In the World of Animals

tiktokmashaA screenshot of the TikTok post by Petersburg blogger @youngmasha (Maria Magdalena Tunkara) that prompted an ominous visit from the prosecutor’s office

Petersburg Blogger Summoned to Prosecutor’s Office over TikTok Post on Racism in Russia
Mediazona
June 17, 2020

Petersburg blogger Maria Magdalena Tunkara has told Mediazona that officials from the prosecutor’s office visited her mother to “have a conversation” about a parody of TV presenter Nikolay Drozdov that Tunkara had posted on TikTok.

[. . .] They also wanted to talk to the blogger herself to persuade her not to publish “extremist materials.” The Petersburg resident noted that the prosecutor’s office employees came without a summons, promising to send the paperwork later.

According to Tunkara, she was told that her post, in which she parodies Drozdov’s program In the World of Animals, could lead to her being charged under Article 282 [of the Russian Criminal Code, which punishes the “incitement of ethnic, religious, or other forms of hatred or public discord”]. In the video that prompted the visit by prosecutor’s office employees, the young woman replies to a comment made by viewer of her previous videos, who called her “black.”*

“Good afternoon, dear viewers. With you is the program In the World of Animals, and today we are looking at a Russian who has seen a mulatto for the first time. Look how agitated he is and how he tries to laugh it off. Don’t scare him—he’s already stressed,” says Tunkara, imitating Drozdov’s trademark delivery.

In addition, according to Tunkara, the prosecutor’s office had concerns with the last six last videos she had posted. In them, she talks about racism and nationalism in Russia and responds to comments.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Igor Yakovenko: Ordinary Racism

Censored-Stamp

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Ordinary Racism: What Vladimir Solovyov, Andrey Illarionov and Mark Solonin Have in Common
Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
June 10, 2020

First, three quotes.

Quote No. 1. “I’m waiting for when Russia’s ‘beautiful people’ go to kneel before African Americans and repent. But where will they go? The US embassy? There’s not much space there. Maybe it would be better to go to the Pushkin monument [in downtown Moscow]? After all, [Pushkin’s] great-grandfather was brought from Abyssinia by force.” (Vladimir Solovyov, TV presenter)

Quote No. 2. “Non-punishment (or less severe punishment) for similar crimes by criminals of one group, who enjoy their privileged position, leads to impunity and, consequently, to an even greater increase in crimes and even greater aggressiveness on the part of this group of criminals.” (Andrey Illarionov, economist)

Quote No. 3. “At their own expense and effort, white people, often risking their lives (storms, crocodiles, snakes, virus-bearing mosquitoes) transported many, many Negroes from Africa to the very best (yes, yes!) country in the world. Compared with those who remained in Africa, the descendants of the people who were shipped away live in paradise.” (Mark Solonin, writer) 

These words were written by three very different people, who evoke contradictory feelings.

Solovyov has become a mascot of the Putinist information wars and incitement to hatred, deserves the deepest contempt and a criminal trial.

Illarionov has evoked respect and sympathy for his profound, scrupulous analyses, and his clear and consistent anti-Putinist stance.

Solonin, a meticulous researcher of the Second World War and a furious debunker of the official Soviet-Russian version, has furnished important food for thought about a crucial event in Russian history.

What all three men have in common is that they are racists.

Solovyov’s racism fits seamlessly into his overall profile. And this additional touch to a notorious scoundrel’s portrait would not be worthy of separate consideration if this exact same mockery of kneeling by American police officers and officials had not become a mass phenomenon, encompassing Russians with reputations as liberals, humanists and democrats, as so-called decent people.

The whole world watched the slow sadistic murder by a white police officer of a detained African American man, who was lying face down in handcuffs and clearly was not putting up any resistance. Police officials initially defended their sadistic police officer, saying that the victim had resisted, although the video showed that there was no resistance, and police “experts” initially lied that Floyd had died not as a result of suffocation, but due to the consequences of an incorrect lifestyle and bad habits. Only after the protests began, and the protests turned into riots, was the sadistic police officer dismissed from his post and charged with murder.

This story has many aspects, which we should examine separately, point by point. Solovyov and the “decent” people who have sided with him find it quite hilarious that police officers and politicians in the United States have been taking a knee in protest against racism. Many “decent” people are indignant, wondering why these officials should repent for something that was not their fault.

In 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt before the monument to the victims and heroes of the Warsaw ghetto during a visit to Poland. Brandt was not personally involved in the Third Reich’s crimes. On the contrary, he had spent his entire adult life fighting Nazism and was involved in setting up the anti-fascist underground. Hitler’s government stripped him of his German citizenship. Brandt was one of those Germans who had every moral right not to feel responsible for the Holocaust and the Third Reich’s other crimes. But he did not explain to the Poles and Jews that he wasn’t a Nazi, and that post-war Germany was not anything like the Third Reich. And by making that gesture, by kneeling, he clearly showed that he was not a Nazi and that Germany was not the same as the Third Reich. I think it is the same story with kneeling in the United States. People just want to visibly and demonstratively delineate themselves from racism and racists. In my opinion, they have succeeded.

Quote No. 2 is taken from Andrey Illarionov’s article “Institutional Racism in Reverse, or The Privileged Position of Black Criminals,” which was published on the websites Kasparov.ru and Echo of Moscow. The article is chockablock with statistics intended to prove that, although many more African Americans per million are killed by the police than other Americans, this is because African Americans are much more likely to resist and try to escape the police, and much more likely to commit violent crimes than the average white person.

Although Illarionov stipulates in his article that he does not touch on the “philosophical and ethical issues,” these issues simply scream from every line. Their essence is in the paragraph I have quoted, in which every word is a gem: “Non-punishment [of black criminals], who enjoy [!] their privileged position, leads to impunity and, consequently, to a even greater increase in crimes.”

The way George Floyd enjoyed his privileged position for eight minutes and forty-six seconds has been seen by millions of people on the planet. And unabashedly using their privileged position, American Blacks die on average several years earlier than their white fellow citizens. I was not able to find exact data on the distribution of deaths from Covid-19 in the United States as a whole (they write that there is no such data), but in some regions the statistics look like this. Blacks make up 30% of the population in Chicago, but they constitute 70% of coronavirus-related deaths in the city. African Americans make up 15% of the population in Illinois, but they constitute 43% of the coronavirus-related deaths in the state. And so on.

Illarionov’s article is meant as a commentary on the events triggered by an African American’s agonizing death. Illarionov writes that Blacks in the United States “enjoy their privileged position.” What has to be wrong with your brain to write something like that?

When statistics are used selectively and purposefully, they can “prove” anything or almost anything, prompting the most monstrous conclusions. For example, one of the favorite games of anti-Semites is counting up the number of Jews who were involved in the October Revolution, as well as who of them served in the Cheka and its successor agencies. True, the game usually involves tons of typical anti-Semitic lies, but even if for some reason we count honestly, it is quite possible that the percentage of Jews in these organizations was higher than the percentage of Jews in the overall population. And what of it? What conclusion does this statistic suggest unless it is part of a serious historical analysis? That “the Jews destroyed Russia”?

From Illarionov’s statistical analysis it directly follows that “the Blacks have gotten out hand,” that they “enjoy their privileged position,” their “impunity”, and that means the police should act more harshly towards Blacks to even the balance, as it were.

Andrey Nikolayevich, are you sure that pushing such conclusions on your readers is not tantamount to pouring fuel on the fire?

Mark Solonin writes how noble whites, risking their lives, brought ungrateful Blacks to the best country in the world. At first, I thought Solonin was being sarcastic, but then I looked over the entire text and realized the writer was absolutely serious. Over the course of 400 years, whites sold more than 17 million blacks into slavery and transported them across the Atlantic in the holds of ships. One in six died along the way, and of those who survived, half perished from disease and the sadism of slaveholders.

Solonin writes, “Compared with those who remained in Africa, the descendants of the people who were shipped off live in paradise.” In other words, Solonin does not seem to understand that people tend to compare their lives not with those who live in another continent, but with those who live in another neighborhood of the same city. He is apparently unable to understand the trauma of others, a trauma brought on by centuries of slavery and subsequent decades of discrimination, things that have ended just now, during our lifetimes, and as discrete manifestations have not yet ended. Solonin, apparently, is unfamiliar with the concept of historical and social inertia, which shadows the lives of the young men and women who grew up in Black neighborhoods, with their criminal subculture, poverty and drugs.

The spotlight of American racial upheaval has shone on the Russian “liberal” crowd, revealing spatters of racism even in places where it was categorically impossible to suspect they would be found. Viktor Shenderovich, a person for whom I have a great deal of respect, wrote that he considers it “a collective dislocation of the brain” to condemn a journalist who, when asked about his attitude to the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” replied that “all lives matter.” His detractors reminded the journalist of the Holocaust, asking him how he would respond to the claim that since not only Jews were killed, there was no need to “overhype” the Jews, because all lives matter.

Shenderovich’s reaction should be quoted in full.

“It is a monstrously vulgar analogy. And a false analogy. It would have been accurate in the time of the slavers or the Ku Klux Klan’s heyday, but none of this can be observed today. Blacks in the United States are not burned in ovens and do not have distinguishing insignia sewn on their clothes.”

Historically, in the milieu to which Shenderovich, Illarionov, Solonin, Solovyov (no matter how disgusting that might sound), and your humble servant belong, anti-Semitism is regarded as an absolute evil, an extremely indecent disease that must be carefully concealed. This is understandable, given the fact that the Holocaust swept through our land, many of our compatriots were its victims, and it was followed by decades of official anti-Semitism in our country. Therefore, someone who gives off the faintest odor of anti-Semitism immediately becomes an outcast. The tragedy of Blacks took place across the ocean. So, in my Facebook feed, I have no trouble finding the wildest racist statements, such as the proposal to “send all that biological waste back to Africa.” And the main thing is that, on the social media pages of quite “decent” people, such racism provokes no resistance.

Shenderovich thinks that the comparison between the Holocaust and the tragedy of Blacks in America is a “monstrously vulgar” comparison. “Blacks in the United States are not burned in ovens and do not have distinguishing insignia sewn on their clothes”? Nor is this the case with Jews at the moment. Despite the fact that any analogy is always lame by definition, the historical tragedy of the Jewish people and the Black population of the United States is quite comparable in terms of the number of victims and the depth of the trauma suffered by these peoples.

What is happening now in the United States and generates such profound misunderstanding among the Russian “liberal” crowd is not a “collective dislocation of the brain,” but a further development of humanism, in which the West is still at the forefront of humanity. The whole history of humanism is its expansion, the extension of empathy to more and more categories of Others, who are made equal not only in terms of legal rights, but also in terms of their right to empathy and compassion.

The fact that a person with a criminal past has become the symbol of the protest movement is a manifestation of the further evolution of the humanism that is so bitterly rejected by the majority of Russians, including the Russian “liberal” crowd. It is telling that even those Russian human rights activists who quite rightly speak out in defense of inmates who are beaten by guards in Russian penal colonies, insist that the victim “was not a moral person”—although at the time of his death, George Floyd had already served his time and was on the straight and narrow.

What the American spotlight has highlighted in Russian society, including its enlightened segment, bears a strong resemblance to a deep pathology. It is as if an old floorboard has become accidentally dislodged and a stench has filled the room. Either there is an old corpse below the floor, or the sewer pipes have burst. Life in our little Facebook and YouTube world had been so nice and amicable: it was so cozy when everyone could chew out Putin and Stalin in unison. And then the damned Americans screwed it all up with their problems!

Translated by the Russian Reader

Do Black Lives Matter in Russia?

ponaexaliAnush Avetisyan’s opinion piece in the Stavropol Pravda newspaper. The sidebar contains a summary of polling data on (the mostly negative) Russian attitudes towards ethnic minorities and migrants. Courtesy of Anusha Avetisyan’s Facebook page

Anush Avetisyan
Facebook
June 5, 2020

I haven’t written about racism, the death of George Floyd, or the protests all these days. It hurts me to think and talk about it. No matter how childish it sounds, I would have liked to have been on the scene at that moment and saved Floyd by getting personally involved. When I was a second-year student of journalism, I needed such help. I couldn’t breathe, either. I was suffocated by constant reminders that I was an “other,” that I and my kind had “ruined the neighborhood,” that I was “desecrating Russian culture,” and that I was a “blackass.” (Sorry!)

I had thought that once I found myself among educated people, I would finally forget what discrimination and nationalism were. But no. Even more often was I forced to hear comments like “Why are so you normal, when all wogs act like they’ve just come down from the mountains?”

Maybe because you have a lot of prejudices?

I was the only person in my class to graduate from school with distinction, and the teacher decided to congratulate me by saying the following to my schoolmates: “Look, you lot should be ashamed. Even she, a NON-RUSSIAN, could do it!”

During lectures on the cultural history of Stavropol Territory, my female university classmates were eager to prove that Caucasians were originally not from the Caucasus, and that “national minorities” (as they called all non-Russians) had no place in Russia. My classmates would ask me mockingly why I didn’t cover my head with a scarf and celebrate Ramadan. This proved not only that they were ignorant of the history and culture of other countries, but also that they viewed all people with dark hair and thick eyebrows as an undifferentiated black mob of non-Russians with cultures, traditions, and values they found incomprehensible.

When I got a job on the radio, the editor tried to make me lose my “Caucasian accent.” I still don’t understand how I could have had one, since we spoke Russian at home all our lives. Unfortunately, my dad does not know Armenian, as he grew up in Petersburg.

As my colleague Fatima Tlis has correctly pointed out, I could not and cannot even imagine that my schoolteacher, my classmates, and my employers would take to the streets to protest the fact that nationalism made it hard for me and others like me to breathe in Russia. Would the ethnic Russian population have protested the death of a Caucasian, Tajik, or Armenian at the hands of the police?!

The problem of racism exists here in the United States, but it was in this country that I first felt at home. This can be said by many immigrants from all over the world, by people of various nationalities. Here “others” are accepted and given the same opportunities.

I found this copy of an opinion column in the Stavropol Pravda that I wrote as a second-year journalism student in my grandmother’s personal belongings. She trusted me with her innermost secrets. Among letters from her son, audiotapes of her daughter singing, and postcards from her beloved granddaughters, I found my cri de coeur, neatly clipped from the newspaper. My grandmother, the closest person in the world to me, knew how important the subject was to me, how much anguish I feel when faced with injustice.

#GeorgeFloyd #BlackLivesMatter

Anush Avetisyan is a journalist at Voice of America and lives in Washington, DC. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Scapegoats

anatrrra-dvornikiCentral Asian yardmen in Moscow taking a break from their work. Photo by and courtesy of Anatrrra

‘People shout “Coronavirus!” at me as if it were my middle name’
Lenta.ru
March 29, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in xenophobic attitudes towards people of Asian background around the world, even though the US has already overtaken China in the number of infected people, as have European countries, if you add up all the cases. However, according to an international survey of several thousand people, it is Russians who are most likely to avoid contact with people of Asian appearance, although one in five residents of Russia is not an ethnic Russian. Our compatriots of Asian appearance have been subjected to increasing attacks, harassment, and discrimination. Lenta.ru recorded their monologues.

“Being Asian now means being a plague rat”
Lisa, Buryat, 27 years old

Sometimes I am mistaken for a Korean, and this is the best option in Russia, when you are mistaken for Chinese, Koreans or Japanese. The disdainful attitude is better than when you are mistaken for a migrant worker from Central Asia, because the attitude towards them is clearly aggressive. At least it was before the coronavirus.

Now, basically, being Asian means being a plague rat.

A couple of days ago, a young woman approached me at work—I’m a university lecturer. The lecture was on fashion, and naturally I had talked about the epidemic’s consequences for the fashion industry. The young woman works in a Chanel boutique. She said right to my face that “only the Chinese have the coronavirus,” and she tries not wait on them at her store, but “everything’s cool” with Europeans.

My mother has to listen to more racist nonsense because she has a more pronounced Asian appearance than I do, because my father is Russian. For example, there are three women named Sveta at her work. Two are called by their last names, but she is called “the non-Russian Sveta,” although she has lived in Petersburg since the nineteen-seventies. And when I enrolled in school, the headmaster asked my father to translate what he said for my mother, although five minutes earlier my mother had been speaking Russian.

In the subway, she can be told that immigrants are not welcome here and asked to stand up. A couple of times, men approached her on the street and asked whether she wasn’t ashamed, as a Muslim woman, to wear tight jeans. She is learning English, and when she watches instructional videos, people in the subway, for example, say, “Oh, can these monkeys speak Russian at all? They’re learning English!” Police are constantly checking her papers to see whether she’s a Russian citizen. When I was little, we were even taken to a police station because the policemen decided she had abducted an ethnic Russian child—I had very light hair as a child.

Recently, she was traveling by train to Arkhangelsk, and children from two different cars came to look at her. At such moments, you feel like a monkey. (By the way, “monkey from a mountain village” is a common insult.)

Everyone used to be afraid of skinheads. Everyone in the noughties had a friend who had been attacked by skinheads. Everyone [in Buryatia] was afraid to send their children to study in Moscow. But being a Russian Asian, you could pretend to be a tourist: my Buryat friend, who knows Japanese, helped us a couple of times make groups of people who had decided we were migrant workers from Central Asia leave us alone. Another time, the son of my mother’s friend, who was studying at Moscow State University, was returning home late at night and ran into a crowd of skinheads. They asked where he was from, and when he said he was from Buryatia, one of them said, “I served in Buryatia! Buryats are our guys, they’re from Russia,” and they let him go.

Now all Asians are objects of fear. People shout “Coronavirus!” at me on the street as if it were my middle name. They get up and move away from me on public transport, and they give me wide berth in queues. A man in a store once asked me not to sneeze on him as soon as I walked in. I constantly hear about people getting beat up, and I’m very worried. My Buryat girlfriends, especially in Moscow, are afraid to travel alone in the evening. People also move away from them on transport and behave aggressively.

You can put it down to human ignorance, but you get tired of living like this. When you talk about everyday racism with someone, they say they worked with an Asian and everything was fine. This constant downplaying is even more annoying. You haven’t insulted Asians—wow, here’s your medal! It doesn’t mean there is no problem with grassroots racism in multi-ethnic Russia.

“When are you all going to die?!”
Zhansaya, Kazakh, 27 years old

On Sunday morning, my boyfriend, who is an ethnic Kazakh like me, and I got on a half-empty car on the subway. We sat down at the end of the car. At the next station, an elderly woman, who was around sixty-five, got on. When she saw us, she walked up to my boyfriend, abruptly poked him with her hand, and said through clenched teeth, “Why are you sitting down? Get up! We didn’t fight in the war for people like you.”

I am a pharmacist by education, and I have seven years of experience working in a pharmacy. The pharmacy is next to a Pyatyorochka discount grocery store. Recently, I was standing at the register when a woman of Slavic appearance, looking a little over fifty, came in. She came over with a smile that quickly faded from her face when she saw me. I only had time to say hello when suddenly she screamed, “When are you all going to die?! We are tired of you all! You all sit in Pyatyorochkas, stealing our money, and then act as if nothing has happened!”

I didn’t hold my tongue, replying abruptly, “Excuse me! Who do you mean by you all?” The woman was taken aback as if something had gone wrong. Then she said something about “CISniks” [people from the Commonwealth of Independent States], ran out of the pharmacy, and never came back.

I had always dreamed about driving a car since I was a kid. At the age of eighteen, I found a driving school, where I successfully passed the classroom training, and after three months of practice I had to pass exams at the traffic police. I got 100% on the written test the first time. But during the behind-the-wheel exam, the examiner began talking crap the minute I got into the car. When I introduced myself by first name, middle name, and last name, he said something I missed since I was nervous. Then he, a rather obese man, hit me on the thighs and screamed, “Do you want me to say that in Uzbek?”

I immediately unbuckled my seat belt and got out of the car. I gave up for good the idea of taking the driving test.

covid-19-coronavirus-actions-ipsos-moriResults of an Ipsos MORI poll published on February 14, 2020

“The chinks piled into our country and brought this plague”
Anna, Buryat, 27 years old

We live in a multi-ethnic country that supposedly defeated fascism, but now every time I go into the subway, the police check my papers as if I were a terrorist. People really have begun to move away from me, give me a wide berth, and throw me contemptuous glances, as if to say “There goes the neighborhood!”

I live near University subway station [in Moscow], and there really are lots of Chinese students there. I feel quite sorry for them: they are constantly stopped by the police in the subway, and people look at them with disgust and demonstratively steer clear of them. If there are Chinese people who have stayed here, they probably didn’t go home for the Chinese New Year. Where would they bring the virus from? If they had gone home for the holidays, they would not have returned to Russia, since the border was already closed by the end of the holidays. Accordingly, the Chinese who are here are not carrying the virus.

Recently, I was going down an escalator. My nose was stuffy from the cold, and so I blew my noise softly. I thought I was going to be murdered right on the escalator: some people bolted straight away from me, while others shouted that I was spreading the contagion.

Recently, in a grocery store, a woman and her teenage daughter were standing behind me. The woman said something to the effect that all sorts of chinks have come to our country and brought the plague. She said it out loud and without any bashfulness, aiming her words at me. She and her daughter were less than a meter away from me, as if I didn’t understand them. My level of indignation was off the charts, but I didn’t say anything.

Another time, I went into my building and approached the elevator. A woman and her children literally recoiled and almost ran out—they didn’t want to ride in the elevator with me! I said I’d wait for the next one. They were not at all perplexed by the fact that I spoke Russian without an accent.

“I will always be second class here”
Malika, Uzbek, 21 years old

Recently, a mother and daughter passed by my house. Tajik yardmen were cleaning the yard. The girl asked the mother why she was rolling her eyes, and the mother explained that the yardmen were probably illegal aliens and terrorists. I walked next to them all the way to the bus stop—it was unpleasant.

During three years of living in Moscow, I very rarely felt like an outsider: the people around me were always sensible, and I was almost never stopped by police in the subway to check my papers. But when I decided to leave the student dorm, I realized that I would always be a second-class person here. It took four months to find an apartment. A girlfriend and I were looking for a two-room flat for the two of us for a reasonable amount of money, but every other ad had phrases like “only for Slavs.” There were jollier phrases like “white Europe” or “Asia need not apply.” But even in cases where there were no such restrictions, we would still be turned down when we went to look at flats.

After a while, I started saying on the phone that I was from Uzbekistan. Some people would hang up, while others would make up ridiculous excuses. In the end, we found a place through friends, but the process was quite unpleasant.

I’m no longer bothered by such everyday questions as “Why is your Russian so good?” I like talking about my own culture if the curiosity is not mean-spirited. But I am terribly disgusted to see how my countrymen are treated on the streets and realize that I’m left alone only because I’m a couple of shades lighter. Because of this, people take me for a Russian and complain about “those wogs” to my face.

“He shouted that I was a yakuza and had come here to kill people”
Vika, Korean, 22 years old

I’m an ethnic Korean. I was born and raised in North Ossetia, and graduated from high school in Rostov-on-Don. I have lived in Moscow since 2015, and I encounter more everyday racism here.

One day a woman on the street started yelling at me to get the hell out of Moscow and go back to my “homeland.” Another time, a madman in the subway sat down next to me and shouted that I was a yakuza and had come here to kill people.

When I was getting a new internal passport at My Documents, the woman clerk asked several times why I was getting a new passport and not applying for citizenship, although I had brought a Russian birth certificate and other papers.

Once my mother was attempting to rent an apartment for us and humiliated herself by persuading the landlords that Koreans were a very good and decent people. I wanted to cry when she said that.

There is a stereotype that Asians are quite smart and study hard, that they have complicated, unemotional parents, and so on. As a teenager, I tried to distance myself as much as possible from stereotypical ideas about Koreans. Now I can afford to listen to K-pop and not feel guilty about being stereotypical.

Generally, we are not beaten or humiliated much, but I don’t feel equal to the dominant ethnic group [i.e., ethnic Russians], especially now, when everyone is so excited about Korean pop culture, generalize everything they see in it to all Koreans and can come up to you out of the blue and say they love doramas. That happened to me once. It is very unpleasant—you feel like a pet of a fashionable breed.

In questionnaires on dating sites you can often find preferences based on ethnicity, and they can take the form of refusals to date people of a certain race, as well as the opposite, the desire to date such people. It is not a sign of tolerance, however, but the flip side of racism—fetishization. It still reduces a person to her ethnic group, suggesting she should be perceived not as an individual, but as a walking stereotype.

“Several times it ended in attempted rape”
Madina, from a mixed family (Tatar/Tajik/Kazakh/Russian), 25 years old

I was born in Moscow. My Russian teacher from the fifth grade on liked to repeat loudly to the entire class, “Can you imagine? Madina is the best Russian and literature student in my class!” By the end of the sixth grade, my classmates were sick and tired of this, but instead of boning up on Russian, they decided to throw me a blanket party. They got together, backed me into a corner, and kicked the hell out of me.

I recently returned from doing a master’s degree abroad and was looking for an apartment to rent in Moscow. Several times, landlords offered to rent an apartment without a contract, explaining that I undoubtedly needed a residence permit. When I showed them my internal passport and Moscow residence permit, they turned me down anyway.

Before moving to the United States, I had to forget about romantic relationships for several years because several times it all ended with attempted rape under the pretext “You’re an Asian woman, and I’ve always dreamed of fucking a woman like you  in the ass.”

Nor was it strangers I’d met on Tinder who told me this, but guys from my circle of friends at school and university. There were three such incidents, and all of them combined racism, objectification, and a lack of understanding of the rules of consent.

“She looked at me like I was death, shoved me, and ran out of the car”
Aisulu, Kazakh, 22 years old

Recently, I was a little ill: I had a runny nose and sneezed once in a while. I wouldn’t even say it was the flu, just the common cold. I decided to attend lectures and put on a mask for decency’s sake.

I went into the subway, where people got up and moved away from me twice. I wasn’t particularly offended, but it was unpleasant when I stood next to a women after moving to another car and sneezed. She looked at like I was death, shoved me, and ran out of the car. That was quite odd.

I told a classmate about the incident, and she asked why I was wearing a mask, because it attracts more attention. I felt even worse, and took it off.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Neocolonialism

shiyesTo set Russia apart from the pack, Putin is leaning on a unique pitch: that only Russian support can help protect the sovereignty of African countries.

“We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments,” Putin told TASS on Monday in an interview ahead of the summit, adding that Russia was ready to provide help without “political or other conditions.”

“Our country played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, contributing to the struggle of the peoples of Africa against colonialism, racism, and apartheid,” he said. Although ties deteriorated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, traces remain: the Mozambique flag, for instance, carries the Kalashnikov rifle.
—Evan Gershkovich, “At Russia’s Inaugural Africa Summit, Moscow Sells Sovereignty, Moscow Times, 26 October 2019

________________________________

It’s amazing to read nonsense like this some ten or so years after an unbelievable wave of neo-Nazi terror in Petersburg, Moscow, and other Russian cities that targeted, among others, the country’s African community and African students.

I remember going, back then, to a community event where I was told, by one person after another, that none of them went out in Petersburg after dark except by car or taxi.

This is not to mention the fact that all the African leaders lining up for aid from Russia want to know nothing, apparently, about the Putin regime’s attitude to the Russian people, which differs very little from that of colonizers to the colonized. Just look at what is happening right now in Shiyes, for example. [TRR]

________________________________

OMON Forces Move to Cut Off Shiyes Protesters from Outside World
Paul Goble
Window on Eurasia
October 29, 2019

Staunton, October 25 — In an ominous move, some 30 OMON officers two days ago blocked the railroad station near where the Shiyes anti-trash dump protesters have made their camp as well as the roads leading to and from it, electric power there and in neighboring villages, and Internet connections with the outside world.

The protesters and their supporters are not sure whether this is the first step towards the closing of their camp or simply another feint in that direction designed to keep them nervous and off balance.

But one thing many of them are sure of is that Vladimir Putin is behind the move and that this is yet another case in which he has made much-covered public promises to defer to the population and follow the rule of law only to move in another direction when attention shifts.

Obviously, there is still some communication between the protesters and journalists; but the ring is being tightened. And as the weather gets worse, it will become far more difficult for the protesters to get the supplies and support they need to continue their protest against the largest trash dump in Europe, one not for their own wastes but for those of Moscow.

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Vera Afanasyeva
Facebook
October 29, 2019

I Am Shiyes! We Are Shiyes!

Imagine that you live in the Arkhangelsk Region. You are strong, independent people, descendants of Russians who were untouched by the Tatar-Mongol yoke and serfdom.

You are not office clerks or anyone’s employees, the more so since there is really nowhere to work. Your native land—its forest and rivers—feeds you. You live off the land and for the land. It is your place in life.

And now the brazen Moscow scumbags who have made billions of rubles from garbage have turned their fat mugs towards your part of the world. After making a bloody mess of the Moscow Region and its neighbors, they have taken a look at your land and licked their chops, deciding to build a landfill there. Your land suits them because it is not so far from Moscow, but it is sparsely populated and invisible from the capital. Your land suits the scumbags.

They have dubbed their future garbage dump, where they intend to transport nearly all the trash from Moscow, an “environmental industrial estate,” but whatever they call it, a garbage dump—a gigantic garbage dump—is still a garbage dump.

The bastards could not care less that the land is yours and gives you life: they have decided to fuck it up, too. They could not care less that it is a buffer zone for sources of drinkable water, that the land is swampy and runoff from the garbage dump will poison the soil, plants, and forests that sustain you and your children, that first the Vychegda River will be polluted and then the Northern Dvina, that previously pristine places will be destroyed.

But the scumbags have run into an unexpected obstacle: you decided to resist. There are not many of you, but you are human beings.

At first, you tried to appeal to the authorities, but you soon realized the scumbags attempting to spoil your land are the authorities.

And so then you simply have tried to keep the scumbags out. You have set up a tent city: you have guarded your land, preventing them from building their landfill. And the station of Shiyes, the place around which these events have unfolded, has become iconic throughout Russia, a place where people have resisted the lawlessness of the authorities.

Honestly, though, it is not just about the garbage dump. The fact of the matter is that you are human beings and you do not want to surrender your land to scumbags. It is a matter of fairness, of justice.

At first, even the local police were on your side, but then the scumbags recruited squads of goons from all over the country to try and handle you. This was what happened during the spring and summer.

But then fall came, and the scumbags realized the time is now. The political storms in Moscow have subsided, winter is on its way, and it will be harder and harder for you to resist.

So the bastards have stepped it up. They have used the Russian National Guard to break your blockade, and they have turned off the lights and the internet in the houses where your children live so the country won’t find about what is happening.

The bastards really want money and if they had their druthers they would kill you and bury you in the northern soil. The only thing holding them back, ever so slightly, is the possible bad publicity.

The bastards have the authorities and the Russian National Guard at their backs. There are only a handful of you.

Can you imagine this?

That is exactly what is happening now in Shiyes, where construction of a landfill has turned into a military special operation, a special operation so important, that martial law, a state of siege, has been imposed in the neighboring village of Urdoma. The special operation has been coordinated by the president’s plenipotentiary representative in the Northwest Federal District, Alexander Gutsan, who recently flew to Syktyvkar. It is so important that Viktor Polonikov, the interior minister of the Republic of Komi, personally visited Shiyes.

This is a real occupation, a war waged against the region’s inhabitants for the sake of huge profits.

The defenders of Shiyes are brave people, but they cannot cope with the Russian National Guard, with the Interior Ministry, with the steamroller of the regime alone.

We should all go to Shiyes and take our stand against the occupiers, but we cannot do this: we are not ready, we are weak.

But we can make it known to the entire country. We can spread the news, and this is also a way of helping, something that is in our power to do.

Tell everyone about what is happening in Shiyes. Write about it: do not be silent!

Today, they are cracking down on the defenders of Shiyes. Tomorrow, they will come for you.

Vera Afanasyeva is a former professor in the philosophy department at Saratov State University and a writer. Thanks to Valery Dymshits for the heads-up. Photo of Shiyes courtesy of Vera Afanasyeva. Translated by the Russian Reader

I Have No Idea What I’m Talking About, But I’m Famous, So It Doesn’t Matter

vadim f. lurie-10 august-fuck offOne of the many young people in Russia who, according to Anne Applebaum, are leading the latest tiny, Moscow-centered pro-democracy movement there. The slogan on his t-shirt reads, “Fuck off.” Photo by Vadim F. Lurie, who captured this image during the “authorized” fair elections march in Moscow on August 10, 2019.

What was I just saying about leaky arguments on behalf of Russia’s courageous but incredibly tiny fair elections movement?

I always had famous Anne Applebaum pegged as a real Russophobe, not a fake one like me, someone who has constantly run afoul of the liberal and leftist Russia discourse police and been crossed off their Christmas card lists many times over. But it turns out Applebaum is such a “Russophile” she is ready to turn reality on its head by comparing the truly grassroots, popular, massive, well-organized pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with the minuscule ragtag non-movement in Russia.

In Russia, where propaganda also attacks the West and derides democracy as chaotic and anarchic, protesters have focused very directly on the most fundamental of democratic institutions: they are demanding the right, simply, to vote for independent candidates in local elections. Just as in Hong Kong, Russian protests are being led by younger people [sic], none of whom can remember any other leader except Vladimir Putin: “I am 20 years old, and in my entire life there has not been a single day of freedom,” one of them told reporters, according to Meduza, an independent website that covers Russia. They, too, are well organized, using up-to-the-minute apps to keep in touch with one other, deploying a phalanx of lawyers and a carefully planned social media campaign [sic]. Like the young Hong Kongers, young Russians aren’t just dedicated; they are organized, thoughtful and well prepared [sic].

There are some obvious explanations for this East-West paradox. Clearly, the inhabitants of stable democracies find it hard to appreciate what they have: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” isn’t just a song lyric; it’s an expression of something fundamental about the human brain. Like wealth or health, political freedom may simply be something that people don’t value if they’ve always had it [sic].

But it may also be that the young protesters of Russia and China are simply ahead of us. We’ve gotten used to the idea that political influence flows from West to East, but are we so sure that is still true? A generation of Eastern dissidents has thought harder than we [sic] have about how to self-organize, about how to operate in a world run by secretive, kleptocratic elites who go out of their way to create distraction and apathy. Remember that they, too, are fighting regimes that seem in hock to moneyed interests and wrestling to cope with the pace of technological change. It may be that we in the West simply haven’t thought about what tactics ordinary people need [sic] to deploy to compete in a world where money is offshore, power is invisible and apathy is widespread. It may be that we need to learn from people who have.
—Anne Applebaum, “Hong Kong and Russia Protesters Fight for Democracy. The West Should Listen and Learn,” Washington Post, 16 August 2019

For the sake of rapping the sock puppet known as “the west” on the knuckles, Applebaum conveniently forgets to compare the numbers of people involved in demos and other protest actions in a city of seven million people, on one hand, and the world’s largest country, on the other.

She claims “the west,” where, she alleges, everyone has suddenly given up on democracy, can learn something from “the east.” How is that someone who has written so eloquently about the Soviet Gulag has no clue that the people spearheading the Russian non-movement, people from Moscow and Petersburg, overidentify with “the west” and regard their cities, wrongly or rightly, as European cities, not “eastern” cities?

Wrongly or rightly, and unlike Applebaum, they overidentify so strongly with the nonexistent west that they almost never show any sign they have anything to learn from “the east.” Maybe I have the wrong friends and follow the wrong people and groups on Russian social media, but I have not seen anyone talking about the lessons Russian protesters can learn from people in Hong Kong or, say, Puerto Rico. Forgive me if I don’t spell out, for the thousandth time, the darker side of the disdain many members of the Russian liberal and left intelligentsia have for “non-westerners,” especially “non-westerners” who make them look bad by fighting more fiercely and in much greater numbers for their freedom.

It is only possible to learn a real lesson when our teacher has all her facts straight. Unfortunately, when it comes to Russia and its “western” discourse police officers, including Applebaum, complexity, subtlety, and a basic grasp of facts go straight out the window. For reasons I have never been able to fathom, normally decent editors fall asleep at the wheel when their reporters and op-ed contributors write about Russia, especially when they have the cachet of someone like Applebaum.

It seemingly never occurs to anyone in “the west” or “the east” (i.e., Russia) that this bizarre mixture of total indifference, willful ignorance masked as insider knowledge, and desperate cheerleading does nothing for the minority of people in Russia who have the courage to confront their country’s criminal regime. // TRR

Thanks to Boycott Russia Today for the heads-up and Vadim F. Lurie for the fabulous photograph.

More and More Russians

hongkong.jpgAccording to organizers, at least 1.7 million people attended a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong today, August 18, 2019. Photo courtesy of HKFP

More and more Russians seem to be breaking free of the old habit of trying to guess the party line. Increasingly, they just do what they deem important, and the authorities deal with the consequences. We are all much more used to the reverse relationship, which is why Russia’s new situation is hard to grasp. People in Russia are only now learning to peer into themselves, not into their television sets, searching for clues to what will happen next.

This does not mean that the Kremlin has suddenly become more transparent or less authoritarian. It only means that Russian society has started to realize that it may, in fact, be an originator of political and societal change, not just on the receiving end.

For how long this new situation—or an impression of it—will last is unclear. The Kremlin is at war and wants everyone in Russia to be at war too. Russians seem to be drifting away from this belligerence. The question is whose pull, the Kremlin’s or Russian society’s, is stronger. I am afraid the Kremlin’s is stronger but will be happy to be mistaken.
—Maxim Trudolyubov, “Ask Not What Will the Kremlin Do Next,” The Russia File, 16 August 2019

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What does the phrase “more and more Russians” mean, in the essay quoted above? How does Maxim Trudolyubov know they are doing anything at all, much more “breaking free of the old habit of trying to guess the party line” and doing “what they deem important” (whatever that means)?

If its organizers are to be believed, a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong was attended by 1.7 million people today, August 18. According to Worldometers, Hong Kong’s population, as of today, was almost 7.5 million people, meaning that nearly 23% of Hong Kong’s residents marched today in support of the city’s autonomy and democratic rights.

In Moscow, “up to 60,000 people” attended an “authorized” pro-democracy rally on August 10. It was, apparently, the biggest opposition rally in Russia since the fair election protests of 2011–2012.

World Population Review estimates Moscow’s population as slightly over 12 million people.

If the figures for the August 10 rally and Moscow’s population are to be credited, then, 0.005% of the city’s populace came out for an “authorized” rally—meaning an event where they had much less reason to fear a police crackdown than at the “unauthorized” rallies at which riot police and Russian National Guardsmen detained thousands of protests over the last month or so.

When you are trying to get your collective point across to an authoritarian government, the numbers do matter, just as they matter in non-authoritarian countries.

As I have argued in many different ways many different times, the Russian opposition, especially its self-declared leaders in Moscow, is woefully bad at two things: mobilizing ordinary pro-democratic Russians to make their numbers known to the regime, and meaningfully allying itself with the grassroots pro-democracy movement beyond Moscow.

In fact, at the very same time as a tiny minority of brave, smart Muscovites have been doing battle with the Moscow City Elections Commission and the security forces to defend their constitutional right to vote and run for office, an even tinier and, perhaps, braver minority of Petersburgers has been fighting to get a small slate of independent candidates onto the ballot for elections to the city’s municipal district councils, chronically underfunded entities with almost no power to do anything more than making cosmetic improvements to the neighborhoods they represent. Just as in Moscow, the would-be candidates themselves have been harassed, beaten, and arrested, along with some of their supporters.

Typically, when the Petersburg pro-democratic opposition held an authorized rally on August 3, only two thousand people showed up. Sadly and hilariously, Deutsche Welle described it as an “event in support of candidates not allowed to run in the elections to the Moscow City Duma.” In reality, Petersburgers rallied in support of their own beleaguered opposition candidates, in solidarity with Muscovites, and against the upcoming pro forma election of acting Governor Alexander Beglov, the Kremlin’s third satrap in the city, on September 8.

But the real story was too complicated for Deutsche Welle. It was, apparently, too gnarly for the vast majority of Petersburgers as well. World Population Review estimates Petersburg’s population as nearly 5.5 million. (I suspect it is actually much higher than this, but that is another conversation.) So, proportionately, even fewer people in Russia’s “cultural capital” are worried about their rapidly vanishing constitutionally guaranteed rights than their comrades in Moscow and their Chinese frenemies in Hong Kong: 0.0003%, to be exact.

In the face of these real numbers, which he signally fails to mention, Trudolyubov cites public opinion polls, notoriously unreliable indicators in a highly manipulated authoritarian society like Russia, and his own vague “impressions.”

He also makes an assertion that is debatable and a promise he probably has no intention of keeping, to wit:

“Russian society is turning into a much more active player in Russia’s public life. Importantly, it is not limited to the political protests that have been taking place in Moscow for the past several weeks. The protests are just the most visible part of the change. There is exciting new art, there is a new wave of independent journalism, there is an entire universe of YouTube and other social media channels that are completely free of both pro-Kremlin and strictly oppositional politics (all of those trends deserve a special take, which we will provide).”

I will have been reporting on these “other Russias,” as I have dubbed them, for twelve years come this October. I know them as well as any “outsider” can know them. I will keep writing about them and translating dispatches from these other Russias as long as I am able.

Despite my interest in the other Russias and Russians, however, and my endless admiration for the sheer courage, tenacity, and intelligence of many of the real-life heroines and heroes who have made appearances on this website over the years, I knew the fair elections movement of 2011–2012 was a non-starter almost as soon as it kicked off, even though it was a nationwide grassroots movement, unlike the 2019 fair elections movement, which has been practically limited to Moscow.

I knew that for two reasons. First, the numbers of anti-Putinists showing their faces in public at protest rallies, “authorized” and “unauthorized,” were also minuscule as percentages of the general populace. Second, the “movement” was managed lackadaisically, with indecently long pauses between “authorized” rallies.

In Moscow, at least, there does seem to be a greater sense of urgency and intensity this time around, but the numbers of people showing up for rallies have been halved. Paradoxically, however, those people have been more willing to face police crackdowns, but I am not sure this is necessarily a good thing, politically and strategically.

Like Trudolyubov, I am happy to be mistaken. Unlike Trudolyubov, I have no sense that Russian society has become a bigger player than it was seven years ago. There was also a lot of new art, independent journalism, and social media savvy on the margins then as now.

The sad truth is that, unlike countries and territories populated by people of color, such as Hong Kong and Puerto Rico, Russia gets way more credit for every tiny gesture towards democracy, autonomy, and independence made by its supposedly “white” people, even though Russian society punches way below its weight when it comes to every possible measure of official and popular support for democracy, minorities, civil and human rights, progressive environmental policies, engaged art, cutting-edge education, grassroots-driven urban planning, you name it.

What Russia does have a lot of is flag twirlers who have ensconced themselves in plum jobs at western news outlets and think tanks, places where, correspondingly, you will not find a lot of people of color and people from the formerly colonized parts of the world. So, even though the Kremlin has made xenophobia, anti-Americanism, rampant homophobia, Islamophobic, anti-westernism, anti-liberalism, Russian Orthodox obscurantism, and aggressive covert and overt interventions into the affairs of other countries planks in its unwritten ideological platform, and Russia’s opposition has said almost nothing about any of it, much less organized protests against, say, the Kremlin’s criminal military involvement in the brutal ongoing murder of Syria’s pro-democracy movement, the so-called west, at least as represented by places like the Kennan Institute and media organizations like the BBC, has way more time and sympathy for all things Russian than it has for anything happening in countries and places dominated by people of color.

It would be strange of me, of all people, to argue for less interest in grassroots politics and culture in Russia, but a genuine curiosity should also involve being able to tell the fibbers and crypto-nationalists from the truth-tellers and democrats. // TRR

Thanks to the fabulous Mark Teeter for the heads-up. I am nearly certain he would have a different take on Trudolyubov’s essay, but in my Facebook newsfeed it ended up cheek by jowl with an article about today’s truly massive protests in Hong Kong.

When We Were Ten

15220228-number-ten

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
August 10, 2019

I was ten years old but I remember August 1991 well. And I remember how many people asked, after that unique celebration of unity and freedom, what would have happened had the coup emerged victorious.

Russia 2019 is the answer to this question. It is a country in which the coup has emerged victorious, [a country ruled by] a dozen paranoid old men, their hands trembling in fear.

Yes, the new coup has lasted longer than three days, but not much longer. The first chords of Swan Lake have already sounded.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of 123RF

_______________________________________________

A friend of mine asked me the other day what I thought about the new fair elections protests in Moscow. First, I feel solidarity with the protesters. Otherwise, I would not have bothered to translate and edit eleven posts (so far) about the protests and their ugly aftermath.

But I don’t understand the point made by Alexei Navalny’s comrade Leonid Volkov, an otherwise sensible person, in the Facebook post, as quoted above.

I could very well be wrong, and, actually, I do hope I am wrong, but I see very little difference between the mostly lacksadaisical fair elections protests of 2011–2012 and the relatively fierce but tiny fair elections protests of 2019.

The numbers are, in fact, the main problem. Despite the strange argument made by a talking head from the Carnegie Center Moscow, as quoted in the Moscow Times, that fifty thousand is a number of protesters the Russian authorities cannot ignore, there is no question of their ignoring anything. The Putin regime did not ignore the protests of 2011–2012. It waited until Putin had secured a new term as president before cracking down hard on protesters and quickly adopting a whole raft of laws designed to make public protests and dissent much more dangerous.

In 2019, the crackdown has begun almost immediately, but there is no sign the regime will cave and force the Moscow City Elections Commission to reinstate the candidates it barred in July from running in the September elections to the Moscow City Duma, much less collapse altogether.

Since it is the world’s largest country, it seems funny to say it, but Russia is one of the most insular, isolated places on earth. International news is a genre that barely exists in the country’s mainstream or alternative press nor does it usually make much of an impression on the chatocrats who set the tone in Russia’s remarkably hysterical, dispiriting, troll-infested social media.

It also does not help that places mainly or completely populated by what many Russian liberals regard as subhumans almost never figure in the news in Russia at all. Otherwise, political and media activists like Volkov would think twice before seeing the demise of Putin’s twenty-year-old “putsch” in yet another series of relatively minuscule gatherings of righteous Muscovites brandishing clever placards and getting their pictures taken for Instagram.

If there were real international news in the Russian press, the Russian fair elections movement and its would-be leaders and strategists, like Volkov, would think about the recent, incomparably more numerous, and demonstrably more effective protests in Puerto Rico and Hong Kong, for example. When half a million people protest against the powers that be on an island populated by 3.5 million people, the authorities really cannot ignore them, just as Beijing could not pretend all was well in Hong Kong, a city of 7.3 million people, when two million people there took to the streets to protest the former enclave’s shrinking autonomy and the PRC’s attacks on its laws and democratic institutions.

Puerto Rican officials have already seen the writing on the wall and surrendered to the demands of the fierce, fearless, relentless protest movement there. The Hong Kong protest movement faces a much stronger enemy, of course, but I think there is a far greater chance we will witness democracy emerging all over China in our lifetimes than we will see the reemergence of democracy in Russia.

Despite the fact the Russian intelligentsia likes to hypnotize itself with dubious theories about history and regime change—namely, that great historical turnabouts have always been powered by tiny but energetic minorities—real democratic change in Russia will only happen when many more people join a movement that, in fact, exists only as a notion, not as a real grassroots movement.

A real grassroots movement, after all, would be capable of mobilizing considerably more than fifty thousand people in a city of twelve million people.

The second big problem with the Russian protest non-movement is that, like many of the Russians who make usually brief appearances in its ranks, it is wildly impatient. Liberal, educated Russians regard themselves as the most “European” and “western” people on the planet, hindered from realizing their true destiny as saviors and leading lights of the nonexistent west only by a thousand years of unrelenting, savage tyranny, an endless dark stormy night punctuated only here and there by occasional, short-lived bursts of sunlight.

Since they are essentially not practically “Europeans” and “westerners” (unlike most actual Europeans and westerners, who, in their view, have given up the west’s civilizing mission by letting their countries be overrun by Puerto Ricans, Chinese, and Muslims, among other miserables), many Russians think they deserve to live in a democratic country right now without doing most if any of the things other societies do to establish and fortify democracy and the rule of law at home.

The flip side of this blatantly anti-western “westernism” is that droves (or, at least, very large dribbles) of Russians have been leaving or semi-leaving Russia in recent years, knowing nothing can change for the better under Putin and despairing that the post-Putin era will not dawn anytime soon. Like most of the really important things going in Russia, this story has been underreported, although anyone who has hundreds of Russian acquaintances or who lives in one of the handful of cities on earth that liberal Russians consider civilized (Berlin, Paris, and New York, e.g.) will know what I mean.

In yet another “only in Russia” twist, many people in this new wave of émigrés and exiles are not battle-hardened veterans of the amorphous protest non-movement, but the most politically apathetic people you could ever hope to meet.

This is not to say there are not lots of good eggs among them. Likewise, this blog’s mission has been to reiterate constantly the well-missed point that there are other Russians besides Putin and other Russias besides “Putin’s Russia,” whatever that is. But since I am not a politician and, thus, a sophist, like Leonid Volkov and his friend Alexei Navalny (the first, a well-informed commentator whose reflections I have shared on several occasions with my reader; the second, a smart cookie who might also be nearly the only person in the ragtag Russian opposition who really understands politics and has an inkling of how to build grassroots political movements), I am under no obligation to paint a pretty picture of “democracy in Russia” when what is called for is a horrorshow.

Lastly, fifty thousand people protested in downtown Moscow for the right to vote for their own candidates to a Russian regional parliament in a country where all that parliaments, city councils, municipal district councils, and village councils ever do is rubber-stamp the executive branch’s decisions. At exactly the same time, Russian warplanes were trying hard to finish off the last stronghold of a genuinely popular revolution in what they hoped would be the final chapter in a four-year-long military intervention in a majority Muslim country. And yet Putin’s criminal entanglement of his country’s well-equipped armed forces in Syria has been so uninteresting to liberal Russians that they have never protested in numbers greater than three or four at a time, and you can count those times on one hand.

The irony of this non-coincidence will be lost on Leonid Volkov and his comrades in the Russian protest non-movement, a non-movement that imitates the civil disobedience of the Indian independence movement and the US civil rights movement, for example, while blithely ignoring their superior political, strategic, and organizational aspects. Like the overall ignorance among Russians about today’s protest movements and popular revolutions in Syria, Hong Kong, and Puerto Rico, this might be because they were movements led and sustained by people of color. // TRR

Steven Salaita: The Inhumanity of Academic Freedom

team-22

“The Inhumanity of Academic Freedom,” a lecture Steven Salaita gave the day before yesterday at the University of Cape Town, is so powerful and echoes so many of the depressing things I have gone through as an agitator and (former) academic in the past several years that I would like to quote it here in full, but I’ll limit myself to quoting a single passage. Please read the lecture from beginning to end: it’s more than worth it. Salaita is a rare truthteller in a fallen world that fancies itself chockablock with truthtellers but which is actually pullulating with hasbaristas of various stripes. Thanks to George Ciccariello-Maher for the heads-up. Thanks to the Imatra IPV Reds Finnish baseball club for the image. (If you think it has nothing to do with the lecture, it means you haven’t read the whole thing.) // TRR

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In the end, we have to apply value judgments (mediated by lawless forces) to balance speech rights with public safety. In societies like the USA and South Africa, steeped in the afterlives of colonization, this task is remarkably difficult. We know that racism is bad, but global economic systems are invested in its survival. We know that anti-Zionism isn’t racism, that, in fact, it is the just position.  Yet no agreement exists about what comprises appropriate speech, in large part because maintaining a community is at odds with corporate dominion. As a result, there’s no way to prioritize a set of beliefs without accusations of hypocrisy (or without actual hypocrisy). The easy answer is to protect speech equally and let a marketplace of ideas sort the winners and losers. 

There’s a catch, though. Value judgments don’t arise in a vacuum and discourses don’t exist in a free market. Structural forces, often unseen, always beneficial to the elite, determine which ideas are serious and which in turn get a hearing. If we conceptualize speech as a market-driven phenomenon, then we necessarily relinquish concern for the vulnerable. We’re left with competing narratives in a system designed to favor the needs of capital. It’s a highly lopsided competition. Those who humor the ruling class will always enjoy a strong advantage, which aspiring pundits and prospective academics are happy to exploit. Corporate and state-run media don’t exist to ratify disinterest, but to reproduce status quos. 

The political left is already restricted, on and beyond campus. The same notions of respectability or common sense that guide discussion of academic freedom also limit the imagination to the mechanical defense of abstractions. Sure, academic freedom is meant to protect insurgent politics, and often does, but the milieu in which it operates has plenty of ways to neutralize or quash insurgency.  

I focus on radical ideas because Palestine, one of my interests and the source of my persecution, belongs to the set of issues considered dangerous by polite society, at least in North America and much of Europe (and, for that matter, the Arab World). Others include Black liberation, Indigenous nationalism, open borders, decolonization, trans-inclusivity, labor militancy, communism, radical ecology, and anti-imperialism. Certain forms of speech reliably cause people trouble: condemning the police, questioning patriotism, disparaging whiteness, promoting economic redistribution, impeaching the military—anything, really, that conceptualizes racism or inequality as a systemic problem rather than an individual failing. More than anything, denouncing Israeli aggression has a long record of provoking recrimination. Anti-Zionism has always existed in dialogue with revolutionary politics around the globe, including the long struggle against Apartheid. 

3 April 2017 (website)

3april2017 website-screenshotHere is the address of a new grassroots, homemade website (in Russian), profiling all the defendants and outlining everything known about the criminal investigation into the alleged “terrorist suicide bombing” in the Petersburg subway on April 3, 2017.

Nine young people, all of them immigrants from Kyrgyzstan, are currently being tried for the attack by a military court in Petersburg. Several of the defendants have claimed they were tortured by FSB investigators and held in secret FSB prisons. Several observers say the trial is a frame-up; others suspect there was no “terrorist” attack at all.

http://3apr2017.tilda.ws/

You can follow the link in the first paragraph to items I have posted on the case, including the first serious investigative report on the case, published on the Radio Svoboda website in February 2018.

I have another, even more serious rundown of the investigation, trial, and defendants,  published by The Insider a week ago, queued up and ready to translate when I get around to it.

It’s definitely worth reading, although it clocks in at 10,000 words. This has become the done thing in supposedly serious online Russian journalism, where editing has gone out of fashion as it has in most other parts of the journalistic and publishing worlds in Russia.

Whatever happened to the notion that short is sweet?

Thanks to George for the heads-up.

#Petersburg #subway #bombing #showtrial #frame-up