Inquiring Minds Want to Know

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Screenshot from quora.com, taken January 21, 2018

What’s the difference between a baldfaced lie told by a politican and a baldfaced lie told by a “real person”? The “real person” is more likely to be believed by actual real people, especially if they are gullible, not curious, don’t know how to weigh the relative worth of competing truth claims or don’t have the time or desire to do it.

The claims made about life in Russia by Russian hasbara troll “Katya Huster” on the faux populist Q&A forum Quora, which does a heavy sideline in whitewashing dictatorships like Putin’s and Assad’s, will make people who live in the actual Russia sigh, laugh or punch the wall, but they could sound plausible to the millions of North Americans and Europeans whose shallow notion of thinking “politically” involves automatically disbelieving all politicians, the allegedly perpetually evil and mendacious MSM, and anyone else who sounds too smart.

If the Quora bean counter is to be believed, Katya’s well-timed lie, posted on July 1, 2017, has been been viewed by 64,600 real people, 1,145 of whom “upvoted” her answer.

By the way, that is about 4,000 more people than viewed my website all last year. I really don’t know why I bother doing what I do. Real people don’t want contradictory messy reality, as reported and described by real, smart, brave Russians, with the occasional editorial comment by someone who has lived half his life in Russia and been involved in all sorts of things here, i.e., me.

They want “Katya Huster,” her baldfaced lies, and her half-truths. TRR

P.S. Here is another of the numerous pro-Putinist, pro-Assadist posts that pop up constantly on Quora. Although it is much less coherently fashioned than virtual Katya’s big lie, it has garnered 5,600 views since Saturday and 58 “upvotes,” suggesting it will have a similarly successful career on Quora.

By way of comparison, I am lucky to have over 5,000 views on this website in a month, although I post between fifteen and thirty items—translations of articles by the quality Russian press, translations of analyses and reflections by Russian scholars and activists, and my own occasional riffs on particular issues—in a typical month.

 

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RT: Recognition Is Everything

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Recognizing an Agent
The Kremlin Complains RT Has Been Treated Unfairly, but Deep Down It’s Happy
Ksenia Boletskaya
Vedomosti
November 16, 2017

This year, Russia has spent nearly 20 billion rubles [approx. 283 million euros] financing the TV company RT. These funds are pure expenditures: the channel’s income is incomparably lower than its expenses. But no one would think of asking RT to turn a profit, because the TV company has a completely different objective: political influence.

Ten years ago, the confrontation between Russia and the west was much less dramatic. In 2005, when RT was launched, originally as Russia Today, it was planned that the channel would showcase modern Russia, downplaying vodka and bears, and promoting the country’s IT and aircraft carriers. Officials decided it would be simpler to produce their own foreign media than re-educate and persuade western journalists clinging to hoary stereotypes. But then the political circumstances changed, and it was more vital not to tell the world what was happening in Russia, but to trumpet what the Russian regime and Russian companies were trying to achieve abroad. Russia Today broadcast this particular Russian view of current events.

However, this concept was soon outmoded, too. Nowadays, the channel’s mission is telling Americans and Germans what, allegedly, is really happening in the US and Europe. The channel got rid of the word “Russia” in its name and rebranded itself as RT. It now pitches itself abroad as an alternative perspective, one utterly independent from the local authorities. I will say it again: we spend twenty billion rubles of Russian taxpayers’ money so Americans and Germans better understand what their own politicans are up to. How does that not qualify RT as a foreign agent?

But it is us, Russia’s rank-and-file citizens, who can be irritated, to put it mildly, by the extent to which the national budget is allocated irrationally. The Kremlin, apparently, is more than satisfied, because RT’s operations irritate US politicians to no end. While RT does not garner huge ratings in the US the old-fashioned way, it is one of the most popular news channels on YouTube. RT’s main English-language channel has over two million subscribers on YouTube, and that is more than often for it to be quoted and reposted frequently.

For several years, US politicans and analysts have been dashing off serious reports about the damage caused by Russian propaganda in the guise of RT. The FBI’s investigation about the Russian factor in the US elections was only an excuse to brand RT a foreign agent: the gripes against the channel had been building for a long time. Russian officials can complain loudly that RT has been treated unfairly, but deep down they are definitely satisfied. If RT was a weakling that drew no attention, no one would bother fighting it. It is not for nothing that Forbes put RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan on its list of the world’s most powerful women. There was only one other woman on the list from Russia: Central Bank chair Elvira Nabiullina.

Simonyan categorically objects when RT is called a Russian propaganda channel. Of course, as a journalist, it is terribly critical for her to show the channel has editorial independence. But the fact remains that Simonyan has become an excellent agent of influence of whom the spy Putin can be proud.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Fomichev/TASS via the Moscow Times

 

Like Flies on Sherbert

I was at my neighborhood cinema last night to watch a real movie made by a real filmmaker: Aki Kaurismäki’s 1996 film Drifting Clouds. When I was exiting the lobby and box office to go home I picked up this flyer.

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An Alexei Pimanov film. Crimea. Love is stronger than hate. In theaters from September 28

An Alexei Pimanov film. Crimea. You don’t leave behind the ones you love. A story of love, faith, honor, spiritual strength, and genuine friendship, set against the backdrop of real events of the 2014 Crimean spring of 2014. [Sic] Destiny brought them together in Crimea near the ancient city of Mangup Kale. It was love at first sight. In a difficult time of historical change, they must save their lives and preserve their love. BASED ON REAL EVENTS. Starring Roman Kurtsyn, Yevgeniya Lapova, Pavel Trubiner, Boris Shcherbakov, Pavel Krainov, Alexei Komasko, Nikita Abdulov, and Igor Buyanover

Crimea even has a trailer!

A few overloaded tablespoons of love and sex, “breathtaking views” of the Crimean landscape, a maudlin soundtrack, a few awkwardly choreographed shoot-’em-ups, “riots,” and cavalry charges to save the good guys (Russians) from the bad guys (“fascist” Ukrainians) is a sure-fire recipe for a film that will have Russian viewers rushing in droves to see this latest cinematic masterpiece like flies on sherbert.

Not to mention it’s an easy way to continue the furious rewriting of history that has been going here almost since Putin took power in 1999.

But since it seems designed for the especially gullible and people who have never see a real movie before and thus cannot distinguish cinema from propaganda, I’m almost certain Crimea will be a boxhouse flop, like most other “patriotic” films in recent years, doomed to go into heavy rotation on second-tier Russian TV channels, where it will comfort alcoholics, the bedridden, and insomniacs in the mid-afternoon and two in the morning for a year or two before it’s shelved till kingdom come. TRR

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Idrees Ahmad: Russia Today and the Post-Truth Virus

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Idrees Ahmad
Pulse
December 15, 2016

A video is circulating of a woman revealing “the truth” on Syria that is being withheld from us by “the mainstream media”. The woman is introduced as an “independent Canadian journalist”. She is said to be speaking  “at the UN”. The date is December 9, 2016. The video has become viral.

Eva Bartlett, the woman in the video, writes for various conspiracy sites including SOTT.net, The Duran, MintPress and Globalresearch.ca. But more recently she has emerged as a contributor to Russia Today. And though her wordpress blog is called “In Gaza”, and though she has a past in Palestine solidarity work, unlike the people of Gaza, she is a strong supporter of Assad and she uses language to describe Assad’s opponents that is a virtual echo of the language Israeli propagandists use against Gazans.

Bartlett was recently a guest of the Assad regime, attending a regime sponsored PR conference and going on a tour of regime-controlled areas herded no doubt by the ubiquitous minders (the regime only issues visas to trusted journalists and no visitor is allowed to travel without a regime minder). On her return, the regime mission at the UN organised a press conference for her and three members of the pro-regime US “Peace Council” (The organisation has the same relationship to peace as Kentucky Fried Chicken has to chicken). In the press conference they all repeated the claims usually made by the regime’s official media SANA and by Russia Today: all rebels are terrorists; there is no siege; civilians are being held hostage; the regime is a “liberator” etc.

So a conspiracy theorist with a blog who briefly visited Syria as a guest of the regime is declaring that everything you know about Syria is wrong. That you have been misled by everyone in the “MSM” from the New York Times to Der Spiegel, from the Guardian to the Telegraph, from CNN to Channel 4, from ABC to BBC, from CBS to CBC; that human rights organisations like Physicians for Human Rights, Medicins Sans Frontiers, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch; that international agencies like the UN and ICRC—they are all part of a vast conspiracy to malign Bashar al Assad. And the truth is only revealed on “alternative” media like the Kremlin’s own Russia Today! (watched by 70 million people a week according to its own claims)

In normal times something like this would provoke derision and dismay—or at least the person would be asked to provide verifiable facts instead of anecdotes (virtually everything she said is verifiably false). But these are not normal times. Supporters of the regime, admirers of Putin, and sectarian propagandists have latched on to this video. Kremlin broadcaster Russia Today has promoted the video heavily. And, in the game of Chinese whispers, the story has morphed into “a UN press conference”.

There is of course a deep racism at play here. Besides great international journalists like Christoph Reuter, Janine di Giovanni, and Martin Chulov, there are also many excellent Syrian reporters on the ground. But we are supposed to dismiss them because the truths that eluded all of them were vouchsafed to a Canadian blogger with a column on Russia Today!

What is happening in Syria is not a mystery. The facts are crystal clear. They are corroborated by multiple independent organisations. People who deny these facts only do so because of a will to disbelieve. It’s willed ignorance in the service of an ideology. This ignorance has been reinforced by Kremlin’s premier disinformation service: Russia Today. The broadcaster has rebranded itself “RT” to conceal its origins and agenda. It has even spawned a neutral-sounding viral video outlet like “In the Now.” Their aim is to sow doubt, feed cynicism, and confound knowledge. They are pressing a narrative—Kremlin’s narrative. And as the major perpetrator of violence in Syria, Kremlin has every intention to muddy the waters. (And no Russia Today is not “just like the BBC”. Have you ever seen a Russian government official questioned on Russia Today the way Tony Blair is questioned on the BBC by Jeremy Paxman; let alone the way Jon Snow on Channel 4 questions David Cameron?)

So next time someone shares a stupid video like this, hit them with facts. If they want to challenge them, then they should bring something more substantial than rambling nonsense from a conspiracy nut.

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There is an old joke. A wife returns home to find her husband in bed with another woman.

“What are you doing in bed with another woman?” she screams.

“What woman?” the husband replies.

“The woman I just saw in bed with you,” says the wife.

“Who are you going to believe,” the husband replies, “Me or your lying eyes?”

There is no doubt that the Western media has often failed in its coverage. Its reporting on Gaza and the journalism leading up to the Iraq war was abysmal. But western media isn’t devoted to obfuscating truth with the kind of single-minded determination that Russia Today is. It is deeply ironic that many people’s often justified disdain for western journalists has led the into the embrace of a channel that has no commitment to truth at all. And it becomes most pernicious when pro-Kremlin propaganda is dressed up as criticism of “the mainstream media”, “the establishment”, or “Washington”. As I wrote elsewhere:

“There are few things more commonplace than an Oedipal disdain for one’s own government. In this solipsistic worldview, one need not have to understand the dynamics of a foreign crisis; they can be deduced remotely. If you hate your own government then, by virtue of being in its bad books, a Putin or an Assad becomes an ally.

“Conversely, if people elsewhere are rising up against their far more repressive states, their cause is tainted because of a sympathetic word they might have received from your government. And all the images of agony do not add up to a tear of sorrow as long as they are relayed by a hated “mainstream media”. Indeed, victims are reproached for eroding ideological certainties by intruding into our consciousness through their spectacular suffering.”

My heartfelt thanks to Idrees Ahmad for his kind permission to let me reprint his essay here. TRR

NTV Lies

Warning in TV listing next to NTV logo: "Be careful! TV news programs often commit distortions and false information. This tendency has been most often been remarked on NTV and Rossiya." Photo courtesy of mstrok.ru
Warning in TV listing next to NTV logo: “Be careful! TV news programs often commit distortions and false information. This tendency has been most often been remarked on the channels NTV and Rossiya.” Photo courtesy of mstrok.ru

Hygienic Modification
Regional newspapers warn readers about “false information on NTV”
Grani.ru
June 8, 2016

Beginning June 8, up to a hundred regional newspapers, most of them members of the Alliance of Independent Regional Newspapers (ANRI), will publish in their TV listings a warning next to the logo of TV channel NTV that it spreads false information. Valery Bezpyatykh, editor-in-chief of City News, a newspaper published in Redva, Sverdlovsk Region, and one of the organizers of the protest, explained their plans to TV Rain.

According to Bezpyatykh, he vetted the text of the appeal to ANRI members with lawyers before sending the letter, in which he asked members to note in their TV listings for NTV that the channel broadcasts “distorted information or propaganda” under the guise of journalism.

Bezpyatykh estimated that between twenty and forty newspapers could join the protest this week, but by the next week the number could grow to one hundred.

The protest was inspired by the newspaper Evening Yakutsk, which in late May printed a note next to NTV’s logo, warning that the channel committed “distortions and false information” on the air. The note appeared in the newspaper after the film Debtors of the State Department, which claimed the newspaper received funds from foreign sources linked to the US State Department, was aired. The film also mentioned other media outlets, including Tula News Agency, the Tomsk channel TV2, and Chelyabinsk Worker newspaper.

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Excerpt from the TV listings in the June 8, 2016, edition of the Redva City News. The warning read, “Be careful! You might get distorted information or propaganda in the guise of journalism on NTV. Details on page 2.” Image courtesy of redva-info.ru

The Public Board on Complaints against the Press has labeled the NTV film a “mendacious denunciation” in which “manipulative techniques for impacting the minds of viewers” were used. The board supported the view of expert Svetlana Shaikhitdinova, who argued the NTV film was an “information product created by spin doctors in order to discredit the directors of Russia’s regional media.”

NTV has repeatedly broadcast made-for-TV films attempting to expose the Russian opposition. The most controversial were Anatomy of a Protest and Anatomy of a Protest 2, shot in 2012. Russian law enforcement authorities filed criminal charges based on claims made in Anatomy of a Protest 2.

In April 2016, the channel aired the film Kasyanov’s Day, based on illegal footage of members of the opposition.

NTV has been on the air in Russia since 1993. It is part of the Gazprom Media Group holding, owned by Gazprombank.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ and Gabriel Levy for the heads-up

No Canaries in the Coal Mine: The Demise of RBC

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Vasily Gatov
Canary in a Coal Mine: RBC and the Public Interest in the Counterintelligence State
Carnegie Moscow Center
May 14, 2016

Authoritarian regimes have seemingly learned how not to stifle freedom of speech completely, using censorship or administrative strictures to send signals about the acceptability or unacceptability of criticism on specific topics. In the peculiar circumstances of the counterintelligence state, however, an interest in how the state functions can itself be regarded as dissent.  

Over the past few years, it has become popular among political scientists, analysts, and the military to dub any complicated and complex process “hybrid.” Complex military operations are now “hybrid wars,” electoral authoritarian countries, “hybrid regimes,” and mass media distributed on multiple platforms, “hybrid media organizations.”

The news for Friday, May 13, fully reflected the clash between different hybrids in the Russian public space. The dismissal of the top editors at RBC, a hybrid mass media organization that had become the main public affairs outlet under a hybrid regime engaged in a hybrid war with the western world, was a practical manifestation of the strange realm that has taken shape in our country and a continuation of its logical evolution or degradation.

Common Sense as a Measurement
RBC’s top editors, Elizaveta Osetinskaya, Roman Badanin, and Maxim Solyus, who left the company “by mutual agreement,” had done the impossible in the space of two years. Along with the team they assembled, they turned an important, major media outlet with serious image problems into an exemplar of high-quality, ethically motivated, high-impact journalism.

Moreover, writers and editors with different views peacefully coexisted at RBC. I never once heard the term “liberal terrorism,” which conservatives and patriots love to mention, applied to RBC. High-quality editorial work means just this: maintaining high standards in news production while fulfilling one’s mission to the community by supporting investigative reporting and representing a spectrum of opinions through individualized public affairs, op-ed journalism and personalized, presenter-driven TV programs.

It is difficult to maintain academic objectivity when the latest round of “personnel changes” has put an end to yet another media outlet that was faithful to its professional mission. It is difficult but necessary: the emotional or partisan mode of reacting inevitably exaggerates the weight of momentary, politically motivated explanations of events. Yes, the easiest way of interpreting the firing of RBC’s editors (and, apparently, the exodus of its editorial staff) is as the consequence of their having published articles and investigative reports that directly violated Putin’s strictures on the privacy of his family life. However, this explanation, even if the editors themselves proudly accept it, is neither exhaustive nor sufficient for understanding the full complexity of hybridity.

Over the past sixteen years, journalists and their workplaces, media outlets, have been the key enemy of the system of political power emerging in Russia: not only “opposition” and “liberal” journalists but basically all journalists who approached their work with at least a minimum of regard for professional and ethical standards. Media organizations are the only segment of business (and politics) towards which the Putin administration has applied, with varying intensity, a scorched earth policy from day one to the present day.

Since the days when Walter Lippman wrote his treatise Public Opinion, the bible of ethical journalism, we know that the basis of the journalist’s profession is serving the public interest through the opportunities provided to journalists by the specific status accorded to them by law. In all societies, except totalitarian dictatorships, the public interest is always diverse and multifaceted. Some people need confirmation that the course set by their leaders is the right one. Others find it vital to take a critical, analytical approach to current policy. Still others want the salacious details and shabbiness that enables them to affirm their overall contempt for the authorities. And this is not the full range of interests. The public interest and the work of media to satisfy it are, in a way, a means of measuring reality against common sense. It is this simple principle that explains the presence of freedom of speech and self-expression among the basic civil and political rights.

The greater the discrepancies between political and economic reality and common sense, the more critically and meticulously journalists and the media should treat such aberrations. This is a means of subjecting societies (true, only democratic societies) to self-reflection and self-cleansing. (I have in mind the term “self-questioning,” which is hard to translate into Russian). Although, in recent decades, even authoritarian regimes have learned from the mistakes of their predecessors not to stifle free speech entirely. The growing criticality of the media has become a signal to them that they need to correct, mitigate or change policy; it has been a kind of canary in a coal mine. In turn, as Haifeng Huang, a professor at University of California, Merced, has argued in his paper “Propaganda as Signaling,” authoritarian regimes make vigorous use of censorship or administrative strictures (such as firing editors) as a tool to signal society about the acceptability or unacceptability of criticism on certain topics.

It is now utterly clear the Russian regime that took shape between 1999 and 2015 has no need of any “canaries.” Vladimir Putin, who, ironically, was speaking at the anniversary of VGTRK (All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company) literally when the news of the firing of RBC’s editors was reported, expressed his basic expectations for the media. He spoke of the media’s role of “communicating our […] work” several times. Moreover, the current Russian state has nothing to signal anymore. It really is tired of the fact that journalists have the desire to explore and investigate something other than the alleged treason of opposition figures.

Independence Is Worse than Opposition
The fate of RBC (as well as all the other onshore Russian media that have attempted to have an editorial policy independent of the need to “communicate our work”) was preordained not in 2011, when Vladimir Putin, concerned about the weakness of his handpicked successor, decided to return to the presidency, nor even in 2002, when the Law on Media, which until then had been preserved in its original 1991 redaction, was opened up for amendments on direct orders from the president.

The expulsion of dissent in any shape and size from the public mind was preordained when Vladimir Putin was appointed head of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) [in 1998] and the restoration of Andropov’s counterintelligence state was launched. The difference is that dissent, in this concept of the state, does not consist in criticizing the regime’s political practices, as Soviet dissidents did. Dissent now consists in the selfsame public interest in why and how the state functions, as described above. Dissent now consists in shaping an interest in the personal lives and personal businesses of state officials, including those of the head of state.

Robert Pringle, a professor at the University of Kentucky and one of the CIA’s principal specialists on the late Soviet Union, described this model in two significant articles (Robert W. Pringle, “Andropov’s Counterintelligence State,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 13.2 (2000): 193–203; Robert W. Pringle, “Putin: The New Andropov?” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 14.4 (2001): 545–558). Andropov was himself an ascetic and an opponent of corruption, but he consistently and quite harshly took on anyone who had the courage to focus on the late Soviet regime’s corruption and moral decay.

Yuri Andropov’s construction of the counterintelligence state between 1967 and 1984 was dictated by the need for total control over all “mass information processes.” The KGB’s Fifth Directorate saw no difference between a single copy of a seditious text and an attempt to mimeograph a dubious work. Both were regarded as unambiguous challenges to the CPSU’s monopoly on power. Perhaps what lay at the heart of the counterintelligence state was the animal fear experienced by Andropov in Budapest in 1956, when the future KGB chief and Soviet leader watched from the Soviet Embassy as the Rákosi regime collapsed.

Reinforced by the Arab Spring, “orange revolutions” took the place of Budapest 1956 in Putin’s worldview, while dissidents were replaced by journalists, who did not swear allegiance to the regime and did not take its money. (The Fifth Directorate saw the former as voluntary assistants, and the latter as paid agents, who could always be blackmailed by producing signed receipts for their “fees.”). Even the political opposition, whose size and and impact, except for the brief period from 2011 to 2012, the Kremlin has always understood and monitored, has not been such an unambiguous, despised target as independent, mission-driven journalism.

The mystical “Revision Number Six” (2000) describes journalists and the media as equal, if not greater, enemies of a regime that would turn Putin into the permanent and irremovable “leader of the country, thus enabling a long-term policy for consolidating and strengthening the state.” Among the possible secret areas of operations to be pursued by the Russian Presidential Administration, “Revision Number Six” lists not only gathering information on all journalists who cover Russian domestic and foreign policy but also subjecting them and the media to direct and indirect pressure, including forcing bankruptcies, generating organizational difficulties, and issuing threats to owners unable to control the editorial process.

Step by step, consistently and steadily, the Putin administration has squashed all more or less large-circulation, mass-audience media, not even because they were in opposition to it, but because they were independent of the Kremlin’s direct and indirect guidance on what could and could not be brought up for public discussion. Alternatives remain, of course, from Vedomosti to Slon, from TV Rain to Meduza. But looking back at yesterday, literally and figuratively, we can say with certainty that journalism, as an organized process based on editorial independence and a sense of public mission, is politically doomed in today’s Russia.

The regime’s hybridity is rapidly short-circuiting, a process described by Hannah Arendt.

“Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only where common sense has lost its validity. Before the alternative of facing the anarchic growth and total arbitrariness of decay or bowing down before the most rigid, fantastically fictitious consistency of an ideology, the masses probably will always choose the latter and be ready to pay for it with individual sacrifices—and this not because they are stupid or wicked, but because in the general disaster this escape grants them a minimum of self-respect.”*

Until yesterday, RBC’s editorials boldly and recklessly challenged (at least, outwardly) this circle of silence and emptiness around common sense. RBC’s investigative reports, analytical articles, and expert publications were the quintessence of common sense, not acts of information warfare or the intrusion of a “flu-stricken nose” into healthy public space. They manifested the quixotic desire to be the agent of public, civic interest in how the state is organized, and why and where it must change.

It is really pointless for the counterintelligence state to fight suspicion and thievery, official lawlessness and the use of power for personal gain, not because it does not want to improve, but because when someone points out where things must be improved, the counterintelligence state regards it as an act of aggression, as something more dangerous than current shortcomings.

Vasily Gatov is a Visiting Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of TænketankenThanks to Comrade MT for the heads-up

* Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Cleveland & New York: Meridian Books, 1962), page 352

Germany Going Down the Tubes, or, Lies Come in All Sizes

Greg Yudin
September 2, 2015
Facebook

Excellent, just excellent. I look and see that Ulyana Skoibeda has published a diary about how terrible life is in Germany [in the mass circulation newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda]. I think, what is this crap? What would Skoibeda know about Germany? I have a look: the entire structure of their propaganda and the stuff of which it is made are visible after three paragraphs.

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Ulyana Skoibeda (center) and friends

The diary’s author is a certain Galina Ivanova, who moved to Germany but is now escaping it in horror at the influx of immigrants and the inaction of Germans. Since the text is executed in the “eyewitness” genre, it has immediately become wildly popular. To drive the point home, Skoibeda has supplied the diary entries with “links to major German media and speeches by officials.” She is thus hinting that every piece of evidence of Europe’s disintegration is backed up with a reference in perfect German. This is not the story of the three-year-old boy, allegedly crucified in Slovyansk by Ukrainian soldiers, but since proven a fake, she seems to say. You won’t nitpick this one to death.

What is great is that if you follow these links and start reading, you will find that almost all of them are total lies. And the lies come in all sizes. Some of the links lead to off-topic stuff like poverty statistics. Or, for example, the diary’s author angrily reports that Muslims have been abusing Germans to such an extent that “in many school cafeterias, pork sausages, salami, and pâté have been banned.” The link leads to a story about a crazy Egyptian family who asked a court to ban pork dishes. This happened in Vienna (which, for Skoibeda’s information, is in Austria) and was laughed off by the local legal community. But does it really take much to scare Russian readers?

Or, for example, there is a tear-jerking story about German pensioners having to dig in trash urns to collect empty bottles. The link is to an item in Die Republikaner in which there is not a single (!) mention of pensioners. The item itself is about how a society in which people are forced to collect bottles (by the way, have you never seen such a society outside of Germany?) should deal with this rather than facilitating the collection of bottles.

And then there is the top of this pop chart, which, of course, consists in the fact that the majority of the links in the text (including the links to newspapers, officials, and various sensational news items) in fact lead to one and the same site, Netzplanet, a collective right-wing blog that went online two years ago. The bloggers there complain about immigrants and scare each other over Islamization. Their Facebook page has already been blocked because its owners were not willing to provide the necessary information about themselves. The site itself is registered to a company in Panama. I won’t go on.

No “Galina Ivanova” really exists, of course. (In any case, it wasn’t she who wrote this text, unless Galina Ivanova is Skoibeda’s real name.) Because at any newspaper, even this one, there are fact checkers, and if Skoibeda really had been sent a “diary with links,” she would have found people with a knowledge of German and verified the information.

But the miserable PR people and degenerates from the security service who were given the task of collecting facts about problems with immigrants in Germany do exist. And they blew it. And now Skoibeda’s byline is attached to an article with a thousand proofs that she lies.

I always recommend the first thing university students do is learn foreign languages. Because you are surrounded by tons of people who intend to mess with your brains, and your own government is engaged in this above all. It is not the gullible who are most easily manipulated, but those who don’t know how to check things. Languages are the best chance of navigating the world on one’s own. It is impossible to know all languages, but if you know one foreign language, and your friend knows another one, the government will find it much harder to put one over on you. That is exactly why our MPs are so keen to ban the study of foreign languages in schools. Then Skoibeda will be able to tell readers that people with dogs’ heads inhabit Europe.

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at The Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Trud.ru. Translated by The Russian Reader

Vacation in Crimea and Make a Baby!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog for these public service messages.

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“Vacation in Crimea!” Billboard on the quay of the Obvodny Canal, 9 July 2015. Photograph by the Russian Reader

 

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“The more children there are, the happier we are. Don’t postpone having children.” Public service billboard in central Petrograd. Photograph by the Russian Reader, 9 July 2015

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[…]

Indeed, Russia’s window for further population growth is rapidly closing. Within a decade, according to RANEPA’s estimates, the population of Russian women aged 20 to 29 will shrink by nearly 50 percent. The corresponding decrease in birth rates, particularly when combined with the country’s mortality rates—the 22nd highest in the world, according to the study—makes it clear that Russia is still in for long-term decline.

In fact, without remedial action, Russia’s population could shrink to 113 million by 2050, a decrease of more than 20 percent from today’s population of 144 million. And in a worst-case scenario, RANEPA argues, Russia’s population could fall by nearly a third, to 100 million, before midcentury. The economic effects of such a shift would be dramatic; Russia’s working-age population would decrease by more than 26 million, making the country less competitive and less prosperous. But there is still some hope: if Moscow takes measures to reduce mortality and boost the birthrate, RANEPA estimates that the Russian population could rise modestly, to 155 million, by 2040.

In other words, Russia has a choice to make—one with deep social and economic consequences. If implemented in the near term, improvements in health care, tax benefits for families, and steps to discourage emigration could offset and even reverse Russia’s long-term population decline. The opportunity to do so, however, will be lost over the next decade, and the social and economic consequences of governmental inattention could be catastrophic.

[…]

Unfortunately, there’s little chance that the Kremlin will seize the moment. In recent years, preoccupied with regaining its place on the world stage, Moscow has only peripherally addressed the long-term sources of national decline. Instead, it has prioritized spending on programs that reinforce its reputation as a great power. Even before the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, it was estimated that Russia planned to spend upward of $600 billion on upgrading its military capabilities by 2020. The increased expenditures have funded, among other projects, the creation of new intercontinental ballistic missiles, the deployment of additional long-range strike capabilities, and serious work on electromagnetic pulse weapons.

[…]

—Ilan Berman, “Moscow’s Baby Bust?” Foreign Affairs, July 8, 2015

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Crimean officials estimate that over 4 million tourists will visit the recently annexed peninsula’s beaches this year, boosting the region’s economy by up to 125 billion rubles ($2 billion), news agency RIA Novosti reported Thursday.

“We expect to welcome 4.3 million people to Crimea in 2015, most of them from Russia,” Crimean Tourism Minster Yelena Yurchenko was quoted as saying.

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March last year in a move widely applauded at home but condemned by the West, which imposed sanctions on investment in Crimea.

Before the annexation, 6 million tourists visited Crimea annually, according to Russia’s tourism watchdog, Rostourism. Most of these were Ukrainians.

Russia is trying to stimulate travel to Crimea to help the region’s tourism-dependent economy, but the land route through mainland Ukraine has seen a steep drop in use since Russian and Ukrainian guard posts were placed on the Crimean border.

Over half of tourists this year will come to Crimea by plane and 45 percent will come by the Kerch Strait ferry, according to Yurchenko.

Russia plans to build a multibillion-dollar bridge between Russia and Crimea, but construction will not be complete until 2018.

— “Crimea Plans to Make $2 Billion on Summer Tourism This Year,” The Moscow Times, March 19, 2015The emphasis, above, is mine.

Russia vs. Russia: Political Art and Censorship

Victoria Lomasko
April 14, 2015
Facebook

During the last discussion at the Russland vs. Russland. Kulturkonflikte forum, the event’s title finally paid off.

Kristina Leko, an artist and teacher at the Berlin Institute of Art, opened the discussion. The organizers had invited her to comment on the forum and the exhibition of Russian “critical art.”

She wondered how much the objets d’art for Marat Guelman’s Perm project (documented at the forum) had cost, whether the money had come from the city’s budget, and if it had, whether the citizens for whose sake this monumental street art had allegedly been made had agreed with this. Leko noted that she had found it unpleasant to listen to the presentation of the project, during which it was stated that the residents of Perm were “insufficiently educated to understand art.” She also said that after carefully viewing the video documentation for MediaImpact, she could not understand where the audience for this sociopolitical art was. Did Russian “critical” artists even want to communicate with the general public? Leko asked whether it was possible to make “critical art” now without taking Russia’s aggression in Ukraine into account, and whether one could be a “critical artist” while ignoring gender and racial discrimination.

Her talk was suddenly interrupted by artist Alexander Brener, who burst into the circle of panelists and yelled, “All of this is shit! We must talk about what matters most!” Brener was not a forum participant. He had come every day to listen to the speakers and several times had expressed his dissatisfaction, but in much more acceptable form.

Brener had interrupted Leko’s talk and continued to shout about shit, but the panelists interpreted his stunt variously. One group sided with Brener, calling him a great Russian artist. This was a performance, a compliment to the forum’s organizer. The talk had been boring: let Brener have his say, they said. The moderator, sociologist Alexander Bikbov, demanded that Leko be allowed to finish her talk. He was backed up by cultural studies scholar Olga Reznikova, who told Brener that there had been many boring and offensive presentations over the past three days and asked him why he had not felt the urge to shout down a high-profile male who had been talking “shit.” The only Ukrainian participant in the forum, Vasily Cherepanin, director of the Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv and editor of the Ukrainian edition of the journal Krytyka Polityczna, said he felt sorry for us, since we were accustomed to rudeness and could not tell the difference between it and art. As a manager of an institution, he himself kicks out such “performance artists,” no questions asked.

While this was happening, Leko’s hands were shaking. The German audience was shocked. One of the German participants asked perplexedly, “Why is there no solidarity among Russian artists?”

I am certain that the majority of men in Russia who identify themselves as “leftists” are incapable of uniting with women on an equal footing and dealing with our professional work appropriately, without loutishness. Personally, I have no desire to identify with those “leftists” or liberals who try talking down to me or do the same thing with other women. I had had enough of that at the Feminist Pencil show at MediaImpact.

I said that sexism was one of the causes that prevented people from uniting.

Hearing the word sexism, some of the Russian participants began laughing and making faces. They then pointedly left the room altogether when the topic of gender was picked up by Olga Reznikova, Heinrich Böll Foundation coordinator Nuria Fatykhova, and the German audience.

Vasily Cherepanin raised the next topic. He spoke about the war in Ukraine, stressing it was a war of aggression on Russia’s part. At the same time, many Russian socially and politically engaged artists have preferred to remain apolitical on this matter and not make anti-war statements. One of the Germans asked why the Russians were trying to depoliticize the discussion of sexism and the war in Ukraine. After this question, another third of the Russians dashed from the room, while the artist Brener, who had been sitting quietly in the corner, again broke into the circle of panelists, screaming at Cherepanin, “Fuck off!”

Moderator Alexander Bikbov summarized the discussion by noting that too few “critical” artists had stayed for its final part. As soon as the conversation had turned to the things that mattered most—politics within the art scene and the war in Ukraine—many were not prepared to discuss them.

But then at the farewell dinner, the participants who had left the discussion early continued giggling among themselves about gender and feminism.

____________________

Russia vs. Russia: From Censorship to Self-Censorship
New Russian laws—from a ban on swearing to protections for the feelings of religious believers—have made life difficult for artists. But the main obstacle to freedom of creativity has become self-censorship.
Yekaterina Kryzhanovskaya | Berlin
April 13, 2015
Deutsche Welle

lomasko-courtVictoria Lomasko, Prisoners of May 6, from the Drawing Trials project

For several years, Victoria Lomasko has been doing socially engaged graphic art, producing graphic reportages from court hearings and political rallies, and drawing the real stories of juvenile prisoners, migrant workers, rural teachers, and Orthodox activists. But the Russian woman can now longer speak openly about what concerns her through her drawings: now her black-and-white “comics” could be subject to the articles of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

“My work Cannibal State, in support of political prisoners, today could be regarded as insulting state symbols. Liberate Russia from Putin clearly rocks the boat; it’s a call for rebellion, for revolution, and this is ‘extremism.’ A work from the Pussy Riot trial, Free the Prisoners! Shame on the Russian Orthodox Church!, featuring Patriarch Kirill, no doubt insults the feelings of believers,” the artist recounts.

Could she now, as she did earlier, freely post her political posters in social networks or show them at exhibitions?

“Hardly. But just two years ago several of them were even published in magazines,” notes Lomasko.

From censorship…

At the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts, held April 10–12 in Berlin, Lomasko was not the only one bewildered about the prospects of protest art.

“In Russia nowadays you cannot do anything,” states Artyom Loskutov, an artist and organizer of the annual May Day Monstration marches in Novosibirsk.

In 2014, the Monstrators took to the streets of Novosibirsk holding a banner that read, “Hell is ours.” When the Russian media were excitedly talking about the virtues of federalizing Ukraine, Loskutov and his allies announced they would be holding a March for the Federalization of Siberia.

“If people in Russia hear every day that separatism in Ukraine turns out to be a good thing, that cannot slip through the cracks. We have simply hastened the next stage, when separatism will be seen as good for our country as well,” Loskutov emphasizes.

Russian federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor responded by sending fourteen letters to various media, including Ukrainian publications and even the BBC, demanding that they delete even mentions of this protest.

…to self-censorship

According to many forum participants, however, censorship was not the worst that was happening to them today.

“The worst thing that infiltrates our heads is self-censorship. It is impossible to know about the new laws and not to think about the consequences if you make a work about something that really concerns you,” argues Lomasko.

A congress of ultra-rightist nationalists was held in March in Petersburg, completely legally. And yet the media could not publish photographs of congress participants in clothes featuring swastikas because they would be fined for extremism.

“I really want to speak out on this subject. But if I were to draw something, I could be accused of spreading fascist ideas. And if I put it on the Web, everyone who reposts the picture automatically becomes my accomplice,” explains Lomasko.

Consequently, she said, there have been almost no artworks openly criticizing the annexation of Crimea or the war in Ukraine. Doubts about the legitimacy of Moscow’s actions are now also subject to the Criminal Code.  A rare exception is the graffiti piece Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, in which a pregnant woman holding a Molotov cocktail is depicted with an infant soldier in her belly. But it was produced anonymously by members of the Petersburg group Gandhi.

Monumental propaganda

On the other hand, you can express your joy over the actions of Russian politicians without the sanction of officials. Thus, on the eve of the referendum in Crimea, a monumental graffiti proclaiming “Crimea and Russia: Together Forever” suddenly appeared on the wall of a house in Moscow’s Taganka Square where an officially authorized map of the Tagansky District was supposed have been painted.

“The contractor himself decided that the Crimean agenda was more topical and interesting, and he willfully painted what he did, not the map he had been commissioned to paint,” explains Anna Nistratova, an independent curator, researcher, and artist.

0,,18377432_401,00Victoria Lomasko

Later, such monumental propaganda began to appear all over the country, both as commissioned by the authorities, and at the behest of the population, including activist artists, many of whom also believe, according to Lomasko, “Crimea is ours, Donbass is ours, and Ukraine basically doesn’t exist.”

“In matters of propaganda, orders from the top are not obligatory. Our citizens themselves are capable to taking the initiative,” notes Nistratova.

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IMG_5964“Memory” (P = Pamiat’), one of a series of “graffiti” murals produced by the pro-Kremlin youth group Set (“Network”) to celebrate Vladimir Putin’s birthday in October 2014. The five murals, which appeared in different cities, each featured a different letter from the president’s surname; each letter was associated, children’s primer-style, with a different “patriotic” virtue (e.g., such as “memory” of the war). This mural was painted on an apartment block on Petersburg’s Obvodny Canal. Photograph by The Russian Reader

__________

Lost status

Nistratov points out that there are very few artists involved in political art in Russia. Besides, neither exhibitions nor the very best artworks nor inscriptions on the streets have any effect on society, in her opinion.

“The artist in Russia today is a strange, marginal subject. His status as an intellectual, as a moral exemplar, which existed earlier, has been completely forfeited,” says Nistratova.

Confusion is, perhaps, the feeling that is prevalent throughout the talks given by the participants of the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts. By and large, the activist artists have no clear strategies for operating under new conditions.

“The only thing that seems to me worthwhile is maintaining one’s own little environment, a bubble inside the shit. Because if this nightmare ever ends, we have to make sure we are not faced with a scorched, absolutely bare field, bereft of political and social art, activism, and civic consciousness,” argues Lomasko.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

This is a real courtyard in my neighborhood, near a playground. Parents stroll around the yard with their children, discussing the news from “fascist” Ukraine.

Do I have the right to draw and show you this landscape featuring a swastika, a landscape that is fairly typical in Russia? During the recent trial of the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), their lawyer argued that the anti-fascists are just another street gang like the fascists. So why not label any denunciation of fascism “propaganda” of fascism itself?

Nationalists freely held an international congress in Petersburg in March. The only people the police arrested were the anti-fascists who protested the congress. Nationalists can walk around sporting neo-fascist symbols, but the authorities will prosecute publications that dare to publish photos of them. Juvenile prisons are filled with skinheads, but nationalist ideas are fomented on television.

Attn: Center “E”. I am opposed to fascism.

fashizm_colourThis yard is not in Ukraine. There are many swastikas in Russia, too. But if Russian citizens try to expose fascism, they can be charged with “extremism.” Inscription on wall: “Russ [sic] is ours!”

Anti-Americanism Is the New Black

“If the growth of anti-Americanism testifies to anything, then only to the success of Russian propaganda”
Olga Serebryanaya
February 19, 2015
online812.ru

There is a new trend on Facebook: folks complain to President Obama about the mess and collapse in Russia. Exemplary in this sense is a post written by Oleg Bulgak.

“Why the fuck, Mr. President, is there no seat on the toilet and no toilet paper in the only bathroom for younger visitors at Children’s Clinic No. 133 in northern Moscow? Have you shed your last shred of conscience back there in America? You are personally to blame for the fact the children have to climb onto the toilet bowl, although they could fall off it! Why are you taking such ingenious revenge on us? You make me mad, Barak Obama! Stop playing your little tricks!”

There are many such posts on Facebook, and yes, they are parodies, parodies by sane “outsiders” on the majority opinion, announced last week by Levada Center. According to the pollsters, 81% of Russians have a negative view of the US. Do I need to spell out the fact that if the growth of anti-Americanism testifies to anything, then only to the success of Russian propaganda?

The aim is clear: to shift attention from domestic to foreign issues. At first, this was done by means of a news agenda consisting wholly of events in Ukraine. Now, on the contrary, Russian events are served up only with a foreign connection.

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On Twitter, everyone had a laugh at “Obama is killing Kaluga auto industry,” a headline in a regional newspaper, but few people noticed the following news item, because “outsiders” have long ago stopped reading the news.

“Environment Minister Sergei Donskoi told RIA Novosti that the insects destroying boxwoods and palms in Sochi could have been brought into the resort city deliberately on the eve of the Olympics. ‘We have asked the prosecutor general’s office to establish who introduced the pests. I would like law enforcement agencies to get to the bottom of it,’ said the minister.”

The rhetorical device of propaganda has proven to be a very convenient governance strategy. If you have a problem, blame saboteurs, who will surely turn out to be foreigners or agents thereof. Hence, the capture of the female “spy” with a large family from Vyazma or the crazy Russian Orthodox Church staffer with an FSB ID.

Kirill Rogov explained the idea behind it.

“[The project] is called ‘legalizing repression.’ The idea is inure the public to arrests ‘for treason.’ The arrestees will be weirdos, people around whom there is no consensus in society, and with whom the ‘majority’ finds it hard to identify. The guidelines suggest that the number of arrests that go public should be between twenty and thirty. Then the chief executive will come out and say that the excesses trouble him. […] After this statement, which will be widely publicized, within a month, approximately, the intensity of the arrests will increase tenfold.”

Rogov’s hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that the spy mania has already been substantiated historically. Literaturnaya gazeta made a breakthrough on this front last week. Responding to a question posed by a reader from Stavropol, Nikita Chaldymov, Ph.D., explained that Russia’s woes had begun with Peter the Great’s modernization. Peter badly tarnished the country’s mores, сaused the subsequent persecution of Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, and cut out that very same window through which “crowds of foreign adventurers began infiltrating” Russia. How could it have happened? The answer is clear: the sovereign was switched with someone else during the Grand Embassy.

“Could the tsar, being an Orthodox man, have so quickly turned into an alcoholic and libertine who dispatched his wife to a convent and married a Baltic washerwoman?” Chaldymov asks readers.

It stands to reason the real Peter could not have done these things. Foreigners had planted a spy on the throne.

There is only one hitch with this spy strategy. Another question might occur to the reader from Stavropol. Who occupies the Kremlin now? The real president? Or, God forbid, a changeling?