Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Vesna (“Spring”) Movement | June 9, 2015 | vk.com

Vesna recalls the fate of Russian troops in the Donbas

Another grave appeared on the Field of Mars in Petersburg today.

Near the graves of the victims of revolutions and civil war there has appeared a tombstone in memory of the victims of a new fratricidal war, a war between Russia and Ukraine.

Set up by the Vesna Movement, the new Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is meant to remind people of the hundreds and thousands of our compatriots who have been sent by Putin to the war with Ukraine. They are lied about. It is said they are on leave or that they resigned from the service, but more and and more evidence points to the fact that Russian soldiers have been fighting in the Donbas, and have been coming back wounded or in coffins.

Their graves are concealed, they are not talked about, and their relatives, in return for promises of compensation, lie and say the soldiers died during training exercises. The graves do exist, however.  There is this one mock grave on the Field of Mars, and lots of real graves all over Russia.

We are protesting against Putin’s recent decree, making the military’s losses during “peacetime” a state secret. This hypocritical and cowardly decision is of a piece with the Russian regime’s policy of befuddling soldiers with propaganda, sending them off to war, and then lying that they had never existed. And instead of peacetime we have an undeclared war with a fraternal people.

Vladimir Putin has often been credited with the phrase, “We don’t abandon our own guys.” But we have recorded the correct version of the phrase on our memorial: “We don’t abandon our own guys, but those weren’t in fact our guys.” He easily sacrifices both his own and other people’s soldiers to achieve his political objectives.

Putin is a war criminal whose place is in the dock at the Hague Tribunal. That is certainly where he will end up, unless the fate of other dictators who fought with their own people does not catch up with him first.

Ub5yzKoHBeo“An unknown soldier who died in the Donbas during ‘peacetime.’” // “‘We don’t abandon our own guys, but those weren’t in fact our guys.’ V. Putin.” Photo by David Frenkel

We Have a Saying in Russia

In the queue outside the centre, there is little sympathy for Greenpeace among relatives of other detainees, as they wait to deliver packages. “We have a saying in Russia: you shouldn’t go into someone else’s house and try to live by your own rules,” said one middle-aged woman who had bought a parcel of food for her 33-year-old daughter, who had been inside for five months on charges she did not want to reveal. She had been waiting in freezing temperatures since 4am to ensure she was among the lucky few who got to deliver her package.

Another man, waiting to deliver a package to his brother, suggested the Greenpeace activists were paid by western oil corporations to undermine Russia and should be “shot, or at least sent to a camp”. The opinions reflect surveys which show that the majority of Russians support the piracy charges.

Shaun Walker, “Greenpeace activists await trial among harsh winds, tears and no sympathy,” The Guardian, 18 October 2013

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For some reason, as the country sinks deeper into the Putinist fascist night, this “saying” becomes more and more popular. I’ve personally heard and read it something like six hundred thousand times over the past few years, but it’s hard to remember anyone ever saying such a thing in the nineties. It’s just remarkable how people participate so willingly in their own enslavement and extinction, and with the help of such “sayings.” Yes, “folk wisdom” really does consist in repeating over and over again what some fat cats with soccer teams in England, kids in Swiss schools, and mansions on the Riviera want you to think.

On the other hand, reporters like Shaun Walker wouldn’t have to look that hard for Russians who don’t think this way, even in Murmansk. And it’s pointless, as he does here, and as avid Russian watchers both inside and outside the country love to do, to cite a “public opinion” poll that, allegedly, shows the majority of Russians don’t support the arrested Greenpeace activists. Aside from any other number of methodological and philosophical issues with such polls more generally, not only in Russia, “public opinion” is a nearly meaningless concept in a country lacking all the things that make it a somewhat more meaningful concept in other countries, things like free elections, broadly based political parties, non-astroturfed grassroots groups, much stronger and more militant independent trade unions and, most important, freedom from constant terrorization and brainwashing, in the not-so-distant past and now again, over the past fourteen years, by officialdom, whether in the form of bureaucrats, police or state media.

Why does “the majority” not support the arrested Greenpeace activists? Because they (or, rather, a good number of the people who answered this dubious poll) thought that this was the response expected from them. Why did they think that? Because state and loyalist media have portrayed Greenpeace as the second coming of Al Qaeda, willing dupes of the CIA, and any other baleful thing you can think of. You don’t even have to believe this stuff. You just know that if some “polling organization” calls you up out of the blue, there are strong cues out there in the big media world to which you have access telling you how to respond to such questions. So what’s the point of thinking something different out loud? But then Shaun Walker, hundreds of other reporters, “political analysts,” “sociologists” and so on cite this “public opinion” as if it weren’t obtained under duress. It’s a vicious circle.