Relentless Repression in Russia: Why Londoners Are Demonstrating on January 19

Relentless repression in Russia: why we will demonstrate on Saturday 19 January
People and Nature
14 January 2019

On Saturday, January 19, we will demonstrate in London in solidarity with Russian antifascists. Eleven of them, who have been arrested, tortured, and accused of fabricated “terrorism” charges, are awaiting trial. Many others have faced a relentless campaign of persecution by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the police, as summarized in the following article.

Please join us on Saturday to support the Russian antifascists and strengthen international solidarity against fascism, xenophobia, and state terror. Please repost and share this article.

Details of our London event here.

2018 summary

By Misha Shubin, 31 December 2018 (Original Russian text here)

I’ve also decided to sum up the year. Not my own year, but rather to remember what happened to anarchists and leftists in Russia in 2018. This post will be long, and many of you know  or heard something about the events I recount here.

But I think it is very important not to forget all this. [Note. Links from the original article to Russian-language sources are included. Links to English translations or relevant articles in English added where available. Translator.]

The Network Case

Eleven anarchists and antifascists have been arrested. They are accused of setting up a terrorist group and planning terrorist attacks. According to the Federal Security Service (FSB), they wanted to organise an armed uprising in Russia.

Almost all the evidence has been gathered on pain of torture. The detainees were beaten up. Some of them were tortured using shocks from a stationary electric dynamo, others with tasers. At least one of the accused, Dmitry Pchelintsev, was hung upside down.

The accused are Yegor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Andrei Chernov, Viktor Filinkov, Igor Shishkin, Yuli Boyarshinov, Mikhail Kulkov, and Maksim Ivankin.

What to read:

“How the FSB is manufacturing a terrorist case against antifascists in Russia”

What else you need to know about this case:

“A witness in the ‘network’ case, Ilya Kapustin, was tortured with a hand-held electric shocker.” Subsequently, he left for Finland, where he has applied for political asylum.

Viktoria Frolova, Ilya Shakursky’s girlfriend, was detained on Russia’s border with Ukraine. (Link in Russian.) Shakursky was threatened that “it would be bad” for his girlfriend if he did not make a confession.

The case of anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev

In early February 2018, anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev was arrested in Crimea [the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014]. They brought him to the police station with a bag over his head. There were fresh bruises on his temples and his knees. On the basis of

two videos that he had uploaded to various chat forums, he was accused of making public calls for terrorist activity.

What to read:

“A rifle stock to the heart, a fist to the gut: how left-wing activists are persecuted in Crimea”

(And more in Russian.) [And a report of Karakashev’s subsequent court appearance is here.]

What else you need to know about this case:

The main prosecution witness is a former comrade of Karakashev’s.

In the autumn, 16 people from various Russian regions were summoned to the Russian Investigative Committee for interrogations. Many of them have expressed left-wing views. Some of them did not even know Karakashev.

Torture of anarchists in Chelyabinsk

Anarchists in Chelyabinsk staged an event on the night of 14–15 February in solidarity with the Network Case defendants. They displayed a banner outside the FSB headquarters and threw a flare over a fence. The banner read, “The FSB is the chief terrorist.”

Three days later, five people were arrested: Dmitry Semenov, Dmitry Tsibukovsky, Anastasia Safonova, Maksim Anfalov, and their friend Maksim. Tsibukovsky and Anfalov were beaten up and tortured with electric shockers.

Over the summer, the criminal case against theChelyabinsk anarchists was dropped.

What to read:

“The main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive”

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, a new criminal case was opened against anarchists Tsibukovsky, Safonova, Grigory Potanin, Mikhail Perkov, and Dmitry Dubovoi. This time, they were charged with vandalism during their protest of the government’s pension reform.

The broken window in United Russia’s office and torture of Svyatoslav Rechkalov

On 31 January, persons unknown broke a window at the office of United Russia [the largest party in the Russian parliament, which supports President Putin] and threw a smoke bomb. A criminal investigation into vandalism was launched. Sixteen days later, Yelena Gorban and Aleksei Kobaidze were arrested. After questioning, they were released on their own recognizance.

On 14 March, searches were conducted of the homes of anarchists from the People’s Self-

Defence organisation in connection with the case. Subsequently, Svyatoslav Rechkalov and Andrei were detained; the latter, most likely, was released.

Rechkalov was driven around the city for several hours, blindfolded. Then security services officers beat him and tortured him with electric shocks. They warned that, if he did not make the necessary confession, he would end up a defendant in the Network Case. After being tortured, Rechkalov was released. He emigrated to France.

What to read:

“The horror continues”, and “They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser”.

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, Rechkalov started getting threats from the FSB. (Link in Russian.)

Torture of Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin

In late April, Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin was detained in Tomsk. On the way to his interrogation, security service officers beat him up in their vehicle and held his face against a heater. To protect his face from burns, Shulgin put his arms against the heater

and received first- and second-degree burns. Shulgin was accused of inciting hatred towards the police after posting songs on VK [a Russian social network similar to Facebook].

Shulgin filed a complaint about his having been tortured. In late December, he was again detained. This time, law enforcers tried to choke him to force him to withdraw the accusations he had made against FSB officers.

What to read:

Arrest in April. “Is Maxim Shulgin An Extremist?” and “Tomsk resident tortured for posting songs about police on VK.”

Torture in December. (Link in Russian.)

What else you need to know about this case:

Another nine Left Bloc activists were detained with Shulgin. They were forced to make confessions under threat of torture. (Link in Russian.)

Explosion in Arkhangelsk, interrogation of anarchists and leftist activists, and torture of Vyacheslav Lukichev

On 31 October there was an explosion at the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk, set off by Mikhail Zhlobitsky [who died at the scene]. As a result, all over Russia the police detained and brought anarchists, left-wingers, and those who hold alternative political views in for so-called discussions. (Link in Russian.)

In early November, anarchist Vyacheslav Lukichev was arrested in Kaliningrad. He was accused of vindicating the explosion set off by Zhlobitsky. It was later established that after Lukichev’s arrest he was beaten by six people. He was questioned for 36 hours.

What to read:

“Vyacheslav Lukichev: interrogated for 36 hours and beaten”

What else you need to know about this case:

After the explosion, a 14-year old who, allegedly, had contact with Zhlobitsky was detained in Moscow on suspicion of planning bombings. (Link in Russian.)

What else happened this year?

■ In March, the police checked the documents of participants in a football tournament organised by antifascists. (Link in Russian.)

■ In July, police and FSB officers went to the Pryamukhino Readings [an event held annually to discuss the ideas and legacy of Mikhail Bakunin, at his birthplace in Tver Region]. The conference theme was “Revolution and Culture”. The security service officers checked participants’ passports, and then detained Artem Markin, an anarchist from Belarus. He was detained for three days for allegedly using psychotropic substances. See: “A Funny Thing Happened in Pryamukhino”.

■ In August, officers from Centre “E” [Center for Combating Extremism] turned up at the Icebreaker [Ledokol] punk festival. They arrested two people, tried to persuade them to turn informer, and asked about the People’s Self-Defence group. (Link in Russian.)

■ In October, anarchist Ilya Romanov was sentenced to five-and-a-half years on charges of incitement to terrorism. He allegedly published on Facebook a video recording of jihadists and an occult ritual featuring a puppet named Vladimir. All the indications are that the criminal case was a frame-up. See: “Meet Russian anarchist Ilya Romanov. He’s spent nearly twenty years in prison”.

■ In late December, the anarchist Aleksandr Kolchenko [from Crimea, who since 2015 has been serving a ten-year sentence in Russia on trumped-up charges] was transferred, on a formal pretext, to a punitive isolation cell, where he saw in the new year. (Link in Russian.)

Moloko plus siloviki

[Moloko is Russian for “milk”. Siloviki is a widely used term for the heads and officers of Russia’s numerous, overlapping security services, including the FSB, Centre “E”, the Russian National Guard, and the Russian Investigative Committee.]

In mid June, there was a gathering in Krasnodar of members of the collective that publishes the countercultural almanac moloko plus. Sofiko Arifdzhanova and Pavel Nikulin had planned to present the latest issue of the almanac, on the topic of revolution. On the day before the event, the police arrested Sofiko and a volunteer [who helped with printing], Anastasia Kkhukhurenko. The police would not release them and demanded a meeting with Pavel. They then forced Sofiko and Anastasia to sign an undertaking not to organise unauthorised mass gatherings and warned them about the punishments for extremist activity before releasing them

The next day, persons unknown attacked Sofiko and Pavel with pepper spray. A few hours later, at the presentation, the police arrived and confiscated almanac’s print run.

In September, there was another presentation, in Petersburg, and FSB officers turned up. In this case, everything turned out relatively peacefully. They just got up and left.

After another two weeks, there was a presentation here in Nizhny Novgorod. A few minutes after it began, officers from Centre “E” burst in, with armed back-up. Sofiko, Pavel, and I were arrested and taken to the police station. Ninety copies of the almanac were confiscated, along with some gas cylinders [sic]. Pavel was detained for two days on charges of insubordination to a police officer. The issue of moloko plus is now being checked for any indications of extremism. There is a big text about our adventures in Russian here.

I am sure I have forgotten something and so not included it. Generally speaking, that was the sort of year we had.

More on defending Russian political prisoners:

 The Rupression site

 “Convoyed”, on The Russian Reader

Thanks to People and Nature for their generous permission to republish this important article and solidarity appeal here. I have lightly edited the original text to make it hew more closely to this website’s imaginary style guide. {TRR}

We Change Our Minds like Socks, or, The Pollocracy’s Comeback

3Focus group drawing from the study “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trends?” The first panels is labeled “Now.” The second panel shows a drunken Russia at the bottom of the stairs “in five years,” while “the US, Europe, Canada, China, [and] Japan” stand over it dressed in swanky business suits. The third panel is entitled “Friendship.” Source: Fond Liberalnaya Missiya

Experts Who Predicted Bolotnaya Claim Attitudes of Russians Have Changed
Vladimir Dergachov
RBC
December 24, 2018

Economists Mikhail Dmitriev and Sergei Belanovsky, and psychologists Anastasia Nikolskaya and Elena Cherepanova have authored a new report, “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trend?” which they will present on Monday, December 24.

RBC has obtained a copy of the study. It was conducted as a follow-up to previous autumn opinion polls, which identified a loss of interest in foreign policy among Russians, growing dissatisfaction with domestic policy, and a collapse in reliance on the government.

How the Study Was Conducted
The experts combined qualitative sociology and psychological tests [sic], comparing the results with the Levada Center’s polling data. In October and November 2018, respondents in Moscow, Vladimir, Gus Khrustalny, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Saransk, Romodanovo (a village in Mordovia), and Ufa were surveyed as part of focus groups. In Moscow, a number of focus groups were convened involving public sector employees, including physicians, and university lecturers and researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN). There was also a mixed focus group featuring engineers, traffic police officers, and theater employees.

Peace Instead of Scandals
Previous surveys, conducted by Dmitriev and Belanovsky in April and May 2018, showed Russians largely supported the country’s foreign policy, although critical respondents said the country spent too much money on supporting other countries and used foreign policy to distract people from issues at home. Six months later, the statements made by respondents revealed a demand for a peaceable foreign policy. “Spy scandals, falling missiles, certain statements by Russian politicians, and the protracted war in Syria” have led to a downturn in support for Russia’s foreign policy, the report claims.

In the May 2018 study, respondents were not yet pessimistic about the future. In the October surveys, however, a majority (68%) of respondents had a negative attitude towards the future. They envisioned a Russia that, in five years, was weakening and lagging behind other countries in terms of progress, a country whose populace was intimidated and did not have the right to vote.

They Predicted the Bolotnaya Square Movement

In March 2011, Dmitriev and Belanovsky, then employed at the Center for Strategic Development (TsSR), presented a report in which they alleged a profound political crisis had emerged, and support for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev and United Russia had fallen off. They predicted increasing dissatisfaction with the political system. Less than a year later, sparked by insufficiently [sic] fair and transparent elections to the State Duma, large-scale protests kicked off in Russia.

Self-Expression Instead of Survival
In the May study, the demand for justice had increased dramatically, shunting aside the previously dominant demand for a strong leader. In October, the invocation of distributive justice (a more equal distribution of income and assets) gave way to the demand for procedural justice (equality of all before the law).

The respondents in all the focus groups felt physical needs and government welfare were less important than the need for respect, liberty, and leaders capable of voicing these values. Harsh statements by public officials on social issues (i.e., that people could live on 3,500 rubles a month by eating macaroni, etc.) had provoked increasing irritation. Concerning the raising of the retirement age, the respondents negatively assessed the suddenness of the decision and the way it was made behind closed doors.

Ninety-four percent of respondents claimed they no longer relied on the government, only on themselves. Sixty-three percent of respondents expressed a willingess to contribute personally to the country’s progress. This contribution was conceived in different ways: from a willingness to pay high taxes and be involved in charitable work, to grassroots activism and educational outreach. According to a Levada Center poll, 60% of respondents felt responsible and were willing to make personal efforts to facilitate improvements in Russia.

A Demand for Change
The May study testified to a slackening of reliance on a strong leader among Russians. In October, the analysts registered a demand for new leaders who would respect people, be honest and democratic [sic], admit to their mistakes, and act in the people’s interest. These qualities were bound up with the values of self-expression, which were foregrounded by respondents.

These qualities had little in common with the positive and negative qualities Russians [sic] had used to assess Vladimir Putin in a July poll by the Levada Center (stability, respect, personal charm, capacity for compromise, firmness, and foresight). The discrepancy in criteria was a sign of the rudimentary emergence of counter-elite sentiments [sic], the researchers warned.

A growing demand for change was noted among the respondents. Up to 76% of respondents would be willing to support temporarily painful reforms vital to overcoming the crisis in Russia. Russians no longer demanded immediate improvements. They were willing to wait and endure hardship for the sake of a positive ultimate income.

The respondents had almost no substantive notions of the necessary reforms. The experts compared public opinion to an “empty vessel” waiting for new leaders who inspired confidence.

None of the focus groups voiced aggression towards the regime, but the willingness to get involved in social movements had grown. The demand for respect and freedom prevailed over other demands, and thus the struggle for respect was imagined by the respondents as peaceable and legitimate.

Negativism towards the regime was no longer associated with a demand for populism, whose tokens include the appeal to distributive justice and anti-immigrant sentiments.

Frustation of Public Sector Employees
The report devotes a entire section to moods in the study’s public sector worker focus groups. The researchers discovered the highest level of tension among these people.

Public sector employees were frustrated not because of financial problems [sic], but because of the sector’s irrational organization [sic]. For example, due to the May 2012 decree on raising salaries, the managers of many public sector organizations took some workers off payroll, dramatically increasing the workload of other employees. The respondents were also dissatisfied with the avalanche of reports due to increasing bureaucratization, the chronically poor quality of management, and the fact that personal loyalty to bosses had replaced professionalism in the management hierarchy.

Three Scenarios
According to the experts, these trends indicate Russian public opinion has moved beyond the “stasis” of the post-Crimean consensus. They paint three possible scenarios for further changes in public opinion. The first would involve returning to “rallying around the flag,” typical of the post-Crimean period. This scenario would become a reality if international conflicts involving Russia escalated dramatically.

The second scenario would involve a rollback to counter-elite populism [sic] due to negative economic changes.

The third scenario foresees the consolidation of new values in the public’s mind over a lengthy period. This turn of events is likely if the status quo in the economy and foreign policy is maintained, that is, given sluggish economic growth and the absence of intense international conflicts. The experts cite Iran as an example of a country where this scenario has come true [sic]. Eighty percent of Iranians were born after the Islamic Revolution and have no experience of life under the previous regime. Due to the economic difficulties caused by western sanctions, young Iranians are tired of permanent crisis and disapprove of the country’s costly expansionist foreign policy. The unfavorable socio-economic conditions have a generated a demand for a alternative secularized and westernized lifestyle among young people.

In this scenario, the experts suggest altering the way the regime interacts with the populace in order to diminish its growing negativity. This is doable as long as the populace manifests no aggression towards the regime and is open to constructive dialogue.

The researchers note this scenarios contradicts the prevailing international trend of populists taking power. Unlike the societies of many developed countries, Russians have not descended into archaic populism and “social infantilism,” displaying instead increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in Russia [sic].

A Long-Term Shift
Political consultant Dmitry Fetisov generally agrees with the study’s findings. He links society’s growing demand for a peaceful foreign policy with the fact the Kremlin demonstrated a successful example of this policy during the 2018 FIFA World Cup [sic],  and the critical attitude of public sector employers towards the regime with the pension reform. Fetisov argues, however, that these trends could change depending on how the Kremlin acts.

Political scientist Nikolay Mironov is certain these shifts in public opinion are long term. He argues the trends described in the study have been caused by the post-2014 economic stagnation. Mironov does not believe a return to the “rally around the flag” consensus is possible, even in the event of international conflicts, unless they impinge on Russian territory. Mironov concludes what is needed are large-scale economic reforms and an easing of foreign policy.

Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov also notes the growing criticality of respondents towards officialdom and public fatigue from assistance to other countries [sic]. However, Volkov argues it is wrong to chart changes in public opinion by comparing surveys of focus groups, rather than using quantitative research. Fetisov likewise points to the study’s lack of representativeness, as it is based on comparing the opinions of different focus groups.

Translated by the Russian Reader

This article and the research paper it purports to summarize and analyze should be read with a huge spoonful of salt.

First, “public opinion” polls in Russia are wildly unreliable, as I have tried to show over the years on this website, often with a leg up from likeminded Russian journalists and researchers.

Second, this study, apparently, is a funhouse mirror image of the usual “Putin’s wild popularity” poll. The economists and psychologists who wrote the report set out to detect a “positive” sea change in Russian public opinion and, God willing, they found it, by offering their focus group respondents a weak-tea pipe dream they obviously dream themselves. If that dream seems rife with contradictions, it is, although the researchers seem utterly unaware of them.

Third, even in a country as messy, corrupt, and authoritarian as Russia, the idea that people can rely only on themselves is absurd. Of course, they rely on the government for lots of things, at least if they are living in more or less large towns and cities. To the extent that libertarianism has become popular here, it has done so only as a consequence of the prevailing black political reaction, as cultivated by the Putinist state and its propaganda organs.

On the other hand, we are supposed to imagine these newly minted libertarians would be simultaneously willing to pay high taxes and endure hardships to make their country a better place, and yet this is supposed to happen without the “social infantilism” of “developed countries” where people protest on the streets against elites.

Given that the once-mighty RBC has long been a shadow of its former self, I was tempted to write this passage off as ad-libbing on the part of their reporter, but, in fact, he merely paraphrased the report’s authors, to wit:

В отличие от обществ многих развитых стран, население которых продолжает скатываться популистскую архаику и «социальный инфантилизм», российское население неожиданно для всех начинает демонстрировать возросшую социальную зрелость и ответственность за положение дел в стране. Эти качества в наибольшей мере ассоциируются с модернизированной системой ценностей, характерной для развитых стран до того, как их стала охватывать волна контрэлитного популизма.

“In contrast to the societies of many developed countries, whose populace continues to slide into archaic populism and ‘social infantilism,’ the Russian populace has surprised everyone by beginning to show increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in the country. These qualities [were] associated with the modernized value system of the developed countries before the wave of counter-elite populism engulfed them.”

As this blog has shown over the last eleven years, I have often been among the first to celebrate and chronicle emergent grassroots resistance and social movements in Russia, but the people who wrote the passage above were engaging in wishful thinking, not scholarship. If anything, their counterintuitive, baseless conclusion shows the contradictions of the newfangled method of governance at arm’s length I have dubbed the “pollocracy.”

The pollocracy has been used by the regime to monitor “public moods” while also explicitly and aggressively shaping that mood by asking pointed questions that countenance only certain answers.

On the other hand, it is used by the regime AND its allegedly liberal pseudo-critics to, alternately, register tremors of discontent among an otherwise disenchranchised and disempowered populace, and demonstrate these exact same people are routinely subject to all sorts of illiberal, irrational populist delusions and phobias, thus making them unfit to govern themselves.

Finally, the pollocracy has been used as a substitute for actual, full-fledged grassroots political involvement. A populace that “slides” into “archaic populism” and “social infantilism” is one thing (a bad thing), but a populace that meekly agrees to confine its dissent to skewed public opinion polls and hokey focus groups is both “socially mature” and not a threat to anyone, least of all to the current Russian regime.

It is especially telling these “socially mature” focus groups expect, allegedly, a less aggressive Russian foreign policy to emerge ex nihilo, merely because they wish it into existence in the safety of their anonymous focus groups. God forbid they should have to organize a national anti-war movement on their own. {TRR}

“Die in Battle and Go to Valhalla”

DSCN3949Russian public opinion? Photo by the Russian Reader

I don’t trust Russian public opinion polls, but the Putin regime, which rigs elections and otherwise tries to quash every manifestation of public life it does not astroturf itself, has increasingly relied on such wildly dubious methods to monitor the success of its propaganda machine, especially, television, in shaping hearts and minds. So, it must have noticed that a few of the elections it rigged did not go as planned this past autumn, and that Putin’s spurious approval ratings have dropped.

The regime’s response? Ram a few Ukrainian boats in the Kerch Strait to whip up patriotic fervor. It worked in 2014, and so maybe it will work again in 2018.

Since there is pointedly no Russian anti-war movement to mobilize public opinion and actual people against any military aggression by the Kremlin, it is hard to say how the Kremlin will fare in the polls after the Kerch gambit. Maybe Putin’s wholly ersatz popularity will nominally shoot up a few dozen points as “Russians” “express” “their” “outrage” over Kyiv’s nonexistent military agression. Maybe, unaccountably, TV viewers will suddenly see through the nonstop war dance that has undoubtedly erupted on all Russian news channels and drop Putin’s rating another few points.

What definitely won’t happen is that millions of Russians will take to the streets to demand the resignation of a would-be president for life whose reign has been marked by military aggression and “patriotic” manipulation of public sentiment since day one.

There were one or two largish protests in Moscow against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine at the very start of that glorious campaign, and that was that. There has never been even a middling protest against Putin’s decisive use of military force against innocent Syrians opposed to the butcher Assad. And on an issue that should have been a cakewalk for the opposition, the so-called pension reform (i.e., raising the retirement age precipitously to save money for military spending), the vast majority of Russians decided to get upset, if they did get upset, in the comfort of their homes, watching the FIFA World Cup on TV, rather than bravinngthe balmy weather that prevailed all over Russia this past summer and showing the government how angry they were.

But popular demonstrations are never just a matter of public sentiment. They are also a matter of political organization. And while nearly all opposition forces in Russia did at least make the attempt to get people into the streets this past summer to oppose the pension reform, they would never risk whatever political capital they had to call for anti-war marches and protest rallies.

Maybe they would be surprised by the turnout if they did call for such protests and put their hearts and souls into organizing them, but that is not going to happen for the simple reason that the unacknowledged, apparently invisible bull in the china shop—Russian imperialism—informs the Russian liberal and leftist “anti-Putinist” views of the world as much it does Putin’s view of the world. {TRR}

Ivan Davydov: The Russian Protest Federation

614352f5bad27acc282af798084aa5e3Protest rally in Abakan against plans to raise the retirement age. Photo by Alexander Kryazhev. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Republic

The Russian Protest Federation: How Moscow Has Stopped Shaping the Political Agenda. Will Ordinary Russians Realize Pension Reform and Geopolitical Triumphs Are Linked?
Ivan Davydov
Republic
September 27, 2018

The people who took to the streets long ago on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue deserve the credit for the reinstatement of gubernatorial elections in Russia. It was a time that would be unimaginable now. There was no war with Ukraine. Crimea had not been annexed. No one had given Syria a second thought. It still makes you wonder why the Kremlin took fright then, albeit briefly. Instead of guessing, we should note it was the capital that led the national protest movement then, confirming yet again the centripetal nature of life in Russia. Over a 100,000 people attended the first two protest rallies in Moscow, on December 10, 2011, and February 4, 2012. Petersburg took second place, sending 25,000 people onto the streets for its February 2012 rally, but no one other city was even close. Protests took place in dozens of cities, including all the major ones, but the best the regions achieved was something on the order of 5,000 people in attendance. In most places, the average crowd numbered around a thousand people.

The opposition failed just like the regime. It transpired the national agenda and the agenda of Muscovites were the same thing. The farther you went from Moscow, the less people were worried about the issues exercising newspaper reporters. Least of all were they worried about their own real problems, about local issues, and thus there was no chance of changing things in Russia.

But the credit for transforming gubernatorial elections into something really resembling elections, albeit quite remotely, must go to the regions. The takeaway message is that the regime’s electoral fiasco in the regions on September 9 is a nationally significant event. The rank-and-file voters there, who cast their ballots for sham candidates from parties other than United Russia as a way of registering their disgust with the local political bosses, have turned circumstances inside out. The regions are now dictating their agenda to Moscow, as governors who seemed invulnerable only recently look shaky, and even Putin himself has been forced to break a sweat.

Airbag
As befits a myth, the Moscow myth that, putting it as succinctly as possible, Moscow is not the real Russia, is not true at all. But, like any good myth with life in it, it is based on real things. As I write this column, water is gurgling in the radiators of the standard Moscow high-rise where I live, because the heating season has kicked off. It is ten degrees Celsius outside, and Moscow’s tender inhabitants would freeze otherwise. Meanwhile, all the news agencies are reporting as their top news item that a place in the queue to buy the new iPhone at Moscow stores will set you back 130,000 rubles [approx. 1,700 euros]. That is expensive, of course, but you would let yourself be seen as an outdated loser at your own peril.

Muscovites protest often, although in fewer numbers than during the fair elections movement. To outsiders, however, protesting Muscovites almost always look like whimsical people who are too well off for their own good. Everyone knows Moscow has wide pavements, new subway stations, the Moscow Central Ring, and perpetual jam festivals and nonstop carnivals on Nikolskaya Street. People who live in places where even today anti-tank trenches pass for roads, and the mayor nicked the benches from the only pedestrian street (urbanism is ubiquitous nowadays, no longer a Moscow specialty) and hauled them to his summer cottage, find it really hard to take seriously people who are up in arms over a new parks whose birches were imported from Germany, and holiday lighting whose cost is roughly the same as the annual budget of an entire provice somewhere outside the Black Earth Region. The residents of “construction trailer accretions” (you will remember that during one of President Putin’s Direct Lines, the residents of a “construction trailer accretion” in Nyagan came on the air to complain) find it hard to understood people protesting so-called renovation, as in Moscow, that is, people who protest the demolition of their old residential buildings and being resettled in new buildings. For that is how it appears when geographical distance obscures the particulars.

The regime has skillfully manipulated this gap. Remember the role played by the “real guys” from the Uralvagonzavod factory during the fair elections movement, or the out-of-towners bussed into the capital for pro-Putin rallies on Poklonnaya Hill and Luzhniki Stadium. But the gap functions as yet another airbag for the Kremlin even when it makes no special effort to manipulate it. Moscow is part of Russia when we are talking about national issues and the fact those issues are debated in Moscow as well, but since any sane non-resident of Moscow believes Moscow is no part of Russia, the big issues end up being issues that exercise Muscovites, but do not interest people beyond Moscow.

The Main Political Issue
Alexei Navalny has bridged the gap slightly. His attempt to set up regional presidential campaign offices seemed absurd since everyone, including Navalny, realized he would not be allowed on the ballot and there would be no reason to campaign. He ran a campaign anyway, and his campaign offices turned into local pockets of resistance, into needles that hit a nerve with the regime while simulatneously stitching Russia together and removing Moscow’s monopoly on national politics. His campaign offices are manned by bold young people willing to take risks and good at organizing protest rallies. Of course, even now more people in Moscow attend Navalny’s protest rallies than in other cities, but people have still been taking to the streets in dozens of cities for the first time since the fair elections protests of 2011–2012. Navalny’s campaign offices splice issues that the locals get with national issues, thus producing the fabric of real politics. When I discussed the subject of this column with the editors of Republic, one of them joked Navalny was a “franchise.” The joke has a point, but the point is not offensive.

It was Vladimir Putin, however, who really turned the tide or, rather, the federal authorities, of which Putin is the living embodiment. The pension reform has made it abundantly clear the Russian authoritarian state no longer intends to be paternalist. The state has suddenly discovered what people actually liked about it was the paternalism. Or they put up with the paternalism. It is hard to say what word would be more precise. But they did not put up with it due to its victories on the geopolitical front.

The pension reform has erased the line between the big issues, debated by well-fed people in Moscow, and the real issues that constitute the lives of real people. This is quite natural, since being able to claim Russia’s miserly pensions a bit earlier in life is more important in places where life is harder. Moscow is definitely not the worse place in Russia to live. Despite the myth, Moscow is no heaven on earth, either, but the central heating has already been turned on, for example.

So, even a dull, boring, well-rehearsed formality like gubernatorial elections has become an effective tool of protest. The regime made a single mistake, a mistake to which no one would have paid attention to a year ago. (Since when has vote rigging seriously outraged people in Russia? Since days of yore? Since 2011?) The mistake set off a chain reaction. The new single nationwide election day had been a boon to the Kremlin, its young technocrats, and its not-so-young handpicked “businesslike” governors. If the elections had not taken place simultaneously everywhere, and the fiasco in the Maritime Territory had occurred at the outset of the elections season, it is not clear how powerful a victory the no-name candidates from the loyal opposition would have scored.

Maybe Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky would have had to disband their parties for fear of reprisals from the regime, since, the way they have long seen things, there is nothing more terrifying than success, and nothing more dangerous than real politics.

A Moscow municipal district council member from the opposition can easily make a coherent, meaningful speech about how the war in Syria has impacted the clumsiness of Mayor Sobyanin’s hired hands, relaying the tile in some unhappy, quiet alley for the third time in a single year. The council member’s speech would elicit laughter, and the laughter would be appropriate. But amidst the customary laughter we need to be able to discern the main question of a reemergent Russian politics.

The issue is this. Will ordinary Russians understand—and, if so, how quickly—that the pension reform (the first but not the last gift to the common folk from their beloved leaders) is part and parcel of the mighty Putin’s geopolitical triumphs, their inevitable consequence, rather than a betrayal and a rupture of the social compact, as certain confused patriotic columnists have been writing lately?

Ultimately, it is a matter of survival for Russia and for Putin. One of the two must survive. As in the films about the immortal Highlander, only one will be left standing at the end of the day.

Ivan Davydov is a liberal columnist. Translated by the Russian Reader

God Is Merciless, or, Mary Dejevsky

DSCN1761

Since childhood I have had the habit of going to sleep listening to the radio. It would be a queer but innocent habit were it not for the fact that I had Lutheranism mainlined into my brain during childhood as well. I am thus perpetually a sinner in the hands of an angry god, and that god is frequently quite displeased with me. Or so it seems.

From time to time, Jehovah punishes me by putting the British journalist and Putin fan Mary Dejevsky on the radio as I am going to sleep.

Last night, she was on ABC Radio National’s Between the Lines, and she was in fine fettle.

Asked about the political crisis sparked by the pension reform in Russia, Dejevsky said she rather admired Vladimir Putin for spending some of his tremendous reserves of political capital and popularity by biting the bullet and trying to solve an objective problem so his “successor” would not have to solve it.

It is actually a good problem to have, this business of needing to raise the retirement age precipitously, Dejevsky argued, because it is premised on the supposedly happy alleged fact that Russians are, on average, living much longer than before, and that, we were meant to imagine, was due to Putin’s wise policies.

When the hapless Australian interviewer, Tom Switzer, asked her about the nationwide protests sparked by the proposed reform and the numerous arrests at those protests, Dejevsky dismissed them out of hand, claiming she had been to “provincial Russia” just last week, and things there were “peaceful.”

I won’t even go into Dejevsky’s sparkling defense of Putin’s illegal occupation of Crimea, which prefaced her lies about Putin’s popularity, the pension reform, and the supposedly sleepy provinces.

In case you are not a Lutheran occasionally punished by the Lord God Jehovah by having to listen to Mary Dejevsky in the middle or night or read the latest pro-Putinist tripe she has written, I would remind you she has long been gainfully employed by the Independent and the Guardian as a columnist, and she is a frequent guest on thoroughly respectable news outlets such as ABC Radio National, BBC Radio 4, etc.

It seemingly has not occurred to the smart, cynical folk working at these bastions of tough-minded journalism that Mary Dejevsky is a less than objective observer of the Russian scene.

The Lutheran god is a merciless god. {TRR}

Photo by the Russian Reader. This blog was slightly edited after I received legal threats from an electronic entity claiming to be Mary Dejevsky.

Cupcakes

DSCN1728“Cupcakes. Considerably cheaper when you take away. 45% off.”

This post is dedicated to the armchair fascist who recently asked on the readers’ forum of the anti-Semitic, pro-Putin website The Saker whether George Soros financed the Russian Reader.

I will answer the fascist’s oh-so-pertinent question by quoting from the weekly news wrap-up emailed to readers and supporters on Fridays by the folks at OVD Info. I would gather OVD Info is not financed by Soros, either. In fact, I know they are financed by donations from not very well off people like me, people who work for a living and are not financed by anyone but the sweat of their brows.

More than 600 people were detained in Petersburg on September 9. A week later, another unauthorized protest against the pension reform took place in the city. This time, however, only three people were detained during the protest itself. But the police went on a real manhunt for local activist Shakhnaz Shitik. After she photographed a police officer at the protest, the police tried to detain her. They maimed her and sprayed tear gas in her face. Afterwards, Shitik was taken to hospital, but police tried to detain her there as well. Ultimately, her husband was taken to a police precinct, but offiers remained on duty in her hospital ward. Subsequently, Shitik was taken back and forth from the hospital to the precinct several times until she was finally left to spend the night at the precinct. A court ordered her jailed for twenty days, ostensibly for her involvement in a theatrical performance that depicted Putin being chased away by pensioners. In addition, the police made Shitik provide them with a written statement on suspicion she had violated the law against insulting the authorities. A female Center “E” officer who had passed herself off as a reporter at the hospital had taken offense at something Shitik said.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. The Russian Reader is a website that covers grassroots politics, social movements, the economy, and independent culture in Russia. It is not financed by anyone nor has it ever solicited donations. All work on the website is done for free, nor do I pay fees for the Russian-language articles I translate into English and publish. Everything that appears on the Russian Reader can be reposted and republished as long as the Russian Reader is indicated clearly as the source and a link back to my original post has been included.

#MONSTERS

monsters-nonretirement“I could have failed to live until retirement.”

MONSTERS
Facebook
September 18, 2018

A powerful anti-anti-abortion protest took place today in Petersburg, but you will not hear about it in any of the mass media.

monsters-wagner“I could have worked for the Wagner Group.”

Until we fail to put a halt to abortions, which, fortunately, annually do away with enough people to populate the city the size of Petersburg, there is no point in discussing or contemplating anything serious.

monsters-repost“I could have been sent to prison for reposting.”

Russia is not only the land of the dead, which has been said more than once, but it is also the land of the unborn.

monsters-election rigger“I could have rigged elections.”

The Russian Federation not only has a past that never was. It also has a future that will never be.

monsters-kitchen boxer“I could have engaged in domestic violence.”

Russia is a failed state. Russia is a fake state.

monsters-sexually harassed“I could have been an object of sexual harassment.”

All Russians, men and women, are in some respect dead men and dead women, but they are also embryos.

monsters-omon“I could have been a riot cop and assaulted people at protest rallies.”

No wonder the stage of (para)political theater has recently been occupied by such figures: aborted embryos telling us they could have been soldiers, for example, and dead women and men, who worked to the grave, but did not live to see a single kopeck of their pensions.

monsters-channel one“I could have worked for Channel One and hoodwinked people every day.”

Bringing together the dead and the unborn was long overdue. This is just what we have done in our protest. We are MONSTERS, a new group of militants in the field of political art in Petersburg.

monsters-torturer“I could have tortured people in prison with a taser.”

We staged our protest in response to the latest move by the pro-lifers, who played heavy on people’s heart strings.

monsters-15000 a month“I could have earned 15,000 rubles a month my whole life.”

We profess and practice monstrous political art. We thus decided to do something even more sentimental.

monsters-syria“I could have gone to Syria to fight.”

You thus see before you dead embryos. They might not have lived until retirement, but in any case they did not survive until retirement.

monsters-died in orphanage“I could have died in an orphanage.”

#MONSTERS

monsters-installation viewA view of the silent protest on Pioneer Square in Petersburg’s Central District

Translated by the Russian Reader