I was seven years old when a distant relative, the brother of my great-aunt’s husband, showed up at our dacha. He was stuck there for the whole summer. We called him Uncle Misha. He was decidedly unlike my parents and their acquaintances. Having him around caused me grief at the time, but now I am grateful to fate, because in the person of Uncle Misha, Russia (from whose sight my relatives had erratically shielded me) came into my life.
Like Russia, Uncle Misha was extremely stupid. The first thing he did was dig up a huge boulder sticking out of the ground in the garden, and spend a whole month chiseling an inscription on it. The inscription was long: “On April 22, 1870, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the world proletariat, was born.” Uncle Misha painted each embossed letter white.
Besides, he liked to drink, and that addiction laid waste to his dreams. The fact was that Uncle Misha wanted a bicycle most of all and saved up for one for a long time. When he had purchased a bike, Uncle Misha went to Solnechnoye to celebrate the occasion. He fell asleep at a beer stall, and the bike was immediately filched.
Like Russia, however, Uncle Misha had amazing skills. I remember how he picked a basketful of pine cones, took out our decorative, Nicholas I-era samovar, filled it with the cones, soldered the leaky spigot, stoked the pipe almost with his boot, and brewed some extremely tasteless tea.
Then he disappeared, and a couple of years later he died of cancer. It was all a long time ago, and I would have forgotten Uncle Misha, but now he has suddenly risen from the grave. I constantly see and hear (mostly at a safe distance, thank God) the people who surrounded me as a child. There are the old women crushing each other whilst queueing for sugar, officious Auntie Motyas with serious hairdos, exact replicas of my teachers and head teachers, the peasants wearing baggy-kneed trousers, the gopniks with herring eyes — they are the grandsons and granddaughters of the Soviet people who so spoiled my childhood. They have been cloned whole, already dressed and sporting mohair hats and berets from the get-go.
I spent a whole month this past winter in Petersburg and saw them at every turn. While I was it, I went to a Chris Marker retrospective that friends of mine put on. There were about twenty people in the large auditorium, and I knew almost all of them personally — five organizers, five foreigners, and ten university students.
After getting any eyeful of this, I was persuaded that it was impossible to improve this country. It keeps churning out people on the same old conveyor belt, but no cataclysm is capable of stopping it. And right now I’m even more convinced that this is the case.
Source: Dmitry Volchek, Facebook, 10 April 2022. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader
If a Russian loves Russia, he’s a patriot. If a Ukrainian loves Ukraine, he’s a “Bandera nationalist.”
If a Russian says “khokol,” he’s merely joking. If a Ukrainian says “moskal,” he’s a “Russophobe.”
If pro-Russian slogans are bandied about in Russia, it’s normal. If pro-Ukrainian slogans are bandied about in Ukraine, it’s “Nazism.”
If the Russian president talks to the American president, he’s forging better relations between their two countries. If the Ukrainian president talks to the American president, they’re “hatching a plot” against Russia.
If a Russian national speaks Russian, it is par for the course. If a Ukrainian speaks Ukrainian, he is “persecuting” Russophones.
Source: Rodica Rusu Gramma, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Thanks to Andreas Umland for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader
When you see footage from protest rallies in the Russian Federation, all that ring-around-the rosy, or watch broadcasts made by the Russian emigration in Tbilisi, you immediately recall one of Jünger’s journal entries in Strahlungen. Although, admittedly, some Russians, a few, have already caught sight of the abyss out of the corner of their eyes.
PARIS, 14 JUNE 1942
Went to Bagatelle in the afternoon. There Charmille told me that students had recently been arrested for wearing yellow stars with different mottoes, such as “idealist,” and then walking along the Champs-Ėlysées as a demonstration.
Such individuals do not yet realize that the time for discussion is past. They also attribute a sense of humor to their adversary. In so doing, they are like children who wave flags while swimming in shark-infested waters: they draw attention to themselves.
[Ernst Jünger, A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941–1945, trans. Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J. Hansen (Columbia University Press, 2019)]
We have to admit that our generation of Russian anti-authoritarian leftists drew the short straw when it comes to the people [narod]. I want to emphasize, though, that they are not the way they are “genetically.” They have been raised to be this way. Yes, there was a seed of imperial mindedness, but without soil and fertilizers, that godawful hogweed would not have grown.
– Brutal capitalism and maximum competition multiplied by the cult of success, causing universal brutalization and an inability to communicate.
– The survival tactic that follows from the first subprogram: identifying with the powerful aka blaming the victim. If you want to foster a nation of stern warriors, you foster a nation of toadies. Hence our servility and respect for ranks.
– A regime based on a twenty-year-long counter-terrorism operation.
Source: George Losev, Facebook, 15 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
“I need love and vodka,” says one young woman to another. Everyone is so joyful.
T-shirts sporting the Z symbol are sold in the pedestrian underpass near Gostiny Dvor. Near the the exit from Gribanal [Griboyedov Canal subway station], a woman sells willow branches [for Palm Sunday, which is this Sunday in the Russian Orthodox calendar], the Soviet flag flying above her. A jeep adorned with a huge [Russian] tricolor cruises near Kazan Cathedral. A car branded with the letter Z is parked in Bankovsky Lane.
I don’t know whether I will ever be able to love this city again. Or at least not feel sick. I walk around it looking for niches, corners, secret places where I can hide, pretend to be a shadow cast by the caryatids, so that I won’t be found, pried out, and forced to be part of universal vileness.
Source: Comrade JG, Facebook, 16 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader with the kind permission of the author, who wishes to remain anonymous.
March 19, 2018
I was riding tonight in a taxi driven by someone with a surprising name: Nasimjon. I was watching Solovyov’s show on my telephone. His guests were voicing the warmest feelings of devotion to the winner of the race.
“He got so many votes not because he had the administrative resource behind him, but because people love and respect him,” said Andrei Maximov, presenter of the program Duty Officer for the Country.
My [sic] Nasimjon was silently listening to this splendor with me. At some point, moved by the emotions of the people speaking, he voiced his own.
“I was so scared today.”
“What was wrong?”
“I typed the question, ‘How much did Putin get in Moscow?’ into Yandex. The answer I got was eleven percent for him, and seventy-three percent for Grudinin. I was frightened.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Because the situation in the world is such that where would be without Putin? Look what’s going on around us: England and America again. Who else can deal with them?”
“Why do we need to deal with America?”
“They dream of ripping us to shreds. They kill everybody. They occupy everybody and kill them.”
“Who have they killed?”
“Iraq, Afghanistan. They organized the coup in Ukraine.”
“Did you hear that on TV?”
“No, my passengers told me. Plus, the Americans think everyone else is stupid.”
“Who told you that?”
“My Armenian friend. He’s lived in America for twenty years. He says that in the textbooks over there it’s written that Americans are smart, and everyone else is stupid. But Putin has made everyone fear us.”
“That’s a good thing?”
“Maybe it would be better if we were respected and liked?”
“It doesn’t work that way with the Americans. We have to make them fear us.”
“So, how did this thing with Putin end? You believed the figures were real?”
“Yes, I did, and that’s why I got scared. But then I turned on Business FM Radio, and it turned out it was the other way around, that Putin had seventy-three percent, and Grudinin, eleven percent. So now everything here is going to be fine.”
“What’s going to be fine?”
“Putin’s friends have already had their fill of stealing. If new guys had come to power, it would have started all over again.”
The author is a presenter on Radio Svoboda, the Russian-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo of the cast of Taxi courtesy of Asian Image
P.S. “What the taxi driver told me” has long been a common genre in Russian social media, especially the Russophone segment of Facebook. In most such stories, whether true or fabricated, the taxi driver is a stand-in for (debased) popular wisdom, for the Russian folk (russkii narod), meaning “ordinary,” “rank-and-file” Russians, whom the Russian liberal intelligentsia have historically imagined as a benighted, homogeneous mass.
The twist in this particular variation on the yarn is that the taxi driver’s name, Nasimjon, indicates he is clearly not ethnically Russian, meaning he hales from the Caucasus or Central Asia, or he was born in Moscow, but his parents moved there from one or other of these regions.
Even with this “politically correct” update, the genre remains problematic. It is more a symptom of the liberal intelligentsia’s failure to account for its own role in generating and maintaining the successive tyrannies that have plagued Russia since the nineteenth century, when the intelligentsia per se could be said to have been born as a kind of social subclass or metaclass, than it is a window onto the world of the “common people.”
To put it less murkily, if you stop talking to “taxi drivers” and listen to what actual Russians of all shapes, sizes, colors, and classes have to say and find out how they have either adapted to the Putinist tyranny or resisted it, you are as likely to discover resistance and clear thinking among supposed members of the Russian folk, among the people whom liberal Russians contemptuously refer to as “philistines” (obyvateli), as you would among the self-identified liberal intelligentsia.
Over the last several years, this website has featured many such inspiring stories of grassroots, working-class and lower middle-class resistance to the current Russian despotism, including the saga of the country’s fiercely militant independent truckers and the tale of the so-called partisans of Suna, a group of pensioners in Karelia who camped out in their beloved local old-growth forest to protect it, its environment, and their own humble livelihoods from local officials and developers, who wanted to build a road through it and turn part of it into a sand quarry.
Of course, there have also been many tales of similarly fierce, thoughtful resistance by Russians who by virtue of their educations and professions could be classified as intelligentsia. It is just that the vast majority of such intelligenstia militants are too clear sighted to sink to the vulgar sociology and flagrant mythologeme that would blame uneducated, poor, downtrodden, disempowered, and mostly invisible Russians for the country’s problems and Putin’s long-lived and wholly engineered “popularity.” TRR
October 20, 2016
A mystical coincidence. The day before yesterday, I was waiting for a green light at a crosswalk on Prospect Prosveshcheniya, near the eponymous subway station. On the other side of the street, a woman whom I didn’t know was waving at me and yelling something through the traffic zipping past us. I crossed the street and went over to the woman. She told me she had mistaken me for her son, who had disappeared four months ago.
She showed me photos and told me the story of his disappearance and her guesses as to what had happened, each one gloomier than the last, ending with the surmise that her son had been lured to Donbass, where he had been killed. The cops knew about it, and so they were not trying to look for him. Her monthly apartment maintenance fee had been reduced, meaning the housing authority knew too, and so on.
I took pictures of the photographs she was pasting on all the poles in the vicinity, and said I would put them up on the Internet. Maybe somebody knew something and would get in touch.
The coincidence was that I was going that evening to an exhibition at Borey Gallery entitled “A Man Is Lost.”
I was sorting through the photos now and thought, What a contrast! On the one hand, beautiful young photographers and writers meditating on the condition of being lost, on outsiders, downshifting, and French clochards. On the other hand, poor helpless mothers, for whom no one has any use, clutching photographs of their lost sons on street corners in Russian cities, peering into the face of every man they meet wearing a hoodie and hoping for a miracle.
A rows of unmarked graves bearing numbers and the abbreviation UM, “Unknown male.” These are the ones who are really lost. It was a photo like this that was lacking at the exhibition.
Just in case, the surname of the man in the photos is Kairov. He is around thirty. His mother asked me not to write his given name. She was afraid con men would call her.
I met her near the Prospect Prosveshcheniya subway station, and she lives somewhere in the neighborhood, apparently.
She told me she had made the rounds of all the local hospitals (and, probably, the morgues, too).
She has searched for him among the homeless. Her son had once had a case of memory loss, so maybe something of the sort has happened this time.
She has written to the TV program Wait for Me [which helps people find lost loved ones — TRR]. She said that since the police were doing nothing and were not searching for him, she would travel to see Putin and get an audience with him.
Sergey Yugov is a Petersburg photographer and videographer. I thank him for his kind permission to translate his story and reproduce his photographs here. Translated by the Russian Reader
P.S. After I posted this, Sergey wrote to say that there was a whole page on the Russian social network VKontakte, entitled “Person Missing,” featuring photos and notices of missing loved ones.
There are 3,290 images on the page, the first one dated January 21, 2013. The last one is dated yesterday.
“Alexei Alexandrovich Dorin. Born 1981 (35 y.o.), Moscow. Contacted loved ones for last time on October 1, 2016. Since then there has been no information of his whereabouts. Description: 165 cm tall, normal build, blue eyes. Was wearing a black artificial leather jacket and carrying a gym bag. Help find this man. Anyone who has information about the missing person is asked to call +7 800 700 5452 (toll free in Russia) or emergency numbers 02 or 102. Everyone can help!”