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.

They Have Nothing Better to Do

Dmitry Gudkov
Facebook
January 9, 2021

I understand that Russians there is no problem more important than Trump’s showdown with Twitter. The precedent of blocking a social network account is not a very good one, of course, but the folks in the US will cope without us. I would venture to throw out a different topic for discussion.

On Monday, January 11, the verdict in the case of Azat Miftakhov will be read out in the Golovinsky District Court in Moscow. Trump was banned on Twitter, but Azat, a graduate student in mathematics from Moscow State University, has been locked up in for allegedly breaking a window at United Russia party office. He has been in a pretrial detention center for two years, although there is no evidence of his guilt.

If you’re worried about freedom of speech, Azat’s case is also cause for worry. At the last court hearing in the case, people who came to support Azat were not only not allowed into the court building. They were simply locked up in the courtyard of the building. A paddy wagon was brought  in and shipped them out of there. The detainees included two journalists, with press cards, but that means nothing to our authorities.

If the Miftakhov case were given at least 1% of the attention that has been spent on Trump in Russia, the case would not have happened. And we’re not taking about a ban on Twitter here, but arrest, torture, and a [possible] imprisonment in a penal colony.

Today, someone spelled out the message “FREE AZAT” on Lake Kaban in Kazan. This was protest action in support of mathematician and anarchist Azat Miftakhov. On January 11, at 12:00 p.m., the Golovinsky District Court will announce the verdict. The prosecution has asked for six years in prison for the young academic. If you have the opportunity, be sure to come to the hearing!

Boris Vishnevsky
Facebook
January 9, 2021

In our country, Roskomnadzor can block any media outlet or website that tells truths that the authorities find unpleasant.

But this does not cause popular outrage.

In our country, people are put in jail for reposting things on the internet.

But this does not cause popular outrage.

In our country, hundreds of political prisoners are being held on falsified charges, starting with Yuri Dmitriev and ending with the defendants in the Ingush protest movement trial.

But this does not cause popular outrage, and rallies and pickets in support of these people attract almost no attention.

In our country, anyone who disagrees with the authorities can be declared a foreign agent.

But this does not cause popular outrage.

In our country, the president has been given lifelong immunity from prosecution for any and all crimes, and he does not even need to pardon himself in advance.

But this does not cause popular outrage.

But what an explosion of indignation there has been over the blocking of Trump’s Twitter account. It has been the main topic of discussion in Russia!

As long as this is the case, the Kremlin can rest easy.

__________________

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
January 9, 2021

It’s stunning. Russia has hundreds of political prisoners, political assassinations and political persecution, two ongoing wars involving tens of thousands of dead and the occupation of territory in several [foreign] countries, a personal dictatorship that has been de facto and legally established, and laws that permit total censorship in the mainstream media. And yet Russian intellectuals are hotly debating whether it is right or wrong to block the American president’s Twitter account two weeks before the end of his official term.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexei Tsvetcoff: The Myth of Moscow’s “Bourgeois Liberal” Protesters

vadim f. lurie-10 august-fuck off-2.jpg“Fuck Off, Putin!” Protesters at the August 10 fair elections rally in Moscow. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie

Alexei Tsvetcoff
Facebook
August 14, 2019

I have to say something about the extremely tenacious, contagious myth that bourgeois liberals are the only people protesting at present. They are strangers to regular folks, so the myth goes, and thus the cops, who come from the common people, take such pleasure in beating them black and blue.

The myth is not borne out by the facts. Among the most malicious “street extremists,” the people who have had criminal charges filed against them, there are an unemployed man, a construction foreman, and several students from a variety of colleges, some of which are not so posh.

There are, of course, also a couple of programmers and a manager in the group of people who have been arrested and charged, meaning it is a cross-section of the Moscow populace, with no class dominating one way or another. If you have been to the protest rallies you will have seen that members of nearly all social groups were in attendance except for oligarchs, officials of the current regime, and the cops, who are on the other side.

When you present this simple empirical evidence to proponents of the “elite protest” myth, they have one last argument, also fallacious, up their sleeves.

Okay, they say, maybe Muscovites of all stripes really have taken to the streets, but their leaders, the people who encouraged them to come out, who led them onto the streets, are definitely bourgeois liberals who are strangers to simple blokes.

There is no evidence of this, either. Among those who spoke at the rallies and somehow represent the protesters, there were people who espouse completely different political views and come from all walks of life. It would be hard to pigeonhole municipal district council member and independent candidate Sergei Tsukasov as a bourgeois and liberal, wouldn’t it? And what about Alexei Polikhovich?  I could go on but I would have to list nearly all the speakers.

To see “liberals” and “agents of the west” in this extremely diverse group of people, who share only one demand (the same rules for everyone: the universal right to nominate candidates for public office, vote for them, and run for public office themselves) you have to be willing to see the world the way the Putinist TV channels paint it.

As for the cops, they retire at a completely different age, earlier than ordinary folks. The current oligarchic regime provides them with apartments and tons of other perks. So, there is no way they could be classified as ordinary people.

They have such great fun waving their billy clubs at any and all dissenters because they have a very specific material interest. The thievish regime need only toss them scraps from its table for them to have an excuse to be really cruel to anyone who threatens the regime’s privileges.

Meaning, simply, that the cops are in on the take. They do a good job of guarding their master, who keeps them well fed. They could not care less who this master is. In this sense, it is completely pointless to reason with them, shame them, and appeal to their conscience.

Returning to the popularity of the myth that it is snobby liberals raising a ruckus on the streets nowadays, I should point that, first, although the myth is at odds with the obvious facts, it is so persistent because it is propped up by two crutches, not one. And, second, it relies on the regime’s ubiquitous propaganda. In this case, the oligarchic regime has no argument but that everyone who opposes it is an enemy of ordinary people.

So, the choir of Solovyovs, Kiselyovs, and hundreds of other agitprop yes men sing this song at a deafening volume, competing with each other in the process, because how loud they sing probably has something to do with how close they will get, in the end, to the feeding trough and, thus, with being able to be as far from the selfsame hoi polloi as they can. There is no way people like them want to get mixed up with the broad popular masses, to sink to their level. They want to keep on living the good life of propagandists with all the foreign real estate, offshore bank accounts, and other perks that working as professional fans of the Motherland entails.

But that was the second reason the myth of anti-populist liberals is so persistent. The first reason is completely different. It is the perfect excuse for the political passivity and political fear experienced by people in our atomized society with its extreme shortage of solidarity and self-respect.

The Russian man in the street says something like this to himself.

Of course, I see what has been going down. I see how the haves have divvied everything up among themselves and where things are going. Why don’t I go out and take my stand against them? Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a chicken?

But that hurts and I don’t want to think about it. I need another, more flattering argument . . . Right, that’s it.  I don’t go to protest rallies and avoid getting messed up in politics because all the people who do go out and protest are—

(He reaches for a lifesaver in the shape of his TV set’s remote control or a Kremlin-funded website.)

—all liberals and agents of the west. (Thanks for the prompt!) Employees of the US State Department and enemies of the common folk, they want to bring back the nineties. Elections are only a cover.

I am no fool. I would never go anywhere with these people and demand anything. I am smart and discerning, and now I have an alibi for when I look at myself in the mirror. And since I want to stay this way forever, I am going write the treasured mantra on the inside of my door: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Vadim F. Lurie. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. You are probably wondering why a pro-common people myth-buster such as Mr. Tsvetcoff would resort, in the end, to trotting out the sock puppet of the Russian “man in the street” (obyvatel’) who, allegedly, believes everything he sees on Kremlin-controlled Russian TV. This is because, whether liberal, leftist (like Mr. Tsvetcoff), nationalist or none of the above, almost no one in the country’s self-styled opposition has figured out that you oppose a terrifying, destructive, criminal regime like the Putin regime with superior political organization, not with a sense of your own moral and intellectual superiority.

Since the Russian opposition is inordinately fond of protest rallies and marches, you would think it would pull out all the stops to get as many people to them as possible and, thus, scare the hell out of the regime. But if there is anything the Russian opposition hates more than the Putin regime, it is grassroots political organizing, meaning knocking on doors, stopping strangers on the street, buttonholing friends, neighbors, and workmates, and persuading them to do something most of them will not want to do at first: protest publicly against the regime. As nearly no one does the dirty work of getting people to rallies, almost no one goes to them.

Rather than blame themselves for their unwillingness to mobilize people and thus organize a movement that could, eventually, be capable of confronting the regime and perhaps defeating it, the opposition is fond of blaming the unwashed masses and “men in the street” for their passivity and timidity. When opposition liberals play this blame game, they usually target public sector employees, the lumpenproletariat, and residents of Russia’s far-flung hinterlands, who, allegedly, constitute Putin’s electoral base.

I would have thought opposition leftists would know better than to make what amounts to the same argument, but I was wrong. // TRR