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

Peace Out

A Petersburg developer asked not to use the name “Mir” (“Peace”) in advertising its [new] residential complex. The company decided to refrain from using the word, which had “taken on additional meanings.”

The screenshot of RBI’s request to shutter the name “Mir” (“Peace”) for its new residential complex on Mirgorodskaya Street (Mirgorod Street) in central Petersburg. Ironically, the street itself is named for the city of Myrhorod in Ukraine. Several other streets in the same neighborhood are named after Ukrainian cities, including Poltava, Kharkiv, and Kremenchuk. It should be pointed out that “mir,” in Russian, also means “world” and “peasant commune.”

RBI’s official website still identifies the residential complex as “Mir,” and this is the case on some other real estate resources as well. And yet, for example, one of the largest industry websites, TsIAN, already refers to it as the residential complex “On Mirgorodskaya, 1.”

Our source at the company told Rotunda that the advertising campaign for the complex had not yet been launched. And that was why they asked their partners — i.e., real estate agencies — “to refrain from directly advertising the sites before the official start of sales.”

Officially, RBI had only the following to say about the meanings implied by the word “Mir”: “As for the word itself, ‘MIR’ in this case refers to the location of the house, as well as to the World of Art [Mir iskusstva] art group.”

Source: Rotunda, 8 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


MIR Club House is a world for connoisseurs of beauty in the very heart of St. Petersburg, a striking house featuring original, artistic architecture.

Compositionally, the complex consists of two buildings: a building of varying heights (six, seven, eight and nine floors) containing 243 apartments, and a small six-story building containing 20 apartments. They are united by a street-facing arch and form a closed courtyard.

The apartments offer picturesque views of Feodorovsky Cathedral, the famous “Kremlin wall of Petersburg,” the historical center, and the new business-class quarter.

Sales start soon: https://mir.rbi.ru/

Source: RBI Group, YouTube, 7 July 2022. Annotation translated by the Russian Reader

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