No One to Call Them on the Carpet

karlshorst tankA WWII-era Soviet tank, its muzzle pointed toward downtown Berlin, in the yard of the so-called German Russian Museum in the city’s Karlshorst neighborhood. Until 1994, it was known as the Capitulation Museum, since German high command formally surrendered to the Soviet high command in the building that houses the museum. Photo by the Russian Reader

At this point in their downward spiral towards worldwide moral and intellectual superiority, it is sometimes as hard to compliment Russians as it to make common cause with them or, on the contrary, argue with them.

I was thinking about this in a different connection when my attention was drawn to this column by Masha Gessen, published two days ago by the New Yorker.

The column is an odd beast.

First, Ms. Gessen makes a sound argument, based on hard, easily verifiable facts, but then she does an about-face and acts as her argument’s own resentful, miserably uninformed whataboutist, drawing false parallels between commemorations of the Second World War in Russia and the US, and the roles played by Putin and Trump in tarnishing these memorial events with their own sinister political agendas.

She is thus able to set readers up for the column’s takeaway message: “[T]he Trumpian spin on [the Second World War] is all maga, which makes it essentially the same as Putin’s.”

Ms. Gessen once was one of my favorite reporters, especially back in the days when she wrote for the weekly Russian news magazine Itogi.  Later, I adored her poignant, richly rendered dual portrait of her grandmothers and the turbulent times of their younger years. I would still urge anyone curious about what the Soviet Union was really like under Stalin and after his death to put the book, Ester and Ruzya, at the top of their reading lists.

Nowadays, however, Ms. Gessen finds herself in what should be the unenviable position of having no one willing to call her on the carpet . Whatever she writes and says is regarded as the gospel truth, apparently, by her editors, readers, and listeners. In any case, I have never come upon any criticism of her work, at least in Anglophonia.

Her editor at the New Yorker, David Remnick, himself a Russia expert of sorts, has gone missing in action when it comes to editing critically what she writes about the country of her birth, and so has everyone else who could be bothered to notice the sleights of hand and sophistry in which she now indulges all too often.

In this case, it is simple. In the United States, there has been nothing like the overbearing politicization of victory in the Second World War as there has been in Russia since Putin took power twenty years ago.

The US does not even have a public holiday commemorating victory in the war, whether on the European front or the Pacific front. I think this says something. Maybe what it says is bad, but the importance of the “victory” for US society, especially now that nearly seventy-five years have passed since the victory was declared, has been waning with every passing day.

More to the point, whatever deplorable uses Trump may have made of the war, he has had a mere two years in office to do his damage, while “decisive victory” in the Great Fatherland War (as the war is called in Russian) has long played a central role in Putin’s eclectic, opportunist but extraordinarily reactionary ideology.

It is an rather odd stance, since the Kremlin regularly speaks and acts almost as if the Putin regime and the current Russian Armed Forces achieved victory over the Nazis in 1945, rather than the Stalin regime and the Red Army.

Victory in the war has been used as much to bludgeon the regime’s “traitors” and “enemies” into submission as it has been used to brainwash the Russian people into a false sense of national unity and international moral superiority.

Of course, there have been periods since 1945 when victory in the war was politicized by the US establishment, too. We need only think of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” and, years before that last gasp, the ways movies and TV shows about the war functioned as surrogates for reinforcing western capitalist ideology during the Cold War.

As should naturally be the case, however, since the war ended a long time ago, and most of the people who witnessed it and fought in it have died, it has meant less to the rising generations in the US than it did to the generations of my grandparents (who fought in the war, if only on the home front) and my parents (who were born just before or during the war), and even to my own generation (who grew up in a vernacular culture still permeated by memories of the war, sometimes embodied in our own grandparents and their age mates, and a popular culture still awash in books, comic books, TV serials, movies, toys, and other consumerist junk inspired by the war).

A gradual waning of interest in the war should have happened in Russia as well,  albeit in a manner that acknowledged and honored the war’s much greater impact on the country and all the other former Soviet republics.

In the nineties, under the “villainous” Yeltsin, this was on the verge of happening.

I remember going to the Victory Day parade on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg in 1995. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the war’s end in Europe, but the main event consisted only of columns of real war veterans, some in uniform, some in civilian dress, all of them wearing their medals, marching down the Nevsky accompanied by a few marching bands and a military honor guard, if memory serves me.

Tens of thousands of Petersburgers lined the pavements, cheering the veterans, crying, and occasionally running out into the parade to hand them flowers, kiss their cheeks, and thank them personally for their courage.

It was simple, dignified, and moving.

But then a new mob took over Russia. The new mob wanted to rob the country blind and install themselves in power for as long as they could, so they had to convince their victims, the Russian people, of a number of contradictory things.

One, the highway robbery, as committed by the new mob, was for their own good. Two, the highway robbery was making them better and their country great again; it would bring “stability.” Three, the highway robbery was spiritually underwritten by the former country’s former greatness, as demonstrated, in part, by its victory over the Nazis in the Great Fatherland War.

It is not true that all or even most Russians have swallowed all or even most of this dangerous nonsense.

Putinism, however, has destroyed politics in Russia not only by demolishing all democratic institutions and persecuting grassroots activists and opposition politicians in ever-increasing numbers.

It has also disappeared most real political issues and replaced them with non-issues, such as nonexistent “threats” to the glory of Russia’s victory in WWII, as posed by “traitors” and hostile foreign powers, the completely astroturfed “upsurge” in “love for Stalin,” and several other fake zeitgeist events that have been designed purposely to set the country’s dubious troika of official pollsters polling like never before and take up oodles of space in the real media, the social media, and ordinary people’s minds and their bar-stool and dinner-table conversations with strangers, friends, relatives, and coworkers.

I am much too fond of French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s distinction between “politics”—what happens in the public space around real sources of political and social conflict in democratic societies or societies striving towards freedom and equity) and “police”—the opposite of “politics,” the utter control of public space and a monopoly on decision-making by a tiny anti-democratic elite.

“Police” as a concept, however, encompasses not only real policemen kicking down the doors of “extremists” and “terrorists,” and casing and tailing everyone suspicious and “unreliable” every which way they can.

In Russia under Putin, it has also involved tarring and feathering all real political discourse and political thinking, while promoting sophistry, scuttlebutt, moral panics, two minutes hate, and intense nationwide “debates” about non-issues such as “the people’s love of Stalin” and “victory in the war.”

The point of substituting artificial “police” discourses for wide-open political debate has been to prevent Russia from talking about bread-and-butter issues like pensions, the economy, healthcare, housing, the environment, war and peace, and increasingly violent crackdowns against political dissenters, businessmen, migrant workers, ethnic minorities, and religious minorities.

Russians are capable of talking about these things and do talk about them, of course, but a steady diet of nothing, that is, immersion in a topsy-turvy world in which the state, mainstream media, and many of your own friend will try, often and persistently, to engage you in “serious” conversations about chimeras and phantoms, has had an innervating effect on serious political discourse generally.

Try and talk to Russians about politics and, often as not, you will soon find yourself talking “police” instead.

If Ms. Gessen had decided to write a substantive article about the Putin regime’s use and abuse of the “victory,” popular acquiescence to its campaign, and grassroots pushbacks against, it would have familiarized Ms. Gessen’s readers with a story about which they know either nothing or almost nothing.

I cannot imagine anyone better qualified to tell the story than Ms. Gessen herself.

But, as is the case with many other Russians, the straight talk in Ms. Gessen’s recent printed work and media appearances about what has been happening in Russia under Putin has been veering off, sooner or later, into whataboutism and a series of well-worn memes whose hysterical repetition passes for political argument these days.

There is a different but curiously overlapping set for every political tribe in Putinist Russia, from nominal nationalists to nominal liberals and leftists.

What is my own takeaway message?

There can be no politics in Russia in the Rancierean sense or any other sense until the Russian liberal intelligentsia (with whom Ms. Gessen has explicitly identified herself on several occasions, obviously considering them vastly superior intellectually and morally to the American mooks with whom she has been condemned to spend too much time, Russiansplaining everything under the sun to them as best she can, mostly to no avail) and all the other intelligentsias and political tribes in Russia give up their pet sets of non-issues and non-solutions and revive the deadly serious politics and political discourses of the pre-Revolutionary period, if only in spirit.

However, the efficacy of “police” under Putin has been borne out by the way in which nearly everyone has united, time and again, around the very non-issues the regime and state media has encouraged them to discuss.

On the contrary, several painfully real issues, for example, Russia’s ruinous, murderous military involvement in Syria, have never been vetted by “police” for public hand-wringing of any kind.

As if obeying an unwritten rule or a tape reeling in their heads, nobody ever talks about them, not even the great Masha Gessen. {TRR}

Thanks to Comrade GF for bring Ms. Gessen’s column to my attention.

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Anti-Central Asian Migrant Worker Dragnet in Tula

uzbek cuisineRussian riot police (OMON) prepare to enter a business identified as “Uzbek Cuisine” in the Central Market area in Tula during yesterday’s “total spot checks.” Photo courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula

Unprecedented Document Checks in Tula: Migrant Workers Lined Up in Columns Many Meters Long
MK v Tule (Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula)
October 20, 2018

Беспрецедентные проверки в Туле: мигрантов выстроили в многометровые колонны

The total checks of migrant workers in Tula have moved beyond the Central Market. According to Moskovsky Komsomolet in Tula‘s correspondent, law enforcers from the Tula Regional Office of the Interior Ministry, the riot police (OMON), the Rapid Deployment Special Force (SOBR), and the Russian National Guard have inspected the streets adjacent to the market.

In particular, visitors from the Asian republics [sic] were also checked on Pirogov and Kaminsky Streets. Law enforcers looked to see whether people had documents [sic], residence registration stamps, and work permits.

Approximately two hundred migrants workers were formed into a long column that grew longer by the minute. Checks for violations of immigration laws proceeded apace.

The total spot checks for illegals [sic] in Tula started at 10 a.m. on October 20, when law enforcers descended on the Khlebnaya Square area en masse. The entire market was cordoned off.

All photos courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin and Valentina Chupik for the heads-up.

Migrant workers, most but not all of them hailing from the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, have been perfect scapegoats for the Putinist police state, which from day one (nearly twenty years ago) has increased its hold on public opinion through an endless series of semi-official campaigns against nefarious aliens and “national traitors.”

So-called law enforcement officers have long ago turned shaking down migrant workers—something literally every resident of every major city in Russia has seen with their own eyes thousands of times in recent years, but which they have “disappeared” along with most of society’s supposedly intractable problems—into a land office business, that is, a source of easy, quick cash.

In any case, as likely as not, most of the men shown in the photographs, above, probably had all the papers they needed to live and work legally in Russia, including residence registration papers and work permits. Unless they have temporary or permanent residence permits, they would have to renew these papers every three months in a process that is every bit as wasteful, time consuming, and humiliating as yesterday’s dragnet in Tula.

To add to their woes, the top brass of Russia’s dizzying of ever-proliferating, interwing, and competing law enforcement agencies and secret services regularly trot out cooked-up stats showing, allegedly, that migrant workers commit either an outsized proportion of all crimes in Russia or the majority of crimes. Human rights advocates can easily punch holes in these barefaced attempts to generate moral panics while simultaneously proving the police state’s continued indispensability, but these counterarguments rarely if ever get the audience enjoyed by Moskovsky Komsolomets, a mass-circulation national tabloid, based in Moscow, that for many years now has published local supplements in Russia’s numerous, far-flung regions.

Owned until 1991 by the Soviet Communist Youth League (Komsomol), Moskovsky Komsolets abandoned whatever socialist and international principles it had long ago, opting for sensationalism and high circulations. According to the BBC, the newspaper had an average issue readership of 1,215,000 in 2008, making it Russia’s second most read newspaper, after Argumenty i Fakty. Given its heavy internet and social media presence, those readership figures have certainly only gone up in the intervening years.

MK, as it usually styles itself nowadays, perhaps to make us forget about its humble socialist origins, was also identified in 2004 by the Sova Center and the Moscow Helsinki Group as the leading purveyor of hate speech amongst Russia’s national print media outlets. Certainly, yesterday’s “photo essay” in MK in Tula was an attempt to whip up a moral panic while boosting readership.

The newspaper, however, is not primarily responsible for the fact that Russian officialdom and to a certain extent, Russian society at large demonizes, terrorizes, and racially profiles the cheap, supposedly expendable immigrant workforce that keeps the perennially flailing Russian economy afloat.

If you want to learn more about the bigger picture when it comes to migrant workers in Russia, a story egregiously underreported by the international press and reported mostly in the sensationalist, racist manner, displayed above, by the Russian press, I would recommend the following articles, published on this website in the past year, plus Professor Sergey Abashin’s now-classic essay “Migrants and Movements in Central Asia,” published here three years ago. {TRR}

 

The Kids Are Alright: “We Don’t Want to Live in a Country Where the Regime Robs Its Own People”

“We Don’t Want to Live in a Country Where the Regime Robs Its Own People”
Alexander Kalinin
Rosbalt
March 28, 2017

High school and university students talked about why they went to the anti-corruption rallies and whether they feared a crackdown.

A huge number of university and high school students attended the anti-corruption rallies in Russia. It was the first time many of the young people had gone to a protest rally. Some protesters even wound up at police stations along with their older comrades. Some high school and university students told our correspondent what had made them take to the streets.

Anti-corruption protesters on the Field of Mars, Petersburg, 26 March 2017

Kristina, 16, tenth-grader from Gatchina
This was my first protest rally. I came to the Field of Mars because, like most of the people here, I wanted to get through to the regime. After watching the film by the Anti-Corruption Foundation, many people had questions. Besides, I see how my relatives, acquaintances, and friends get along. We are often cheated. For example, a relative was illegally sacked from work, and campaigning for United Russia goes on at my school. There are party flags in the health and safety classroom. I argue about it with my teacher all the time. He says he’s a member of the party.

Have you heard the recording in which teachers give high-school students in Bryansk a dressing-down? Basically, the same thing happens at our school. I get D’s and F’s when I talk like that, and I’m sent to the principal for “disrupting class.”

I was wondering how many people would come to the rally. My parents tried to persuade me not to go. They said, “There will be ten people there, and you’ll waste your time.”

I went to the rally with my boyfriend. We made a placard about Shuvalov’s dogs. We drew Welsh corgis against a backdrop of clouds and wrote, “Happiness if flying like a bird in the sky but without wings.” A man on the Field of Mars asked to look at our placard and was surprised we hadn’t unfurled it.

I had never seen such a huge crowd before. I was even a bit scared we would be trampled.

When we went to Palace Square, I heard the roar of sirens. I saw the riot police (OMON) in all their glory for the first time on the square. They formed a line and advanced on the protesters.

A policeman approached us and asked for our papers. We replied by asking him to identify himself and show us his badge number. He looked away from us and went over to detain a man holding a placard. I was ready to be detained. I had read all the posts on the topics and memorized all the articles about what to do when you’re detained by police.

When we went to the Legislative Assembly, people broke up into groups. Some demanded freedom for Oleg Navalny, others talked about what was happening with St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and still others chanted anti-corruption slogans. Then there were people who went to the subway or to a café.

After hanging out at the Legislative Asssembly, we had decided to go home, when we were again approached by a police officer. He asked to check our papers and wondered whether we had been at the rally. We answered that we had.

“Good going!” he said. “I would have gone myself, but I was on duty and I’m afraid of losing my job.”

We were stunned, but it was nice to hear.

My parents knew where I had gone. They followed the news. When I got home, we joked about what would have happened if the police had nabbed me.

I don’t want to be compared with truant schoolchildren (shkolota). The rally was not entertaining in the least, and we had to go to it. We realize this is our future. We keep a close eye on grown-ups. They regard what’s happening with desperation. It doesn’t scare me if the order comes down to give lectures in the schools about the current political situation. I expect it to happen. I love discussing the topic. It’s fun to argue when you are well versed on the subject. Although maybe I won’t be invited to these lessons. The thing is we had a session of the Leningrad Regional Youth Parliament at our school to which regional MPs were invited. The teachers rehearsed the event with us, and the questions were prepared in advance. But when I was going to ask my question, I was politely shut up. They realized I could cause a conflict.

Anti-corruption protesters marching down Nevsky Prospect, 26 March 2017

Ivan, 16, ninth-grader from Kolpino
This was my first protest rally. I made the trip from Kolpino to Petersburg by myself. I was curious how folks would react to Alexei Navalny’s exposé film. I wondered whether people cared or didn’t care about what the powers that be were up to. I didn’t bring a placard with me, but I shouted slogans with the other protesters, although it felt awkward at first. When somebody chanted a slogan from far off, I kept my mouth shout. But I plugged into the process when people next to me shouted.

There were lots of young people, so I didn’t feel alone. At first, police dispersed the people who had climbed atop the memorial next to the Eternal Flame, but then they gave up. When the rally on the Field of Mars was over, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to keep going

When we marched towards Palace Square, I didn’t hear any negative feedback towards us. On the contrary, individuals supported us by smiling, laughing, and photographing us, while drivers honked their horns. Only the police were upset. They asked us why we had come out.

I felt more confident on Palace Square. I even started some chants first.

The “cosmonauts” (riot police) made their first appearance on the square, but they were very few in number. They didn’t do anything. It was only when the crowd pressed against them that they asked us to disperse, but no one was listening to them. Generally, the police behaved decently.

When we walked towards Insurrection Square, we were followed by police cars and paddy wagons. The arrests took place on the approach to the square. A lot of people were kettled opposite a building on Nevsky Prospect.

I want to watch the arrests, and then go home, but I accidentally bumped a riot cop with my shoulder. He said something about my being broad-shouldered. I probably did the wrong thing. I said to him, “Yeah, I’m broad-shouldered.” Right then, three paddy wagons drove up too the crowd. The cosmonaut grabbed me and put me in one of them. It was my first arrest.

Our ride to the police station was cheerful. No one was upset. We were taken into the station. We stood for around in a hour in the hallway, and then we were led into this weird basement. We were allowed to make a phone call. We chatted with the policemen about whether we had done the right thing by taking to the streets or not. They weren’t aggressive.

The voyage to the police station revved me up. At the precinct, I met a lot of kids. Human rights advocates helped us. They found the precincts where we’d been taken, brought us food, and advised us on how to behave. It was a tremendous feeling of support.

Then Mom came to get me. She and I left the station at 10:00 p.m. I was told only to write a statement, and I was given a report that I had been delivered to the station.

My parents had known I was planning to go to the rally. They told me I might be detained. When I telephoned Mom from the precinct, she was a bit peeved, but there no heavy discussions at home.

I don’t think there will be any blamestorming sessions at school. Most of our teachers say that Russian isn’t a very good country. I think they would have supported my trip to the rally.

The high school students who went to the Field of Mars shouldn’t be dubbed “truants.” Spring holidays had begun. There are lots of dissatisfied young people, so that was why, apparently, they attended the rally. We think about our future. We don’t want to live in a country where the regime robs its own people. But people who are older could not care less anymore, it seems. They’re too lazy to go outside in bad weather.

“Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev], we can’t hear you.” Photo courtesy of Denis Goldman/Rosbalt

Mikhail, 16, tenth-grader, Moscow
I had already been in the Boris Nemtsov memorial march and the protests against the Yarovaya package. Like any sensible person, I don’t like the fact our official steal, accept bribes, and build themselves enormous castles in Italy and palaces in Russia. The corruption schemes in Russia are no different from the ones used by the now-ex-president of South Korea. She also laundered money through charities.

The authorities have not reacted to the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s investigation. All that happened was Medvedev banned Navalny on Instagram.

After watching Navalny’s film, I had questions and I wanted answers to them. The Anti-Corruption Foundation argues that the rally was authorized in keeping with the Constitutional Court’s ruling. I consider my arrest illegal, although I was ready for it to happen.

I was walking down the street with my friends. We weren’t shouting slogans, but we were carrying placards featuring Zhdun and the Rubber Duck. Apparently, I was arrested for carrying a placard. My arrest sheet said I had been waving my arms, grabbing people, and running out into traffic. But they wrote that in everyone’s arrest sheet. The only thing they changed was people’s names. Eleven hours passed from the moment of my arrest until I left the police station, although I’m a minor. I should have been released as quickly as possible.

No one told my parents I was at the police station. I telephoned them myself. The police charged me with me violating Article 20.2 of the Administrative Procedures Codes (“Violation of the established procedure for organizing or holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, march or picket”). There will be a court hearing. I imagine the verdict will be guilty. I will appeal it to the European Court of Human Rights.

My parents knew I was going to the rally. They reacted differently to my arrest. My father took it lightly. He remembered his brother, who back in the day had been involved in the events outside the White House. But Mom was upset because I was unable to go to a relative’s birthday party.

I’m glad so many people showed up to the rally. People realize that corruption is an evil, that something has to change. I hope the teenagers who went to the rally will keep involved in civic activism and fight to make our country law-abiding. I don’t think this is the last time you’ll see young people taking to the streets.

As for the consequences, I don’t think there will be a crackdown at my school. I hope the Moscow Education Department doesn’t apply any pressure.

Students confront riot police on Palace Square, 26 March 2017

Svetlana, 17, first-year university student, Petersburg
This was the first protest in my life. I had wanted to attend the rally against transferring St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Orthodox Church, but it didn’t work out. The reason I attended the rally was Navaly’s exposé film. I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines.

I saw lots of indignant people at the Field of Mars. Initially, I didn’t want to stand out. I even felt uncomfortable chanting with everyone else. Then I went and stood next to some young activists. I felt comfortable with them. Of course, I didn’t want my university to find out I’d been involved in the rally. They don’t like it when students start “uprisings.”

When we were walking down Nevsky Prospect toward Palace Square, I was already in the front. I took the subway to Insurrection Square. When I came out, I saw the police had blocked the road. I didn’t see any of the arrests myself. Friends told me about them.

There is nothing extraordinary about the fact that young people came out for the rally. It’s not the first time they’ve been called a driving force. It is always young people that kick everything off. Lots of people are now talking about what happened. I was pleased to be involved in the beginning of the big fight against corruption.

“Corruption isn’t such a great tradition.” “Let’s explain to little Dima that taking other people’s things is bad.” Two protesters holding placards on the Field of Mars, 26.03.2017

Victoria, 18, 2nd-year university student, Petersburg
I used to go to rallies mainly dealing with educational problems. I had been to rallies in defense of St. Petersburg State University, the Publishing and Printing College, and the European University. As a student, I take this issue to heart. I wouldn’t want to find myself in a situation in which my university was being closed.

As for the topic of the March 26 rally, corruption is on everyone’s minds. There is corruption in Petersburg’s universities and colleges, too. Everyone has seen Navalny’s exposé film. It was no longer a question of going to the Field of Mars or not. I had to go. Naturally, I realized the police could nab us, but I didn’t go looking for trouble. I didn’t provoke the police indiscriminately.

I don’t understand, for example, why people had to climb on the monument. But painting one’s face green was a completely innocent gesture.

What I liked about the rally was the spirit of unity, the sense of belonging to a common cause. Ultimately, I went with everyone else from the Field of Mars to Palace Square, and then I went home. I was freezing.

I don’t think there will be crackdowns in the schools and colleges after something like this. First, the teachers and lecturers are themselves dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Second, none of them wants to find themselves in the role of the Bryansk schoolteachers. After all, high school and university students record all preventive discussions and then post them on the internet. No one wants to be a laughing stock on the web.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Except where indicated all photos courtesy of Alexander Polukeyev/Rosbalt. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up

Cossacks versus Pokémon: Which Are More Real?

“In 1996, game designer Satoshi Tajiri invented the Pokémon, which immediately garnered immense popularity. Years have passed, and their glory had seemingly faded, but on July 6, 2016, the Pokémon Go mobile app set the Internet world on fire and split Russian society. Some psychiatrists believe the game was developed by American neo-Nazis; others, that it is a CIA project; still others, that it is simply a brilliant commercial project. But spokesmen for the Russian Orthodox Church have detected an occult component in the game. While others have been trying to figure out what Pokémon Go is, the Cossacks are certain the game is part of the information war against Russia. So they went out on a raid against the Pokémon.”
—Annotation to the video of a TV news report, above. It was posted on YouTube on August 1, 2016, by Svoyo TV, based in Stavropol, Russia. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Rustam Adagamov for the heads-up

__________

If the “Cossacks” are against this Pokémon business, I am all for it. And you should be, too. Because there are no “Cossacks” in reality, only mental patients, policemen, and FSB officers dressing up as “Cossacks.”

In this sense, the Pokémon are just as real as the “Cossacks,” but much less harmful. They don’t try and shut down art exhibitions and plays, they don’t assault opposition leaders, they don’t attack Pussy Riot with “real Cossack whips” in Sochi, and they have not set themselves up as the ultimate voice of popular Russian common sense.

The “news segment,” above, is like a news segment in which Darth Vader is asked what he thinks about Santa Claus.

There is no Darth Vader. There is no Santa Claus. There are no Cossacks.

“Russia’s strident conservatism,” mentioned in the article, below, is a hoax as well, a total fiction, spun from whole cloth by a gang of crooks and thieves who, first of all, want to fool themselves about having real “moral” values, “anti-liberal” values, rather than admitting they are just soulless, greedy nihilists on the make and on the take.

More importantly, the “conservative” fiction is a nifty gimmick for occupying the minds and hearts of people whose time would be better spent thinking hard and creatively about how to rid themselves of the gang of crooks and thieves, rather than tolerating or even buying into the endless waves of hokey moral panics dreamt up and launched by mainstream TV, the Putinist online troll army, the relevant FSB directorates and offices in the presidential administrations, and the FSB and police agents (bolstered, no doubt, by a handful of true believers) who dress up as “Cossacks,” “members” of the “grassroots” National Liberation Movement (NOD), and so on.

Finally, pace what Tom Balmforth has written, below, there are no “senators” in Russia, either, for the starkly simple reason that Russia has no Senate. (Post-Petrine Imperial Russia had an institution called the Senate, but that is neither here nor there.) The upper house of Russia’s current rubber-stamp parliament is called the Federation Council. A few years ago, its members took to calling themselves “senators,” just as other self-empowered clowns took to calling themselves “Cossacks.” No one, especially self-respecting reality-based journalists, is obliged to encourage this blatant attempt at dignifying an utterly undemocratic, unelected institution.

__________

Pokemon Go Away: Russians See CIA Plot, ‘Satanism’ In Viral App
Tom Balforth
RFE/RL
July 15, 2016

Russia’s strident conservatism, perhaps best personified by Cossacks and the Orthodox Church, probably could not have less in common with Pokemons, the multicolored, virtual “pocket monsters” from Japan’s Nintendo.

So it’s unsurprising that reports that Pokemon Go, a new augmented-reality app that invites users to seek and “collect” the creatures by navigating in real space with the help of a mobile device, could be unveiled in Russia this week have irked some of the country’s conservatives.

Further still, though, some in Russia have depicted the application as an extraordinary scheme by the U.S. secret services to craftily enlist millions of people across the world to photograph and film hidden, out-of-the-way places.

“Imagine that the ‘little creature’ in question doesn’t appear in some park but on a secret site where a conscript or other soldier takes and photographs it with his camera,” state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Aleksandr Mikhailov, a retired major general of the Federal Security Service (FSB), on July 15 as saying. “It’s recruitment by one’s own personal desire and without any coercion. This is the ideal way for secret services to gather information. And no one takes any heed, entertainment is fashionable after all.”

Russian ultranationalist thinker and frequent conspiracy theorist Aleksandr Dugin made similar allegations on July 12, even claiming that Niantic, the San Francisco-based developer of the application, is linked to a CIA venture capital firm.

Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov told Tass his ministry does not intend to specially regulate or ban the application. “Some people like creating their own startup, achieving results, some people like to lounge on the sofa all day, some people like running after Pokemons and falling into ditches. Everyone chooses for themselves, happily, we have a free country,” Nikiforov said.

On July 14, influential business newspaper Vedomosti quoted two sources in Nintendo’s Russia office as saying the application could be released by the end of this week.

There has been some hype on Russia’s social networks where Pokemon Go has been trending, and experts predict it will take that country by storm, toomuch to the disapproval of some officials.

On July 14, Lyudmila Bokova, a senator [sic] from Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, attacked the latest incarnation of the Pokemon franchise as a provocation and a trick to extract money from the parents of its fans.

“This is some kind of strange trick to renew this story, to again get children hooked on who knows what, and to actively obtain the money in their parents’ wallets,” Senator Lyudmila Bokova was quoted by Tass as saying.

‘Smacks Of Satanism’

Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, the country’s cultural capital [sic], the Irbis Orthodox Union of Cossacks called for the application to be formally banned.

Andrei Polyakov, the ataman of the society, said he intends to appeal to the Consumer Health Watchdog and the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, Znak.ru reports.

“We need to drag people out of the virtual world; otherwise it all smacks of Satanism. There are so many real interesting things and professions in the world, so much of interest to do that it is wrong to be distracted by every nonsense.”

Polyakov continued: “As for churches and temples, holy places, cultural institutions, children’s institutions, this absolutely has to be banned. We must respect culture and people’s faith, regardless which. Either there must be a sensible framework, or instructions that must be observed, or the application has to be banned completely.”

The smartphone application invites users to gather imaginary Pokemons that are projected onto images of real locations.

Vakhtang Kipshidze, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, has urged users not to play the game in places of worship. In particular, he mentioned the duels that can be called between Pokemon Go users and their retinues of pocket monsters.

The Kremlin’s Council for Human Rights and Civil Society said on July 14 that it would discuss threats linked to the game and would make recommendations.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said of the fad in the Russian context: “Pokemons are not the reason to visit the Kremlin, a jewel of world culture. Moreover, the Kremlin is unprecedentedly open, although it is the residence of the head of state.”

Pokemon Go has prompted concerns outside of Russia, too. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, for instance, felt obliged to warn players and seek exclusion from the game, announcing that “playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism.”

Kuwait on July 15 banned the game at “sensitive landmarks,” AP said, reportedly to include military and other government locations. Authorities in California said two men fell off a seaside cliff there after climbing through a barrier to play Pokemon Go, underscoring what U.S. officials have warned is a risky tendency to trespass in the heat of the chase.

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Image courtesy of appleapple.top

The Kids Are (Not) Alright, Part 2

What’s wrong with this picture?

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What follows is an excerpt from the seemingly endless series of “grassroots” exposés of the irremediable “stupidity” of twentysomethings, “most ordinary” Russians, Ukrainians, amerikosy, etc., that are posted in such abundance on the Runet these days.

At work, I have a personal assistant, a young woman, Nastya, a Muscovite, 22 years old [sic], who is in her final year at law school. She asked me a question.

Wow, why do they build the metro so frigging deep? It’s inconvenient and difficult!”

“Well, you see, Nastya, the Moscow metro originally was dual purpose. It was planned to be used both as public transportation and as a bomb shelter.”

Natasha grinned incredulously.

“A bomb shelter? How stupid? What, is someone planning to bomb us?”

[…]

“Have you been to the Baltic States?”

“I have. I’ve been to Estonia.”

“Well, how was it? Was it a hassle to get a visa?”

“I was there under the Soviet Union. We were one country then.”

“What do you mean, ‘one country’?”

“All the Baltic States were part of the Soviet Union! Nastya, did you really not know that?”

“Holy shit!”

“Now you’re going to totally freak out. Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova were also part of the USSR. And Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. As well as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia!”

“Georgia! You mean those assholes there was a war with?!”

“The very same. You do know that the Soviet Union existed then collapsed? You were even born in it!”

“Yes, I know there some kind of Soviet Union that then collapsed. But I didn’t know it lost so much territory…”

I was riding in the metro and looking at the people around me. There were lots of young faces. All of them were younger than me by ten years, a dozen years. Were they all just like Nastya?! The zero generation. Ideal vegetables…

Source: Kazbek Magerramov (Facebook), via allmomente.livejournal.com

Among the numerous comments to this Zadornovesque anecdote, most of which empathize with the author’s blunt point and bewail the allegedly vegetable-like state of the “zero generation,” I couldn’t find a single comment pointing out that if silly Nastya were now indeed twenty-two years old, she would have had to have been born in 1992 or 1993, that is, one or two years after the actual Soviet Union actually collapsed in 1991. But in this shaggy-dog story, the first-person narrator tells dumb Nastya that she was somehow born in this magical land about which she is so woefully ignorant.

This logical gaffe makes me think the whole thing has been made up. Like half the “tales from real life” about the laughable simplicity of “ordinary blokes,” twentysomethings, pindosy, ukropy, women or, alternately, the gritty folk wisdom of cabbies, roaming the mighty virtual steppes of the Runet nowadays.

The kids are alright, really. It’s just that they have been left to their own devices. Which, like all the other discriminated and marginalized groups left to their own devices over the last twenty-four years by the state, the ruling classes, the mainstream media, and their allies in the newfangled virtual Kadet parties and Unions of the Russian People, makes them ideal figures of “fun,” scorn, and fear. And perfect stalking horses for transparent exercises in post-imperial melancholy like this one.

Putin’s Russia (how it pains me to type this phrase) is not just a pollocracy. It is also an “anecdotocracy.” Researchers of “post-authoritarian” societies like Russia really should be delving deeper into how polls and anecdotes have been used to help people to oppress themselves and make common cause with others impossible.

Russian Folk Art

Here is an amazing bit of “folk art” I just captured on Facebook. What’s amazing about it is that it turns on their head all the impossible contortions that Russian state and mainstream media, and segments of Russian social media have been going through, over the past week, to befuddle the Russian public as to who might have shot down Flight MH17 (as described here, for example, by the indispensable Peter Pomerantsev), attributing them instead to US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. In the past couple months, Psaki has been elevated by the “pro-Russian” crowd (meaning the same state/”grassroots” media synergy behind the contortionist act) into a Great Satan figure, emblematic of American stupidity and ignorance.
folk art

The missile that shot down the Boeing was launched from the cruiser Aurora, which, under the cover of night, and escorted by the FSB, arrived on the shores of Belarus. It launched the missile and just as quietly rowed back, via the Great Rostov Ridge, to Petersburg.

__________

On the so-called Psaking phenomenon:

Jen Psaki became one of the favorite targets of the Russian media. RG.ru published an article entitled “Jen Psaki found mountains in Rostov Oblast.” The article attributes direct quotes supposedly obtained by journalist Matt Lee about Ukrainian refugees to Russia, whom Psaki was said to have referred to as “tourists traveling to enjoy Rostov’ mountains.” Matt Lee promptly denied ever having such a conversation with Psaki, asserting that the claims in the article were false. In spite of Lee refuting claims in the article, the same allegations were regurgitated by Komsomolskaya Pravda and other news outlets, some of which attributed the fake quotes to Associated Press. Lenta.ru published an apology to Jen Psaki for re-printing the said false claims. None of the other outlets apologized, but instead went on to pontificate about Psaki’s prior commentary, continuing to attack her credibility.

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__________

While society at large is complicit in this hysteria, to say the least, it cannot be stressed too many times how much of this “folk wisdom” about current affairs and “popular support” for whatever way the Putinist line is bending, has been generated either by state media outright or by covert paid commentators (i.e., Internet trolls), operating out of offices like this in the Petersburg suburb of Olgino:

Local reporters have infiltrated a covert organization that hired young people as “Internet operators” near St. Petersburg and discovered that the employees are being paid to write pro-Kremlin postings and comments on the Internet, smearing opposition leader Alexei Navalny and U.S. politics and culture.

Journalists from the MR7.ru website and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper have reacted to a posting by St. Petersburg local Natalya Lvova, who wrote on the Russian VKontakte social network about an interview she attended on Aug. 30 at what she described as a “posh cottage with glass walls” in Olgino, a village in St. Petersburg’s Kurortny District.

According to Lvova, the office occupying two rooms reminded her of an “internet club with lots of computers and people.” Employees in one room wrote blog posts for social networks, while those in the other room specialized in comments.

“To my question about a technical task — what exactly should be written in the comments — a young guy, a coordinator, told me, briefly and clearly, that they were having busy days at the moment and that yesterday they all wrote in support of [Moscow acting mayor Sergei] Sobyanin, while ‘today we shit on Navalny,’” she wrote on her VKontakte page.

According to Lvova, each commenter was to write no less than 100 comments a day, while people in the other room were to write four postings a day, which then went to the other employees whose job was to post them on social networks as widely as possible.

Employees at the company, located at 131 Lakhtinsky Prospekt, were paid 1,180 rubles ($36.50) for a full 8-hour day and received a free lunch, Lvova wrote.

source: St. Petersburg Times