What Are You Waiting For?

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On Sunday, RBC reported that the well-known Georgian jazz singer Nino Katamadze had announced she would no longer perform in Russia because she regarded the country as an invader. Her boycott is, of course, a response to the latest attempt by the Kremlin to bring what it regards as a colonial vassal to heel while using the incident to spark a moral panic on the home front.

Actually, no one should perform again in Russia, including Russians, until Putin and his fascist clique clear out of Dodge for good. It’s just funny that tiny, virtually unarmed countries like Georgia and Estonia have the moxie to stand up against the Kremlin, while much richer, stronger countries like the US, the UK, and Germany try to avoid the topic.

This is not to mention Russians themselves, who, especially in the capitals, have more means at their disposal to oppose tyranny than their poor Georgian ex-countrymen, who still hold them in the highest regard despite getting the Russian neo-imperialist treatment now and in the recent past with hardly a peep from “liberal” Russians.

Twenty years of nonstop Putinism has done such a number on Russian brains that you wouldn’t believe it unless you had witnessed it up close and personal for nearly the whole time, as I did.

It’s worse than you can imagine and it’s much, much, much worse than most Russians can imagine since, apparently, all they can imagine is inflicting Putinism on themselves and the rest of the world till kingdom come.

Correct me if I’m wrong. Show me the two million people who were just on the streets of downtown Moscow. Don’t believe the hype generated by “flash mobs” that are mostly ghosts in the social media machine.

The regime will go when millions of Russians hit the streets in all the major cities and everywhere else, too. That means two million people in Moscow, one million in Petersburg, hundreds of thousands in all the other big cities. This is what “the opposition” should be organizing toward. Neither the country nor the world has any more time for the Theory of Small Deeds 7.0 or whatever version Russia’s beautiful souls have recently launched.

I see lots of my Russian friends going to great pains and putting themselves through excruciating intellectual contortions to separate themselves and their country discursively from the current regime and government. That’s a cop-out. They either have revolt for real or things will get much, much worse very quickly.

As if they weren’t beyond awful right now. There are TWO show trials underway in Petersburg right now. Isn’t that enough to boycott Petersburg and Russia until further notice?

What are we waiting for? What are you waiting for? {TRR}

Image of Georgian flag courtesy of Wikipedia

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Horreur du Jour (The Obukhovo Defense)

This collectible caught my eye as I was walking home yesterday.

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J.V. Stalin, USSR. Workers of the World, Unite!

I mistakenly thought it was a pin. The women in the kiosk, directly opposite the exit from the Mayakovskaya subway station, who sold it to me for 49 rubles (approx. 70 euro cents), told me it was, in fact, a refrigerator magnet.

stalin magnet label

The label on the back of the magnet’s flimsy plastic package informs us its manufacturer and distributor is Bronze Horseman Trading House LLC, headquartered at 95/2 Obukhovskaya Oborona (The Obukhovo Defense) Avenue.

Located in the south of the city, the Nevskaya Zastava district, where refrigerator magnets bearing the bloody dictator Stalin’s image are stamped out like potato chips in the enlightened year of 2017, was historically chockablock with large, mainly armament factories before and after the October Revolution, and thus was a hotspot of labor organizing and political agitation in the period before the Three Revolutions.

In 1901, the neighborhood was the scene of a showdown between striking workers at several of its plants and the authorities. The center of events was the Obukhovo Rolled Steel Plant.

Members of several underground political circles, including Social Democrats and Populists, called a political strike for May 1 at the plant to protest deteriorating work conditions. Plant management fired seventy workers for their actions.

On May 7, the former strikers increased their list of demands. Aside from reinstating the fired workers, they now demanded a holiday on May 1, an eight-hour workday, cancellation of night shifts and overtime work, an elected workers’ council inside the plant, pay rises, and the dismissal of several managers.

When management failed to meet their demands, strike organizers convinced workers to down tools, leave the plant, and block the Schlisselburg Highway. They were joined by workers from the nearby Alexandrovsky Plant and the Imperial Playing Card Factory.

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Police and workers clash during the Defense of the Obukhovo Plant, May 7, 1991. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Mounted police were summoned to the scene. During the ensuing pitched battle, eight workers, including a 13-year-old boy, and several policemen were killed.

On May 12, the conflict between Obukhovo Plant workers and management was temporarily resolved when management agreed to satisfy most of the points on a new list of demands presented to them. For a month after the agreement was conclused, however, sympathy strikes continued to break out at plants in other districts of the city.

In September 1901, however, a number of strike organizers and former strikers were put on trial for insurrection against the authorities. Seven of the defendants were sentenced to prison; twenty, to army brigades for prisoners; and two to hard labor. Eight defendants were acquitted, but most of the 800 men arrested during the affair (whether they were involved in the standoff with police or not) were exiled from Petersburg.

In 1931, Alexandrovsky Village Avenue was renamed Memory of the Obukhovo Defense Avenue to commemorate the events of thirty years earlier. Later, several other streets were joined to it. Now known simply as Prospekt Obukhovskoi Oborony or The Obukhovo Defense Avenue, it runs along or near the left bank of the Neva River south from Alexander Nevsky Square in the central city to the far south, ending near Rybatskoye subway station. It is thus one of the longest streets in the city.

What does the inspiring but mostly forgotten story of the Obukhovo Defense of 1901 have to do with today’s feeble but persistent attempts at restalinizing Russia via symbolic and discursive incursions such as refrigerator magnets?

Nothing and everything.

It is nastily ironic that magnets bearing the image of one of the most thoroughgoing counter-revolutionaries and reactionaries who ever walked the earth are stamped out right down the street from where real revolutionaries and trade unionists once fought for workers’ rights and paid a heavy price for their fight.

Are the workers who make the Stalin magnets aware of this history? Do they see their work as contributing to some kind of “revolutionary” cause? Or, what is more likely, are they just trying to make ends meet? How much are they paid per month? Would they ever think about striking against their employers for better pay and working conditions? Or is life at Bronze Horseman Trading House LLC paradise on earth?

One final demonic irony. I bought the Stalin refrigerator magnet almost exactly opposite the spot, on Marat Street, where a few days earlier I had found a Last Address, commemorating Rudolf Furman, a victim of Stalin’s Great Terror. TRR

The Toponymic Commission Strikes Back

smolninsky rayonThis is part of a 1967 public transportation map of Leningrad’s former Smolny District. The red lines and numbers indicate tramlines. Nearly all of the line were decommissioned in the late 1990s and 2000s, although they were an important lynchpin in the entire tram system, which was once the largest in the world in terms of the sheer length of tracks. In the late noughties, Tram Park No. 4, located at the spot marked by the encircled red number five on the map, was demolished to make way for a flying-saucer-topped monstrosity known as the Nevsky Rathaus, developed by a company owned by Sergei Matviyenko, son of then-Petersburg Valentina Matviyenko. The Rathaus’s ostensible purpose was moving all of the city government’s far-flung committees into a single office building, but since many of the most powerful committees occupy prime downtown real estate in their own gorgeous 19th-century buildings, there is no evidence that things have gone to plan. In turn, the completion of the Rathaus has set off a storm of redevelopment in the immediate vicinity, much of it involving the construction of needlessly large and invariably ugly “elite” housing blocks. Map from the collection of the Russian Reader

“Today, November 24, the [Petersburg] Toponymic Commission will decide whether the Soviet [Sovetskye] Streets will again be called the Christmas [Rozhdestvenskye] Streets, and Insurrection Square [ploshchad Vosstaniya] will be redubbed Church of the Sign Square [Znamenskaya ploshchad]. It will finally become clear who won the Russian Civil war, the Whites or the Reds,” wrote Petersburg’s best-known pop historian in the business daily Delovoi Peterburg the other day.

Forgive me for restating obvious historical truths, but most sane people know the Reds won the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks emerged victorious from the October Revolution, and the Soviet Union, in concert with its allies the United States and Great Britain, won the Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Fatherland (or Patriotic) War.

The reactionaries on the Petersburg Toponymic Commission could restore the “old” names to every street in the city, including streets that appeared on the map only during the Soviet period, but they cannot alter the outcomes of historical events, especially events such as the ones I have just mentioned, which had overwhelming consequences for Russia and the world, however negatively, positively or indifferently we evaluate them today.

Besides, real local historians and history enthusiasts know that the names of many streets changed several times even during the city’s tsarist period (1703–1917), not to mention the Soviet regime, where the same thing also happened quite often as the Party line and public sentiment changed from one decade to the next.

First Soviet Street, for example, had several names during the period 1766–1923: New Carriage Street [Novaya Karetnaya], Carriage Street [Karetnaya], Old Carriage Street [Staraya Karetnaya], First Christmas Street [1-ya Rozhdestvenskaya], First Street, and, finally, First Christmas Street again, before it was renamed First Soviet Street by the Bolsheviks in 1923.

If historical justice were the Toponymic Commission’s real concern they would restore the street’s original name, New Carriage Street. Right?

Twenty years ago or so, perhaps, the Toponymic Commission was doing vital work, but nowadays it is a tool of the blackest, most virulent political reaction.

Indeed, it was also a tool of reaction twenty years ago, too, and I thus am eternally gratefully to my late father-in-law, who never deigned to call Sophia Perovskaya Street and Zhelyabov Street by their newfangled “old” names of Greater and Lesser Stable Streets [Bolshaya Konyushennaya and Malaya Konyushennaya].

Officially empowered experts who can seriously contemplate changing Insurrection Square’s name after a hundred years (a decision they ultimately nixed, although they did rename Insurrection Street [ulitsa Vosstaniya], which runs north from Insurrection Square and Nevsky Avenue to Kirochnaya Street, Church of the Sign Street [Znamenskaya ulitsa]) are sending an unambivalent message to Petersburgers that from here on out their God-given right to rebel and rise up tyrants and thugs has been confiscated, as it was, however murderous and criminal the current and subsequent regimes are.

But it is ludicrous to think it will never occur to people to revolt simply because there is no longer an Insurrection Street or Insurrection Square in their city, one of whose nicknames, in Soviet times, was the Cradle of Three Revolutions.

It is just as queer to feign that, by redubbing the Soviet Streets the Christmas Streets, there was never any Soviet period in the city’s history. The signs and symptoms of the Soviet regime—good, bad, neutral, and controversial—are literally everywhere you look. Completely erasing these signs and symptoms from the collective memory and the visible cityscape will not accelerate real democracy’s advent. On the contrary, it will probably push that happy day farther into the future.

It is the Toponymic Commission itself that should be abolished. It has long been busy rewriting history, not engaging in the non-science of toponymy. In this respect, it has aped the current regime, doing its dirty deeds under the guise of restoring what was lost or doing rhetorical combat with nonexistent malevolent forces that, allegedly, have wanted to revise the outcome of the Second World War or something equally hilarious, impossible, and utterly imaginary.

What the Toponymic Commission and the current regime really want to do is transfigure history, the study of history, and collective and individual historical memory into a total, inedible muddle. If they succeed in pulling off this trick, or so they imagine, it will be easier for them to manage and manipulate people and society, and diminishing their will to write and make their own history.

nevsk rathausThe Nevsky Rathaus and its telltale flying saucer, as seen at the far end of one of the now officially former Soviet Streets. Photo by the Russian Reader

P.S. It was oh so vital to immediately rename Petersburg’s long-suffering Soviet Streets. Of course, all good Christian men and women have rejoiced in this collective decision on the part of corrupt city officials and the city’s loyal opposition. But did anyone even peep when Tram Park No. 4 on Degtyarny Alley (in the same part of town, the Sands neighborhood, that was home to the now-disappeared Soviet Streets) was demolished and, before this, nearly the entire tram network there was dismantled?

What have Petersburgers received in compensation for the deliberate destruction of public transportation in their city? What will they receive to make up for this clear attempt to erase the Soviet past while preserving Soviet decision-making methods and leaving all of the least progressive aspects of the Soviet mindset firmly in place?

First, there was the UFO aka the Nevsky Rathaus, built by the former governor’s son. Now we have been gifted with a gift none of us really wanted, the Christmas Streets, as if this city of five million or more were populated solely by wildly devout Orthodox toponymic history enthusiasts.

In the near future, like a triple layer of icing on a sickly sweet holiday cake, we will be treated to the total “reconstruction” of the Church of the Nativity of Christ in the Sands. This is yet another unwanted gift, a gift made possible, once again, through demolition, in this case, the destruction of the cozy, pretty square at the intersection of Sixth Soviet Street and Krasnobor Alley. Local residents campaigned against this so-called urban planning decision. But who the hell are local residents, and what are their opinions worth when the current reactionary regime has been intent on beating it into everyone’s head that its own provenance is nearly divine?

What is worse, the city’s semi-official historical preservation mob indulges the regime in its “religious” aspirations.

This is yet another amazing story about how the nearly perpetual muddle in the heads of the city’s “finest people” (as one commentator called them when I published an earlier version of these remarks on Facebook) produces circumstances in which Petersburg is practically defenseless against urban planning stupidities and revisionist toponymic interventions. You can visit whatever truly satanic outrages on its tender flesh you wish, and most of the so-called opposition and its mostly silent, invisible supporters will either sign on to your crazy undertaking, keep its mouth shut or immediately surrender without putting up a fight.

One of the few exceptions in recent years (the bleak years of Putin 3.0) was when a bas-relief sculpture of Mephistopheles was removed from the façade of a building on the Petrograd Side, apparently on orders from a local housing authority official. A full-fledged public hullabaloo kicked off, featuring a well-attended opposition rally outside the offended building and, ultimately, the restoration of the demonic sculpture.

You see, that was a real crime against history and historical preservation. TRR

See my previous post on the same topic: “The Toponymic Commission” (June 22, 2016)

Remembering the October Revolution on ABC Radio National

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While it’s not entirely true that the centenary of the October Revolution has been entirely ignored or dismissed in Russia itself, enthusiasm for marking the occasion and reflecting on the revolution’s meaning and impact seems to be much higher in other parts of the world.

One proof of this is the email newsletter I just got in my inbox from one of the best radio stations in Anglophonia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National or ABC RN for short. I’m reproducing it here nearly in full mainly to show what public broadcasting can be like when it stretches its wings a little, but also to reiterate what I’ve said on this website many times.

Russia is now one of the most reactionary countries in the world, and you cannot find more solid evidence than the bizarre attitudes that have been cultivated by Russian authorities and the Russian intelligentsia alike towards not only the October Revolution (about which there is, indeed, a lot to be said, good, bad, and contradictory, as well as legitimate arguments pro and con) but also revolution generally and even just vigorous grassroots involvement in politics.

This is not to mention that real curiosity about other countries, their histories and cultures, has been mostly eliminated from the Russian media, and this is another telltale sign of the blackest reaction. TRR

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It’s been 100 years since the Russian revolution, but its impact is still being felt today. So this week we’re zooming in on the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power and the legacy it left behind.

What do millennials see in socialism?
With the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, it was said that humanity had reached “the end of history”: the Cold War was over and capitalism, along with liberal democracy, had won.

Seventy-five years after the Bolsheviks came to power in the October revolution of 1917, the Russian revolution was no longer widely hailed as an international model for workers’ activism. More often, it was cited as proof the socialist experiment had failed.

Yet this year Jeremy Corbyn — a self-described modern socialist — led UK Labour to a near victory in the country’s general election. And in the US, Bernie Sanders — a Brooklyn-born socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union — offered Hillary Clinton an unexpectedly tough challenge in the Democratic presidential primary.

So what does socialism offer young people in 2017?

Read more from two millennials who think socialism is still relevant.

The legacy of the Russian revolution
The Russian revolution challenged ruling classes all over the world with the idea that it is labour that creates wealth.

And it caused political shockwaves internationally, especially in Europe and the United States.

“The Russian revolution was not simply about some redistribution of income or some increase in taxation on the wealthy. It was about changing the fundamental relations of power that existed,” says Wendy Goldman, Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Working people embraced the Russian revolution all over the world. And I think that was one of the things that really struck terror into the hearts of ruling classes”.

Hear more about the impact of the Russian revolution.

Inside the House of Government
In a real apartment building that still exists in Moscow, a group of romantic revolutionaries once dreamed of overturning the Czarist monarchy and establishing a golden utopia for workers and peasants.

They succeeded in destroying the monarchy, but not in creating their golden utopia.

The House of Government: A saga of the Russian Revolution is a work of history, structured as novel.

Its author, Yuri Slezkine, grew up in Moscow and remembers the building distinctly.

“I wasn’t really aware it was called the House of Government when I was child,” he explains.

“But I knew of it, as I think most Moscovites did, as a huge grey menacing looking building … covered with memorial plaques, dedicated to various revolutionaries.”

Hear Phillip Adams’s discussion with Yuri Slezkine.

No revolution for Putin
Much has been written, analysed, discussed and debated about the Russian revolution in other countries.

But in Russia, the anniversary is troublesome.

“The population is quite divided on whether or not this revolution was a good thing … [because] by and large the Russian Government likes to embrace historical events which can unite the nation,” explains author and historian Mark Edele, from the University of Melbourne.

So how do you celebrate the birth of communism when it has been renounced and the offspring, the Soviet Union, dissolved?

Hear Geraldine Doogue’s discussion with Mark Edele.

Russia’s anti-revolution
The philosophy of the late, and seemingly long-forgotten, Russian religious philosopher Semyon Frank is all about the unknowable.

Even his grandson, Berlin-based Nikolai Frank, doesn’t really understand it.

Accompanied by his friend, radio producer David Hecht, Nikolai Frank travels through contemporary Russia, to find out why his grandfather has been hailed by some in President Putin’s elite circle as “Russia’s salvation”.

There, they discover a deeply divided Russian Orthodox church.

Hear more about Nikolai and David’s journey in Russia.

Music of the Russian revolution

The year is 1917, the end of World War I is in sight. But Russia has been removed from the war and is undergoing a huge transition from the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union.

If you were attending the concert halls during this turbulent period, you would have been hearing a lot of Scriabin, who died two years before the revolution, but was seen as a musical champion, both leading up to it and for years after.

“He imagines the end of the world, and the transformation of the world,” explains Professor Marina Frolova-Walker, author of Russian Music and Nationalism from Glinka to Stalin.

Composers like Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and of course Shostakovich were all affected by the rising Iron Curtain — and some stayed, but many didn’t.

Hear about changes in music before, during and after the revolution.

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Newsletter text and image courtesy of ABC Radio National

One Solution: Demolition

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Sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov putting the final touches on his monument to weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov. Photo courtesy of Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
September 19, 2017

Everything about the new monument in Moscow is disgusting. Once again, it is huge, and it shows us a non-military man holding a rifle. As an obvious symbol of militarism, it looks savage in the downtown of a major city. And then there is the very man the monument commemorates, who besides giving his surname to a lucrative arms brands apparently did nothing else for his country, let alone for a city in which he never lived.

Debates are underway about what to do with monuments when the context in which we view them has changed. Should we demolish them? We are not obliged to destroy them: we could move them to places where their symbolic baggage vanishes. Or would it be better to recode monuments where they stand by building something around them and thus imparting a new meaning to them? In my opinion, we have no choice in this case. There is no way to remedy this abomination. It can only be demolished.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in St. Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Moscow To Unveil Statue Of AK-47 Inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov
Tom Balmforth
RFE/RL
September 18, 2017

75AC53AB-0E8F-47DE-BC13-452E78BD5FBF_w1023_r1_sThe 7.5-meter tall statue to Mikhail Kalashnikov, which stands on a northern intersection of the Garden Ring around central Moscow.

MOSCOW — After several false starts and some grumbling from locals, a prominent statue of a gun-toting Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of one of the world’s most ubiquitous weapons of war, is set to be unveiled in an official ceremony in the Russian capital on September 19.

The 7.5-meter metal likeness — still covered in plastic — features Kalashnikov cradling his eponymous AK-47 assault rifle and looking west down the Garden Ring that loops around central Moscow.

The statue was hoisted onto its plinth over the weekend beside a new business center.

A second metalwork sculpture, of St. George slaying a dragon with a spear tipped with a rifle sight with AK-47 written on it, stands nearby.

The Kalashnikov statues’ sculptor, Salavat Shcherbakov, is also the artist behind a towering 17-meter statue of Prince Vladimir the Great that was erected — amid controversy — outside the Kremlin in November at a ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin.

A4E87823-7F31-405E-A58C-7FE440CBDC33_w650_r0_sRussian sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov presents a model for a monument to Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, at his workshop in Moscow on November 10, 2016.

Shcherbakov told TASS news agency that the rifle was added to his original plan for the Kalashnikov statue because people might not recognize him without his signature contribution to the Soviet Army.

“So we dared to include the rifle after all,” Shcherbakov said.

Other prominent statues in the vicinity include statues to poets Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky presented plans to Putin for the Kalashnikov statue in September 2016 during a tour of the Kalashnikov arms manufacturer, headquartered in Izhevsk, the capital of the republic of Udmurtia.

The project was backed by the Russian Military-Historic Society, which is chaired by Medinsky and Rostec, the state weapons and technology conglomerate run by powerful Putin ally Sergei Chemezov.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Medinsky, Chemezov, and Kalashnikov’s daughter, Yelena Kalashnikova, were expected to attend the unveiling ceremony on September 19.

The statue was originally meant to be unveiled on January 21, marking the day in 1948 when Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov signed a decree ordering the construction of an experimental batch of Kalashnikov rifles.

But the ceremony was moved because of inclement weather to May 8, ahead of Victory Day, and then to September 19, Gunmaker Day.

Not everyone is on board with the project.

7926FEAF-D770-479A-84A0-0FB57CC87D96_w650_r0_sMikhail Kalashnikov with one of his fabled assault rifles in 2006.

Veronika Dolina, a local resident, posted a photograph of an apparent protester at the still-shrouded Kalashnikov statue holding a sign that said, “No to weapons, no to war.” She wrote: “Man at Kalashnikov pedestal. Humble hero, no posing.”

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“No to weapons, no to war.” Photo courtesy of Veronika Dolina/Facebook

Resident Natalya Seina told 360, a local media outlet, “This is not artistic, to put it mildly. This is trash. It’s loathsome.” She also noted how Kalashnikov had lived his life in Izhevsk, not Moscow, unlike playwright Anton Chekhov and poet Aleksandr Pleshchev. “These are probably more worthy people than the creator of a rifle.”

There are estimated to be as many as 200 million Kalashnikov rifles around the world —prompting one expert to label it “the Coca-Cola of small arms” — and they are manufactured in dozens of countries.

Mikhail Kalashnikov died in 2013 at the age of 94.

All We Have to Look Forward to Are Past Wars and Future Wars, but God Help Us from Revolutions

When my charge Abubakar and I emerged from the courtyard of our building earlier today for our afternoon constitutional, we were abruptly confronted by a moving van, almost blocking the exit to the street. The van, which was quite filthy, had two “patriotic” (nationalist) bumper stickers tattooed on its back bumper.

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“Thank you that we don’t know what war is like!” You can say what you like about the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park, but the Great Fatherland War was definitely not the “war to end all wars” almost anywhere, much less the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia, which happily intervened militarily in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan after the war, as well as enthusiastically engaging in lesser Cold War shenanigans all over the globe with and without its sparring partner the US. Since its convenient self-collapse, it has twice reduced Chechnya to rubble, occupied Crimea, set Donbass on fire, and razed East Aleppo to the ground. So much for not knowing what war is like. The experience has merely been severely localized to keep the ruling and chattering classes of Moscow and Petersburg from knowing what it’s like.

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“Our armor is strong and our tanks are swift!” This particular (modern) tank is emblazoned with the St. George’s Ribbon that has become a de rigueur accessory for “patriots” (nationalists) on holidays such as Victory Day (May 9). Some particular fervent patriots (nationalists) manage to wear the ribbon all year round, like an amulet against the evil eye.

Here we see the historical semantic switch that is always flicked by Russian nationalists, played out, in this case, on a single, dust-encrusted moving van bumper. Since the Soviet Union made the “ultimate sacrifice” in the Second World War, it now gets a free pass in all present and future conflicts, which are somehow, usually vaguely, provoked by the “raw deal” the Soviet Union and, especially, ethnic Russians supposedly got in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Cold War.

The second bumper sticker should thus be seen as a serious “humorous” threat to invade Europe in the very near future. The really funny thing is it is addressed to a purely domestic, i.e., Russian audience. Perpetually “collapsing” Europe, brought to its knees, allegedly, by Muslim fundamentalists, gays, and political correctness (in the Russian popular imagination), and thus deserving of invasion (salvation) by Putinist Russia, literally cannot see this message, ostensibly addressed to it, not to other Russians, who have it drilled into their heads on a hourly basis, unless they avoid the Russian state media altogether, which many of them have done to keep their heads from exploding.

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Bolshaya Zelenina Street, Petersburg, August 17, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Kasatkina

An acquaintance came home today to find a once blank or otherwise adorned firewall, as depicted above, painted over with an alarming, menacing war scene. There was a brief period between the collapse of the Soviet Union and Putin 2.0 or Putin 3.0, when the city’s numerous, achingly beautiful firewalls were freed of portraits of Politburo members and exemplary socialist laborers and allowed to be themselves, which was something like the visual equivalent of one hand clapping. But when money and politics poured back into the city in the noughties, the firewalls were an easy means for district council officials to show residents and city hall they were engaged in “improvements” and not just pocketing the budget money entrusted to them. (They were doing that, too, whatever else they were pretending to do.) Hiring a crew of hacks to paint the firewall in an otherwise dreary courtyard and arranging a few benches or a little garden or playground below the mural was just the ticket.

Those days of mostly harmless kitsch are now long past. Firewalls should now say something big and important, if the city is going to bother to put up the hard cash to paint them, and that message has to be aggressive and “patriotic.” As one commentator wrote, upon seeing the image of the Soviet warplanes, above, the impression they make is that Russia must start a war immediately.

Or, as in a series of five murals painted on different walls in five Russian cities on the occasion of Putin’s birthday in October 2014, “monumental propaganda” is made to short circuit all of Russian/Soviet history, especially the country’s triumphs, to the current regime and its ruler for life.

IMG_5964Memory (P = Pamiat’), one of a series of graffiti-like murals produced by the pro-Kremlin youth group Set (“Network”) to celebrate the president’s birthday in October 2014. This mural was painted on the firewall of an apartment block on the Obvodny Canal in Petersburg. Fortunately, it has since been painted over. Photograph by the Russian Reader

Thankfully, there are times when the public meta-historical messages are either unreadable or deeply ambiguous, as in this advertisement and accompanying promotion for the Uberesque taxi company Taksovichkof. (In the interests of full disclosure, I use their services very occasionally.)

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“A first!” claims the ad. “A taxi tour of 1917 Petrograd”!

It transpires the route includes St. Isaac’s Cathedral; the barracks of the Volyhnia Regiment, who decisively came down on the side of the Provisional Government during the February 1917 Revolution; the Smolny Institute, where the Bolsheviks were temporarily headquartered in October 1917; the Finland Station; the nearby Crosses Prison, where many revolutionaries of all stripes, not just the Bolsheviks, did hard time; the revolutionary battleship Aurora, which fired the shot heard round the world, returned to its moorings recently after extensive repairs; the mansion of ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska (currently, the Museum of Political History), where Lenin read out his so-called April Theses (“The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution”) after returning from exile in Switzerland; the Peter and Paul Fortress, which housed many political prisoners and revolutionaries during the tsarist period; and, finally, the Winter Palace, stormed by a unit of Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries on October 25, 1917, as a means of asserting the hard left’s symbolic victory in the second revolution.

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The route of Taksovichkof’s Excursion through Revolutionary Petrograd from 1917 to 2017 [sic]. Image courtesy of Taksovichkof

Unfortunately, knowing a little bit about the political views of the local TV celebrity and historian who recorded the tour’s audio guide, I can anticipate the tenor of the tour will be fairly counterrevolutionary and reactionary (i.e., “liberal”). But it’s better than declaring war on Finland again, I guess. TRR

P.S. The taxi tour costs 1,500 rubles (approx. 22 euros at current exchange rates). It lasts at least an hour and a half depending on traffic conditions, which are usually brutal from morning to night in downtown Petersburg. You can go on the tour from five in the morning (ideal, I would think) to twelve midnight (when the downtown is crawling with merrymakers).

Let’s Cancel the Party and Call It a Night

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Car parked in central Petersburg, 8 July 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

Given the sheer numbers of reactionary/counterrevolutionary events and incidents happening in Russia every day, and the equally astronomical quantities of reactionary/counter-revolutionary statements and actions committed by Russian officials high and low (e.g. East Aleppo) over the past couple of decades, it seems a nasty farce to commemorate, much less celebrate, the centennial of the Russian revolution(s) this year.

Present-day Russia and Russians have no copyright on revolution, and this stricture applies equally to self-identified “revolutionary” or leftist Russians, who have nothing to teach or say to anyone about revolution.

Clear the current Russian built and symbolic landscape of all the post-revolutionary tat and kitsch (nearly all of it reactionary, because what could be more anti-revolutionary than a cult of personality like the one generated around the dead Lenin) that clutters it physically and nominally (e.g., Insurrection Square in Petersburg), and you would find the wildly reactionary country that actually occupies the vast expanse between the Gdansk Bay and Chukchi Peninsula.

It’s another matter that there are lots of Russians who, pluckily and smartly, individually and collectively, have been trying to overcome this black reaction in bigger and smaller ways over the “miraculous” years of the successive Putin regimes.

Unfortunately, however, their voices have mostly been muffled by the din of counterrevolution issuing from the Kremlin, the State Duma, and the post-Soviet Russian state’s ever-proliferating set of security forces and regulatory watchdogs, and by their own would-be allies among the brand-name liberals and leftists, most of whom have been concerned with promoting their own social and cultural capital, not making common cause with boring math instructors like “mass disorder stoker” Dmitry Bogatov or, more surprisingly, with the country’s endlessly resourceful independent truckers and other inspiring grassroots freedom fighters, none of whom have the time or the inclination to commemorate the famous revolution that, arguably, went counterrevolutionary more quickly than you could say Jack Robinson. TRR