Where Did You Go? (Day 44)

44th day“The forty-fourth day of Sentsov’s hunger strike.” Post on filmmaker Askold Kurov’s Facebook page

Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has completed the forty-third day of his hunger strike. His only demand is that Russian authorities release the other Russian political prisoners they have imprisoned during their illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Unfortunately, I have the growing sense that even the most progressive Russians, whatever that means, are so impressed by the nonstop international football party that has been unleashed on the streets of their major cities that they are less and less able to focus on what matters in the near term (the government’s plan to raise the retirement age, the pending retrial of Yuri Dmitriev, the mind-bending Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, Sentsov’s hunger strike, six more years of pitch-black Putinist reaction). They behave and talk like people who have richly earned a celebration.

In the grand scheme of things, none of us deserve a celebration. We are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and we deserve to be crushed.

Viewing our fallen world more realistically, however, we probably do need to give ourselves a break, no matter how dire the circumstances, every once in a while, but only after we have done our work, especially the collective grassroots work that keeps our societies from slipping over the edge into the abyss of lawlessness, reaction, and fascism.

With few exceptions, Russia’s hyper-educated populace, however, checked out of hands-on politics long ago. They are literally the most holiday-prone bunch I have ever encountered in the world. Nearly everyone I know is endlessly on vacation, on the road, not at home, checked out, off the radar in internal exile, you name it.

This was my roundabout way of saying the truly heroic Mr. Sentsov’s chances do not look good. // TRR

* * * * * * * * * *

Many of my western leftist friends have been having a field day with the White Pride House’s disgusting treatment of immigrant families and children from Latin America, as they should be.

But when it comes to the Kremlin’s disgusting treatment of nearly everyone under its own black hole sun, from Oleg Sentsov and the alleged Penza-Petersburg “terrorists” to Yuri Dmitriev and Oyub Titiev, mum has been word among western leftists.

This is not to mention the Kremlin’s escapades in Syria and Ukraine, the wretched treatment of migrant workers from Central Asia in Russia itself, or the fact Russia is basically off limits to the refugees and asylum seekers whom, in some cases, it has helped to generate, as in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia has been witness a slow but noticeable exodus of its own asylum seekers and more quiet exiles, including dozens if not hundreds of political activists, and thousands of LGBT people, now that the country has been officially and virulently homophobic for several years.

None of this gets even so much as a look-in from most of my western leftist friends, who, at best, are happy to have me rattle on about these things ad nauseam, but probably think I have been lying or exaggerating these past ten years.

In any case, nothing the Kremlin ever does figures in either their political activism or political thinking (except in complaints about “anti-Russian hysteria” in their local mass media). They are loath to show solidarity with grassroots Russian activists, even Russians in serious trouble like the young antifascists implicated in the total frame-up known as The Network Case.

No, the wroth of western leftists is always and only reserved for the Great Satan, the cause of all evil in the world, the country that invented imperialism, racism, capitalism, nepotism, and daltonism, the United States of America.

Why they should be so implicitly sympathetic to the hyper-reactionary, neo-imperialist, homophobic, anti-working class, rampantly state capitalist, kleptocratic, illiberal, anti-intellectual, wildly corrupt nationalist and racist regime in Russia is beyond my powers to comprehend.

But their silence speaks louder than their words, as does their pointed failure, when it comes to people I know personally, to engage meaningfully with all the things I have written and translated over the last ten years.

This is especially palpable now the World Cup is underway. Even politically engaged liberals among my acquaintances have obviously given the Russian regime a free pass for the month.

Actually, they have been giving it a free pass since 1999, but I won’t mention discuss this long, ugly story now.

What I meant to say was that Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov is dying, and the western left pointedly has nothing to say about why he is in “jail” (as the Moscow Times quaintly puts it, although he is actually incarcerated in a maximum security penal colony north of the Arctic Circle) and why he was sent there for twenty years.

It is pathetic. It is also part of the reason why “the masses” generally trust the western left about as far as they can throw it. Because just like Donald Trump and Theresa May, there are species of despotism, tyranny, and even genocide the western left really quite fancies or, at least, can countenance in the name of “anti-imperialism.”

To put it bluntly, I am afraid the western left would rather Oleg Sentsov and his ilk just crawled under a rock and died. They only muddy what should be a crystal-clear view of “geopolitics.” // TRR

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Ali Feruz, a gay Moscow-based journalist threatened with deportation to Uzbekistan, where he faces possible torture and death. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch 

Memes of Solidarity
Silly and Serious Acts of Civic Solidarity Will Be Needed for a Long Time to Come
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
January 25, 2018

The Satisfaction Challenge, a internet flash mob in support of cadets at the Ulyanovsk Civil Aviation Institute, who filmed and uploaded a parody of Benny Benassi’s music video “Satisfaction,” has entered its second week. The institute’s administrators accused the cadets, who are shown dancing in briefs and pilot caps, of “mocking the sacred” and “humiliating the industry,” declaring they had no place in aviation.

Since then, scores of videos supporting the cadets have been posted daily. The latest was filmed by the Novosibirsk hockey club Sibir. Before an auditorium packed to the gills with fans, the club’s mascot, Snowman, dances to “Satisfaction” along with security guards and cleaners. Before Snowman, there were videos by female pensioners in a Petersburg communal flat, costumed theater students in the Russian Far East, horsemen, swimmers, cadets at the Academy of the Emergency Situations Ministry, construction workers, doctors, students at an agriculture college, schoolchildren, housewives, and the presenters of the TV show Evening Urgant. Consequently, a talk show on the TV channel Rossiya 1 and US magazine The New Yorker have identified the Satisfaction Challenge flash mob as a significant event in Russia public life.

“Welders from the Urals Filmed a Satisfaction Challenge Video.” Published January 24, 2018

Obviously, the flash mob has touched some important strings. It is not so much a matter of discussing the boundaries of free self-expression, the clash of different views on what is permitted and appropriate, which, judging by the varying degrees of frankness on the part of the flash mobbers, are also quite different. The key here is solidarity, which has proven the best weapon against bureaucratic stupidity and official hypocrisy. Solidarity with the persecuted is a vital tool for upholding freedom and withstanding crackdowns, for maintaining and reinforcing social connections in an atomized society.

The flash mob in support of the Ulyanovsk cadets is probably the most vivid and funny solidarity campaign in today’s Russia, but it is hardly the only or most important solidarity campaign. The cadets were threatened with explusion, but Novaya Gazeta journalist Hudoberdi Nurmatov aka Ali Feruz, who has already spent five months in a temporary detention center for foreigners awaiting a review of his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, is threatened with torture and even death in connection with false charges of cooperating with terrorists if he is deported to Uzbekistan, say his relatives, colleagues, and human rights activists.

The solidarity campaign in support of Ali Feruz kicked off this past August, when the Moscow City Court decided to deport him. His colleagues rightly believe that the longer they bring up the case and the more loudly they discuss it, the better are the chances for a positive outcome. So, last week, Theater.doc held another reading of Feruz’s diary, written in the temporary detention center for foreigners. The first reading, entitled “My Friend Ali Feruz,” was held as a sign of solidarity by journalists in late October. During last week’s antifacist march in memory of attorney Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, slain by neo-Nazis nine years ago in downtown Moscow, some of the marchers bore placards demanding Ali Feruz’s release. On Wednesday came the news the Russian Supreme Court had overturned the Moscow City Court’s decision to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan and remanded the matter for a new hearing.

The solidarity campaign in support of Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, which has ranged from petitions and videos in his defense to organized trips to his trial in Petrozavodsk, has been underway since society learned of his arrest on charges of taking pornographic photographs, charges that carry no weight with anyone who knows him well. If it had not been for the public outcry, there might not have been a second forensic examination, which ruled the photographs in question were not pornographic, nor would there have been a court decision to release Dmitriev from police custody, where he has spent the last year, on his own recognizance.

Currently, Oyub Titiev, head of the Grozny branch of Memorial, is in bad need of solidarity and support. Arrested on drugs possession charges, Titiev managed to warn society any confession he made would only mean he had been tortured into giving it.

“We regard Oyub Titiev’s circumstances as extremely dangerous,” the board of the International Memorial Society said in an appeal to Russian society and the international community. “The only thing we can do under the circumstances is ask Russian society and the international community to monitor Titiev’s case with the same acute interest as has occured in the Dmitriev case.”

Solidarity is one of the few effective tools left in Russian civil society’s arsenal for confronting official coercion. We will have recourse to it again and again for a long time to come. It’s a good thing that sometimes, as in the case of the cadets, it’s also fun.

Translated by the Russian Reader