The Helmets Come Off

The Helmets Come Off
Alexander Skobov
Grani.ru
January 24, 2021

Alexander Skobov. Photo: Anna Plitman/Grani.ru

Ksenia Sobchak has equated the cruelty and violence against a woman who was kicked in the stomach by a riot policeman with the violence and cruelty against a riot policeman’s helmet, which was kicked around [during Saturday’s anti-Putin rallies] by “radicals.”

“This is all, or almost all, that you need to know about Ksenia Sobchak’s mental makeup,” writes Igor Yakovenko. It’s almost everything, because Sobchak’s short text contains another interesting tidbit. She also argues that resistance to tyranny is not only futile, but also harmful, because it pushes tyranny to get tougher. The “unbroken generation” will simply have to be “broken.” The bloodthirsty lady recommends relaxing and having fun.

In some ways, however, it is worth heeding Sobchak. We should not, indeed, hope for a “thaw,” for concessions from the authorities. The Putin regime is organically incapable of this, for the whole thing is built on criminal grandstanding. The very flesh and blood of the “new Putin elite,” Sobchak knows what she is talking about.

The criminal grandstanding is just a shell. The bottom line is that Putin’s regime  carried the germ of fascism from the get-go, and now this “alien” is finally hatching from the egg. The ruling class abhors liberal democracy, with its rule of law and its prioritization of human rights. It hates everything that limits its power over the serfs, and now it is trying to finally tear off the “hybrid” liberal-democratic bunting.

A riot policeman in Petersburg kicks a woman in the stomach when she attempts to ask why they have detained the young man they are escorting, January 23, 2021. Video: Fontanka.ru. Courtesy of Mediazona

Of course, the regime will respond to the protests with a further tightening of the screws—with new criminal cases, with new pogroms of opposition organizations, with new repressive and prohibitive laws. It will try and break the unbroken generation broken. I’m afraid that the new generation will not manage to avoid having this life experience. It must firmly understand that the current regime is an enemy with which compromise is impossible, and so everyone is faced with an extremely simple and tough choice of what way to choose in life.

One way is to capitulate, relax, have fun, and eventually become an accomplice of riot policemen who kick women in the stomach. The other way is to stand up for your own dignity, despite the price you have to pay for it, to resist by all available means, and ultimately to overthrow Putin’s fascist regime. And not worry about the fact that, meanwhile, some people are kicking a riot policeman’s helmet around.

The prospect of such a tough choice scares those who are used to living according to the principle voiced by a character in the epoch-making TV series Gangster Petersburg, a corrupt cop who was fond of saying, “I’m mean, but in moderation.” The fascist system increasingly and imperiously demands that they go beyond the moderate meanness that they are used to deeming permissible for themselves. And they feel uncomfortable about it.

Hence Sobchak’s long-standing complaints about escalating confrontation and mutual bitterness, about black-and-white thinking that admits no shades of gray. She now has to solve a truly existential question: who is she? A woman, or a riot police helmet?

Sobchak has not said anything fundamentally new. She has consistently defended the Putin regime from revolution. After all, revolution is worse than when a woman is kicked in the stomach. Revolution is when a riot policeman’s helmet is kicked around.

Protesters snowballing riot police on Tsvetnoy Boulevard in Moscow yesterday, January 23, 2021. Courtesy of Ksenia Larina’s Facebook page

The power of today’s protest was far from enough for revolution. Its reserves of strengths are unknown. In any case, it proved much more powerful than those who believed Fukuyama had expected. No one can predict when and why Putin’s autocratic fascist regime will be overthrown, and who will overthrow it. We must be prepared for a long period of resistance under a repressive dictatorship.

To avoid coming apart during this period, we must nurture in ourselves not only faith in the beautiful Russia of the future, but also a hatred of lies, meanness, and violence—a hatred for the powerful scoundrels who have trampled law and justice to death, a hatred for riot police who kick a woman in stomach, and a hatred for their helmets.

Five days ago, Alexander Skobov reported on his Facebook page that he had been summoned by the FSB for questioning at 2 p.m., January 27, 2021, at its Petersburg headquarters. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Conscience of Petersburg, The Conscience of Ukraine

osipova-sentsov-nevsky-1 june 2018Artist Yelena Osipova, protesting on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya in Petersburg four hours ago. Her placard reads, “2018, the 21st century. A filmmaker gets twenty years [in prison] for dissidence. Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike. He demands the release of sixty-four Ukrainians from Russian prisons. Save him. Don’t be silent.” Photo by Yekaterina Bogach

UPDATE. Yelena Osipova was detained by police two hours later. Grigory Mikhnov-Voytenko captured the arrest on video. Thanks to Comrade Nastia for the heads-up. 

______________________

Fears grow for hunger-striking Ukrainian film director Sentsov
AFP
June 1, 2018

Fears grew on Thursday for the health of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov who has declared a hunger strike in a Russian prison, with a politician who spoke to him via video link saying he appeared unwell and warning “this could end badly.”

The 41-year-old went on hunger strike on May 14, demanding that Moscow release all its Ukrainian political prisoners as Russia prepares to host the 2018 World Cup next month.

Sentsov, a pro-Ukrainian activist and documentary director, was detained in Crimea in 2014 after Russia annexed the peninsula. He was accused of masterminding arson attacks.

Sentsov, who denied the allegations, is serving a 20-year sentence after being convicted on terrorism charges.

Politician and media star Ksenia Sobchak said she spoke to Sentsov in a video call on Thursday and tried to persuade him to halt his hunger strike but he refused.

“I am horrified because I understand that he looks like a man who will go all the way,” she told liberal radio Echo of Moscow.

“And, honestly speaking, this frightened me,” she said, adding that her mother, Lyudmila Narusova, [a member of the Federation Council], helped organize the call to Sentsov’s prison.

“I have a feeling that this hunger strike will end badly,” she said.

“He is very pale, very thin,” she said, adding that his teeth have begun to crumble.

On Monday, Russia’s prison service said Sentsov agreed to “receive supportive therapy,” without providing further details.

The prison service said his condition was “satisfactory.”

Sentsov’s lawyer Dmitry Dinze said on Thursday he had no recent contact with his client but was going to visit him on Monday.

He said the director was stable, but confirmed Sentsov had lost two teeth.

“The climate does not agree with him,” he said, adding that there was no dentist in his prison so teeth have to be pulled out.

Top opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is serving a 30-day sentence over organising an illegal protest, called on President Vladimir Putin to release more than 60 “Ukrainian political prisoners” including Sentsov.

“His feat, and his sacrifice, and his death will put him on a par with Bobby Sands, (Anatoly) Marchenko, and other titans of humankind,” he wrote on his blog, adding Putin should want to avoid this.

Irish nationalist Sands died in prison in 1981 after 66 days on hunger strike, while Soviet dissident Anatoly Marchenko died in prison in 1986 after a three-month-long hunger strike for the release of Soviet prisoners of conscience.

Valery Dymshits: After the Fight

DSCN4942Poster: “March 18, 2018. Russian Presidential Election. Russian Central Election Commission.” || Graffiti: “This is not an election.” Dixie grocery store, Central District, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Valery Dymshits
Facebook
March 20, 2018

After the Fight

I wrote so often about the election or, rather, the non-election, that it is time to sum up.

I admit I had hoped for a qualitative decrease in turnout, but it is true we did not manage to achieve this.

Of course, the feverish ideas (I heard them voiced more than once, alas) that if it were not for the boycott, the “forces of good” either would have returned a mystical 10% of the vote tally (whatever for?) or made it into the second round (yes, yes, I read such claims with my own eyes) have nothing to do with reality. The fact the turnout was a few percentage points less, and Putin got a few percentage points more, makes no difference at all to anyone.

Nevertheless, I continue to regard the boycott as the right choice. Here is the reason for my stubbornness.

It is self-evident the election—not the day of March 18, but the process—was god knows what, only it was not an election.

Accordingly, the feeling of disgust kept many people from voting. Disgust is a worthy emotion. But that is not my point here.

In so-called normal countries, candidates and parties fight over half a percentage point, and a threepercent difference is deemed a crushing victory or crushing defeat. In our archaic autocracy, the regime and the populace communicate with each other in a language of symbols. As soon as it transpired the Kremlin was planning to fight for a 70% turnout and 70% of the total vote tally, I immediately realized the Kremlin wanted fifty percent of all possible voters, plus or minus one percent, to come out and vote for Putin and—voilà!—a 65% turnout and a 75% share of votes cast is exactly 50% of all potential voters. Meaning the Kremlin’s statement was purely symbolic and qualitative. Qualitative, symbolic collective action was, likewise, the only possible counterargument. It largely did not come off, but there were no other gestures of resistance except the boycott. The attempt to talk back to the regime quantitatively—for example, Yabloko’s responding to the argument “we have half of all voters” with the rejoinder “but we have 10% of everyone who voted” (i.e., “you have 50%, but we have a whole 5%”)—was ridiculous. Now, if it had been possible to counter the claim “we are robustly supported by half of the populace” with the countargument “ha-ha, you have the support of no more than a third of the populace,” but, alas, it proved impossible.

It is clear the numerous violations, committed here and there by zealots who were not thinking straight, generated a certain stench on election day, but I don’t imagine they had a serious impact on the outcome. It was the outcome that sincerely floored me.

The issue of voter turnout, so hysterically raised by the regime, had nothing to do with a fear of Navalny and the boycott, but with the fact that in the absence of real suspense and real rivals, Russians would be reluctant to go out and vote for Putin, who would be elected anyway. After Navalny was not allowed to run, it was impossible to generate any suspense, so the regime combined the carrot and the stick. Russians were driven and dragged to polling stations by the gazillions.

I would like to make a slight digression. First of all, you can make people who are subordinate and dependent—state employees and employees of state corporations—vote by forcing them or threatening them. The state’s share in the economy has been growing continuously: in 2005, the state controlled 35% of the Russian economy, while it now controls around 70%. That means the numbers of dependent Russians have also been growing.

The Kremlin felt it was vital to drag lazy Russians to the polls whatever the cost. As for voting as they should, they would do that all on their lonesome. The Kremlin knew they would do it, but I didn’t. I thought more or less that people would feel their weekend had been ruined. They had been forced to go somewhere and then forced to report back to their superiors. How swinish! So these people would do something spiteful: vote for Grudinin, vote for Sobchak, vote for Yavlinsky, vote for a four-letter word.

No, since they were dragged all the way to the polling stations anyway, enticed with carrots and prodded with sticks, they voted for Putin.

This is an important albeit gloomy outcome. It means the regime relies on a not terribly active but quite considerable majority. It means the regime can do whatever it likes with whomever it likes, and will be able to do so for a long time to come.  Previously, it could do a lot of things, but not everything. Now, however, it can do anything. Strictly speaking, things have been this way for several years, but now it has been proven in a large-scale, expensive experiment. It is like in the Arabian tales: destroy a city, build a palace, jail a director, close a university, etc., just for the heck of it, just for the fun of it. This does not mean the regime will immediately start throwing its bulks around in all directions, but it can. A clear awareness of this circumstance should make us feel bleak.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Socialist Movement: What Does the Presidential Election Show Us?

“March 2018. Russian Presidential Election: We Elect a President, We Choose a Future!” || “March 2018. Russian Presidential Election: Nice Scenery, Bad Play!” Photo courtesy of the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)

Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)
Facebook
March 19, 2018

What Has the “Election” Shown Us?

It has shown us that the system for mobilizing dependent Russians (employees, servicemen, etc.) by management at all levels still functions, and that the managers in question (governors, factory directors, and heads of state-sector institutions) are still loyal to the regime. Putin’s personal power rests on the vulnerability of workers, who in Russia have been deprived of the right to strike. It also rests on the loyalty of the bureaucratic caste and corrupted business world, apathy and conformism, and control of the media.

In managed democracy’s topsy-turvy world, voter turnout and Putin’s total share of the vote are indices of political indifference, while boycotting the spectacle is a manifestation of civic activism. Elections in Russia have finally transmogrified into something like an oath of allegiance to the so-called national leader, which has nothing to do with a democratic expression of the popular will.

Undoubtedly, along with the administrative resource, the conservatism of a generation traumatized by the chaotic 1990s, the post-Crimea syndrome, and the careful casting of Putin’s opponents played their role. The Kremlin did its all to divide the forces of protest. Strawberry king Pavel Grudinin served as a scarecrow for voters who did not want a return to the Soviet Union, while Ksenia Sobchak exacerbated the fears of pro-Soviet conservatives vis-à-vis Yeltsinite liberals.

Supporters of the boycott were targeted for assaults and crackdowns. Despite the fact the Voters Strike did not produce a drop in the turnout (too many powerful forces were put into play for that to happen), non-participation in ersatz democracy was the only viable stance, the best option among a host of bad choices. Serving as polling station monitors on election day, we saw what props up both “voluntary” and forced voting. We are glad we did not support this well-rehearsed stunt with our own votes. Russia faces another six years of disempowerment, poverty, lies, and wars—but not in our name.

Only those people who were hoping for a miracle could be disappointed today. Grudinin, whose fans predicted he would make it into the second round, returned worse results than Gennady Zyuganov did in 2012. Some analysts expected that the candidate of the patriotic leftist camp would steal votes from Putin’s conservative electorate, but that did not happen. Nor did Grudinin convince chronic non-voters to go to the polls, since he did not offer them anything new.

Presidential elections, obviously, are not a focal point of politics and an opportunity for change. They are a mode of manipulating public opinion meant to leave everything the way it was.

We need a new politics that undermines the power structures making it possible to manipulate the populace in the interests of the elite. We need a politics that takes on the power of management over employees, the power of the patriarchy over women and young people, and the power of the bureaucracy over local self-government. Since electoral politics has essentially been banned, the democratic leftist movement must rely on nonconformist communities opposed to Putinism in the workplace, education and culture, city and district councils, the media, and the streets.

Only in this way, not as the result of yet more heavy-handed maneuvering by the regime or the opposition to fill the ever more obvious void of popular democratic (i.e., leftist) politics, can a force emerge that is a real alternative to the system. We are going to keep working on shaping that force.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Igor Averkiev: Elections That Kill Democracy

photoIgor Averkiev

There Are Elections That Build Democracy, and Elections That Kill It: The Tricks Is Not to Confuse Them
Igor Averkiev
igor-averkiev.com
March 13, 2018

1. If you relate to elections solely as a value, you will never grasp their essence. You will never tame them.

2. In the modern world, the presence of elections per se in a particular country is neither an achievement nor a value, except for liberal democratic fundamentalists. In the modern world, it is the political outcome of elections that is an achievement and value. In some countries, elections build democracy, while in other countries they kill democracy. In Russia, they kill democracy.

3. There are about two hundred countries in the modern world. The vast majority of them (around one hundred and eighty) hold elections more or less regularly. Around fifty countries in this vast majority are more or less classic democracies. There are another forty countries that hold elections and are more or less classic authoritarian regimes. The other hundredsome countries that hold elections are ruled by a variety of transitional, semi-authoritarian, and hybrid regimes. Meaning that elections per se do not vouchsafe democracy at all. Morever, in most of the world’s countries, people voting in elections does not produce democracy.

4. Elections are merely a social know-how that can be used by anyone for any purpose.  Know-how is a simple thing: if you wield it, you can profit from it in keeping with your interests. An axe is similar in this respect. It matters who wields it: a carpenter or a killer. In the hands of some people, elections produce a democratic regime, while in the hands of others they produce an authoritarian regime. Democracy is not programmed into electoral know-how itself. Democratic elections thus coexist on our planet with authoritarian elections: everything is decided by the person who presides over the elections. If you want elections in Russia to produce democracy, first you have to gain control of them. Elections serve democracy only when they are monitored at all phases by political forces with a stake in democracy. Nor is it only a matter of monitoring the tallying of votes.

5. Elections serve democracy only when the question of power has already been resolved to the benefit of pro-democratic forces or during an unstable transition period in which an authoritarian regime is still in power, but can longer dismiss pro-democratic forces out of hand. Therefore, in order to use elections to advance democratic interests, they must first be taken away from the old authoritarian boss. Or he must be so scared he has to take the interests of pro-democratic forces into account when elections are held. There is no other way. This is how things are done the world over, but millions of freedom-loving Russians for some reason still believe that regularly going to vote in elections presided over by someone else will in itself hasten democracy’s victory in Russia.

6. What is democracy? I won’t go into high-flown arguments, but the democracy that freedom-loving Russians like so much gels only when the country is run by politicians who have no desire to restrict political competition. They are willing, if push comes to shove, to lose elections; moreover, they are willing to accept defeat until the next elections. That’s all there is to it. That is why there is no democracy in Russia: because the people in power restrict political competition and have no intention of losing elections under any circumstances, much less accepting defeat. They are assisted in their restriction of political competition by the selfsame democratic know-how and institutions. It is just that without democratic politicians inhabiting them, this know-how and these institutions are only formally democratic, not democratic in fact.

7. The pro-democratic forces include not only the liberal democratic parties but also all political and civic organizations—leftist, nationalist, imperialist, religious, environmentalist, alternative leftist, alternative rightist, etc.—whose political interests are not bound up with Vladimir Putin’s personalist regime, who have no plans to limit political competition in Russia, and are willing, depending on the outcomes of elections, not only to come to power but also to cede power. Putin’s authoritarian regime can be opposed only by a broad pro-democracy coalition, without necessarily becoming a formal coalition. The trial version of this broad pro-democracy coalition presented itself to the country during the nationwide protest movement that kicked off in December 2011. We should not expect extremely well-coordinated joint actions from a broad pro-democracy coalition. (The “Decembrists” overplayed their hand in this respect.) It is enough to head in the same direction along more or less parallel routes, coordinating actions at certain critical points.

8. An electoral authoritarian regime, such as Russia’s, is organized quite simply. All the democratic know-how a modern country is supposed to have—elections, representation, separation of powers—functions smoothly, but not all comers have access to it. It is even simpler than that. An authoritarian regime simply does not allow potential competitors, that is, leaders and organizations, to get on their feet politically and grow organizationally to the extent they would be able to surpass the two- or three-percent minimumthreshold of votes needed for admission to the political arena. It does this by refusing to register parties, intimidating leaders, limiting freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in a pinpoint fashion, etc. If, despite everything, they nevertheless grow and thrive, they are simply not admitted to elections, as I have mentioned. In Russia, therefore, democratic procedures do not serve democracy. The soul of democracy is not know-how, procedures, and institutions, but people willing to use them in a particular way. In Russia, politicians interested in democracy simply do not make it into formal democratic politics. Thanks to the political regime built by Vladimir Putin, year after year only pro-authoritarian political forces make it into Russia’s formally democratic politics, and year after year they limit the involvement of pro-democratic forces in democratic procedures. It is a vicious circle. There is democracy, and there is no democracy at the same. Putin’s authoritarian regime is even elegant after a fashion.

9. Elections in authoritarian countries do not increase the supply of democracy, nor do they prepare the way for it, since they do not facilitate competition, do not put the opposition through its paces, and do not put rank-and-file voters in circumstances where the country’s fortunes depend on the choices they make. In authoritarian countries, elections function as a full-fledged authoritarian institution for legitimizing the regime. In authoritarian countries, elections are required only as a source of power, nothing more. Everyone involved in these elections is involved solely in legitimizing the regime. They are doing nothing else.

10. In authoritarian and hybrid countries, including modern Russia, elections have another vital political function. Elections are also an outlet for the liberal public, a valve, installed by the regime, for releasing oppositional steam and keeping opposition politicians busy somehow. The Putin regime has used elections to satisfy the need many freedom-loving Russians have to “fight for democracy” in a safe, comfortable way, a way that lets them feel like decent dissidents honestly doing their duty. Everyone comes out on top. The liberal public engages in self-actualization, and the regime does not find it frightening.

11. If the liberal democratic opposition’s sole aim is symbolic involvement in election campaigns within the authoritarian regime, but year after year the regime does not permit it to grow politically and organizationally, and does not allow it to run in elections, the opposition will gradually wither and become marginalized. This, in fact, is the kind of opposition we have nowadays. If we realize, however, that elections serve democracy only after the question of power has been decided to the benefit of pro-democratic forces, it means we need a different opposition altogether, one radically different from the opposition that has filled the niche the past fifteen years. We need a liberal democratic opposition that is not hung up on being involved in meaningless elections governed by someone else’s hostile rules. We need an opposition focused on vigorous, direct political action and a propaganda duel (a fight over values) with the regime in order to command the attention and respect of the so-called Putinist majority, those very same “ordinary people” who, when a window of opportunity opens, would at least not oppose the new, free-minded political alternative. There is a big problem with the word “new,” however.

12. The creation of a new, free-minded opposition is encumbered by the liberal democratic fundamentalism that holds sway in the minds of Russia’s freedom-loving public. One manifestation of this fundamentalism is, in fact, the irrational cult of elections: all elections are good, regardless of their political essence and their consequences. Two other burdens are the extreme political impracticality and even archaicism of today’s liberal democratic platform. Currently, we have nothing to offer people from the standpoint of a future regime. Here is a simple question. What can we offer the average Russian family, something they would really need and value, that the Putin regime either cannot give them or promise them? The keywords in this case are “really need and value.” Moreover, in the obviously adverse conditions of a post-Putin Russia, the current liberal democratic prescriptions would necessarily lead the country into new crises the very first year they were implemented and, consequently, to new outbursts of the conservative revolution. It is ridiculous to discuss this with educated people, but thinking outside the box is now more important than doing things. At very least, it is more important than running off to vote in Putin’s elections.

13. For free-minded Russians and Russian politicians, the issue today is not how to win Putin’s authoritarian elections, but how to behave and build a reputation in society today in order to win future democratic elections in which the former so-called Putinist majority would be among the voters. If you want to facilitate the collapse of the Putin regime, you need to work less with the Putinist state and more with the Putinist majority.

14. The main problem freedom-loving Russians face in the impending presidential election is not what choice to make, whether to vote or not, and certainly not who they should vote for. The main problem is that whatever choice each of us makes—to vote or not vote, to vote for Yavlinsky or Sobchak—it will have no impact whatsoever on the fortunes of Vladimir Putin and his political regime. Any electoral action we take will change nothing about the election or the regime. Judging by various opinion polls [sic], there are between ten and fifteen million of us in Russia. Even if we assume the incredible—that all of us would act in concert in this election, and thanks to our monitoring the elections themselves would be extraordinarily fair—we cannot have a significant impact on the outcome of the election, even if each of us to the last man boycotted it or we all voted for Ksenia Sobchak or Grigory Yavlinsky.

15. Everything is seemingly quite simple. In Putin’s Russia, elections have nothing to do with building democracy and vanquishing the Putin regime. Why, however, does something so evident not get through to many advocates of liberty and diversity in Russia? How did the perverted cult of mandatory involvement in all elections take hold among such a considerable segment of the Russian liberal public? There are explanations. First, many opposition politicians, speakers, opinion leader, and experts have a professional stake in Putin’s elections. Some of them try and run in these elections (the simplest way of being an opposition politician in an authoritarian regimes), while others assist the elections professionally, serve as polling station monitors, analyze the whole megillah or write about it. This entire mob would simply be out of a job, in the broad sense of the word, if the opposition-minded public did not vote in authoritarian elections. Thus, in the opposition milieu, they are the principal propagandists and agitators for the idea of voting in these demonstrative non-elections. Since, as a rule, they are the most intelligent, energetic, and authoritative people in opposition-minded communities, their opinion is quite important. Second, as I have mentioned, above, involvement in authoritarian elections (“but they are elections all the same”) has served a considerable segment of the liberal public as a safe, comfortable way to “fight for democracy,” a way that lets them feel like decent dissidents honestly doing their duty. The notion that it is foolish and nasty for an advocate of democracy to vote in authoritarian elections immediately nullifies the opposition’s semantic space, the space of election enthusiasts, plunging them into the “desert of the real.” Everything is so painful and disturbing in that desert. You have to acquire a new civic faithfulness to yourself, redefine yourself in terms of the meanings and tools of your opposition, what normal risks are, who your supporters and opponents are within the opposition, and so on. “No, it’s better to vote in Putin’s elections.”

16. On the other hand, if nothing really depends on us in Putin’s elections, is it worth persuading our allies not to vote in them? Why hassle people? Why prevent them from doing what they deem important? Because things won’t get any worse for us if they do vote in the election anyway, right? I think it is still worth pestering them. Politics, after all, depends on political sentiments and emotions, and thoughts are tangible things even when they are not true. If millions of people who hunger so much for freedom and diversity in Russia think, “How can I vote in authoritarian elections the right way, so that it benefits the opposition’s cause?” that is one kind of opposition. But if millions of people who hunger so much for freedom and diversity in Russia think, “What else, besides voting in authoritarian elections, can I do to dismantle the Putin regime and bring about the victory of freedom and democracy in Russia?” that is a completely different opposition.

Igor Averkiev is the chair of the Perm Civic Chamber. Photo courtesy of Igor Averkiev. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

For Sobchak

sobchak poster

This is literally the only Ksenia Sobchak campaign poster I have seen in Petersburg since the Russian presidential campaign officially kicked off.

The poster, which reads, “For Sobchak. For Truth. For Freedom,” was half hidden in the gateway of a residential building on a street in my neighborhood when I photographed it a week ago today.

I imagine the people working in the city’s housing maintenance and street cleaning services have standing orders to tear down any and all “visual agitation” on behalf of the other so-called candidates (each and every one of them vetted and approved by the Kremlin) running in the so-called Russian presidential election, an utterly rigged farce scheduled for this Sunday, March 18.

The world’s largest country should be ashamed to conduct important national business in such a creepy, petty fashion, but until the self-declared heir apparent to the Romanov throne and his gang of crooks and thieves are chased out of town, there can be no movement on that front, alas.

Or any other front, for their matter, even though I have lots of friends on the left here who think the country is pullulating with “social movements” unfairly ignored by the general populace. To their mind, the rank-and-file Ivans and Natashas currently gumming up the future socialist works should magically learn about these nearly invisible social movements and just as magically support them, without my friends the leftists having to build and deploy anything that resembles even the shadow of an effective grassroots political organization that could reach out to the allegedly benighted Russian rank and file, enlighten it, and give it a doable road map to a better future.

One of the few people in Russia who understands something about political organization and tactics, Alexei Navalny, has been leading a boycott of the presidential election or what he calls a Voters Strike. For their pains, the election boycott activists, most of them young Russians, have been increasingly targeted in a crackdown by Russian security services and police. The plan seems to be to put as many of them as possible in jail on trumped-up charges and keep them there until after March 18, at the least.

My friends on the left, who claim not to like Navalny for his nationalist views, but really resent him because he knows a thing or two about national grassroots political organizing, while they seemingly know next to nothing about it, although they talk about it incessantly, are in no hurry to express their solidarity with the mostly “liberal” activists who have been mowed down by the Kremlin’s dragnet. (In Russia, “liberal” is a powerful swear word employed by leftists and rightists alike.) Their sense of solidarity extends only to those people who more or less share their political views and their lifestyles.

The most shameful thing is how many seemingly intelligent Russians are sanguine about this desperate state of affairs and think talking seriously about domestic politics (although they are often, on the contrary, extraordinarly keen to talk about politics in other countries) is like holding forth in great detail at a swanky dinner party about your daily bowel movements. TRR

Lev Schlosberg: Why Russian Democrats Should Vote on March 18

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“They want a turnout for Putin that is as huge, wild, and unnatural as a giant hogweed plant.”

Voter Turnouts: Who the Russian Authorities Want to See at the Polls and Who They Do Not Want to See
Lev Schlosberg
Pskovskaya Guberniya Online
March 12, 2018

On March 18, Vladimir Putin plans to become president of Russia once again. The unnatural political system created under his rule is not meant to produce any other outcome.  Realizing this, many people do not want to vote in an election whose outcome is a foregone conclusion. The anger and desperation of these people can be understood and explained. Nevertheless, we must take part in the procedure [sic] scheduled for March 18. We must take part because the tally makes a difference. You can lose on points, but you cannot lose by a knockout, because life could depend on those points.

Amidst increasing stagnation, only the numbers of dissenting citizens whose votes were officially recorded by election commissions, albeit in a dishonest election, can protect dissenters from such things as physical harassment and destruction.

It is all too obvious and extremely dangerous.

Putin will never change. He will not become kinder or smarter. He will not repent for his misdeeds. He will not become a believer in democracy. He will not begin defending the rights and liberties of his fellow Russian citizens.

Putin is a cynic. Like all cynics, he understands only thing: strength. In elections, this strength consists, in the most literal sense, in numbers, in votes.

Russia is tired of Putin. Putin himself is tired of Russia and, in this sense, he is particularly dangerous. He does not inspire people. Votes for Putin are votes cast not enthusiastically, but votes cast in despair. “If not Putin, who else?” people wonder aloud. But no one else in Russia gets round-the-clock press coverage.

In order to protect himself from all risks, Putin has purged the political arena and poured it over with concrete. Any living thing that pushes it way up through the concrete lives despite the system Putin has built. But these living things cannot grow to their full height. Democracy is impossible without the sunlight of liberty. It exists in the old Soviet national anthem, but not in real life in Russia. Putin and freedom are incompatible, because he is a product of unfreedom.

Putin’s likely victory in the upcoming election is as tedious as the man himself, who has long contributed nothing new to Russia and the world except flagrant military threats.

The government’s desperate campaign to get out the vote in the presidential election is founded on the understandable, humdrum intentions of officials, which are in full keeping with the big boss’s desire to paint a ballot, whose outcome was announced before the election, as the result of sincere grassroots enthusiasm.

People forced to watch and listen to this bacchanalia might imagine that voter turnout in this election is the most important objective pursued by officials.

“Our” Voter for “Our” President
Does this mean the Russian authorities want all voters to turn out on March 18, whatever their political preferences? No, it does not mean that at all. The Russian authorities desperately want Vladimir Putin’s voters to show up for this election and no one else. They want a turnout for Putin that is as huge, wild, and unnatural as a giant hogweed plant. Everyone who prevents them obtaining this unnatural percentage of votes are superfluous when it comes to the election. The authorities do not want to see them at polling stations. They will tolerate only the convinced supporters of the other registered candidates, whom they cannot stop from voting.

The omnipresent official election advertisements and the propaganda message that you can vote wherever you want on March 18 are bound to nauseate all decent, self-respecting people. They are a carefully planned and professionally implemented tactic on the part of the authorities. They are like a missile with multiple warheads.

This dull and simultaneously aggressive advertising is meant to help the authorities drag voters obedient to Putin out of their houses on March 18. Such people really do wait for the authorities to tell them what to do, where to go, and what box into which to drop their ballot papers. Programmed by the lies and violence of total propaganda, they reflexively execute direct instructions. So, the authorities have a single objective: to reach out to these votes whatever the cost, through all the windows, doors, attics, cellars, and cracks state propaganda is able to penetrate. This means directly zombifying people whose antennas, so to speak, are tuned to the regime’s transmitter. The authorites send a command to people capable of picking up simple, repetitive signals: go and vote.

Likewise, the deliberate promotion of the election in this digusting manner is meant to turn off people from voting who are independent, self-sufficient, and critical of the regime. Unfortunately, it really does prevent them from voting. Such people do not like being shepherded anywhere, much less to polling stations.

The regime thus kills two birds with one stone. It gets the electoral partisans loyal to Putin out to vote and radically reduces the turnout of democratic voters.

We encourage our people to vote and discourage their people from voting. This is the recipe for so-called victory.

It is sad to see millions of energetic people, sensitive to insincerity and fraud, falling into this primitive psychological trap.

It is sad to see democratic politicians, who will be the first to succumb to the hardly virtual mudslide generated by the absence of democratic politics in Russia, vehemently campaigning for a so-called voters’ strike, which absolutely satisfies the authories. It as if these democratic politicians had lost the capacity to understand events and their consequences, because they are calling for democratic voters to sit out the election, rather than people planning to vote for Putin, Zhirinovsky or Grudinin. This is a self-inflicted wound, a provocative call for democrats to eliminate themselves.

It is unacceptable to let the authorities exploit you as a useful idiot, as the Bolsheviks cynically did with the intelligentsia back in the day.

If democrats sit out elections, they are absent from politics as well.

You Don’t Want a Second Round?
State-driven polling in Russia has become part of the system of state propaganda and popular deception. It is the loyalist “public opinion” polls that have forecast a turnout of 81% of eligible voters, Putin’s share of the tally reaching the desired 70% threshold, and the votes cast for all his opponents squashed into a gamut that runs from 0.1% to 7%.

In reality, as borne out by other public opinion polls whose results are not made public, the voter turnout in many regions of Russia will barely crawl above the 50% mark, which should be expected amidst public apathy and socio-economic crisis, while Putin’s share of the tally will not be much higher than 50%, and a second round-like scenario has been predicted in many cities, meaning Putin will receive less than 50% of the vote there. Even the loyalist pollsters at VTsIOM have reflected this turn of events. Putin’s support rating has been falling throughout the election campaign and will keep on falling, because the public manifestation of alternative political views undermines Putin’s monopoly. Things are getting serious.

What should the democratic voter do in these circumstances? Go vote and support a democratic candidate, thus reducing the share of votes cast for Putin and increasing the number and percentage of votes cast for democrats and democracy.

No one know the numbers of democratically minded citizens there are currently in Russia. Only general elections can show how many there are, but the majority of democratic voters have rejected voting in general elections a long time ago. They continue to refuse to vote nowadays, thus throwing in the towel and relieving themselves of all responsibility for what happens to all of us.

Not only that, but it also makes makes the chances of democratic politicians extremely low in elections. We thus find ourselves in a classic vicious circle: no voters > no results > no voters.

As D’Artagnan said, a thousand devils. How can this be incomprehensible to educated, informed people? But, as we can see, it is incomprehensible.

I cannot fail to remind readers that democrats have learned how to win Russian elections such as they are now. The know-how that was on display in Karelia, Petersburg, Pskov, Yekaterinburg, Yaroslavl, and Moscow has shown that when a large amount of hard work is invested, voters are energetic, and voting is strictly monitored, democrats can win elections. Yes, it is hard. But we do want to win, don’t we?

Does Putin have a plan for Russia?

Yes, he does. On March first, he laid out his plan to the entire world. His plan is as simple as an old grammar school primer: guns instead of butter, and grief to dissenters. Grief to consenters, too, however. It is just that they have not figured it out yet. Putin is the president of war.

Is there anything that can stop or at least limit Putin in his maniacal willingness to sacrifice not only our country but also the entire world to his virtual reality?

There is only one thing: the votes of Russian citizens who disagree with him.

Operation Fiasco
If democratic voters do not turn out to the polls on March 18, the consequences will be  enormous. Not subject to any political restrictions, dependent on the bureaucracy and the security services, listening only the counsel of imperialists and Stalinists on the back of the election results, Putin will cross the line, perhaps more blatantly than he himself intends to right now.

If there is a fiasco on the democratic political flank as the result of the presidential ballot, everything will be caught up in it, both those who voted and those who did not vote. There will be a single political pit for everyone, a mass grave for soldiers killed in war.

In conditions of unfreedom, all that people who do not want violence can do is vote for freedom while the possibility still exists.

Because if it transpires that next to no one wants freedom, the changes that occurr in Russia will be extreme, sending us in a free fall towards the unforgettable Soviet Union, which perished in political and economic paralysis only twenty-six years ago, but which is currently undergoing a political reincarnation.

Will the March 2018 election be honest at least when it comes to tallying the votes? On the whole, no, but the percentage of rigged votes is fairly well known. In approximately fifteen regions of Russia, the so-called electoral sultanates, election results have nothing to do with how citizens vote. In those regions, the final official tallies are simply fabricated, giving the authorities around 10% of the votes of all voters on the rolls nationwide.

In other regions, however, the results do depend on how people vote to a greater or lesser degree. After massive civic outrage over the results of the 2011 parliamentary elections, vote rigging has become much harder, thanks in part to tougher laws.

Who achieved all this? The Russians who went to protest rallies in defense of their votes. The 2011–2012 protests were primarily a civic protest of voters whose votes had been stolen. That is why the authorities took it seriously [sic], and it lead to reforms in the voting system. Criminal penalties for so-called carousel voting were adopted after the protests.

What can supporters of the voters’ strike defend at a protest rally? Nothing. They did not vote. What impact can they make by not voting? None at all. They do not have any arguments, because they have no votes or, rather, they gave up their votes.

Who will notice the 10% of voters who do not go to the polls on Sunday? No one. The numbers will not be recorded anywhere. But it would be impossible not to notice the 10% of votes cast by democratic voters, since they will be recorded in the official final vote tallies. The ballot paper is the citizen’s main weapon.

No one will take into account the people involved in the voters’ strike. But it will be impossible to ignore the votes of four, five or six million people.

Russian democrats have one main objective in the 2018 presidential election: to show that we exist, that we do not agree with Putin’s politics, and that we see Russia’s future differently. This means defending ourselves, our loved ones, friends, and comrades, giving ourselves and the entire country the chance for a normal future, a chance that war will not break out, a chance for peace, a chance to save the lives of people who are still alive.

Elections are a public action, an expression and movement of the popular will. They are the only peaceable means of regime change. Often, things do not work out in single step. But we cannot stand in place. We have to keep moving.

The Russian regime will not change on March 18, 2018, unfortunately. But on that day millions of democratic voters in Russia can save the country’s and their own chance for freedom.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust

P.S. Sometimes it’s useful to carefully rehearse and examine arguments that strike you as just plain wrong—in this case, the argument that “Russian democrats” (whoever they are) will surrender their place in Russian “politics” (as if there is politics in Russia) if they boycott the presidential ballot scheduled for this Sunday.

This argument is made by one of Russia’s smartest cookies and bravest democratic politicians, Lev Schlosberg, in his latest column for Pskovskaya Guberniya Online.

Unfortunately, Mr. Schlosberg is reduced to such a queer combination of sophistry and outright bullying that one recalls the remark Tolstoy supposedly made about the writer Leonid Andreyev: “He tries to scare us, but I’m not frightened.”

This is not to say that the political conjuncture in Russia is not objectively frightening. But Mr. Schlosberg’s argument that the “ballot paper is the citizen’s main weapon” rings hollow when even he admits the extent to which vote rigging and coercion will be big factors in Sunday’s vote.

Finally, Mr. Schlosberg urges Russian democrats (let’s assume they really exist) to vote for “democrats” in the presidential election, which immediately begs the question, What democrats does he mean? Grigory Yavlinsky, the de facto leader of Mr. Schlosberg’s own Yabloko party since its founding in 1993 and a man who has run for president so many times I’ve lost count? Or does he mean Ksenia Sobchak, Vladimir Putin’s real-life god-daughter? She talks the good talk once in awhile, but under what real democratic “procedures” were she and the perennial Mr. Yavlinsky nominated to run for president? Meaning by what democratic majorities?

And this is the real problem. There is no democracy in Russia not because of the villainy of Putin and his satraps, although of course they really have done everything in their power over the last eighteen years to make Russian undemocratic.

The real problem is so-called Russian democrats either have no idea what democracy really entails or they’re all too willing to sell the farm for a penny so they can get the chance to run, with the Kremlin’s approval and vetting, of course, in rigged elections whose outcomes are foregone conclusions.

Can a serious man like Mr. Schlosberg really imagine that a few more percentage points here or there for Ms. Sobchak and Mr. Yavlinsky will genuinly serve as a bulwark against the hell that will be unleashed after March 18, when Putin imagines he is invincible and has yet another six years to do as he likes?

What a naive if not utterly specious argument. TRR

The Poster Maker

“I’ll Go All Out to Ensure Putin Loses”
Yelizaveta Mayetnaya
Radio Svoboda
December 5, 2017

“Citizen Putin! If there is a clampdown on public liberties under the pretext of terrorists attacks, it will be clear to everyone who is behind them!”

“Putin is war. Say no to war!”

“Dimon got what was coming to him. Let’s go after Vovan.”

“We live the way we vote.”

Dmitry Skurikhin, owner of a store in the village of Russko-Vysotskoye, near Petersburg, reacts immediately and visually to every political event in Russia.

Skurikhin immediately hangs each new poster on the front of the store, a small, two-storey building, so it is readily visible from the nearby bus stop. They usually do not stay up for long, however. The record is held by the slogan “Peace to Ukraine,” which stayed up for two weeks.

На митинге Навального

Skurikhin at a pro-Navalvy rally on the Field of Mars in Petersburg

43-year-old Dmitry Skurikhin is a local businessman, whose family owns three village shops. By local standards, he is well off. His family owns several cars, and they have everything they need. However, Skurikhin says the incomes of villagers have taken a nosedive in the past year: “They buy almost nothing, because they barely have enough for food.” Around six thousand people live in Russko-Vysotskoye. Very few of them are holiday cottage dwellers. The majority commute to work in Petersburg. Skirukhin was the first businessman in the village to open self-service stores, but “then the Pyatyorochka and Magnit chains moved in, and we croaked, of course.” He now sells toys, newspapers, clothings, and sundries.

He has been hanging political posters on his store, situated along a road, for almost four years. Before that, he pasted homemade bumper stickers on his car. Skirukhin recalls that the first bumper sticker read, “No new taxes!” The year was 2005.

Skurikhin: They had decided to raise taxes on us local businessmen then. It was one of those taxes you couldn’t avoid paying. Either you worked and paid the tax or you didn’t work and didn’t pay the tax. We businessmen realized they were clamping down on us. We joined forces and beat back the tax. It made such an impression on me that since then I haven’t been able to stop going. There are at least some improvements in our lives, specifically in our village. I’m a local grassroots activist, not even a region-wide activist, but a village-level activist. I was born here, and I live and work here. My kids go to school and kindergarten here. I think I have helped improve life in our village.

Radio Svoboda: How exactly have you improved life in the village?

Skurikhin: As they call it now, I was a municipal district council member from 2009 to 2014. At the time, our district authorities were running this interesting scam. They were “milking” the villages. They would buy heat from the producer and sell it to residents. They marked up the price one hundred percent. When the situation had reached a deadlock, it transpired they were charging residents, but not paying the producer anything. They were getting heat for free. The chair of the district council was mixed up in the scam. Thanks in part to my efforts, the gentleman was conveyed directly from the district chairman’s office to prison. That was in May 2012. Since then we haven’t had any disasters with our supply of heat and water.

We still have problems sometimes, but we are now longer in that disastrous state when a group of people affiliated with district officials were just robbing people by latching onto the flow of payments for housing and utilities. Then we had problems with the road. I organized a decent protest rally. A lot of folks turned out for it: 165 people, which is a huge number for our village. We demanded the road be repaired. The road was repaired. So, by starting with small changes like that, stirring people up, I have been trying to bring them round to the idea that fair elections, free speech, and democracy mean improving the welfare of society. On May 1, we had a rally that wasn’t about the roads (we’ve had the roads fixed), but was about healthcare, fair elections, and responsible authorities. Those were the topics of our rally. 45 people showed up. The rally was authorized. I always try and authorize events with the authorities, but we rallied at the skating rink on the edge of the forest.

Кто будет следующим

“Dimon got run over. Let’s go after Vovan.” This is a reference to Alexei Navalny’s film documentary exposé of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his untold riches, Don’t Call Him Dimon. “Vovan” is a humorous reference to Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, my time as district council member ended for a simple reason: our team doesn’t pay for votes. If you don’t buy yourself votes, meaning if you don’t pay off the right people during early voting, then you’re out of the race, because your opponents do pay for votes. United Russia paid 1,500 rubles per vote! All the other candidates lost.

Radio Svoboda: Did you prove in court they paid for votes?

Skurikhin: It’s impossible to prove in court, because the scam is quite competently organized. They don’t buy votes, but pay for the services of fake campaign workers, meaning they contract out their campaign. United Russia has a team of between ten and fifteen people, depending on the number of seats that are up for grabs in a specific municipal district, and they hire canvassers. But the canvassers don’t have to canvass. They just need to show up and vote ahead of time, for which they are paid 1,500 rubles a pop. That’s it. It’s perfectly legal. All the evidence is circumstantial. When I tried to get hired as a canvasser in a neighboring village, I was told I would not do, because I wasn’t registered in that precinct.

“How’s that?!” I said. “I’m a local resident. I have a store here. I know everyone in the village, and they all know me. I’ll canvass for you like nobody’s business.”

“No, no, you don’t fit us.”

“What’s the deal?”

“You’re registered somewhere else.”

It’s all clear, guys! You don’t need canvassers: you need voters, whom you buy off for 1,500 rubles apiece. I dubbed the technique “bribing a voter under the guise of paying a canvasser.” It works like a charm in all the villages, where the populace is not too savvy. The populace in general is not very savvy, but in the countryside it’s just unbelievable. The salary in these places is commonly 1,000 rubles a day [approx. 14 euros a day]. People who get a 1,000 rubles a day don’t suffer. I ran a counter-campaign against this.

When the villagers were going to vote, I would say to them, “Guys, are you really unaware that when they get seats on the council, they’ll shake a hundred times more out of your pockets?”

“I toss manure on a farm with a pitchfork for a 1,000 rubles a day. But here I’m getting 1,500 rubles for five minutes of my time. Maybe you’d like to go and pitch manure for me?” one guy told me.

That’s their whole rationale! There’s nothing more to say.

Radio Svoboda: When did you hang the first political banner on your store? How long did it stay up?

Skurikhin: It was the spring of 2014. My fifth daugther was born then. I decided to give my wife a present by building a politicized bus stop opposite the store. I fashioned the frame and the foundation. We didn’t have a stop there. People would always stand outside there, and the buses would stop to pick them up. I built a bus stop and draped it with posters. This was when the annexation of Crimea was happening. We had a couple of posters about Crimea: I demanded an end to the disgrace. Then there were posters demaning pay rises for ordinary doctors and school teachers. I was still a council member. I gathered information on how much doctors were paid in Russia. President Putin had literally just claimed that there were no doctors in Russia who were paid less than the average monthly salary in their regions. That was an outright lie. I wrote it on my poster, because I knew how much our doctors were paid. I had gathered the information in my capacity as a municipal district council member.

Radio Svoboda: How much did doctors really make then?

Skurikhin: The ophthalmologist in our village was paid 14,000 rubles, while the average monthly wage in Leningrad Region was 35,000 rubles. I think this as an absolutely proven lie. I hung it up on the bus stop. The local authorities were completely shocked by it. The stop had been turned into a shelter and was hung with banners and pasted with posters. They didn’t know what to do, so the posters stayed up for three weeks or so, I think. Then a major from Center “E” [the so-called anti-extremism police] in Petersburg came and had a long chat with me. That was April 1, 2014. I remembered the date, because it was the day the Russian State Duma issued a resolution condemning restrictions on freedom of speech in Ukraine. And I was sitting there chatting with this little vampire who was directly threatening me and my business.

“We will shut you down if you don’t stop it!” he told me.

The bus stop stood for a month, and then it had to be demolished. All that’s left is the concrete slab, where locals still wait to catch the bus.

Radio Svoboda: Who demolished it?

Skurikhin: I did, on orders from the local authorities. They told me either I had to demolish it and haul it away or they would do it themselves. Since then I have been hanging posters on the store.

I hung up the poster “I congratulate you on the 61st anniversary of the Dragon’s death. The Dragon is dead, but his cause lives on. // Russian citizens, stop being slaves. Become citizens. Kill the dragon inside you.” The poster, which showed Stalin in his casket, used to be coupled with the second part, about citizens, which was swiped by the polizei. The poster “Peace to Ukraine” broke all the records: it hung for two weeks.

Вторую часть плаката

The second part of this poster, featuring a dead Stalin and a call to “kill the dragon inside you” and “become citizens” was “swiped by the polizei.”

The local authorities, by the way, didn’t know how to react. The poster was hanging on my building. It’s my property and my land, and the poster belongs to me. It hung there for quite a long time. Other events took place, for example, the 2014 elections. I hung my campaign posters there. As a municipal district council member, I was competing for votes. I would hang up a poster. It would become stale, and I would hang up a new one. And then, when I clearly campaigned against Putin. . . For example, I had posted a banner reading, “Putin should resign.” It was 9.4 meters by 2 meters. The banner caught everyone’s eye: my store stands next to the road. Well, they just came and swiped the banner. I decided to hang up another banner. Since it was forbidden to demand Putin’s resignation, I demanded Putin be freed. Since he considered himself a galley slave, I wrote, “Free Vladimir Putin! Let’s free this galley slave. Otherwise, he and his pals will row [rake in] too much.” This banner was also 9.4 meters by 2 meters.

Radio Svoboda: It was probably removed immediately, no? 

Skurikhin: I don’t know why, but it stayed up for nearly two weeks. I saw policemen come and look at it. Maybe they didn’t get it? I can’t say how the authorities make decisions. But then they removed it anyway. I have been doing this on purpose. My goal is to ensure President Putin loses this election. During the last election, in 2012, I printed flyers and ensured that Putin got the least number of votes in our district in our precincts, although he won anyway, of course. Our precinct was among the ten worst precincts in Leningrad Region. Numbers decide everything in a democracy. I worked on the electorate the best I could.

Radio Svoboda: Do the security services often summon your for talks and try to reason with you?

Skurikhin: Earlier they did, but recently they have left me alone for some reason. I think they just realized, probably, that they should be talking to me in handcuffs, whereas talking to me just for the heck of it, what’s the point? Besides my chat with the major from Center “E,” a major from the FSB, a colonel from the FSO (Federal Protective Service), and the Investigative Committee summoned me. Each of my posters has been sent off for a forensic examination. Policemen photograph them, and the photos are sent to Center “E” and Saint Petersburg State University for analysis: they have this forensics examination center there. Their forensics experts study my posters and render their findings. If the findings are neutral, the posters are returned to me, accompanied by an official ruling refusing to file criminal charges against me. I’ve had around a hundred such posters. Each one is also accompanied by a description. The police also try to do everything by the book. In Nazi Germany, they incinerated Jews by the book. Here in Russia, they have been trying to shut me up by the book, to put it crudely.

Radio Svoboda: What grounds do the police have for removing posters from private property? How does it usually happen?

Skurikhin: First, they get a complaint either from the local council or from a resident: someone is unhappy with the poster hanging on my store. The police arrive and write me up for violating the regional law that all posters must be vetted with the local council. This little law was invented in Leningrad Region. I disagree with it, so I simply say it wasn’t so. They write me up, then they bring a slave from the local housing authority, whom they force to climb up and remove my poster. Then they leave. After which the situation proceeds as I’ve described it. Unfortunately, the forensics experts have concluded that two of my posters insulted the honor and dignity of the president and incited social discord. I try not to insult anyone. I think through all my posters and make sure that they are worded as properly as possible, because you don’t help things by insulting people. I want to persuade people to vote against Putin, persuade them we need democratic values, freedom, and liberalism. Yet two of my posters have been deemed insulting to Putin. They were the reason I was summoned to the Investigative Committee to talk with an investigator.

Radio Svoboda: Have criminal charges been filed in connection with the two posters?

Skurikhin: You know, I haven’t asked the police about it. But they did get me summoned to the Investigative Committee, where I was asked for an explanation. I was shown the findings of the forensics experts. The poster in question was “Putin is war. Say no to war.” As you remember, it was Anna Politkovskaya who said, “Putin is war.” The slogan was written with bloody smudges, so there was nothing in particular to interpret. It was clear as clear could be. The poster was deemed to have insulted Putin’s honor and dignity. I don’t think I insulted him, but the Investigative Committee does.

Radio Svoboda: What war did you have in mind when when you wrote the slogan?

Skurikhin: Any war. Because Putin is, in fact, war. We were flattening Ukraine at the time.

Radio Svoboda: Have they threatened to close your business?

Skurikhin: The major from Center “E” threatened me, but no one else has. It’s just I’ve been in business for twenty-one years, and all the agencies they could sick on me, I’ve been working with them for a long time. I have a good relationship with them. Most important, all of them are on my side. As they’re tearing down the posters, the policemen say to me, “Damn, what you write is true.” But they’ve taken an oath, they have their orders, they would immediately get hell from their commander, so they can’t say it that way. I can because I don’t have a commander. Firefighters, the guys at Health Inspection Services, they all understand what is happening in Russia. Most of them are smart people.

Против кого на самом деле надо сакции вводить

“Americans, don’t sanction all of Russia. Our head vampires got their jobs dishonestly and run things dishonestly. Sanction them!”

Radio Svoboda: Does your family support you?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. Sure, they worry about me. The situation in Russia is such that the most active dissenters are shot down. My kids are aged nineteen, fourteen, seven, and four. All of them are girls: I live in a flower garden. If I’m arrested, my wife will feed the family: she’ll be like Vassa Zheleznova. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we’ve talked it all throgh, of course. So that’s why I try and write slogans that are legal. I have studied a ton of material on the subject. What is an insult? It’s when you compare someone with an animal. The rest can be offensive and unpleasant, but it is not insulting in the criminal sense. You can say, “Skurikhin, you’re an idiot.” Yes, it’s possible for you to have this opinion. But I think differently. But if you say, “Skurikhin, you’re a jackass,” that is an insult.

Radio Svoboda: Have other businessmen put up similar posters?

Skurikhin: There were elections to the State Duma in 2016. As a member of Parnas (People’s Freedom Party), I ran in them in my own electoral district, the southwest  district of Leningrad Region. Sergey Naryshkin, now our top spy, ran in the same district. I made the rounds of all my businessmen friends and asked them to support me. I made banners that read, “Skurikhin and Parnas are your only worthy choice.” In our part of the world, most of the shops are village shops, and they are on private property, so I was able to hang them up for free. No other candidate got that kind of support. The rest had to pay for billboards. I spent 150,000 rubles on my election campaign. My wife later gave me a piece of her mind about that. I took second place in the elections in my own village. Only Naryshkin got more votes. I got support for my posters and ideas, for saying “Putin should resign.” My fellow villagers gave me the number two spot. In my native Lomonosov District, I took sixth place, and I took eighth place in the entire electoral district, which has a population of 500,000. What does that tell you? I would argue the outcome shows that liberal and democratic ideas are popular in society, but they simply never get conveyed to the voters, since the media are totally blocked. I have no other way of telling people Putin should have been dismissed from the Kremlin long ago. I only have my posters. But, generally speaking, it’s very hard for a Parnas member to get around United Russia on the first try.

Radio Svoboda: Do you attend all protest rallies?

Skurikhin: Yes, I try to go to all of them. At the last pro-Navalny rally, in June, I was wearing a “Sick of Him” t-shirt and carrying a flag. I was taken to a police station, but I escaped. This year there were also primary elections—Naryshkin gave up his seat in the Duma when he was appointed head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) in October 2016—and this year there were reelections. We also held events that, in my opinion, were meaningful to our district. I couldn’t let my people down, so I had to hightail it from the police station.

Radio Svoboda: Are you following the presidential campaign?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. I’ll go all out to ensure Mr. Putin loses the election, at least in my precinct. I support Navalny’s registration as a candidate and Ksenia Sobchak’s candidacy, because we need as many candidates as possible in the first round just to take votes away from Putin and get a second round. If there is a second round, that will be a significant victory in itself.

Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader