Life Under Fascism

What is life like for us under fascism? It’s fine. I eat, sleep, work, play computer games and football, and get laid.

Repairs have begun on the roofs of the Soviet high-rise buildings on my work beat. The contractor drags powerful electric roofing kettles onto the roof, hacks away the old tar, melts it down, and immediately pours it back onto the roof. The kettles are powerful—advanced technology that works quickly and efficiently.

The kettles are also five years old. They are left right on the roofs over the winter, and so they are rotted and burned out. The molten tar splashes onto the cables, and everything in the vicinity burns and smokes. It is no exaggeration to say that you can smell the stench two blocks away. It is unlikely that there is anything healthy in the fumes generated by the molten tar. It is Uzbeks who work on the roofs: their bosses persist in calling them jigits. They work without safeguards or personal protective equipment. On the first day, they asked their bosses for water. Their bosses told them to get it themselves—”otherwise, next time they’ll be asking for broads in bikinis.”

Yesterday the cops nabbed them. The cops told them, “Your registration isn’t in our database. So, you either spend a couple days in jail until we figure it out, or you each cough up 5,000 rubles now.” [At the current—official—exchange rate, 5,000 rubles is approximately 88 euros.]

Do you think there is a database somewhere that says that you are just a human being?

Their electrician is from Bashkiria, a skinny kid in glasses with a typical whistling accent. He graduated from an architectural college back home, came to Petersburg, and worked on a low-voltage network for a couple of months, but now has been hired as an electrician servicing the three-phase fifty-kilowatt kettles. On the first day, he regarded the whole setup with mortal dismay. In his bag he has a set of screwdrivers and a crimper for patch cords. Now he dives into the overheated equipment, changes the burnt-out heating elements, and splices the burnt, beaten cables. Then he unsuccessfully tries for hours to wash off the oil stench.

“Who will pay for your disability?” I ask him.

“They can’t pay us overtime.”

He put up with this as long as he could before breaking down and going on a drinking binge. He squandered all his money, arriving back at work with a black eye and his left cheek puffed up like a pillow. His glasses were still intact, however. He asked me to lend him money for beer.

“How much do they pay you?” I ask.

“They promise mountains of gold.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“It’s daily work. 2,500 rubles a day.”

The word he was looking for in Russia was “daywork” [podënnaia], not “daily work” [podnevnaia]. There is such a thing as “daywork” and “dayworkers.” Who make sixteen dollars a day if you calculate their pay in terms of the actual exchange rate.

How much does the Russian lad Vitya, who made the remark about the “broads in bikinis,” make? How much does their supervisor, a handsome, businesslike, quick-thinking middle-aged man with shifty eyes, make?

What will they buy for themselves by pinching the money budgeted for roof repairs? A car? A tiled path for their dacha? When they walk on this path, will they think about the people whose health has been permanently scarred by tar on hot roofs? I doubt it.

Fascist brutality springs from this everyday, workaday brutality. Indifference to people as individuals grows from this virtually legalized slavery.

Source: George Losev, Facebook, 28 June 2022. Mr. Losev works as an on-duty electrician for the housing authority in Petersburg. He points out that the roofing tar kettles he describes are nothing like the one in the video I inserted, above. They are much larger and electric-powered. This is not to mention that “Alfredo the kettle man” (in the video) is wearing protective equipment, unlike the Uzbek workers in Mr. Losev’s story. Translated by the Russian Reader


I was asked to show how to make a “syllable tram.”

I scanned the roadway (see the links, below). The drawings were quite hastily done, right before class. (

The strip should be glued with adhesive tape on the reverse side. (Leave a millimeter between the sections so that it is easier to fold and store.) The tram, which is approximately 290 mm wide (nearly the same width as an A4 sheet of paper) and 85 mm high, is fitted onto the strip. One window in the tram is cut out, and a transparent sleeve is pasted on the other, into which a consonant is inserted.

The strip needs to be fastened with something. (I fastened it to the table with tape.)

The tram travels from right to left. When it reaches a marked stop, a vowel appears in the cut-out window. When you make the tram, test it and draw the letters on the strip so that they appear in the exact same place as the empty spot.

The roadway:

https://disk.yandex.ru/i/dGXik7Z3Nmwpgg (Yandex Disk)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/13k0cDuhXD-hAzytGpGYgpsZEdR9jmsVd/view (Google Drive)

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 28 June 2022. Ms. Vvedenskaya teaches Russian to immigrant children at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. Most of these children are originally from Central Asia, like the workers in Mr. Losev’s story. The first image, above, is a screenshot of a short video that Ms. Vvedenskaya included in her original post, showing her pupils playing with her “syllable tram.” Translated by the Russian Reader

The Living End (Russia Day 2022)

“A week of discounts from domestic brands! We’re celebrating Russia Day! Russian goods at discounts from 12%” A screenshot of the email flyer I received earlier today from Ozon, Russia’s answer to Amazon.


I read with my own eyes a post by a journalist (a well-read woman and so on) that there have been shortages of Dijon mustard in France (the seeds came from Ukraine). She says it’s not good to gloat, but it’s still somehow hard to resist.

Since the norms of behavior forbid us to analyze the psyches of strangers without their asking, it remains only to say in the words of one classic author, addressed to another classic author:

God, how sad our Russia is!

Source: Anna Narinskaya, Facebook, 11 June 2022


“What, should I die and not live?” “Who would I make happier by getting arrested?” “I have my health, elderly parents, mortgage (crossed out), cat (crossed out), students, and deadlines to worry about.” “Why doesn’t Syria get so much sympathy?” “One must stand with one’s country, right or wrong.” (Crossed out.) “We have one life to live, and we should think about eternity and loved ones, not politics.” Have you been saying such things to yourself? I have been, constantly, usually silently, only to myself. But then I think that it is a way of normalizing the abnormal, of normalizing the fascist situation, that it is the next stage in the collapse of my personality, and perhaps of the country, morality, culture, and sociability, a new stage and state into which I and all of us are entering.

Source: Sergey Abashin, Facebook, 12 June 2022


“You’re not Peter the First [Peter the Great], you’re Adolf the Second.” Source: Rustem Adagamov, Twitter, 12 June 2022: “The town of Siversky, near St. Petersburg.”


A close female friend writes to me from Moscow that “fun” is in the air again there on the streets and “in the corridors.” “The war has boiled over and cooled down”: it has been put on the back burner. The shock has passed and “the war is somewhere else.” The summer routine has overtaken it. “Well yeah, there’s the war, but does that mean we’re now supposed to stop living?”

Source: Alexander Morozov, Facebook, 11 June 2022


“Wait [for his death]. Press the button to cross the road.” Source: @d_valkovich, Twitter, 11 June 2022: “The voice of the Moscow streets.”


So you bitches are enjoying the summer, right? The birds are singing, the lilacs are blooming, the mosquitoes are buzzing… But it’s no fucking summer, it’s your eternal black February in summer guise, it’s the horseman of the apocalypse pounding his hooves, you see a cloud of dust in the distance… These are the end times.

Source: Roman Osminkin, Twitter, 11 June 2022


Sometimes I have dreams where someone falls off a roof or gets hit by a train. I never see the death itself, but only sense that something irreparable has happened. Something very scary, because it is forever. Then I wake up.

Like many people, I am waiting for this horror to end. The fact that the end exists at all gives us some hope in our helplessness. But we’re not going back to a world where none of this happened. Something irreparable has happened. Tens of thousands have been killed, and probably hundreds of thousands have been crippled in one way or another. It is forever. It cannot “end.”

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A dog near its house, which was destroyed by a shell, Kostiantynivka. Photo: Gleb Garanich for Reuters/Scanpix/LENTA

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 12 June 2022


All translations by the Russian Reader

The Asch Conformity Experiments

Back in the 1950s, experiments were conducted that purported to demonstrate how difficult it is for one person to resist the opinion of a group. These were [Solomon] Asch’s famous [conformity] experiments.

The subjects were asked to compare the length of lines. The correct answer was obvious, but it was “decoys” in the group who answered first, and they all pointed to another line as the right one. Consequently, most people conformed with group’s opinion and answered the question incorrectly. But if at least one of the decoys had been instructed to answer differently than the others (although not necessarily correctly), most of the subjects were able to assert their own opinion.

A friend told me how she had unwittingly found herself inside an Asch experiment. She was an independent observer on an elections commission in which all the other members were attempting to falsify the results. They put the ballots for one candidate into a stack with the other candidate’s ballots. My acquaintance tried in vain to protest. She said that her principal emotion was not indignation, but the terrible thought that, maybe, there was something wrong with her. It seemed to her that she was going crazy: it could not be that all these people were doing “wrong” so calmly and confidently.

That is why the authorities are going after pro-peace posters and anti-war quotes by Leo Tolstoy, and that is why draconian fines and criminal penalties have been introduced for voicing opinions other than the official ones. That is why all the opposition media have been shuttered. Because the existence of even one public voice contradicting the “unanimous choir” enables thousands of other people to maintain their own common sense. (For those of you who do not like the opposition and opposition politicians, remember that this holds true even if the contradictory voice is “wrong.”)

Many people are now afraid to speak out publicly, not only because of the possible punishments, but also because of the effect demonstrated by Asch’s experiments. It’s scary to stand alone against everyone. That is why it is so important to support each other (“a like is also a help” :) and, at least, voice one’s opinion in private conversations with each other, if not publicly. It will help someone not to go crazy.

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Translated by the Russian Reader


Marina Dubrova, an English teacher on the Russian island of Sakhalin in the Pacific, showed an uplifting YouTube video to her eighth-grade class last month in which children, in Russian and Ukrainian, sing about a “world without war.”

After she played it, a group of girls stayed behind during recess and quizzed her on her views.

“Ukraine is a separate country, a separate one,” Ms. Dubrova, 57, told them.

“No longer,” one of the girls shot back.

A few days later, the police came to her school in the port town of Korsakov. In court, she heard a recording of that conversation, apparently made by one of the students. The judge handed down a $400 fine for “publicly discrediting” Russia’s Armed Forces. The school fired her, she said, for “amoral behavior.”

“It’s as though they’ve all plunged into some kind of madness,” Ms. Dubrova said in a phone interview, reflecting on the pro-war mood around her.

With President Vladimir V. Putin’s direct encouragement, Russians who support the war against Ukraine are starting to turn on the enemy within.

The episodes are not yet a mass phenomenon, but they illustrate the building paranoia and polarization in Russian society. Citizens are denouncing one another in an eerie echo of Stalin’s terror, spurred on by vicious official rhetoric from the state and enabled by far-reaching new laws that criminalize dissent.

Source: Anton Troianovski, New York Times, 9 April 2022. Read the rest of this disturbing article by clicking on the link. Thanks to Comrade SG for the timely heads-up.

He Didn’t Look like a Gopnik

Natalia Vvedenskaya, an amazing grassroots activist acquaintance of mine in Petersburg who teaches Russian to immigrant kids, writing about what happened her and “No to the war” pin today in the subway:

I got my pin torn off today. It was a man, over thirty. He demanded that I take it off, then he tore it off himself. He didn’t look at all like a gopnik, by the way, although he behaved accordingly.

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 19 March 2022

Five Petersburgers on February 24th

There are many women from Ukraine working in Israel, women who were forced to come here to work because of the complete devastation wrought by the war. They are employed in cleaning and in caring for the elderly and children. Nathan’s nanny, Vika, has been here for about five years. She hasn’t seen her own children and mother during this entire time. At first she worked as a cleaner, then, perhaps due to constant contact with toxic cleaning substances, she got sick with blood cancer. She was given medical care at one time, but then she was turned down on an extension of her insurance. Vika’s only chance to survive is a bone marrow transplant operation that costs 285 thousand dollars. As a non-citizen of Israel, she will not receive free medical care here. Vika is only a few years older than me. She has nowhere to go back to go for treatment. (Although, even if she did, they wouldn’t treat it for free either.) This morning I heard another woman, Mila, already middle-aged, weeping and telling her family, “It would be better if I were with you.” I have no emotional strength left for righteous indignation, karma-cleansing public shame, and slogans. I have only a huge desire for Vika to survive and be able to hug her children, and for Mila not to weep in horror for her family.

Source: Olga Jitlina, Facebook, 24 February 2022. Ms. Jitlina lives in Jaffa. Translated by the Russian Reader

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There were very few people [at the protest in downtown Moscow], alas. Thank you to everyone who came, and [I wish] a speedy release to everyone who is in the paddy wagons. But how [only] a thousand people can come to a rally in Moscow against the terrible criminal war unleashed by our country, I do not understand. I don’t blame anyone, I understand that it’s scary, but we cannot manage to do anything, alas. It’s very hard to bear. NO TO THE CRIMINAL WAR WITH UKRAINE!

Source: Alexander Feldberg, Facebook, 24 February 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Today is my birthday. I am 43. I was born in 1979, in Leningrad, in a Jewish family. I grew up very sheltered and very afraid. My grandfather, a survivor of a German POW camp, who managed to escape arrest and prosecution in the USSR, taught me to behave “lower than grass, quieter than water,” showing total submission toward any and all authority figures. At my school, my brother’s teacher tore an earring out of a girl’s ear, tore it “with meat,” right through the earlobe, because of some Soviet prejudice against earrings. That teacher remained a teacher in the school. Two other teachers in two different schools I went to had been known sexual predators who went after boys. One of them was eventually pushed out of teaching, but the other remained. I don’t even mention the daily groping on the bus and subway, on my way to school, that violence seemed so every day that it still feels pointless to speak up about.

At 16, when I had to get my first passport, my family insisted that I try facing the authorities on my own. I tried and got a run-around and received a set of impossible instructions and returned home in tears and full of hatred for all the stone-faced people who refused to help with such an everyday task. (I hadn’t read Kafka by then yet, but when I did, I knew what he was writing about.) The next day, my grandmother came to the passport office with me. She fixed the problem as she always did, by begging and pleading — I’m old and my granddaughter is young and stupid, could you please help us — the skill she had that always horrified me. I refused to imagine how she had come by it. I resisted learning to beg, and I resisted fear, too, but fear was the air I breathed. I left Russia at the earliest opportunity, and in my subsequent visits there, considered: Could I live here now? Could I feel free and unafraid? There were years when I imagined I could.

Today, like so many people I’m watching Russia invade Ukraine, and first and foremost I am afraid. I’m afraid for what might happen to the people of Ukraine, of what Russia might do. But I’m also so proud and so happy to see that so many others, people made differently than me, aren’t afraid, and that so many others are able to put aside their fear to fight. I know many Ukrainians are asking why not more Russians come out on the streets of their cities to protest the war. They are right to ask the question. And, given what’s happening in Ukraine right now, fear is a bad answer. In my experience, however, fear is a very real, all-encompassing and paralyzing feeling. My heart is tightening with it so many thousands of miles away, writing this. And yet again, I see others pushing through their fear and come out on the streets of Russian cities despite the very real threat of arrests. And I see people of Ukraine resisting and the world hopefully waking up and coming together to act against the aggressor. The bully relies on and feeds on our fear. This is also real.

One other thing I’ve noticed. Fear masks itself as so many other things. Anger. Hatred. Cynicism. “This isn’t about me.” “Why rock the boat?” “Why should I get involved?” “I shouldn’t do anything that might hurt my family.” I find my mind going through these motions. My mind isn’t comfortable with fear and tries to bury the feeling inside the ever-longer logical chains. And I, among many of us, who grew up in Russia, am badly trained to unpack these logical threads and to face the fear. It’s ok to be afraid. It’s not ok to attack another country.

Source: Olga Zilberbourg, Facebook, 24 February 2022. Ms. Zilberbourg is the San Francisco-based author of the highly acclaimed Like Water and Other Stories and co-editor of Punctured Lines, a feminist blog about literature from the former Soviet Union.

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“Putin is a war criminal.”

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 24 February 2022. Natalia Vvedenskaya is a Petersburg grassroots activist who, among other things, teaches Russian to immigrant children at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center.

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Dear everyone,
[S]hocked as we all are by the nightmare of the news today, whatever you say and whatever your opinions might be on who is to blame and what must be done, please just remember that within Russia there are very different people, with different views — not everyone is supporting the war or the government (in my feed not a single person is, as far as I can see, but that is, sadly, not a universal picture). In my city, St. Petersburg, today over a thousand people came to Nevsky prospect to protest against the war, in spite of the danger. They are in danger because the political regime in Russia is as intolerant to its opponents as it has been over the past decade, maybe more so. Many were detained, which will inevitably mean prosecution — almost certainly fines and possibly arrests, not to mention the following risk of being fired from work. I understand that in other cities, in Ukraine, people are facing a much more immediate danger of being bombed, but believe me, it is also scary to go to a street with a placard “No to war” when you might end up in prison for that. Screenshot is from a video by Fontanka, a local newspaper.

Source: Maria Guleva, Facebook, 24 February 2022. Ms. Guleva studies at Charles University in Prague.

Popular Opinion

“Any action that dispels the illusions of order and resignation is a spell for more of the same.” Photo by the Russian Reader

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Вообще, ходить вокруг соседа, помахивая битой и приговаривая «че ты дергаешься-то, че дергаешься, я еще ничего не сделал» – так же отвратительно.
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В правильном мире из братской могилы на Пискаревском кладбище поднялись бы тысячи рук и разорвали бы этого лицемера на атомы.

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 27 January 2022

The fact is that hovering around a neighbor, waving a bat, and saying “Why you so jumpy? Why you so jumpy? I ain’t done anything yet” is just as disgusting.
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In a proper world, thousands of hands would have risen from the mass grave at Piskaryovskoye Cemetery* and torn this hypocrite into atoms.

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* Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery (Russian: Пискарёвское мемориа́льное кла́дбище) is located in Saint Petersburg, on the Avenue of the Unvanquished (Проспект Непокорённых), dedicated mostly to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad.

[…]

The memorial complex designed by Alexander Vasiliev and Yevgeny Levinson was opened on May 9, 1960. About 420,000 civilians and 50,000 soldiers of the Leningrad Front were buried in 186 mass graves. Near the entrance an eternal flame is located. A marble plate affirms that from September 4, 1941 to January 22, 1944 107,158 air bombs were dropped on the city, 148,478 shells were fired, 16,744 men died, 33,782 were wounded and 641,803 died of starvation.

Source: Wikipedia

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I don’t know why, but I have come across ladies with dogs so many times that I could do an entire exhibition on the subject. And yet, for example, I have never encountered an old man with a cat! That’s as good a topic for a large-scale sociological study as any other! 🤓

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Real “popular opinion” is what people say and do unrehearsed and uncoerced not the dodgy sentiments that the Kremlin, Levada Center, and self-appointed Russia experts put in their mouths. ||| TRR

Social media posts translated by the Russian Reader

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Update (27.01.2022). This, apparently, was the subtext for Ms. Vvedenskaya’s remarks, above:

Photo of the day: Vladimir Putin came to lay flowers at the Piskaryovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg  in honor of the 78th anniversary of the complete liberation of the city from the fascist siege. The Siege survivors themselves were not allowed into the cemetery — they were left standing behind the fence. Photo: Alexander Demyanchuk / TASS

“They were right to shoot people”

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
November 12, 2021

In the early 2000s, our computer broke down. There were few computer repairmen back then, and a passing acquaintance suggested her husband for the job. The young man came over and quickly fixed everything. Over tea it transpired that he worked at the FSB.

This was still amazing then, so we naively asked him how he could work in such a place, for the heirs of criminals and all that. And this twenty-five-year-old man literally said, “They were right to shoot people. They just should have done it more quietly.”

Now the whole country from top to bottom is run by people from the FSB. Of course, they want to ban Memorial. What need is there to remember if it was “right” to shoot people? What need is there to defend human rights if it is “right” to imprison people now?

The liquidation of Memorial is just the final whistle: the boat is leaving the dock. We’ll still put up a bit of a fight, of course. What else can we do?  But all the same.

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The acquaintance soon divorced the man because he had begun beating their child.

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The document, above, is from the family archive. Roman Troshchenko, a priest, worked as a physician’s assistant in an orphanage after serving time in the camps. He was shot, allegedly, for “spreading rumors among the children and the populace that the Soviet regime would fall and the fascists would come to power.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Back to the Basics

Today, September 1, is the Day of Knowledge — the first day of school — in Russia and some other post-Soviet countries. As it happens, it was sometime around the Day of Knowledge thirty-one years ago that I began studying Russian. My first Russian teacher was a Hungarian woman named Zsuzsa, at Portland State University. She was only the first of many wonderful guides to the language over the next five or six years (the time it took me to achieve relative fluency), including Nora, Sergei, Zoya, and an amazing Chinese grad student who explained Russian grammar — in Russian (speaking English in class was forbidden at UDub) — better than anyone I’ve ever met; all the lovely, patient and generous lecturers and instructors at the Herzen Institute, who were selflessly dedicated to their profession at a time when working conditions for teachers in Russia couldn’t have been worse; the incomparable Katya Vidre, who introduced me to the work of Alexei Khvostenko and Sergei Dovlatov and so many other things; and countless other Russians, especially the cast of bohemians who helped me with my thesis project, a translation and line-by-line commentary of Joseph Brodsky’s long poem “Predstavlenie.”

Although you might not always guess it from this blog and its prevailingly grim subject matter, learning (and reading) Russian has been immensely liberating. Becoming a Russian reader and speaker has made me a different person, a person capable of seeing the world, however darkly or brightly, through other eyes.

I was reminded of this tremendous gift and the sheer joy of plunging into a new language by the four “Russian pedagogical moments” below. I hope they inspire some of you to learn Russian. At very least, you can read through this post and learn your first twenty-seven words and phrases in the language. ||| TRR

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“V or B? Fill in the missing letters.” This is a worksheet made by the RFL teacher extraordinaire Natalia Vvedenskaya for the immigrant children she teaches at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. The words are banan (“banana”), yabloko (“apple”), vaza (“vase”), kolbasa (“sausage”), divan (“couch,” “sofa”), sobaka (“dog”), rebyonok (“child”), and morkovka (“carrot”). This was originally posted on Ms. Vvedenskaya’s Facebook page.

The words and phrases on the second page of the worksheet are velosiped (“bicycle”), avtobus (“bus”), baton (“baguette”), volshebnaya palochka (“magic wand”), gruzovik (“truck, lorry”), banka s vareniem (“jar of jam”), rubashka (“shirt”), and baklazhan (“aubergine, eggplant”).

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Some of Bridget Barbara’s favorite Russian words are arkhiologicheskikh (“archaeological”), zharko (“hot”), delala (“[a female subject] was doing/did”), kavychki (“quotation marks”), prikol’no (“cool”), kuda (“to where”), sovremennyi (“modern,” “contemporary”), ping-pong (“ping-pong”), bifshteks (“beef steak”), and dostoprimechatel’nosti (“sights,” “landmarks”).

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Vadim F. Lurie, “Russia for the Sad.” Posted on the photographer’s Facebook page on August 13, 2021, and reproduced here with his kind permission. The textbook in the photo is open to pages headed with the word grust‘, “sadness.” As Mr. Lurie informs me, “The boy is examining a special book about emotions and discussing it with his mother.”

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Natalia Vvedenskaya playing language bingo with her pupils at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. She writes: “We discussed transport today. Bingo is still the best game for all levels of knowledge of the language and ages. Only it’s very exciting. The screaming is fearsome.”

She Hates Long Words

Panel 1. “Zoo.”
Panel 2. “Lion.”
Panel 3. “She hates long words.” “Giraffe.”
Panel 4. “Ca-mel.”
Panel 5. “Cro-co-dile.”
Panel 6. “Tortoises.”
Panel 7. “Sor-ce-ress.”
Panel 8. “Should we go paste her back together?” “Lunch comes first.”

I borrowed this educational comic strip from the Facebook page of Natalia Vvedenskaya, whose name Russian Readers with long memories will recognize as a Petersburg historic preservationist and grassroots activist whose passionate writings have been featured on three occasions in the last four years. Ms. Vvedenskaya is also a marvelous teacher of the Russian language who enjoys sharing on social media the games, comics, and other teaching aids she herselfs draws, builds, and devises for making the language more accessible to her pupils and learning it more fun. In this case, her task was to make the onerous business of dividing words into syllables into a little adventure.

While I had the honor and pleasure to study Russian with many inspiring teachers, a little part of me wishes I could unlearn Russian and starting studying all over again with her. I thank her for permission to reproduce this comic strip here.

Translated by the Russian Reader. To help me continue producing this website you can donate at your discretion at paypal.me/avvakum

The Real State of Russia Today

fullsizeoutput_215fRussia is a great place for pipelines, dirt, weeds, and skyscrapers, but it is hell on its people. Photo by the Russian Reader

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Some of my friends say the regime will collapse soon, while others argue it is only picking up a head of steam. It occurred to me yesterday that we mistakenly use the word “regime” when talking about the processes taking place in our midst. A regime can last a very long time, and crackdowns, no matter how ridiculous or chaotic, are not symptoms of its demise.

Since ancient times, the state has had only two fundamental functions: defending borders and administering justice (making laws). Everything else—medical care, education, pensions, and bike lanes—is a recent superstructure. Political regimes can be different, from totalitarian to democratic, and they can forego treating people when they are ill, teaching them, and paying them pensions while still maintaining stability. But it must perform the basic functions; otherwise, it stops being a state.

In Russia, on the contrary, one of these foundations has been completely destroyed over the past decades. I am not talking about crackdowns. There has never been any justice either for so-called dissidents or people who randomly fall victim to the state apparatus. People understood this in the Soviet Union, and they understand it now: you fight the law, and the law whacks you upside the head. The majority of Russians do not dispute the state’s right to crack down on the opposition or meddle in the affairs of other countries.

I am talking, instead, about ordinary life and everyday justice, about what we find in the Code of Hammurabi, the Law of the Twelve Tables, and Yaroslav’s Law—about the promises the state makes to citizens, about the fact that you cannot just be beaten, robbed, and wrongfully accused for no reason at all.

And what about Russia? What should we think when, for example, as a friend told me, a youth gang orders food deliveries and then beats up and robs the delivery people, and they have been running this scam for nearly a year, but the police simply refuse to do anything about it? When a person cannot find protection from his bully of neighbor, who shoots at his windows? When you go to court because traffic cops confiscated your driving license for no reason and then solicited a bribe to give it back to you, and the trial drags on for a year and a half? When you even win the case but the time you spent on it was worth much more in monetary terms than the bribe itself?

I made a point of giving more or less innocuous examples. Any of us knows several such stories. What is the point of doing public opinion polls and asking people whether they trust Putin? Ask people whether they trust the Russian courts and Russian law enforcement agencies. Their answer will show you the depths of the disaster. The Russian state has forfeited its basic function, and so we are slowly returning to the state of nature. Scattered tribes roam the landscape, and whether you are safe or not depends on the biceps of your fellow tribesmen. Strong communities can defend their members, while loners and weaklings die off.

The current outrage at the prison sentence handed down to an actor is not about crackdowns, but about the degradation of the state’s basic functions. This protest will only grow because the state has been vanishing before our eyes. All that remains are armed men who have monopolized power. What will be next? No one knows.

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Andrey Tchabovsky
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September 17, 2019

Our Motherland

We returned from a conference in Kyzyl (Tuva).

Two Germans, a respected professor, and his wife and colleague, had supplied the event with its international credentials. For over twenty years, they have invested both their money and their labor in research in Tuva. They had become fans of the place. They had made friends. They were friends to numerous local zoologists and zoologists from other parts of Russia. The professor is an honorary member of the Russian Theriological Society, an affiliate of the Russian Academy of Sciences. For the conference, they minted very nice commemorative medals, paying for them with their own money, to present to their respected Russian colleagues.

Local officials of the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education did not let them into the conference at the university and deleted their papers from the conference program. They were not even allowed into the building, all because of Kotyukov’s decree about interactions with foreign scientists. It is clear the decree can and should be roundly ignored regardless of whether it is legitimate or not. It is equally clear that many people will not ignore it because of the stupid need to stay on the safe side and, so, the decree will do what it was meant to do.

It is an utterly shameful disgrace.

Thanks to Natalia Vvedenskaya for her permission to translate and publish her remarks. Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for bringing Andrey Tchabovsky’s remarks to my attention. Translated by the Russian Reader