Actually, the apparently much reviled Socialist Street was named Cabinet Street from 1784 to 1821. From 1821 to October 1918, it was named Ivan (?) Street (Ivanovskaya ulitsa), allegedly, after St. John the Baptist Church, which Wikipedia claims was located on the street itself (at No. 7). However, the redoubtable website Citywalls.ru says the church at this address was called the Church of the Transfiguration. Another source (K.S. Gorbachevich and E.P. Khablo, Pochemu tak nazvany? Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1985, p. 357) asserts the street was so called (Ivan is the Russian equivalent of John) because it “led” to the church of that name. The only extant St. John the Baptist Churches in modern-day Petersburg are the renowned Chesme Church at 12 Lensoviet Street, whose official name is, indeed, the Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. But it is located approximately eight kilometers to the south of Socialist Street. An identically named church on Stone Island is nearly as far away: it is seven kilometers to the north of Socialist Street.
This is not to mention the fact that most Petersburgers with more than a passing interest in krayevedenie (local lore and history) would know it was the current Pravda Street, which intersects Socialist Street and is so named because the first issue of the newspaper Pravda was run off the presses there in 1912, that long bore the name Cabinet Street, from 1822 to 1921. The street was called that because the quarter was inhabited, among others, by clerks from His Imperial Majesty’s Cabinet, the agency in charge of the Russian imperial family’s personal property and other matters from 1704 to 1917.
His Imperial Majesty’s Cabinet was headquartered in the imposing neoclassical building, on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and the Fontanka Embankment, built in the early nineteenth century by Giacomo Quarenghi and Luigi Rusca. The funny thing is that most locals, if asked, would probably identify the building as part of nearby Anichkov Palace, which originally housed His Imperial Majesty’s Cabinet and then, years later, served as the residence of the future Alexander III and his family. In Soviet times, the Anichkov Place became the Young Pioneers Palace, but is now known as the Palace of Youth Creativity. TRR
Recently, there has been a vigorous public discussion of renaming Voykov subway station in Moscow, just as earlier, the renaming of Bela Kun Street in Petersburg was discussed. I will add my own five kopecks to the topic.
The arguments of those who support renaming the station can be summarized as follows. Pyotr Voykov was a terrorist involved in the murder of the royal family and basically a bad man. Opponents of the renaming argue, on the contrary, that the charges leveled against Voykov are exaggerated, to put it mildly. Apparently, Voykov did not take part in the murder of the royal family personally (except that, along with other members of the Ural Soviet, he was party to the decision to execute them), and many other charges are based on articles published in the yellow press. (You can find the particulars here.) However, in my view, even if all the allegations against Voykov were valid, the station should not be renamed. Why not?
On the one hand, toponymy is just as much as inalienable part of our history as folk songs, architectural landmarks, literature, music, and all the rest. Attempts to change place names many years after they emerged only because our attitude to historical figures has changed are just as much acts of vandalism as demolishing landmarks and destroying historic buildings. In my view, this species of vandalism is much more shameful than the similar renamings committed by the Bolsheviks. At least the Bolsheviks were consistent. They demolished historical landmarks because they wanted to start with a clean slate. Nowadays, on the contrary, the restoration of history is advocated, but the methods used to “restore” this history are Bolshevik and anti-historical.
On the other hand, condemnation of the Bolsheviks is an attempt to judge figures of the past in terms of today’s standards. Such an approach, again, is anti-historical, and this pretext can be used to call for demolition of monuments to any historical figure. Let us condemn Peter the Great for killing his son and the numerous fatalities incurred during implementation of his projects, many of which, in all honesty, the country did not need. Let us condemn Catherine the Great for carrying out a coup and murdering her husband. Let us condemn Alexander I for complicity in the plot to kill his father. Sound good? Moreover, many of Voykov’s opponents say he murdered innocent children. However, the monarchical system was organized in such a way that these same innocent children might have presented a direct threat to their political foes, since they could have served as a standard around which monarchist forces could have rallied. Let us recall that the rule of the Romanovs began with the hanging of three-year-old Ivashka Voryonok (Ivan Dmitryevich), son of Marina Mniszech. But he was no more to blame (and no less to blame) than the Tsarevich Alexei.
In addition, the current situation is also marked by flagrant hypocrisy. There is a lot of talk in Russia nowadays about national reconciliation. However, for some reason, reconciliation takes the form of dismantling monuments and changing place names associated with revolutionaries, while the cult of their opponents (primarily, the “innocent martyr and holy tsar” Nicholas II, who bore direct responsibility for the country’s downfall) is assiduously propagated. Excuse me, but I cannot call that anything other than a scam.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Busts of the “Holy Martyr” Tsarevich Alexei, “Holy Tsar and Martyr” Nicholas II, and “Holy Tsaritsa and Martyr” Alexandra, outside the Theotokos of Tikhvin Church, Petersburg, April 25, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
I spoke recently with a radio journalist from Cologne. A pleasant woman, she was one of those western leftists who try and “understand” Russia. She just could not believe that the Putin regime’s ideology was anti-communist and was based on condemnation of all revolutions, whether the October Revolution or the French Revolution.
“How can that be? We are walking here on Insurrection Square. Monuments to Lenin are not demolished in Russia as they are in Ukraine. And you tell me the regime is anti-communist?” she said.
I hope that after Putin’s remarks that Lenin planted an atomic bomb under Russia and was responsible for the Soviet Union’s collapse, my companion will see the light. I no longer have such hopes for Russian liberals who believe that under Putin we are living through a new edition of the Soviet Union.
In fact, Putin has been very consistent albeit historically ignorant. The 1917 Revolution is as hateful to him as the collapse of the Soviet Union, as hateful as any other subversion of Power with a capital p, which in the eyes of the people should remain sacred if only because it is Power, and all power comes from God. From the viewpoint of legitimists like Putin, the destruction of monuments to Lenin or the renaming of streets is a break with the mystical continuity of Power and thus almost a revolutionary gesture.
In Putin’s eyes, Lenin and the Bolsheviks really were devils incarnate, for they radically asserted the right of the masses to revolt and abolished continuity with the past, thus demolishing the mystique around the notion of the state.
During the Stalinist period, however, the Bolshevik Revolution itself was incorporated into the national myth. It is in this bronzed, mythologized form that attempts have been made to adapt all things Soviet to the needs of the new oligarchy, who have imagined themselves the successors of the Rurikids, the Romanovs, Stalin, Yeltsin, and all manner of saviors of the Fatherland and guardians of stability. Fortunately, this stunt does not work with Lenin and never will.
Ivan Ovsyannikov is an activist with the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (ITUWA/MPRA) and the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD). Translated by the Russian Reader. See my previous post on this topic, “Crumbling Down.”
Some people ain’t no damn good You can’t trust ’em, you can’t love ’em No good deed goes unpunished And I don’t mind being their whipping boy
I’ve had that pleasure for years and years No no, I never was a sinner, tell me what else can I do Second best is what you get till you learn to bend the rules And time respects no person and what you lift up must fall They’re waiting outside to claim my tumbling walls
Saw my picture in the paper Read the news around my face And some people don’t want to Treat me the same
When the walls come tumbling down When the walls come crumbling, crumbling When the walls come tumbling, tumbling down
Yesterday was a rough day for the anti-imperialist pro-Putin western left (which is basically all that is left of the western left). First, there was the publication of Sir Robert Owen’s report on his inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, in which Owen concluded that Putin “probably” approved Litvinenko’s murder in 2006.
Then the day got rougher.
Vladimir Putin publicly blamed Vladimir Lenin for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday blamed Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Lenin for planting the ideas that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Interfax news agency reported.
During a meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education, one of the attendees quoted a poem by Boris Pasternak describing Lenin as someone who had managed the flow of his thoughts to rule the country.
“Letting your rule be guided by thoughts is right, but only when that idea leads to the right results, not like it did with Vladimir Ilich,” Putin quipped in reply. “In the end that idea led to the fall of the Soviet Union,” he added.
“There were many such ideas as providing regions with autonomy, and so on. They planted an atomic bomb under the building that is called Russia which later exploded. We did not need a global revolution,” he said.
Putin has in the past famously described the fall of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.”
Oh my, it turns out Lenin planted the “bomb under the building known as Russia,” and what he had in mind was the collapse of the Soviet Union as a consequence of “ethnic autonomization”! So said the leader!
There are a few curious points in this statement.
First, the leader has equated Russia with the Soviet Union. Meaning that he has dubbed Central Asia, for example, a part of Russia. But he probably did not even notice it.
Second, the leader clearly indicated that the ideal is the Russian Empire, where, apparently, there were no problems, and which fell apart, apparently, as a result of the revolution and not the imperial elite’s wrongheaded policies.
The leader has clearly ignored the fact that Lenin, whatever you might think of him, attempted to reassemble the lands of the former empire, which by that time had virtually collapsed. And he was able to do this (reassemble the former empire) only by making certain compromises with the ethnic elites, by granting them “autonomy.”
Third, the leader’s rhetoric is obvious preparation for the 100th anniversary of the revolution, which is likely to be depicted as a tragedy, imposed [on the country] from the outside.
Enter Pioneers, all in ranks, some with plywood planes and lorries, Others with piquant denunciations, handprinted in block letters. From the next world, like chimeras, shades of pensioned janissaries Nod their approval to the kids, whose snub noses gleam with ardor. They crank up “The Russian Balldance” and dash in the hut to Dad, Chasing out sleepy Dad from the double bed where they were made.
What can you do? Such is youth. Strangling them would be uncouth.
Students at the Russian State University for the Humanities disrupted a lecture by Nikolai Starikov, a member of the Anti-Maidan movement. They were supported by some professors. How, in your opinion, should the conversion of public universities into hotbeds of liberalism and a source of manpower for a Russian Maidan be stopped?
• Regularly rotate teaching staff, weeding out teachers known for making Russophobic statements and being involved with dubious Western NGOs — 83 votes (25%)
• Actively campaign for vocational education as an alternative to countless “lawyers” and “economists.” People who are busy with real work do not rebel — 33 votes (10%)
• Follow the recipe used by Tsar Alexander III, who pacified Russia for a long time after the terror campaign by the Populists: reduce the number of higher education institutions and raise tuition costs for fee-paying students — 53 votes (16%)
• Leave them alone, let them sow their wild oats. Students have always been rebels, but once they graduated and wised up a bit, they became conscious and law-abiding members of society — 168 votes (50%)
Editor’s Note. The survey results were current as of 1:30 p.m. Moscow time on May 27, 2015. Thanks to the invaluable Andrei Malgin for the heads-up.
“We’re still little,” or Delegating political responsibility to adults
May 26, 2015 Vedomosti
Recently, debates about how bad things are in Russia—whether they are very bad or whether there is light at the end of the tunnel—have been topical. For example, an article by Maria Snegovaya and Denis Volkov, published in Vedomosti (January 20, 2015), dealt with the political mood of Russian young people. The authors came to a relatively optimistic conclusion. Young people were much more democratic and focused on Western values than the older generation. This attitude on the part of young people gave the authors hope for social and political change in the foreseeable future.
Research carried out by the Higher School of Economics in 2012–2013, as part of the European project MYPLACE: Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement, found that the views of Russian young people were much more complicated and confusing than has been suggested by the usual divisions into “pro-Russian” and “pro-Western,” “pro-Putin” and “oppositional” camps. Our data consisted of 1,200 surveys, answered by young people 16–25 years of age in Saint Petersburg and Vyborg, and sixty in-depth interviews with survey participants where we had the opportunity to discuss the political views of respondents in greater depth. The interviews showed the survey data had to be treated with caution. Even if a person had come across as liberal in the survey, it did not mean they did not consider Stalin an effective manager, and Putin, a democratic leader.
Entrusting Russian young people with one’s political hopes is, at very least, premature. They have noticeable problems with political consciousness. Until we got to politics, the vast majority of our respondents gave the impression of being quite conscious, informed, independent citizens. But when it came to political issues, many felt insecure and did not want to analyze them. In part, this explains the comfortable, quite normative choices of answers in the questionnaire. It was easier to check off that you support freedom of speech, the ability of citizens to shape events at home, and other “correct” answers.
On the other hand, young people have traditionally delegated responsibility to “adults” and “those who know best.” This position—that we are “little”, that we have to finish our educations, and get our own lives up and running—is a powerful barrier to collective action. It is curious this stance is a response to the attitude of “adults” towards young people. In the Russian discourse, young people are usually imagined as dependent objects in need of refinement, “patriotic” and other mentoring, but not as subjects of their own destinies. (Elena Omelchenko, director of the Center for Youth Studies at the Higher School of Economics, has long argued this point; see, for example, her article “Youth Activism in Russia and Global Transformations of Its Meaning.”) Young people willingly accept this position and do not want to change anything. Consequently, they do not shape the participatory skills, the civic skills they would need for political engagement in adulthood. Postponing interest in politics “for later,” young people practically postpone it forever. No wonder that a variety of civic education programs designed to instill the habits of citizens in young people are so popular all over the world.
When pinning hopes on young people, we need to consider two other things. First, young people, as they grow up, often forget about tolerance and the experiments of adolescence. Second, in Russian society there is not the radical ideological and cultural gap between the generations of parents and children that would be necessary for the kind of revolutionary outbursts of student unrest the world saw in 1968. For our respondents, parents and older relatives are the only people who can be trusted, and when making decisions, young people are guided by their opinions. Some respondents from the older age group (21–25 years of age) voted the same way in the 2011–2012 elections as their parents had. Moreover, family discussions of political change and parents’ opinions of the 1990s, the “restoration of order” in the 2000s, and even Soviet times have a much stronger impact on young people than any TV propaganda, which our respondents fairly easily identified and ignored, in contrast to the views of their elders. It is often forgotten that Russian society is experiencing a crisis of confidence in public institutions as well as in people outside the closest circles of friends and family. Our respondents are far from being ideological rebels in their families. Even if you do not agree about something with your parents, only they can be counted on for support, and only they want the best for you.
Under these circumstances, it was to be expected that the interviews showed the young people were extremely alienated from politics in general. Politics and everything associated with it was a “dirty business” in which involvement was absolutely senseless. This feeling of meaninglessness has been another important factor blocking attempts by even critically minded and informed young people from participating in political and civic processes. “Nothing can change” and “Everything has already been decided for us” were the phrases they used to explain their own lack of involvement. This, however, is not an exclusively Russian trait. Studies of European young people have also demonstrated a long-term, growing disillusionment with formal politics, declining interest in political parties, elections, and so on (see Flash Eurobarometer 375, April–May 2013).
Interpreting sociological data and trying to use them to make forecasts is a complicated and often thankless task, especially when it comes to mass mobilization, revolutions, riots, and similar “flash” events. Researchers of social movements have long been struggling with the question of why people do, nevertheless, take to the streets. Even in the most difficult conditions, when there is strong dissatisfaction with the situation, policies, and the regime, protests may or may not happen. That is why the analysis of attitudes and stated opinions is not an effective way of predicting behavior. People do not always do what they say, and even if they honestly believe in liberal values, it is not a given that at the crucial moment they will back up their statements with action. On the other hand, if they keep silent, it does not mean this will always be the case.
The author is a senior fellow at the Center for Youth Studies at the Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg. All texts were translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of anatrrra.livejournal.com
About the Place: Portlandia is a new project in the convenience store format.
Project creators: Natalia Davydova and Julia Zenka
The idea to create Portlandia* sprang from a love of fellowship, food, the art of cooking, and shared experiences, as well as an acute shortage of quality products (in the broad sense) in St. Petersburg.
It is very important that our customers are always satisfied with not only the quality of the goods but also the range, which boils down to the basics, but things sufficient for comfort: farm-fresh produce, popular high-end products, household goods, and kitchen utensils.
The first thing we care about is the location of the store. Since many neighborhoods in the city center suffer from a lack of hypermarkets, and there are not enough grocery stores with high quality products, we decided to take up residence in apartment buildings.
* Portland is a city in the state of Oregon in the United States. It is considered the undeclared capital of foodies and hipsters. Authentic and incredible gastro festivals and lots of interesting things happen there. Young creative people bent on healthy eating and self-realization live there. They are always coming up with strange pastimes for themselves and are proud of the result. That, in short, is Portland.
In 2011, the American TV series “Portlandia”, which we could not help but fall in love with, premiered. This series, in fact, is our whole life in a nutshell: para-gastronomical insanity, awe over the topic of bars, as well as sketches about the creativity of the silly Portland hipsters with their passion for music festivals, DJ-ing, and all the things that we in Russia (especially in St. Petersburg) are just beginning to go crazy over.
Founding date: November 11, 2014
It sounded odd but potentially interesting, only the address put me on my guard.
That address (Ulitsa Paradnaya 3/Vilensky Pereulok 35) suggested this “hipster’s paradise” was at the heart of a newish high-rise housing estate, Paradny Kvartal, that had been erected a few years ago on the bones of another old neighborhood that should have been wholly protected by city and federal preservation laws and the city’s status as an UNESCO Heritage Site. But this is what went down instead, as reported at the time by Sergey Chernov of the now-defunct St. Petersburg Times, with a little assistance from the now equally defunct Chtodelat News (whose better intentions live on in this blog).
Legality of Demolition of Historic Barracks Contested By Sergey Chernov The St. Petersburg Times May 11, 2011
Another planning controversy is developing in the city, as more historic buildings in the center were demolished last week to make way for luxury apartment and office buildings.
Built by architect Fyodor Volkov in the early 19th century, the demolished buildings on the corner of Paradnaya Ulitsa and Vilensky Pereulok are known as the Preobrazhensky Regiment’s Barracks and used to house one of the Russian army’s oldest regiments, formed by Peter the Great in the late 17th century.
Following a public outcry, Governor Valentina Matviyenko ordered an internal investigation into the legality of a construction permit issued by the St. Petersburg State Construction Supervision and Expertise Service (Gosstroinadzor). The agency is subordinated directly to Matviyenko.
Matviyenko’s orders were based on a memorandum sent to her by City Hall’s Heritage Protection Committee (KGIOP) after the last building was demolished on May 3.
Yulia Minutina, a coordinator of preservationist group Living City, said that Gosstroinadzor issued the construction permit that contradicted the protected zones law.
The local press suggested that the investigation may result in the dismissal of Gosstroinadzor’s head Alexander Ort. Preservationists and public figures such as film director Alexander Sokurov asked Matviyenko to dismiss Ort in a petition in January.
The developer failed to show the demolition permit, according to Minutina.
“Demolition is a separate type of work that requires a separate permit,” Minutina said Tuesday.
“Nevertheless, it was not presented to us, nor have they seen it at the KGIOP and I’m not sure it ever existed. Of course this is a violation.”
“Besides, buildings in the center can only be demolished if they are in a poor condition, but we haven’t seen any document stating that the building was in a poor state and impossible to restore either.”
Minutina said the demolition was one of the issues the preservationists are planning to raise during a planned meeting with Matviyenko on Thursday.
While the last building was being destroyed during the May Day holidays, the authorities did not react to the appeals of concerned residents. At the same time, police reportedly harassed activists who picketed the demolition site, rather than checking whether the developer had the necessary permits.
“We waited for two hours for the police to arrive,” Living City’s Pyotr Zabirokhin said.
“But instead of stopping the demolition, they started checking our passports, copying our placards into their notebooks and threatening to disperse us if we didn’t go away.”
St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Deputy Sergei Malkov has written a complaint regarding the police actions to the St. Petersburg police chief Vladislav Piotrovsky.
The tactic of demolishing historic buildings during public holidays was recently used when a large portion of the 19th-century Literary House was destroyed on Nevsky Prospekt during the Russian Christmas holidays in January, Zabirokhin pointed out.
“It has turned into a bad tradition that not entirely legal cases of demolition start during or just before holidays, when people are not ready to get mobilized quickly, and while officials are on holiday and nobody can be reached,” he said.
According to the project’s web site, the area previously occupied by the Preobrazhensky Regiment Barracks will be home to an “exclusive” Paradny Kvartal, an isolated “mini city” of 16 office and residential buildings.
“The true adornment of the quarter’s center will be a square with a fountain, comparable in size with that in front of the Kazan Cathedral,” the web site said.
However, apparently as a result of the controversy, the site was no longer available on Tuesday, redirecting to the web site of the developer, Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga. The original site can be viewed as files cached in Google.
Anna Mironovskaya, the marketing director of Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga, a subsidiary of the LSR Group, said Tuesday her company was only a sub-investor and was not in charge of legal matters and permits, citing the Ministry of Defense as the project’s developer and the Pyotr Veliky Construction Company as the commissioner.
One of the main advantages of Paradny Kvartal is the social homogeneity of [one’s neighbors]. Our buyers are people of high social status. That is why we will be able to create “our own world” in which it will be pleasant and comfortable to live.
— What does the phrase “noblesse oblige,” which is frequently applied to Paradny Kvartal, mean?
The well-known phrase has rightly become not just the slogan but the authentic motto of Paradny Kvartal. It translates as “[one’s] station obliges [one].” For in Paradny Kvartal each detail underscores the project’s elitism, its exclusivity.
I had not been back to that site of class warfare camouflaged as “redevelopment” since that grey unpleasant day in May four years ago, although whenever I was in the vicinity it had been hard to avoid catching sight of Paradny Kvartal towering on the horizon over its older neighbors. Not only had the elitist high-rises probably been built in violation of the height regulations for the historic center, but the whole estate, I disovered when I revisited it a few weeks ago, has been erected on a one-storey-high pile of landfill, probably to accommodate lots of subterranean parking.
Hipster convenience store Portlandia proved quite hard to find amid the vast pseudo-Petersburgian, semi-ghost town that is Paradny Kvartal.
Part of the problem was a lack of sensible signage and maps, but mostly it was hard to find anything when many of the first-floor commercial spaces were still awaiting occupants.
This, by the way, seems to be the “square with a fountain, comparable in size with that in front of the Kazan Cathedral,” mentioned above.
Since the dubious reign of Valentina Matviyenko, who presided over the destruction of the Preobrazhensky Barracks, as well as much else of architectural merit, the city has been fountanized to the point of bursting, with two of its major Lenin monuments also having been juvenilized as water fun parks of a perverse sort. But Paradny Kvartal’s (perhaps non-functioning) fountain had been wisely boxed up for the winter.
I finally found Portlandia the hipster convenience store. I can say that the picture from the prospectus, above, does it justice. It is as empty and pointless as the picture suggests, and “convenient” only if you have been locked inside this mini city and desperately want to buy local craft beer and designer aprons at a heavy mark-up. That is, if you want stuff readily available elsewhere, probably just outside the gates of this noblesseobligeville, but for many fewer rubles.
Even at its most gentrified, the real Portland, Oregon, is a delightful, gritty socialist paradise compared to the soulless, Putinesque anti-Petersburg on display inside Paradny Kvartal.
And the connection with Portlandia the TV show I just don’t get at all. Portlandia is often mildly funny and at least slightly in touch with the city it sends up and where it is filmed. I cannot even imagine a comparable program dealing with Petersburg’s foibles and sillinesses being made here nowadays, in this dark-as-pitch and utterly humorless period, although there were such programs in the “lawless” nineties (e.g., Gorodok and Ostorozhno, modern!).
It’s frightening to think that much greater swathes of the inner city would look like Paradny Kvartal now were it not for the spunkiness of the tiny, embattled, and nowadays almost totally extinguished gradozashchitniki (city defenders) movement, which only six or seven years ago set the entire country on its ear by defeating Gazprom and its planned skyscraper.
But the city’s real salvation, such that it has been, has come from timely economic crises and sheer bureaucratic corruption and incompetence.
And yet Putinism in architecture and city planning has managed to do a lot of damage to this fine city, while signally failing to fix almost any real problems, of which there are almost too many to count.
As I happily exited Paradny Kvartal, a sign reminded me I was leaving the “first fashionable quarter in Saint Petersburg.”
As I dashed down the ramp into the “unfashionable” Petersburg, it was like returning to life after a longish period in cryogenic refrigeration.
One of the first things I saw there in the real city, warts and all, was a memorial plaque, reminding me that once upon a time people in this city had big ideas, and had dreamt of and fought for better futures.
Of course, we can argue the merits of different political ideas and the methods of realizing them. But places like Paradny Kvartal are idealess vacuums, pure embodiments of the blackest political reaction and the lack of any vision of the future on the part of Russia’s wildly corrupt ruling classes.
Even the sometimes justly maligned Russian hipster deserves better than Portlandia the inconvenience store and its airless environs.
With a little elbow grease and imagination, the old Preobrazhensky Regiment Barracks could have been transformed into a real hipster’s paradise, into a little village of low-income housing and affordable shops and cafes. Minus the hipsterism, it almost was like that back in the “wild” nineties. At any rate, it was at least as shabbily livable as any other part of the central city back then. Which despite its shabbiness was a hundred times more beautiful than it is now.
Since I was surprised myself, I intend to surprise you as well. Good evening, friends. Did you know that there are areas to which Europe’s sanctions against Russia do not apply? On the contrary, our western partners—who no longer conceal their dislike of Russia and [ethnic] Russians, who call the leader of our country a “führer,” who are pounding whole sectors of the economy and finance with sanctions, actually causing a rise in prices here—on certain issues these same people are ready at the drop of a hat to come here to Russia, to Petersburg, in particular, and send convoy after convoy with humanitarian missions.
And whom, do you think, the West continues to passionately love in Russia amid total sanctions? You’ll never guess. I myself was amazed by this fact, because the West, so I imagined, was now more than ever principled in its hatred of all things Russian. From Barak Obama to, dare I say this surname, [President of Lithuania Dalia] Grybauskaite, we hear insults directed towards Russia and [ethnic] Russians, and people have felt this on their skin. I mean the sanctions. A photo of men [with the slogan] “Sanctions against Russia are sanctions against me” [painted on their backs] has been making the rounds of the Internet.
So, just think, at the same time as hundreds of artists have been banned from traveling to Europe—in England, for example, the local “bodybuilders” have called for a boycott of Gergiev’s concerts—signs reading “No Russians allowed” are hung at cafes in Eastern Europe, Norway has left the “evil empire,” as it deems Russia, without the famous Norwegian salmon, Holland [has left Russia], without the famous Dutch cheese, and Sweden [has left Russia], without the ensemble ABBA, humanitarian assistance and close contacts continue in the area of . . . sexual partnership. And not traditional [sexual partnership] of some kind, but namely extremely perverted, gayropean [sexual partnership].
[Olufsen, in Russian:] “People should learn to respect and accept a person for who they are.”
Аs did Deputy Consul General of Sweden Björn Kavalkov-Halvarsson.
[Kavalkov-Halvarsson, in Russian:] “To eliminate prejudices what is needed are bold politicians who stand up for human rights and make laws that do not lead to the emergence of second-class citizens.”
A whole group of English-speaking western comrades decided to personally show solidarity and love for those they consider humiliated and subject to repression in Russia. Meaning—and this is important—officials who approve of repressions against Russia single out perverts as a special group of people who need special love and pity.
You remember the obscene anecdote about the sparrow that warmed itself in winter—I really apologize for this—in cow dung and was dragged out of the dung by a cat. [The moral of the story was that] the one who pulls you out of the shit is not your friend, and the one who covers you in it is not your foe. If there have to be three or four percent of the population with this abnormality of loving the same sex, then we will tolerate them and even feel sorry for them, but we will not let them into schools and kindergartens.
There used to be Doctors without Borders and Peace in Exchange for Food [sic], and now there is Sex instead of Food and Homosexualism [sic] without Borders. And most importantly, it is all so out of place, so ill timed. In the Ukraine, people are perishing. Everyone knows that at the forefront of the misanthropes are an outted faggot,* Supreme Rada deputy Oleg Lyashko, and a closet faggot, interior minister Arsen Avakov. Their sexual orientation really wouldn’t bother anyone if they hadn’t declared their fierce hatred of Russia and the friendship between Ukrainians and [ethnic] Russians. But it is just these “comrades” who are behaving heinously in Donbass.
And if one of those people who are sympathetic to the sexual “Mensheviks” would give them some good advice [and tell them that] at such a difficult time for the country not to show off in the company of Russia’s official enemies from Western Europe, but, on the contrary, protest against the actions of Lyashko and Avakov, which discredit the honest name of, so to speak, internationalist faggots. But no, instead they are also trying to convert them into fighters against the traditions of their own motherland.
In this context, the pass made to the faggots and lesbians by Petersburg [human rights] ombudsman Alexander Shishlov, who essentially greeted them in a special communiqué, appears completely dubious and politically mistaken. You know, back in the old days, the Soviet Communist Party general secretary would greet gatherings of student work teams in Siberia. So anyway, Mr. Shishlov—I quote BaltInfo—“sent greetings to the organizers of [Queerfest], a festival of gay culture taking place […] in Saint Petersburg.”
So, “among the stated objectives [of Queerfest] is the creation of an effective public space devoid of homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination, and the promotion of dialogue”—this is very important—“between members of different groups, organizations, minorities, and communities. These objectives are dear to all [‘of us,’ Tatarov adds] who consider human rights supreme values.”
Do you really want dialogue? Well, what kind of dialogue can there be here? Some get sanctions and hatred from the West, others—the ones in Donbass—get mass graves of civilians, and still others get touchy-feely. Will this actually make things better for the perverts? I am not worried about them: it’s a question. I don’t think it will make things better for them. So, friends, I will finish the anecdote about the sparrow eaten by the cat, which is obscene, like this whole topic of sexual perverts. The one who shits on you is not your foe, and the one who pulled you out of the manure is not your friend. But if you wind up in [shit], just sit there and don’t tweet!
*Translator’s Note. Here and throughout, the word in the original Russian is pederast (педераст), which despite its obvious origins and appearance is simply an offensive term for “homosexual,” although perhaps it has, as friends have noted, a slightly “pseudo-scientific” or “old-fashioned” ring to it that its popular and commonly used derivatives pidoras and pedik do not. (They are wholly offensive and thus, apparently, “not fit for TV,” especially after passage of the new law on swearing.) But as one of my friends writes, “He [Tatarov] says pederast so that everyone will hear will pidoras. His intention is to insult, and everyone understands it that way. Otherwise, he would have said sodomit [sodomite] or muzhelozhets [ditto]. […] But when the linguistic expertise is conducted [in connection with a possible criminal investigation, see below], it will turn out that he did not offend anyone.” This is a long way of saying there is no one perfectly good way of translating the word, especially in this context.
Organizers of the human rights LGBT festival Queerfest have demanded that Saint Petersburg TV publicly condemn statements containing hate speech and hostility towards gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT). These statements were made in the program “Reaction,” presented by Valery Tatarov, which the channel broadcast on September 29, 2014. The program, which dealt with Queerfest 2014, is still available on the channel’s official web site: http://topspb.tv/programs/v10655.
According to the activists, the program contained utterances (“perverts,” “faggots,” “if you wind up in manure, sit there and don’t tweet”) that were not only humiliating but could also be deemed incitements of hatred and enmity against a social group (LGBT).
The organizers and participants of Queerfest sent Saint Petersburg TV’s editor-in-chief a written request to make an official comment containing the editorial staff’s position on the program aired on September 29.
If it transpires that the humiliation of LGBT people and instigation of hatred and enmity against them was done intentionally and with the knowledge of the channel’s editorial staff, the organizers and participants of Queerfest intend to request that the Investigative Committee open a criminal case under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, as well as contact the Press Complaints Board, which is the journalistic community’s body for reviewing complaints of ethical violations by journalists.
Editor’s Note. Wholly owned and financed by the city administration of Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg TV, which began broadcasting in October 2010, is available on cable, satellite, and the Internet. In 2011, it was reported to have a potential audience of 1.7 million people, a figure that has probably risen considerably as the wholesale digitalization of TV broadcasting and reception in the city has continued.
In an August 2012 interview, Sergei Boyarsky, the channel’s then-new general manager, described Saint Petersburg TV’s editorial philosophy as follows:
I don’t agree that the only way to get ratings is by criticizing. I think all this talk about free media only benefits the poor [sic]. Our country is rife with freedom of speech. If you turn on Echo of Moscow [radio station], you can sometimes feel sick, so tactlessly and harshly do the guests and some of the presenters sound off about the political system, about the government, and personally about the country’s leader. If you think that is healthy, I don’t think so. We will present information objectively, but I won’t allow flagrant rudeness and showing favor to a particular side.
Boyarsky is the son of popular Soviet singer and movie actor Mikhail Boyarsky, who is well known for his demonstrative support of the current regime.
Curiously, in September 2013, the channel launched a section on its web site featuring selected news stories overdubbed in English, with accompanying English-language transcripts. The channel abruptly ceased posting these reports in August 2014.
He advocates for serfdom and says that it was the main “staple” holding Russia together in the 19th century. He justifies his argument by saying that serfdom is beneficial for the serfs.
In the article he writes (translated from the original Russian by Business Insider):
Even with all of its shortcomings, serfdom was exactly the main staple holding the inner unity of the nation. It was no accident that the peasants, according to historians, told their former masters after the reforms: ‘We were yours, and you — ours.’
The roughly translated term “staple” (in Russian “скрепа”) is significant. It’s an older word that has become popular in recent years after Putin used it in a news conference in 2012.
Prior to the conference, that word was basically never used in speech.
In the news conference, Putin said there was a “lack of a spiritual staples” among Russians — meaning there was no spiritual unity. And he subsequently indicated that Russia needed a “spiritual cleanse.”
“Putin essentially used the term ‘скрепа’ to mean the ‘spiritual staples that unite the Russian society.’ He was saying that we need a spiritual unity amongst the whole Russian society,” a Moscovite [sic] told Business Insider.
Following Putin’s news conference, Russian politicians and citizens have started using the word all over the place.
And Zorkin is following suit by using the Putin terminology to indicate that serfdom is the “spiritual staple that unites the [Russian] society.”
In the current climate of cheap hysteria and mental laziness, it is easier to make headlines, literally, saying a top Russian official wants his country to return to serfdom than to read his long, mostly dry-as-dust, pseudo-scholarly article and figure out what he was really trying to say. The payoff, in fact, comes in the final three paragraphs of Zorkin’s article, in which there is no mention, much less “praise,” of serfdom (the emphasis, below, is mine):
Opinion polls and many conflicts in our courts show that the broad masses of our people only suffer as a given the style and type of social, economic, political, and cultural life that the era after the revolution of 1991 brought to Russia. But internally they do not regard them as just and proper.
Moreover, polls show that the greatest degree of aversion pertains to legislative innovations that attack the moral and ethical sphere of social life. [This aversion] is registered primarily among religious people, regardless of denominational affiliation. It is especially pronounced among the older and middle generations. In contrast to the results of opinion polls taken a decade ago, however, it has also begun to manifest itself quite clearly among completely atheistic young people. The new legislative “tolerance” in family, gender, behavioral, and educational relations has been met with growing and increasingly widespread protest.
In connection with the above considerations and historical analogies, I want to reiterate a thesis that I have repeatedly voiced before. Any attempt to overcome “in a single leap” the gap between the law (and law enforcement) and mass perceptions of welfare and justice are fraught with social stress, shock, the growth of all kinds of alienation within society, and between society and the authorities, and, finally, social chaos. Which, as a rule, has to be extinguished by means of counter-reforms and repression.
Zorkin’s article is thus an apology not for serfdom as such. After all, before it was abolished, serfdom really had been the glue that held the Russian political economy together, just as slavery had been in the southern American states, and Zorkin goes to great lengths in his article to show that the nineteenth-century Russian elites, even the nominal conservatives among them, mostly agreed that serfdom was an evil that had to be “extinguished”—eventually and ever so gradually. The article is, rather, a defense of the current reactionary regime, which has increasingly used a combination of funhouse mirrors (“pollocracy,” the relentless manufacture and promotion of moral panics, wildly manipulative and frantically suspicious media coverage of political and social conflicts abroad, “weaponized absurdity”), outright crackdowns on prominent political dissidents, and targetedultraviolence to persuade itself, the various Russian publics (whether liberal, leftist, conservative or indifferent), and western reporters, policymakers, and pundits that it is acting on behest of a “conservative” popular base dwelling in the heretofore unknown “Russian heartlands.” And even (by way of giving the talking classes more nonexistent fat to chew) that this newfound “traditionalism” has considerable appeal well beyond those heartlands, in the allegedly morally fatigued countries of the perpetually collapsing liberal West.
As a friend of mine wrote to me when we were discussing Zorkin’s article, “It is no longer enough to gang up on gays. We must also make women wear long skirts and headscarves. And forbid them from getting a higher education.” This new overwhelming necessity to de-modernize Russia, however, is not grounded in an actual conservative groundswell or the perennial aversion of the “broad Russian masses” to reform and (God forbid) revolution. Rather, it is meant to jam up brain cells so they cannot ponder (much less act against) sleights of hand like this:
Zorkin has not been the only top Russian official contemplating the lessons of Russian history in the past couple of weeks:
German Gref, head of Russia’s biggest lender Sberbank, on Friday castigated systemic inefficiencies in the Russian government that, he said, waste trillions of rubles and threaten to drag Russian society back into Soviet times.
“We have inconceivable social costs in the area of public administration,” Gref said in a speech to investors and top officials gathered at the VTB Russia Calling investment forum.
These costs increase government spending and render well-intended initiatives ineffectual, threatening Russia with a repeat of past mistakes, he said.
“[Soviet leaders] didn’t respect the laws of economic development. Even more, they didn’t know them, and in the end this caught up with them. It is very important for us to learn from our own history,” Gref said.
Actually, Gref’s speech was much more revolutionary (whatever you think of his neoliberal biases) than this mild account would suggest. If you listen to the whole thing (below, in Russian), you will realize it was a direct attack on the myth of Putin’s extreme competence as a manager of economic policy and the omniscient wizard behind Russian’s alleged newfound prosperity: