Mikola Dziadok: What We Can Learn from the Moscow Protests

riotgOlga Misik, 17, reading the Russian Constitution aloud to riot cops during a July 27 “unauthorized” opposition protest rally in Moscow at which nearly 1,400 protesters were detained by regular police and Russian National Guardsmen. Photo courtesy of the Independent

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
August 4, 2019

Lessons of the Moscow Protests

Yesterday, Moscow witnessed one of the largest protest rallies in recent memory. There were huge numbers of arrests.

Estimates of the protesters range from 1,500 to 10,000. 1,001 of them were detained. Since Belarus and Russia constantly exchange know-how in crushing protests and, as genuine autocracies, invest huge resources in doing it, we really should study the methods used in Moscow to make our own subsequent uprising more effective.

The first thing that catches the eye is that the Russian authorities were seriously and thoroughly prepared. There are really smart people in high places who imagined what was going to happen and how to deal with it as effectively as possible. They did not just send a mob of riot cops onto the streets to beat up and disperse everyone. Instead, they employed a whole set of well-designed, complementary measures.

Here is a list of the lessons we can learn.

1. The cops are afraid of being deanonymized. During yesterday’s protest rally, unlike previous protests, the riot cops wore masks because cops who did not hide their faces on July 27 have been subsequently deanonymized in huge numbers and harassed on social media. They fear for their own safety, meaning the longer things drag on, the more they are cognizant of their own mortality and physical vulnerability. This is a good thing.

It was also curious that the agitprop cop using a bullhorn to persuade protesters to disperse appealed to national unity: “Citizens, do not disturb the peace. Russian National Guardsmen are on duty to ensure your safety. Most of them are your sons. Do not disturb the peace and break the law.”

In the future, we will hear tons of this kind of spiel in Minsk from the “moderate opposition,” from the negotiators and compromisers of all stripes who will pop up like earthworms from the moist soil as soon as Lukashenko’s throne goes wobbly. This is a separate issue, however.

2. The Russian authorities are not shy about employing the resources at their disposal. Helicopters were employed in addition to tens of thousands of personnel. Private companies were pressured into going over to the bad guys.

  • The car-sharing service YouDrive banned customers from leaving cars inside the Garden Ring.
  • Cell phone providers turned off mobile Internet services.
  • Wi-Fi was turned off in restaurants and cafes near the protest area.

3. The regime has deployed heavy forces on the digital front.

  • There have been DDOS attacks on the main opposition websites.
  • Pro-regime trolls have been mobilized on group pages and in comments on social media. They have been working overtime cobbling together battle scenes, the reactions of “ordinary citizens,” and so on.

4. As usual, the authorities want to prevent the protests from radicalizing. Random passersby had their bags checked: the police were looking for cans of mace and anything that could be used as a weapon. The high-risk category, from the police’s viewpoint, is middle-aged men, which speaks for itself.

5. When protesters are detained, their mobile phones are confiscated for two weeks under the pretext they are physical evidence in a criminal case. Later, the authorities try to hack them using equipment supplied to authoritarian countries by Israeli and Chinese companies. Encrypt your mobile devices! Update their operating systems before it is too late.

6. The authorities have been filing criminal charges against the protesters mercilessly and without hesitation. The only point is intimidating real and potential protesters. How I am going to move from my cozy home and family to a prison cell for many long years? they ask themselves.

Conclusions

Decentralized protests have been effective. Generally, despite facing equal numbers of people, the regime has to deploy more resources to crush such protests than it does to put paid to centralized protests.

But legal defenses have not been effective. Do you want to not give defense lawyers and children’s ombudsmen access to detainees? Do you want to beat up detainees who are not resisting, refuse them medical care, and forcibly fingerprint them? It is easy as pie. The dogs in uniform are not guardians of law and order. They guard the privileges of the elites along with their power and property. There are thus no obstacles to direct, flagrant, and sustained law-breaking.

The logical conclusion is it is stupid and short-sighted for protesters to try and keep themselves and their protests on the right side of the law,  appealing endlessly to the law as a supreme value and, moreover, outing protesters who break the law as “provocateurs,” one of the favorite hobbies of the legal opposition. It is like trying to win a fight without breaking rules drawn up by your enemy. So it is quite pretty to read the Russian Constitution out loud to riot policemen, but it is also naive, pretentious, and frivolous. They care a thousand times more about their discounted apartments and bonuses than they care about the Constitution.

This does not mean, of course, we should engage in violence left and right. We simply have to remember we have an a priori right to self-defense.

It is worth pointing out that Sergey Kusyuk, a former deputy commander in Ukraine’s Berkut riot police, who was noted for the extreme cruelty with which he treated protesters at the Euromaidan in Kyiv before fleeing the country, has been spotted among the police putting down the protest in Moscow. The Russian regime knows what it is doing: it hires people who have burned all their bridges. Kusyuk has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. If the current Russian regime collapses, he and his kind can expect to be killed or imprisoned for life. So, he will claw and bite the regime’s enemies until the bitter end. Accordingly, people who are just as willing to fight to the bitter end, but for the good guys, can face these monsters down.

The conclusion is simple: get ready to fight.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Advertisements

Mikola Dziadok: Thinking about Mikhail Zhlobitsky

mikhail zhlobitskyMikhail Zhlobitsky. Photo courtesy of Mikola Dziadok

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
November 12, 2018

Thinking about Mikhail Zhlobitsky

It is easy to be a revolutionary and a rebel in revolutionary times. You don’t need to do a lot. You join the crowd, and history carries you along on its waves. It is harder to be a revolutionary when everything that can be forbidden has been forbidden, when humiliation at the hands of the powers that be is the rule, a rule challenged by almost no one, and when your friends and comrades are tortured in vans and the woods by the secret police.

During such times, the only thing that compels people to act is a sense of self-esteem and a fierce, merciless hatred of injustice. Unfortunately, people do not experience these feelings to the same degree. So, in the darkest times, lone champions come to the forefront.

People are slowly forgetting Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk office on October 31.  Many other things have happened since then, you see. Yet we know almost nothing about Mikhail. Decent photos of him have not surfaced, his real social media page is nowhere to be found, and we have heard nothing from his family. The trash written by the losers at Komsomolskaya Pravda and similar outlets (“bullied at school,” “wanted to blow up the college,” “mentally abnormal,” etc.) does not count.

We can only guess what Mikhail was like based on what he did.

Seventeen years old. Let us try and recall what we were up to when we were seventeen. We explored the world, made trouble, got drunk with friends, and learned how to have relationships with the opposite sex. We went to university and got our first jobs. If we look back, we will discover a fair amount of time has passed between those years and now. We lived through them. We had our share of fun, we had our share of sorrow, we had our share of experiences. Mikhail will not have these years to live through, because he valued two things—his sense of dignity and hatred of injustice—more than anything else in the world, more than individual happiness, pleasant experiences, etc. He valued them more than his own life.

Think about it. He gave up the most precious thing he had.

graff“Narrm/Melbourne, so-called Australia: Graffiti mural in memory of 17 year old Russian Anarchist-Communist Mikhail Zhlobitsky who died while carrying out an explosive attack against the FSB (Federal Security Service) Regional Headquarters in Arkhangelsk, Russia on October 31st.” Courtesy of 325

We can have different opinions about whether what he did was politically effective,  talk about how he could have accomplished more if he had gone on living, and so on. Essentially, though, he did something most of us would be incapable of doing.

“I’m waiting until I’m 18 years old so I’m responsible for my actions, not my parents. I don’t know what you all are waiting for,” Mikhail wrote in a chat room.

He could not have described himself better.

The Russian cops who leaked a postmortem photo of Mikhail on their Telegram channel, mocking him in the comments to boot, also showed us their true faces.

In the photo, Mikhail’s face was disfigured and burned by the explosion.

I have always believed an individual’s moral strength and their inherent sense of honor has only one dimension: a capacity for self-sacrifice. It runs the gamut from small things, such as giving up immediate pleasures for the sake of others, to revolutionary suicide, the deliberate rejection of life, for the sake of high ideals. What is the point of pretty speeches and big words if your basic need for safety and comfort suddenly outweighs everything else when push comes to shove?

Let us recall how many times each of us, including me, has put personal comfort above our causes.  We were tired at the end of the day and did not go the meeting. We did not go to the protest rally because we were afraid we would be detained. We had exams coming up. We had to finish writing our graduation thesis. It was our birthday. We had to feed the cat. We were not feeling all that great. Take your pick. Activism is cool, but we want other people to do it. We have more important things to worry about: life, family, work, parents, and fun. Or we say we will join the fight after we have done everything else we need to do. We have to think about the future. It would be better if we could be activists without getting into trouble, without getting expelled from university, without paying fines, without going to jail.

I have seen many would-be activists for whom personal comfort was the focus of their lives, although it could not be clearer that life works in such a way that if you want something social change and freedom, you have to give something up.

Mikhail did not talk the talk. He walked the walk. As long as we are afraid to make sacrifices even when it comes to little things, evil will press forward, using handcuffs, tasers, and paddy wagons to achieve its ends. Only a fearless few put themselves in harm’s way. You do not have blow to yourself or commit acts of violence to join their ranks. Besides violence, there is a huge arsenal of methods for effecting change, some of them even more dangerous. We need only remember that a willingness to suffer hardships, albeit tiny hardships, is a prerequisite for change. Revolutions are never comfortable.

Then today’s fearless loners will turn into groups, and the groups will turn into multitudes, and the people who forced seventeen-year-old boys to blow themselves up will be held to account.

Translated by the Russian Reader. My thanks to Mikola Dziadok for his kind permission to translate his essay and publish it here.

Mikola Dziadok: When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

vera zasulich street, 46-permVera Zasulich Street, 46, in Perm, hardly seems a fitting monument to the fearless Russian revolutionary, but the street is, apparently, the only Vera Zasulich Street in Russia. Photo courtesy of perm.vsedomarossii.ru

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
November 3, 2018

When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

Ever since the events in Arkhangelsk, I have been waiting for the decent Russian media to publish a sensible portrait-cum-analysis of the new would-be member of the People’s Will, Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up at the local FSB office. My wait is over. Novaya Gazeta has published an article about him. It is a vile, shameful article, which I might have expected from anyone else, but not from Novaya Gazeta. Every quotation you can pull from the article, not to mention the conclusion, is a specimen of feeblemindeness compounded by fear.

“Unfortunately, now many people could come to regard [Zhlobitsky] as an icon, a martyr, a hero.”

That “unfortunately” tipped me off to the fact that nothing good lay ahead.

“Perovskaya and Zasulich: their forgotten names still grace street signs marking alleys.* Strictly speaking, nearly every municipality [in Russia] is thus guilty of excusing terrorism. Their ‘heroic deeds’ have never been duly judged. So, they have returned: a second-year student at a vocational college assembles a bomb at home in the evenings from available materials.”

Thanks to Sophia Perovskaya, Vera Zasulich, and people like them, people whom Novaya Gazeta‘s reporter [Tatyana Britskaya] considers reprehensible, Russia overthrew the tsarist autocracy, a realm in which the reporter’s great-grandfathers were whipped for not doffing their hats in the presence of their masters and were dispatched as cannon fodder to distant lands for the Empire’s glory. That was only a small fraction of the woes visited upon the heads of the common folk. The reporter, however, is still sad that streets are named after these heroines and heroes, and she brackets their heroic deeds in quotation marks.

“However, the three Arkhangelsk Chekists [sic] wounded by shrapnel were unlikely to be directly involved in the torture about which Mikhail Zh. wrote [in his farewell message on Telegram].”

This is really a masterpiece. According to the reporter, only a tiny group of FSB officers, a group that exists only in her head, has been involved in torture. All other FSB officers wear white gloves, compose poems, dance at balls, and have preventive discussions with schoolchildren, urging them not to become “extremists.” They also catch drug barons and ISIS fighters, interrogating them solely by looking at them sternly. Apparently, the reporter has forgotten about “repeat interrogations using an electrical memory aid” and the complaints by cops (!) accused of corruption that they were tortured by FSB officers.  The reporter must think that Zhlobitsky should have first approached [the three FSB officers he wounded] and asked them, “Do you torture people by any chance? No? Well, okay, then, I’ll go blow up somebody else.”

“Apparently, we never were able to assess or correct mistakes, and now history is taking us back for another go-round. This is facilitated quite readily by the fact that adults notice unhappy, confused children only when the latter perish while activating homemade infernal machines.”

What mistakes is she talking about? She is not condemning the butchers of the NKVD or the enslavement of entire nations, first by Imperial Russia, then by the Soviet empire. No, the “mistakes” were the members of the nobility who were among the organizers of the People’s Will and the members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, people who died martyrs’ deaths to liberate their own people from bondage.

Because reading it only provokes disgust, there is not pointing in parsing this libel any further. I would only note that the reporter is Novaya Gazeta‘s [Arctic Circle] correspondent, meaning she is a local reporter. This, apparently, is the reason for her condescending, judgmental tone and her attempt to turn a hero into a “confused child.” If you write too bluntly, you have unexploded FSB officers to deal with, as well as their colleagues and relatives. But she has keep working and get comments from the security service when she needs them. So, she will continuing putting a good face on a bad game, denouncing “violence of any kind.” My ass.

It is true what they say: scratch a Russian liberal and, deep down, you will find a statist and conservative. You want to live in a just society, but you think it can be achieved by pickets and petitions. You want the regime to respect you, but you condemn people who force it to respect them. You want freedom, but you are afraid to take it. You condemn the bravest people, thus projecting an image of victims, not fighters. In today’s stinking Russia, ninety-nine percent of you will end up hightailing it abroad. But not everyone has the opportunity, you know?

So, if you are scared, it is better to remain silent than to yap encouragingly at the butchers, who, for a change, suffered for their crimes.

I would like to emphasize I do not consider individual insurgency an acceptable or proper means of political militancy, nor would I advise anyone to engage in it. I believe everyone has the right to live, even a fucking FSB officer. But not everyone can adhere to the same beliefs I do while living amidst a terrorist dictatorship. I understand such people perfectly well, too.

* Translator’s Note. While there are a couple of dozen Sophia Perovskaya Streets extant in post-Soviet Russia, there seems to be only one Vera Zasulich Street—in Perm.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Special thanks to Mikola Dziadok for his kind permission to translate and publish his comments on this website.