Coming Out: A Lesson in Solidarity from Petersburg

“The Regime Is Making New Enemies with These Arrests”
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
June 22, 2017

The arrestees who served ten days in jail after Russia Day shared their plans for the future. They once again included the Field of Mars, and Navalny, and the special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street they had just left. 

«Этими арестами власть готовит себе врагов»
Ksenia Morozova, holding a placard that reads, “Freedom is within.” Photo courtesy of Sergei Mikhailechenko/Fontanka.ru

A new group of prisoners, who had finished serving the jail sentences they were given after Russia Day, was released on Thursday, June 22, from the Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street in central Petersburg. They had been sentenced to ten days in police custody, meaning they had committed violations of “moderate severity.” The die-hard violators, who were sentenced to fifteen days in jail, will not be released until next week. The least malicious violators, who had already been released, greeted their recent cellmates with soda pop, flowers, and rounds of applause. The former prisoners were cheerful and praised the prison food. They came out of jail with the same clear conscience they had when they left the Field of Mars in paddy wagons.

The Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya is a historical landmark. Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) and Felix Dzerzhinsky had done time there prior to 1917. In June 2017, people who attended an anti-corruption rally on Russian Independence Day were jailed there.

Around 10,000 people had gone to the Field of Mars on the national holiday. Some people celebrated, while others were arrested. Nearly six hundred hundred left the celebrations in paddy wagons, headed to police precincts round the city. From June 13 on, the city’s district courts worked like a conveyor belt for meting out punishment. The arrestees were sentenced for going to the anti-corruption rally and for failing to obey police orders to leave the rally, i.e., they had violated two articles in the Administrative Offenses Code. The majority of those detained at the event got off with 10,500-ruble fines [approx. 158 euros], but a hundred and fifty people were sent to jail, sentenced to terms of three to fifteen days.

The release of the prisoners whose time in jail ended on June 22 was due to start at two o’clock in the afternoon, when the lunch break ends on Zakharyevskaya. At the very same time, as recorded in their arrest records, exactly 240 hours had passed since the first of the “ten-dayers” had been detained. In fact, they had been detained and hauled to the courts wholesale. But the law enforcement machine was carefully counting off the minutes. One prisoner could be released at 2:30 p.m., but another had to be released at 4:00 p.m.

The Support Group
At a quarter to two, people holding plastic bags form a semi-circle at the exit from the detention center. Two vehicles are cruising nearby. One, emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo, is ready to give the released detainees a lift to the courts, where lawyers are waiting to appeal their fines. The other, emblazoned with the police’s logo, is also ready to take them somewhere.

“I’m going to detain you for jaywalking,” a policeman standing on the sidewalk warns me.

“Please arrest me for jaywalking,” I smile back at him, standing on the same sidewalk. The policeman goes back to his car.

The bags of the people waiting outside the detention center are stuffed with bottles of soda pop. There is also a bunch of pink chrysanthemums. Later, the chrysanthemums will be divided and given to the liberated comrades. Everybody knows who nice it is when people are waiting for you with chrysanthemums when you get out of jail. And you are also really thirsty when you get out. The greeters know all of this from personal experience.

“I was in for five days and got out last week,” says a man standing near the gates of the detention center.  “And today the guy I shared a cell with is getting out.”

The man’s name is Oleg Maksakov. He is forty-three. He doesn’t know why he was sentenced to five days, while his young cellmate got ten days. They didn’t know each other before they were jailed, but they made friends in the cell.

“The propaganda has no effect on the people aged eighteen to twenty-five who came to the Field of Mars,” Maksakov says of his “accomplice.” “What matters even more is that they’re not afraid. They’re not downtrodden. They have no experience of the Soviet repression machine. I mean, now they are finding out, of course. But it doesn’t scare them. It only makes them mad.”

Another person who celebrated Russia Day at the Field of Mars approaches us. In terms of age, Pavel Ilatovsky is one of the “non-downtrodden.” You could say he lucked out. He got off with a 10,500-ruble fine and spent two days at police precinct while he waited for his court hearing.

“Yeah, I was lucky,” Ilatovsky agrees. “I had my hearing at the Krasnoye Selo District Court, and the judges were okay. They said right off the bat there was no room in the cells, and so they were going fine us.”

The figures assembled by volunteers back up what Ilatovsky says. The Krasnoye Selo District Court heard 59 cases, and no one was sentenced to time in jail. The Kalinin District Court proved to be the most cruel and greediest. Among the 44 cases it heard, around three fourths (the volunteers don’t know for certain) resulted in fines alone, while the rest resulted in fines and jail time. The same court handed down the harshest sentence: fifteen days in jail plus a 20,000-ruble fine.

Ilatovsky volunteers with the detainees assistance group. The group brought care packages to Zakharyevskaya all ten days and raised money to pay the fines. And now they have brought a vehicle, soda pop, and chrysanthemums. This system of assistance improves with every series of arrests. It has started working like a well-oiled machine.

“There are lots of us,” says Ilatovsky. “And we know that if someone wasn’t detained this time round, he or she could be detained next time. When I was at the police precinct, they brought us water and helped out with food. They even brought us shawarmas.”

We are chatting next to the prison’s entrance. Everyone’s mood is upbeat, even joyful. Finally, the iron door opens and a young man exits holding his passport. He is carrying a backpack, and a container of liquid soap pokes out from the pocket. A yellow-and-blue ribbon is pinned to his jacket.

“Oh!” says Oleg Maksakov, rushing towards him. “I spent five days in a cell with that guy!”

“I Hung Out with Interesting People”
Denis Uvarov went to the Field of Mars with a purpose. He wasn’t celebrating the holiday, but combating corruption.

“This dude was walking around with a bullhorn and ordering everyone to disperse, but no one dispersed. Therefore, they did not obey [the police’s orders],” he says by way of explaining why he was convicted of disobeying the police.

Besides, Uvarov chanted slogans offensive to our president, and what is worse, waved the flag of Ukraine, with which he sympathizes. He caught flak for it: ten days in the slammer. He admits it could have been worse. He twice received care packages of food from complete strangers, and that amazed him most of all.

“Of course, we didn’t really need anything in the cell, but it’s nice knowing that you’re in there, and somebody cares,” says Uvarov.

In the two-person cells in which the June 12 arrestees were held, they really did not need anything. Uvarov compared it to a hospital, adding, only, that he couldn’t go into the hallway. But they were taken out for walks every day.

“The biggest problem was not being able to wash up,” he says. “They let us take a shower only once over the ten days. Well and, excuse me for mentioning it, but going to the toilet when you’re not alone in the cell, is, you know . . . Otherwise, it was okay. There was nothing to do, so I read a pile of books, slept in, studied English a bit, and hung out with interesting people.”

The interesting people were other prisoners sentenced to jail for June 12. Uvarov says it was the first protest many of them had attended. Some of them ended up there by accident and were not interested in politics.

“Now they say they’re going to be more active and angrier,” Uvarov continues. “So the regime is deliberately making new enemies with these arrests, as it were. You can do fifteen days in jail, after all. As long as there is a point.”

“What about twenty?” I ask. “That’s nearly a month.”

“Twenty?” says the young man thoughtfully. “Yes, I could probably do it.”

Then I remind him that, in Russia, it is a criminal offense to attend unauthorized rallies repeatedly.

“Yeah, but don’t you need to be arrested twice in six months,” Uvarov asks uncertainly. “I’ll probably need to take that into account. I’ll think it over.”

“I’ll Go to Jail Again”
Ivan Gerasimyuk is one of the young people who collided head on with politics at the special detention center. He looks about twenty years old.

“I was just hanging out on the Field of Mars,” says the young man. “There was a celebration of four eras taking place there. I looked at pre-revolutionary tanks, and then I went to eat kasha in the field kitchen. That’s where the police grabbed me. In court, I said I wasn’t interested in politics, but the judge didn’t believe me and gave me ten days in jail. It turns out you cannot attend celebrations in our country.”

Gerasimyuk thought jail was awful, especially the fact the prisoners were fed not according to schedule, but whenever. And his cell was very dirty.

“I don’t want to go back there,” Gerasimyuk frowns. “But I’ll definitely go to a protest rally now. We have to combat this lawlessness. Well, so I’ll go to jail again. But then other people won’t have to go.”

Alexander, who refuses to tell me his surname, works in a school. He won’t say what he does there, but he deals with young people like Gerasimyuk, only a bit younger.

He shakes his head.

“I don’t talk with the kids about politics at all. I don’t need to. They know it all anyway. They read about Navalny and Putin in the internet. Although what gets them hot and bothered is memes and all, not politics. But their teachers propagandize them, and they see it doesn’t synch with what is happening around them. That generates distrust in them.”

Alexander went to the Field of Mars knowing a rally was supposed to take place there, but he had no plans of taking part in the protest. He only wanted to watch.

“The numbers of true believers who were arrested were small, in fact,” he grins. “It was the rubberneckers like me who got caught. After doing time in jail, some of them are now true believers. But I’ve also spoken with other people, who say they would never do it again. As for me, I’m definitely going next time.”

Vladimir Drofa, who is released right after Alexander, has become a true believer. Or, at least, he says so.

“Until my arrest I was a sympathizer,” he says, looking at my dictaphone. “But now I’m a convinced revolutionary. I will devote the rest of my life to making sure I change places with the people who put me in here.”

“You want to sentence them to ten days in jail?” I ask.

“I’d start with ten at least.”

Drofa knows that, before him, his namesake Vladimir Ulyanov was imprisoned in a nearby cell.

“I need to read ‘The April Theses,’” he adds.

“Let Them Bust Me!”
The convicts opened the iron door one after another. The young women who were released were mobbed by other young women, who gave them bouquets and squealed in delight, as if they were greeting movie stars. The female arrestees who were the last to be released wearily thanked the public and refused to talk to the press, because they wanted to go home. Ksenia Morozova, a social media marketing manager for Sobaka.ru who had become famous over the last ten days, set her bags on the pavement. She held up a placard reading, “Freedom is within.” She did not hold it up very high, only as high as her own neck

“This is my first picket on the outside!” she yelled. “Let them bust me if they want!”

She was not busted. Her girlfriend grabbed her bags, and the flock of young women ran off towards the subway.

The young people were applauded as they left the jail. They were also given flowers, the very same pink chrysanthemums, until the entire bunch had been divvied up and was gone. The press drifted away. The bus emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo left, taking with it those who wanted to appeal their sentences to meet with lawyers. The last of the dozen and a half “ten-dayers” emerged from the jail after four o’clock, saying almost exactly the same things their special detention center cellmates said. None of them broke their toothbrushes at the doors of the prison.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up

Happy Russia Day 2017

Office of the Guidance Counselor, Saint Petersburg State University of Film and Television
VK
9:11 p.m., June 9, 2017

Dear students,

June 12 is a public holiday, Russian Sovereignty Day [sic]. Certain people have been trying to use our national holiday to destabilize the situation in the country. Alexei Navalny has called for Russians to take to the streets of their cities in protest against the current regime.

The administration of Saint Petersburg State University of Film and Television asks you to approach the question of involvement in such events responsibly, not to yield to such calls and other provocative proposals whose objective is inveigle young people in unauthorized mass actions and marches aimed at destabilizing public order, calls and proposals that are transmitted via social networks and other sources of information. We cannot let these people achieve their political ambitions illegally.

Thanks to Comrade VS for the heads-up

happy russia day
“⚡️Gas sprayed on Pushkinskaya Square. Police in gas masks. If you smell gas, wet t-shirts and breathe through them. #12june.”

Alexandra Krylenkova
Facebook
June 12, 2017

So, 658 people were detained [in Petersburg]. Minors whose parents were able to come and get them and people with disabilities have been released. Nearly everyone else will spend the night in jail.

There will be court hearings tomorrow. Everyone who can make it should come. The hearings will take place at the Dzerzhinsky District Court [in downtown Petersburg]. The first detainees are scheduled to arrive at the court at 9:30 a.m. Considering the number of detainees, we will probably be there into the night.

happy russia day-2
Field of Mars, Petersburg, June 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Polukeyeva/Rosbalt

Alexei Gaskarov
I was invited to speak at the rally on Sakharov Avenue. I planned to talk about why it was important to support the anti-corruption campaign despite our political differences. In short, in order to put a stop to reaction, dissenters need to be represented on a massive scale, so the elites would not even think about just trampling them or not noticing them.  Everyone has the same goal right now: resurrecting political freedoms. The contradictions among people are secondary. Considering the scale of protests nationwide, things turned out quite well. You can see that people have stopped fearing crackdowns, and that intimidation no longer works. In Moscow, switching the rally to a stroll down Tverskaya was an absolutely apt response to the Kremlin’s behavior. Everyone who wanted to avoid arrest had the chance to do that. There were downsides as well, but given the colossal confrontation, they don’t seem important.

Ilya Budraitskis
Of course, one cannot help but welcome today’s protests on a nationwide scale. We are witnessing the continuing rise of a new protest movement that emerged on March 26. This movement is indivisible from Alexei Navalny’s presidential campaign and owes both its virtues and weaker aspects to that campaign. Despite the fact that Navalny’s campaign could have launched a broad grassroots movement, on the contrary, it has been built like a personalistic, vertical political machine in which decisions made by a narrow group of experts and approved by the leader are mandatory for the rank-and-file. This raises the majority’s political consciousness to the degree necessary at each specific moment of the campaign. The leader’s political strategy, his objectives, and the meaning of decisions are not up for discussion. Navalny must be believed like a charismatic CEO. What matters is that he is personally honest and “he has a plan.” On the eve of the protest rally, authorized for June 12 in Moscow, the rank-and-file found out a new particular in the plan: everyone had to go to an unauthorized protest march, which would predictably end in arrests and criminal charges along the lines of the March 26 protests. The rationale of the organizers is understandable. They have to pull out all the stops to keep the campaign moving at a fever pitch, keep it in the public eye, and use the threat of riots to pressure the Kremlin. Moreover, this radicalization in the media reduces the complicated picture presented by Russian society to a simple confrontation: the thieves in the Kremlin versus the honest leader who has united the nation. This set-up renders all forms of public self-organization and all social movements secondary and insignificant, and their real interest ultimately boils down to making Navalny president. However, even Navalny’s most dedicated supporters should pause to think today, the day after June 12. Would his campaign be weakened if it were opened up to internal criticism, if horizontal discussions of his political program and strategy were made possible, and the political machine, now steered by a few people, turned into a real coalition, where differences did not get in people’s way but helped them agree on common goals?

Anna Ivanova
“Sakharov Avenue is out,” Navalny said in his morning video message.

Navalny’s adviser Leonid Volkov put it more democratically.

“The hypocritical scum who dreamed up the ‘opposition rally on Sakharov’ will fry on a separate frying pan.”

The rally on Sakharov happened anyway. It was mainly attended by opponents of Moscow’s new law on the large-scale renovation of residential buildings: urban activists and residents of the buildings slated for demolition, as well as defrauded investors in residential building projects, foreign currency mortgage holders, and other victims of the construction sector. Many fewer of them came out, however, than on May 14, even considering that some of the outraged Muscovite anti-renovation protesters followed Navalny over to Tverskaya. Protests rise and ebb like the sea, and this time round the excitement was muted. These people—old women, families with children, old men—were not suitable for getting arrested at an unauthorized protest. Although they realize that Moscow’s problems are merely one logical outcome of the Russian political system, they are in no hurry to support Navalny and other inveterate oppositionists, for what is at stake are their housing and property, not supreme civil liberties.

happy russian day-4
“Day of Russian Cops” on Tverskaya in Moscow, June 12, 2017

Meanwhile, on Tverskaya, young folks realized that A.C.A.B. Around 700 people were detained in Moscow, and the social networks were flooded with even more photographs of derring-do amidst the so-called cosmonauts [riot cops]. The ultimate damage from the protest might be acknowledged only over time, when we know whether there will be new criminal cases, and if there are, what charges are laid against the protesters. But everyone loves looking at riot porn (and being involved in it), although this hobby devastates and dulls the senses as much as watching ordinary porn. This is the danger of protests “for all things good,” of protests focused on a certain political agenda or figure: neither fat nor thin, neither old nor young, neither socialist nor nationalist, but generally sweet and better than the old protest rallies. In this case, protest risks degenerating into a social order in which everything is decided by Sturm und Drang. Not the worse prospect, some would argue, but others would argue it would be a disaster. But whether you like it or not, “Russia has thousands of young people dreaming of revolution,” for the time abstractly encapsulated in the slogan “Dimon must answer for his actions,” and they have been taking to the streets.

Two worlds did not in fact meet in Moscow today. One world is the world of people who are mostly old, people whose property is threatened with eminent domain and who imagine politics as a way of building an urban environment. The second world is the world of bold young people (and their slightly older idols), who are hellbent on regime change. It would not be a bad thing if these worlds met and acted in concert. This is the only way for a democratic politics to emerge from this.

Source: openleft.ru

happy russia day-3
“A crossword in reverse. USMANOV, DACHA, DUCKIE. You provide the clues.”

Carine Clement
Facebook
June 13, 2017

Notes from the field (the Field of Mars). Putting aside emotions:
1. It’s true there were lots of young people. And they are not afraid of anything.
2. There were many young families, who are likewise not afraid for their children.
3. “We’re fed up” is the key phrase.
4. There were slogans about healthcare, infrastructure, and pension. Well, and about corruption, too.
5. The out-of-town students came out because “it is wrong to drive the regions into a pit like this.”
6. There was a sense of support and public acceptance.
7) The people who came out were true patriots genuinely worried about the country’s future.
8) A spirit of freedom . . .

Photos courtesy of Protestnaya Moskva, Rosbalt, anatrrra, and Vadim F. Lurie. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. On the Six O’Clocks News last night, BBC Radio 4’s Moscow correspondent had the temerity to refer to yesterday’s protest march on Tverskaya as “illegal.” Is this the new tariff for keeping one’s press accreditation under Putin’s perpetual reign? TRR

What Russia Means to Me

Fyodor Vasilyev, The Thaw, 1871. Oil on canvas, 107 x 53.5 cm. Image courtesy of Wikiart
Fyodor Vasilyev, The Thaw, 1871. Oil on canvas, 107 x 53.5 cm. Image courtesy of Wikiart

A Circus, Psychopaths, and a Great Power: We Found Out What You Associate Russia With 
Guberniya Daily (Petrozavodsk)
June 14, 2016

On Friday [June 10], on the eve of Russia Day, we asked what you associate our country with. We suggested more or less decent answers and waited for the results to roll in. Ultimately, we learned that many of you associate our country with “a circus,” “psychopaths,” and “corruption.” And also with Putin. We got the impression that the respondents lived in different countries: some had it all bad, while others, on the contrary, had it all good. That is why a serious discussion, numbering over a hundred comments, broke out below the survey. So let us have a look at what many people associate Russia with.

First, the results of the survey:

opros
“I associate Russia with . . .” Putin: 204 votes, 22%; Bears, balalaikas, and vodka, of course: 125 votes, 13.5%; The tricolor, the double-headed eagle, and other symbols: 70 votes, 7.5%; Souvenirs: matryoshka dolls, Gzhel ceramics, Khokhloma tableware, etc: 43 votes, 4.6%; Stern men in uniform: 38 votes, 4.1%; The ballet, the theater, and the arts generally: 41 votes, 4.4%; Birch trees: 117 votes, 12.6%; actor Sergei Bezrukov and birch trees: 48 votes, 5.2%; Women wearing hats inside: 36 votes, 3.9%; My answer is not listed here; I’ll write it in the comments: 206 votes, 22.4%. A total of 928 people voted on June 10, 2016

As you can see, the answer “Putin” came in first place, “Bears, balalaikas, and vodka,” second, and “Birch trees,” third. It was in the comments that things got complicated.

Here are just a few of your answers (the original spelling and punctuation have been preserved):

I would like to associate it with birch trees. But, alas, I associate  it with Krushchev-era blocks of flats [khrushchovki] and Brezhnev-era blocks of flats [brezhnevki] ))

With a complete lack of prospects for a decent life.

Brezhnevki. Photo courtesy of Guberniya Daily
Brezhnevki. Photo courtesy of Guberniya Daily

A country where happiness is forever in the future.

Where can I answer “with a total f–ing mess”?

With beautiful girls

With bad roads and a country where it is extremely hard to find a good job (even with a university degree)

The Motherland, just the Motherland

With a slave mentality, neo-feudalism, the lack of a future, vatniks,* and a huge ego trip about its “greatness”

Recently, only with “seagulls,” cellos, and Panama hats . . .**

alas, I feel like splitting from here like Peter the Pig, a typical post-Soviet space with khrushchovki and rutted roads and yards that have not been repaired since Soviet times

With psychopaths.(

With people who work and earn less than a living wage.

With corruption, drunkenness, and parasitism . . .

Motherland, history, childhood,  family . . .

Minus all the sarcasm and crap written [here]. MOTHERLAND to me is MOM, CHILDHOOD AS A YOUNG PIONEER, THE COMMUNIST YOUTH LEAGUE, BIRCH TREES AND LAKES, SAYING FAREWELL TO KINDERGARTEN IN THE VILLAGE OF SNEZHNOYE, AND THE SIMPLE PRIDE THAT I AM A RUSSIAN

With a strong country!!! And Putin. 

Strange that nearly everyone answers in the present tense.=) Or is that how we should answer? Then,  apparently, I didn’t understand the question.  The country is ancient and large, with a difficult destiny and history. Loving the Motherland . . . in my view you love it no matter who rules it. True, then your love manifests itself differently at different times. What you cannot take away from it is the natural beauty and the people . . . The people in this country are still good. The times are often complicated. But you can get through them by looking at the beauty of nature and the spiritual beauty of people.=) Something like that.

To answer simply and cornily, Russia is the place where I learned to walk and talk. But to answer the question from the viewpoint of a person who is a citizen of Planet Earth: Russia is a multiethnic, multi-party country. It has become the rage in Russia to say what one thinks about Putin, about world politics and foreign policy. I am afraid it will soon become a ritual, like the morning conversation about the weather among the English.

Kickbacks and dog and pony shows.

With the permafrost.

With poverty

* vatnik = “Russian patriot and nationalist (An outspoken follower of Putin, who aims to compensate his meaningless life by glorifying the motherland. This insulting term derives from the name of an iconic Soviet padded uniform jacket issued during WWII.” Source: Multitran.ru

** A reference to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika (his surname means “seagull” in Russian), recently reappointed to another five-year term despite substantial allegations of corruptions against him and his family, and cellist Sergei Roldugin, implicated as Putin’s bagman in the Panama Files.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up

Happy Russia Day!

At three-thirty this afternoon I was awoken from a well-deserved nap by an incoming SMS on my cellphone, which read:

Уважаемый Клиент, поздравляем Вас с Днём России – праздником свободы, мира, равноправия и справедливости! Искренне желаем Вам и Вашим близким душевного тепла, достатка, счастливой, долгой и благополучной жизни! С праздником, Ваш “Билайн”

I.e.,

Dear Customer, we congratulate you on Russia Day, a holiday of freedom, peace, equality, and justice! We sincerely wish you and your family warmth, prosperity, and a long, happy, safe life! Congratulations, Your Beeline

Aside from irritating the drowsy me to no end, the SMS inadvertently reminded me of an article I had read earlier in the day on the topic of equality in Russia.

One in six Russians lives below the poverty line
June 11, 2015
ru.euronews.com

The numbers of Russians whose income is below the subsistence level increased by 3.1 million people in the first quarter of this year, up to 22.9 million. These figures have been published by Rosstat. The poverty rate rose to 15.9%, meaning that every sixth Russian falls into this category.

From January to March, the average subsistence level reached 9,662 rubles [approx. 155 euros] per person per month (a year ago it was 7,688 rubles). But inflation has also surged, which has been an especially painful blow to the poor.

The embargo on food imports from Europe and the United States, [introduced] in August 2014, fueled an inflation of food prices, and the 200% drop in the ruble’s value at year’s end drove up the prices of imported goods. As a result, by the end of the first quarter, the annual inflation rate in Russia had reached a thirteen-year maximum, 16.9%, according to Rosstat. By May, the figure had dropped slightly to 15.8%.

The statistics agency blames the increase in poverty on inflation. Average per capita monthly income, now at 25,210 rubles [approx. 400 euros per month], seems to have increased compared with the first quarter of 2015 by 11%, but fell by a quarter compared with the fourth quarter of last year.

Do you wonder how many Russians 15.9% is? The hipsters at The Village told their readers the answer yesterday evening as the latter were gearing up for the long holiday weekend: 22,900,000.

But how many people live in Russia?

According to the handy Political and Physical Map of Russia, published by AST Publishers in February 2015, which I recently picked up at my local French-owned hypermarket, the Russian Federation’s population stands at a healthy 146,100,000, now, apparently, that is, that the Republic of Crimea’s nearly two million former wayfarers have returned to home port.

map 1

map 3map 5

But there are a handful of malcontents who bristle at this new method of fighting poverty by annexing the territory and populations of other countries. One of them is  a stalwart of the Petersburg protest scene, Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev, who showed up to a “prayer for deliverance of the Fatherland from the oppression of lawless men in power” this afternoon, at the city’s Solovetsky Stone, sporting a provocative but veritable downer of a placard.

stepanych-2

Russia immediately went mad after [the annexation of] Crimea (Yuly Kim). On June 12, 1990, Russia’s day of independence from the USSR was proclaimed! June 12, 2015, is the anniversary of Russia’s destructive isolation from the West.

Source: Facebook (Vadim F. Lurie)

Fortunately, the Russian authorities are not as down in the mouth as the sour old multiple arrestee Stepanych. For example, Maria Shcherbakova, the seemingly perpetual head of the city’s Central District, had these uplifting holiday congratulatory printouts pasted on every front door in our neighborhood the other day.

shcherbakov kongrats

Dear Central District Residents!

The Administration of Saint Petersburg’s Central District warmly congratulates you on the national holiday, Russia Day.

This holiday is dear to everyone who loves their Fatherland and takes pride in the glorious pages of its history and its extremely rich spiritual and cultural legacy. Based on the centuries-old traditions of Russian statehood, the huge creative potential of our multi-ethnic people, and unshakeable democratic values, we will make Russia a strong and successful country.

On Russia Day, I would like to wish all of us to be happy, to live in peace and tranquillity, and to thereby multiply the riches of our Motherland!

M.D. Shcherbakova
Chief Executive, Central District of Saint Petersburg

Earlier today, President Putin expressed similarly upbeat patriotic sentiments while handing out state prizes for achievements in science, technology, literature, and the arts:

“These ideals of patriotism are so deep and strong that no one has ever been able and will ever be able to recode Russia, to convert it to fit their formats. We cannot be separated, torn, and isolated from our native roots and origins.”

Who would want to “recode” and “reformat” Russia anyway? Grumpy old Stepanych? The nearly twenty-three million Russians now living on less than 155 euros a month?

Of course not, you sillies. It is that wicked, black-as-tar, uppity Negro from across the seas, Barak Obama, as the hipster baristas in the coffee hut on the corner of Liteiny Prospekt and ulitsa Belinskogo have pointed out in their own droll way.

obama's blood

We continue our trek around Petersburg’s fashionable spots:

“What is Obama’s Blood?”

“A quadruple espresso.”

“And why did you call it that?”

“That’s just what we came up with.”

Source: Facebook (Alexander Nazarov)

At 147 rubles a cup, Obama’s Blood is the most expensive item on the menu, as a friend has pointed out to me, but when you convert it to euros (€2.36) or dollars ($2.66), it is practically a steal.

And it will get in you in the mood for a fun albeit nerve-wracking Russia Day.

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Russia Day (Russian: День России, Den’ Rossii) is the national holiday of the Russian Federation, celebrated on June 12. It has been celebrated every year since 1992. The First Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on June 12, 1990.

Vlad Kolesnikov: A Real Russian Hero for Russia Day

“At the military enlistment office, I turned on the Ukrainian national anthem”: 17-year-old Vlad Kolesnikov talks about his decision to combat Putin’s propaganda
Dmitry Volchek
June 10, 2015
svoboda.org

Vlad Kolesnikov

Hundreds of people have been writing to Vlad Kolesnikov, a 17-year-old technical college student from Podolsk. They have been writing with offers of assistance and shelter, and to thank him and advise him to be more careful.

“I cannot express in words the emotions I feel reading Facebook,” says Vlad, his voice trembling with emotion. “There has been so much support from strangers, it is simply incredible.”

Vlad has acquired a lot of friends on the Internet, but his own grandfather, a former KGB officer, has condemned him. At the technical college where he studied he was assaulted. (Vlad asked not to write that he had been beaten up: “It was only a split lip, a couple of bruises, a couple of blows to the head, and three drops of blood.”) And now the police have taken an interest in him.

And all because Vlad Kolesnikov not only does not hide his political views but has also decided to declare them openly.

​​Vlad Kolesnikov: Putin sits with his pack of criminals and runs the country with the aid of powerful propaganda. This is my subjective opinion. Maybe I am wrong, but I believe it is true. You know the Russian media have been vigorously promoting the image of khokhly [a Russian term of abuse for Ukrainians] and pindosy [a Russian term of abuse for Americans] as enemies. I also supported this until I watched a video on YouTube. It was 2014, and I will probably never forget it, because the video changed my life. The content of the video was completely banal. It was just an American family. The wife is Russian, the husband, American. He gives her a gift, they go to a shooting range. And instead of the propaganda we get—that it is a fascist regime where everyone is obsessed with sex and money, and everyone betrays each other—I saw people like myself. The only difference was that they smiled more. Since then I have been digging more, looking for different kinds of information, and reading the western press. I have realized the Russian media makes lots of mistakes, exaggerates, and in most cases just blatantly lies.

Radio Svoboda: And your relations with your relatives have been complicated because of the fact they do not share your views?

Vlad Kolesnikov: Yes. And not only my relations with relatives, but with everyone, you could say. I know only two people who more or less share my views: my friend Nikolai Podgornov and one other person whom I won’t name. But all the people I know—my whole college, all my relatives—they are all against me. It is just Nikolai and me,

Radio Svoboda: You and Nikolai decided to hang up a banner in Podolsk that read, “Fuck the war”?

Vlad Kolesnikov: Yes, it all started when I was at the military enlistment commission and told them I did not want to serve in the army and did not want to fight against my brethren. Maybe that sounds sentimental, but that is the way it is. We decided we could not tolerate it anymore and would voice it openly. First, we wanted to hang a banner in Moscow, but then we thought it would be torn down quickly, and so we looked for a good place in Podolsk. We walked around for a long time and found a building with an accessible rooftop in the middle of town and decided to hang the banner there. We went to a fabrics shop. We bought a five-meter-long piece of cloth. We spent a long time picking out cloth that would be sturdier. We bought paint. This is expensive for a college student, but it was worth it. We spent all night making the banner and sitting on the rooftop. We fastened the banner to iron cables so that it would hang longer, and we locked the door [to the rooftop] so that it would take the police longer to get in. They had to summon the Emergency Situations Ministry guys. I think we gained two or three hours more time on them that way.kolesnikov-2

Radio Svoboda: You told the military enlistment commission straight out that you did not want to fight?

Vlad Kolesnikov: I don’t have very good eyesight, so I am not fit for military service. I went through the medical examination, and there was I before the draft board. There were tables shaped like the letter П set up there, and the people who did the assessments were seated at these tables. I had the Ukrainian national anthem recorded on my telephone. I don’t like the Russian national anthem, because I consider it mendacious. Everything it says about freedom and so on is just pure rubbish. Before entering the room I decided to turn on the Ukrainian anthem, because I do not support the Russian army at all and consider serving in it disgraceful. So I turned on the Ukrainian anthem and said, “Guys, I’m not going to fight in the Russian army.”

Radio Svoboda: Vlad, you would agree that you are a very unusual young man. You are immune to propaganda, and are fearless to boot.

Vlad Kolesnikov:  In fact, I was just lucky. I just did not have a TV for a certain time, and I did not watch the news. And when I got a TV, I turned it on and saw the nonsense that was going on there. I turned right to that program where [TV journalist Dmitry] Kiselyov fiercely argued that the hearts of gays should be burned. I was sitting there and thinking, Is this a comedy show? Then I realized that a new kind of news had emerged in Russia. It is hardcore, and produced in keeping with all of Goebbels’s principles of propaganda: enemies surround us, the country has been occupied. Total drivel.

Radio Svoboda: So, you turned on the Ukrainian national anthem at the military enlistment commission. The members of the draft board were probably stunned when they heard it, no?

Vlad Kolesnikov:  It was something incredible. Some people were dumfounded. Others jumped up and shouted, “What are you doing? Do you know where you are?” After a while, a man came running in. He took me to a separate room and laid two certificates in front of me. One said that I had problems with my eyesight, which is true. The other said that I had a personality disorder and something else. In short, the military enlistment commission had assigned me to the loonies, because I had gone in there playing the Ukrainian anthem and expressed my opinion. That was a turning point. When that certificate was put in front of me, I realized I would not put up with this anymore. I had simply gone in there, and I was immediately classified as a loony.

Radio Svoboda: And there is your latest feat. You came to school in a t-shirt with the Ukrainian flag on it.

Kolesnikov arrived at school with an Ukrainian flag on his chest

​​

Vlad Kolesnikov: Yes. I had voiced my political views earlier at the college, and had often argued with the teachers on this score. As you can imagine, nothing good had come of this, but neither did anything super bad, except lowered marks and other trifles. But then it got fun. Near the college, I immediately met the class teacher. At our college, they are called professional masters. I will never forget that look. At first, he looked at me like a normal, decent person. Then he saw what I had on my t-shirt. He looked up at me, and I saw this hatred! Then I went upstairs and walked into the classroom. Within five minutes, the people sitting in front of me turned around (I was sitting in the back row) and said, “Kolesnikov, should we smash your face in now or later?” Well, just you try, I said. As you know, they kept their promises, not that day, however, but a few days later, after I had published my posts, when they had heard a lot of interesting things about themselves. I can argue my position, why I think Crimea was annexed, why Donbas was occupied. I have arguments, I have facts, and I know people who served there. On TV, they say there are no Russian troops there. In reality, of course, it is the other way round. They could not come up with convincing arguments. It all came down to my being a disgrace to the country, and I should tear the flag from my shirt. It is an interesting policy, actually. It turns out if you express your opinion you are disgrace to the country.

The inscription on the flag reads, “Give Crimea Back!”

Vlad Kolesnikov was forced to leave college (he was immediately expelled) and leave Podolsk. His grandfather, with whom he lived, also did not share his political views and sent his grandson to his father in Zhigulyovsk. It was just in time. Kolesnikov called his grandfather to say he had arrived safely and heard the disturbing news that two police officers had come and asked where he had got the Ukrainian flag and where his t-shirt was now.

“All democrats in Russia were sent into exile, and that is how I feel now, as if I am in exile. Many people are now advising me to go to Kiev. But that is the most extreme option. If someone thinks I will sit this out, get a foreign travel passport, leave for Ukraine, and that will be the end of it, they are mistaken. For now, I am planning after Zhigulyovsk to return to Moscow and do a couple of protest pickets,” promises fearless Vlad Kolesnikov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE. Vlad Kolesnikov was found dead on December 25, apparently from an overdose of prescription drugs.

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Russia Day (Russian: День России, Den’ Rossii) is the national holiday of the Russian Federation, celebrated on June 12. It has been celebrated every year since 1992. The First Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on June 12, 1990.