Armen Aramyan: Russians Are Not Chimpanzees

These are scenes from a May 2008 session of Petersburg’s Street University, a grassroots undertaking that I helped launch in response to the Putin regime’s sudden, underhanded shutdown of the nearby European University in February 2008. I unearthed these snapshots from my long-dormant Photobucket account, about whose existence I was reminded by an email from the service that I found by accident in my spam folder whilst working on this post earlier this morning. I think it’s a nice illustration of the point made, below, by Armen Aramyan, who must have been nearly the same age as Tasya, the little girl in the second and third pictures, when I took them. If the war can be stopped and Russian society can be salvaged in the foreseeable future, however, it will require a lot more than creative “sociology,” the right combination of critical theories, the power of (“progressive”) positive thinking, and hypervigilant discursive gatekeeping. At minimum, it will require a massive manifestation. This would be different in kind and magnitude from the current instances of grassroots resistance that Mr. Aramyan enumerates below, which are almost entirely the work of lone individuals, not the actions of a seriously mobilized grassroots or, much less, of a more or less widespread and vigorous “anti-war movement.” ||| TRR


Hi, this is Armen Aramyan!

On Monday, iStories published a column by its editor, Roman Anin, in which he laments the moral degradation that “has engulfed not only the so-called elites, but also society.” He claims that the majority of Russians support military aggression, and that the political system is in such decline that we can make predictions about Russia’s future by invoking the discourse of primatology.

“Human DNA is 99% the same as the DNA of chimpanzees, whose entire polity revolves around the alpha male. While the alpha male is young and strong, he keeps the whole pack at bay, manages the distribution of resources, mates with all the females, and severely punishes those who question his authority. But as soon as the alpha male begins to age and show signs of weakness, a fierce war to take his place ensues. […] In my opinion, the Russian political system today is not much different from the power arrangements in chimpanzee troops.”

There is no grassroots resistance in the Russia about which Anin writes. There is no torching of military enlistment offices, no teachers who refuse to conduct propaganda lessons, no activists who assist Ukrainians in getting out of Russia. There are no people prosecuted for speaking out and acting against the authorities. There are only big shots who divvy up the loot behind closed doors.

But activists and anti-war resistance do exist, and [some] sociologists have claimed that the pro-war segment of Russian society is a small minority that is averse to political action of any kind.

Why do we continue to encounter such remarks?

I would suggest calling the worldview that informs such remarks Naive Anti-Putinism, or NAP.

NAP sees Russia as a fringe country. The processes in it can be explained only through allusions to fantasy novels, such as dubbing Russia “Mordor,” from The Lord of the Rings, or referencing the Harry Potter universe. (Have the images from fantasy novels run out and we are now on the Planet of the Apes?) Russia is so unique that there are processes taking place in it that don’t exist anywhere else (with the possible exception of North Korea). This Russia suffers from a patriarchal regime and a total absence of democratic institutions. (That is, power belongs to individual groups and their leaders, who do not rely on any institutions). The enlightened achievements of European democracies have not yet reached Russia, and so now we are doomed to live amidst an endless Games of Thrones (to invoke yet another fantasy novel comparison). In this system, all that remains for us is to analyze what intrigues the different Kremlin clans are pursuing.

Resistance, grassroots movements, the struggle for democracy, and revolution are impossible in this reality. So, all that naive anti-Putinists are capable of doing is resorting to moral critiques delivered from a superior position and continuing to admonish us that the common folk in Russia are bad, having failed to accept the enlightened achievements of European democracies. If there is no democracy [in Russia], [that is because] the ordinary folk simply don’t want it. That is NAP’s entire explanatory arsenal.

Naive Anti-Putinism does not envision the possibility of change in Russia, much less revolution or the destruction of Putin’s elite. It is a readymade scheme that enables certain groups in society to make peace with reality and continue to watch the new season of Game of Thrones.

For example, if you are a businessman or an IT worker who relocated [to another country] after the war’s outbreak and invested all your resources in adapting to a new place (most likely — quite successfully), you probably don’t really want to figure out how to build democracy in Russia and support the grassroots resistance.

But you can also imagine another situation: you are a researcher who has spent a great deal of time and effort investigating how the power elite throws bags of money around. Probably, at some point, you might imagine that there is nothing else besides this cynical redistribution of the loot.

Alexander Zamyatin, in a discussion of the emigration on the podcast This Is the Base, makes a great point: “You can’t be a gravedigger of the old regime while grieving for its missed opportunities.” We can speculate for a long time about NAP’s origins, and why many members of the anti-war movement espouse this position.

But if we want to end the war and build democracy in Russia, we need to think differently. Even if we imagine that this is impossible right now, do we really think that democracy is altogether impossible in Russia? And if it is possible, what would it look like in reality? What movements would be needed to make it happen? How would they gain power? How would this power be redistributed and how to make sure that it is not abused? These are the questions that should concern all of us members of the anti-war movement on a daily basis.

Centuries of class, colonial, and gender oppression led to the emergence of strong theories elucidating the structure of power in modern societies. The crises of the nineteenth century spurred the elaboration of theories about class and capitalism. Representattives colonized peoples, as well as their allies in the West, formulated theories about how imperialism and colonialism function. Activists and theorists of women’s movements offered accounts of how gender dominance operates in modern societies.

If we reject the entire legacy of critical theory, as many NAPpers do, then we need to propose something else. But this something is definitely not primatology or allusions to Harry Potter. But one might have to read other books to to find this something else.

P. S. But also do not assume that the animal kingdom — and in particular the political systems of primates — is so primitive. Usually, reducing people to animals is a conservative move whose purpose is to show that human relations are grounded in competition and the struggle for survival, in which the strongest win. I recommend reading this essay by the anthropologist David Graeber, in which he argues that this is not at all the case.

Source: Armen Aramyan, DOXA Anti-War Newsletter #313 (10 January 2023). Mr. Aramyan is one of the editors of the online anti-war magazine DOXA. In April 2021, he and three other editors of the then-student magazine were sentenced to two years of “correctional labor” (i.e., community service) over a video questioning whether it was right for teachers to discourage students from attending rallies protesting opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s incarceration. Translated by the Russian Reader

Fascism with a Human Face

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a session of the Valdai Discussion Club, acknowledged a decline in the real incomes of our compatriots.

He noted that the issue was being resolved in cooperation with the trade unions, RIA Novosti reports.

This dialogue continues. We see that people’s nominal incomes are growing, but real incomes have become slightly lower. Bearing in mind the state of the Russian economy, we can solve these problems and should do so in accordance with the existing plans of the Russian government.

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation

The head of state also said that it was necessary to fight for wage increases. At the same time, he addressed his appeal to both Russians and “ordinary citizens” of the United States and Europe.

Since the start of the special operation by Russian troops in Ukraine, people have experienced a loss of income and savings. Putin also noted earlier that many Russians were at risk of layoffs.

Source: Andrei Gorelikov, “Putin urged both Russians and citizens of western countries to fight for higher salaries,” Rabota.ru, 28 October 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


“There are more than 485 air fresheners in operation: they were installed in the air ducts of the climate control system. They spread the fragrance around the car every ten minutes. The fragrance is called ‘Moscow Metro,'” explain the metro’s press service , stressing that all the aromas were safe, hypoallergenic, and complied with regulations.

In 2019, during a vote on the project’s implementation, ninety percent of passengers surveyed said they would prefer an air-freshened carriage to a regular one. Muscovites especially wanted the smell of cherry blossoms in the subway.

Source: “Air fresheneres installed on the Filyovskaya metro line,” Russkii pioner, 3 November 2022. Photo courtesy of Russkii pioner. Translated by the Russian Reader


What attracts people [to the shot bar Fedya, the Wildfowl!]? The irony and the simplicity, but at the same time the pleasant crowd. Here you can meet people who, the day before, dined on sets [sic] of scallops and dill sauce at designer restaurants, but they are glad to eat belyash and kvass at Fedya’s. Every other table orders kebabs (from 325 rubles) and drinks tinctures and macerations. Security guards monitor everything: if you swear loudly, they will politely ask you to leave.

Source: “From brilliant shot bars to giant food halls: 12 Petersburg openings in 2022 — Vitya Bar, Noise Cabaret, Moskovsky Market, and the inclusive Outside Entrance,” The Village, 5 December 2022. Photo courtesy of The Village. Translated by the Russian Reader


The “Fedya, the wildfowl!” scene from the beloved Soviet comic crime caper The Diamond Arm (1969), starring Andrei Mironov and Yuri Nikulin

Mobilization: Mission Possible

The same day that President Putin announced a call-up of reservists to send off to continue his unprovoked invasion of Russia, Russian mega online retailer Ozon informed its customers that it was now selling the new Apple iPhone 14. Source: Ozon.ru

I have been extremely troubled by arguments that a mobilization in Russia is impossible. People are saying that everyone will run off, nothing will come of it, there is no logistics or anything else. This is all true, of course, but the stated goal of calling up 300 thousand reservists is quite realistic, in my unprofessional opinion.

I really don’t see any earth-shattering problems to it. There are military enlistment offices, there is transport. The uniforms will be fetched from Afghan War-era stockpiles. You know, those sand-colored uniforms, star-embossed belt buckles, and Kirza boots — there is probably a lot more of this stuff in the warehouses. The “mobilizees” will look, however, more like mobs of POWS than like an army, what with all of them wearing different uniforms, some sporting Kirza boots, and some in ankle-high combat boots purchased on the side from a cunning ensign. But still.

I have no doubt that our state will cope with the task of mobilizing men and delivering them to Ukraine. It will be done shabbily — five hundred men will lose fingers to frostbite while traveling in unheated train cars, and fifteen hundred will escape somewhere along the way — but that doesn’t mean that no one will get there.

So, I listened with some bewilderment to arguments that no mobilization would be declared. And now a mobilization has been announced, to the delight of Strelkov.

To make the figures clearer, I should explain that about 400 thousand people live in our district in Petersburg, the Frunzensky District, which means that 600 men should be called up (taking into account the fact that our population is older than the average for Russia). In reality, it will most likely be even fewer, since the powers that be will probably decide to throw residents of the ethnic republics into the furnace again.

Over the past few months, our district authorities have just barely recruited about forty volunteers, since they were unable to use any of the state’s usual enforcement mechanisms. Now they will have all the tools of the military enlistment officer at their disposal.

I’m sorry, but I believe in the success of the mobilization at this stage and that the stated quantities are doable. I don’t believe in the success of Putin’s war. Unmotivated poorly armed cannon fodder is needed in this war, but the benefit from it is not so great, and it will arrive [in Ukraine] only in winter, by the time the front stabilizes somewhere near Henichesk.

It’s not enough to mobilize men. The powers that be still have to somehow mobilize industry. Here I see much less chance of success.

I feel a certain shameful schadenfreude. When I adopted the slogan “Putin = war” as my profile pice in 2014, readers of the Kupchino News made fun of me. The people then were solidly in the “Crimea is ours” camp. Now, for the sake of this selfsame Crimea, a place where, until 2014, Russians could go on holiday with no problems, your brothers and your children will have to go off and die. Not me. I left Russia after police searched my home for a second time and a criminal case was launched against me. When something really could still be done [to oppose the Putin regime] with minimal risks, you were extremely smart to stay at home. Well, now you will be extremely smart in thinking of ways to dodge the draft. What counts is keeping a low profile, isn’t it? The president knows what he’s doing!

However, after this schadenfreude, I immediately feel ashamed. After all, it was I who lost my fight for a Russia free of autocracy, fascism and militarism. By the way, in 2014 I had another profile pic: “Putin = hunger.”

Source: Deputy Volokhonsky (Vladimir Volokhonsky), Telegram, 21 September 2022. Mr. Volokhonsky is a well-known Petersburg grassroots pro-democracy activist and municipal district councilor, currently living in exile in Belgrade. He is also the editor-in-chief of the neighborhood news website Novosti Kupchino (“The Kupchino News”). Translated by the Russian Reader

Hellbent

Hellbent on having fun in the midst of a terrible war — a frightening panorama of Petersburg by virtuoso photographer Alexander Petrosyan. Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 7 August 2022


As Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds into its fifth month, Moscow is a city doing everything it can to turn a blind eye to the conflict. It is a champagne-soaked summer like any other in the Russian capital, despite the thousands of dead and many more wounded in a war increasingly marked by acts of savage brutality.

In Gorky Park, outdoor festivals, cinemas and bars were all jammed on a recent evening, with young couples twirling to ballroom dance music as others stopped for selfies along the Moscow river nearby.

“Yes, we are having a party,” said Anna Mitrokhina, one of the dancers at an outdoor dance platform on the Moscow river, wearing a blue-sequin dress and heavy eye-makeup. “We are outside of politics, we want to dance, to feel and have fun. I can’t worry any more and this helps me forget.”

Walk through the city or switch on a VPN to scroll through Instagram or Facebook and you might not even know the country’s at war, a word that the Russian censors have banned from local media and that, even among many friends, has become taboo.

A lifestyle Instagram blogger with more than 100,000 followers who was opposed to the war said that she had consciously decided to stop speaking about the topic — because of the official restrictions but also the backlash she received from subscribers.

“Nobody wants to hear about the war, the special military operation, any more, they tell me to stop talking about this and get back to normal topics like beauty and fitness,” she said, asking that her name not be used. “Every time I mentioned it I would get so much hate in my messages. It hurts me, it hurts my business. I stopped mentioning it. It just doesn’t exist for many people.”

“What hurts the most is it is not really [because of the law], there is just no desire to talk about this,” she said. “People are turning off.”

[…]

Source: Andrew Roth, “‘People are turning off’: Muscovites put the war aside and enjoy summer,” The Guardian, 30 July 2022

Opportunism and Quietism Are the Watchwords

There is the strange assumption that Russians would be hotly and much more numerously discussing the war on social media and in public were it not for censorship, surveillance, and the draconian new laws on “discrediting” the Russian armed forces, etc. But this assumption, when it is made by outsiders, is based on the belief that the Russian public’s engagement with important political matters and social issues was palpably greater before the war.

It wasn’t that much greater, in fact, as evidenced, among other things, by the fact that what political ferment there was on Russophone social media in recent times often as not had to do with hot-button events in “the west,” such as George Floyd/Black Lives Matter and Trump’s failed coup. And even then these discussions revealed a broad ignorance (and hatred) of politics in non-authoritarian countries and the extreme rightwing sympathies of the Russian “liberal” intelligentsia.

It is not repression and “fascism” that are the real or the only obstacles to democratic, anti-authoritarian grassroots political movements in Russia, but quietism (to use the polite term) and opportunism, which will ultimately nullify all attempts, I’m afraid, to create meaningful anti-war movements, “united fronts,” and so forth at home and abroad.

In that sense, there’s almost no reason for outsiders to get excited by any of the various “projects,” “movements,” zingy new websites, etc., that the opposition in exile, aided by much braver but usually anonymous comrades at home, have been throwing up rapidly and carelessly since February. Most of them will have vanished just as quickly (quietly, without a trace) by year’s end, if not sooner.

Much less should outsiders pay too much mind to the attempts by the newly minted diaspora to get their pretty mugs and their sentiments broadcast to the world via such respectable outlets as the New Yorker and the New York Times, thus making themselves the heroes and heroines of the story instead of Ukrainians. They just cashing in their more considerable reserves of media, cultural and intellectual capital to right their momentarily capsized boats and advance their own fortunes, not pausing for a second to think how this naked opportunism looks to their former Ukrainian “sisters” and “brothers,” who for various reasons have much less of this capital. ||| TRR


Elza’s Ocean

Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, the leader of Okean Elzy [Elza’s Ocean], one of the most famous Ukrainian rock bands, has recorded a video message to the Russians in Russian, in which he condemned them for their silence and thanked those who have publicly protested nevertheless.

A rock musician, and now also a soldier in the Territorial Defense Forces, Vakarchuk said that recently he had often been asked by [Russian] opposition media journalists to give his opinion of what was happening.

Svyatoslav Vakarchuk in 2016. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“It is you, the Russian people, who raised and fed these scumbags, bastards, and beasts who are destroying our homes today, killing old people, women and children, raping and looting,” Vakarchuk said in a video message in Russian.

“You were silent when you should have spoken and acted; when Putin, whose middle name is now Antichrist, came to power, you were silent. When Russia invaded Georgia, you were also mostly silent. Then when Russia brazenly took Crimea from us—just like that, took it, stole it—many of you were even privately proud. Many of you were not only privately proud, and said that Crimea had returned to its native harbor.

“And then eight years later, when your country unleashed a terrible war in our Donbas, you did not have the courage to go out into the streets by the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, the millions, and protest these terrible things. But you were able to do this earlier. In 1991, a million people came to a square in Moscow to overthrow the evil empire. But that was before, and now it’s just Facebook posts and sympathy over the phone. It won’t help.

“We don’t need sympathy on the phone or on Facebook, we need action. […] I want to express special thanks to those who dared to go out to protest or openly, publicly voiced their stance on the Russian army’s atrocities,” the musician said.

Source: Delfi.ru, 9 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Something Tells Me He’ll Never Want to Learn the Truth”

“Do you know who lives next door? Vigilance is the key to security.”

I admit that I sometimes try and get people talking to understand what’s going on in their heads. Today, however, I had no such plan. I only permitted myself to go outside for ten minutes to drink a cup of coffee and to look at the sun as seen from somewhere other than the window of my office. I went to my favorite coffee shop, a two-seater, without any ulterior motives. And without wanting to hobnob with anyone. I sometimes have a nice chat with the barista, because it was simply impossible to have an unpleasant chat with him before [the war]: he has no interest in politics whatsoever. He’s an exemplary sweet summer child, a vegan, the antipode of universal evil. But then he tried to get me talking, on the contrary, taking me by surprise. He suddenly started discussing Ukraine. For some reason I assumed that the hellishness going on there would disgust him, but far from it! When I said that civilians were being killed there, he was genuinely surprised. “Who’s killing them? What civilians?” In a nutshell, he has a girlfriend in Kharkiv. She stays at home, doesn’t go out, and hears gunshots, but she hasn’t mentioned anything to him about casualties. “There, in Kharkiv, you know, everything is fine, you just shouldn’t go outside.” Then he started complaining to me that, in Ukraine, they name streets in honor of [Stepan] Bandera. Tall and blond, the guy looks to be about twenty-five. Bandera is the bane of his existence, but otherwise everything is cool. Something tells me he’ll never want to learn the truth.

This feuilleton was posted friends-only on social media earlier today by an experienced and thoughtful Moscow-based journalist and activist. They have kindly permitted me to translate and publish it here. Photo by the author. (It was taken on another occasion several years ago, but seemed to fit this story.) Translated by the Russian Reader

“People Are to Blame”

Alexander Kynev: “A moment of patriotic joy. I don’t know if there is anything more bogus. Even the Young Pioneer line-ups of my childhood were more natural.”

The video Mr. Kynev has embedded on his Facebook page is entitled “Zapolarye Za Mir” — “The Arctic for Peace.” The activists identify themselves as “residents of the Murmansk Region” (and, indeed, are standing on a hill overlooking Murmansk itself.) In addition to the newfangled Russian “Z” swastika, the hoodies sported by the lead troika of “activists” are also emblazoned with the “We Don’t Abandon Our Own” slogan that featured heavily in Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and has been revived for the new invasion. ||| TRR

__________

 

A Perekrestok chain supermarket in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“People are to blame…”

I stopped by Perekrestok and was blown away. Bananas were 140 rubles a kilo, pre-washed carrots were 100 rubles a kilo.

The hypermarket itself is open until eleven p.m. nowadays, not around the clock.

“Prices have really gone up. Is this all because of the w*r?” I say to the middle-aged woman at the checkout.

“No, it’s not just because they’ve attacked the neighbors. It’s because of the people.”

“The people who unleashed it all? I hope they will be held responsible…”

“No, because of the people, all of us, who allowed this gang to take over Russia. And each of us will bear our share of responsibility for this. And bananas at 140 a kilo are still just icing on the cake… We are to blame for what happened. Everyone who let this happen. Everyone who ‘wasn’t interested in politics.'”

Source: Alexei Sergeyev, Facebook, 15 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Slugfest

I usually like what Kirill Martynov writes, but the screed, below, is overdoing it. DOXA are just four nice smart, brave kids, not the Red Army Faction. They shouldn’t have to bring down the Putin regime on their own. This is not to mention the fact that Russia has been an “ordinary dictatorship” since 2012, if not much earlier. || TRR

___________________

Kirill Martynov
Facebook
April 16, 2021

At work, I have to constantly write about the “socio-political situation.”

My thoughts are now as transparent as Patrushev’s tear: we have arrived at an ordinary dictatorship with a president for life, prisons and a ban on practicing their professions for dissenters, and the subsequent collapse of the state—after this patriotic feast ends with some pathetic and shameful event, as usually happens to dictatorships.

Accordingly, there is practically nothing to write, except for specific stories—for example, about when they try to block YouTube or how they will simulate elections under the new circumstances.

The DOXA case should be read in this light: this is not about random “siloviki going after a student magazine,” but about the dictatorship purging education and the media. It is impossible to win a trial against the dictatorship, so further bets will hinge on whether everyone remains free or not.

The advantage in this case is that “DOXA’s criminal video” says nothing except the that students also have the right to take a civic stance, and university administrations should not try to persecute them for this. It looks like the kind of case that should end in a suspended sentence, which, by Russian standards, is tantamount to an acquittal.

However, so far the state has imposed special pre-trial restraining measures on DOXA. All four editors can leave their homes for one minute a day, from 11:59 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. (so as to avoid putting them under house arrest for some reason).* All four of them have already been issued summonses for more than twenty interrogations, scheduled for every working day between now and late May.


In a better world, Summit Brewing Co.’s fabulous Slugfest IPA would be my new sponsor. Instead, it only dulls the pain I feel when contemplating the one-sided slugfest happening in the world’s biggest country. Image courtesy of Summit Brewing Co., St. Paul, Minn.

Armen Aramyan wrote his honor’s thesis in epistemology with me as his academic advisor. I hope that the investigator will have time to talk with him about this interesting subject. (“Why so many books?” the police asked when they searched his apartment.)

So from an epistemological point of view, the situation looks something like this. The authorities are now able to kill DOXA’s entire support line in a matter of days: the state will simply devour a few lives and go on, thus maintaining “stability.” But the state’s weakness is that it has no idea what phenomenon it is facing.

It has no idea how these people think, what they want, and what to use to “break” them. When the Americans were at war with Japan, they commissioned anthropologists to study Japanese culture. Our state is waging a war on young people blindly, like a drunken gangster in a dark alley.

I have no idea at all what DOXA—a horizontal student editorial board that writes about modern philosophy and harassment—looks like to police investigators.

And while the state is trying to figure out this unknown quantity, to unravel how it can be bought off or destroyed, many more interesting things will happen.

* As reader Pavel Kudyukin pointed out to me, house arrest was not imposed in this case so that its duration could not later be subtracted (as “time served”) from a sentence of imprisonment or probation imposed after a trial and guilty verdict. This suggests, he argued, that the powers that be have already decided to convict the four DOXA editors and send them to prison. || TRR

April 16, 2021

Covid is raging in Russia: over the past twelve months, there have been about 500,000 unexplained excess deaths. Putin is killing Navalny in prison, right now, literally. And this is the scene today, Friday, at 11:15 p.m., on Pyatnitskaya Street in downtown Moscow. How is this possible?!

Translated by the Russian Reader

Kalinka Malinka

Authentic Russian with Katya 2RU
September 23, 2019

Калинка-малинка is a Russian song that the whole world is singing! Learning this hit if you study Russian language is a must! Watch this video to know HOW TO PRONOUNCE THE LYRICS of Kalinka-Malinka!

Калинка, калинка, калинка моя!
В саду ягода малинка, малинка моя!
Ах! Под сосною под зеленою
Спать положите вы меня;
Ай, люли, люли, ай, люли, люли,
Спать положите вы меня.

Калинка, калинка, калинка моя!
В саду ягода малинка, малинка моя!
Ах! Сосенушка ты зеленая,
Не шуми же надо мной!
Ай, люли, люли, ай, люли, люли,
Не шуми же надо мной!

Калинка, калинка, калинка моя!
В саду ягода малинка, малинка моя!
Ах! Красавица, душа-девица,
Полюби же ты меня!
Ай, люли, люли, ай, люли, люли,
Полюби же ты меня!

Калинка, калинка, калинка моя!
В саду ягода малинка, малинка моя!

Little snowberry, snowberry, snowberry of mine!
Little raspberry in the garden, my little raspberry!
Ah, under the pine, the green one,
Lay me down to sleep,
Rock-a-bye, baby, rock-a-bye, baby,
Lay me down to sleep.

Little snowberry, snowberry, snowberry of mine!
Little raspberry in the garden, my little raspberry!
Ah, little pine, little green one,
Don’t rustle above me,
Rock-a-bye, baby, rock-a-bye, baby,
Don’t rustle above me.

Little snowberry, snowberry, snowberry of mine!
Little raspberry in the garden, my little raspberry!
Ah, you beauty, pretty maiden,
Take a fancy to me,
Rock-a-bye, baby, rock-a-bye, baby,
Take a fancy to me.

Little snowberry, snowberry, snowberry of mine!
Little raspberry in the garden, my little raspberry!

Like her compatriots, Katya 2RU has plenty of time nowadays to look great and teach foreigners a lesson, but at least she teaches them Russian folk songs instead of lessons about democracy and free speech. Image courtesy of her YouTube channel

The Capitol Storming Gives Russians an Escape From Their Reality
The great majority of Russians have no say over the future of their cities or regions and so resort to events outside the country.
Ilya Klishin
Moscow Times
January 14, 2021

Anyone following U.S. and Russian social networks in recent days might have had the impression that Russians were more upset by the recent siege of the Capitol building and the decision by Twitter and Co. to block Donald Trump than even the Americans themselves were.

Although CNN and the New York Times only sounded the alarm, popular and little-known bloggers on this side of the Atlantic absolutely went into hysterics.

Of course, many of the issues concerning this incident deserve deep and thoughtful discussion, such as, at what point should IT companies become accountable to society?

And, is there a difference between today’s Twitter and the telegraph and newspapers of 100 years ago? Here, however, I would like to focus not on the substance of the psychosis, but on its nature and origin.

Why did so many Russians go into a frenzy over the events in the U.S.?

To begin with, consider a popular Russian meme called “Barnaul, Altai Region.” In all of its iterations, the cartoon shows a young Russian woman voicing anxieties to her psychologist.

One day she’s worried about SJW, the next, BLM, and most recently, the Capitol siege. But whatever the problem, the psychologist always responds with the same words, “What the f—k do you care?! You live in Barnaul!”

Then he grabs a megaphone and shouts it again for emphasis: “IN BARNAUL, THE ALTAI REGION!!!”

Now, you might not have heard of this Siberian city, but that’s the whole point. Barnaul is so far from the problems dominating Western headlines that it is absurd for someone living there to lose any sleep over them.

Rude as it is, the meme remains popular because it touches on a very real but unspoken, almost intuitive aspect of the Russian psyche.

The great majority of Russians have no say over the future of their cities or regions, much less the country as a whole. This is especially depressing for young people who have grown up during the 20 years of President Vladimir Putin’s rule, and who have never experienced anything else. After all, they are naturally overflowing with youthful energy. They would like to change the world around them and contribute to society in some small way.

But they can’t. Everything is off limits. They can either violate their own principles by going along with the abominable, soul-crushing system, or else buck that system and risk paying a very high price, up to and including prison time.

Of course, most young people avoid that extreme, teetering on the edge of open disobedience without crossing the line.

Once a young person realizes that the authorities block every path for positive change, they subconsciously switch to the path of least resistance.

Like water flowing around a rock in its way, young Russians who find that they cannot change the fundamental picture shift their focus to concerns of secondary importance.

If you can’t raise the standard of living for the elderly in your economically depressed region, stop the police from torturing people or prevent the authorities from “calling in” verdicts to the courts, you can at least become a vegan activist or radical feminist and oppose the use of animal fur.

Don’t get me wrong — these are all worthwhile causes.

But in today’s Russia, they represent a form of escapism. A “fur fighter” poses no threat to Putin’s regime and comes off as more comical than menacing. Kremlin leaders simply laugh at them, saying, “Let them have their fun.”

The same is true of Russia’s homegrown BLM activists and surprisingly numerous Trump supporters. In fact, the whole lot of them is even more harmless than the activists are because they do nothing but sit on their couches and argue with each other online.

It is a pastime along the lines of watching football, Game of Thrones and reality TV. It is fun and brings the occasional rush of adrenaline during particularly intense arguments.

And so, the days and weeks pass with everyone arguing. Some are on the left, others on the right. One is a feminist, another an anti-feminist. This one is a tree hugger while that one ridicules environmentalists. But outside their windows is the same old Russia, ruled by the same old Vladimir Putin.

Ilya Klishin is the former Digital Director of the New York-based Russian-language RTVI channel. He is the founder of KFConsulting.