Three Girl Rhumba: Breakthrough, Stagnation, Strife

tiny warriors

Great Breakthroughs: Putin Warns of a Great Exertion
Mikhail Shevchuk
Delovoi Peterburg
May 7, 2018

In his inauguration speech, Vladimir Putin warned the country was in such circumstances that only a decisive breakthrough on all fronts could save it. Nevertheless, there were certain conditions.

Putin kicked off his fourth term as Russia’s president with an inauguration at the Great Kremlin Palace. The scenario was almost the same as during previous inaugurations, except, perhaps, that TV viewers were shown the president getting up from his chair in his office, donning a blazer, and setting off down the hallways of the Kremlin, finally to descend a staircase, get in a car, and make the short trip to the Great Kremlin Palace in a motorcade.

In rituals, every particular has symbolic import, I guess, and the blazer and the solitude and the utter silence in which Putin walked along the corridors were probably meant to suggest the absoluteness of Putin’s power.

“In Russia, the president is the person responsible for everything”: Putin led off his inauguration speech with this phrase eighteen years ago. He ended the speech as follows: “We have one future in common.” Back then, very few people could have guessed how literally these words were meant.

As the president walked unperturbed down the enfilade of the Great Kremlin Palace on his way to the Great Hall of St. Andrew, he was greeted by guests. There were many more guests compared to his inauguration in 2000, and as he passed by them, every other guest took a snaphot of Putin on their smartphones. This was meant to show us two things, apparently: their telephones had not been confiscated at the entrance, despite the gravity of the occasion, and the fact people could take pictures symbolized the rights and freedom Russians supposedly enjoyed.

During his speech, it transpired Putin still felt “colossal responsibility.” This responsibility had only become greater over the years. Naturally, only faithfulness to the legacy of his forebears could help him cope with it now.

Yet the word Putin invoked most often in his speech was “breakthrough.” On five occasions, Putin mentioned the need for a breakthrough in all areas of life and the need to shape an agenda focused on breakthroughs. He repeated the adjective “intense” three times. To make his point clear to everyone, he said the country had to achieve breakthroughs and large-scale transformations (for the better) in its cities and villages. There was no time for warming up. The president laid particular stress on this phrase.

Not so long ago, during the so-called fat years, the prevailing view among the authorities was Russia should not make any sudden moves. “Not revolution, but evolution,” as the Kremlin’s spin doctors would put it. The concept has now apparently changed. Revolution is now called for again. Quietly and peacefully evolving doesn’t work. Once more, we have to catch up, and once again there is no time to warm up.

We will fulfill the five-year-plan in four years!

The regime’s vocabulary has come to resembe the militaristic vocabulary of Soviet leaders, who went into a state of permanent breakthrough in the 1920s and never came out of it. The word “breakthrough” implies we are surrounded. Official propaganda tells us that we are, in fact, encircled, but, just like sixty years ago, it is deemed inappropriate to ask who got us where we are today.

Putin had a lot to say about the conditions of the imminent breakthrough. What he said witnessed to the fact he more or less understood why things had turned out this way, and why circumstances had emerged which we needed to break through. We must, he said, reject “stagnation, crass conservatism, and bureaucratic deadness,” and give more freedom to everyone who yearned for renewal.

Yet the president stipulated time and again that, even as we change, we must not break away from our roots. Our country’s beauty and strength lay in its distinctness. Even “daring young people,” on whom he placed great hopes, must see the limits of their audacity and be faithful to traditional values.

In fact, two days before the inauguaration, Putin’s sentiments were clearly illustrated on the streets of Russia’s cities. Especially audacious young people were dragged along the pavement by crass conservatives whom no one has thought to reject for the time being.

What should we do if stagnation is considered a traditional value? The president had no answer to that question.

“For over a thousand years, Russia has faced periods of strife and trial, and has always been reborn like a phoenix,” Putin reminded his listeners.

It sounded alarming. Rebirth, it turned out, must inevitably be preceded by strife.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

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Wire
Three Girl Rhumba

Think of a number
Divide it by two
Something is nothing
Nothing is nothing
Open a box
Tear off the lid
Then think of a number
Don’t think of an answer
Open your eyes
Think of a number
Don’t get swept under
A number’s a number
A chance encounter you want to avoid
The inevitable
So you do, oh yes you do
The impossible
Now you ain’t got a number
You just want to rhumba
And there ain’t no way you’re gonna go under
Go under, go under
Go under, go under
You tear me asunder
Go under, go under
Go under, yeah

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The Voice of Rao

voice of rao.jpegIn Kandor City, on the planet Krypton, everyone fears the mysterious, awe-inspiring Voice of Rao, including the little “rankless” priestess Ona. Still from the TV serial Krypton, broadcast on Syfy in Ul Qoma, and on Ororo in Besźel.

Media Learns about Kremlin’s Order to Officials to “Reduce Media Activity”
Maria Bondarenko
RBC
April 27, 2018

The Kremlin has recommended federal officials reduce their “media activity” before Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. According to Kommersant, Dmitry Medvedev’s final public appearance is scheduled for May 3.

According to Kommersant newspaper, the public events Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attends on May 3, including a visit to the VDNKh, where he will chair a meeting on agricultural growth, will be his last before Vladimir Putin’s inauguration.

After May 3, according to the newspaper’s sources in the government and the Kremlin, federal officials will disappear from public view. The Kremlin has issued a recommendation to cabinet ministers and regional authorities to “reduce media activity” so as not to interfere with the “chief executive’s information agenda” on the eve of the inauguration, the newspaper’s sources said.

Medvedev conducted his last cabinet meeting on April 26. According to Kommersant‘s sources in the Russian White House, the prime minister arranged a buffet featuring champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and several officials were awarded the government’s highest honor, the Stolypin Medal of the First Degree. It cannot be ruled out the cabinet will meet on Saturday, May 5, to coordinate its actions before the presidential inauguration. According to the newspaper, however, this meeting will be held behind closed doors.

Putin’s inauguration is scheduled for May 7. Afterwards, the current government will resign. The president must then select a new cabinet of ministers. The day after the presidential election, March 19, Putin said he would make changes to the next government. However, he said nothing specific about changes in the cabinet. According to Kommersant, there is a “high likelihood” Medvedev will retain the post of prime minister.

Citing a source in the Kremlin, Kommersant likewise noted that after election to his previous presidential term, Putin personally held meetings with each potential minister and deputy prime minister, while Medvedev was more involved with the government’s overall structure. The newspaper’s source suggested this method would likely be used this time as well.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Got It

It’s embarrassing to brag about what a good day I’ve been having when I’m supposed to be all bummed out about the Fascist Pig-Elect’s taking the oath to become the plain old Fascist Pig in the Poke, but it’s true.

I don’t quite get it, but things have been going my way all day.

For example, I lucked out while shopping this afternoon at our neighborhood Auchan hypermarket. They were having a sale on $10,000 packs of hundred dollar bills: 67 rubles 39 kopecks a pop!

I guess Auchan knows something the rest of us don’t know about what’s going to happen to the mighty US dollar when the Fascist Pig in the Poke starts implementing his “economic policies.”

So Auchan decided to unload the wads of US cash they had lying round the store while they were still worth something, even if it was only 67.39 rubles.

Good on them, as the Aussies say.

By sheer coincidence, when my true love came home from work he presented me with a new, totally recyclable wallet, made from a synthetic material called Tyvek. It weighs next to nothing, but now I’ll have somewhere to keep my nearly worthless $10,000 safe.

And it’s embossed with images of Imperial stormtroopers!

If you’ve seen the terrific new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, the best Star Wars movie in 39 years, you’ll know it’s a very timely tale about what happens when ordinary people resist an emergent fascist government: they all get killed.

Like I said, it’s been a terrific day. TRR

Wallet courtesy of newwallet.ru

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Kirill Rogov: Why You Shouldn’t Trust Russian “Public Opinion” Polls

One of my hobbies in recent years has been closely observing the development of Russia’s “pollocracy”—the proliferation of “public opinion” polling, media discussions of poll results, and the obvious ways in which this “mirror” has been held up to the actual Russian public to con it into believing it supports the country’s authoritarian regime and its policies with ever increasing wildness and fervor, even as other democratic venues for it to voice its opinion, such as free elections, grassroots organizations, and protest rallies, have been whittled away, hacked at or more or less outlawed (depending on the season and the concrete causes) by the regime, its security services, and the loyalist media. 

So I was amused, the other day, to read about yet another such “public opinion” poll. This one “showed” that over seventy-two percent of Petersburgers support Georgy Poltavchenko, the Putin-appointed nonentity currently warming the chair, in the city’s upcoming gubernatorial elections. Even more hilariously, this same poll claimed to have discovered that the “majority of respondents rated the campaign as calm, and not interfering with the usual lifestyle” of Petersburgers.

When I sent the “news” article about this goofy, cynical poll I had found to a local journalist friend of mine, he responded by complaining that he had been having a hard time explaining to colleagues and acquaintances in the West that “public opinion” polls attesting to the Russian public’s allegedly overwhelming support for Putin and his aggressive policies vis-a-vis Ukraine should be treated with a grain of salt, at very least. Why, he had asked, do people who otherwise think that Russia is not a free country have an almost religious faith in Kremlin-directed polls alleging fantastic levels of support for Putin? Doesn’t it occur to any of these otherwise skeptical people that there might be something fishy about the polls, how they are conducted, and the conditions (of unfreedom, rampant propaganda, fear-mongering, and coercion) in which they are conducted?

He also wondered whether I had translated anything on this topic, something he could use in his arguments with Western friends. I said that I hadn’t, but I immediately recalled the following column by liberal political analyst Kirill Rogov, published in December 2013 in Novaya Gazeta. Sadly, it has become only more relevant and timely over the intervening nine months.

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The Fiction of the “Backwards Man in the Street”
Kirill Rogov
December 3, 2013
www.novayagazeta.ru

Not a week goes by without a dreary discussion in the media of the results of yet another opinion poll showing the narrow-mindedness and conservatism of the majority of the Russian people.

The week before last, the discussion focused on a survey showing that most Russians support the repressive decrees of the “enraged printer”—the self-styled Russian Duma. Last week, poll results showing that around eighty percent of Russians believe enemies surround our country were eagerly paraphrased.

Week after week, like cold raindrops falling on the heads of the educated class, these surveys persuade it of the futility of striving for something better. They demoralize the opposition and plunge business and the liberal elite into depression. Pack your bags and turn out the lights!

In general, the past year of Russian history has been an excellent case study for political scientists, showing how authoritarian regimes buy time by tearing it, so to speak, from the clutches of history.

An explosive mixture of revolving political (and not only political) crackdowns, unbridled propaganda, and a series of skillfully organized public hysterias have spread the dark pollen of proto-fascism in the air, which has settled as a deep depression in the souls of the educated class. And those people who a year and a half ago were confident in their strength and rightness (“Who is the power here?”) walk around with heads sunk down to their collars and their pretty tails tucked between their legs.

Polls are an important part of the picture. They are the “naked sociological truth,” after all, and have a powerful effect on just those people who are able to resist the onslaught of fear, hysteria, and propaganda. It is not so easy to understand how sociological surveys are turned into a weapon of authoritarianism in its fight against society’s desire for progress.

But let us turn to facts no less naked than the polls themselves. The experience of the elections of 2011–2013 definitely implies that data about the political preferences of Russians, as reflected in the polls conducted by two of our leading pollsters, FOM and Levada Center, are regularly biased in favor of the authoritarian regime by at least ten to twelve percentage points. When purged of falsifications, voting results show that not sixty-five percent, but a little over fifty percent voted for Putin in the 2012 presidential election; not sixty percent, as the pollsters had it, but around forty-eight percent voted for Sobyanin in the 2013 Moscow mayoral race; and not fifty percent, but a little over thirty-five percent voted for United Russia in the 2011 parliamentary elections. This follows from both statistical calculations and the data collected from a fairly broad sample of monitored polling stations.

We will leave the conspiracy theories as to why this is so to the lowbrows. The non-conspiracy theories are more interesting. We can assume that the regular shift in the data comes from the fact that everyone involved in the process has a solid understanding of the “correct” result.

Simply put, they know that the majority is for Putin, Sobyanin, United Russia, and “everything bad.” As a result, people who do not support “everything bad” will be on average more likely to shy away from contact with sociologists.

Of course, there are firm “supporters” and “opponents” who express their opinions, regardless. There are, say, from fifteen to twenty percent of such people on each side. But between them is the “majority,” those people for whom politics is not a matter of daily reflection. For them, the most important thing is not even fear, as is sometimes suggested, but ordinary self-doubt and discomfort from the fact that their feelings do not coincide with the views of the “majority,” views of which they are aware in advance.

It is logical these people will be more likely to refrain from participating in polls. (The quasi-Duma, after all, has not yet issued regulations stipulating fines, suspension of driving licenses, and corrective labor for such evasiveness.) We can assume, as is likely, that they participate half as often as those whose opinion coincides with the “correct” view. (Such escapism, by the way, is quite typical not only of the uneducated but also of many educated people, whose awareness of the gap between their opinion and the “common” opinion provokes an irritated rejection of the entire public sphere and social scientists as well.) On average, this will mean, for example, that of twenty people “for Putin” and twenty “against” him, ten of those who are “for” him will agree to respond to sociologists, while only five of those who are “against” him will respond. Sociologists will come to the depressing and mathematically precise conclusion that two thirds of respondents support Putin.

Let me say it again. The majority of people, who are not very politically motivated and do not think a lot about politics, find it extremely uncomfortable to express an opinion that is not supported by “public esteem” and does not coincide with the opinion of the “majority.” This can be defined as the indirect effect of propaganda. The direct effect is when people reproduce what they have heard on TV. The indirect effect is when they do not express opinions that differ from those they hear from “authoritative sources.”

In polls on “hot” topics, this distorting effect should be even stronger. People are asked whether they think Pussy Riot should be punished, whether adoptions of Russian children by foreigners should be allowed, and whether we should feud with our enemies. But the truth is that the majority does not think anything at all about these topics. The values conflicts behind these questions are remote from these people’s lives, and all they can say about them is what they have heard from the same authoritative sources. Or they can avoid answering the questions.

This does not mean we should give up on sociology. On the contrary, we need more of it. Personally, polls are like bread, water, and air to me. We just need to understand that what sociology measures are not “thoughts” and “opinions,” but the echoes of thoughts and opinions. It finds out what clichés and ideologemes people use. Under pluralism, quantitative sociology usually works as follows: the mass media, politicians, and experts actively discuss two viewpoints on a topic, and sociologists go out into the “field” and measure which way the scales are tipping. Under authoritarianism, in which channels of public communications are monopolized, this mechanism stops working or, rather, its meaning changes. In this case, polls reflect not the balance of opinions, but the imbalance in communications—authoritarianism’s informational superiority in quantitative terms.

However, we should remember that the “common people” do not always “obey” the TV. Thus, on the issue of corruption and lawlessness, the opinion of seventy to eighty percent of respondents radically diverges from the TV’s opinion.

That is because this problem lies within the scope of their daily experiences. But the admissibility of self-expression on church altars, the international situation, and adoption regulations are complete abstractions, and the man in the street can only repeat what he has heard in passing. And we know what he has heard in passing. But this does not mean that the average person is willing to put up with all the other outrages of the regime.

The image of the “backwards man in the street” who supports “everything bad” is a fiction created by authoritarianism and is meant to justify its existence by suppressing the will of “dissenters” to resist. Not that this “backwardness” does not exist, but authoritarianism amplifies it several times over, simultaneously suppressing other overtones of public perceptions. The success of this technique, on the one hand, extends the life of authoritarianism, but on the other hand, it generates the mechanism of unpredictability that plays a key role in its subsequent downfall.

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 Photos courtesy of The Telegraph and Business Insider.

Mikhail Kosenko’s Appeal Hearing Is Tomorrow, March 13

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On March 13, Mikhail Kosenko’s sentence will be appealed in Moscow City Court. Mikhail [who was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International] was one of the Bolotnaya Square defendants, and he was sentenced [in October 2013] to compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital. His case was originally tried separately from that of the other defendants because of a disability. But his story really should be treated separately: it is so simple and straightforward, as if it were staged on purpose to make clear to anyone, even a child, that in Russia a struggle is underway not between two groups of people who hold different views on the country’s future, but between people and monsters.

Mikhail’s trial lasted almost a year. During this time, Zamoskvoretsky District Court Judge Ludmila Moskalenko did not permit Mikhail a single family visit, although she knew that Mikhail’s mother was ill and her health was deteriorating. And when his mother died in September without having seen her son again, Moskalenko refused to let Mikhail attend the funeral. Mikhail found out about all this, about his mother’s death and the fact he could not say goodbye to her, in a cell in Butyrka Prison from a REN-TV news report.

During the trial, defense attorneys presented videos and photographs showing that Mikhail did not even come close to police officer Alexander Kazmin, whom he allegedly kicked and hit, tearing off his ammo pouch. Four eyewitnesses corroborated that Kosenko had not touched the “victim.” When Kazmin himself testified at the trial, he was unable to identify Kosenko as the man who had assaulted him and refused to perjure himself. “I’m not Russian trash,” he said.

On October 8, 2013, Judge Moskalenko found Mikhail Kosenko guilty and sentenced him to compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital. His treatment could last indefinitely. If, by analogy with the old Soviet Union, we imagine that the Chekists [i.e., the Putin regime] will stay in power another fifty to sixty years, then there is every chance Mikhail will never get out of the madhouse. But even if he gets out in ten years or three years, the consequences could be irreversible. Mikhail really does have a [mild] mental illness and problems with communicating, but anyone who followed the trial over the last year would have come away convinced that Kosenko is an absolutely sane, reasonable and intelligent man. At the very least, read his statement in court.

“Palace” psychiatry is quite capable of turning this man into a vegetable, all because, two years ago, a certain man had his inauguration spoiled and took offense. On March 13 at 10 a.m. in Room 334 of the Moscow City Court (8 Bogorodsky val) we can try to prevent it from happening. Let’s try! Mikhail’s sister, nephew, and cat Musya (whom he took in from the streets), are waiting for him to come home.

Source: Facebook

Photo courtesy of Dmitry Borko and Amnesty International