Fatherlandish

I am going to break an unwritten rule today and publish a long videotaped interview with the Russian independent trade union organizer Dmitry Kozhnev without providing a translation in English.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time covering the struggles of Russia’s independent trade unions, as well as the abuses of labor rights in the country and the grassroots pushback against these abuses.

I was alerted to the interview by my friend Comrade Moose who, when he posted it on Facebook, wrote that it was “perfect.”

I agree with him completely. Kozhnev provides an ideal primer on why we need trade and labor unions, and how to organize them into effective tools for advancing the interests of workers, not only in Russia, but anywhere else in the world.

In fact, the conversation between Kozhnev and his engaged, smart interviewer on the YouTube channel Station Marx is so exemplary of the other Russians and other Russias to whom I have been trying to give a voice to on this blog and its predecessor for the last twelve and half years, I would urge my readers who teach high school and university students Russian language, history, culture, and current events to use the interview to look at subjects such as labor rights and the fight to protect the interests of workers in Russia and elsewhere, and grassroots political and social movements in Russia today.

Station Marx‘s annotation to the video, which I have translated, includes a long list of the websites run by Russia’s independent trade unions and other good stuff. Maybe it would be worth your time and that of your students to take a break from Tolstoevsky and “There is no Russia without Putin” to see what some real Russians have been doing against incredible odds.

Sooner or later, the other Russias and the other Russians who exist in the subjunctive mood in this interview and on my blog will win the day. Why don’t we get to know them now? In a few years or so, they will be running Russia, while Putin and his gang of criminals will be rotting behind bars, utterly forgotten. {TRR}

Why Do Trade Unions Not Work in Russia? Dmitry Kozhnev
STATION MARX
March 15, 2019

Our guest today, Dmitry Kozhnev, is an activist with the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR), a trade union organizer with MPRA and Novoprof, and a member of the Marxist group Workers Platform. He came by for a cup to coffee and talked about Alexei Navalny’s program for a new-model trade union, the problems of the trade union movement, and how strikes are organized.

Our videos are made possible only through your support. You can donate money to us via:

Russia’s independent trade unions and other labor organizations:
Subscribe to Station Marx’s websites and channels:
Advertisements

Alexei Gaskarov: What Politics?

Alexei Gaskarov: Many People Ask Whether I Am Going to Take up Politics. But What Politics Are There Nowadays?
Olesya Gerasimenko
Snob
November 1, 2016

Anti-fascist Alexei Gaskarov has been released from prison after serving three and a half years in prison for alleged involvement in the Bolotyana Square riot in Moscow in 2012. Snob asked Kommersant special correspondent Olesya Gerasimenko to meet with Gaskarov to discuss the Bolotnaya Square case, life and education in the penal colony, and the death of the protest movement. 

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob
“Why would they ask me about organizing a riot if they knew no one organized it?”

Was your trial fair?

I regret we agreed to be involved in it. Like Soviet political prisoners, we should have stood with our backs turned and kept our mouths shut, and not treated it as an attempt to get at the truth. I had illusions after Khimki. [In 2010, Gaskarov was arrested and charged with attacking the Khimki town hall during a protest in defense of Khimki Forest, but the court acquitted him. — Snob] Several videos showed clearly that the incidents involving me happened before the riot kicked off, according to police investigators themselves. In the end, I ticked off the evidence, the judge nodded her head, but there was no reaction. The entire trial looked as if the decision had already been made, the sentence written out, and let’s get this over as quickly as possible.

So did you push a policeman and pull a soldier out of the police cordon?

I never denied it from the get-go. A year had passed since the rally on Bolotnaya Square. I was working on an important project. I had a week to go, and it was uncool to have to go to jail. I had to go to work on the Sunday the cops came for me. I had gone to the shop to buy food for the cat, and the whole clown show was waiting outside my building: two jeeps and a van. Young dudes half dressed like boneheads stepped out of the van. I decided they were from BORN [a group of radical right-wing nationalists who carried out a series of murders and assaults — Snob]. I was pondering what moves to make, but they produced their IDs.

Did you feel relieved?

No, just the opposite. I could have run from BORN or done something else. So they detained me and kept mum about what the charges were for a long while. They made me lie face down in the van and  the whole works. There were lots of things they could have detained me for. We had been defending the tenants of the Moscow Silk (Mosshyolk) dormitories from eviction and the Tsagov Forest in Zhukovsky from logging by developers. And shortly before my arrest, people who are now serving in the Azov Battalion attempted to assault my wife and me. I tussled with them, and it ended up on camera. So there were different possibilities. I was not thinking about Bolotnaya at all. When it finally became clear why I had been detained, I stared at them.  It was total rubbish. I told them I agreed to admit what I had done. We had been walking amid the crowd, when a riot cop attacked this dude. A dogpile ensued, and people pulled them apart. I was accused of pulling a policeman’s leg. The evidence was a poor quality video and a forensic report that concluded it was not me. But I knew it was me. So I told them right away, Guys, let’s do this the right way. But they could not have cared less whether I admitted my guilt or not. It would have been a different story if I had confessed to violating Article 212 of the Criminal Code (organizing a riot) or testified against someone else.

Were you asked?

They didn’t even mention it. Why would they ask me about organizing a riot if they know no one had organized it, including from their own wiretaps? They kept the charges to the incident with the leg pulling. Then they found a second incident. A stampede started in front of the police line. People were falling on the ground, and I tugged one policeman by the shoulder to make room. The indictment said I had broken the police line so that everyone could get to the riot. But this line had been at the passage in the other direction.

OIesya Gerasimenko and Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

Did you expect such a sentence?

They had already told me at the Investigative Committee they were going send me down. I said, Well, of course. Later, the Center “E” guys showed up and threatened me with ten years in prison, but I know that could not happen. The rules of the game are still followed, and punishment for a particular crime is usually consistent with ordinary practice.

How do you feel about the case of Udaltsov and his associates?

I have very negative feelings about it, of course. I ran into [Leonid] Razvozzhayev in the pre-trial detention facility, but I wasn’t really able to chat with him, because he was always in very bad shape. Udaltsov and his associates operated like real con men. Before May 6, 2012, they had no clue how the march would go, and there is no mention of sitdown strikes and rushing police lines in the wiretaps. But after everything had happened on Bolotnaya, they began acting in their meetings with Targamadze as if everything had gone according to their plans. Their initial excuse, that they had traveled to Georgia to talk about wine and mineral water, was pure idiocy. Naturally, it is not against the law to have meetings and discuss business. But there is a political ethic that does not let you behave this way. You go meet dudes from the government of another country, a country with whom [your country] recently had a conflict. You ask for money, and you take money. If these meetings had not taken place, the Kremlin would have failed to generate the image of the Bolotnaya Square case that it did. We should not have had to answer for things over which we had no control. The benefits to Udaltsov were personal, but everyone shared the risks.

So you received no money from Givi Targamadze?

Are you kidding? What money?

Who was the anonymous anarchist informer who testifed against you?

I didn’t even find out. I have had nothing to do with them for many years. The guys still have their little movement. Like Tolkien fans, they attend meetings and discuss for hours on end how they should make a revolution. They have been doing this for the last twenty years. It was of no interest to anyone. The FSB sent its people in. They went and had a look at it and said, Well okay, you have a cool club. When Center “E” was established, they went after them big time to push up their arrest stats. All anarchist meetings are open, anyone can come. So they are known to the authorities. The teenager from this scene who went to Bolotnaya and was involved in breaking through police lines was identified in this way. They put the squeeze on him: either we send you down or you tell us what we want to hear. I have no idea why this was necessary, because he just said I was a bad dude and the leader of the anti-fascists and anarchists. But nobody charged me with that.

“The rules of survival are simple: don’t do anyone harm”
Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

 

Tell me about life in prison. Everyone is interested in that. You know, reveille at six, lights out at ten.

Yeah. As you understand, people who are drug addicts, people going through withdrawal, basically live at night. After lights out, they either smoke or brew chifir [a super strong tea brewed in Russian prisons]. You just set that aside. You have your routine, and basically it is good for you. No one limits the amount of exercise you do: there is a horizontal bar, parallel bars, and a few weights. You are either working or busy with your own things. I got into shape there like I never have before. The point is to come up with as many things to do as possible so you have no spare time at all.

What did you read?

The library there was okay, because everyone who does time gets books and then leaves them behind. They see who has been nominated for the Booker Prize and order their books. It’s not hard to find new releases in prison. I also subscribed to several pro-Kremlin publications, and I read lots of your articles, too. And I read The New Times and Novaya Gazeta. I wanted different viewpoints. Plus, there is a legal video link in there. It is limited to fifteen minutes a day, but in fact nobody keeps track of the time.

Who were your cellmates? 

I spent half my sentence in a pre-trial detention facility. The dudes in there had been charged under Article 228 of the Criminal Code [purchase, storage, production, and sale of narcotics — Snob]. Their stories were horrible. One group of teenagers had gotten hash in the mail from Holland, and they had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Or there were the dudes who decided to cook amphetamine using a recipe they found on the Internet. They got nineteen years in prison. I was even ashamed to explain what my case was about, because I was surrounded by people facing over ten years in prison.  When the trial began, we were kept in Butyrka Prison. They were thieves, crazies, teenagers, street kids, and Dagestanis in there. I also met defendants in the Rosoboronexport case, the APEC Summit case, and the Sochi Olympics case, and I went to the gym with Alexander Emelianenko.

The general population at the penal colony consisted of three hundred men. Eighty percent of them were local dudes from Tula Region who had attacked somebody while drunk, stolen things from dachas, and committed petty robberies. But what is the catch about the general population? That a homeless man who broke into someone else’s dacha to spend the winter got sent down to the penal colony, and his life there is better than on the outside, and he is in the same place as a big-shot businessman who has lost a billion rubles and used to go sailing on his yacht on the outside.

Does this lead to lots of conflicts?

There are lots of conflicts, but the instigator always takes the rap for a fight. That doesn’t mean there are no fights. They are criminals, after all, and they tend to take risks. But the rules of survival are simple: don’t do anyone harm. If you watch TV after lights out, turn down the sound. Don’t drag in dirt. It’s all basic.

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

Was it easy for you to understand them?

Yeah. In 2010, I was in a pre-trial detention facility with repeat offenders and learned the tricks. And during my early days in the penal colony I read Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn’s stories about the prison camps.

Like a set of rules?

Yes. The Center “E” officer who led the investigation in my case told me a lot and advised me what books to read. When I was on the inside, people asked my advice on how to behave.

When you got out you said the main thing had been to maintain contact with reality and your health. How did you maintain your health? Was the food there okay?

Due to the fact that support from the outside was good, I almost never ate in the cafeteria.

But what about hot meals?

There is a microwave there. The Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) now has taken the approach of not keeping you from improving your living conditions. They need to implement their strategy for improving conditions in the penal colonies, but their budget has been trimmed. When you arrive, everything is crappy. Water is dripping from the ceilings, and there is mold. But they don’t mind if you want to invest your own resources. You write everything up as humanitarian aid, and you get electric kettles and microwaves. We had a projector hanging in our cell for watching films.

Now everyone will want to roll back two years to read books and watch films on a projector.

We also purchased a bunch of armchairs from IKEA. So when the head office comes to make an inspection, they show them how cool everything is in their colony.

I think you wanted to get another degree in prison.

Unfortunately, it turned out the university with which the colony collaborates is just a degree mill that sells them for money. I did something else there. At work, I would often teach the basics of entrepreneurship and planning. There were people doing time in the colony with whom it was interesting to talk, bank chairmen and ministry officials. There was a space, an evening school. I brought around fifty people together and asked the wardens permission to run something like seminars. Everyone had to come up with his own project, and over eight months (my sentence was coming to an end) we would try and whip it into shape, with a business plan as the outcome. At first, they turned me down outright, saying I was in for the Bolotnaya Square case and would lead political discussions. But then there was a change in management at the penal colony, and they met us halfway. It was like a little piece of the outside world.

Generally, of course, the colony’s disciplinary and educational function has been tapped out. There are no resources. The majority of guys in there do not have the most basic skills. They cannot write a letter, but there is no one there at all to educate them. There is this option of watching films on the weekends. They show this rubbish, total nonsense. I went to the wardens and said, Let’s make a selection of good films; we can watch ordinary films in our cells. But they could not even decide to do that. They get their action plans from the head office, where the theorists work. They say, Let’s hold a sports day, even though athletic clothing is prohibited in the general population.

“They aren’t winning this game by turning to crackdowns”
Olesya Gerasimenko and Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

While you were away, the Khimki Forest was cut down. The Moscow Silk tenants were evicted. Anti-fascists fell out over Ukraine. Many of the people who rallied on Bolotnaya have emigrated. When you all; were being arrested one by one, everyone said it would be the case of the century, that everyone would close ranks because of you and for your sake, but ultimately you have got out of prison, the Bolotnaya Square case is still underway, and there is no longer any interest in it. Maybe you went to prison for nothing?

What does that mean, “nothing”? I had no choice. It’s good that the anti-fascist thing is no longer on the front burner. Nowadays, there are no more clashes with neo-Nazis, who were killing people in the early 2000s. Back then, they really needed a counterweight. Our job was to point out the problem and make things decent on the streets. We succeeded in doing this. But the anti-fascist movement cannot defeat xenophobia in society.

What do you think about the split among anti-fascists, that one group went to Kiev, while the other went to Donbass? They were at each other’s throats.

I always assumed that very different people joined the anti-fascist movement, and that was fine. There were aspects that just did not make sense to me. For example, why were European leftists strutting their stuff in Donbass? It looks as if they were totally conned.

As for Bolotnaya, choosing to be involved in this movement was fraught with risks. If we draw an analogy with Ukraine (although many people don’t like to do this), I don’t think that if the events on Bolotnaya had gone further those people would have balked at shooting the crowd. A bunch of people were killed in Kiev, while here in Moscow we were supposed to be scared off by prison sentences. They randomly picked a group of people and put them in prison. The rationale is clear. Whoever you are, if you oppose the tsar, you will suffer. How can we respond to this? We have to debunk the myth that such crackdowns are effective.

But that is what happened. Everyone really was afraid of being hit once with a truncheon, to say nothing of prison. Many members of the opposition have said the fight against the regime is not a worth a centimeter of their personal comfort. You are practically the only who does not think this way. Don’t you feel lonely?

Most people haven’t been to prison, and they really imagine it is the end of world. If I go to prison, I can kiss my life goodbye, they think. I just dealt with it more or less normally. But this is how I see it. When the authorities crack down on dissent, people lower their level of activism. They lose the desire to invest themselves in something. Ultimately, the system falls apart, rather than becoming more stable, as the authorities imagine. The country becomes less competitive. In prison, I saw many people who were doing time for economic crimes, and they all said approximately the same thing. People who have satisfied their material needs develop political demands, and that is fine. Everyone wants to be involved in changing things. When this desire for change is blocked, they are blocking the segment of society that generates the most added value. They aren’t winning this game by turning to crackdowns. Especially because the system is not as terrible as it makes itself out to be.

But people need to remain minimally active. It is too bad that many people have chosen the passive way. I have just got out, and it really seems to me that a lot has changed, even in Moscow itself. Although, theoretically, I saw it all ten years ago, only in Europe. We can live this way a long time. Hence the complexity of the political arguments around Bolotnaya. Given the resources we have have, we could live better, but the way things are also suits lots of people. In this case, the system can survive for a long while. We should not get involved in direct confrontations. This was clear to me on Bolotnaya Square as well. We wanted to get the hell out of there, because it was obvious the sitdown strikes and so on were just what the authorities wanted. But there are other ways of doing things. We don’t have to limit ourselves to demonstrations and rallies.

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

What ways?

There are the demands made at Bolotnaya—fair elections and the transfer of power—but there is the option of engaging in specific targeted campaigns in order to develop one’s ideas under the existing regime.

You mean the theory of small deeds?

Among other things. For example, I read that many Bolotnaya activists have gone into charity work. In fact, that is not so bad. What matters is maintaining the energy. Or there is the successful fight against corruption, all those publications that impact the system, whatever you say. Or there are people in the leftist milieu who think there should be progressive taxation: they can also advance their arguments. Or form an anti-war movement given all the conflicts underway.

In prison, I realized how strongly the regime affects people’s brains. There are people who show up there who are not inclined to heavy discussions. Real peasants. All the myths that exist are in their heads. But when you are around them, you don’t even have to argue. Even the most impenetrable guys would change their minds just as a result of conversation. So any work aimed at disseminating information and minimal education is vital.

What did you change their minds about?

A variety of things, including their overall attitude to the opposition. In the beginning, it was even convenient for me, like there were only drug addicts at Bolotnaya, that they all had gone there to score heroin, and everybody would leave me alone [after I would say that]. But over time people see what you read, what films you watch on the Culture channel, that you can help draft a court appeal, and they understand you are not an idiot and would not have gone to a protest rally for a dose of heroin. There were lots of conflicts over Ukraine, especially because there were many people doing time who had managed to fight in Donbas, come back to Russia, and get sent to prison.

Olesya Gerasimenko and Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

For what?

Disorderly conduct, theft, and armed robbery. They were typical soldiers of fortune. We even managed to talk about this most difficult issue and iron out our differences.

Is Crimea ours?

I have a simple position on this issue. People went out on the Maidan because they did not like the current regime. I think what happened to Crimea was Putin’s attempt to punish them for this. The Ukrainian people made their choice, Putin didn’t like it, and [Russia] acted like the interventionists during the Russian Civil War. It is not a matter of what the inhabitants of Crimea wanted. It was an action directed against all the values we tried to defend on Bolotnaya.

So it’s not ours?

I consider it a real violation of international law. It was unethical and wrong. Clearly they did this to stick an example in everyone’s face: see what protests have done to the country. But I don’t have an opinion about what should happen next.

To return it or not?

Well yes. Because it is clear that most people who live there want to be part of Russia.

You went to prison in one country, but came out of prison in another country. What was it like finding out on the news about the historic events that were happening on the outside? Did you feel sorry you were observing them from afar? Or, on the contrary, was it easier?

To be honest, the latter. It was often difficult to make up my mind. For example, when refugees left Ukraine en masse, they would come work in the penal colony. You communicate with them and realize there is ideology, and then there are people’s stories, and it was hard to make up one’s mind. I actually thought it was cool this was going on in the background.

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of Tanya Hesso/Snob

What is your work situation? What are you planning to do?

Of course, I would like to do the work I was educated to do, as a financial systems analyst, as it says in my diploma. My old job did not survive the crisis. I will have problems, of course.  I have even asked acquaintances at several companies, but I was told no way, especially in offices that work on state commissions or state projects. So things are rough. I will have to start everything from scratch. But I am sure that the fourteen percent have some businesses. [Gaskarov has in mind VTsIOM’s polling data, showing that 86% of Russians support Putin — Snob.]

Earning money is my priority now. Many people have asked me whether I am going to take up politics. Everyone has so many expectations, but what politics are there nowadays? It is impossible to be involved in politics without having your own resources. Of course, I say you shouldn’t be afraid of prison, but it is a serious setback all the same: three and a half years. A lot of missed opportunities and a backlog of problems.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Gabriel Levy for the heads-up

Darja Serenko’s Quiet Picket

Picketing the Everyday
Marina Simakova
OpenLeft.ru
May 7, 2016

Quiet Picket, a recent initiative by Darja Serenko, teeters on the verge of artistic intervention and protest action. Every day, Serenko boards public transport (often, the subway) bearing a new placard inscribed with an extensive message. Its purpose is to invite people to engage in a discussion. Serenko thus explores the space of communication itself: the distance between placard and recipient, and how potential interlocutors navigate the distance. So far she has produced fifty-four placards, gone through six markers, and directly communicated with ninety-three people. Marina Simakova spoke with Serenko about the background of the action and its effects.

serenko-1
Darja Serenko: “I want to carry it myself.”

Tell us how and under what circumstances the idea for the action occurred to you. What was the occasion?

The action grows out of several occasions. On the one hand, the arrest of Ildar Dadin; on the other, the story with the itinerant exhibition {NE MIR}, when we artists were detained by police while carrying our artworks down the street. I had been contemplating a solo picket for quite a long time. I had a dream of doing an ordinary picket, holding a placard at chest level that would resemble the headings in children’s encyclopedias: “And did you know that…” But ultimately a kind of reformatting of the very principle happened in my head. My understanding of it changed.

And what defined its format?

I was riding the subway after the closing of a {NE MIR} exhibition. I had grabbed a small poster by the Lights of Eirene movement. It featured the famous photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their Bed-In for Peace, and next to it, a current photograph in which similar looking people were lying in approximately the same poses. I was carrying the poster unfolded so it would not be crumpled, and I noticed that everyone in the subway car was looking at it. It dawned on me then and there this was the perfect form of communication. It was completely unobtrusive.

Why did you decide to do it alone, without friends? Did you ask anyone else to join you?

I said from the get-go that the format was open. Two young women joined me, but each has changed the format to suit her. One of them, Sasha, joined about ten days ago. She has attached a placard to her backpack (it comes out more static), and she has been traveling with the same placard for a week. On the other hand, she usually prints it out, and it contains references. The second young woman, Valeria, has also been doing a quiet picket on public transport. She wrote me to ask my permission, and of course I agreed. I have asked the young women to share photos of their placards and stories about what happened as they are able. In no way do I want my action to smack of a manifestation where “I, the performance artist, march forth and educate people.” That is not how it is. Although I do conceive of it as an educational project.

So your action could go viral?

It is difficult to talk about a virus when there are only three young women. But this format really is networked, simple, and palatable. It also functions without me.

How has it been documented?

On VKontakte and Facebook, and a bit on Instagram.  I have a small public page on Vkontakte, and I post a written report on my personal page on Facebook every afternoon or evening, when I have a free minute. I try and describe the situations, the conversations, and the behavior, both my own and that of the people with whom I interact. I also post photographs of the placards.

serenko-2
“#quietpicket is when you feel discouraged and your arms fall.” In Russian, the expression “[one’s] arms fall” means to “feel discouraged.”

And is someone watching and photographing you?

Yes, constantly. Stealthily, very politely. If people photograph at close range, they always ask my  permission. Actually, I have got used to thinking of my action as a tape. Today, something like two hundred people wrote me asking what the action was all about. They had not been following it, and I already find it hard to conceive it any other way and explain it all in a jiffy, because some things were improvised and then they caught on. The format of the action has been changing.

How has it changed?

Initially, I had planned to make a placard early in the morning or the night before, ride around with it for a day, and make a new one the next day. I could not imagine subsequent interventions into the placard. But then I sensed the need to alter it depending on the reactions, to write and draw something extra, to explain something on the back. First, the placards were one-sided, then they became two-sided, and then I started doing several narratives within a placard.

After hearing why I was doing this, one of my accidental interlocutors said, “Oh, I get it. You are making a social alphabet.”

Yes, you could say that as well, and so the alphabet format emerged in my action. I want to put together an entire alphabet. Yesterday, I traveled with Г, for gomoseksual’nost’ [homosexuality], and today it was Ш, for shovinizm [chauvinism].

There is also a storyline involving poems I write on the placards. They can be connected with the topic of the placard, as stated on the other side, or they might not be connected. For example, I have been riding around with texts by the poets of the Lianozovo School, the poems of Vsevolod Nekrasov and Igor Holin, and I have been telling people about poetry. And when people ask me whether I think they are poems, I say that of course they are.

Sometimes, the text on a placard is arranged like a dialogue. There is an enquirer of sorts and a respondent.  There was a photo stand-in placard with holes for the eyes and mouth on which I wrote about the social status of women. The allegory in this case was simple: almost any face could be placed on the placard. But, actually, each placard turns out different from the others.

The last few days I have been stitching the sheets of paper together with thread, because I have run out of tape. (I use A3 sheets, which I combine into one big sheet.) It is an excellent means of representing a placard, because while I am stitching it together, I can turn it over and still remain focused on some task.

Sometimes, I also sew a new placard to an old one. This is a palimpsest placard, and the one is visible through the other. The placards thus form strange seams and montages.

I now always have a pile of posters in my bag.  If I see a person is reacting to the placard I am holding, and realize that I want to say something to them, I take another placard from my bag and sew it to the first. When I was riding around with the placard “Our government is fabricating [in Russian, “stitching up”] yet another case against yet another political prisoner,” I sewed it as well I could, in several rows, with rough stitches. By the way, I have been stitching the alphabet placards into a single notebook so later you can flip through it.

serenko-3
Darja Serenko, Photo Stand-in Placard on Social Status of Women (Quiet Picket), 2016

How do you think up the texts for the placards? Do you take advantage of items in the news?

Everything is unstable when it comes to this, too. For May Day I made a topical placard, and after Pavlensky’s action [when the artist summoned sex workers to his court hearing as witnesses—OpenLeft] I made a placard about prostitution. But there are issues I simply have to cover, so I conceive of Quiet Picket as an educational project, albeit semi-ironically and semi-seriously.  Although it happens that I see my action as a kind of monstration. I ride in the subway, look at people, and think I would like to cheer them up.

Besides the fact that the project is educational, how do you define it for yourself? As a series of political art performances or as a civic initiative?

I see it as a continuation of my own work as a poet. In the poetry I have been doing, I spent a long time trying to achieve some kind of interaction: I took readymades and inserted them into poems. I think this know-how has influenced Quiet Picket. I am not saying that Picket is a purely poetic endeavor, but thanks to poetry the placard itself has greater opportunities for communicating. And the aspect I cannot keep track of in poetry, the aspect of reading [meaning the reader and her interaction with the poetic text—OpenLeft] is a process I can observe in this case. I see the person’s eyes running over the text, and at the same time she can address me, while I observe how her interpretative mechanisms function, and I can influence them. Quiet Picket takes place in this gap, in the distance between the person and the placard.

Have you thought about urban studies? After all, your action is nothing less than an intervention in one of the most important urban infrastructural spaces, an intervention that would let you get a feel for certain problems, study the behavior of passengers, do work on communications, and so on.

I might prove insufficiently competent as a researcher in this field. I have been trying to document everything I do, and perhaps the outcome will be an article or essay I write. I have not drawn any conclusions for the time being. My research involves collecting information and gaining the know-how of conversing with people on pointed topics that many of them find painful.

There is a rather glaring contradiction in your action. On the one hand, it lays claim to a certain intimacy. It summons a man in the crowd to have a private conversation; it invites him to a politicized discussion. On the other hand, it is very public and open to multiple counter-statements. Could you comment on this?

I don’t see a contradiction here. The fact is that the star of my action is the person who has brought herself to engage in reciprocal communication. She is the master of the situation, not me. She defines her own borders. She can approach me and whisper something in my ear, or she can holler at me from the other end of the subway car, aware that everyone will hear her and thus let other people get involved. It has also happened that a person has asked me to exit the car and have a chat. In that case, I obediently go with him and talk.

serenko-4
Darja Serenko in the midst of Quiet Picket on the Moscow subway

If we shift the focus from the action itself to its subject, meaning you, we can detect yet another problem. At first glance, you appear as a naïve angel in this action. Eyes downcast, silently but persistently, you broadcast your appeal to people. Prepared for any reaction, you throw yourself at the mercy of angry, tired subway passengers. There is a certain victimhood about all this, almost evoking associations with the holy apostles. At the same time, we can look at you in a different way, as an artist working in the aftermath of Situationism and rationally exploiting the temporal distance. So you are protected from the man in the crowd by theory and your own stance, which have found their own places on your placards, while your potential interlocutor, the so-called man in the street, simply has nothing to oppose to you. You thus possess a certain power from the outset.

First, the image of me as meek silent angel is not true. It has been conjured from a photograph of me that has become quite popular. Usually, I don’t look that way. Second, yes, I have a background in culture, a knowledge of manipulative devices, and a set of readymade arguments. There is no getting away from it, but in the process of communicating I still feel unarmed and naked. The things people say, their experience, and the situations they reference have often stumped me. It has happened that I have nothing ready to say to them.

You assumed this experience would change you, pose new questions, and, perhaps, even force you to undergo a kind of metanoia.  Or am I wrong?

I haven’t had the time to keep track of what has been happening to me. But as a woman and feminist, I do think about my own feminine subjectivity (and objectivity). The placard is an amazing agent. When I use the placard to broadcast a feminist agenda, which I do quite often, I am simultaneously the subject and author of the placard and its object.  When I have to dialogue with someone on the topic, I have to act as a subject. So I balance between these points like a pendulum, and this affects me. Of course, I know about the experiments of artists whose bodies, including social bodies, have become sacrificial bodies. But I am faced primarily by the task of a cultural worker. I really wanted and still want to tell people about certain facts. It pains me these facts are hushed up, many people don’t have access to them, etc.

And why should people believe what you tell them? The legitimacy of your claim to know the facts is supported by what? Are you appealing to the status of cultural worker?

Since my format is encyclopedic, I appeal to sources. You will have noticed the references on my placards. People and I often google something: they verify the information on the Internet. I realize that the informational field is infinite, and for various reasons people often deal with only a fragment of this field. I offer them an alternative.

serenko-5
Darja Serenko, “This is how our government has been fabricating yet another case against yet another political prisoner” (Quiet Picket, 2016)

The action has been running for five weeks, and you certainly have managed to collect the most incredible textured. Could you tell us about the most memorable, unexpected or personally important incidents during the picket? I will phrase my question even more openly. Tell us about whatever you would like.

For example, an elderly woman read my placard about political prisoners and thanked me. We were sitting opposite each other in the subway, and she told me about her life. She was a medical worker who helped athletes recover after injuries. On the back of my poster was an old poster, the May Day poster, on which the phrase “Thank you for your hard work” had been written.  She then asked me to exit the subway with her and offered to reward me for my work by having a look at my back and spine.

How long are you planning to continue the action?

For a year. I have a palpable dream that one day I will hit on the right phrasing, the right interactive possibility, and a person will want to make a placard in response right in front of me—as a creative act, as a statement, as an expression of contempt for me or, on the contrary, out of a desire to express agreement or disagreement.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of OpenLeft.

Dr. Yekaterina Chatskaya: “Doctors Are Pushed to the Limit”

Dr. Yekaterina Chatskaya: “A Year Ago There Were Three of Us. Now There Are Six Times as Many”
Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR)
May 20, 2016

Dr. Yekaterina Chatskaya
Dr. Yekaterina Chatskaya

Dr. Yekaterina Chatskaya, a gynecologist at Moscow Municipal Clinic No. 180 and a leader of the Moscow local of trade union Action told Novaya Gazeta what it is like to be a trade unionist when Russia health care has entered an area of turbulence.

Yekaterina Chatskaya is a gynecologist at Moscow Municipal Clinic No. 180. In April 2015, she was involved in a work-to-rule strike by Moscow physicians, meaning that doctors spent as much time with each incoming patient as was necessary and ignored newly introduced, stringent patient-intake standards. Novaya Gazeta found out what happened with the strike and personally with Dr. Chatskaya over the past year.

How did last year’s work-to-rule strike end?

I kept a diary of my patient intakes. We analyzed the standards that took shape during the course of the strike and sent them to the head physician. It turned out our figures were similar to those issued by the Health Ministry. But the problem is that the Health Ministry’s standards are recommendations. They are not obligatory, meaning that they virtually don’t function in practice.

For example, in Moscow, a gynecologist’s standard intake time varies from twelve to fifteen minutes at different hospitals, but the federally recommended initial appointment time is twenty-two minutes. That is a fundamental difference.

In the blogs and appeals written by physicians, they say they are fighting to increase appointment times by three minutes. Do these minutes add up to something in actual practice?

Of course, they do. I have a fifteen-minute limit for seeing a single patient, and I see patients for six hours in a row without a break, meaning this limit does not include a lunch break or even a simple trip to the toilet. Over this six-hour period, according to the standards, I should be able to see twenty-four patients, who have registered in the electronic data base. But it is virtually impossible to keep up with this pace. There are complicated patients, and there are urgent cases. Old women dress slowly. They require a special approach. And you must not hurry pregnant women at all, whether someone is pregnant for the first time or has had a miscarriage in the past. But when the intake period lasts longer than six hours, it is inevitable that doctors make mistakes. Your concentration is reduced, and your eyes are tired.

You really feel by the end of the intake period that you are losing concentration and can make a mistake?

That is exactly why I started thinking about how long it takes to examine a patient in reality. Before the strike, my official intake period lasted seven hours, but in fact it came to eight hours without stopping. After the strike, we succeeded in getting six-hour schedules, while everything is still the same at other clinics.

Has what happened last year changed anything about your team?

At first, a lot of people wanted to support me, but when a group letter was drafted and we took it to other doctors for them to sign it, people got scared. The head physician called me into his office and said it was extremism, that I was going against the regime, although there were no political demands at all in the letter. Certain colleagues stopped speaking to me altogether.

But the turning point came. A year ago, we organized a local of the independent trade union Action (Deistvie). Initially, there were three of us. Now there are six times as many. We managed to stop the introduction of so-called effective contracts. One of the points in the contracts was that incentive pay would be based only on the decision of the clinic or hospital director. My pay consists of 20,000 rubles base salary and roughly the same amount in incentive pay. Under the so-called effective contracts, incentive pay would have included work assignments that are not part of my job description. Theoretically, if I had refused to mop the floors on the orders of the department head, I could have been stripped of my incentive pay. We wrote to the head physician and the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor’s office acknowledged the decree facilitated corruption and ordered it abolished. This was a victory. But many clinics have switched to the so-called effective contracts.

Your latest protest campaign has targeted the Moscow Health Clinics Standard. What don’t you like about it?

The standard has led to a collapse at work, and not only at our clinic. During the flu epidemic, GPs were working over twelve hours a day. One doctor made a house call to a patient at one-thirty in the morning, and before that she had been seeing patients since eight in the morning, and then went out on house calls. Another colleague of mine worked three weeks without a single day off.

They have begun to drive away specialists. How? For example, a GP has to refer a patient to an endocrinologist. But to do this, he or she has to write up a full justification for the referral, get the chart and referral signed by the department head, and manage all this within the twelve-minute limit for the appointment. Management have been strongly advising GPs not to refer patients to specialists but to threat them themselves. Naturally, the endocrinologist sits there without any work. After some time has passed, management decides that since such a small number of patients come to see him, the clinic has no need of his services. Our clinic fired a mammalogist, a dentist, and an endocrinologist in this way. There is very big queue to see the gastroenterologist. But our clinic immediately set up paid appointments to see him. If you have the money, you will be served right way.

Getting an ultrasound appointment has become a disaster. In late 2014, one ultrasound specialist went on maternity leave, a second was cut, and a third resigned of her own accord. For several months, a single specialist examined pregnant women in the entire district of Mitino. It even came to blows at the terminal when two women fought over an ultrasound appointment voucher. Another big minus of the reforms has been the virtual abolition of the principle of neighborhood health care.

Now you can make an appointment with any primary care physician at a clinic. Is that a bad thing?

In our conditions, it is a bad thing, because it leads to the unavailability of medical care. For example, my primary care neighborhood covers six thousand people, although according to the standards I should be serving two thousand two hundred people. When my appointment bookings for fourteen days in advance open up at 7:30 on a Monday morning, the appointment vouchers are already gone by eight in the morning. Patients can now choose a doctor themselves, and naturally they choose doctors with good reputations. Inevitably, these doctors will be overbooked. Patients assigned to these doctors as their neighborhood doctors are simply unable to get an appointment to see them, although they will be seeing many patients from other neighborhoods.

An absurd situation has developed. The municipal health department monitors the availability of specialists. On our clinic’s overall chart, there is constantly a red light next to my name, meaning that I violate the norm, because patients sign up to see me two weeks in advance. A good doctor is not profitable to a clinic because she or he skews the statistics.

How much do you earn?

My take-home pay is between twenty-five and thirty thousand rubles a month. My last paycheck was 35,000 rubles [approx. 465 euros a month per the current exchange rate—TRR]. I have been working at this salary since April of last years. I am not paid a kopeck more, only the mandatory minimum.

Does the Moscow health department know about this situation?

Yes. We regularly appeal to them. The last appeal by primary care physicians was sent to them on March 31. After that, we got paid a little more.

Doctors are pushed to the limit. Seeing the shiny pictures on the TV, our patients imagine that everything is alright with medical care, and if something is wrong, it is the doctor’s fault. A patient can come and sit outside a doctor’s door for an hour: that means he is a bad doctor. It was that way at first, though now, it is true, patients have begun to realize that if there is a queue, it means the doctor is good. I was reprimanded when an urgent care patient got wedged into my schedule, and I was unable to see another patient before my lunch break. I asked her to wait, but when I came back fifteen minutes later, she was filling out a complaint in the department head’s office. I was reprimanded, even though the patient was seen the very same day after my break.

Would it be easier if the Health Ministry issued strict regulations rather than recommendations?

It would be ideal. We have written several times to the Moscow health department asking them to establish regulations in keeping with the Labor Code and the Russian federal government decree stipulating that a doctor should see patients for no more than thirty-three hours a week. The reply we received was meaningless, as always.

Meanwhile, our head physician issues orders that violate the recommended norms.  These two realities do not intersect at all.

For example, hardship pay has been abolished throughout Moscow.  Even our radiologists lost additional holidays and pay. But the federal decree clearly stipulates that medical workers who come into contact with HIV and tuberculosis should receive both additional pay and additional holidays.

Source: Novaya Gazeta

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Valentin Urusov for the heads-up

Pyotr Pavlensky: “The FSB Has Hammered an Iron Curtain Around Itself”

Pyotr Pavlensky: “The FSB Has Hammered an Iron Curtain Around Itself”  
Elena Kostyuchenko and Ekaterina Fomina
December 10, 2015
Novaya Gazeta

An exclusive interview with the arrested artist

He stands accused of vandalism for setting fire to the door of the FSB building. Pavlensky himself has requested he be tried as a terrorist as a gesture of solidarity with convicted terrorists Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko. Observing a vow of silence, Pyotr Pavlensky refused to answer the court’s questions. He did, however, answer Novaya Gazeta’s questions.


Photo: Yevgeny Feldman / Novaya Gazeta

Pyotr Pavlensky’s Works

Seam, July 2012. Pavlensky sewed his mouth shut with a coarse thread and stood for an hour and a half in front of Saint Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral holding a placard that read, “Pussy Riot’s performance was a reenactment of Jesus Christ’s famous performance.”

Carcass, May 2013.  Absolutely naked and not responding to anything, Pavlensky lay wrapped in barbed wired outside the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly. The artist attempted to show the new position Russian citizens had found themselves in after the adoption of repressive legislation.

Fixation, November 2013. Pavlensky nailed his scrotum to a cobblestone on Red Square and sat motionless looking at it. “It is a metaphor for the apathy and political indifference of Russian society,” the artist explained. Pavlensky timed his action to coinicide with Police Day.

Freedom, February 2014. Pavlensky and a group of activists burned around fifty tires on Mal0-Konyushenny Bridge in Saint Bridge, thus reconstructing the Maidan in Kyiv.

Segregation, October 2014. Pavlensky cut off his earlobe while sitting naked on the fence of the Serbsky State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry. The action was a protest against punitive psychiatry.

Threat, November 9, 2015. Pavlensky set fire to the main entrance of the FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square. The artist stood before the burning door holding a fuel canister.

What is fear?

I think fear is an animal instinct. You find an example of how fear itself turns into an immediate threat to life in Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The question she returns to time and again there is, who was more to blame for the death to which a hundred concentration camp prisoners were led, the two guards who escorted them there or the prisoners themselves? Because they went willingly to their deaths, making no attempt to kill the guards or escape. Fear is dangerous because it suppresses free will. Without free will man becomes something like a domesticated beast of burden, which is not finished off and turned into food while there is the need to keep working it.

How and when did you conceive Threat?

[The answer has not been published in keeping with the requirements of Russian federal law.]

What did the preparation involve?

The choice of the site, the date, and time were the main things. When they have been determined, all that remains is the technical preparation, in which I try to do with the most minimal means.

Was Threat successful?  What constitutes success? Were the other actions successful?

I find it difficult to talk about, because my access to information is limited. But the fact alone that I managed to do it could be considered a big success.

Is there a common theme running through your works? Have your stance and objectives changed?

Yes, in all my works I talk about the prison of everyday life and the possibility of release from this prison. Seam, Carcass, Fixation, and Segregation are the prison of everyday life. Freedom is the possibility of release. But Threat is the power of coercion in this prison, meaning that it is the main threat to free will.

In most of your actions you haven chosen your own body as the object. Why did you decide to choose an external object this time?

This is not true. I have used my body when talking about the prison of everyday life. The statement about emancipation was constructed completely differently. Freedom was implemented by a collective subject. Now I have discussed the threat hanging over every member of society. This is a direct threat to the manifestation of everyone’s free will. I never said I was doing performance art or body art. I work with the tools of power, and what I do is political art.


Freedom.Photo: Pyotr Kovalyov / Interpress / TASS 

Whom are you addressing?

Society. I do not address people in power. I use them as material for undermining the scenery of power. My objective is to call into question the entire façade concealing the ruthless mechanics of control and administration.

Do you identify with the the society you previously depicted (Fixation and Carcass)? If not, where are you?

Well, now I am actually in jail. But if we talk about how much I feel myself to be part of society, then to the extent that we all are part of the same regime. I travel on the same public transportation, I watch the same news, and I hear the same advertisements. The informational field is the same,  and I have worked with elements of it. I take something from one context and transfer it to another context. The contexts collide and new meanings are produced. In this way I identify the discrepancy between the scenery and mechanics of power.

Do you know how people have responded to Threat? Can you follow events from jail?  How do you get the idea across when discussion of the action itself (the scrotum, the door) becomes primary?

No, I know very little about the reactions. But I did find out about the most interesting reaction: the entrance to Lubyanka was covered in aluminum. I have been told that “Lubyanka behind the iron curtain” is what the authorities called their action. The regime is erecting this curtain around itself with its own hands. No, it is still not easy for me to keep track of what is happening. I am partly cut off from communications. I get letters, and my lawyers can tell me some things. Other prisoners also tell me things, but generally the information is very sketchy.


Segregation. Photo: Oksana Shalygina / Facebook

Some say that the action could have caused harm to employees who were inside the building. Did you think about this?

No, I had no such fears. We could discuss such a threat if I had employed heavy artillery instead of a fuel canister.

You have called the FSB a “terrorist organization.” You see no difference between a suicide bomber at Domodedovo Airport and an FSB employee?

The FSB [excised in keeping with the requirements of Russian federal law] is a militarized, well-equipped, armed organization. And it combats its competitors, people who would like to take its place but who simply lack the resources. I think any state is a political institution that has formed as an outcome of long-term political terror.

Whic actionist artists (past or present) do you like?

There are quite a few artists, and not necessarily actionists. They include the Dadaists, Malevich and Suprematism, the works of Caravaggio, and many others. Chris Burden was one of the few good performance artists. If we talk about actionists, I would include Alexander Brener and the Moscow actionists of the nineties. Voina made a huge breakthrough, followed by Pussy Riot, including their last performance at the Sochi Olympics.

Can art exist separately from politics nowadays?

No, it cannot. Art was forced to served ruling regimes for many centuries. It was an effective apparatus for inculcating ideological paradigms. Art was able to free itself from functional obligations in the twentieth century. But regimes continue to exist, and every year they require thousands of new personnel: they make a lot of effort to produce these units. The very existence of these institutions for producing service personnel is already sufficient demonstration of the link between art and politics.


Carcass. Photo: Sergei Yermokhin / Interpress / TASS

Investigators have on several occasions asked psychiatrists to examine you. Have you ever doubted your own mental competence?

No, I have not yet had any reason to doubt it.

How do you understand the holy fool? Some have called you a holy fool. Can you agree with them?

No, I cannot. I am an artist who does political art. Political art involves methodical research of social responses and sets of codes. Aside from the actions, the work involves dealing with the many tools of the regime: law enforcement, psychiatry, mass media, etc. I do not think you can just call this a way of life. In this sense, early punk culture, the residents of psychiatric hospitals, and hippies like Charles Mansion bore a much greater resemblance to holy fools.

What happened after your arrest?

 Everything was fairly by the book: physical detention, handcuffs, searches, the first attempts at interrogation. Usually, during the first twenty-four hours, investigators try to get as much testimony as possible. That is exactly why you have to pay attention during the first twenty-four hours and say nothing at all. The same thing happens with psychiatrists, only they have more power. But much more important is what it means to me. For me, it is a process of defining the boundaries and forms of political art. And what the regimes calls arrest and paperwork procedures is nothing other than a bureaucratic ritual for producing criminals.

What are your conditions like now? Has pressure been brought to bear on you?

There was only one attempt to get me to sign a confession that I had not wanted to harm and threaten the lives of FSB employees. After an hour of back and forth conversation, they were unable to get what they wanted. I went to lockup to relax, and they left.


Seam. Photo: neva-room.ru

Why did you ask to be charged with terrorism?

 I thought about the action I had carried out and came to the rather interesting conclusion that the action of setting fire to a door was quite similar to what ultimately led to terrorism charges against the s0-called Crimean terrorists and the ABTO group. Only in those cases, the FSB added to these groups people who had made deals with investigators, and as a result of this cooperation, ringerleaders of terrorist organizations and their accomplices emerged. So I decided to demand coherent logic from the court and justice from the judiciary and law enforcement.

Are you going to remain silent in the court?

Yes, I am going to maintain my silence until the lawlessness of the judiciary and law enforcement comes to an end.

Does an action begin when it is actually implemented or afterwards? Is the action still under way now? Do you recognize the state as a co-author?

An act begins during its implementation and ends when the law enforcement system or psychiatrists detain me. But cessation of the action per se marks the beginning of the process by which the boundaries and forms of political art are defined. So we could say that it is not the action that continues but the process of political art.

What do expect from the future? Are you willing to continue living in a stagnated Russia? Have you thought about applying your energies somewhere else? Are you struggling for a better life for yourself or for the country? (And is it a struggle?)

Each of us is responsible for the situation of stagnation. And for this reason alone I do not want to live somewhere else. As for me and my life, it is not a struggle, but the only possible form of existence under state terror. Everything else is personal responsibility for the life of society within the bounds of border and passport control.

P.S. On December 10, Pavlensky was transferred to St. Petersburg, where the case of setting fire to the tires is being examined.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Penguins Can Fend for Themselves

vechorka-penguin

“There will be no global warming. Russian expedition continues to uncover the secrets of Antarctica.” Front page of the March 13, 2015, edition of Vechernyi Petersburg newspaper.

Earlier today, my comrade Louis Proyect posted a link on his Facebook wall to a Reuters article on the crazy extent of official and grassroots climate change skepticism and ignorance in the world’s biggest country. Here is a short excerpt:

Wildfires crackled across Siberia this summer, turning skies ochre and sending up enough smoke from burning pines to blot out satellite views of the 400-mile-long Lake Baikal.

To many climate scientists, the worsening fires are a consequence of Siberia getting hotter, the carbon unleashed from its burning forests and tundra only adding to man-made fossil fuel emissions. Siberia’s wildfire season has lengthened in recent years and the 2015 blazes were among the biggest yet, caking the lake, the “Pearl of Siberia”, in ash and scorching the surrounding permafrost.

But the Russian public heard little mention of climate change, because media coverage across state-controlled television stations and print media all but ignored it. On national TV, the villains were locals who routinely but carelessly burn off tall grasses every year, and the sometimes incompetent crews struggling to put the fires out.

While Western media have examined the role of rising temperatures and drought in this year’s record wildfires in North America, Russian media continue to pay little attention to an issue that animates so much of the world.

The indifference reflects widespread public doubt that human activities play a significant role in global warming, a tone set by President Vladimir Putin, who has offered only vague and modest pledges of emissions cuts ahead of December’s U.N. climate summit in Paris.

Russia’s official view appears to have changed little since 2003, when Putin told an international climate conference that warmer temperatures would mean Russians “spend less on fur coats” while “agricultural specialists say our grain production will increase, and thank God for that”.

The president believes that “there is no global warming, that this is a fraud to restrain the industrial development of several countries including Russia,” says Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst and critic of Putin. “That is why this subject is not topical for the majority of the Russian mass media and society in general.”

_________

This reminded me of a dismal interview I had read this past spring in Vechernyi Petersburg, a now-defunct local rag. (The front page of that particular issue of “Vechorka” is depicted at the top of this post.) I had thought about translating it at the time, but since I prefer to push stories that, however bleak, have a positive hook (meaning they feature an underdog or underdogs fighting the powers that be, whatever the odds), I thought better of it.

Now, however, that the official line seems to be run the country into the dirt as quickly as possible, I am kicking out the jams (at least, tonight). After all, somebody out there might be wondering why a country that should have everything going for it in terms of human and natural resources is trying so hard to become a failed state. Interviews like the one that follows—with a gentleman not only purporting to be a scientist, but a scientist charged with running the Russian Antarctic Expedition—might give you a clue.

________

Global warming is a topic that bears no relation to reality
Valery Lukin, head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, says Antarctica still holds many secrets
Sergei Prudnikov
March 13, 2015
Vechernyi Peterburg

The summer season of the Sixtieth Antarctic Expedition is coming to an end. The scientific research vessel Akademik Fyodorov is now making the rounds of the stations, supplying them with food, fuel, and materials for the coming eight or nine months. In early March, the ship left Progress Station. Its next stops are Molodyozhnaya Station, Novolazarevskaya Station, and Bellingshausen Station. In April, the Akademik Fyodorov will sail for the shores of South America, and on May 15, it will return to Petersburg. In anticipation of the completion of the latest stage of work, Vechernyi Peterburg met with Valery Lukin, head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition (RAE).

Valery Vladimirovich, what are the results of the 2014–2015 season? 

I must say right off the bat that employees of thirty-one organizations, representing ten federal agenices, are involved in the RAE. They include Roshydromet, Rosrybolovstvo (Federal Agency for Fishery), Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency), Rosatom, the Ministry of Defense, and so. Work is underway on sixty-four projects, and each of them is significant. Nevertheless, I would note the drilling of a second borehole into the subglacial Lake Vostok and laying the foundations for installing new ground-based monitoring equipment for the GLONASS satellite navigation system. Interesting work has been done in the oasis of dry valleys,near the American McMurdo Station on the shore of the Ross Sea. They contain the most ancient varieties of permafrost on earth, thirty to forty million years old. Such polar caps exist in similar conditions on Mars. This gives us a unique opportunity for developing the technology to sample this material in the future. I should also note that the Russian Federal Ministry of Culture has implemented several of its own projects in Antarctica for the first time. One of them is the creation of the latest (the third) in a series of virtual branches of the Russian Museum for RAE personnel. The first was unveiled on board the Akademik Fyodorov; the second, at Novolazarevskaya Station; the latest, at Bellingshausen Station.

One of the priorities in Antarctica is the study of climate change. Why is it important? And how do things stand with global warming?

Indeed, it is extremely important. After all, what is the ice of Antarctica? It is compacted precipitation. By carrying out isotopic studies on it, we can track changes in temperature on earth, as well as the levels of methane and carbon dioxide that were in the atmosphere many years ago. Based on the research done on the ice core at Vostok Station, we have assembled a picture of climate change over the last 420,000 years. This included four complete climatic cycles: glaciation and warming with an average period of 100,00 years. We are now in an interglacial period, between peaks of cooling. But it is unclear how long this period will continue and whether it has reached its maximum. No one knows where we are headed. As for global warming, in my opinion, it is only a topic for speculation that is advantageous to businessmen, politicians, and journalists, and which bears no relation to reality.

But what about the movement of glaciers, which are, allegedly, melting furiously?

Glaciers are always moving. Near the Geographic South Pole, at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, they move at a speed of 11.5 meters a year. Near Vostok Station, they move at a speed of two meters a year. This is ordinary aerography: new ice forms, old ice flows. Now if it stopped moving, that would be something worthy of immediate attention. In the 1960s, Sovet scientists and their colleagues from Dresden took measurements of the glacier on a 100-kilometer segment of the track from Mirny Station to Vostok Station. Forty-four years later, the measurements were repeated. The ice had grown by forty-two meters! What melting are we talking about here?! As for speculation around a topic, let me remind you that, twenty years ago, all the media suddenly wrote about the growing hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica and the catastrophe it threatened. It was the owner of the large chemical company DuPont who had raised the issue. It was he who paid scientists to study the phenomenon. The scientists concluded that the reduction of the ozone layer had to do with Freon entering the upper atmosphere. Ultimately, this substance was banned. But Mr. DuPont created a new substance, Freon-141, which, by the way, is two and a half times more expensive than the “old” Freon. The problem of the hole in the ozone layer did not go away. But it has been forgotten: people with a stake in the matter performed the task assigned to them. The same thing is sure to happen with the topic of global warming.

Antarctica is an icy, barren continent. What is the practical benefit of researching it?

National security. The economic effects. Strengthening international prestige. With regard to safety, we are talking about ground support in the Southern Hemisphere for our space program. In Soviet times, this problem was solved by a special space fleet. A whole series of craft was built. Then they were scrapped. Using radar stations located in southern Russian, we can look into near-Earth space no farther than thirty degrees latitude south. If we talk about the economic effect, we could talk about developing fisheries in the Southern Ocean. One of the most valuable commercial fish in the world, the Patagonian toothfish, is found in these waters. It dwells at a depth of 600 to 1,200 meters, grows to a length of two meters, and weighs up 160 kilograms. The cost of one kilogram of this fish on the wholesale markets is sixty dollars. It is selling like hot cakes in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the US. From the 1960s to the 1980s, we were the leaders in catching it. In the 1990s, we virtually abandoned this field. The challenge now is to return. Finally, estimating the mineral reserves [in Antarctica] is an important taks. Our country’s economy is resource dependent. And if we do not keep up with the prospects of mining on earth, we have a lot to lose. We have to have our finger on the pulse.

The media periodically reports incredible events that are observed on the sixth continent. Either people disappear with enviable regularity or strange magnetic phenomena occur. What can you say about this?

These UFO publications cannot be taken seriously, of course. People have definitely not disappeared. Although there are a lot of mysteries. And we are going to encounter them again and again. Subglacial lakes, for example, were discovered a mere twenty years ago, and by chance. We were able to identify Lake Vostok due to a combination of seismic research, radar observations, and satellite measurements. It turned out that in the vicinity of Vostok Station the ice sheet was fairly smooth. There were hills all around, but here there was a flat slab, 250 kilometers long, 70 kilometers wide. Where does that happen? That is right: only on the water.

Valery Vladimorovich, many scientific programs are now feeling the pinch due to the difficult economic situation in the country. How has this affected the RAE?

Budget cuts to the expedition this year will amount to 10%. However, given the need to use foreign aircraft, sail into foreign ports, and pay with foreign currency, the real reduction in the budget will be 35%. Unfortunately, certain programs will have to be wound down. For example, we are planning no research and drilling work at Vostok Station. It is just too expensive. Boring into the subglacial lake and collecting water from it, something we have been so looking forward to doing, is not going to happen next season. In most other areas, research will continue.

Translated by the Russian Reader

___________

Valery Lukin, as it turned out, was much too sanguine about the effect of budget cuts on the RAE.

Russian Antarctic Expedition Halts Research Due to Lack of Funds
October 14, 2015
The Moscow Times

Russia’s state-funded Antarctic expedition has had to halt its research due to a lack of funding, the TASS news agency reported Wednesday, citing one of the scientists involved in the expedition.

“It’s not yet clear how long the research will be suspended for,” Ruslan Kolunin told TASS. He said that work on drilling a borehole in the ancient Lake Vostok has also been suspended. “The borehole is frozen at the moment, no work is under way there right now,” he was cited as saying.

The only research being carried out in the Antarctic as part of the expedition this year is a meteorite project by the Ural Federal University, Kolunin said. “That is financed by sponsors and the university, though,” he added.

Earlier this year, the expedition’s head Valery Lukin said that scientists wouldn’t be able to continue researching Lake Vostok during the next season, which lasts from December 2015 to February 2016, due to decreased funding, TASS reported.

The expedition, Lukin said, is financed directly from the federal budget. In 2015 it was allocated 1.18 billion rubles ($18 million), but in 2016 that will decrease to 1.061 billion rubles ($16 million), which he said was not enough to continue work at the lake.

Lake Vostok lies buried beneath a 3,769-meter layer of ice. Locating it and accessing its relict waters is considered one of the main discoveries of the expedition so far, the report said.

Addicted

Greg Yudin
Facebook
September 29, 2015

In his interview with CBS, Putin was asked how long he intended to remain in power.

Putinweb
Andrei Molodkin, Putin Fuck You, 2012. Image courtesy of a-political.org

“How long depends on the circumstances. Of course, there are rules stipulated by the Constitution, and they definitely will not be violated on my part. But I am also not sure I should take full advantage of these constitutional rights. It will depend on the specific situation in the country and the world, and on my own mood.”

Do you also feel something is missing in this response? I recall there should be something about voters, the people, and that kind of thing. But no, the old man is as honest as ever: it all depends on his “mood.”

The main problem with Putin is that he has usurped power. And all because if once, “by virtue of the circumstances,” the Constitution was adapted to a particular person, the next time round that person will forget about the Constitution altogether, firmly convinced there is only one law—his mood, his arbitrary will.

Incidentally, Putin is well aware that his entire reign amounts to the destruction of order on behalf of tyranny. Otherwise, he would not have led off his reply with something no one had asked him about: the fact his third term is unconstitutional. You can conjure away reality as much as you like, but you cannot hide the truth from yourself.

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at The Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader