Question 5

Four and half years ago, I had to renew my Russian permanent residence permit. The procedure had changed considerably since the last time I’d applied for the permit. Among the changes were two written exams that applicants were now required to pass — a Russian language exam and a Russian civics exam. I decided to study for them by doing practice exams that I found online. One of the civics question was “Question 5,” screenshotted above. It’s a multiple choice question. The examinee must decide whether the “RF” (the Russian Federation) is a) a totalitarian state, b) an authoritarian state, c) a hybrid state, or d) a democratic state. To be honest, I no longer remember whether this particular question came up in the actual exam, which I passed with flying colors. But I thought that you, my readers, might find it productive to ponder this question while reading the following three items, ripped straight from this week’s headlines in the Russian media. At the end of this post, you’ll see what the “right” answer was (in 2018, at least) and the answer I tried to give when taking the online practice quiz. ||| TRR


The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation has identified 17 priority topics for state financial support of film production in 2023.

The procedure and conditions for selection competitions in 2023 will be announced at the end of December 2022.

“We publish a list of topics before the start of competitions for financing production, hoping that filmmakers will take into account the priorities of state support for film production when developing projects. The Ministry of Culture continues to support such important topics for society as the protection of family values, patriotic education, preservation of the traditions of Russia’s regions, the success of domestic science, and popularization of the professions of engineer and teacher. Given modern realities, we consider it necessary to focus as well on countering attempts to falsify history and modern manifestations of the ideology of Nazism, to talk about the heroism and dedication of Russian soldiers during the special operation and the work of front-line brigades and volunteers,” said Olga Lyubimova, Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation.

Some priority topics have been established pursuant to the Decrees of the President of the Russian Federation: “On the Approval of the Foundations of State Policy for the Preservation and Strengthening of Traditional Russian Spiritual and Moral Values,” dated 09.11.2022, No. 809; “On the Announcement of the Decade of Childhood in the Russian Federation,” dated 29.05.2017, No. 240; “On the Announcement of the Decade of Science and Technology in the Russian Federation,” dated 25.04.2022, No. 231; and “On Holding the Year of the Teacher and Mentor in the Russian Federation,” dated 27.06.2022, No. 401.

The list of priority topics includes:

1. Russia’s culture. The preservation, creation and dissemination of traditional values.

2. The decade of childhood. Families and children, their protection and support.

3. Russian science: innovations, technologies, priorities.

4. Historical cinema. History lessons, memory lessons. Countering attempts to falsify history. Russia’s peacekeeping mission of Russia. Russia’s historical victories. The eightieth anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The Soviet soldier’s mission of liberation Generational conflict, generational continuity.

5. Russia as a modern, stable and secure state that provides opportunities for growth and self-realization.

6. The heroes among us. Stories of modern Russia’s outstanding individuals. Popularizing the teaching profession. School and college as important stages in social adaptation and personal orientation. The role of teachers and mentors in shaping the individual.

7. Motivating young people to master manual trades and engineering jobs. Improving the social status of the manual worker and the engineer, of research and innovation.

8. Film chronicle. The current state, culture and traditions of Russia’s regions. Development of the Far East and the Arctic. The life of small towns and villages, life in the provinces. Little Russia as a historical region of Russia.

9. Adaptations of works of Russian classical literature, including with the use of animation.

10. Films about outstanding figures in history, culture, science and sports. Popularizing the medical profession. Films about sporting achievements and victories.

11. Countering modern manifestations of the ideology of Nazism and fascism. Popularizing heroism and the dedication of Russian soldiers during the special military operation.

12. Popularizing service in the Russian Armed Forces of Russia. Society’s unanimous support of the army (front-line brigades and volunteers). Strengthening the status of the military profession as based on historical events and recent history.

13. The spiritual, moral and patriotic education of Russian citizens. Countering extremism. Images and models of behavior and creative motivation for modern youth. Spiritual leaders. The volunteer movement in Russia and the CIS countries as an international popularization of volunteerism.

14. The neocolonial policy of the Anglo-Saxon world. The degradation of Europe. The formation of a multipolar world.

15. Society without borders: the self-realization of people with disabilities. Volunteering in Russia. Active longevity.

16. Films about teenagers. Formation of values in life and guidelines while growing up. Disorientation in public space, information overload, forming one’s own way of thinking.

17. Modern society. Moral and ethical choice. Civic engagement. Social unity.

Source: “The Ministry of Culture of Russia has identified priority topics for state support of film production in 2023,” Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, 30 November 2022. Thanks to Radio Svoboda for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader


At a secondary school in the Leningrad Region, the Agalatovo Education Center, students were quizzed about racism, Russophobia and the emotions provoked by songs about the Motherland. A photo of the questionnaire, entitled “Patriot and Citizen,” was sent to Rotunda by the parents of one of the schoolchildren. Here are some of statements the children had to evaluate by answering “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.”

🇷🇺 Those who criticize what is happening in the country cannot be considered real patriots.
🇷🇺 I owe a lot to my country.
🇷🇺 Sometimes I get very excited when I hear songs about my Motherland.
🇷🇺 We are a strong military power, and that is why we should be respected.
🇷🇺 If I go abroad, I will try not to be seen as Russian.
🇷🇺 I am ready to defend my Motherland in case of serious danger.
🇷🇺 Most of the crimes in our city (village) are committed by outsiders and immigrants.

🇷🇺 Our athletes are often judged unfairly at international competitions, because no one likes Russians.
🇷🇺 If we take into account all the pros and cons, the storage of foreign nuclear waste in Russia brings more financial benefits than it does environmental harm.
🇷🇺 There are nations and peoples who do not deserve to be treated well.
🇷🇺 Vandalism is one of the forms of youth protest.
🇷🇺 It is unfair to put people with dark skin in charge of white people.
🇷🇺 There can be only one true religion.

🤦 The school confirmed to Rotunda that they had conducted such a survey. They agreed to communicate with us only by mail. In a written response signed by the vice principal, they claimed that the questionnaire was needed “as background for a faculty meeting.” The school did not answer questions about how correctly or adequately the questionnaire was worded. Rotunda was unable to contact the school’s principal, Svetlana Sergiyenko. She is a supporter of the United Russia party and has run for election several times on the party’s ticket.

📌 The questionnaire itself seems to have been found by the educators on the internet. In 2014, Belarusian media reported that a similar survey (only with Belarus instead of Russia) was conducted in schools in Minsk.

Source: “Schoolchildren in Leningrad region surveyed on whether they’re ashamed to be Russian,” Rotunda (Telegram), 28 November 2022. Thanks to Leda Garina for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


There is a belief that the Russian elite under President Vladimir Putin has only ever been interested in money. Yet Putin’s militant, anti-liberal, anti-Western, isolationist, paternalistic, and harshly authoritarian regime has always had an ideology.

This ideology is not systematized, but it does exist, and snippets of it can be found throughout Putin’s speeches, articles, and interviews. Now the war in Ukraine has necessitated a more articulated ideology, however.

The initiative to systematize and codify Putinism has led to a presidential decree listing Russia’s “traditional spiritual and moral values,” as well as the development of a new ideological curriculum for colleges.

It is no longer enough to indoctrinate children in kindergartens and schools. It is now time to unify the worldviews of college students, and, by extension, those of their professors, whose ranks will inevitably be purged. A similar course taught during the Soviet era was known as “Scientific Communism.”

The name for this new curriculum is “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood,” though it might as well be called “Scientific Putinism.” It is composed of four units: “History” – historical policy as the imposition of a mythologized official version of history, which is one of the instruments for manipulating the mass consciousness of Russians; “Cultural Codes” or the “traditional spiritual and moral values,” around which Putin has ordered federal and regional governments to unify; “Russia and the World” — a justification of isolationism, anti-Westernism, and jingoism; and “Vision for the Future,” which sets out what the state hopes to achieve beyond victory in Ukraine and the destruction of the “fifth column.”

The curriculum justifies the cult of the eternal leader and doubles down on the idea that Russia is fighting the forces of evil in Ukraine in an effort to “de-satanize” the country. However, at the same time, Scientific Putinism lacks key components such as development goals or a vision for Russia’s future, focusing as it does almost exclusively on the past.

During Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency, there were teams working on a future-oriented ideology and making road maps based on the idea that Russia would fast-track the modernization of the state and society. Putin’s ideology, however, is one that fundamentally opposes modernization.

Putin has successfully convinced a significant portion of the population that Russia must regain its status as a great power, and that Russia is under attack by both the liberal West and traitors at home. As the regime has grown more authoritarian, its ideology has also become more archaic, its propaganda more obtrusive, and any hopes of modernization have dwindled. 

An ideology that consists of historical, cultural, and religious myths, bogus traditions, and resentment seeks to legitimize an authoritarian regime and delegitimize those who oppose it.

Such an ideology makes it possible to label nonconformists as enemies, and to divide people into “us” and “them.” The division into “us” and “them” doesn’t just provide a marker for self-identification, it also serves to convince the public that there is a certain majority from which they should not stray.

In the past, the only requirement for being part of the “us” was passive, silent, conformist support. Today, however, this is not enough: Russians must surrender their very bodies to be cannon fodder in the supreme leader’s holy war against the “satanic” forces of the West. This is no longer authoritarianism; it is totalitarianism.

Imperialism and colonialism are key components of Putinism and key factors in the war. There is nothing new about this ideology; it comes almost verbatim from Stalinism and from earlier Eurasian and Slavophile narratives.

The war is being passed off as striving to restore historical fairness, as defensive and preventive, and as liberation. According to Putin, the land of the empire must be “returned and reinforced.”

In just a few years, the regime has evolved from a cult of the victory of 1945 to a cult of war itself, and Putin has managed to persuade a large segment of Russian society that the “special military operation” of 2022 is a natural continuation of World War II. In essence, it is an existential war between Russian and Western civilizations.

Putin has started to refer to Russia as an entire civilization. The state is not just sacred and worthy of the ultimate sacrifice; it is also a separate and superior civilization with a “thousand-year history” and its own special path.

Within this history, cultural codes are being passed down from generation to generation as part of the country’s political DNA. This state-civilization has its own pantheon of heroes unchanged from the Soviet era: Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Joseph Stalin, and Yuri Gagarin.

This state-civilization has always been under attack by enviers and foes, making its state of permanent conflict critical, and not simply limited to the battlefield. The state must win in all aspects — in culture and in sports, in the construction of Olympic facilities, and in the war against Ukraine and the West.  

To defend the sovereignty of this state-civilization, the Kremlin is counting on the security services, or siloviki, who have been given additional funding and are reinforced by spin doctors and so-called “journalists” in the Kremlin’s service.

The Culture Ministry, the communications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Orthodox Church are becoming de facto siloviki themselves, enjoying as they do the right to block or ban media, restrict the sales of books by authors who oppose the war, and decide who can perform on theater stages.

The ideology has become corporeal, bolstered by political and military acts, such as the annexation of Crimea and the “special military operation.” In short, the special ideological operation is ongoing, and it seems to be faring rather better than the military one. 

This article was originally published by the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace.

Source: Andrei Kolesnikov, “Scientific Putinism: Shaping Official Ideology in Russia,” Moscow Times, 27 November 2022. Thanks to Mark Teeter for the heads-up.


Back in the summer of 2018 I tried to answer Question 5 truthfully, replying that the Russian Federation was an “authoritarian state.” But the right answer, then, was “democratic state,” as it turned out. Again, I don’t remember now whether this question on the actual civics exam that I took, but there were several other “ideological” questions like it, which I would have answered “incorrectly,” thus jeopardizing my chances to get a residence permit, if I hadn’t been schooled in advance by the practice quizzes I’d found online. ||| TRR

Immigration Blues

Immigrant hopefuls would be deemed eligible and competitive based on the points they accrue through a set of criteria, including educational specialty or degree, age, English proficiency, and a high-salaried job offer. They would need to show that they “like our way of life,” a senior official said, and that they are capable of “patriotic assimilation.” They could demonstrate that quality by passing a civics test much like the kind someone might encounter at a U.S. college.

I never had to take a civics test at a US college. The only civics test I have taken was the highly politicized test on Russian history and Russian laws I took last summer, along with a Russian language test, as part of the application to extend my Russian residence permit another five years.

It was a bloody joke, explicitly designed to show I “liked [their] way of life,” which they do not like themselves.

So, for example, I had to choose from among four possible answers when asked whether the “RF” (“Russian Federation”) was: 1) a totalitarian country, 2) an authoritarian country, 3) a hybrid country or a 4) a democratic country.

russian state

The right answer, obviously, was No. 4. I had enough Russian Bizarro world street smarts to choose it, although it was right only on the exam. In real life outside the exam, meaning on the ground, the RF is a No. 2 that badly wants to go No. 1.

If you imagine the test’s authors laughed their heads off when they drafted questions like this, you would probably be right.

When I was getting my other papers ready at Petersburg’s shiny new Amalgamated Documents Center (where Russians themselves can apply for foreign travel passports and lots of other precious papers, seals, stamps, permissions, visas, etc.), an employee suggested to me that, if I paid twice as much for the test, I would not have to take it for real. The fee would be considered a fee for an exam prep course I would not really take, either. On the appointed day, I would report at a certain time to a certain room to pick up a certificate showing I had passed the test with flying colors, although I would have done no such thing in reality.

I decided to take the test for real. I studied for it by taking sample tests I found on the web.

In the event, I passed the Russian civics exam with flying colors the hard way: by studying for it for most of a day and then taking it the next day.

A few months later, the FSB raided the language text and civics exam prep center at the Amalgamated Documents Center, claiming, probably on good grounds, the test center was helping applicants scam the government, which was footing the bill.

But the Russian government generated the problem in the first place by insisting immigrants take a hokey exam that, I am sure, most government officials would not be able to pass, much less rank-and-file Russians.

How odd the US government, currently headed by an avowed Putinist, would suddenly propose setting up the same hurdles to legal immigration to the US (“United States”). {TRR}

NB. The illustration, above, is a screenshot of the question on a sample test found on the internet. But the same multiple-choice question, with the same set of four possible answers, was on the real exam I did take as part of my application.

Evgeny Shtorn: How the FSB Tried to Recruit Me

“I Had a Night to Say Goodbye to My Whole Life”
Sociologist Evgeny Shtorn Left Russia Because the FSB Tried to Recruit Him
Elena Racheva
Novaya Gazeta
January 20, 2018

On January 5, sociologist Evgeny Shtorn, an employee at the Centre for Independent Sociological Research (CISR) in St. Petersburg, left Russia for Ireland. In December, his application for Russian citizenship was rejected, and immediately afterwards he was summoned to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), according to Shtorn, where he was interrogated about CISR’s financing and the foreign organizations it collaborates with. (Since 2015, the CISR has been classified as a “foreign agent.”) According to CISR director Viktor Voronkov, Shtorn is at least the fourth CISR employee whom the FSB has attempted to recruit.

Shtorn was born in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, but in 2000 he left the country to study in Petersburg. In 2004, he was granted Russian citizenship at a Russian consulate in Kazakhstan. He lived for eight years on his Russian passport, but in 2011 he was told by authorities the passport had been issued groundlessly, and he was not a Russian citizen.

Shtorn’s Kazakhstani citizenship had been annulled long before, but he found himself a stateless person after living in Russia for eleven years. The only paper the authorities would issue him was a residence permit for a stateless person, which allowed him to live and work in Russia. After five years, one can apply for Russian citizenship on this basis. This was what Shtorn did in July 2017, after passing the obligatory Russian language exam, assembling a whole dossier of paperwork, and standing in endless queues.

During this time, Shtorn, who is thirty-five, enrolled in the Higher School of Economics MA program and continued working as manager for development at CISR, one of the oldest and most respected independent sociological research institutes in Russia.

“I went to the local Federal Migration Service (FMS) office in late November to pick up my passport,” Shtorn recounts. “I was told my citizenship application had been rejected because I had provided false information about myself. The FMS had decided I did not lived at my registered address, because they had come checking in the afternoon, when I was not home, and I had not listed all the addresses where I had lived in Russia, although in the application I filled out there was a footnote saying I was not obliged to list all of them.”

The rejection meant Shtorn could resubmit his application for citizenship only in a year. Two weeks after his application was rejected, Shtorn was telephoned by a person who identified himself as an FMS employee. He said he was handling Shtorn’s application and asked him to stop by their office.

On December 7, Shtorn went to the FMS office that handles the registration of statelesss persons.

“I was met by a person my age. We went up to the second floor and walked into an office with no plaque on the door,” Shtorn recounts. “I caught sight of a picture of Andropov on the wall, an old-fashioned, insipid, Soviet-era portrait. I immediately understood everything.”

The man showed Shtorn a FSB officer’s ID. Shtorn did not remember his rank, but he did memorize his name and surname, but he is afraid of identifying him publicly.

“He quickly got down to business,” recalls Shtorn. “He said when the FSB reviewed my application, they were quite surprised I worked for a ‘foreign agent’ and at the Higher School of Economics, although I am actually a student there. He asked me what I did at CISR. He was polite, but his vocabulary was bizarre. ‘Who is your patron?’ he asked. I explained we did not have patrons, that researchers operate differently. There are things a person wants to research, and he or she tries to research them. To have something to say, I told him about Max Weber, and the difference between quantitative and qualitative sociology.”

Evgeny Shtorn. Photo from his personal archives

Then, according to Shtorn, the FSB officer asked him where the “foreign agent” got its money and what western foundations CISR worked with.

“I said, ‘What, do foreign agents have money? The American foundations you declared undesirables are gone, and we have big problems with financing.’

“‘So people transport cash from abroad, right?’ he asked.

“I explained I didn’t have a passport, I hadn’t been abroad for many years, and I didn’t have access to those realms, but I didn’t think anyone was transporting cash in their underwear. Then he asked whether I had met with foreign intelligence officers as part of my job.”

According to Shtorn, the FSB officer was well informed about the work of Shtorn, CISR, and related organizations. He knew about academic conferences and listed the surnames of foreign foundation directors, asking whether Shtorn was acquainted with them. He asked what Shtorn was researching at the Higher School of Economics, although he clearly knew Shtorn was researching hate crimes against LGBT. He asked what foreign languages Shtorn spoke.

“Is English your working language?” he asked.

According to Shtorn, the FSB officer was not aggressive, but twice during their ninety-minute conversation he quoted the articles in the Russian Criminal Code covering espionage and treason, commenting they applied to everyone who flirted with foreign special services and foreign organizations.

In the middle of the conversation, the FSB officer asked him whether he had read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book The Grand Chessboard.

“He said that, way back in the nineties, Brzezinki had written Ukraine would go over to the US in 2012, and this was what had happened. He advised me to read the book.

“At the end of the conversation, he said, ‘How unlucky you were with your citizenship application.’ He explained he was unable to help me in any way. ‘Many believe we are an all-seeing eye, but it’s not like that at all. We also have a tough time obtaining information.’

“He insisted I tell no one about our conversation. When I was getting ready to leave, he said, ‘If I call you again, you won’t be scared? Because some people get scared and change their telephone numbers.’ I said, ‘Of course not. You’re a polite person. What do I have be afraid of?’

“‘And you are such an interesting person, and educated. It’s interesting to chat with you. Thank you for your time,’ he said.

“We left the office, and that was when I caught sight of a bust of Felix Dzerzhinsky behind the coat rack, a life-sized bust.

“‘And here is Felix,’ the FSB officer said.

“I left.”

The FSB officer telephoned Shtorn the very next day. According to him, the FSB officer suggested meeting for coffee.

“I realized that was that. They were going to try and recruit me,” says Shtorn.

He believes if he had refused to work for the FSB, as a stateless person he would have been sent to the Temporary Detention Center for Migrants.

“I felt paranoid,” says Shtorn. “I imagined the FSB had access to all my channels of communication, that they could see all my emails. They realized I had nowhere to go, that without papers I was caged. I realized I had to make a run for it, so I turned to Team 29, LGBT Network, and Civic Control. I got a lot of help from human rights activist Jennifer Gaspar. In 2014, she was also invited to have a chat with the FSB, who stripped her of her residence permit and expelled her from Russia. Jennifer put me in touch with Front Line Defenders, who asked the German, Lithuanian, French, and US governments to issue me a visa. They all turned us down, saying they could not put a visa in a residence permit.”

On the evening of December 21, Front Line Defenders informed Shtorn Ireland was willing to issue him a visa. The next morning he had to fly to Moscow, apply for the visa at the Irish Embassy, and fly to Ireland without any hope of ever returning to Russia.

“I had a night to say goodbye to my whole life,” recalls Shtorn. “It felt like I was standing on the edge of an abyss and jumped off.”

In Moscow, it transpired that, due to the short working day, the Irish consular officials would not have time to draw up his visa, and he flew back to Petersburg. He obtained the visa only on January 4. The next day, he tried to board a Lufthansa flight to Dublin, but the airline refused to let him board the plane. The German Federal Police had informed the airline it would refuse to let a person with a residence permit enter the transit zone. It was clear Shtorn would not be allowed to fly via any of the EU countries. The next flight from Domodedovo Airport to Dublin had a stopover in Moldova.

“I went to the check-in counter,” recounts Shtorn. “The folks there were reasonable. They realized a person with an Irish visa would not want to stay in Chișinău. I bought a ticket. There was 45 minutes until boarding, and the whole time I sat waiting for them to come for me. When the plane took off, I started shaking.”

Shtorn is now in Dublin on a three-month short-term visa.

“Thanks to Front Line Defenders I have a place to live and money for food,” he says. “I don’t know what will happen next. I cannot go back to Russia. If my situation was bad, now I have made it worse. Initially, I wanted to keep mum, but I decided I had to warn the employees of other NGOs. When the law on ‘foreign agents’ was enacted, it stated the penalties did not apply to people who worked for such organizations. My story shows this is not the case.”

•••••

Фото: «Новая газета»

Viktor Voronkov, director, Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), Petersburg 

Of course, the FSB is interested in CISR. Four of our employees have approached me and said, “They’re trying to recruit me. What should I do?” I think they have tried to recruit nearly everyone at CISR. Some have told me, others have turned them down and not told me, and still others, perhaps, did not turn them down. In conversation with the people they were trying to recruit, FSB officers have mentioned numerous facts they could have learned only from our employees.

It is normal. I know the practice well from the Soviet Union. When they tried to recruit me in 1981, they also asked questions that came out of left field. “Maybe you could describe your critical view of things at the institute? Maybe we could work together? You want to help the Motherland, don’t you?” They always associate themselves with the Motherland. They offered me help traveling abroad via the Soviet-East German Friendship Society. They blackmailed me.

I met with them three or four times. One time, a KGB officer tried to take me into a cubbyhole under the stairs at the institute to work me over. He looked in there, said, “Excuse me,” and closed the door. Another officer was already working someone over in the cubbyhole.

You can get rid of them. They have the right to recruit, and we have the right to turn them down. When they tried to recruit a pal of mine, he simply opened the door of his officer and shouted, “Get the hell outta here!” The KGB guy left. But I do not advise anyone to start talking with them. You cannot win against them. Nowadays, I advise my employees to give FSB guys the bum’s rush.

They tried to blackmail our other employees over trifles, but they were not as vulnerable as Evgeny was. I told him him to pay no mind to the blackmail, but it was not worth taking risks in his position. When a person is guided by fear, it is better to give into that fear.

I think we have to talk about such stories publicly. We could do a flash mob hashtagged #HowTheyTriedToRecruitMe. If there is no public oversight of the KGB, it means the KGB oversees society.

I realize this story could affect CISR, but we have been taking different measures to soften the blow. CISR is currently split. The majority of our employees argues we should disband the center and establish a new one. The minority argues we should not surrender. I have taken the most radical position. Everyone wants to find the means to survive. I want to show there is way to fight we can fight to the end. I hope to their end, not ours.

Translated by the Russian Reader

I’ll Show You the Life of the Mind

the life of the mind
Screenshot of a virtual tour of the Spiridonov Mansion (1895-1896) aka the Baby Palace (since 1965), located at Furshtatskaya Street, 58, in central Petrograd. The room depicted here is known as the Oriental Room. Thanks to Comrade KK for the heads-up

___________________

The Man Behind Dialogues: The FSB Are Listening to Us Now 
The creator of the project Dialogues, which has been shut down, explained to Fontanka.ru why he wants to start it up again at another public venue and why he is not leaving Russia
Elena Kuznetsova
Fontanka.ru
June 27, 2016

Nikolai Solodnikov. Courtesy of Open Library

Nobel Laureate Svetlana Aleksievich, musician Diana Arbenina, animator Garri Bardin, Deacon Andrei Kurayev, journalist Yulia Latynina, and poet Vera Polozkova are just a few of the celebrities who have been guests of the project Dialogues at Petersburg’s Mayakovsky Library. Hundreds of Petersburgers have attended the discussions in person, while even more have watched the live broadcasts on various media websites.

The project, which was run by Nikolai Solodnikov, former deputy general director of the Mayakovsky Library, on a voluntary basis, was shut down yesterday, June 26, after the FSB came to the library and carried out searches. One hypothesis is that the security forces were interested in the political activism of Dialogues. Another hypothesis is it was Solodnikov’s frequent visits to Latvia that bothered them. Fontanka.ru contacted the man behind Dialogues to set the record straight. 

Nikolai, if they were in your shoes, many other people would be in Latvia by now. Where are you now?

For reasons of safety, I cannot answer the question.

Meaning you are not in Russia?

All I can say is that I am not in Latvia. [In the background, a voice announcing flights can be heard—Fontanka.ru.]

After the incident with the FSB did you have thoughts of leaving the country?

I am Russian. I do my projects in Russian for Russians. I cannot imagine myself as a political émigré, and I have no plans to leave Russia.

You have said the FSB had been putting pressure on Dialogues for a year and a half. Why did you decide to shut the project down only yesterday?

Different things overlapped. The elections and the fact we had been spending a lot of time in Latvia, where Katya [Solodnikov’s wife Katerina Gordeeva, journalist and co-organizer of DialoguesFontanka.ru] had our fifth child. It is not the children who bother them, of course. They are annoyed by the Open Lecture project we have been doing in Riga, Tel Aviv, and Odessa. And they had been combating Dialogues, in fact. So now things boiled over and exploded.

Meaning that if there had been no searches, Dialogues would have continued?

Of course. I hope it will continue, only not at the Mayakovsky Library. Because what is it like for the elderly ladies who make up the core of the library’s employees to go through interrogations and seizures of equipment? That would be incredibly heartless.

Surely after yesterday’s announcement you have already received proposals to move the project to another location.

Private organizations have had some ideas, but I haven’t considered them yet. I am still hoping we can gather in a space where very different people in terms of views, age, and social status can come.

Are you implying the next venue for Dialogues will also be public?

I really hope so. I am a citizen of the Russian Federation, and the people who attend our events are citizens of the Russian Federation. We are, in fact, the Russian people, who have the right to gather in public cultural institutions.

Public institutions have a hard time accepting the opposition agenda, which Dialogues, in particular, supported.

I am not an opposition activist. I am someone who deals with education and awareness. Teaching was my first occupation. I taught for a long time, and I hope I will teach again in the future. The only thing I can do is teach people to talk to each other while maintaining different points of view.

We are speaking via Skype now. Before that you called from a new number.

Tell me straight that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is eavesdropping on us. When you call me, something clicks and hums on your end.

Before yesterday, did you have any sense that the security forces were following you personally?

Since May of last year [when Ukrainian politician Mustafa Nayyem was supposed to speak at Dialogues, but the trip was canceled—Fontanka.ru] I have had no doubt that all my phones have been tapped. Although I think they have not been following me. I have no documents or evidence, but I do have the sense they have been listening in on me.

“Aside from land we have no real estate in Latvia”

You resigned from the Mayakovsky Library yesterday. How will it affect the career of the library’s director, Zoya Chalova?

I really hope things will be a bit easier for her.

We tried to call her, but to no avail. There is no sense that Chalova supports you at all.

She is the director of a public institution. That says it all. I am very grateful to her for the entire time we worked together. She is one of the bricks in the wall who helped deter the people who carried out the search on Thursday and interrogated the librarians.

Cultural functionaries, including Konstantin Sukhenko, head of the Petersburg Municipal Culture Committee, have said that Zoya Chalova did not know what the sources of financing for Dialogues were, and she was very worried about it.

She knew what they were from day one of the project.  I have always said this, and I have said it repeatedly to Fontanka.ru: Dialogues is financed solely by Katya and me, meaning the salary I earned at the Mayakovsky Library, 43,000 rubles a month, and what Katya earns. Together, we have tried to combine what we have, borrow money here and there, and ask friends to pay for our guests’ tickets and accommodation. No oligarchs have been involved.

Can you name at least a few of the friends who have supported the project?

Nikolai Solodnikov and Katerinia Gordeeva. That is quite enough.

In addition to financing, the FSB were interested in your links to Latvia. Apparently, the Chekists [sic] assumed that you were not merely spending time there, but living there as well.

We have five children, aged six years to one and half months. We left in late 2015, because Katya was going to have our fifth child.  The heating main opposite our house on Chaikovsky Street was turned off. In November, the hot water and light were being turned off every other day. It was impossible to live with small children in a flat with no water and electricity. We decided to temporarily relocate to Riga so that Katya could finish her pregnancy in peace and give birth.

Do you have a residence permit or property abroad?

Everybody knows that three or four years ago Katya bought a small plot of land in Latvia to obtain a residence permit. We did this and, in accordance with the law, immediately informed the Russian Federal Migration Service about it.

You haven’t built a house yet?

No, except for the land, we have no property in Latvia.

How did you feel working at a public library? After all, it is almost like the civil service, but at the same time you had a residence permit in another country.

I felt great. My wish is that all other worthy people had a residence permit while not parting with their Russian passports for any reason. A residence permit makes it easier to get around the world: you don’t have to apply endlessly for visas.

But the FSB sees this as a certain duality and contradiction.

There are some not very healthy people working there, but there are also normal people. Just as there are more people than Sukhenko working in the municipal culture department. By the way, many Petersburg municipal officials also have resident permits abroad.

Getting back to Dialogues, if the project would have continued in the old format, what would have its future been?

We thought we would do Dialogues monthly at least until the end of 2016. We worked like bees, regularly inviting new guests.

What did you feel yesterday when you were told the project was over?

A huge amount of work has been done, and it is sad when it ends this way. But we are going to go forward. There are people who support us. We will cope.

Our conversation is now being constantly interrupted by other calls. Who is calling?

Your journalist colleagues.

You have probably been getting many expressions of support. What matters most?

What matters most is that Katya and I really support each other in these circumstances.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Irina Bogatyreva: How Opinion Polls Are Conducted in Russia

How Opinion Polls Are Conducted in Russia
Irina Bogatyreva
July 23, 2015
About Russia

11151029_877218092326378_2792365210284757073_nIrina Bogatyreva

I just took part in one of the famous polls by VTsIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center). They actually exist!

You are warned the survey is anonymous. First, you are asked your name (no surname), whether you are a citizen of the Russian Federation, whether you have a residence permit and whether you have had it for long, your age, education, and, finally, your occupation, income level, and your address, after all.

I was warned the survey would be about the erection of monuments, but in the event I was asked about my attitude to the president, the prime minister, the government, and the mayor, which party I intended to vote for at the elections, about Moscow’s problems, about [the incredibly controversial compulsory residential housing renovations fee, now included in monthly housing maintenance payments in Moscow], whether I am planning to emigrate abroad, and whether I consider emigrants traitors.

This was all prefaced with the phrase, “Of course, maybe you consider questions about politics uninteresting, but . . .”

I was asked twice about the monument to Dzerzhinsky, at the beginning and the end. (“Why twice?” “I don’t know, I’m just the interviewer.”) The first time I could reply as I chose, the second time, I could not. I wonder: if people give different answers, which one counts?

[Translator’s Note. It appears the Communist Party itself has just called off its proposed referendum which would have asked Muscovites whether they wanted a controversial monument to Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky, torn down in August 1991, returned to its former site on Lubyanka Square.]

There were three possible answers to the question of [where to place a 24-meter-tall monument to Prince Vladimir, which has caused a huge public outcry in Moscow]: on Lubyanka, on Borovitskaya Square, in the Sparrow Hills. Saying “I don’t want it at all” was not an option.

Here and there, the survey was worded quite quaintly. For example, “Which party, in your view, has made the greater contribution to Moscow’s development?” All the existing parties where listed off, although only the Udrussians [United Russians], the commies, and one Zhirinovskyite sit in the Moscow City Duma. (“Your question is worded incorrectly.” “I don’t know anything, I’m just the interviewer.”)

They rang me at 1:00 p.m. I just happened to be at home. Working people are usually at work at this time, while it is pensioners and housewives who are at home then. I have long suspected that it is these people who “shape” all these polls.

Translated by The Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade SC for the heads-up. This is the latest in a series of occasional posts about the Russian authoritarian regime’s use of public opinion polling, which I have dubbed pollocracy. After all, what kind of “anonymous” polling requires the respondent to identify their address?

Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Russian Schools

“Moscow for Muscovites”: Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Moscow Schools
Darina Shevchenko
June 18, 2015
Yod

Russia had long made it possible for all children living in the country to get an education. The right of every child to an education was untouchable. Beginning this year, circumstances have changed. The Federal Migration Service (FMS) has obliged schools to expel unregistered children under the threat of stiff fines. Yod has tried to find out why Moscow schools are prepared to teach only children who hold Moscow residence permits.

28492

Alla, a Ukrainian national, arrived in Moscow last year from the city of Chernivtsi, located in Western Ukraine. Alla says that food prices have greatly increased in her hometown, and it has become hard to find work. In Moscow, she quickly found a manager’s job at a small company, rented a flat, and in spring of this year decided to move her son Alexander to Moscow. She went to School No. 1524 and asked what she needed to do to enroll him in the eighth grade.

Alla was told documents for enrolling in school were now submitted through the District Information Support Services (DISS). At DISS, she was informed that her child could be enrolled in school only if he had a yearlong temporary residence permit for Moscow. Alla and Alexander now have a three-month temporary residence permit. Their landlady has refused to register them for a longer period. At DISS, Alla was told that without this document her son had no right to study in a Russian school.

“Alla’s story is now typical. A family from Ukraine recently turned to us for help. For a whole year, a school had refused to enroll their son in the first grade. First, they needed a resident permit, and then they were denied enrollment due to the fact the child had turned eight, and eight-year-olds are too old to study in the first grade. This child’s parents were forced to return to Ukraine,” says Stasya Denisova from the Civic Assistance Committee.

According to the human rights defender, they now are dealing with a very large number of appeals from migrant and refugee families concerning expulsions and non-admission to schools. The most common reason is that their resident permits have run out. School directors cite Ministry of Education Decree No. 32, dated January 22, 2014. The decree divides children into two categories. Priority for admission to school is given to those who have permanent registration, while those who have temporary registration are admitted in second place.

“There is nothing in the decree about children without registration. Apparently, officials believe this means that such children do not have to be enrolled in school at all,” says Denisova.

Another human rights activist, Bakhrom Ismailov, says this year he has begun receiving many complaints from migrants whose children have been kicked out of school because they lacked documents.

“For a long time, Russia made it possible for all children who were living in the country to get an education. And the right to an education for all children was untouchable. The situation has changed this year. The FMS has obliged schools to expel children without resident permits,” says Ismailov.

“Just this week, I got several phone calls from Central Asian migrants who told me their children were going to be expelled from school because they had no medical insurance. Last year, a law requiring migrants to buy health insurance came into force. Without it, they cannot be employed. But we are talking about adult migrants. I don’t understand why high schools are making this demand on their pupils,” says Gavkhar Jurayeva, head of the Migration and Law Center.

Several teachers in different Moscow schools who wished to remain anonymous confirmed to Yod that at the beginning of the academic year, school principals were told at staff meetings that Moscow was now prepared to teach only children holding Moscow residence permits.

It is not only Moscow schools that now require residence permits.

“Our principal’s granddaughter, who is registered in Moscow, goes to school in the Moscow Region. At the school she attends, they demanded a Moscow Region residence permit from her. They said they were different budgets. Moscow was ready to educate only its own children at its own expense, and the region also educated only its own children at its own expense,” recounts a Moscow schoolteacher.

However, Isaak Kalina, head of the Moscow Education Department, does not agree with this take on the situation and says that stories of migrant children being expelled are myths.

“These stories are examples of journalistic myths. Any child who is legally in Moscow can study in Moscow’s schools,” says Kalina.

In February of this year, Uzbek national Nurbek, who has lived in Russia for ten years, was told by Vera Pankova, principal of School No. 34 in Tver, that his two teenaged sons, who had been pupils at the school since the first grade, would either have to be registered within five days or she would expel them.

“Not once in all these years had anyone at the school asked about my sons’ registration. The boys were good pupils, and they had no problems with their teachers. I also respect Russian law. I have always done all the paperwork for my family promptly,” recounts Nurbek.

The three-year residence permits of Nurbek’s sons had expired this past fall. Nurbek has a Russian residence permit, owns his own home in Tver, and is employed full time. Nurbek also wanted to apply for permanent residence permits for his sons and wife. But he was turned down on the grounds that his wife was unemployed, and the children were inscribed in her passport.

“I explained that my wife stays at home with our youngest son and our daughter. How can she work? And I own my own home and have a job. All the same, the boys were not allowed to get permanent residence,” says Nurbek, outraged.

The FMS also refused to register Nurbek’s sons, explaining that the boys had to exit and re-enter Russia.

“I earn forty to fifty thousand rubles a month [approx. 650 to 800 euros] for the whole family. I cannot afford to buy the children a two-way ticket. I have to set aside money and save up for this,” explains Nurbek.

In February, Nurbek was summoned by the principal, who demanded that he immediately present his sons’ registration. The school gave him five days to do the paperwork.

“The children were expelled the same day. They were required to turn in their textbooks. The school did not even suggest temporarily transferring them to home study. I asked that they be allowed to finish out the school year and promised to secure them their resident permits by this deadline. The principal replied that if she didn’t immediately kick out my children, the FMS would fine the school 400,000 rubles [approx. 6,500 euros]. The kids were very upset. The oldest loves school. He intends to study engineering at university, and then move to Germany. The teachers say he has great aptitude for foreign languages. After finishing school, my younger soon planned to study be a mechanic at vocational college. I have worked so much so that my children would not have to be uneducated street sweepers, and I decided to fight for them,” recounts Nurbek.

He filed a lawsuit against the school and won the case. According to the Civic Assistance Committee’s Stasya Denisova, the court ruled that the expulsion of Nurbek’s children had been illegal, because it violated the federal law “On Education,” the Russian Federal Constitution, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified.

“The demands of the local FMS office to expel children due to a lack of registration also had no legal grounds. The court ruled it was not the school’s business to identify foreign nationals among its pupils and expel them due to a lack of registration,” says Denisova.

According to Nurbek, Principal Pankova came up to him after the trial and said she would challenge the court’s ruling.

“She was very indignant that, I, a migrant, had dared file suit against a Russian school. I tried to convince her I had not wanted to humiliate or insult anyone. I just needed my children to get an education. Then she said, ‘If you have money for lawsuits, you can afford to pay for your children’s education,’” recounts Nurbek.

Pankova told Yod she had no plans to prevent Nurbek’s children from attending school.

“I only ask that they register as soon as possible. No, the FMS is not pressuring me. It just has to be done,” said Pankova.

Nurbek claims that his children have already received a temporary residence permit. They have been registered, a

The Tver Region FMS office accommodated Nurbek only after Civic Assistance Committee lawyers intervened.

“Secondary schools now require registration not only from Central Asian migrant children but also from Russian citizens who have moved to a new town and from refugees. For example, in the Moscow Region town of Noginsk we opened a school for the Syrian refugee children, who are not admitted to Russian schools despite the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We were unable to find common ground with the FMS office in Noginsk. When we arrived to meet them, their staff illegally checked the documents of the human rights defenders,” recalls Olga Nikolayenko, director of the Adaptation and Education Center for Refugee Children.

The FMS was unable to reply to Yod’s request for a comment before this article went to press.

Nikolayenko says she does not understand what the FMS hopes to achieve by forcing schools to expel migrant children for bureaucratic reasons.

“Some migrants will leave Russia due to the fact their children won’t be able to go to school here. But most will remain. Their children will also continue to live here, because things are even worse at home. I don’t think they will have a good attitude towards a country that has deprived them of the opportunity to get an education. World know-how shows that first-generation immigrants are never integrated. But it is easy to integrate the second generation if the host country makes a minimal effort,” says Nikolayenko. “For some reason, our government is trying to make sure that neither the second nor the third generation is integrated. It generates a number of people in this country who are excluded from social processes, and so society cannot tap their potential. These people could get a high school diploma or a higher education and pay taxes. I don’t see any logic in the actions of the schools and the local FMS offices. First and foremost, we are wantonly sabotaging ourselves.”

Ismailov says that observance of immigration law has now been put above the right of children to get an education.

“In the past two years, the requirements for migrants have become tighter and tighter. Pressure has been put on them via minors,” says Ismailov. “Why pressure children? Let the adults be fined and penalized. Children should not be treated so cruelly.”

Nurbek’s friend Abdul-Aziz, from the town of Elektrostal in Moscow Region, is planning to send his children back home to Tajikistan this week. Due to the lack of registration, none of his school-age sons and daughters is admitted to Russian schools.

“They can go to school at home. They will grow up and come to Moscow to work. There is no work in Tajikistan anyway. But if they don’t know Russian and your customs, that will be your own fault,” says Abdul-Aziz.

This is the second in a series of posts dealing with Central Asia, Central Asians, and immigration. The first post in the series, a translation of Sergei Abashin’s essay “Movements and Migrants,” can be read here. Photo, above, courtesy of Yod. Translated by The Russian Reader.