians have a long history of venerating their leaders, from the reverence of the czars to the terrifying cult of personality that developed around Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. While Enteo didn’t directly say that Putin was God, he felt comfortable posing the question, which shows just how powerful the Russian president has become.

Not everyone, of course, sees the hand of God in Putin’s politics. In Ukraine, where a Kremlin-backed separatist movement is slowly tearing the ex-Soviet state apart, the country’s spiritual leader, Patriarch Filaret, recently suggested the Russian leader was possessed by the devil.

“Like Judas, Satan has entered into him,” Filaret declared, as he accused Putin of turning the two Slavic countries against each other. “Like the first brother-killer, Cain, he has fallen under a demonic influence.”

Regardless of which side you take in the “Putin: God or Satan?” debate, it’s a remarkable development in the life of this former, low-ranking KGB operative. From serving the officially atheist Soviet state in Cold War-era East Germany to being compared to God and the devil, it’s been a long, strange road for Vladimir Putin. And it’s not over yet.

—Marc Bennet, “Do Some Russians Think Vladimir Putin Is God?” Vocativ, September 8, 2014

__________

Dmitry Enteo, a Russian Orthodox activist known for his controversial and sometimes violent public stunts, will hold a lecture and roundtable Sunday in Moscow about President Vladimir Putin and his connection to God.

“You will understand the secret of secrets, after which your life will never be the same. You will receive direct answers to questions that face Russia today,” reads an advertisement for the event posted on the VKontakte social networking website.

One of the questions due to be addressed in the lecture is whether Putin will become God “by grace.”

As of Tuesday evening, 1,429 people had signed up for the event, according to the website.

Enteo is head of the God’s Will movement, which has earned notoriety for its public campaigns targeting what it sees as blasphemy against the Russian Orthodox Church.

In November, Enteo and a female accomplice disrupted a performance of a contemporary play based on Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” at the prestigious Chekhov Moscow Art Theater. In an outburst that many audience members believed was part of the performance, they shouted that the play “mocks our faith” and admonished the audience for not protesting.

Enteo’s group has also previously assaulted LGBT activists and Pussy Riot supporters. They have never been charged by law enforcement agencies.

—”Radical Russian Activist to Lecture on Whether Vladimir Putin Will Become God,” The Moscow Times, September 2, 2014