Mark H. Teeter: Turn on the News

tumblr_m58pus9vFN1qz9qooo1_500Marilyn Monroe doing a spit-take.

And Now the News, With Somebody You Weren’t Expecting
Mark H. Teeter
Moscow TV Tonite
April 7, 2019

The accepted wisdom among high-dome media analysts here in Russia has been that Muscovites who checked on-the-hour radio news either tuned in Ekho Moskvy or Kommersant FM for actual news, in larger and smaller doses, respectively, plus commentary from sources who were relevant and informed or were supposed to be.

Or they got earfuls of untruths, half-truths or misrepresentations of the news from just about everywhere else on the dial, along with pseudo-commentary from various professional spokes-liars (presidential, ministerial, etc.) or professional dim bulbs (Russian MPs, selected idiots on the street, somebody’s cousin Vanya).

Whether or not you accept this accepted wisdom, there has been an interesting recent development you should note: an intriguing Third Way that you may have missed (as I did until recently) has opened up here in the New Muscovite ether for listeners keen on locally sourced radio news coverage. Its creators have given their project’s genre the highfalutin name Avtorskie Novosti, that is, Auteur News, by analogy with avtorskoe kino or auteur cinema.

You might, however, dub the genre The News from Somebody Noteworthy Who Doesn’t Do Radio News for a Living and Might Offer an Interesting Take on Today’s Edition of It.

Auteur News was the brainchild of the modest-sized NSN (Natsionalnaya Sluzhba Novostei), which described the project, as I discovered on its website, in alluring terms.

Auteur News from NSN is a radio program broadcast simultaneously by three stations (Nashe Radio, Rock FM, Radio Jazz) with a daily audience of 1.5 million people in Moscow and four million in Russia. The presenters of Auteur News are well known to listeners, as they are among the most famous people in the country. Currently, 200 contributors are involved in the project.

That thumbnail sketch should pique the interest of listeners numbed by Ekho’s necessary but wearisome good accounts of bad news and the embarrassing agitprop elsewhere on the dial: “President Vladimir Putin today signed another new law to make life better and happier.”

Question No. 1 in the minds of potential listeners would likely be, “Wait, just who are the Auteur 200?” And they would be right to ask. Nikita Mikhalkov is certainly a famous person, for example, but many people would feel more confident getting their news and commentary from a bag of doorknobs.

But let’s start with the glass half full: a brief retelling of how I came across Auteur News.

The wife and I often put on Radio Jazz quietly as background music to dinner, when the grandson, who hates jazz, isn’t joining us.

We were listening to it with one ear, as usual, when the news came on at 8:00 p.m. one recent evening.

Imagine my surprise when a measured female voice from the seemingly politics-free jazz station launched into a four-point litany of items-plus-commentary that seemed like something you’d call Real News with Real Attitude.

The Ministry of Finance, Radio Jazz told us, had “refused to provide the Russian Academy of Sciences funding for international scholarly and scientific cooperation,” which would result in Russia “finding itself in the backwaters of science again, the fruits of which we already know from the Soviet period.”

A repeat of that would be, the voice continued, a “very sad” prospect.

Hmm! My one-ear listening quickly ratcheted up to one-and-a-half-ear listening.

Radio Jazz continued on a more upbeat note.

“Kirill Serebrennikov’s ballet Nureyev was named Ballet of the Year by the jury of the professional music award BraVo,” with the presentation taking place at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

This wouldn’t seem a particularly newsworthy story: the ballet had won a sizable basket of international awards since its premiere in 2017. Ah, but then you recalled the scandals surrounding the production here, including the arrest of the director, and the overall public attitude toward things artistic identified with “non-traditional orientations.”

But the announcement of the award was not the end of the item, as the presenter continued.

“I had the good fortune to see the ballet Nureyev It really is a wonderful ballet, striking from many points of view. And considering that Kirill Serebrennikov, in fact, staged the ballet by long distance, so to speak, the outcome is little short of a miracle. It is sad our national know-how is linked to creative events in ways that are not positive. But I would like to congratulate Serebrennikov on this well-deserved award. May he have the strength to overcome all his trials.”

Wow, just wow. It dawned on me what I was hearing was not only not The News in Putinese. It was news-plus-opinion that would make many Putinistas angry and hostile. I was beginning to wonder whether black sedans and a police van were heading toward Radio Jazz that very minute.

Next, Radio Jazz reported that an ominous institution called the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, which sounds even more ominous in Russian (Federalnaya Sluzhba Ispolneniya Nakazanii, or Federal Service for the Enforcement of Punishments) now “want[ed] to oblige its employees to apologize to prisoners in cases where their rights and freedoms have been violated.” As in, “Sorry for the rubber hoses and the knuckle sandwich there, Petrov, we didn’t mean to, y’know, violate your rights and freedoms and stuff.”

As absurd as it sounded to me, it sounded even worse to the Radio Jazz news commentator.

“What a Kafkaesque reality! We will torture people, but then apologize to them. I don’t really understand how these things go together. Lately, I’ve been seeing various features of the old utopian Soviet mindset in a great number of legislative acts. You get the feeling lawmakers don’t understand what is happening in reality at all and create an attractive little mockup of it for themselves, to placate their consciences. As in, ‘Go right ahead, citizens, demand an apology from your jailers for beating and torturing you.'”

Kafka and sarcasm are surely justified in passing along this news item, I agree, but it was still hard to believe my ears. At this point, I was experiencing a flashback impulse to close the kitchen door and huddle around the radio so the neighbors wouldn’t hear us listening to illegal “foreign voices”!

The final item Radio Jazz offered its evening listeners to ponder was a question about as philosophical as a news broadcast gets: How happy are you?

First, the context.

“Finland is the happiest country in the world,” Radio Jazz told us by way of summing up the annual World Happiness Report. “This ranking of global happiness takes into account GDP per capita, life expectancy, charitable contributions, social support, the level of freedom and the level of corruption in terms of their impact on residents ‘vital decisions.’”

Well, Miss Radio Jazz News gave the neighboring Finns plenty of credit.

“Frankly speaking, I am ready to agree right off with this award, because in Finland they do a huge number of social projects. The Finnish people try to be at the center of their own culture. For example, if a festival takes place in a large city in this country, the residents of the surrounding villages are brought there free of charge by bus so  they can be involved in culture. I won’t even mention many other important laws related to social status, support for the population, and so on. In sum, we should follow the path of Finland, and not, say, North Korea.”

The last time I heard a Russian newsreader say, “Let’s not be North Korea” was, let’s see here, carry the two, ah, that’s right: never. Which was why I almost lost a mouthful of after-dinner decaf doing a Danny Thomas spit-take over the kitchen table as the news ended. A little went up my nose, but it was still worth it.

After the shock wore off, a little laptop skating yielded some background on the presenter and commentator of that evening’s edition of Auteur News: “Irina Prokhorova, editor-in-chief of the publishing house New Literary Review, specially edited what she thought were the top stories of the day for NSN.”

All I could say was, Nice job, Irina, and here’s hoping you get another turn at Auteur News before unpleasant men in ill-fitting suits are sent to chat with you at your place of work.

A further bit of web surfing still did not yield what I wanted most: a list of the Auteur 200 and a schedule of their appearances for, say, the upcoming month. But I did dig up a little more background.

I discovered that Auteur News had been on the air for nearly five years, and over 200 presenters had contributed, including politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, politican and TV presenter Pyotr Tolstoy, football star Ruslan Nigmatullin, actor Sergey Bezrukov, rock musician Andrei Makarevich, writer Sergey Lukyanenko and other Russian celebrities.

This was clearly a very hit-and-miss kind of thing, I could tell. You can imagine setting a long jump record with a sudden vault across the kitchen to turn the radio off before “Auteur News with Vladimir Zhirinovsky” (or Pyotr Tolstoy) abused your eardrums, but if such leaps of faith were what it took to get the likes of Makarevich, long implicitly banned from state-controlled media as an “enemy of the people,” back in the public arena, then maybe it was worth it, I figured.

Yes, perhaps sharing the airwaves with the loud and confused was not too great a price to pay for getting a great unheard voice of reason heard again.

And that, it has long been assumed here, is the same devil’s bargain by which the majority Gazprom-owned Ekho Moskvy stays on the air: lowbrow types and state shills get air time so real news and sane views can reach millions who would otherwise have to scan the dial for “foreign voices” or, more likely, give up the dial altogether and simply glue their eyes and ears to social media.

Which doesn’t sound so bad at first blush, until you recall that social media were instrumental in blessing our brave new millennium with President Donald Trump, who has in turn introduced us to a new and apparently effective form of zombie-generating, masses-manipulating monologue that substitutes for press releases, news conferences, and indeed governance itself: the Auteur Tweet.

Yikes.

In any case, I was still bothered by one thing: how a longtime listener to Radio Jazz could have remained blissfully unaware of Auteur News for the first five years of its existence. Were the presenters less outspoken before? Or did my long-suffering ears simply click automatically to OFF for any radio news that happened to reach them from a station other than Ekho or Kommersant? Possibly both, but one more net search yielded a more likely answer.

This time, I turned up NSN’s original announcement of Auteur News, dated November 7, 2012, which noted the program would air only on weekdays, and only twice daily, at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. If you were merely a one-ear listener, and your dinner usually ended before eight, it obviously took a bracing shot of Irina Prokhorova to get your attention.

This last search also produced a much better picture of the fabled Auteur 200, as the original announcement named names that were big time; indeed, almost all of them, as the list ran to some 178 people (if my count was correct). And the Big Picture spectrum is a broad one: there are plenty of presenters an educated listener would definitely like to hear an earful from. Beyond Makarevich, the list included director Serebrennikov himself, historian and journalist Nikoai Svanidze, progressive politician Irina Khakamada, saxophone legend Igor Butman, political scientist Nikolai Zlobin, filmmaker Alexei Uchitel, theater director Konstantin Raikin, satirist Mikhail Kononenko, producer and composer Stas Namin, national elections commissioner Ella Pamfilova, and a bunch more.

That said, there are just as many (probably more, actually) who would make the same listener wish he had taken his high-school long jump practice more seriously. Beyond Zhirinovsky and Tolstoy, you find motorcycle gang leader Khirurg (The Surgeon), the “pranksters” Vovan and Leksus, dim Duma stalwarts such as . . . but why list the losers here, have a look for yourself.

And relax. While there are definitely some wildcard types, including several rock musicians who use a single name (ask your grandson), you won’t find Director Doorknobs on the list. At least not yet.

Which is a reminder that, while Auteur News is a real find, without an updated contributor list and a schedule for it, you’ll need to be wary.

Irina Prokhorova was a great way to start, but the next presenter you hear might well focus on Putinista bikers running amok in Crimea.

Be prepared to leap.

Mark H. Teeter, a former opinion page editor and media columnist for the Moscow Times and the Moscow News, is the editor of Moscow TV Tonite on Facebook. His original article was lightly edited to conform with TRR’s nonexistent style guide. My thanks to Mr. Teeter for letting him reprint his article here.

_________________________________

The Crimea Lesson

history of crimeaSchoolchildren animatedly perusing a textbook entitled The History of Crimea, 5–6, Part 1. Photo courtesy of Viktor Korotayev and Kommersant

Schoolchildren Encouraged to Discuss Crimea
Ministry of Enlightenment Recommends Thematic Lessons on the Peninsula’s Accession 
Ksenia Mironova
Kommersant
March 19, 2019

The Russian Federal Ministry of Enlightenment has drafted a set of recommendations for thematic lessons dealing with “Crimea’s reunification with Russia” in schools. The ministry stressed  its recommendations are just that: recommendations. In particular, they suggest choosing the lesson’s format depending on the age of children. Depending on their ages, the ministry suggest the children play games and have contests or holding conferences, seminars, and debates involving parents and civil society stakeholders. Experts, on the contrary, argue schools should not risk debating the subject.

On Sunday, the ministry’s press service reported Crimea’s accession [sic] to Russia  had been included in the calendar of educational events occasioned by state and national holidays. In this connection, the ministry drafted recommendations for holding “thematic lessons, round tables, class assemblies, concerts, events, and contests” in connection with March 18, “the day Crimea was reunified with Russia.”

According to the ministry, its methodological suggestions are only recommendations meant to “help teachers select the right information and hold thematic lessons, special events, meetings, and other interventions.” By way of enlightening schoolchildren about the issues surrounding “Crimea’s reunification with Russia,” the ministry has recommended hold different events depending on the ages of children. It has suggested telling them about Crimea via games, contests, drawing competitions, conferences, seminars, and debates. In addition, the ministry has suggested involving parents and civil society stakeholders. The ministry’s press service said the recommendations were based on the practical know-how of teachers, but it refused to answer our questions about what exactly the ministry had recommended telling schoolchildren about “Crimea’s reunification with Russia.”

According to Olga Miryasova, secretary of the trade union Teacher, she was especially intrigued by the ministry’s recommendation to hold “debates among high school students.”

“It’s not worth risking debates on the subject. High school students read the internet and know how to argue. God forbid some of them accidentally voiced the ‘wrong’ viewpoint. The homeroom teacher would be left to pick up the pieces. Either the event, as recommended by the ministry, would be a failure or teachers and students would be forced to try and prove the legality of the ‘reunification,’ and there is no guarantee they would be able to do that. And so, again, some children would be threatened with expulsion or bad marks. That is what debates would boil down to,” argued Miryasova.

Lawmakers do not agree with her. According to Boris Chernyshov, an LDPR MP and deputy chair of the Duma’s education and science committee, such recommendations were signs of “proper management.”

“The Minister of Enlightenment was simply obliged to draft these recommendations. Crimea is a vital historical milestone. We only need the psychologists to tell us what age groups can be told what,” Mr. Chernyshov told us.

As we have written earlier, the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s accession to the Russian Federation has been celebrated on a large scale only in Crimea, Sevastopol, and Moscow, where concerts, exhibitions, and thematic festivals were scheduled.

On March 15, a special citywide lesson dealing with Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation was taught in all of Simferopol’s schools.

Commenting earlier on the Crimean Spring Festival, political scientist Konstantin Kalachev told us the celebration had been depoliticized as much as possible. It had been turned into a mainly cultural event.

“Crimea’s mobilizing effect has petered out,” he said. “The explanation is simple. Some people are a bit tired of the subject of Crimea, and some even find it irritating.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Halo’s in Your Head

390px-unsc_insignia_(post-war)

The nonstop international hasbara hoedown Quora gets all the best “specialists” to answer its readers’ pressing questions.

When my personal favorite Quora hasbarista, “Dima Vorobiev, I worked in Soviet propaganda,” is unable to make the shaky, miserable, mean, destructive Putin regime look indestructible and infallible, “Ha Dang, Military Specialist at United Nations Space Command (2016-present” picks up the slack.

Who would win in a war between Russia and Germany?
Ha Dang, Military Specialist at United Nations Space Command (2016-present)
Answered Mar 11, 2018
Russia vs Germany ( Great Patriotic War Vol.2)

No Allies involved (NATO would not support Germany)
No Nukes

[…]

Though a lot of experts said that it is most likely Russian land invasion would be stampede, since their T-72 and T-80s are too fragile when facing tanks like Leopard 2 or Abrams. However, with the advent of T-72B3, T-80BVM, T-90s and T-14 Armata, it is the Russian, who are enjoying both numerical and technological edge. With a force of 3600 modern tanks, Russia can quickly capture Berlin within 4 weeks, instead 4 years like it did 73 years ago.

Final Verdict:

Russian Victory

Why does garbage like this matter?

Because people read it. This particular post garnered 60,400 views for “Ha Dang, Military Specialist.” That’s only 22,000 or so fewer views than the Russian Reader got all last year, even though I never publish hasbara and fake news, much less the “expert” opinions of self-avowed propagandists and video game enthusiasts.

This is the brave new world Alex Jones, Donald Trump, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Mark Zuckerberg, and other world-historical creeps have bestowed on us.

The essence of this topsy-turvy world is well expressed by Quora superstar “Dima Vorobiev, I worked in Soviet propaganda.”

Does Dima Vorobiev add his own propaganda and biases into his answers?

[…]

Obviously, I do. As a propaganda veteran, I believe that hardly anything people tell each other, is ever unbiased. Everything is propaganda—you just have to accept that, like death and taxes.

What is my bias? I’m the wrong person to ask: I don’t know. I live inside my own bias. Don’t ask fish what water feels like. It’s got no idea, it just swims in there.

It’s also a world where 60,400 people were impressed by Ha Dang’s arguments, even though he “works” at a fictitious agency that only exists in the “military science fiction first-person shooter video game franchise” Halo.

The United Nations Space Command (UNSC) is the military, exploratory, and scientific agency of the Unified Earth Government which acted as the emergency governing body of the human race at large for a time. The UNSC was formed in the 22nd century, a time when remnants of old cultural ideologies clashed for supremacy in the Sol System. The UNSC served mainly as overseer of United Nations military operations in space. After initiating massive militarization propaganda throughout its off-world colonies, through the UNSC, the UN defeated Frieden and Koslovic insurgent forces in a conflict known as the Interplanetary War, which consisted of several side-battles that took place on Mars, the Jovian Moons and the South American rainforests. Although the Interplanetary War brought a great deal of suffering to both the colonial population and the residents of Earth, it also united most of humanity’s military forces by the end of the 22nd century.

This is one of the reasons I have nearly given up on the idea that this website has much to contribute to a conversation that is anything but intelligible. The masses (or, at least, a worryingly large number of people) want racist, fascist, apocalyptic, pro-Putinist fairy tales for breakfast, dinner, and supper, not the complicated but ultimately discoverable truth. {TRR}

UNSC logo courtesy of Halopedia

It Was a Joke

rostovpapaRussians do not swallow the regime’s propaganda hook, line and sinker, argues Ivan Mikirtumov, but use it to guide their public behavior. Photo by the Russian Reader

Why the Russian President Made Fun of Russian Propaganda
Ivan Mikirtumov
Vedomosti
October 22, 2018

Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 18, Vladimir Putin told his audience the punchline of what would later emerge as a “funny” joke about nuclear war.

“As martyrs, we will go to heaven, and they will simply croak, because they won’t even have time to repent,” said Putin.

Judging by the overall reaction, the joke has been a success.

The genre of the humorous anecdote, including the political anecdote, was typical of the Soviet period, that is, of a communist dictatorship in the midst of the Cold War. Unlike texts and drawings, anecdotes were an oral genre and, therefore, were relatively harmless to disseminate. The technical difficulties of proving someone had told a joke made it a less than reliable tool for snitching on other people. This sometimes had to do with the content. If you wanted to inform on someone who had told you a joke about Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, the KGB, the Politburo, etc., then likely as not you would have had to quote in writing what you had heard or, at any rate, admit you knew the joke. Under certain circumstances, however, this knowledge could be used against you.

In post-Stalinist times, people were rarely punished for telling jokes. Jokes were widespread in Soviet culture, achieving exceptional heights of wit and observation. Jokes could be used to track public opinion, since they reflected society’s critical self-consciousness. Jokes were a form of feedback, but by virtue of its unique incompetence the Soviet regime ignored them, too.

Everything dangerous, hostile, evil, harmful, stupid, and meaningless is made into a figure of fun when it fails and falls through. People do not laugh at things that are huge and horrible until they are rendered pitiful, proven weak, and shown to be a sham. Stalin gave people little occasion to laugh, because he rarely failed, but the leaders of the late-Soviet period and the entire Soviet system were perfect targets for jokes and other species of ridicule. It is said Brezhnev was smart enough to laugh at jokes about himself, but it was not something he did publicly.

Putin told his audience the punchline of a joke whose opening line we can imagine as an oral exam question at the General Staff Academy, a question asked by the examiner in a room adorned with framed photographs of the commander-in-chief and the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

“Tell me, how will the outcome of a nuclear war differ for Russians and people in western countries?

Why is it that Putin’s answer to this imaginary question might seem funny? What was he ridiculing?

Mentioning heaven, martyrdom, and repentance in a military context in Russia, a country in which cynicism has reigned supreme, is tantamount to a direct attack on official religiosity, as instilled by the regime, a religiosity that has become dreadfully tiresome to everyone. The notion Russians will go to heaven wholesale, whether they believe in God or not, whether they are religious believers of any denomination at all, and whether they are vicious or virtuous, is tantamount to a scathing parody of religious beliefs.

Nuclear war is the business of the military. It thus transpires souls are saved and people canonized as martyrs at the behest of the Russian army’s top brass. With Putin in charge of it, heaven promises to be something like an army barracks, so the entire satire on martyrdom and salvation was performed as a “humorous shtick” of the sort favored by Russia’s siloviki.

What do generals have to say about the soul’s salvation? They say what they are supposed to say, as they gaze at the patriarch’s framed photograph on the wall.

Recently, General Zolotov and the two heroic Russian tourists who took a trip to Salisbury this past March found themselves in the limelight nearly at the same time. We can easily imagine these men holding forth on heaven, martyrdom, and repentance. Putin’s joke was clearly a sendup of the symbiosis between state-imposed religiosity and militarism, a crucial concept in current Russian agitprop.

It is short step from a joke like this to jokes about Orthodox secret policemen, monarchist communists, sovereign democracy, the Kiev “junta,” the US State Department’s vials and cookies, and ritual murders, performed by Jews, of course, on Orthodox babies (and the tsar’s entire family in the bargain), and so on. During the years of Putin’s rule, a whole Mont Blanc of drivel has sprung up, and whole hosts of freaks have come out of the woodwork. It is simply amazing there are still so few jokes about Putin and Putinism in circulation, but now, I imagine, things will kick off, since the main character in these jokes has taken the bull by the horns.

This does not mean, of course, that, by artfully telling his joke, Putin meant to take the piss out of himself and his regime. We are dealing here with the long-familiar militarist bravado summed up by the saying “Broads will give birth to new soldiers,” with the teenage frivolity typical of the siloviki, a frivolity they enjoy acting out.

“We’ll wipe the floor with them,” as they would say.

If, however, Putin was publicly ridiculing the concept behind current state propaganda, we are confronted with a bad joke, a bad joke told to the selfsame ordinary Russians who are targets of the propaganda so ridiculed, while the guy who made the cute joke is the same guy who presides over production of this propaganda and benefits from it.

The rules of the genre have been violated, for now it is the audience, the public that has been ridiculed. Clearly, Russia’s ruling elite despises the people it attempts to manipulate, and the propagandists sometimes laugh themselves silly backstage after they have concocted a particularly nimble con.

I don’t think Russians are gulled by the Kremlin’s propaganda. Rather, they register the messages transmitted to them by the regime as signals telling them what to say and do in certain circumstances. This lovely consensus is destroyed when the concept underpinning the propaganda has been publicly turned into a laughingstock, because people who have been pretending in recent years that they take it seriously find themselves in an awkward situation. They have lost face, having themselves been made ludicrous.

How, then, do they answer the question as to why they played along with the regime in its efforts to gull them? The only plausible explanation for this behavior is shameful thoughtlessness, fear, and impotence, things to which no one wants to admit.

Ivan Mikirtumov is a visiting lecturer at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

#MONSTERS

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

MONSTERS
Facebook
September 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#MONSTERS

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

Translated by the Russian Reader

Tatyana Schukina: Why Russian Schoolchildren Protest

reutersx

Tatyana Schukina
VK
September 10, 2018

“Gendarmes Savagely Nab Teenagers”

Who are the teenagers who go to protest rallies? Blind rebels who would oppose any system or children who have realized this country has no future?

Yes, I believe my views are oppositional, sometimes to extremes. But I want to at least try and examine this topic objectively.

I think there are both kinds of children at protest rallies. The scary thing is that if absolutely all children came to protest rallies merely to have a laugh, feel they were part of something meaningful, and yell at the government, basing their arguments on someone else’s words, it wouldn’t be so terrible.

At the [anti-inauguration] rally on May 5, my friends and I saw a boy who was six or seven. He wore a blazer and had a school bag on his back. He marched with the crowd. He was not yelling, but he was part of the rally.

One of my friends wanted to take the piss out of him.

“Our little rebel. You against the system, too?” he said.

“Systems are inevitable,” the boy replied. “I’m against this one.”

We freaked out. We delicately asked him whether he was frightened.

(The atmosphere was frightening. There were tons of paddy wagons and helmeted polizei wielding truncheons. The crowd was screaming. Protesters were getting nicked and marched off to the paddy wagons. Some people were crying.)

The boy laughed.

“It’s frightening when they explain to me at school why I could be punished if I’m strolling out here,” he said.

“You’re frightened you’ll be punished?”

“I’m frightened I don’t know why I would be punished,” he said.

I’m scared that children talk like that. I’m scared that children speak beyond their years and in their own words. I’m scared they could be sent to jail or expelled from school in their own city, yet no one can properly explain to them why. For pictures posted on the internet? For attending peaceful protest rallies? Even though the authorities herd children to a rally if it’s a pro-Putin rally. That’s the difference. Children are simply bused to pro-United Russia rallies and hold placards made ahead of time for them.

They go to opposition rallies on their own.

I know the schools are flooded with propaganda. I know because I was a schoolgirl until recently. I also know that political campaigning and propaganda is legally forbidden in schools.

I remember one September first, the first day of the school year. We sat in our classroom, and the teacher told us about the plans for the years. Another teacher walked around the room, taking snapshots of diligent pupils at their desks. A slide with an image of Putin flashed on the screen. It was captioned, “Russian Federation President V.V. Putin.”

It was no big deal. The next slide flashed on the screen.

“Wait, bring Putin back. I’ll take a snapshot of the class with him in the background,” the teacher with the camera yelled to the pupil running the projector.

It was a trifle. Totalitarianism is made up of trifles such as children seated in front of the supreme leader’s picture. But wait, it’s the twenty-first century. Everything’s cool. The picture is digital.

That teacher takes a class snapshot with Putin in the background. Another teacher stuffs ballot boxes on election day. Yet another teacher tells pupils why they are forbidden to attend protest rallies. Finally, a fourth teacher takes children to a pro-United Russia rally. But children don’t understand what’s happening. Children ask questions. Children are interested in politics. Children understand this is where they will have to live. Children watch investigative reports, children see the poverty, and children go to protest rallies.

Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photograph courtesy of Reuters and Ms. Shchukina’s VK page

Brazil

brazil.jpegJonathan Pryce and Terry McKeown in Brazil (1985). Courtesy of imdb.com

Authorized to Remain Silent
Why We Know Nothing about the Outcome of Most Criminal Cases and Verdicts against People Who, According to the Russian Secret Services, Planned or Attempted to Carry Out Terrorist Attacks 
Alexandra Taranova
Novaya Gazeta
April 27, 2018

High-ranking officials from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD), and the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) regularly report on the effective measures against terrorism undertaken by their agencies. If we add reports of constant counter-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan and Chechnya, operations involving shootouts and the storming of houses, we might get the impression the level of terrorism in Russia is close to critical, resembling the circumstances somewhere in Afghanistan, the only difference being that Afghanistan does not have the FSB, the MVD, and the NAK to protect it.

Over the past two weeks, there were at least two such stories in the news.

A few days ago, the FSB reported it had “impeded the criminal activity of supporters of the international terrorist organization Islamic State, who […] had begun planning high-profile terrorist attacks using firearms and improvised explosive devices.”

The FSB’s Public Relations Office specified the terrorist attacks were to be carried out in goverment buildings in Stavropol Territory.

Earlier, TASS, citing the FSB’s Public Relations Office, reported that, since the beginning of the 2018, six terrorist attacks had been prevented (including attacks in Ufa, Saratov, and Ingushetia), while three crimes of a terrorist nature had been committed (in Khabarovsk Territory, Dagestan, and Sakhalin Region), and this had been discussed at a meeting of the NAK. Other media outlets quoted FSB director Alexander Bortnikov, who claimed that last year the security services had prevented twenty-five terrorist attacks, but four attacks, alas, had gone ahead.

For the most part, however, it is impossible to verify these reports, because, with rare exceptions, the terrorists, either potential terrorists or those who, allegedly, carried out terrorist attacks, are identified by name. Neither the Russian Investigative Committee (SKR) nor the FSB informs Russians about subsequent investigations, about whether all the terrorists and their accomplices have been rounded up. Likewise, with rare exceptions, we know nothing either about court trials or verdicts handed down in those trials.

Novaya Gazeta monitored reports about prevented terrorist attacks from November 2015 to November 2017. We analyzed all the media publications on this score: the outcome of our analysis has been summarized in the table, below. The veil of secrecy makes it extremely hard to figure out what reports merely repeat each other, that is, what reports relate to one and the same events, and we have thus arrived at an overall figure for the number of such reports. Subsequently, by using media reports and court sentencing databases, we have counted the number of cases that officially resulted in court sentences.

Most news reports about prevented terrorist attacks in Russia are not followed up. For example, at one point it was reported (see below) that five people with ties to Islamic State had been apprehended in Moscow and Ingushetia for planning terrorist attacks, and this same news report mentioned that a criminal case had been launched. But only the surname of the alleged band’s leader was identified, and he was supposedly killed while he was apprehended. There is no more information about the case. Over a year later, we have no idea how the investigation ended, whether the case went to trial, and whether the trial resulted in convictions and verdicts.

Other trends also emerged.

During the two-year period we monitored, reports about prevented terrorist attacks and apprehended terrorists encompassed a particular group of Russian regions: Moscow, Crimea, Petersburg, Kazan, Rostov, Baskortostan, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, and Krasnoyarsk. When we turn to verdicts handed down in such cases, this list narrows even further. Rostov leads the country, followed by Crimea. There are two reports each from Krasnoyarsk and Kazan, and several isolated incidents. The largest number of news reports about terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage, i.e., 30% of all the reports we compiled and analyzed, originated in Crimea.

  FSB MVD NAK Russian Security Council (Sovbez)
Number of reports of prevented terrorists, November 2015–November 2017 3,505 reports (18,560 identical reports in the media) 1,702 reports

(3,571 identical reports in the media)

492 reports

(852 identical reports in the media)

236 reports

(1,122 identical reports in the media)

Outcomes: arrests, criminal charges, verdicts, etc. 13 verdicts,

14 arrests

3 verdicts,

2 arrests

2 incidents: in one case, it was reported that all the detainees had been killed; in the other, that the detainees awaited trial, but were not identified by name. It is impossible to find out what happened to any detainees, since no information was provided about them. The exception is Lenur Islyamov, who is currently at large and vigorously pursuing his objectives.

The Triumps of the Special Services with No Follow-Up
Here are the most revealing examples.

On November 12, 2016, RBC reported the security services had apprehended a group of ten terrorists, migrants from Central Asia. According to the FSB, they planned “high-profile terrorist attacks” in heavily congested areas of Moscow and Petersburg. Officials confiscated four homemade bombs, firearms, ammunition, and communications devices from the militants. The FSB claimed all the detainees had confessed to their crimes.

In the same news report, the FSB was quoted as having reported that on October 23, 2016 “there occurred an attack on police officers, during which two alleged terrorists were shot dead” in Nizhny Novgorod. The report stressed that, three days later, the banned group ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, just as it had taken responsibility for an attack on a traffic police post in Moscow Region on August 18, 2016.

There were no names and no details. The outcomes of the investigations, the plight of the detainees, and judicial rulings were never made public, nor did state investigators or defense counsel share any information.

This same RBC article mentions that, four days before the alleged incident in Nizhny Novgorod, the SKR had reported the apprehension of an ISIL supporter who had been planning a terrorist attack at a factory in Kazan, while Interfax‘s sources reported the apprehension of a man who had been planning a terrorist attack in Samara.  It was also reported that in early May 2016 the FSB had reported the apprehension of Russian nationals in Krasnoyarsk who were “linked to international terrorist organizations and had planned a terrorist attack during the May holidays.”

No names were mentioned at the time. Later, however, details of the case were made public.

Thus, on April 7, 2017, Tatar Inform News Agency reported that the Volga District Military Court in Kazan had handed down a verdict in the case of Robert Sakhiyev. He was found guilty of attempting to establish a terrorist cell in Kazan. The first report that a terrorist attack had been planned at an aviation plant in Kazan was supplied by Artyom Khokhorin, Interior Minister of Tatarstan, during a meeting of MVD heads. According to police investigators, Sakhiyev had been in close contact with a certain Sukhrob Baltabayev, who was allegedly on the international wanted list for involvement in an illegal armed group. Using a smartphone, Sakhiyev had supposedly studied the plant’s layout via a satellite image.

On August 2, 2017, RIA Novosti reported that a visting collegium of judges from the Far East District Military Court in Krasnoyarsk had sentenced Zh.Zh. Mirzayev, M.M. Abdullayev, and Zh.A. Abdusamatov for planning a terrorist attack in Krasnoyarsk in May 2016 during Victory Day celebrations. Mirzayev was sentenced to 18 years in prison; Abdullayev, to 11 years in prison; and Abdusamatov, to 11 years in a maximum security penal colony. According to investigators, Mirzayev worked as a shuttle bus driver in Krasnoyarsk and maintained contact with Islamic State via the internet. Mirzayev decided to carry out a terrorist attack by blowing up a shuttle bus.

On January 26, 2017, TASS reported the police and FSB had identified a group of eight people planning terrorist attacks in Moscow in the run-up to State Duma elections. Oleg Baranov, chief of the Moscow police, had reported on the incident at an expanded collegium of the MVD’s Main Moscow Directorate.

We know nothing more about what happened to the “identified” would-be terrorists.

On January 31, 2017, RBC issued a bulletin that the Russian secret services had prevented an attempt to carry out terrorist attacks in Moscow during the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championships. The source of the news was Igor Kulyagin, deputy head of staff at the NAK. The militants were allegedly detained on May 2.

“We succeed in catching them as a result of a vigorous investigative and search operation in the city of Moscow,” the FSB added.

The names of the militants were not reported nor was there any news about an investigation and trial.

In the same news item, Mr. Kulyagin is quoted as saying, “In total, Russian special services prevented around [sic] 40 terrorist attacks, liquidated [sic] about [sic] 140 militants and 24 underground leaders, and apprehended about [sic] 900 people in 2016.”

According to Mr. Kulyagin, in Ingushetia on November 14, 2016, the authorities uncovered five militants who “had been planning terrorist attacks in crowded places during the New Year’s holidays, including near the French Embassy in Moscow.”

Again, the reading public was not provided with any names or information about the progress of the investigation. The only alleged terrorist who was identified was Rustam Aselderov, who had been murdered.

“According to the special services, [Aselderov] was involved in terrorist attacks in Volgograd in 2013 and Makhachkala in 2011.”

We have no idea whether an official investigation of his murder was ever carried out.

Lenta.Ru reported on February 1, 2017, that FSB officers in Krasnodar Territory had prevented a terrorist attack. The supposed terrorists had planned an explosion at New Year’s celebrations. A possible perpetrator of the terrorist attack, a 38-year-old native of a Northern Caucasus republic, was apprehended. No other particulars of the incident were reported, and they still have not been made public to this day.

On October 2, 2017, Russia Today, citing the FSB, reported an IS cell had been apprehended in Moscow Region. Its members has allegedly planned to carry out “high-profile terrorist attacks” in crowded places, including public transport. The FSB added that foreign emissaries had led the cell, whose members had included Russian nationals.

No names or details were subsequently provided to the public.

The same article reported that, on August 31, 2017, the FSB had apprehended two migrants from Central Asia, who had been planning terrorist attacks in congested places in Moscow and Moscow Region on September 1. RIA Novosti reported the same “news” in August 2017. The detainees were, allegedly, members of IS.

According to the FSB, one of the men had “planned to attack people with knives.” His comrade had planned to become a suicide bomber and blow himself up in a crowd. Supposedly, he had made a confession.

We know nothing about what happened to the two men and the criminal case against them.

On November 7, 2017, Izvestia reported MVD head Vladimir Kolokoltsev’s claim that a Kyrgyzstani national had been apprehended in the Moscow Region town of Khimki. The man had, allegedly, been planning to carry out a terrorist attack outside a subway station using a KamAZ truck. The detained man was not identified. We know nothing about what has happened to him or whether the investigation of the case has been completed.

Trials of Terrorists
On July 19, 2016, RIA Novosti reported the Russian Supreme Court had reduced the sentence (from 16 years to 15.5 years) of one of two radical Islamists convicted of plotting a terrorist attack in the mosque in the town of Pyt-Yakh in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. 

“The panel of judges has decided the verdict of the court, which sentenced Rizvan Agashirinov and Abdul Magomedaliyev to prison terms of 16 and 20 years, respectively, should be mitigated in the case of Agashirinov, and left in force in the case Magomedaliyev.”

On August 31, 2016, TASS reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced Russian national Rashid Yevloyev, a militant with the so-called Caucasus Emirate, to six years in a penal colony for planning terrorist attacks.

On February 15, 2017, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported the Moscow District Military Court had sentenced Aslan Baysultanov, Mokhmad Mezhidov, and Elman Ashayev. According to investigators, after returning in 2015 from Syria, where they had fought on the side of ISIL, Baysultanov and his accomplices had manufactured a homemade explosive device in order to carry out a terrorist attack on public transport in Moscow.

Baysultanov was sentenced to 14 years in prison; Ashayev, to 12 years, and Mezhidov, to 3 years.

On May 10, 2017, Interfax reported the North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don had sentenced ISIL recruiters who had been apprehended in Volgograd Region. The alleged ringleader, Raman Radzhabov, was sentenced to 4 years in prison after being found guilty of recruiting residents of Volgograd Region. His accomplices—Azamat Kurkumgaliyev, Gayrat Abdurasulov, Nurken Akhetov, and Idris Umarov—were found guilty of aiding and abetting Radzhabov, and given sentences of of 2 to 2.5 years in prison.

On May 30, 2017, RIA Novosti reported the ringleader of a failed terrorist attack in Kabardino-Balkaria, Adam Berezgov, had been sentenced to 7 years in prison. The defendant was found guilty of “planning a terrorist attack, illegally acquiring and carrying explosive substances or devices, and illegally manufacturing an explosive device.”

On July 27, 2017, TV Rain reported the Russian Supreme Court had increased by three years the sentence handed down to Ruslan Zeytullayev, who had been convicted and sentenced to 12 years for organizing in Crimea a cell of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group banned in Russia. Zeytullayev’s sentence is now 15 years in prison.

On July 31, 2017, RIA Novosti reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced Ukrainian national Alexei Sizonovich to 12 years in a penal colony for involvement in planning a terrorist attack that was to have taken place in September 2016. The court ruled the 61-year-old defendant and an “unidentifed person” had, allegedly, established a group in Kyiv “for the commission of bombings and terrorist attacks in Ukraine and the Russian Federation.” It was reported the defendant “repented.”

On August 11, 2017, Lenta.Ru reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced 19-year-old Ukrainian national Artur Panov to 8 years in a medium-security penal colony for terrorism. Panov was found guilty of facilitating terrorism, planning a terrorist attack, and illegally manufacturing explosive substances. His accomplice, Maxim Smyshlayev, was sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security penal colony.

At the trial, Panov pled guilty to calling for terrorism, and manufacturing and possessing explosives, but pled innocent to inducement to terrorism. Smyshlayev pled innocent to all charges.

On September 18, 2017, RIA Novosti reported a court in Rostov-on-Don had convicted defendants Tatyana Karpenko and Natalya Grishina, who were found guilty of planning a terrorist attack in a shopping mall. Karpenko was sentenced to 14.5 years in prison, while Grishina was sentenced to 9 years.

“The investigation and the court established Karpenko and Grishina were supporters of radical Islamist movements. […] From October 2015 to January 2016, the defendants planned to commit a terrorist attack in the guise of a religious suicide,” the Investigative Directorate of the SKR reported.

Fakes
On April 17, 2017, Memorial Human Rights Center issued a press release stating the case of the planned terrorist attack in the Moscow movie theater Kirghizia had been a frame-up. The human rights activists declared the 15 people convicted in the case political prisoners. It was a high-profile case. Novaya Gazeta wrote at the time that the MVD and FSB had insisted on pursuing terrorism charges, while the SKR had avoided charging the suspects with planning a terrorist attacking, accusing them only of possession of weapons in a multi-room apartment inhabited by several people who barely knew each other. It was then the case was taken away from the SKR.

Whatever the explanation for the trends we have identified, it is vital to note that Russian society is exceedingly poorly informed about the progress of the war on terrorism conducted by Russia’s special services, despite the huge number of reports about planned terrorist attacks. Due to the fact the names of the accused are hidden for some reason, and the court sentences that have been handed down are not made public in due form (even on specially designated official websites), it is impossible to evaluate the scale of the threat and the effectiveness of the special services, and to separate actual criminal cases from those that never went to court because the charges were trumped-up. Meanwhile, using media reports on prevented terrorist attacks for propaganda purposes contributes to an increase in aggressiveness and anxiety among the populace, who has no way of knowing whether all the apprehended terrorists have been punished, and whether this punishment was deserved.

Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader