V (Z) Day in Petersburg

Footage of Victory Day celebrations on Palace Square in Petersburg, 9 May 2022

Victory over fascism was celebrated in Petersburg to the song “I Am Russian.” Alexander Beglov, the city’s governor, spoke at Palace Square.

Congratulating the citizens of Petersburg on May 9, [Beglov] recalled the “fight against fascism and Nazism today.”

“Our soldiers in Ukraine are defending Donbas. They are defending us, our historical memory, and the heroic deeds of our grandfathers. Our president, the son of a front-line soldier, has stood up against the Nazis. He has united us all. We are united, we are strong, and we will win!” he said.

After his congratulations, a military ensemble came on stage to sing the song “I Am Russian.” During its performance, footage of either actual military operations or exercises by the Russian Army was shown on a big screen.

Source: Rotunda, 9 May 2022. Video courtesy of a Rotunda reader. Translated by the Russian Reader


“I’m Proud That I’m [an Ethnic] Russian.” A poster for a concert at the Gavrila Derzhavin Estate Museum on the Fontanka River Embankment in Petersburg, on 22 May 2022. The concert will be performed by the Boris Troyanovsky Great Russian Orchestra, under the direction of Anna Drozdovich. Thanks to Marina Varchenko for the snapshot.

Petersburg Artist Yelena Osipova Assaulted on Way to Victory Day Protest

Yelena Osipova in “happier” times

Unknown assailants attacked 76-year-old artist Yelena Osipova in Petersburg. They snatched anti-war placards from her hands

Two young men attacked the Petersburg artist and protest fixture Yelena Osipova right at her front door. At about three o’clock, she left the house, carrying two anti-war placards, to go picket on Nevsky Prospekt, videographer Nikita Adishchev told Rotunda. (He happened to be nearby because he was shooting a documentary about Osipova.) The young men were waiting for her at the exit from her building. According to Adishchev, they snatched the placards from the artist and ran away.

Ms. Osipova is not the only Petersburg woman who was prevented from holding an anti-war protest on Victory Day. A few days before May 9, police detained three activists from the Vesna Movement on criminal charges for calling on Russians to go to Immortal Regiment marches and voice pacifist slogans. Several more activists — including feminists from the Eve’s Ribs project — were detained on suspicion that they had been involved in telephone calls falsely reporting that bombs had been planted in buildings. But even pro-government media admitted that the criminal investigation into telephone terrorism was only a pretext. In fact, as some publications reported with reference to sources in law enforcement agencies, their field agents “had thwarted plans to organize provocative protest actions on May 9.”

Source: Rotunda, 9 May 2022. Thanks to Imaginary Island for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda. Translated by the Russian Reader

A Postcard from Petersburg: Fear and Despair

Back on February 21-22 (as during the previous week), my colleagues at work made fun of the experts and media outlets who warned that Russia would attack Ukraine. “Ha, ha! How could that happen? Putin’s not crazy enough to openly attack a neighboring country.” Although I hadn’t found the time to read the news for a long while, I responded by saying that I would like to be as optimistic as they were.

Everything changed on February 24. The laughter stopped. My colleagues read out the news and showed each other the screens of their phones. The number of curse words in our conversations skyrocketed. An hour later we agreed not to discuss current events. Of our department’s nine employees, two and a half people supported the “special operation.” Four were strictly against it, while two others, although they had a negative attitude to the war, blamed the Americans and their imperialist policies for everything, saying that Russian actions were being condemned only by those countries that were “under” the United States.

On February 28, all the employees at our workplace were summoned to an urgent meeting, at which we were told that we should not read the news on American-made messaging apps or write anything on social media. After the meeting, our department head told me that we had listened to what they told us and had forgotten it, and that we would write what we deemed fit on our personal social media accounts. A couple of hours later, our organization’s deputy director requested “political asylum” in the office of his former colleagues so that he would no longer have to hear political propaganda from his superiors. In the corridors, people discussed who was going to go to the protests against the war and when.

On March 5, a colleague who supported the “special operation” solemnly deleted the “devilish” Facebook app from his phone, while others got used to using different VPNs. A donations drive for refugees from Donetsk and Luhansk was announced at work. No one in our office took part in it.

The entire city center has been cordoned off by various security forces for two weeks now: everywhere you can see paddy wagons, riot police, and street cleaning machines (which I would like to see used more for their intended purpose, because it is still difficult to walk around the city due to the ice and snow on the pavements). It feels like the city is occupied: Palace Square and Nevsky Prospect are fenced off. Despite this, people have been going out to protest. Now they are being detained for holding up placards with innocent slogans like “No war” and “Peace to the world,” for sporting blue-and-yellow ribbons and pins, and for simply daring to exist the Gostiny Dvor metro station on Nevsky Prospect.

People have been finding new ways to protest. Artists have held plein-air sessions where they painted blue and yellow pictures. The Interior Theater held a protest at which actors wearing costumes recreating Petersburg’s landmark buildings held a banner that read “Petersburg is against the war with Ukraine.” There are the numerous green ribbons that have already become a symbol of the anti-war protests, anti-war graffiti on residential buildings, garages, and fences, flowers laid at the monument to [Ukrainian writer] Taras Shevchenko, the public signing of statements against the war by municipal district councils on the porches of council buildings in the company of local residents, reporters, and riot police, and numerous open letters condemning the war by various professional groups (cultural figures, representatives of the book trade, etc.).

In response, after a short delay, groups who are easier to pressure and true believers have begun to sign open letters supporting Putin. A letter from the faculty of St. Petersburg State University, in which there were too many surnames I recognized, was especially painful for me to read.

“No war”

When someone wrote the message “No war!” on the icebound Moika River, housing authority workers partly painted it over (!), and partly covered it with sand. The next day, thanks to this artistic reframing, the message was even more legible.

The same message a few hours later

People are numb. No one is particularly happy about the fact that troops have been sent into a neighboring country. There have been pro-war videos posted by the police here and there, and small astro-turfed pro-war demos, but it looks nothing like the way “Russian World” fans reacted to the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

On social networks, you can see how those who can afford it are hurriedly leaving Russia. They are fleeing out of fear, out of an unwillingness to live in the country on whose behalf the aggression is being perpetrated. Some are horrified by what is happening in Ukraine, but others are horrified that their favorite goods are disappearing from the shops and scold the countries who impose sanctions on Russia and do not want to do business with it.

The Ukrainians in my social media feed are also divided among those who don’t want to communicate anymore with Russians, and those who are more afraid for us than for themselves. They wrote to me that, despite the fact that the air raid sirens were howling all the time, and they had to hastily evacuate from a city in the east of Ukraine to the west in a darkened train, they feel inspired by their country and feel confident in the successful outcome of this war, which to people who live in Ukraine is a “patriotic war” [as the Second World War and the war against Napoleon are called in Russian]. They fear for us because they know that the screws here will be tightened even more, and that it will become even harder for us to breathe.

A friend of mine in Mariupol has not replied for several days – there is no electricity there, and I don’t know what has happened to him. I read that the school where he worked had been bombed. I don’t know whether he will ever write back to me.

St. Petersburg, 8 March 2022

This “postcard” was written specially for this blog. The author’s name has been withheld at their request. Photos courtesy of the Telegram channel Rotunda. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yavka

gub_exit_04The turnout (yavka) for last September’s gubernatorial election in Petersburg was a record low of thirty percent. Less than a year later (at the height of summer, in the midst of a pandemic), the turnout for a meaningless “referendum” on amendments to the Russian constitution (which had already been ratified by both houses of parliament and signed into law by Putin) drew a record high turnout of 74% in Petersburg, according to local political blog Rotunda. Graphic courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Rotunda 
Telegram
July 2, 2020

The turnout [yavka] in St. Petersburg for the December 2011 elections to the State Duma waos 55%.

For the presidential election in March 2012, it was 64% (Vladimir Putin took 62% of the vote.)

For the gubernatorial elections in September 2014, it was 39%. (Georgy Poltavchenko won 79% of the vote.)

For the parliamentary elections in September 2016, it was 32%.

Turnout in St. Petersburg for the presidential elections in March 2018 was 63%. (Vladimir Putin took 75%.)

The turnout for the Petersburg gubernatorial election in September 2019 was 30% (Alexander Beglov won with a result of 64%.)

The turnout for the poll on amendments to the Constitution in the summer of 2020 was 74%. (77.6% voted “Yes.”)

Rotunda is a Telegram channel on Petersburg politics run by journalists Maria Karpenko (@mkarpenka) and Ksenia Klochkova (@kklochkova). You can write to them at: rotondaa [at] protonmail.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

Beglov, Big Love

Rotunda
August 31, 2019

It is eight days before the Petersburg gubernatorial election.

On Palace Square, there is a free concert by local rock group Splean, with the city footing the bill.

The winners of the creative contest Bolshaya Lyubov are also to be announced at the event.

If you reflect a bit on the elusive play of words and meanings in the contest’s name, you should easily be able to translate it into English as “Big Love.”

The contest winners are congratulated in person onstage by (drum roll, please) Alexander Beglov.

Several times, he says that all of us really love our city.

The gubernatorial candidate ushers a war veteran and singer Alexander Rosenbaum on stage.

Rosenbaum and Beglov sing “The City on the Wild and Free Neva.”

Palace Square is packed to capacity.

“The City on the Wild and Free Neva,” as performed and recorded by Valery Belyanin

Video footage courtesy of Rotunda. Translated by the Russian Reader. This is the 1,500th entry on this website. To learn how you can support my work, read this.

The After Party, or, The Electoral Iguana

iguana

Artplay to Hold “Posh Gubernatorial Election After Party”
Sergei Feofanov
The Village
August 30, 2019

Artplay Design Center in Petersburg (Red Guard Square, 3) will hold Election Night 2019 in the wee hours of September 9, the event’s organizers have informed us. They have dubbed the event a “posh invitation-only after-party” to celebrate the city’s gubernatorial election [on September 8].

Political operatives, politicians, and celebrities [selebriti] will take part in the event. Guests will be treated to projection mapping [sic] and musical sets by Markschneider Kunst and Junkyard Storytellaz, as well as an immersive show [immersivnoe shou] involving actors “made up to look like the eye-catching residents of a communal apartment.” In addition, organizers plan to release an “electoral iguana,” which will crawl to one of four bowels representing the candidates.

Last year, Election Night was held in Moscow, and this autumn the main event will also take place in the capital, including video links with the regions. Organizers include the Russian Public Chamber, National Public Monitoring, the Russian Public Relations Association (RASO), RASO’s Political Strategists Committee, and the Russian Political Consultants Association.

Znak.com reporter Ksenia Klochkova, who writes on the Telegram channel Rotunda, told us that spin doctors working for the campaign of [acting governor and gubernatorial candidate] Alexander Beglov have their headquarters at Artplay. Activist and public figure Krasmir Vranski said that “all normal people” would be up all night contesting the elections.

The organizers claim there will be no campaigning and support for any candidate at the event. Artplay simply met certain criteria as a venue, they explained.

Earlier, the band SBPCh [“The Largest Prime Number”] canceled a concert in the infamous, political scandal-plagued municipal district of Ekateringof. The band’s musicians did not want to play at a politically charged event.

Thanks to Julia Galkina for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Newsweek. Translated by the Russian Reader

Vrio!

brail-1.jpg

Alexander Beglov was appointed the acting governor of Petersburg or vrio (to coin the acronym for such officials who “temporarily carry out the duties” of one office or another) on October 3, 2018.

His appointment immediately sparked speculation the Kremlin had put him in charge of Putin’s hometown not only temporarily but also so he could run for the post “legitimately” in the upcoming gubernatorial election, scheduled for September 8, 2019.

As luck would have it, the seven-year reign of his predecessor, the dull but mostly inoffensive Georgy Poltavchenko, was blessed by relatively snowless winters.

Petersburg, however, is the northernmost major city in the world and, unsurprisingly, it sometimes snows a lot there in the winter. The “anomalous winter” of 2010–11, during which the local authorities could not get a handle on cleaning relatively heavy snowfalls from streets, pavements, and roofs, spurring wild popular discontent, famously led to the dismissal of then-Governor Valentina Matviyenko and her replacement by the quieter Poltavchenko.

Like all members of Putin’s clique of made men and women, Matviyenko was not punished for her failures. Instead, she was “upmoted” (my term) to the much cushier post of speaker of the Federation Council. There she has been instrumental, I suspect, in persuading the press and the public she presides over a “senate,” peopled by “senators,” not a rubber-stamp entity filled with repellent losers too big to fail who have been rewarded generous sinecures in exchange for total loyalty.

In any case, today’s would-be Russian “senate” is a far cry from the feisty and, at times, mildly separatist Federation Council of the nineties, whose members would never have been so obnoxious as to style themselves “senators” and then get everyone else to go along with this sycophantic malarkey, including opposition activists, reporters, and academics who should know better.

The winter of 2018–19 was another “anomaly,” apparently, and vrio (interim governor) Beglov made it even worse by behaving even more brazenly and clumsily than Matviyenko had done during her own “snow apocalypse.”

You would think the Kremlin would not be so provocative as to shove Beglov, who looks remarkably like Mel Brooks in his salad days, playing the “villain” in one of his hilarious film parodies, down the throats of Petersburgers on Election Day 2019, but that is the plan. All the stops have been pulled out, including a total purge of opposition candidates attempting to run for seats on the city’s district municipal councils, although these underfunded, powerless bodies that have zero say over the Smolny, Petersburg’s city hall, where Beglov and his team call the shots.

The Kremlin is willing to make Beglov the city’s “legitimate” governor over everyone’s dead bodies, as it were, alienating even more otherwise apolitical Petersburgers from the regime.

Finally and, perhaps, apropos of nothing, has anyone ever remarked on the fact that both Beglov and Poltavchenko were born in Baku in the mid-1950s? Does it snow there in the winter?

The picture, above, was taken by Kseniya Brailovskaya in downtown Petersburg during the height of the municipal collapse this past winter. As another heat wave envelopes Europe, you will probably see more of these snapshots in the coming days, especially since I have a post or two in the works about the flagrant purges of opposition candidates in Petersburg. They have mirrored similar purges in Moscow, but without sparking spontaneous unrest of the weekend before last or the heavily attended protest rally that took place in the capital on Saturday{TRR}

_______________________________________________

Rotunda
Telegram
July 16, 2019

A friendly meeting between the heads of over twenty Petersburg media outlets and acting Governor Alexander Beglov took place in the Smolny. The meeting was cast as a campaign event at which heated discussions were not welcome.

During the first hour, Beglov cheerfully talked about all the problems he had solved. He said his priority has been to combat depression among Petersburgers. Beglov thanked, in all seriousness, the opposition for keeping him on his toes and informing him about hotspots.

Then followed several questions from the attendees. The most pointed question was, “How can we help you?” or something like that. Despite being a candidate in the gubernatorial race, Beglov was not taken aback by this offer and spent another hour outlining his plans for the near term.

The only question that knocked the vrio off his high horse had to do with the scandals surrounding the elections to the municipal district councils. Beglov said he could not intervene since he himself was a candidate.

As the meeting drew to a close, the heads of the city’s media outlets asked whether Beglov would be willing to meet with reporters in a similar format in the future. Beglov said he would definitely talk with everyone but only after September 8.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg: Russia’s Window on the West

windy petersburg“One day windy Petersburg won’t let me light a cigarette and I’ll give up smoking on its advice.” Graffiti, Petersburg, July 19, 2018.  Photo by the Russian Reader

Rotunda
June 17, 2019

While Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and the Kremlin were trying to spearhead protests and organize their own rally in support of [the briefly arrested investigative journalist] Ivan Golunov, Petersburg’s acting governor Alexander Beglov missed the political bandwagon once again. Today, during a session of the governor’s so-called inner cabinet at the Smolny, he was told by his underlings the Vesna (Spring) Movement wanted to hold a rally against the persecution of journalists on June 23. Beglov ordered city officials to reach out to the organizers and move the rally to another date since, otherwise, it “would ruin the celebration for school leavers.”

When Beglov gave this order, he was likely unaware city officials had already taken care of the kids. The Smolny turned down Vesna’s request to approve their rally by making up literally a million excuses. For example, a source in the Smolny reported a military band would be playing on Lenin Square (one of the city’s specially designated so-called Hyde Parks, where, theoretically, protesters do not need the city’s go-ahead to hold rallies) on June 23. It also transpired that urgent repairs of heating mains, buildings, pedestrian crossings, etc., were underway at all the other venues in the city center where protest rallies could be held.

Rotunda (Rotonda) is a Telegram channel, covering city politics in Petersburg and written by reporters Maria Karpenko and Ksenia Klochkova. Translated by the Russian Reader