Andrei Kolesnikov: Hooked on Militarism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Was a Joke

rostovpapaRussians do not swallow the regime’s propaganda hook, line and sinker, argues Ivan Mikirtumov, but use it to guide their public behavior. Photo by the Russian Reader

Why the Russian President Made Fun of Russian Propaganda
Ivan Mikirtumov
Vedomosti
October 22, 2018

Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 18, Vladimir Putin told his audience the punchline of what would later emerge as a “funny” joke about nuclear war.

“As martyrs, we will go to heaven, and they will simply croak, because they won’t even have time to repent,” said Putin.

Judging by the overall reaction, the joke has been a success.

The genre of the humorous anecdote, including the political anecdote, was typical of the Soviet period, that is, of a communist dictatorship in the midst of the Cold War. Unlike texts and drawings, anecdotes were an oral genre and, therefore, were relatively harmless to disseminate. The technical difficulties of proving someone had told a joke made it a less than reliable tool for snitching on other people. This sometimes had to do with the content. If you wanted to inform on someone who had told you a joke about Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, the KGB, the Politburo, etc., then likely as not you would have had to quote in writing what you had heard or, at any rate, admit you knew the joke. Under certain circumstances, however, this knowledge could be used against you.

In post-Stalinist times, people were rarely punished for telling jokes. Jokes were widespread in Soviet culture, achieving exceptional heights of wit and observation. Jokes could be used to track public opinion, since they reflected society’s critical self-consciousness. Jokes were a form of feedback, but by virtue of its unique incompetence the Soviet regime ignored them, too.

Everything dangerous, hostile, evil, harmful, stupid, and meaningless is made into a figure of fun when it fails and falls through. People do not laugh at things that are huge and horrible until they are rendered pitiful, proven weak, and shown to be a sham. Stalin gave people little occasion to laugh, because he rarely failed, but the leaders of the late-Soviet period and the entire Soviet system were perfect targets for jokes and other species of ridicule. It is said Brezhnev was smart enough to laugh at jokes about himself, but it was not something he did publicly.

Putin told his audience the punchline of a joke whose opening line we can imagine as an oral exam question at the General Staff Academy, a question asked by the examiner in a room adorned with framed photographs of the commander-in-chief and the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

“Tell me, how will the outcome of a nuclear war differ for Russians and people in western countries?

Why is it that Putin’s answer to this imaginary question might seem funny? What was he ridiculing?

Mentioning heaven, martyrdom, and repentance in a military context in Russia, a country in which cynicism has reigned supreme, is tantamount to a direct attack on official religiosity, as instilled by the regime, a religiosity that has become dreadfully tiresome to everyone. The notion Russians will go to heaven wholesale, whether they believe in God or not, whether they are religious believers of any denomination at all, and whether they are vicious or virtuous, is tantamount to a scathing parody of religious beliefs.

Nuclear war is the business of the military. It thus transpires souls are saved and people canonized as martyrs at the behest of the Russian army’s top brass. With Putin in charge of it, heaven promises to be something like an army barracks, so the entire satire on martyrdom and salvation was performed as a “humorous shtick” of the sort favored by Russia’s siloviki.

What do generals have to say about the soul’s salvation? They say what they are supposed to say, as they gaze at the patriarch’s framed photograph on the wall.

Recently, General Zolotov and the two heroic Russian tourists who took a trip to Salisbury this past March found themselves in the limelight nearly at the same time. We can easily imagine these men holding forth on heaven, martyrdom, and repentance. Putin’s joke was clearly a sendup of the symbiosis between state-imposed religiosity and militarism, a crucial concept in current Russian agitprop.

It is short step from a joke like this to jokes about Orthodox secret policemen, monarchist communists, sovereign democracy, the Kiev “junta,” the US State Department’s vials and cookies, and ritual murders, performed by Jews, of course, on Orthodox babies (and the tsar’s entire family in the bargain), and so on. During the years of Putin’s rule, a whole Mont Blanc of drivel has sprung up, and whole hosts of freaks have come out of the woodwork. It is simply amazing there are still so few jokes about Putin and Putinism in circulation, but now, I imagine, things will kick off, since the main character in these jokes has taken the bull by the horns.

This does not mean, of course, that, by artfully telling his joke, Putin meant to take the piss out of himself and his regime. We are dealing here with the long-familiar militarist bravado summed up by the saying “Broads will give birth to new soldiers,” with the teenage frivolity typical of the siloviki, a frivolity they enjoy acting out.

“We’ll wipe the floor with them,” as they would say.

If, however, Putin was publicly ridiculing the concept behind current state propaganda, we are confronted with a bad joke, a bad joke told to the selfsame ordinary Russians who are targets of the propaganda so ridiculed, while the guy who made the cute joke is the same guy who presides over production of this propaganda and benefits from it.

The rules of the genre have been violated, for now it is the audience, the public that has been ridiculed. Clearly, Russia’s ruling elite despises the people it attempts to manipulate, and the propagandists sometimes laugh themselves silly backstage after they have concocted a particularly nimble con.

I don’t think Russians are gulled by the Kremlin’s propaganda. Rather, they register the messages transmitted to them by the regime as signals telling them what to say and do in certain circumstances. This lovely consensus is destroyed when the concept underpinning the propaganda has been publicly turned into a laughingstock, because people who have been pretending in recent years that they take it seriously find themselves in an awkward situation. They have lost face, having themselves been made ludicrous.

How, then, do they answer the question as to why they played along with the regime in its efforts to gull them? The only plausible explanation for this behavior is shameful thoughtlessness, fear, and impotence, things to which no one wants to admit.

Ivan Mikirtumov is a visiting lecturer at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

One Solution: Demolition

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Sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov putting the final touches on his monument to weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov. Photo courtesy of Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
September 19, 2017

Everything about the new monument in Moscow is disgusting. Once again, it is huge, and it shows us a non-military man holding a rifle. As an obvious symbol of militarism, it looks savage in the downtown of a major city. And then there is the very man the monument commemorates, who besides giving his surname to a lucrative arms brands apparently did nothing else for his country, let alone for a city in which he never lived.

Debates are underway about what to do with monuments when the context in which we view them has changed. Should we demolish them? We are not obliged to destroy them: we could move them to places where their symbolic baggage vanishes. Or would it be better to recode monuments where they stand by building something around them and thus imparting a new meaning to them? In my opinion, we have no choice in this case. There is no way to remedy this abomination. It can only be demolished.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in St. Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Moscow To Unveil Statue Of AK-47 Inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov
Tom Balmforth
RFE/RL
September 18, 2017

75AC53AB-0E8F-47DE-BC13-452E78BD5FBF_w1023_r1_sThe 7.5-meter tall statue to Mikhail Kalashnikov, which stands on a northern intersection of the Garden Ring around central Moscow.

MOSCOW — After several false starts and some grumbling from locals, a prominent statue of a gun-toting Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of one of the world’s most ubiquitous weapons of war, is set to be unveiled in an official ceremony in the Russian capital on September 19.

The 7.5-meter metal likeness — still covered in plastic — features Kalashnikov cradling his eponymous AK-47 assault rifle and looking west down the Garden Ring that loops around central Moscow.

The statue was hoisted onto its plinth over the weekend beside a new business center.

A second metalwork sculpture, of St. George slaying a dragon with a spear tipped with a rifle sight with AK-47 written on it, stands nearby.

The Kalashnikov statues’ sculptor, Salavat Shcherbakov, is also the artist behind a towering 17-meter statue of Prince Vladimir the Great that was erected — amid controversy — outside the Kremlin in November at a ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin.

A4E87823-7F31-405E-A58C-7FE440CBDC33_w650_r0_sRussian sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov presents a model for a monument to Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, at his workshop in Moscow on November 10, 2016.

Shcherbakov told TASS news agency that the rifle was added to his original plan for the Kalashnikov statue because people might not recognize him without his signature contribution to the Soviet Army.

“So we dared to include the rifle after all,” Shcherbakov said.

Other prominent statues in the vicinity include statues to poets Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky presented plans to Putin for the Kalashnikov statue in September 2016 during a tour of the Kalashnikov arms manufacturer, headquartered in Izhevsk, the capital of the republic of Udmurtia.

The project was backed by the Russian Military-Historic Society, which is chaired by Medinsky and Rostec, the state weapons and technology conglomerate run by powerful Putin ally Sergei Chemezov.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Medinsky, Chemezov, and Kalashnikov’s daughter, Yelena Kalashnikova, were expected to attend the unveiling ceremony on September 19.

The statue was originally meant to be unveiled on January 21, marking the day in 1948 when Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov signed a decree ordering the construction of an experimental batch of Kalashnikov rifles.

But the ceremony was moved because of inclement weather to May 8, ahead of Victory Day, and then to September 19, Gunmaker Day.

Not everyone is on board with the project.

7926FEAF-D770-479A-84A0-0FB57CC87D96_w650_r0_sMikhail Kalashnikov with one of his fabled assault rifles in 2006.

Veronika Dolina, a local resident, posted a photograph of an apparent protester at the still-shrouded Kalashnikov statue holding a sign that said, “No to weapons, no to war.” She wrote: “Man at Kalashnikov pedestal. Humble hero, no posing.”

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“No to weapons, no to war.” Photo courtesy of Veronika Dolina/Facebook

Resident Natalya Seina told 360, a local media outlet, “This is not artistic, to put it mildly. This is trash. It’s loathsome.” She also noted how Kalashnikov had lived his life in Izhevsk, not Moscow, unlike playwright Anton Chekhov and poet Aleksandr Pleshchev. “These are probably more worthy people than the creator of a rifle.”

There are estimated to be as many as 200 million Kalashnikov rifles around the world —prompting one expert to label it “the Coca-Cola of small arms” — and they are manufactured in dozens of countries.

Mikhail Kalashnikov died in 2013 at the age of 94.

Defenders of the Fatherland: Yunarmiya and the Personality Cult

Russia Has Surpassed the Soviet Union: I Would Only Learn German Because Putin Spoke It
Liana Turpakova
Vechorka
February 24, 2017

Russian TV channels were dominated by the February 23 holiday yesterday. The topic of war and patriotism was off the scale at a concert held to mark the holiday, as broacast on Channel One.

Yunarmiya performing during Defender of the Fatherland Day concert, 23 February 2017, Moscow. Still from youtube.com
I watched Flight Crew, but switched to NTV during the advertising breaks. NTV was showing a film about a cop. The ad breaks on RTR and NTV would coinicide sometimes, and I would switch to Channel One. I switched one too many times and ended up watching a performance by the Katyusha Children’s Center for Aesthetics and Beauty and the patriotic organization Yunarmiya (“Youth Army”). I never did figure which was which. They are like the Young Pioneers, apparently. The kids were reciting poems with feeling and a sense of meaning, and pausing at all the right spots,  adoration beaming from their faces.

One girl recited a poem in the style of Mayakovsky, which ended as follows: “And though I were an old man getting on in years, really, in fact, basically, I would learn to speak German only because Putin had spoken it.”

The audience applauded, of course, and the camera switched to a shot of VVP and Defense Minister Shoigu, seated in the first row. They didn’t smile, but looked on seriously. Shoigu said something to Putin.

I was a Young Pioneer during the Brezhnev era. We recited lots of poems with a patriotic filling, and if they mentioned the names of Soviet leaders, those leaders were dead. I am talking about Lenin. At the time, there were no panegyric verses about the then-General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Words of gratitude were spoken, and there were slogans, but children, at least at my school, did not memorize anything of the sort. Odes to the living leader of the country were composed and declaimed only under Stalin. The parallels are obvious. And they say that insanity flourished in the Soviet Union.

I’ll take another potshot at this ecstatic orgy. How do you like the idea of building a mock-up of the Reichstag, in Patriot Park in Kubinka, for the Yunarmiya kids to storm? As Shoigu noted, they would thus have “a specific location to storm, not just any old place.” We’re talking about the same Yunarmiya kids who performed the doggerel about Putin. I am sure they fought it amongst themselves over how who would get to recite the punchline about the country’s biggest VIP. It was the girl who gets straight A’s at school and whose comportment is impeccable.

The Reichstag in Berlin. Photo courtesy of dw.com

I’m not against promoting love for one’s country. But this business about German and Putin is clearly overkill. By the way, it used to be a joke. Now it’s a patriotic poem. The times have changed.

Holiday Concert in Celebration of Defender of the Fatherland Day, 23 February 2017, in its entirety. Originally broadcast on Channel One in Russia

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Call of War

call-of-war

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

ru.callofwar.com

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

The Lowdown

the-lowdown

Despair as a Sign of the Times
The general mood of discouragement has been growing because Russia has shifted into idle, and it is unclear when and how it will end
Nikolay Mironov
Moskovsky Komsomolets
September 6, 2016

Pain and despair have seized the country. Russians are losing their jobs. They cannot pay back their debts and feed their children. Due to constant problems and the lack of apparent prospects, families are falling apart. Some make desperate decisions, finally putting an end to their lives. Russia is losing people.

In July, an employee at a sports school in Trans-Baikal Territory committed suicide after he was not paid. In early August, a married couple in Blagoveshchensk, who were up to their eyeballs in debt,. jumped from a fourteenth-floor window, leaving their young child orphaned. This spring, a father of five in Kiselyovsk in Kemerovo Region hung himself because of debts. Large numbers of similar reports have been coming from different parts of the country.

Can you live on a wage of 10,000 to 15,000 rubles a month when prices are rising continuously? [15,000 rubles is currently equivalent to approximately 200 euros. — TRR.] Or on a pension of 8,000 rubles a month? How do you raise children on this kind of money? And what if, God forbid, you have emergency expenses, for example, for expensive medical treatment, whose cost exceeds the family budget many times over? Well yes, Russia has free medical care, so to speak, but we all knew what it is really like.

It has terrible consequences. The wave of cancer patients voluntarily departing from life continues. After a series of well-publicized cases in  2014–2015, the situation has not improved this year. In mid August, a man suffering from the cancer in the Moscow Region committed suicide with explosives. In June, another cancer patient committed suicide in Yaroslavl. Despite numerous similar suicides, the Russian Health Ministry continues to claim there is no link between the suicides of cancer patients and a deficit of pain medication. Just as there is no link, of course, between the despair felt by cancer patients in our country and the state of Russian medical care, which generally gives little chance to defeat the disease to those who have no money.

According to Rosstat, 24,000 to 26,000 people take their lives each year in Russia. But the causes of this and the means of remedying the situation are not discussed seriously. Instead, Rospotrebnadzor (Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare) have drafted recommendations for reporters on how to cover suicides.

Fewer and fewer people in our country know what they are going to live on tomorrow, how they will pay for rent and medical care. Russia is plunging into poverty. People have lost their sense of stability and security. The government, on the other hand, ignores these problems. It clearly has no strategy or even tactics for solving them.

There are a gazillion “public servants” in Russia, more than in the Soviet Union, but they serve only themselves and their bosses. High-ranking officials and the business clans that have fused with them live in a secure and comfortable world, whereas the common people are forced to survive alone. The civil service has lost its effectiveness. It has turned into a caste of masters and lords from whom we cannot defend ourselves, because they are the power, while we are “cattle.”

Can fear of policemen really be a norm of a civilized life, of a civilized country? Yet lawlessness on the part of the police has remained. All the talk about combating it has been just that—talk. Here is a recent case. Igor Gubanov, a resident of Magnitogorsk, protested against police lawlessness by cutting off two of his fingers. He could find no other way of making himself heard. In January, Gubanov and his wife, who live in a communal flat, were taken to a police precinct where, according to Gubanov, policemen raped his wife. A criminal investigation was launched, but soon the police investigators closed it, accusing the victimized woman of making false charges.

Despair is felt not only by people who have decided to commit shocking acts. The overall mood of discouragement has been increasing due to the fact Russia has shifted into idle and got stuck in the doldrums, and it is unclear when and how it will end.

The national anthem and memories are all that remain of the once-great country: outer space, victories, and prestige. The country’s most recent major achievements happened fifty years ago. The “unbreakable union” has been replaced by “our great power Russia,” but what is next? Great and poor, great and impoverished. Do these notions go together? How long can we live like this?

The Russian welfare state exists only on paper. Such declarations, by the way, have also been inscribed in the constitutions of Latin American, African, and Asian countries. A Brazilian in his favela reads that he lives in an wonderful welfare state, and he is amazed. The same is true of our fellow Russians, with their miserable wages and pensions. True, unlike their brothers from the country “where many wild monkeys live,” they do not live in huts yet. But, as they say, the night is young.

The main problem nowadays is that the country lacks a locomotive capable of pulling it out of crisis. The regime is concerned only with self-preservation. Officialdom is corrupt, inefficient, and lacking any strategic benchmarks. The “elite” (which I put in quotations, because they really are not the best people in the country) have been thoroughly denationalized: they have no stake in developing Russia. Until a normal and non-corrupt state makes the “elite” serve the country, it will never move it forward. In this case, what is wanted is the bloody-mindedness of a Peter the Great, who once put an end to mestnichestvo and forced the boyars and gentry to serve the country, or the statesmanship of Alexander II, who abolished serfdom over the lamentations of the landlords.

Instead, pro-government spin doctors have been increasingly ratcheing up the propaganda machine, searching for enemies, and heavily sugarcoating reality. Jingoism has already bored everyone to death. The people directing the show do not believe in it themselves, and the audience has stopped believing in it as well, despite the sunny ideology foisted on them, because Russia is running in place, and no one is solving its problems. The propaganda spiel that enemies are to blame for everything is still functioning, but even it cannot serve as a perennial explanation for each new outburst of social turmoil and, especially, the government’s extremely poor performance. So fine, Obama is a bad guy, but what does that have to do with indexing pensions?

The only thing the regime can really boast about is reinforcing itself. But it is a regime presiding over a country losing its vitality. As a priority, the self-preservation of the “elite” deprives Russia of the chance to put itself back in motion. Yet the purged political arena, in which there is almost no opposition to speak of, much less plain old independent people who think about their country, has stopped generating leaders. There is only one leader left in the country, and he presides over a multilayered horde of bosses and oligarchs, embezzlers and dolts  perched on their estates and thinking only of themselves.

Except for United Russia, a product of the same regime, Russia’s political parties have no weight nationwide. The same goes for grassroots organizations. The media have been muzzled. Those who try and shout louder than the rest face either a harsh crackdown or a trivial payoff. Many people have taken to making oppositional noises in the hope they will be paid to shut up. Imitating protest has become a business, just like imitating patriotism. Amid the mob of clowns and crooks, the reasonable speeches made by the few real patriots who are rooting not for themselves but for their country are drowned out by the overall senseless din.

By eliminating potential enemies, the regime has also destroyed the very possibility of an alternative emerging, of a reboot. The current policies are clearly ineffective, but what and who should replace them? Reasonable prescriptions, for example, for supporting the national non-oil economy and import substitution, restoring consumer demand through social assistance to an impoverished population, ending capital flight, going after offshore companies, and clamping down hard on corruption have been voiced. These ideas, however, have come from second- and third-rank players who can advise the authorities but cannot demand anything from them. So the regime has ignored them year after year, thus exacerbating the crisis.

I am not trying to whip up a frenzy. I would like to say something positive, but the situation is firmly deadlocked. It is clear what reforms are needed. It also clear how to implement them and where to begin: with the “elite,” the civil service, the budget, and the tax system. The only open question is who would be capable of doing all this. We have already talked about the government. Russia’s active middle class is small, and it is extremely demoralized. We are left with the rank-and-file population, who have suffered most from the crisis and seemingly have a stake in launching reforms. But for the time being only a few ordinary people have been willing to take responsibility, allowing the regime quickly to localize protests, as happened with the farmers.

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Nikolay Mironov. Photo courtesy of the Center for Economic and Political Reform (Moscow)

In the current environment, self-organization, society teaming up with honest people in the civil service and law enforcement, could be effective. Those honest people are undoubtedly there, but not in leadership roles. The country needs a grassroots organization, a movement, a party that could unite people and impose its own rules on the authorities. Society has to make the first move itself, which will serve as a signal to the honest people inside the system. We have to get the ball rolling.

Responsibility for what will become of the Motherland and us tomorrow lies with each of us today. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

All we have to do is not be silent, not relinquish our right to speak and act to someone else, not to count on an unknown savior of the Fatherland showing up. If he has not saved the country already, why would he do it now? And, needless to say, do not be afraid. We have to overcome our isolation to put an end to the senseless suicides, severed fingers, and broken lives, to put an end finally to the shameless plunder of the people and the export of the loot abroad. Even the smallest action, as long as it is collective, carries more weight than the most desperate individual deed.

We can, of course, wait for the moment when the country finally goes to hell in a hand basket, as in Tsarist Russia or the late Soviet Union. But do we really have to go through turmoil and destruction every time we need a new impulse to development? Are victims so necessary to the process of recovery?

The country is at a standstill, and the dump truck of history is rushing toward it. There are two options. Either we start the engine and drive, or we wait to get run over and tossed onto the roadside.

Nikolay Mironov is head of the Center for Economic and Political Reform, in Moscow, and a frequent columnist for Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. I published a translation of his column “Whipping Bear: Why the President Needs a ‘Bad’ Prime Minister” in June 2016. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sean Guillory for the heads-up. Photo by the Russian Reader

Vlad Kolesnikov: A Real Russian Hero for Russia Day

“At the military enlistment office, I turned on the Ukrainian national anthem”: 17-year-old Vlad Kolesnikov talks about his decision to combat Putin’s propaganda
Dmitry Volchek
June 10, 2015
svoboda.org

Vlad Kolesnikov

Hundreds of people have been writing to Vlad Kolesnikov, a 17-year-old technical college student from Podolsk. They have been writing with offers of assistance and shelter, and to thank him and advise him to be more careful.

“I cannot express in words the emotions I feel reading Facebook,” says Vlad, his voice trembling with emotion. “There has been so much support from strangers, it is simply incredible.”

Vlad has acquired a lot of friends on the Internet, but his own grandfather, a former KGB officer, has condemned him. At the technical college where he studied he was assaulted. (Vlad asked not to write that he had been beaten up: “It was only a split lip, a couple of bruises, a couple of blows to the head, and three drops of blood.”) And now the police have taken an interest in him.

And all because Vlad Kolesnikov not only does not hide his political views but has also decided to declare them openly.

​​Vlad Kolesnikov: Putin sits with his pack of criminals and runs the country with the aid of powerful propaganda. This is my subjective opinion. Maybe I am wrong, but I believe it is true. You know the Russian media have been vigorously promoting the image of khokhly [a Russian term of abuse for Ukrainians] and pindosy [a Russian term of abuse for Americans] as enemies. I also supported this until I watched a video on YouTube. It was 2014, and I will probably never forget it, because the video changed my life. The content of the video was completely banal. It was just an American family. The wife is Russian, the husband, American. He gives her a gift, they go to a shooting range. And instead of the propaganda we get—that it is a fascist regime where everyone is obsessed with sex and money, and everyone betrays each other—I saw people like myself. The only difference was that they smiled more. Since then I have been digging more, looking for different kinds of information, and reading the western press. I have realized the Russian media makes lots of mistakes, exaggerates, and in most cases just blatantly lies.

Radio Svoboda: And your relations with your relatives have been complicated because of the fact they do not share your views?

Vlad Kolesnikov: Yes. And not only my relations with relatives, but with everyone, you could say. I know only two people who more or less share my views: my friend Nikolai Podgornov and one other person whom I won’t name. But all the people I know—my whole college, all my relatives—they are all against me. It is just Nikolai and me,

Radio Svoboda: You and Nikolai decided to hang up a banner in Podolsk that read, “Fuck the war”?

Vlad Kolesnikov: Yes, it all started when I was at the military enlistment commission and told them I did not want to serve in the army and did not want to fight against my brethren. Maybe that sounds sentimental, but that is the way it is. We decided we could not tolerate it anymore and would voice it openly. First, we wanted to hang a banner in Moscow, but then we thought it would be torn down quickly, and so we looked for a good place in Podolsk. We walked around for a long time and found a building with an accessible rooftop in the middle of town and decided to hang the banner there. We went to a fabrics shop. We bought a five-meter-long piece of cloth. We spent a long time picking out cloth that would be sturdier. We bought paint. This is expensive for a college student, but it was worth it. We spent all night making the banner and sitting on the rooftop. We fastened the banner to iron cables so that it would hang longer, and we locked the door [to the rooftop] so that it would take the police longer to get in. They had to summon the Emergency Situations Ministry guys. I think we gained two or three hours more time on them that way.kolesnikov-2

Radio Svoboda: You told the military enlistment commission straight out that you did not want to fight?

Vlad Kolesnikov: I don’t have very good eyesight, so I am not fit for military service. I went through the medical examination, and there was I before the draft board. There were tables shaped like the letter П set up there, and the people who did the assessments were seated at these tables. I had the Ukrainian national anthem recorded on my telephone. I don’t like the Russian national anthem, because I consider it mendacious. Everything it says about freedom and so on is just pure rubbish. Before entering the room I decided to turn on the Ukrainian anthem, because I do not support the Russian army at all and consider serving in it disgraceful. So I turned on the Ukrainian anthem and said, “Guys, I’m not going to fight in the Russian army.”

Radio Svoboda: Vlad, you would agree that you are a very unusual young man. You are immune to propaganda, and are fearless to boot.

Vlad Kolesnikov:  In fact, I was just lucky. I just did not have a TV for a certain time, and I did not watch the news. And when I got a TV, I turned it on and saw the nonsense that was going on there. I turned right to that program where [TV journalist Dmitry] Kiselyov fiercely argued that the hearts of gays should be burned. I was sitting there and thinking, Is this a comedy show? Then I realized that a new kind of news had emerged in Russia. It is hardcore, and produced in keeping with all of Goebbels’s principles of propaganda: enemies surround us, the country has been occupied. Total drivel.

Radio Svoboda: So, you turned on the Ukrainian national anthem at the military enlistment commission. The members of the draft board were probably stunned when they heard it, no?

Vlad Kolesnikov:  It was something incredible. Some people were dumfounded. Others jumped up and shouted, “What are you doing? Do you know where you are?” After a while, a man came running in. He took me to a separate room and laid two certificates in front of me. One said that I had problems with my eyesight, which is true. The other said that I had a personality disorder and something else. In short, the military enlistment commission had assigned me to the loonies, because I had gone in there playing the Ukrainian anthem and expressed my opinion. That was a turning point. When that certificate was put in front of me, I realized I would not put up with this anymore. I had simply gone in there, and I was immediately classified as a loony.

Radio Svoboda: And there is your latest feat. You came to school in a t-shirt with the Ukrainian flag on it.

Kolesnikov arrived at school with an Ukrainian flag on his chest

​​

Vlad Kolesnikov: Yes. I had voiced my political views earlier at the college, and had often argued with the teachers on this score. As you can imagine, nothing good had come of this, but neither did anything super bad, except lowered marks and other trifles. But then it got fun. Near the college, I immediately met the class teacher. At our college, they are called professional masters. I will never forget that look. At first, he looked at me like a normal, decent person. Then he saw what I had on my t-shirt. He looked up at me, and I saw this hatred! Then I went upstairs and walked into the classroom. Within five minutes, the people sitting in front of me turned around (I was sitting in the back row) and said, “Kolesnikov, should we smash your face in now or later?” Well, just you try, I said. As you know, they kept their promises, not that day, however, but a few days later, after I had published my posts, when they had heard a lot of interesting things about themselves. I can argue my position, why I think Crimea was annexed, why Donbas was occupied. I have arguments, I have facts, and I know people who served there. On TV, they say there are no Russian troops there. In reality, of course, it is the other way round. They could not come up with convincing arguments. It all came down to my being a disgrace to the country, and I should tear the flag from my shirt. It is an interesting policy, actually. It turns out if you express your opinion you are disgrace to the country.

The inscription on the flag reads, “Give Crimea Back!”

Vlad Kolesnikov was forced to leave college (he was immediately expelled) and leave Podolsk. His grandfather, with whom he lived, also did not share his political views and sent his grandson to his father in Zhigulyovsk. It was just in time. Kolesnikov called his grandfather to say he had arrived safely and heard the disturbing news that two police officers had come and asked where he had got the Ukrainian flag and where his t-shirt was now.

“All democrats in Russia were sent into exile, and that is how I feel now, as if I am in exile. Many people are now advising me to go to Kiev. But that is the most extreme option. If someone thinks I will sit this out, get a foreign travel passport, leave for Ukraine, and that will be the end of it, they are mistaken. For now, I am planning after Zhigulyovsk to return to Moscow and do a couple of protest pickets,” promises fearless Vlad Kolesnikov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE. Vlad Kolesnikov was found dead on December 25, apparently from an overdose of prescription drugs.

* * * * * *

Russia Day (Russian: День России, Den’ Rossii) is the national holiday of the Russian Federation, celebrated on June 12. It has been celebrated every year since 1992. The First Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on June 12, 1990.

Ilya Matveev: The New Putinist Stability?

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Events are unfolding in plain sight, and strange as it might seem, the flood of disinformation cannot prevent us from seeing a quite simple picture.

The subway workers’ union had long warned of the danger, and there had generally been a lot of reports in the press on the growing number of accidents in the Moscow Metro, and now there has been a new fatal accident.

The last couple of weeks, Russian media had reported constantly about how deftly the separatists had learned to use the Buk surface-to-air missile system and how many Ukrainian airplanes had been shot down. Just before news of the Malaysian airliner broke, reports had managed to surface—in “Strelkov’s dispatches,” in the media, everywhere—that the militants had shot down another Ukrainian transport plane. The plane turned out to be the civilian jetliner.

Recent articles in Vedomosti newspaper and especially leaks at b0ltai.wordpress.com make it easy to piece together the fiscal and economic situation in Russia. The country is in an “autonomous” recession, meaning one caused by internal factors. The resources for growth have been exhausted, and there is no money for Crimea or for executing Putin’s May 2012 presidential decrees. The government is preparing to respond with austerity measures: the abolition of free medical care for nonworking citizens, tax increases, and another raid on retirement savings. For now the situation is rough but not catastrophic. At the same time the overall trajectory is clear: there will be less and less money, and it will be ordinary people who pay the bills.

However, there is no one to protest: all the country’s internal contradictions, which were somehow politically articulated in 2011-2013, have been crushed by the Crimean steamroller, and the opposition is divided and marginalized. The population has closed ranks around the new Putin “geopolitics,” becoming an aggressively frightened mass. Any possibility of electoral protest has been completely blocked off: with stunning cynicism, the field has been purged in the run-up to municipal elections in Moscow and Petersburg.

We can see that the new system is closed upon itself: the geopolitical adventures are needed, ultimately, only to strengthen Putin’s personal power, to maintain his sky-high rating. The exact same role is performed by mega-events like the Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. Yet the economic cost of the geopolitics and mega-events will be huge, and people themselves will foot the bill (for sanctions, for Crimea, for kickbacks). However, the imperialist ideology surrounding the events for which they are paying out of their pockets will prevent them from articulating their protest politically. It is a paradox, but a paradox that has already been observed in history. Recall, for one, Marx’s remark that Louis Bonaparte ruled in the name of the peasant masses (who supported him at elections) but against the interests of these masses.

This new period of stability might last as long as the previous one. No, it is no longer the apolitical period of stability of the noughties, but it might prove no less stable.

Ilya Matveev is an editor of OpenLeft.Ru, a member of the PS Lab research group, a lecturer in political theory at the North-West Institute of Management (Petersburg), a PhD student at the European University (Petersburg), and a member of the central council of the University Solidarity trade union.