Andrei Kolesnikov: Hooked on Militarism?

new hope“New Hope. All drug addicts quit using. Some manage to do it while alive.” Photo by the Russian Reader

Where Militaristic Infantilism Leads
Society’s Losing Its Fear of War Is More Dangerous Than What Happens in the Absence of an Anti-War Movement
Andrei Kolesnikov
Vedomosti
November 28, 2018

The “polite people” in the Russian military have taken to ramming ships, shedding their politesse. A military coming out has happened. Either so-called hybrid war has become more hybridized in terms of the variety of its methods or it has become more like good old-fashioned war, involving actual armed clashes. Politically, Russia has become not merely toxic but hypertoxic. A premonition of war prevails among more timid folks, although the footage of the ramming at sea, as painless and triumphal as a military parade on Red Square or a football match (“Crush him!”), still make military operations appear unscary and toylike. We will carry the day in any case, sans victims and blood (ours, that is), as in a cartoon by Putin.

This militaristic infantilism—the loss of the fear of war, the loss of the idea that war is terrible—is the worst outcome of our country’s daily intoxication with the thought of its own greatness for several years running. The army is greatly respected nowadays. People need to trust someone, and the armed forces have bypassed another institution, the presidency, in trustworthiness ratings.

Does this mean Russians are ready for a real war? To put it more plainly, are Russian parents willing to let their eighteen-year-old boys be called up to fight Ukrainian boys just like them? Does anyone understand what they would be fighting for? Is it really all about cementing the nation, “Crimea is ours!” and the personal ambitions of several high-ranking figures in the Russian establishment?

Since 2012, Russia’s collective identity has been built on negative foundations, on awakened resentment, which had been dozing, but had no thought of waking up. The plan has worked quite well. This resentment, however, is verbal and fictitous. Public opinion supported “coal miners” and “tractor drivers” verbally. In Syria, the official army and private military companies fought, or so Russians imagined, at their own risk. The proxy war with the US has gone very far at times, but in the summer of 2018 it did not stop the majority of Russians from abruptly improving their attitude [sic] to the States and the west in general.

But suddenly there is the threat of a real war. On the other side of the border, in the country [i.e., Ukraine] that the Russian imperialist mind never really considered sovereign, a mobilization is underway and martial law has been declared. Is this reality capable of changing popular opinion and rousing Russian civil society, which has a lot going for it except an anti-war movement? No, because so far the war has not been regarded as real.

Identification with the military is the last bullet in the Russian regime’s gun, but it is a blank or, rather, a prop. Exploiting what Russians regard as sacred—i.e., privatization of the memory of the Great Patriotic War [WWII] by a particular group—is a tool that is still in play, but militarism as such has lost its power to mobilize and consolidate Russians. If “German POWs” are marched around Novgorod on January 20, 2019, in an absurd attempt to reenact the NKVD’s Operation Grand Waltz, and on January 29, a military parade is held in St. Petersburg to mark the latest anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad, it will not raise Putin’s approval rating from 66% to 80%. Those days are gone. So, the props have been dropped in favor of direct action in the Kerch Strait, but its power to mobilize people is not at all obvious.

You can cynically throw the ashes of those who perished in the Siege of Leningrad to stoke the furnace of fading ratings as much as you want. You can march people dressed up as German POWs round Novgorod as much as you like. When, however, pollsters ask Russians between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four what countries they regard as role models, they list Germany, China, and the US. This is not because young Russians are unpatriotic, but because not everything comes to down to the top brass feeding on the poisonous corpse of the Stalinist past. The present day, progress, and visions for the future matter, too.

Can we do it again? We cannot. Nor is there any reason to do it. Infantilized by the regime, Russian society’s maturation will be measured by the numbers of people who are convinced that we cannot and should not do it again.

Andrei Kolesnikov is program director at the Moscow Carnegie Center. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Crimea and Gays Be Damned (For the Record)

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This morning, I came across a flat-out lie (or an honest mistake), penned by a professor at one of the most august universities in the United States. But you would only know it was a lie or a mistake if you had been here in Petersburg to see what actually happened at Manifesta 10, and had some basic street smarts when it comes to the art scene and real grassroots politics here.

This partly explains why, for example, there is virtually no anti-war movement in Russia: because too many people whose avowed politics should make them natural leaders and organizers of a Russian anti-war movement (i.e., a movement against Russian imperialist military aggression, not a choir of angels hovering above all frays everywhere and quietly chiding “all parties to the conflict” on social media) have been more concerned to make the right impression on the right people in the big white world.

This is not to mention that virtually no one in the so-called Russian leftist art/activist community, especially in Petersburg, made even so much as a peep when the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly and, later, the State Duma passed the infamous homophobic laws , which are still safely and shamefully on the books in Russia.

I really don’t understand how, thirty or forty years from now, scholars and merely curious people will be able to get to the bottom of anything that happened in our time with so much abject propaganda camouflaged as journalism and “research” lying around everywhere.

“After the annexation of Crimea and the passing of a number of restrictive laws in Russia (not least the banning of so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’), it seemed macabre to many that the avowedly progressive European Biennale should take place in the State Hermitage museum as planned. The collective Chto Delat?, who were slated to participate in the biennale, wrote an open letter to star curator Kasper König, demanding that Manifesta 10 issue a public statement against the recent action of the Russian government. When their calls went unmet (aside from prompting critique of direct politicization in contemporary art) Chto Delat? and a number of Russian and Polish artists withdrew from the show.”

No Russian artists withdrew from the show whatsoever. That is a fact. Some local artists loudly withdrew from one part of Manifesta only to pop up quite prominently in another part of Manifesta. These same people mocked any “Polish artists” (?) who might have actually withdrawn from the show. They definitely attacked anyone outside Russia who called for an international boycott of the show. For literally all the Petersburg artists and curators involved, the show absolutely had to go on, Crimea and gays be damned. {TRR}

Photo by the Russian Reader

‘Ere, or, Applied Culanthics

DSCN5744.jpg‘Ere, 2018. Graffiti found in Central Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

This is a soundbite of champagne leftist culanthical research at its worst.

Monstrations are a symptom of a deep crisis of the pro-state nationalist and anti-state liberal discourses that reduce Russia’s complex political reality to two formulaic camps, obliterating space for democratic debate. Could there be an American monstration? One that resists Trump, but also refuses to explain away the phenomenon of Trump by referring to bigots and Russian agents? One that neither demonizes Russia nor justifies the actions of Putin’s regime?

Is Russia’s political reality really all that complex?

Why, if the US is filled with teenagers who can take the stage at a massive rally on the Mall in DC and make inspiring, cogent, coherent speeches, do we need the incoherent, politically feckless, thrift-store surrealism of the Novosibirsk Monstrations?

If we can either impeach Trump, pin him down with a crippling special investigation or, finally, simply fail to renominate or reelect him, why do we need to explain him away or even explain him at all?

What is the difference between Trump and “the phenomenon of Trump”?

If, nevertheless, well-paid, tenured academics force us to explain this “phenomenon,” why can’t we refer to bigots and Russian agents? Are they mere figments of our imagination?

Who does a better job of “demonizing” Russia?

People trying to explain away the phenomenon of Trump?

(By the way, why isn’t it “the Trump phenomenon”? Is “the phenomenon of Trump” more culanthically correct?)

Or are the true demonizers the Putin regime itself, a regime that has been quite demonstrably engaged in setting a new land speed record in sheer gangster nastiness at home and abroad at least since 2014, although we know they started much, much earlier (i.e., when Putin was deputy mayor of Petersburg in the early and mid nineties, and served as Mayor Anatoly Sobchak’s bag man and liaison with dicey “foreign investors” and local gangsters)? // TRR

P.S. The culanthics only go downhill from there.

The banners you see at monstrations state their theme obliquely. In the spring of 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea, the slogan “Crimea is ours!” dominated pro-government media channels and billboards. The liberal opposition, conversely, stressed that the Crimea was illegally stolen. Meanwhile, monstrations sided with neither of these accounts. On May 1, 2014, the Novosibirsk monstration walked behind the banner “Hell is ours!”, a statement that iconically and ironically challenged the official slogan, but also refused the simplified version of the political events advanced by the liberal opposition. The march united young people with different political opinions, from those who saw the annexation as an isolated unlawful act to those who refused the liberal oppositional story and instead saw the Crimea in connection with other events, including the attempts of the extreme right and ultranationalist movements in Ukraine to hijack the popular Maidan revolution.

Such is the secret of the trendy “third position” in Russian and Russophile “anti-authoritarian leftism”: to side with nobody but other third positionists, to hover high above Moscow, Peterburg, Crimea, Donetsk, Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta or, in this case, the Berkley Hills like angels of history. God forbid the third positionists should ever do something so rash as actually organize a real anti-war movement explicitly and loudly opposed to the Kremlin’s predations in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere.

One, it would involve a lot of needless work.

Two, it could get the third positionists, otherwise accustomed to a heavy schedule of jetsetting from academic conference to art residency to speaking engagement, into a lot of hot water. They definitely do not want to go to prison for any reason, unlike those careless antifascists from Penza and Petersburg, about whom the third positionists mostly have nothing to say, unsurprisingly.

(Russian and Russophilic third positionism requires its adepts to refrain from criticizing Russia’s foreign and domestic policy catastrophes and crimes as much as humanly possible. People who, on the contrary, criticize the current Russian regime’s actions loudly and often are labeled “liberals” and “Russophobes,” the worst words imaginable in the third positionist vocabulary.)

Three, it would mean the third positioniks would have to give up their firmly held conviction, which they share with Vladimir Putin, Alexander Dugin, and Vyacheslav Surkov et al., that all the evil in the world originates solely in the United States and that, however hamfisted and controversial its actions, Russia has only been reacting to the miseries deliberately visited on it by American unilateral imperialism and neoliberalism.

Russophile leftists lap this spiked rhetorical gravy up like hound dogs who have not been fed for a week, so the invitations to appear at conferences and contempory art hootenanies, and contribute essays to “politicized” art mags and cutting-edge scholarly journals keep pouring in. After all, it is what really matters in life, not Syrian children, blasted to smithereens by Russian bombs, or hapless Crimean Tatars, rotting in Russian prisons because they are too stupid to know what is good for them.

Never Think of It, Never Speak of It

DSCN4763“Enigma.” Photo by the Russian Reader

“In the last two weeks, one thousand and forty-two people, including about a hundred and fifty-six children, have been killed in eastern Ghouta, in what human-rights groups fear is a final, all-out offensive to retake one of the few remaining rebel-held enclaves in the country. Bombings by Syrian and Russian planes have been indiscriminate, killing civilians, levelling homes, and destroying medical facilities. Bashar al-Assad’s regime—with the full support of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military—have flouted calls for a complete ceasefire.”
Rozina Ali, ‘It’s Raining Rockets’: Deadly New Syrian-Russian Assault Kills Hundreds in Eastern Ghouta, New Yorker, March 8, 2018

What I really don’t understand is why there isn’t an enterprising Russian or group of Russians who would set up a WordPress blog or a special page on Facebook or VK where they could post translations of foreign press articles about the war in Syria like the article quoted, above. If the Russian media either wants to ignore what is happening there or constantly lie about it, that does not mean the war should be of no interest to Russians opposed to dropping Russian bombs on non-Russia men, women, children, residential buildings, and hospitals that have never done any harm to any Russian men, women, children, residential buildings, and hospitals, and that never thought of doing them any harm.

At this point, I really just don’t get it. The collective silence in Russia when it comes to the Kremlin’s and the Russian military’s crimes in Syria is on the verge of the pathological.

There is not much to be said for the efficacy and vociferousness of antiwar movements in the US, UK, Australia, and the other countries that sent soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, but it certainly cannot be said that there have not been a relatively large number of people in those same countries engaged either in some kind of peacemaking or awareness raising about what trouble their leaders and armies have caused there and the enormities they have committed.

It’s practically a cottage industry, for what it’s worth.

In Russia, on the contrary, it is as if Syria exists literally in a parallel universe with no connection whatsoever to Russians and their daily lives.

Never think of it, never speak of it. TRR

Summer of Friendship Campaign Continues in Petersburg

Summer of Friendship Campaign Continues in Petersburg
David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
June 29, 2015

The Vesna (“Spring”) Movement has continued its Summer of Friendship campaign for peace between Russia and Ukraine.

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Summer of Friendship postcard

Yesterday, Sunday, June 28, Vesna activists handed out blank postcards on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya Street asking people to write kind messages to Ukrainians.

The organizers claimed that members of the public dropped over two hundred “freedom postcards” into a special mailbox during the event. Our correspondent estimated that the number of postcards submitted was closer to one hundred.

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“Russian Post”

“All the letters will be sent shortly to the addressees. Our colleagues in Kyiv and other cities will help us deliver them. We want to remind both Russians and Ukrainians that we are a fraternal people and must remain this way. We have many things in common: history, culture, family connections—everything but politicians. And we must overcome hatred together!” Vesna’s press secretary Anton Gorbatsevich explained in a letter to our correspondent.

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Similar actions took place in Krasnodar and Tomsk, and another such event has been planned for Voronezh in a few days.

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All photographs by and courtesy of David Frenkel

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

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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.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Vesna (“Spring”) Movement | June 9, 2015 | vk.com

Vesna recalls the fate of Russian troops in the Donbas

Another grave appeared on the Field of Mars in Petersburg today.

Near the graves of the victims of revolutions and civil war there has appeared a tombstone in memory of the victims of a new fratricidal war, a war between Russia and Ukraine.

Set up by the Vesna Movement, the new Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is meant to remind people of the hundreds and thousands of our compatriots who have been sent by Putin to the war with Ukraine. They are lied about. It is said they are on leave or that they resigned from the service, but more and and more evidence points to the fact that Russian soldiers have been fighting in the Donbas, and have been coming back wounded or in coffins.

Their graves are concealed, they are not talked about, and their relatives, in return for promises of compensation, lie and say the soldiers died during training exercises. The graves do exist, however.  There is this one mock grave on the Field of Mars, and lots of real graves all over Russia.

We are protesting against Putin’s recent decree, making the military’s losses during “peacetime” a state secret. This hypocritical and cowardly decision is of a piece with the Russian regime’s policy of befuddling soldiers with propaganda, sending them off to war, and then lying that they had never existed. And instead of peacetime we have an undeclared war with a fraternal people.

Vladimir Putin has often been credited with the phrase, “We don’t abandon our own guys.” But we have recorded the correct version of the phrase on our memorial: “We don’t abandon our own guys, but those weren’t in fact our guys.” He easily sacrifices both his own and other people’s soldiers to achieve his political objectives.

Putin is a war criminal whose place is in the dock at the Hague Tribunal. That is certainly where he will end up, unless the fate of other dictators who fought with their own people does not catch up with him first.

Ub5yzKoHBeo“An unknown soldier who died in the Donbas during ‘peacetime.’” // “‘We don’t abandon our own guys, but those weren’t in fact our guys.’ V. Putin.” Photo by David Frenkel