Anything Goes

DSCN6137A monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, in central Petersburg, 6 May 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for sixty-six days.

Can you imagine not eating for sixty-sixty days? I can’t.

Instead of supporting Mr. Sentsov, most of the world decided to turn its back on him by staying glued to their TV sets during Vladimir Putin’s expensive celebration of his despotic regime’s extraordinary ability to pull the wool over nearly everyone’s eyes.

Certainly he didn’t get any pushback yesterday from the putative “leader of the free world,” who is a vain, spineless traitor who has probably never heard of Oleg Sentsov.

Solidarity with Oleg Sentsov doesn’t mean you have to stop eating, too, but it should mean not having your cake and eating it, too.

The World Cup was cake. Nobody can live for a month on a diet of cake without getting sick. The world has just done it, and now, at least as I see it, the world is a lot sicker than before the World Cup.

When infants are baptized in the Lutheran church, the priest asks the godparents and parents whether they “renouce the Devil and all his ways.”

Putin is a devil. You cannot embrace some of his ways while denouncing others. You either take the whole package or reject it. If you reject it, you show a little bit of willpower—for the sake of Crimean political prisoners Vladimir Balukh and Oleg Sentsov, for the sake of people bombed by the Russian airforce in Syria, for the sake of persecuted Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, for the sake of Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses, now branded “extremists” and subject to increasingly numerous arrests, for the sake of the innocent young people framed in the New Greatness and Network “terrorist” cases, for the sake of ordinary Russians everywhere fighting the government’s plans to drastically raise the pension age—and you don’t have anything to do with the World Cup or anything else sponsored, promoted, and supported by the current Russian regime.

The sheer number of people, including my own acquaintances, who could not bear to show solidarity with any of these people at all, if only for one month, has shocked me.

Please don’t pretend now that you’re really opposed to the Putin regime. You’ve shown your true colors.

Anything goes, right? || TRR

ЗОЖ (“Civic Activists” Assault and Detain Theater.Doc Members in Moscow)

zozh-1-sairon-ruThe newfangled promotion of ЗОЖ (a Russian acronym for “a healthy lifestyle”) has clear neofascist overtones in post-communist Russia. Image courtesy of Sairon.ru

Ten Theater.Doc Company Member Detained in Moscow
Anastasia Torop
Novaya Gazeta
July 5, 2018

Ten Theater.Doc employees have been detained on Chistoprudny Boulevard, actress Maria Chuprinskaya has informed our newspaper.

She said that, after a performance of the production Adults on the Outside, the actors had set off for the Chistye Prudy subway station and had stopped on the boulevard, when they were approached by a police officer and five men in plain clothes who introduced themselves as “civic activists.” They claimed the theater troupe was drinking alcoholic beverages.

“They said they were in favor of HLS [ЗОЖ, in Russian, an acronym for “a healthy lifestyle” promoted as a crypto-fascist post-Soviet cult] and were ready to testify to any of our crimes. Then they showed me, Lena Nosova, and Alisa Safina photos, from our Facebook pages, relating to Oleg Sentsov on their telephones. They knew our names and surnames, although we had not show them any IDs,” said Chuprinskya.

She added that when actress Tatyana Demidova was detained, one of the men punched her in the stomach.

Then a paddy wagon arrived, and ten members of the company were taken to the Basmanny District Police Station. According to Chuprinskya, Demidova stayed behind on the boulevard with three of the so-called civic activists.

On June 18, Chuprinskaya, Theater.Doc actor Grigory Gandlevsky, artist Alisa Safina, and activist Natalya Savoskina were detained in downtown Moscow for handing out leaflets, printed in English and Spanish, supporting Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.

[…]

UPDATE
OVD Info reports the Theater.Doc employees have begun to be released from the Basmanny District Police Station. Theater member Irina Vekshina writes that actress Tatyana Demidova, who was punched in the stomach, has made her way home.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Askold Kurov for the heads-up.

Given that Putin’s machinery of repression has literally not let up for a second while the World Cup has been on, I would like to voice my personal shame that I know people who have not heeded the numerous calls by me and other, smarter people with a clearer, longer view of the Putinist police state to avoid the World Cup like the plague. This would have meant not writing about it on Facebook, not watching it on TV, having nothing to do with it whatsoever. I imagined this was not such a huge thing to ask of people who preach progressive politics and claim to practice international solidarity. I was completely wrong. Instead, foreign fans and reporters alike have been fooled by the unsurprising fact that the Russian police state has not targeted them during the World Cup, and that businesses that stand to make money off their presence in the country have welcomed them with open arms. As if any reasonable person would have expected anything else on this minor score, which means nothing in terms of the bigger picture: i.e., what is life in Russia like for Russians themselves, especially Russians not approved by the Putin regime—gays and lesbians, migrant workers, grassroots activists, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, independent trade unionists, independent activist truckers, small activist farmers from Krasnodar Territory, environmentalists, antifascists, anarchists, dissident bloggers, “foreign agents” (i.e., NGOs not approved by the Kremlin), Ukrainian political prisoners, torture victims, alternative theater directors and actors, and on and on and on. By plugging into World Cup “madness,” you have given the Putin regime a massive shot of self-confidence and swagger. You have sent a loud message to all the groups of “bad” Russians I have listed here that they can take a long walk off a short pier as far as the wider world is concerned. After the World Cup has ended in ten days, things will continue to degenerate under Putin’s misrule. But you will have missed your chance to put a sizable, palpable roadblock in front of an extraordinarily aggressive, mean-spirited, thuggish regime that cannot abide opposition of any kind. // TRR

Where Did You Go? (Day 44)

44th day“The forty-fourth day of Sentsov’s hunger strike.” Post on filmmaker Askold Kurov’s Facebook page

Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has completed the forty-third day of his hunger strike. His only demand is that Russian authorities release the other Russian political prisoners they have imprisoned during their illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Unfortunately, I have the growing sense that even the most progressive Russians, whatever that means, are so impressed by the nonstop international football party that has been unleashed on the streets of their major cities that they are less and less able to focus on what matters in the near term (the government’s plan to raise the retirement age, the pending retrial of Yuri Dmitriev, the mind-bending Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, Sentsov’s hunger strike, six more years of pitch-black Putinist reaction). They behave and talk like people who have richly earned a celebration.

In the grand scheme of things, none of us deserve a celebration. We are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and we deserve to be crushed.

Viewing our fallen world more realistically, however, we probably do need to give ourselves a break, no matter how dire the circumstances, every once in a while, but only after we have done our work, especially the collective grassroots work that keeps our societies from slipping over the edge into the abyss of lawlessness, reaction, and fascism.

With few exceptions, Russia’s hyper-educated populace, however, checked out of hands-on politics long ago. They are literally the most holiday-prone bunch I have ever encountered in the world. Nearly everyone I know is endlessly on vacation, on the road, not at home, checked out, off the radar in internal exile, you name it.

This was my roundabout way of saying the truly heroic Mr. Sentsov’s chances do not look good. // TRR

* * * * * * * * * *

Many of my western leftist friends have been having a field day with the White Pride House’s disgusting treatment of immigrant families and children from Latin America, as they should be.

But when it comes to the Kremlin’s disgusting treatment of nearly everyone under its own black hole sun, from Oleg Sentsov and the alleged Penza-Petersburg “terrorists” to Yuri Dmitriev and Oyub Titiev, mum has been word among western leftists.

This is not to mention the Kremlin’s escapades in Syria and Ukraine, the wretched treatment of migrant workers from Central Asia in Russia itself, or the fact Russia is basically off limits to the refugees and asylum seekers whom, in some cases, it has helped to generate, as in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia has been witness a slow but noticeable exodus of its own asylum seekers and more quiet exiles, including dozens if not hundreds of political activists, and thousands of LGBT people, now that the country has been officially and virulently homophobic for several years.

None of this gets even so much as a look-in from most of my western leftist friends, who, at best, are happy to have me rattle on about these things ad nauseam, but probably think I have been lying or exaggerating these past ten years.

In any case, nothing the Kremlin ever does figures in either their political activism or political thinking (except in complaints about “anti-Russian hysteria” in their local mass media). They are loath to show solidarity with grassroots Russian activists, even Russians in serious trouble like the young antifascists implicated in the total frame-up known as The Network Case.

No, the wroth of western leftists is always and only reserved for the Great Satan, the cause of all evil in the world, the country that invented imperialism, racism, capitalism, nepotism, and daltonism, the United States of America.

Why they should be so implicitly sympathetic to the hyper-reactionary, neo-imperialist, homophobic, anti-working class, rampantly state capitalist, kleptocratic, illiberal, anti-intellectual, wildly corrupt nationalist and racist regime in Russia is beyond my powers to comprehend.

But their silence speaks louder than their words, as does their pointed failure, when it comes to people I know personally, to engage meaningfully with all the things I have written and translated over the last ten years.

This is especially palpable now the World Cup is underway. Even politically engaged liberals among my acquaintances have obviously given the Russian regime a free pass for the month.

Actually, they have been giving it a free pass since 1999, but I won’t mention discuss this long, ugly story now.

What I meant to say was that Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov is dying, and the western left pointedly has nothing to say about why he is in “jail” (as the Moscow Times quaintly puts it, although he is actually incarcerated in a maximum security penal colony north of the Arctic Circle) and why he was sent there for twenty years.

It is pathetic. It is also part of the reason why “the masses” generally trust the western left about as far as they can throw it. Because just like Donald Trump and Theresa May, there are species of despotism, tyranny, and even genocide the western left really quite fancies or, at least, can countenance in the name of “anti-imperialism.”

To put it bluntly, I am afraid the western left would rather Oleg Sentsov and his ilk just crawled under a rock and died. They only muddy what should be a crystal-clear view of “geopolitics.” // TRR