If “hysterical Russophobia” were a real thing, instead of a talking point for crypto-Putinists and just plain Russians who don’t know how to explain to their non-Russian neighbors why their homeland has become so “odd” in the past several years, you would have heard about Russian immigrants to the EU and US suffering the same main violence and putrid discrimination that Muslim, Asian, and African immigrants and asylum seekers suffer there, not to mention the relentless violence and staggering discrimination suffered by such absolutely 100% native Americans as Aboriginal Americans (i.e., Native Americans), African Americans, and Hispanic Americans in a land their peoples have been inhabiting from several centuries to several thousands of years.
But no, you never hear of such violence and discrimination against Russian immigrants, and the fact there is no such violence and discrimination against Russians (at least, not enough to show up on anyone’s radars) is a good thing, of course.
It does, however make you wonder what exactly this “hysterical Russophobia” is that has so many tongues wagging, but has absolutely no negative effect on the ability of actual, individual Russians to lead happy, productive, and violence- and discrimination-free lives in the countries where they have chosen to settle.
That’s an easy riddle to solve, however. “Hysterical Russophobia” is a non-phenomenon invented by a motley coalition of people with various political axes to grind, including sections of the mostly hilarious current western left, who for some reason have not heard the news about what has been happening in the Socialist Motherland the last twenty-five years or so or feign not to have heard it. They’re still defending Russia long after it became the world center of the blackest social and political reaction. That is, they’re defending a corrupt, oligarchic capitalist tyranny.
Why actual Russian immigrants might feel defensive about the old homeland is understandable, but they should figure out what’s worth defending and what’s not. The Putin regime, for example, literally has no redeeming features whatsoever, as a perusal of this blog, for example, and its predecessor, Chtodelat News, should persuade you, although there are thousands and millions of more credible sources of information out there that are even more persuasive than my occasional, half-baked efforts to knock some sense into your heads.
People who nevertheless hotly defend the Putin regime, wherever they’re from, immediately strike me as suspicious or hopelessly naive. And I’m not alone.
Well, you’ve probably guessed I’m just being facetious.
I think it’s great that Russians can go anywhere and make new, happy, productive lives for themselves. It should be that way for everyone, of course. No one is illegal, and all that.
Yet, simultaneously, the Russian government has been working overtime over the last year to exacerbate the Syrian refugee crisis. But you’d be hard pressed to hear any of the nattily dressed émigrés, described in the Financial Times article, quoted above, or their countrymen saying anything whatsoever about that nasty business and their country’s role in it. Mum’s the word, I’ve got my life to live, and all that.
However, a fair number of Russians, in my experience (and not only mine), have had lots to say, paradoxically, about Germany and other European countries being “overrun” by refugees from Syria and other war zones. It turns out these “black” unfortunates, who come from completely other galaxies, apparently, don’t have the same right so seek a safe place to live and work in Berlin, Paris, London et al., as the now-“white” (as opposed to White) Russians do.
I really like it when a big man in uniform speaks out with fanfare on perennial topics like the structure of society. You think it’s funny they all get Ph.D.s, but they really do consider themselves major theorists and are always willing to teach lessons in wisdom in their spare time. An entire genre has even emerged in Russian newspapers: lessons in political philosophy by generals.
“For democracy or people power is nothing other than the power of the people itself, realized in its interests. It is possible to achieve these interests only by means of the common good, and not through the absolute freedom and arbitrary will of individual members of society,” he writes.
It must be admitted that this is the pure, unadulterated truth. We might rejoice that democracy in Russia has found a new supporter.
Then, however, Bastrykin the democrat’s argument takes an unexpected turn. He proposes setting things up so that he, Bastrykin, would decide himself what information should be considered extremist, and would limit Internet access without a court order! In addition, he would also decide in which cases providers are obliged to provide him with the personal information of their clients.
There are lots of other tasty tidbits in his article, including innovative tactics for fighting terrorism by confiscating property, but that does not concern us here.
So somebody comes and says, Now I am going to decide who is an extremist and who can read what. You will also be informing me everyone’s personal information. If this is not “absolute freedom and the arbitrary will of an individual member of society,” then what else would you call it?
I am going to have to upset Mr. Bastrykin. Democracy is, in fact, people power. Therefore, the main objective of democratic governance has been and will be preventing the usurpation of power, not defending the people from the machinations of external foes, not hunting down traitors, not surveilling unreliables, but combating usurpers. And so democracy’s main enemy is the guy who comes out and says he is going to decide who the extremists are round here.
The problem with these scholarly generals is that the only form of social organization they are capable of conceiving is the prison camp. And so whether they write about democracy, traditional values or economic progress, the same speech in defense of the prison camp always comes out.
* * * * *
“It’s time to erect an effective barrier against the information war” Alexander Bastrykin, chair of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, on methods of combating extremism in Russia Kommersant
April 18, 2016
Chair of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, general of justice of the Russian Federation, doctor of juridical sciences, Professor Alexander Bastrykin, special to Vlast magazine, on the ways and methods of combating extremism in Russia
In 2015, the Russian Federation witnessed negative trends in criminal extremism and terrorism.
1,329 extremist crimes were recorded, which was 28.5% higher than in 2014 (1,034 crimes). A growth in this type of crime was noted in fifty-six regions of the Russian Federation.
The numbers of such crimes as public calls to extremist activity (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280) and inciting hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity has soared by nearly forty percent in comparison with 2014.
The crime of organizing an extremist organization was recorded 42 times (+2,4%).
A significant increase (+36.3%) in terrorist crimes committed in the Russian Federation has been noted. A total of 1,538 such crimes was recorded in 2015 (as opposed to 1,128 in 2014).
Seventy such crimes were prevented at the stage of planning or during the attempt. 133 terrorist crimes were committed with the help of the Internet network.
A particularly difficult situation has been observed in the North Caucasus Federal District, which accounts for the bulk of terrorist crimes: 1,168 crimes or 75.9% of all such crimes (leading to an increase of 32.3%). (In 2014, 883 such crimes were committed.)
Both external (geopolitical) and domestic political factors have contributed to the growth of this type of crime.
Over the past decade, Russia and a number of other countries have been living through a so-called hybrid war, unleashed by the US and its allies. The war has been conducted on various fronts, political, economic, informational, and legal. In recent years, it has moved into a new phase of open confrontation.
The main elements of economic pressure have been commercial and financial sanctions, dumping wars on the hydrocarbons market, and currency wars. Skillfully manipulating the huge number of dollars in circulation, the States have brought down the national currencies of developing countries. Russian organizations have had their access to channels of external long-term financing blocked, channels that formed the basis of investment for developing the real (productive) sectors of the economy. It is noteworthy that restrictions on the movement of financing have not affected short-term financing, which currently has been widedly employed to exert speculative pressure on our national currency. In many respects, the outcome of these measures has been the deep devaluation of the ruble, falling real incomes, a decline in industrial production, and economic recession. There has been a budget deficit and ensuing consequences in the form of cuts in expenditures, as well as an increasing fiscal burden to raise revenues.
Unfortunately, international law and the justice based on it have increasingly become tools of this war.
Obvious examples are the decisions in the Yukos cases, the decision in the murder case of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, the report of the Security Council of Netherlands on the investigation into the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the FBI’s investigation of the legitimacy of awarding the right to hold the World Cup to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, and the extradition of our citizens Victor Bout and Konstanin Yaroshenko to the US and their sentencing to long terms of imprisonment.
However, the information war has caused the most devastating effects. By supporting radical Islamists and other radical ideological tendencies, the US has completely destabilized the situation in the Middle East. The effects of artificially initiated coups, revolutions, and crises in this region are still being experienced by Europe, overrun by mobs of refugees who profess qualitatively alien sociocultural traditions and have displaced the local population. Islamic State, the Al-Nusra Front, Al Qaida, and other terrorist organizations involved in the armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic have also been an effect of this policy. Manpower for replenishing these organizations are recruited all over the world, including in Russia.
More than a thousand Russian citizens have gone to the Syrian Arab Republic to participate in the armed conflict. 469 criminal cases have been filed against these persons. 135 of them have been killed in armed clashes with Syrian government troops.
The main channels of entry for Russian citizens into areas of heightened terrorist activity have been Turkey and Egypt, where they travel both directly and through third countries (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova) under the pretext of holidaymaking, receiving theological education, doing business, etc.
The main technique of the information war is the manipulation of an ideology that a particular social group finds congenial by radicalizing it. It is clear that the system of religious, ethnocultural, and confessional values is the segment of social existence that defines the most significant feature of any nation (ethnic group) and other such social groups as self-identification. Many of these values were shaped, preserved, and passed from generation to generation for centuries. Therefore, no nation is willing to give up its identity. Perhaps it is the only universal value it is willing to defend with arms and, as they say, until the last drop of blood is spilled.
Aware of the devastating effect of conflicts based on ethnic hatred, the US has bet on this informational element. At the current level of understanding of the issue, it is clear that the subversion of the Soviet Union’s ideological foundations, which were based on the principle of the brotherhood of nations, was also initiated from the outside and based on methods of ethnic strife. It was no accident that in the early 1990s numerous ethnic conflicts (Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia-Abkhazia, Ossetia-Ingushetia, Transnistria) broke almost simultaneously. At this time, the first mass rallies of nationalist-minded citizens took place in Kiev. In addition, the subversion of state power was carried out by means of anti-Soviet agitation and financing of the political opposition in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, and other countries.
Of course, in the minds of the local populace, those events were then regarded as local conflicts. However, it is now completely obvious that all these clashes were elements of the initial, as-yet-hidden phase of the information war.
Undoubtedly, the informational-ideological “weapon” will be deployed in the future. This is evidenced by the increase in US government spending on programs for the so-called development of democratic institutions in countries bordering on Russia and in the Central Asian states. The true meaning of these assets becomes clear from the name of this budget item, “Countering Russian aggression through public diplomacy and foreign aid programs, and the creation of stable government in Europe.”
About 4.3 billion dollars have been allocated under his item in 2017, and around a billion dollars will go to programs for the so-called fight against corruption and supporting democracy in countries neighboring Russia.
Funds already received under this program have been spent by by various non-governmental organizations under the guise of promoting education, developing civil society, and other seemingly useful purposes. The outcome has been the incitement of anti-Russian moods in neighboring countries, the shaping of the pro-American and pro-western so-called non-systemic opposition in Russia, and the spread of inter-confessional and political extremism within our country.
Recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh witness to the repeated attempts of forces opposed to Russia to undermine the peace between the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples and establish yet another hotbed of war on Russian’s borders.
It seems it is time to erect an effective barrier against this information war. We need a tough, appropriate, and balanced response. This is especially relevant in light of the upcoming elections and the possible risks presented by the stepping up of efforts by destabilizing political forces. Enough of playing at pseudo-democracy and following pseudo-liberal values. For democracy or people power is nothing other than the power of the people itself, realized in its interests. It is possible to achieve these interests only by means of the common good, and not through the absolute freedom and arbitrary will of individual members of society.
The following measures can be proposed to counter extremism.
It is extremely important to establish a concept of state ideological policy. Its basic element could be a national idea that would genuinely unite Russia’s unified multinational people. The concept could stipulate specific long-term and medium-term measures, aimed at the ideological education of our younger generation. Conscious resistance to radical religious and other ideologies could knock out the foundations on which current extremist ideologies are constructed. With this protection in place, even the most generous outside financing of destabilizing the situation in Russia will prove useless.
It is also important that youth are regarded by terrorist groups as a natural reserve. From this it follows that everything must be done to seize the initiative, to include young people at risk in the development and implementation of programs for countering armed extremism.
It seems appropriate for the supervisory and regulatory authorities to organize a wide-ranging and detailed verification of the compliance with federal legislation of all religious, ethnocultural, and youth organizations, suspected of engaging in banned extremist activity.
Using the know-how of the Northern Caucasus, we should organize specific and narrowly targeted preventive work with members of informal youth associations in order to adopt measures aimed at procuring information about negative processes underway in the youth milieu and identifying the ideologues and leaders of radical organizations who involved young people in extremist activity.
The positive know-how of the Republic of Ingushetia is also worthy of support. They have established a military-patriotic club that unites the children of law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty and children of neutralized members of the bandit underground, which facilitates their rapprochement and shapes an atmosphere of mutual understanding among them.
The proposed concept sees it as expedient to define the limits of censoring the global Internet network in Russia, since at present this problem is causing a heated debate in the light of the stepping up of efforts by advocates of the right to the free receipt and dissemination of information. Interesting in this sense is the know-how of foreign states, opposing the US and its allies. Due to unprecedented pressure from information, they have taken steps to restrict foreign media in order to protect the national information space. Thus, for example, on March 10, 2016, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology introduced a ban on electronic media fully or partly owned by foreign residents. These media will no longer be able to disseminate information through the Internet and, in the best case, by means of print publications. Chinese media will cooperate with foreign online media only with the permission of the ministry. Only Chinese nationals will be able to work in the management of national media. Online media servers can be located only in the People’s Republic of China.
It seems this know-how could be employed in Russia to a reasonable extent.
Internet providers must be furnished with a integrated set of rules for storing the personal information of their clients and users in the right amount in the event that such information is required when investigating cyber security violations.
In public places (libraries, schools, and other educational institutions) with access to the World Wide Web, filters restricting access to sites containing extremist content should be established.
In addition, it seems appropriate to stipulate an extrajudicial (administrative) procedure for including information in the federal list of extremist content and blocking the domain names of sites that disseminate extremist and radical nationalist information. However, if the proprietors of this information do not consider it extremist, they can appeal the relevant actions of the authorized government agencies in court and prove their innocence there. This procedure will enable a faster and more effective response to the promotion of extremism on the Internet. It is necessary to step up work on introducing modern technology for the effective monitoring of the radio waves and the Internet.
It is necessary to expand the range of criminal law measures to stop the illegal actions of terrorist organizations committed on the Internet network involving recruiting. To this end, we should consider the criminalization of possessing such materials, collecting them or uploading them from a computer. Modern evidence technologies make it possible to present to the court and confirm technical elements of intercourse on social networks that testify to the connections between the accused and the relevant electronic messages.
To expose the real aims and intentions of Islamic extremists and establish the insolvency of their theoretical approaches, which contradict the realities of the modern world and the fundamental interests of Islamic countries, it would seem useful for the State Duma to regularly hold special hearings involving experts from the Federal Security Service (FSB), eminent Islamic scholars and authorities, and scholars of Islam. The hearings should be widely covered in the press.
Particular attention should be paid to the migration process. Migrants are often targets of espionage recruiting and radicalization. Many of them have overstayed their limit in Russia, dropping out of the sight of law enforcement. We must analyze the regulatory acts governing the presence of foreign nationals and persons without citizenship in the Russian Federation. Based on our analysis, we should take additional measures for improving the legislation.
It is necessary to improve the work of precinct police with foreign nationals in the realm of monitoring compliance with the established rules of residence in Russia (monitoring of persons letting and renting residential premises in the precinct, and obtaining information about the nature of these persons’ employment). The internal affairs departments of agencies should exclude possible corruption here. Full use of the public’s assistance should be made.
Certain features of extremist activity have taken shape in the Crimea Federal District, where attempts have been made to mold anti-Russian moods, by means of falsifying historical facts and distorting the interpretation of modern events, and call into question the outcome of the referendum on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. This act of the legal expression of the Crimean population’s popular will has become an integral part of Russian constitutionalism. Considering the place of this act in the hierarchal system of values of Russian state and society, it is certainly in need of special legal protection, including by means of criminal legal coercion.
It should be noted that criminalizing the denial or falsification of historical events of particular importance to a state and society is a widespread practice. For example, in many countries, including Russia, criminal punishment is stipulated for promoting fascism. France and a number of other countries have introduced criminal liability for denying the Armenian genocide. The State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly is considering a similar law bill, No. 938567-6 (“On Criminalization of Public Denial of the Genocide of the Armenian People in Western Armenia and Ottoman Turkey in 1915-1922”). In Israel, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust.
In view of the above, it seems necessary to supplement the notion of extremist activity (extremism) contained in the federal law “On Countering Extremist Activity” with such a manifestation as denial of the outcome of a national referendum. It is necessary to decisively counteract the deliberate falsification of the history of our state. In this connection, we might also propose that Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280 (public calls for extremist activity) include an additional stipulation, which would qualify the falsification of historical facts and events as a call for extremist activity.
In addition to countering the ideological component of the information war being waged against Russia, it is important to step up efforts to combat financial support for this activity, including tightening control over cross-border capital flows. As experience has shown, terrorism is often financed by virtual cryptocurrency, which has no central issuer, no single point of transactional control, and features anonymous payments. In addition, as a result of their wide dissemination, these currencies can displace legal money from the market, which threatens the state’s financial stability. It is therefore suggested that criminal liability be introduced for the illegal issuance and circulation of cryptocurrency and other money substitutes.
We should also review social security legislation concerning the close relatives of persons involved in terrorism, entitlement to survivor’s pensions, and other benefits. A person who is going to commit such crimes should know that in the event of death not only will he be buried in an unmarked grave but he will also deprive his loved ones of support from the state.
Another measure that would contribute to the effective fight against extremism, terrorism, and other dangerous criminal manifestations is confiscation of property as a form of criminal punishment. As we know, the relevant legislative proposals have been prepared and are in need of speedy legislative implementation. Unfortunately, this process has been unduly delayed.
No less important is improvement of the legal mechanism of international cooperation among law enforcement and other state bodies empowered to counter terrorism and extremism.
Russian law regulates only the procedure for submitting an international request for legal assistance, whereas international acts in this field stipulate the possibility of closer integration, including the establishment of international investigative teams. Such cooperation would help in cases where Russian investigative authorities need to perform a number of investigative procedures or even perform a preliminary investigation in a foreign country and that country has agreed to provide such assistance. This gap became apparent during investigation of the armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008 and the terrorist act committed on board the Russian Airbus 321 over the Sinai Peninsula.
Translated by the Island of Misfit Toys. Thanks to Greg Yudin for his courage.
We don’t ever think. We just have a small collection of tapes we stick in slots in the back of our heads when the need to say something “smart” arises.
* * * * *
Russian speakers living in Finland are not a homogeneous group, but one thing unites them strongly: a large number of them regard asylum seekers with a grain of salt.
“I relate to the phenomenon negatively. I think the people coming here do not have the necessary information on how people live here. They are trying to come here with their own traditions and customs, and at the moment this hinders their adaptation,” say Gleb Ulanov, who lives in Helsinki.
[. . .]
Despite the fact that the Russians themselves are immigrants, they do not want to compare themselves to the people now arriving from the Middle East. Russian speakers are of the view that they do not have similar adaptation problems.
“The biggest difference is the mentality. Most Russian speakers adapt,find work, and respect Finnish customs and celebrations. In my experience, only a small minority of people from the east does this. They prefer to form their own communities,” says Grigory Berkinfand, who lives in Helsinki.
[. . .]
Many Russian speakers fear that Finns have a naive attitude toward the asylum seekers, and do not properly distinguish those who are genuinely in need of protection.
Just like Finns, Russians are primarily concerned about safety. Many say that traditionally peaceful Finland is changing at a rapid pace.
Gleb Ulanov, who in Soviet times lived for about a year in the Caucasus, is of the opinion that merely integrating the refugees is not enough. In addition to telling the asylum seekers about Finnish customs and laws, Finns should also tell the refugees about culture and how they should behave around them.
[. . .]
Even a man from Russian Karelia who is living in a reception center and applying for political asylum questions the motives for coming to Finland of many of the people living with him. The man wished to remain anonymous.
“I can see what is happening here. They do not appreciate either the local culture or the help they receive. The majority are of the opinion that the Finns are obliged to help them. Many of them say that one can live here without working, and everything is given free of charge. They are quarrelsome if they notice they have not been given something and they complain about conditions. For example, I am really satisfied with everything here. Ihave not received such a warm reception in my own country,” he said.
AntiNote: Hafsa Sabr is a vital presence at the enormous, improvised, and barely survivable camp in Dunkirk, northern France. She has been instrumental both in coordinating with independent aid and solidarity organizations operating in the camp as well as in insurgent media work, filming conditions in camp and reporting day-to-day on activities and incidents there.
The following could be a model script for the dystopian road-trip movie of the future. Its hopeful, tragic anger not only fits the Antidote vibe, but it also reveals much about revered institutions and the real effects their often arbitrary decisions have on people. We have edited it lightly for clarity, and thank Hafsa for her kind permission to print it.
Geneva or Bust
23 January 2016
by Hafsa Sabr
We need to talk. Everyone asked us what we did in Switzerland. This is our answer.
One week ago we heard that the UN would make an urgent conference in Switzerland: A journalist from New York came with her team to film the miserable conditions in the camp. She also made interviews. Her video was supposed to be shown during the UN meeting!
At this moment we all thought that the UN could change the world, and would make huge decisions about the camps of Dunkirk and Calais.
On Tuesday morning we (Sarhang, Besh and I) prepared ourselves to go to Paris. We were in a hurry and positively excited, thinking about what we were going to say.
We had an invitation from the UN, and that’s right: Sarhang and Besh are refugees and they don’t have any passport or ID card, but according to international laws on humans rights after 1948, everyone is free to travel anywhere.
Anyway, in Paris we met the journalist, Dina. She organized the way to participate in the conference (the open forum “Immigration to Integration”) and talk, mainly about the jungle in Dunkirk and the more than three thousand refugees there—men, women and children, and babies of course.
In the train station the French police surrounded Sarhang and Besh. They said they could be potential terrorists! I told the police guy that the refugees ran away from ISIS; how can they be terrorists? After ten minutes of negotiations they let us go to take the train.
While we were in the train, the journalist told us that the UN warned the police! Because Sarhang and Besh don’t have any papers! And if they enter Swiss territory, some people who invited us will be fired from the their jobs. This is the UN.
We wanted to go back home! The UN canceled our invitation!
When we crossed the border from France into Switzerland, at the first train station the border police stopped us. They were looking for us! They put us in jail for almost six hours! We were interrogated! And one guy from the police told me, “I’m sorry, what I’m going to say might hurt you, but we received the order to focus on Arab people. We don’t distinguish between Kurdish or Amazigh.”
After a few hours they asked for a lot of money from us. They wanted 170 euros. Sarhang and Besh could not afford it, so they let them off it. We even showed them the paper of invitation, but they didn’t care…After that, they told us we were all free. On our way to the last train to go back to France, a woman and a man from the police team stopped me once again and told me to stay here, and to pay 480 euros in taxes!
Sarhang and Besh told the lady they would not go back to France without me. I warned the two police that I would not give one euro to them because this money in my wallet was not mine! This money was for the refugees! And in my religion it’s called amana, which means a trust! I was upset and crying. The police man was kind. He told us, “I know that, but it’s my boss’s orders…otherwise I’m so sorry for what’s happened to you.” We were disappointed about everything, and we went back to the police office.
I will stop here and go back to history, to the 1880s when the people of southern Europe ran away because of inequality and the dictatorial law of rich people. Many people sacrificed to get to a life with rights and safety. In 1908 the same thing happened in Europe with African people.
And now in 2016, in a period of modernity and technology: in power and politics, no one cares about people who fled because of war, even Kurdish people who are fighting ISIS.
Dina was in contact with UN staff to find a way to get us free of the Swiss border police. But after another five hours they fingerprinted Sarhang and Besh. Then the police started shouting among each other. And then they let us go. We were FREE. El hamdullilah.
We thanked the one kind policeman, he had tears in his eyes.
We returned by bus to Mulhouse, and we slept there; the day after, we took a train to Paris and from Paris to Dunkirk. We were “home.”
We had spent a lot of the money that the refugees raised to help Sarhang and Besh join the conference. But it’s the UN: everyone in the jungle was waiting for great news from Sarhang and Besh. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything to say.
They had a last hope with the UN.
Just think about it: the UN made a conference about refugees in Dunkirk and Calais, but they didn’t let one refugee come to represent them.
Shame on them.
They called the cops! The UN.
I give up on humanity.
Please share this post as much as possible.
Sarhang, Besh and Hafsa
* * * * *
The Russian Reader has strayed fairly far from its usual beat here, seemingly, but in fact I have been covering as well as I possibly can not only the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants and migrant workers in Russia itself (including Syrian refugees) but also attitudes towards Europe’s refugee crisis in the Russophone world. I thank Ed Sutton for permission to repost Hafsa Sabr’s story on my website. You should think about reposting it wherever you can, too. It does not amount to much, it’s true, but it is one tiny way to show your solidarity with people like Sarhang and Besh.
In Russia, two distinct, completely dissimilar peoples live side by side, and these peoples have long been bitterly hostile towards each other. (May the Byzantine double-headed eagle that Ivan the Third selected as the country’s emblem go to hell in a hand basket.)
There is Us and there is Them.
We have our own heroes: Chekhov, Mandelstam, Pasternak, and Sakharov.
They have their own heroes: Ivan the Terrible, Stalin, Dzerzhinsky, and now Putin.
Members of the two nations recognize each other at first glance and experience a pang of acute dislike that selfsame second. We do not like anything about Them: the way They look, talk, carry themselves, rejoice and grieve, dress and undress. Their favorite singers, films, and TV shows make us sick. They pay Us in kind, and with interest.
Apart from Us and Them, there are just plain folk, who make up the majority of the population. We and They are constantly trying to win over this neither-fish-nor-fowl, to introduce them to our values.
What do you think should be done with this reality? Should we kill each other?
While there seems to be a fair amount of self-irony, in the comments, above, by the famed Russian detective novel writer Boris Akunin, I cannot help laughing when I read such exercises in self-praise by the so-called Russian intelligentsia and, at the same time, recall something that happened to me several years ago when I was running a summer study program in Petrograd for an American university.
Our students lived with Russian host families, and fitting student to host family was not always a snap, but it was mostly doable. That particular summer, however, more students had signed up for the program than ever before, and our limited resources were stretched thin. So I was taking recommendations from whomever I could get them, rather than relying only on the list of potential host families provided by our partners at the state university here in town.
That is how found myself visiting a couple in their flat somewhere in the city’s Central District. It was in a Stalin-era building, but the couple proudly informed me right away that Oleg Basilashvili, a well-known screen and stage actor and liberal intelligentsia icon, was a neighbor. They, too, were members of the creative intelligentsia. One of them was a theater critic, while the other had something to do with the Conservatory, I seem to remember.
The point, as I had already told them over the phone, was that I had one student left to place with a family, a male student. They, it transpired, had a teenage daughter. Would it be a problem for them to have a male student living in the same flat as their daughter? No, it would not be a problem, they told me.
Given the reputation of the university I was representing, they might have imagined I would be setting them up with a blond scion of a New England old money, so if their daughter was whisked off her feet over the summer or merely made useful connections in high places, what could be the harm?
As we were wrapping our conversation at their flat, having ironed out almost all the practical details, the couple thought to ask me what the young man’s name was.
“Diego,” I said.
My answer literally sent their eyes spinning in circles and smoke shooting from their ears. All it took was the “wrong” name for them to imagine a summer of their daughter basking in the glow of old American money with a patina of academic respectability turning into the constant threat of rape and ravishment at the hands of a “hot-blooded Latino.”
And they told me that in so many words, all the while denying that they were what they were—racists.
The funny thing was that Diego was gay in every sense of the word: fun to be around, a kind, sweet-hearted young man, and no “threat” to their precious daughter. But since Oleg Basilashvili’s neighbors had already outed themselves as racists, I did not want to hang around and find out whether they were homophobes as well.
I was more naïve than I am now. Although I had already had many encounters with “casual” racism and anti-Semitism Russian style, Petrograd had not yet arrived at the bad part of its mid noughties, when more proactive racists than my intelligentsia couple would ever want to be began assaulting and murdering immigrants, foreigners, anti-fascists, and members of Russian ethnic minorities in especially large numbers.
But I was not naïve enough to try and plead Diego’s case to these assholes. I immediately left their precious den of culture-vulturehood and hit the streets, cursing them out loud while also trying to think of a back-up plan.
That it is when I thought of our long-time acquaintance F.A., who had nannied the young son of a friend for years, and even had cooked for our family for a short while when we were in a bad spot. By no means was F.A. a member of the ballyhooed intelligentsia, which was not to say that she was uneducated or crude or anything but kind, loving, funny, smart, warm, and one of the best cooks I have ever met in my life. Besides that, she had worked in a factory her whole life, doing quality control, and she was Jewish.
When I telephoned her and told her what the deal was, she did not hesitate a second to welcome Diego into her home.
Needless to say, Diego and F.A. hit it off and had a great time in each other’s company that summer.
So when, a while later, I was asked to find temporary summer accommodation in Petrograd for another young gay Latino man, I could think of no better hostess than F.A. They also hit it off famously.
This is my roundabout way of saying something that has only been confirmed ten thousand times since by experiences both personal and vicarious: the liberal Russian intelligentsia is not all it is cracked up to be. It is often not particularly liberal or progressive, and is just as likely to be as Putinist or more Putinist than Putin’s mythical alleged “base” among industrial workers and peasants in the “Russian heartlands” or the “simple folk” in the big cities. If anything, my own experience has been that, on the contrary, these simple folk are not so simple and not so automatically inclined to putinize the world around them, much less racialize it.
There are just as many bigots and racists among the “Russian liberal intelligentsia” as there are among the Russian lower classes, maybe more.
Whatever the case, the fact that many Russian liberals have loose reactionary, racist screws in their brains has become apparent from the rabid reactionary discourse that has sprung up within Russia’s talking, thinking, and writing classes around the “refugee crisis” in Europe and the fresh clashes between Israelis and Palestinians..
Yegor Osipov and Kirill Kobrin’s attempts, below, to counter this utterly irrational discourse might seem mild outside of this context, but they are welcome contributions to a debate that it is most remarkable for its near-total absence from Russian public life.
October 21, 2015 Radio Svoboda
“Maybe Israel does not behave perfectly in the Occupied Territories, but this is no justification for terrorism.” This comment on Facebook is nearly the most moderate gesture of support for Israel in connection with the new wave of Palestinian terrorism. Despite the fact that nothing justifies terrorism, the situation requires clarification.
Unfortunately, Russian commentators often forget the fact that Israel occupies around 60% of the West Bank and has been building settlements there for its own citizens. (Despite the fact that the Oslo Accords stipulated this state of affairs was only temporary.) They forget the Jewish settlements are built so as to significantly impede the movement of Palestinians between their towns and prevent the expansion of these towns. They forget that between 2000 and 2012 Israel demolished over two and a half thousand Palestinian buildings, buildings for which it, as the occupying power, had not issued construction permits. They forget that Israel restricts the access of tens of thousands of Palestinians to water, forcing them to pay much more for it than Jewish settlers living nearby. They forget that the IDF keeps troops in the West Bank who are engaged only in maintaining the occupation: a noise grenade there, a noise grenade here, searches of houses (women to the right, men to the left), and so on every other night. This tactic is called “mak[ing] our presence felt,” and sometimes it leads to innocent victims. Without knowing this, you might think that Israel and the West Bank were different planets, but in fact both political entities depend on each other. The West Bank depends on virtually everything that happens in Israel, while Israel (and this becomes clear during waves of terror) depends on the social climate in the West Bank.
The situation with the Gaza Strip, about which Russians also do not know very much, is quite different. In 2005, after the withdrawal of Israeli settlements and military personnel, the Gaza Strip was declared territory to which Israel had no obligations because it had “ended the occupation,” although it continued to implement land, sea, and air control of the Strip. After Hamas came to power and began rocket attacks on the southern part of the Jewish state, Israel proclaimed the Strip a “hostile entity” and established a blockade of the area along with Egypt, essentially locking around 1,800,000 people in an open-air prison.
In July 2014, in response to the murder of three Jewish teenagers by Palestinian terrorists, Israel launched an operation in the Gaza Strip, killing more than 2,200 people. Last summer, Jewish terrorists tossed Molotov cocktails at an Arab house, burning alive three members of the family who lived there, including an 18-month-old baby. Israel has yet to indict the terrorists. Some people manage to include this in the “Jewish people’s struggle for survival.” I think it only plays into the hands of anti-Semites the world over. But anti-Semitism, according to a newly released US State Department report on levels of religious freedom in the world, is once again on the rise, and the bias of the UN Security Council and the world’s leading media in favor of Palestine [sic] has not gone away.
Whether Israel will cope with the current wave of terror is a big question, because what is happening is not an intifada, which involves the coordination of armed protest. Today, we are seeing one-off attacks by ordinary Palestinians in no way linked to terrorist organizations. This is desperation after nearly half a century of occupation and the continuing colonization of Palestinian lands by Israelis. Last Friday, Benjamin Netanyahu, who during the recent elections declared there would be no Palestinian state on his watch, urged Mahmud Abbas to negotiate. But it is very likely that, as Israel’s main partner (just compare Abbas and Arafat), Abbas will be unable to help calm the situation. According to reports by Israel’s security services, the leader of the Palestinian Authority has been trying to resist the current wave of violence as it is. All this only shows that the situation is critical.
However, for the Russian intelligentsia, Israel continues to be a place it prefers to discuss with eyes wide shut and using generalizations like the “clash of civilizations.” Divided, like Europe, over the issue of taking in refugees, when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Russian intellectuals, with few exceptions, adopt an uncompromising pro-Israeli stance. Reposts of videos from Israeli hospitals showing “ungrateful” Arabs are accompanied by captions such as “Watch this!” or “Read this!” Others post pictures of the Israeli flag emblazoned with the slogan “Yes! I stand with Israel! Share if you do, too!”
The rising wave of support for Israel points to the Orientalist bent of Russian minds, with the classic traits of Orientalism. The eastern, Arab world of Islam is incapable, allegedly, of solving its own problems. This world must always be guided by an “intelligent” West, a role that is often assigned to Israel, because Arabs are fundamentally incapable of changing themselves and their societies. The great Edward Said writes in the preface to Mourid Barghouti’s book I Saw Ramallah that the novel’s translator has done her job excellently, and in the English translation “[t]he Palestinian experience is therefore humanized and given substance in a new way.” Russian intellectuals, however, are not yet willing to humanize Palestinians. Indeed, what difference does it make that Asraa Zidan Tawfik Abed, who tried to stab a soldier in Afula and was gunned down, is a mother of three who holds a degree from Technion University in Haifa?
It is unclear how the conflict will end. It is clear only that the conflict is likely to be another turning point in Israel’s history, the next step after the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. What can the Russian intelligentsia do if it wants to help Israel deal with these as-yet-unclear new realities? At the very least, it should cease losing its self-control and speaking the language of the “clash of civilizations,” see, finally, what the Palestinian territories are like and how closely bound the West Bank is to Israel, realize the gravity of the situation in the Gaza Strip, and try and work out a positive agenda. In the end, it is this that has not happened the last twenty years. The occupation of and crimes against the Palestinians are, alas, not the problem. The problem is talking about the occupation and crimes of the Jewish state.
In his popular book Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, Yossi Klein Halevi, once a member of the radical fringe of American Jewry, describes the process of his transformation from an ultra-rightist radical to a centrist. When Halevi’s first daughter, Moriah, was born in 1985, he moved all his books about the Holocaust (which had once played a key role in his life as a member of the second generation) onto the upper shelves of his bookcases. He noticed that he put away even books with no pictures. He writes that this was his way of saying to himself these books were no longer the center of his life. Just as Halevi put away books about the Holocaust, the Russian intelligentsia needs to remove the imaginary radio broadcasting news either about the Six-Day War or Yitzhak Rabin’s murder and replace it with two maps: a map of the Middle East and a map of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The old threats to Israel are ever fewer, while we have a hard time imagining the new threats.
Yegor Osipov is a Russian journalist living in the Netherlands.
The Intelligentsia and Racism
October 23, 2015 Current Time
Nationalism was born two hundred years ago. At first, it was the theoretical labor of the early Romantics, poets, folklore compilers, and forgers of nonexistent ancient epics of their own peoples. Only then was it put into practice: amidst the gun and cannon smoke of the Napoleonic epic, in the secret Carbonari societies, on the revolutionary barricades.
In the late nineteenth century, nationalism generated several new nation-states. They became more numerous after 1918, not to mention the post-1945 period.
The process of carving countries up according to ethnicity continued even after 1991. The further disintegration of big countries into small countries, and small countries into tiny countries, was just barely avoided. And yet, until recently it was thought that nationalism in today’s Europe was the bailiwick of football hooligans and political outsiders. However, as recent events have shown, many, many people think in terms of “blood and soil.”
It has transpired that there is no vaccine against nationalism and even racism not only for so-called ordinary people. Wordsmiths, intellectuals, and even liberals chronically suffer from them as well. Russian liberals have proven especially vulnerable, or rather, members of the educated class who consider themselves liberals. We are not engaged in political analysis in this column, but we will look at the ethnic mindset of current Russian liberals as a historic phenomenon.
Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war has excited many people dissatisfied with the Putin regime, even those who resisted the Crimean temptation. For example, one well-known Internet figure, who has somehow passed for a political expert, shook the air with bloodthirsty calls to kill as many Syrians as possible, since they are Arabs and, therefore, enemies.
Whoever bombs Syria today, I very much welcome it, and if it is wiped off the face of the earth I won’t be the least bit disappointed. I will only say thank you.
Many have voiced a slightly more restrained variation on this viewpoint, and one progressive media outlet has published an article that discusses, in particular, the indisputable superiority of Jewish men over Arab men in the sense of devotion to their families and courage. In connection with the influx of Syrian refugees, concern for the purity of European is voiced. The article in question is permeated with hidden and flagrant sexual motifs. The subtitle refers to “Raped Europe,” and in the opening paragraphs the author complains it is unfair that “girls love” starry-eyed defenders of refugees rather than defenders of European values.
Fear and loathing towards an alien tribe (the authors of such texts usually do not distinguish Arabs from Kurds, Kurds from Turks, and so on) and an alien religion, Islam (whose sense and essence they are too lazy to understand) have reached a fever pitch. Like all hysterics, Russian “racialist liberals” have been winding themselves up, and the noise level has been steadily increasing.
We are faced with a typical nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century mindset. Take, for example, the motif of the “raped motherland” (or “native culture”). Motherland and Fatherland had become a “mother” back with the Romantics, and later, Alexander Blok, a Late Romantic congenial to proto-fascist views, even proclaimed Russia his wife.
Oh, my Russia! My wife! Painfully / Clear to us is the long road!
In this scheme of things, any outsider is seen as a threat to the mother’s purity, to her sexual serenity. But war and other hostile (or seemingly hostile) actions are attempted rape. Curiously, the identification also works in reverse. An ordinary woman belonging to “our” people is treated as the Mother, the symbol of the nation.
The further we go into the twentieth century, the clearer the purely ethnic and biological features in the countenance of the Woman/Mother become. She is sexually threatened by telltale-looking strangers: Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda was chockablock with depictions of handsome blonde beauties harassed by swarthy apelike creatures.
For current Russian liberals, the role of the Mother threatened by violence is now played by the whole of Europe. It is strange that these folks so rarely invoke the mythological motif of the rape of Europa, in which the maiden Europa is abducted by Zeus in the shape of a bull, who spirits her away—across the Mediterranean!—to Crete, where has his way with her. The discussions of the newfangled national-liberals about the “rape of Europe” naively retell the myth in the most unpretentious racist manner. The “rapist,” “alien” or “suspicious Muslim” crosses the Mediterranean and, once in Europe, rapes her, meaning he bends her to his will. Just imagine that not so long it was said that classic Freudianism and Jungianism were half-forgotten things of the past. But now it turns out that all these things (combined with Social Darwinism and racial theory about the “inferiority” of certain nations) are alive and dominant in the minds of people, moreover, the minds of people whose job it is to reflect on things and generate meaning.
You can, of course, seek out the historical parallels, for example, the steady rightward drift of the liberal segment of the first Russian emigration or the fascist sympathies of such champions of freedom and justice as G.K. Chesterton. But all historical analogies obscure the essence of the matter. And the essence of the matter is this. Suffocating nationalism, moreover, on both sides of the current Putinist divide, is the principal legacy of seventy years of Soviet rule. While preaching internationalism, the communist ideology and the communist regime were weaker than the primitive xenophobia and fear of outsiders that permeated the minds of the Soviet intelligentsia. The collapse of ideology has brought these sentiments to the fore. Aside from everything else, another thing has become clear. The Russian intelligentsia, which considers itself liberal, knows no more about the world than their predecessors from some Turgenev novel.
By the way, have you heard there was a decisive battle on the Danube? Three hundred Turkish officers killed, Silistra has been taken, and Serbia has declared its independence. Don’t you think that you, as a patriot, should be thrilled? As for me, my Slavic blood is just boiling! However, I advise you to be more cautious. I am sure you are being watched. The spying here is horrible! Yesterday, a suspicious person came up to me and asked whether I was Russian. I told him I was Danish.
—Ivan Turgenev, On the Eve
Everything was clear then: we were fighting for our “fellow Slavs” and wishing death on the “bloodthirsty Muslims.” The only difference is that today the names of the people we should be protecting from the villains are very different. We are witnessing a cynical pathetic remake of the novel On the Eve.
Kirill Kobrin is a writer, historian, journalist, and editor living in London.
The texts by Boris Akunin, Yegor Osipov, and Kirill Kobrin were translated by the Russian Reader.
That hoax was especially popular among folks who a) did not have the slightest clue about anything Australian, and/or b) did not read English and could not (or, rather, would not) do the elementary double-checking that would have shown the whole “news story” to have been a crude hoax.
Mostly, though, they just wanted to BELIEVE that somewhere out there in the big white world there was someone as Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, and racist as they were, but endowed with real political power to implement or, at least, shamelessly voice his or her racist views. (“Her,” because John Howard, Kevin Rudd AND Julia Gillard took it in turns as the particular “Australian prime minister” attached to this Islamophobic libel as they succeeded each other in Canberra.)
As with the classic “Australian PM/Muslims Out” viral canard, many of the “facts” and “news items” traded like playing cards among the Russian grassroots via social media have been spun from whole cloth, to wit:
Голос России September 9 Шотландия сделала громкое заявление по России: у Евросоюза нет другого выхода, миграционная ситуация на пределе. Глава правительства Шотландии Никола Стерджен выступила с заявлением о необходимости привлечения Российской Федерации к разрешению миграционного кризиса в Европе.
Voice of Russia September 9 Scotland has made a sensational statement concerning Russia: the EU has no choice, the migration situation is at the breaking point. Head of the Scottish government Nicola Sturgeon made a statement on the need to involve the Russian Federation in resolving the migration crisis in Europe.
Try and find any corroboration of Scottish First Minister Sturgeon’s “statement” about the need for Russian involvement in the fact-based world.
All I could find that was remotely related was this item in The Guardian, about Sturgeon’s alleged willingness to welcome Syrian refugees into her own home.
There is no mention of Russia in this article, of course.
Now a comrade has just informed me that the “Australia PM” canard was cited on Rossiya 1’s Special Correspondent TV program last night as if it were a real, historical, factual, true fact. (The reference is made by the notorious Natalia Narochitskaya between the six- and seven-minute mark of the program.)
This is not very surprising, sadly. It is a perfect illustration of how the Russian mainstream media have pushed off into a parallel universe of their own devising with lots of encouragement, alas, from large swathes of the county’s grassroots.
The Refugees and the “Death of Europe”
September 5, 2015 www.nihilist.li
This summer we went to Latvia on our way to Russia.
During the week we were waiting for visas, a lot of things happened along the lines of “they have completely broken away from the collective and become remote from their people.” But the main shock for me was a one-off attempt at reading the latest Russian-language press. The quotas of refugees for Latvia were being discussed just then, along with the great reluctance to take in these same refugees. I scanned several newspapers. They all wrote about the “nightmare brewing in Europe” in a tone of aggressive and malicious ignorance that I found quite unfamiliar. I really had the feeling I had opened a neo-Nazi website. The only difference was the gloating at the Latvians, who had discriminated against “us,” the good guys, and now were going end up with “them,” those awful people. At first, I decided something had changed over the years, and then I realized it was I who had changed. I tried to remember how things had been before and realized these newspapers had always written in a similar tone. It was just I used to think this was normal. I had even considered the Russian-language press internationalistically minded in comparison with the already quite right-wing Latvian press.
As long as I can remember, Europe has been dying. This has not been an article of faith, but a fact of reality. The sky is blue. Water is wet. Europe is dying of multiculturalism and political correctness. It would now be interesting to trace the origins of this ironclad certainty. Maybe it was the death of a huge country, which we experienced in the early nineties. Maybe it was ordinary ressentiment. We grew up in the ruins of one empire and maliciously anticipated another empire’s fall. I was not a racist, quite the contrary. But I had almost no doubts that a Munich caliphate would soon be fighting a Bavarian Kurdistan.
My first two trips to England were basically tourist trips. I brought back a huge number of impressions. But the main impression was that the country I saw did not look as if it were dying. Even in Birmingham, densely populated by immigrants, there was no sense of catastrophe. It gave me pause for thought for the first time.
Then there was my own emigration. It was economic emigration, triggered by the 2009 crisis, which took on the proportions of a natural economic disaster in Latgale, where I lived. It was one of the most difficult years of my life, probably the most difficult. And the experience of looking for work in a foreign country with my money quickly running out has forever changed my views. We lived for a month in Sheffield’s “colored” neighborhood and quickly learned to visually distinguish the various African and Asian ethnic groups. However, it is generally difficult to confuse Nigerians with Somalis, not to mention Ethiopians with Kenyans. We socialized with people at the very bottom. We even worked for a week at the very bottom, in a greenhouse growing flowers. It was a terrible experience. After that I could no longer look the same way at people who, just like me, were struggling to make it in a foreign country from scratch, but with no EU passport in their pocket and different skin color to boot. Of course, my experience is not equivalent to the experience of all Eastern European immigrants. For many of us, living in a multicultural country has only heightened our aggression and hatred towards “others.” But this is usually caused by the inability to examine our fears and ourselves calmly.
The 2011 London riots were probably the finishing touch. Reading the English press and Russian bloggers in parallel, I discovered that Russia, both official Russia and completely “oppositional” Russia, exists in an information space of its own, cut off from all unusual information. The tussle, launched by Jamaican gangs (whose people have been in Britain for at least three generations) and embraced by lower-class white youth, was transformed, in Russian popular consciousness, into an uprising by Muslim immigrants. It was then it first dawned on me that if I had still been within the purely Russian-language information space, I probably would have written such nonsense as well. Until recently, I would have seen this news as confirmation of my view of the world.
An objectively serious refugee crisis is underway in Europe. Something similar happened in the 1930s, during the wonderful Évian Conference, at which only the Dominican Republic acted humanely. All the other countries reported they had no more room. European Jews did not excite the most pleasant feelings among respectable burghers back then, so they had every reason not to increase the quotas for them. The beginning of the Final Solution was only three years away. Now people are fleeing from a place where a wonderful quasi-state quite capable of organizing a small genocide has sprung up. Part of Europe is once again saying there is no room. In the forefront are my dear Latvia and the Eastern European republics generally. Over on the sidelines, licking its chops and brandishing a giant walking stick, is old lady Russia, which was no less dear to me once upon a time. Moreover, it has been closing its borders to former subjects of its beloved Assad. But I don’t want to write about Russia. It is too unpleasant a topic.
I want to write about something else. I will never forget my own immigration experience, which was relatively soft core given that I had a EU passport. I will never forget the people, of various nationalities, who helped us that year. And I will also never forget the right-wing English “journalists” who were generating propaganda against us the whole time. They are Europeans, too, but Fortress Europe is not the Europe of which I am a citizen, a citizenship of which I am even beginning to be proud, despite the fact that initially I strongly opposed the EU.
So as a EU citizen and UK resident I personally signed a petition demanding an increase in the quotas for refugees. If I have to take to the streets to support this idea, I will do it. And I will personally greet the first families brought to our city and hand them flowers. Our island is small and overcrowded, but for their sake we will make room.
As a Latvian citizen I am seriously thinking about launching a similar petition to the Latvian government. This embittered rightwing marsh will not be able to hide from reality for long anyway.
You are burying Europe too soon.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy ofThe Gampr