They Are Who They Are

gorzhush“Tomorrow, the whole world will write about this. I am proud of my profession. #FreeIvanGolunov…” Vedomosti.ru: Vedomosti, Kommersant, and RBC will for the first time…” Screenshot of someone’s social media page by Ayder Muzhdabaev. Courtesy of Ayder Muzhdabaev

Ayder Muzhdabaev
Facebook
June 9, 2019

Russia’s “liberal opposition journalists” have been vying to praise each other as they celebrate a feast of “disobedience.” They just stood in the crossfire, that is, in timid solo pickets. And now, risking having their offices torched, three newspapers have produced editions with the same headline in defense of a colleague detained by police on trumped-up charges.

They have never nor would they ever publish a newspaper with the headline “I Am/We Are Crimean Tatars,” a people their country has been murdering and imprisoning on trumped-up charges by the hundreds for the last five years.

They have never nor would they publish a newspaper with the headline “I Am/We Are Ukrainians,” a people their country has been murdering by the thousands and imprisoning by the hundreds on trumped-up charges for the last five years.

It suffices to say they would even find printing the headline “I Am/We Are Oleg Sentsov” terrifying. It would never occur to them because they know how life works in the Reich, where Ukrainians are “fascists,” and Crimean Tatars are “terrorists,” just like Oleg Sentsov. So “I-ing” and “we-ing” is taboo to them.

They are delicately integrated into the Russian Reich. They feel it in their bones. They are one of the regime’s vital props. The hybrid dictatorship badly needs to pretend there is a political struggle in Russia and the country has a free press. They help it in its quest to destroy the western world and attack other countries.

They always only do things that won’t get them in serious trouble. They would never do anything that poses the slightest risk of exposing them as real enemies of the Reich.

We enter this in #TheChroniclesOfTheRussianReich.

Translated by the Russian Reader

i-we

The front page of Vedomosti, June 10, 2019: “I Am/We Are Golunov.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

Joint Communique on the Ivan Golunov Case by the Editors of Vedomosti, Kommersant, and RBC 
We Demand Maximum Transparency from Investigation
Vedomosti
June 9, 2019

Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter with Meduza, was detained on June 6 on suspicion of attempting to produce and distribute narcotics.

We welcome the fact that the court has ordered house arrest for Golunov rather than remanding him in custody in a pretrial detention facility.

However, we do not find the evidence of Golunov’s guilt, as provided by police investigators, convincing, while the circumstances of his arrest raise serious doubts that laws were not broken in the conduct of the initial investigation.

We cannot rule out the possibility that Golunov’s arrest has something to do with his work as a journalist.

We demand a detailed inquiry into whether the Interior Ministry officers who were complicit in Golunov’s arrest acted legally. We insist that the outcome of this inquiry be provided to the media.

We expect law enforcement to comply strictly with the law. We demand maximum transparency from the investigation. We will closely monitor the investigation’s progress. We encourage relevant public organizations to join us.

We believe implementation is fundamentally important not only to Russa’s journalism community but also to Russian society as a whole. We demand that everyone obey the law and the law be obeyed with regard to everyone.

Translated by the Russian Reader

upside down cake

Pineapple upside down cake. Stock photo

Nearly the entire leftist and liberal Russian intelligentsia have thrown their ferocious but scattered energies into a campaign to free a well-known journalist on whom the cops planted narcotics. It is obviously frame-up and rightly makes folks in the world’s largest country indignant.

But it also makes people think they are fighting the good fight when most of the fights they should be fighting or should have been fighting long ago they ignore altogether, like the fight against what their own government and armed forces have been doing in Syria, or the kangaroo court trials against antifascists in Penza and Petersburg (the so-called Network trials), and the alleged (Muslim Central Asian) accomplices of the alleged suicide bomber who, allegedly, blew himself up in the Petersburg subway in April 2017.

I shouldn’t even mention the case of the so-called New Greatness “movement,” an “extremist group” set up, concocted, and encouraged from its miserable start to inglorious finish by the FSB (KGB). Its so-called members did nothing but attend a couple of “political” discussions organized by the selfsame FSB.

All these young people have been framed, and many of them have plausibly claimed they were tortured by FSB officers.

That is, whole groups of innocent people (mind you, I am only scratching the surface here, leaving out scores if not hundreds if not thousands of the regime’s other victims at home and abroad) have been railroaded by the mighty Putinist state, but they have not been granted an audience, so to speak, by progressive Russian society because progressive Russian society cannot identify with any of them in any way.

But it can identify with the nice white middle-class reporter from Moscow. And it does want to remind itself of its essential goodness and compassion from time to time, so everyone has jumped on the bandwagon to get the reporter out of jail.

Or, rather, engage in a frenzy of virtue signaling that may not actually get him out of jail.

Bully for them, but no one notices that many of these grassroots campaigns are patterned like hysterias and moral panics. They are also identical to other suddenly emergent internet-powered fads, like the recent craze for Game of Thrones or “Facebook flash mobs” that involve, say, posting a picture of yourself from twenty years ago and explaining what you were up to way back then.

It has to be something, anything, except the things that matter a million times more, like the Russia air force’s endless bombing of Syrian children and Syrian hospitals, and the Putin regime’s endless, vicious hunt for “extremists” and “terrorists” like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Network “terrorists,” the “New Greatness” extremists, the conspicuously othered (and, thus, forgotten) Petersburg subway “terrorists,” and on and on.

These witch hunts are discussed publicly by virtually no one, and their victims (this is especially the case with the Central Asian “subway bombers”) are mostly left to fend for themselves.

What matters about the reporter is that he is white, innocent, and “one of us.” Apparently, he doesn’t believe in “extremist” nonsense like antifascism, anarchism, Islam or Jehovah’s Witness doctrine.

The reaction to the case is a symptom of liberalism that is utterly white and nationalist, meaning it is not liberalism at all.

It is white nationalism with a human face, Great Russian chauvinism turned upside down.

“They cannot do this to one of us.”

But “they” have done to it to thousands of non-white, non-Russian others over the years, including Chechens, antifascists, Syrians, Crimean Tatars, businessmen, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Krasnodar’s farmers, truckers, environmentalists, anarchists, LGBTQ+ activists, Central Asian migrant workers, Ukrainians, anti-“reunification” Crimeans, the passengers of MH17, US voters, etc.

Almost no one batted an eye when they were “destroyed” (this is the regime’s pet dehumanizing verb for when it murders or obliterates its enemies), neutralized or otherwise royally fucked over by the Putin regime.

It is all over but the shouting unless the shouting becomes a lot more inclusive quickly. June 9, 2019 || THE RUSSIAN READER

redman.JPGPhoto by the Russian Reader

“This is too much, even for Russia.”
Meduza editor on BBC Radio 4 morning news broadcast, commenting on the arrest of Meduza reporter Ivan Golunov, 9 June 2019

But declaring all Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremists” and organizing a witch hunt against them is not too much, “even for Russia”?

I had it with Meduza after the ham-fisted, blatantly misogynist way it handled its recent in-house #MeToo scandal. The scandal revealed the actual shallowness of the website’s liberalism.

Of course, Meduza should defend its reporter from police railroading.

But the fact it has managed to make the story go international in a matter of days and then, using this bully pulpit, suggest there is nothing worse going on in Russia than Golunov’s persecution, also reveals something about the depth of its liberalism or, rather, about what passes for liberalism in Russia.

Unlike liberalism in other countries, Russian liberalism has no time for anybody but the rather narrow segment of Russians it recognizes as full-fledged human beings.

I would guess this amounts to less than one percent of the entire population, but I am probably being too generous. June 9, 2019 || THE RUSSIAN READER

crisisRussia does not have to worry about a crisis of democracy. There is no democracy in Russia nor is the country blessed with an overabundance of small-d democrats. The professional classes, the chatting classes, and much of underclass, alas, have become accustomed to petitioning and beseeching the vicious criminal gang that currently runs Russia to right all the country’s wrong and fix all its problems for them instead of jettisoning the criminal gang and governing their country themselves, which would be more practically effective. Photo by the Russian Reader

Free the Network case defendants, the Jehovah’s Witnesses facing charges and the ones already doing jail time, ditto for the Crimean Tatars, Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko, the Ukrainian sailors, Yuri Dmitriev, the Petersburg subway bombing defendants, the myriads of Russian businessmen in prison after they were set up by rivals and taken down by the FSB for a good price, the New Greatness kids, and hundreds of other Russian “outlaws” whose names I cannot remember or, worse, have never heard.

Free them first, and the day after you free them, free Ivan Golunov.

While you Are at it, stop making war in Eastern Ukraine and stop bombing innocent Syrians. And bring the people responsible for shooting down Flight MH17 and killing everyone on board to justice.

The day after you have done all these things, free Ivan Golunov.

But don’t be such arrogant, self-important pricks as to appear on the world’s most respected radio and TV network and claim the Golunov case is the worst thing that has happened under Putin’s reign.

Anna Politkovskaya was murdered, for God’s sake. And so were Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.

I could start another list of reporters, activists, politicians, etc., who were murdered, probably on the orders of the Kremlin or with its blessing, over the last twenty years.

Boris Nemtsov was murdered only a few hundred meters from the Kremlin.

God forbid I should mention “convicted pedophile” Sergei Koltyrin. Even the most hardcore human rights advocates in Russia have abandoned him and made mention of his name taboo, although I am reasonably certain he was set up just like the saint-like Ivan Golunov, only on charges so devastating that his former allies abandoned him and he abandoned himself to the nonexistent mercies of Russia’s nonexistent justice system.

But, definitely, the worse thing that has happened under Putin’s reign is the house arrest of Meduza reporter Ivan Golunov on what are undoubtedly trumped-up drug charges. June 9, 2019 || THE RUSSIAN READER

barney fife

P.S. As I was assembling this collage of reflections inspired by the collective hysteria among the Russian liberal intelligentsia over reporter Ivan Golunov’s dubious arrest, it occurred to me that, perhaps, my own reaction and that of Ayder Muzhdabaev, whose “outburst” leads off this montage, were not sufficiently charitable.

But then I read and translated what the editors of Kommersant, RBC, and Vedomosti published on the front pages of their newspapers today. Their milquetoast appeal to Russian law enforcement—a multi-headed hydra that has spent the last thirty years proving again and again it is one of the most brutal, vicious criminal gangs in the world, an army of thugs who routinely terrorize the people they have sworn to protect, a mob of degenerates who will stop at nothing, including the routine use of torture, to get their man—sounds more like an appeal to US TV sitcom cops Barney Miller and Barney Fife.

Do these hardened (?) newspaper reporters really believe an appeal like this will have a real effect on the investigation of Golunov’s nonexistent crimes?

It is also worth remembering (as Sergey Abashin did on his Facebook page earlier today) that the free press warriors at Kommersant recently fired a reporter for writing negative comments about Valentina Matviyenko, formerly Putin’s satrap in Petersburg, currently chair of the Federation Chamber, which rubber-stamps all the odious, wildly unconstitutional laws sent its way. In protest at the firing, the newspaper’s entire political desk immediately resigned as well.

That, by the way, is real solidarity, although it probably won’t get them their jobs back, quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, RBC has been a shell of its former militant self after its owners fired three top editors three years ago and, again, a whole slew of reporters resigned along with them.

RBC used to have an investigative reporting desk that would be the envy of any newspaper anywhere in the world. Nowadays, it mostly reports the kinds of “news” its oligarch owners and the Kremlin want it to report.

The 2011–2012 fair elections protests were mostly an extended exercise in virtue signaling and “creativity,” not a serious attempt by the grassroots to force the Kremlin to hold fair elections, much less to attempt regime change. Russian society has paid heavily for its frivolousness then.

Why, then, has it not yet figured out what its foe is really like? Why does it appeal for justice and fairness to authorities who have proven beyond a reasonable doubt they are hardened criminals? Finally, why does it imagine that reposting Ivan Golunov’s articles on Facebook is real solidarity? Does it think the regime will fall if, say, a million people repost these articles? Five million?

Photo of Don Knotts as Barney Fife courtesy of Wikipedia

Advertisements

We Change Our Minds like Socks, or, The Pollocracy’s Comeback

3Focus group drawing from the study “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trends?” The first panels is labeled “Now.” The second panel shows a drunken Russia at the bottom of the stairs “in five years,” while “the US, Europe, Canada, China, [and] Japan” stand over it dressed in swanky business suits. The third panel is entitled “Friendship.” Source: Fond Liberalnaya Missiya

Experts Who Predicted Bolotnaya Claim Attitudes of Russians Have Changed
Vladimir Dergachov
RBC
December 24, 2018

Economists Mikhail Dmitriev and Sergei Belanovsky, and psychologists Anastasia Nikolskaya and Elena Cherepanova have authored a new report, “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trend?” which they will present on Monday, December 24.

RBC has obtained a copy of the study. It was conducted as a follow-up to previous autumn opinion polls, which identified a loss of interest in foreign policy among Russians, growing dissatisfaction with domestic policy, and a collapse in reliance on the government.

How the Study Was Conducted
The experts combined qualitative sociology and psychological tests [sic], comparing the results with the Levada Center’s polling data. In October and November 2018, respondents in Moscow, Vladimir, Gus Khrustalny, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Saransk, Romodanovo (a village in Mordovia), and Ufa were surveyed as part of focus groups. In Moscow, a number of focus groups were convened involving public sector employees, including physicians, and university lecturers and researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN). There was also a mixed focus group featuring engineers, traffic police officers, and theater employees.

Peace Instead of Scandals
Previous surveys, conducted by Dmitriev and Belanovsky in April and May 2018, showed Russians largely supported the country’s foreign policy, although critical respondents said the country spent too much money on supporting other countries and used foreign policy to distract people from issues at home. Six months later, the statements made by respondents revealed a demand for a peaceable foreign policy. “Spy scandals, falling missiles, certain statements by Russian politicians, and the protracted war in Syria” have led to a downturn in support for Russia’s foreign policy, the report claims.

In the May 2018 study, respondents were not yet pessimistic about the future. In the October surveys, however, a majority (68%) of respondents had a negative attitude towards the future. They envisioned a Russia that, in five years, was weakening and lagging behind other countries in terms of progress, a country whose populace was intimidated and did not have the right to vote.

They Predicted the Bolotnaya Square Movement

In March 2011, Dmitriev and Belanovsky, then employed at the Center for Strategic Development (TsSR), presented a report in which they alleged a profound political crisis had emerged, and support for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev and United Russia had fallen off. They predicted increasing dissatisfaction with the political system. Less than a year later, sparked by insufficiently [sic] fair and transparent elections to the State Duma, large-scale protests kicked off in Russia.

Self-Expression Instead of Survival
In the May study, the demand for justice had increased dramatically, shunting aside the previously dominant demand for a strong leader. In October, the invocation of distributive justice (a more equal distribution of income and assets) gave way to the demand for procedural justice (equality of all before the law).

The respondents in all the focus groups felt physical needs and government welfare were less important than the need for respect, liberty, and leaders capable of voicing these values. Harsh statements by public officials on social issues (i.e., that people could live on 3,500 rubles a month by eating macaroni, etc.) had provoked increasing irritation. Concerning the raising of the retirement age, the respondents negatively assessed the suddenness of the decision and the way it was made behind closed doors.

Ninety-four percent of respondents claimed they no longer relied on the government, only on themselves. Sixty-three percent of respondents expressed a willingess to contribute personally to the country’s progress. This contribution was conceived in different ways: from a willingness to pay high taxes and be involved in charitable work, to grassroots activism and educational outreach. According to a Levada Center poll, 60% of respondents felt responsible and were willing to make personal efforts to facilitate improvements in Russia.

A Demand for Change
The May study testified to a slackening of reliance on a strong leader among Russians. In October, the analysts registered a demand for new leaders who would respect people, be honest and democratic [sic], admit to their mistakes, and act in the people’s interest. These qualities were bound up with the values of self-expression, which were foregrounded by respondents.

These qualities had little in common with the positive and negative qualities Russians [sic] had used to assess Vladimir Putin in a July poll by the Levada Center (stability, respect, personal charm, capacity for compromise, firmness, and foresight). The discrepancy in criteria was a sign of the rudimentary emergence of counter-elite sentiments [sic], the researchers warned.

A growing demand for change was noted among the respondents. Up to 76% of respondents would be willing to support temporarily painful reforms vital to overcoming the crisis in Russia. Russians no longer demanded immediate improvements. They were willing to wait and endure hardship for the sake of a positive ultimate income.

The respondents had almost no substantive notions of the necessary reforms. The experts compared public opinion to an “empty vessel” waiting for new leaders who inspired confidence.

None of the focus groups voiced aggression towards the regime, but the willingness to get involved in social movements had grown. The demand for respect and freedom prevailed over other demands, and thus the struggle for respect was imagined by the respondents as peaceable and legitimate.

Negativism towards the regime was no longer associated with a demand for populism, whose tokens include the appeal to distributive justice and anti-immigrant sentiments.

Frustation of Public Sector Employees
The report devotes a entire section to moods in the study’s public sector worker focus groups. The researchers discovered the highest level of tension among these people.

Public sector employees were frustrated not because of financial problems [sic], but because of the sector’s irrational organization [sic]. For example, due to the May 2012 decree on raising salaries, the managers of many public sector organizations took some workers off payroll, dramatically increasing the workload of other employees. The respondents were also dissatisfied with the avalanche of reports due to increasing bureaucratization, the chronically poor quality of management, and the fact that personal loyalty to bosses had replaced professionalism in the management hierarchy.

Three Scenarios
According to the experts, these trends indicate Russian public opinion has moved beyond the “stasis” of the post-Crimean consensus. They paint three possible scenarios for further changes in public opinion. The first would involve returning to “rallying around the flag,” typical of the post-Crimean period. This scenario would become a reality if international conflicts involving Russia escalated dramatically.

The second scenario would involve a rollback to counter-elite populism [sic] due to negative economic changes.

The third scenario foresees the consolidation of new values in the public’s mind over a lengthy period. This turn of events is likely if the status quo in the economy and foreign policy is maintained, that is, given sluggish economic growth and the absence of intense international conflicts. The experts cite Iran as an example of a country where this scenario has come true [sic]. Eighty percent of Iranians were born after the Islamic Revolution and have no experience of life under the previous regime. Due to the economic difficulties caused by western sanctions, young Iranians are tired of permanent crisis and disapprove of the country’s costly expansionist foreign policy. The unfavorable socio-economic conditions have a generated a demand for a alternative secularized and westernized lifestyle among young people.

In this scenario, the experts suggest altering the way the regime interacts with the populace in order to diminish its growing negativity. This is doable as long as the populace manifests no aggression towards the regime and is open to constructive dialogue.

The researchers note this scenarios contradicts the prevailing international trend of populists taking power. Unlike the societies of many developed countries, Russians have not descended into archaic populism and “social infantilism,” displaying instead increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in Russia [sic].

A Long-Term Shift
Political consultant Dmitry Fetisov generally agrees with the study’s findings. He links society’s growing demand for a peaceful foreign policy with the fact the Kremlin demonstrated a successful example of this policy during the 2018 FIFA World Cup [sic],  and the critical attitude of public sector employers towards the regime with the pension reform. Fetisov argues, however, that these trends could change depending on how the Kremlin acts.

Political scientist Nikolay Mironov is certain these shifts in public opinion are long term. He argues the trends described in the study have been caused by the post-2014 economic stagnation. Mironov does not believe a return to the “rally around the flag” consensus is possible, even in the event of international conflicts, unless they impinge on Russian territory. Mironov concludes what is needed are large-scale economic reforms and an easing of foreign policy.

Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov also notes the growing criticality of respondents towards officialdom and public fatigue from assistance to other countries [sic]. However, Volkov argues it is wrong to chart changes in public opinion by comparing surveys of focus groups, rather than using quantitative research. Fetisov likewise points to the study’s lack of representativeness, as it is based on comparing the opinions of different focus groups.

Translated by the Russian Reader

This article and the research paper it purports to summarize and analyze should be read with a huge spoonful of salt.

First, “public opinion” polls in Russia are wildly unreliable, as I have tried to show over the years on this website, often with a leg up from likeminded Russian journalists and researchers.

Second, this study, apparently, is a funhouse mirror image of the usual “Putin’s wild popularity” poll. The economists and psychologists who wrote the report set out to detect a “positive” sea change in Russian public opinion and, God willing, they found it, by offering their focus group respondents a weak-tea pipe dream they obviously dream themselves. If that dream seems rife with contradictions, it is, although the researchers seem utterly unaware of them.

Third, even in a country as messy, corrupt, and authoritarian as Russia, the idea that people can rely only on themselves is absurd. Of course, they rely on the government for lots of things, at least if they are living in more or less large towns and cities. To the extent that libertarianism has become popular here, it has done so only as a consequence of the prevailing black political reaction, as cultivated by the Putinist state and its propaganda organs.

On the other hand, we are supposed to imagine these newly minted libertarians would be simultaneously willing to pay high taxes and endure hardships to make their country a better place, and yet this is supposed to happen without the “social infantilism” of “developed countries” where people protest on the streets against elites.

Given that the once-mighty RBC has long been a shadow of its former self, I was tempted to write this passage off as ad-libbing on the part of their reporter, but, in fact, he merely paraphrased the report’s authors, to wit:

В отличие от обществ многих развитых стран, население которых продолжает скатываться популистскую архаику и «социальный инфантилизм», российское население неожиданно для всех начинает демонстрировать возросшую социальную зрелость и ответственность за положение дел в стране. Эти качества в наибольшей мере ассоциируются с модернизированной системой ценностей, характерной для развитых стран до того, как их стала охватывать волна контрэлитного популизма.

“In contrast to the societies of many developed countries, whose populace continues to slide into archaic populism and ‘social infantilism,’ the Russian populace has surprised everyone by beginning to show increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in the country. These qualities [were] associated with the modernized value system of the developed countries before the wave of counter-elite populism engulfed them.”

As this blog has shown over the last eleven years, I have often been among the first to celebrate and chronicle emergent grassroots resistance and social movements in Russia, but the people who wrote the passage above were engaging in wishful thinking, not scholarship. If anything, their counterintuitive, baseless conclusion shows the contradictions of the newfangled method of governance at arm’s length I have dubbed the “pollocracy.”

The pollocracy has been used by the regime to monitor “public moods” while also explicitly and aggressively shaping that mood by asking pointed questions that countenance only certain answers.

On the other hand, it is used by the regime AND its allegedly liberal pseudo-critics to, alternately, register tremors of discontent among an otherwise disenchranchised and disempowered populace, and demonstrate these exact same people are routinely subject to all sorts of illiberal, irrational populist delusions and phobias, thus making them unfit to govern themselves.

Finally, the pollocracy has been used as a substitute for actual, full-fledged grassroots political involvement. A populace that “slides” into “archaic populism” and “social infantilism” is one thing (a bad thing), but a populace that meekly agrees to confine its dissent to skewed public opinion polls and hokey focus groups is both “socially mature” and not a threat to anyone, least of all to the current Russian regime.

It is especially telling these “socially mature” focus groups expect, allegedly, a less aggressive Russian foreign policy to emerge ex nihilo, merely because they wish it into existence in the safety of their anonymous focus groups. God forbid they should have to organize a national anti-war movement on their own. {TRR}

The Media’s Russia Obsession?

trumputin

Let’s talk about the media’s so-called Russia obsession for a few minutes.

What is meant by this is that the mainstream press have devoted tons of coverage to the substantial allegations that the Kremlin mounted a massive operation, mostly via social media, to influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election and, further, that the campaign of the candidate who won the election actively colluded with the Kremlin, among other things, in order to discredit the candidate’s main opponent in the election. The press has also focused a lot on Robert Mueller’s special investigation of these allegations.

Is all of this press coverage sterling? No. Does the press get the story wrong sometimes? Yes.

But this has always been the case with the nominally free press in nominally democratic societies ever since the free press emerged in the eighteenth century in a few countries groping their way towards democracy. It always been biased, prone to mistakes, and otherwise wildly imperfect. And yet it has always been subject to intense scrutiny, at least in my lifetime—and the really infantile desire on the part of certain social and political forces that it be perfect—that is, perfectly biased and ventriloquizing only their viewpoints—although these same forces are rarely so critical of either themselves or other important social institutions.

In this case, the social and political forces that routinely complain about the media’s so-called Russia obsession seem to mean, in fact, that the mainstream press and the press in general should simply stop covering what is surely the story of the century: allegations that the world’s largest country massively intervened in a presidential election in the world’s most powerful country, and that the man who won the election and members of his campaign and transition team were in close contact with agents of the world’s largest country during the campaign and transition.

What kind of press would we have if they completely ignored this story?

We would have a press much like the press in the world’s largest country, which routinely ignores or severely undercovers really big stories—such as the country’s involvement in putting down a popular revolution in a third country whose people have never down anything bad to the people of the world’s largest country—or which engages in outright Goebbels-like propaganda nearly every day, leaving the really important stories to opposition liberal newspapers and online media outlets that are read and accessed by a tiny fraction of the country’s populace.

Finally, the mainstream media have not been obsessed with Russia itself, but with the alleged actions of the Kremlin, Russian secret services, and Russian internet trolls in connection with the 2016 US presidential election. Period.

There is a another Russia, populated by 143 million people, that had nothing whatsoever to do with the story of the century. They did nothing to skew the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election and, in the main, their lives, aspirations, and actions are roundly ignored by the so-called mainstream media in the west and Russia itself. They are roundly ignored by the so-called alternative media, too, for the simple reason that much of the alternative media in the west operate under the delusion that Putin is an “anti-imperialist.” By definitions, Russians who oppose his sagacious rule must be “puppets of the west.”

If all of this weren’t the case, I would have expected that one or more of these “Russia-obsessed” or “anti-Russian-obsessed” newspapers, magazines, TV channels or websites would have picked up and covered, for example, the shocking story of the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network case, in which eleven young anarchists and antifascists have been accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” dubbed “the Network.”

Most of the accused men have told the same grisly tale of being abducted by FSB-KGB field agents, who took them to remote areas in minivans or to the basements of their headquarters and tortured them for hours, using tasers and bare electrical wires, and severe beatings, attempting to force them to memorize the “confessions” they would later make (or, in some cases, refuse to make) to FSB investigators, who would then petition the courts to send them to remand prisons, where all of them are still imprisoned to this day.

The allegations of torture have been confirmed by Russian civil rights activists and defense attorneys who spoke with some of the men soon after their arrests and, in a few cases, they were also confirmed by physicians who examined the men when their wounds were still fresh.

In any case, a small but growing group of very determined people, including the men’s parents, friends, reporters, human rights activists, and concerned citizens, have been working as hard as they can over the last year to bring the case to the attention of the wider Russian public, force prosecutors to investigate the allegations of torture by FSB officers, and otherwise prove that, as seems to be the case, the FSB conjured the entire tale of the “terrorist community” from whole cloth and then handpicked a dozen or so completely innocent young men to be the fallguys, trying to torture and pummel them into admitting their “guilt” although they were guilty of no crime at all.

You would think the “Russia-obsessed” corporate media would jump on a story like this, but except for one article in the New Yorker, the western corporate media have utterly ignored the story of the Network “terrorists,” despite the efforts of actual alternative media like openDemocracyRussia (oDR) and my own blog, the Russian Reader, to write about it any chance we can and translate Russian coverage of the case, as published in such as liberal, leftist and civil rights media outlets as Mediazona, OVD Info, and Novaya Gazeta.

The campaign to save the Network boys scored a minor victory the other day during a meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, when several members of the council brought up the case and a similar case no less shocking, the New Greatness case, and forced President Putin to talk about them.

A KGB-FSB officer to the core, Putin pretended not to have heard of the cases, which both pivot on allegations of extreme entrapment, torture, and fabrication by other KGB-FSB officers.

Putin hemmed and hawed, lied and prevaricated, feigned that he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, etc., but he did promise to look into the cases and get to the bottom of them.

It’s entirely possible he won’t do that, but it’s just as possible he will make the cases quietly go away to avoid embarrasment.

Who knows.

What I do know, though, is that western mainstream and alternative media, all of them “obsessed” with Putin (but not Russia) in their own way, have shown no interest in this story and thousands of other similar and dissimilar but no less fascinating stories from the real Russia inhabited by most Russians.

There was a slight uptick in their interest in grassroots Russia during the 2011–2012 fair elections protests, but since that movement was roundly defeated, western press coverage has been firmly refocused on the beloved hated figure of the supreme leader, thus once again denying nearly all the other 143 million Russians of agency, their own opinions, and their own lives.

If you’re interested in the Network case and related stories, please check out the coverage on oDR and the Russian Reader. Outside of Russia, practically speaking, there has been no coverage of the case anywhere else, and most things you read on international anarchist and antifascist websites are reprints of the stories we have translated and published.

So, let’s put this canard about the media’s Russia obsession to rest, okay? It’s deeply offensive to ordinary smart Russians, whose numbers are much greater than you would be led to think by the mostly lazy coverage of the country in the western press, and just as offensive to the handful of non-Russians who care deeply about what goes on here. {TRR}

P.S. You can support the Network suspects and their families concretely by donating to a solidarity campaign organized by comrades in London on their behalf. Your support will help to offset their legal costs, organizing humanitarian support for the arrested and offering support to their relatives. The resources gathered have so far been distributed according to the financial circumstances of the respective families and the needs of the arrested. Further financial support is being distributed according to the choices made by those arrested throughout the investigation.

Cartoon courtesy of JA and Union Thugs 

Ivan Davydov: The Russian Protest Federation

614352f5bad27acc282af798084aa5e3Protest rally in Abakan against plans to raise the retirement age. Photo by Alexander Kryazhev. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Republic

The Russian Protest Federation: How Moscow Has Stopped Shaping the Political Agenda. Will Ordinary Russians Realize Pension Reform and Geopolitical Triumphs Are Linked?
Ivan Davydov
Republic
September 27, 2018

The people who took to the streets long ago on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue deserve the credit for the reinstatement of gubernatorial elections in Russia. It was a time that would be unimaginable now. There was no war with Ukraine. Crimea had not been annexed. No one had given Syria a second thought. It still makes you wonder why the Kremlin took fright then, albeit briefly. Instead of guessing, we should note it was the capital that led the national protest movement then, confirming yet again the centripetal nature of life in Russia. Over a 100,000 people attended the first two protest rallies in Moscow, on December 10, 2011, and February 4, 2012. Petersburg took second place, sending 25,000 people onto the streets for its February 2012 rally, but no one other city was even close. Protests took place in dozens of cities, including all the major ones, but the best the regions achieved was something on the order of 5,000 people in attendance. In most places, the average crowd numbered around a thousand people.

The opposition failed just like the regime. It transpired the national agenda and the agenda of Muscovites were the same thing. The farther you went from Moscow, the less people were worried about the issues exercising newspaper reporters. Least of all were they worried about their own real problems, about local issues, and thus there was no chance of changing things in Russia.

But the credit for transforming gubernatorial elections into something really resembling elections, albeit quite remotely, must go to the regions. The takeaway message is that the regime’s electoral fiasco in the regions on September 9 is a nationally significant event. The rank-and-file voters there, who cast their ballots for sham candidates from parties other than United Russia as a way of registering their disgust with the local political bosses, have turned circumstances inside out. The regions are now dictating their agenda to Moscow, as governors who seemed invulnerable only recently look shaky, and even Putin himself has been forced to break a sweat.

Airbag
As befits a myth, the Moscow myth that, putting it as succinctly as possible, Moscow is not the real Russia, is not true at all. But, like any good myth with life in it, it is based on real things. As I write this column, water is gurgling in the radiators of the standard Moscow high-rise where I live, because the heating season has kicked off. It is ten degrees Celsius outside, and Moscow’s tender inhabitants would freeze otherwise. Meanwhile, all the news agencies are reporting as their top news item that a place in the queue to buy the new iPhone at Moscow stores will set you back 130,000 rubles [approx. 1,700 euros]. That is expensive, of course, but you would let yourself be seen as an outdated loser at your own peril.

Muscovites protest often, although in fewer numbers than during the fair elections movement. To outsiders, however, protesting Muscovites almost always look like whimsical people who are too well off for their own good. Everyone knows Moscow has wide pavements, new subway stations, the Moscow Central Ring, and perpetual jam festivals and nonstop carnivals on Nikolskaya Street. People who live in places where even today anti-tank trenches pass for roads, and the mayor nicked the benches from the only pedestrian street (urbanism is ubiquitous nowadays, no longer a Moscow specialty) and hauled them to his summer cottage, find it really hard to take seriously people who are up in arms over a new parks whose birches were imported from Germany, and holiday lighting whose cost is roughly the same as the annual budget of an entire provice somewhere outside the Black Earth Region. The residents of “construction trailer accretions” (you will remember that during one of President Putin’s Direct Lines, the residents of a “construction trailer accretion” in Nyagan came on the air to complain) find it hard to understood people protesting so-called renovation, as in Moscow, that is, people who protest the demolition of their old residential buildings and being resettled in new buildings. For that is how it appears when geographical distance obscures the particulars.

The regime has skillfully manipulated this gap. Remember the role played by the “real guys” from the Uralvagonzavod factory during the fair elections movement, or the out-of-towners bussed into the capital for pro-Putin rallies on Poklonnaya Hill and Luzhniki Stadium. But the gap functions as yet another airbag for the Kremlin even when it makes no special effort to manipulate it. Moscow is part of Russia when we are talking about national issues and the fact those issues are debated in Moscow as well, but since any sane non-resident of Moscow believes Moscow is no part of Russia, the big issues end up being issues that exercise Muscovites, but do not interest people beyond Moscow.

The Main Political Issue
Alexei Navalny has bridged the gap slightly. His attempt to set up regional presidential campaign offices seemed absurd since everyone, including Navalny, realized he would not be allowed on the ballot and there would be no reason to campaign. He ran a campaign anyway, and his campaign offices turned into local pockets of resistance, into needles that hit a nerve with the regime while simulatneously stitching Russia together and removing Moscow’s monopoly on national politics. His campaign offices are manned by bold young people willing to take risks and good at organizing protest rallies. Of course, even now more people in Moscow attend Navalny’s protest rallies than in other cities, but people have still been taking to the streets in dozens of cities for the first time since the fair elections protests of 2011–2012. Navalny’s campaign offices splice issues that the locals get with national issues, thus producing the fabric of real politics. When I discussed the subject of this column with the editors of Republic, one of them joked Navalny was a “franchise.” The joke has a point, but the point is not offensive.

It was Vladimir Putin, however, who really turned the tide or, rather, the federal authorities, of which Putin is the living embodiment. The pension reform has made it abundantly clear the Russian authoritarian state no longer intends to be paternalist. The state has suddenly discovered what people actually liked about it was the paternalism. Or they put up with the paternalism. It is hard to say what word would be more precise. But they did not put up with it due to its victories on the geopolitical front.

The pension reform has erased the line between the big issues, debated by well-fed people in Moscow, and the real issues that constitute the lives of real people. This is quite natural, since being able to claim Russia’s miserly pensions a bit earlier in life is more important in places where life is harder. Moscow is definitely not the worse place in Russia to live. Despite the myth, Moscow is no heaven on earth, either, but the central heating has already been turned on, for example.

So, even a dull, boring, well-rehearsed formality like gubernatorial elections has become an effective tool of protest. The regime made a single mistake, a mistake to which no one would have paid attention to a year ago. (Since when has vote rigging seriously outraged people in Russia? Since days of yore? Since 2011?) The mistake set off a chain reaction. The new single nationwide election day had been a boon to the Kremlin, its young technocrats, and its not-so-young handpicked “businesslike” governors. If the elections had not taken place simultaneously everywhere, and the fiasco in the Maritime Territory had occurred at the outset of the elections season, it is not clear how powerful a victory the no-name candidates from the loyal opposition would have scored.

Maybe Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky would have had to disband their parties for fear of reprisals from the regime, since, the way they have long seen things, there is nothing more terrifying than success, and nothing more dangerous than real politics.

A Moscow municipal district council member from the opposition can easily make a coherent, meaningful speech about how the war in Syria has impacted the clumsiness of Mayor Sobyanin’s hired hands, relaying the tile in some unhappy, quiet alley for the third time in a single year. The council member’s speech would elicit laughter, and the laughter would be appropriate. But amidst the customary laughter we need to be able to discern the main question of a reemergent Russian politics.

The issue is this. Will ordinary Russians understand—and, if so, how quickly—that the pension reform (the first but not the last gift to the common folk from their beloved leaders) is part and parcel of the mighty Putin’s geopolitical triumphs, their inevitable consequence, rather than a betrayal and a rupture of the social compact, as certain confused patriotic columnists have been writing lately?

Ultimately, it is a matter of survival for Russia and for Putin. One of the two must survive. As in the films about the immortal Highlander, only one will be left standing at the end of the day.

Ivan Davydov is a liberal columnist. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Poster Maker

“I’ll Go All Out to Ensure Putin Loses”
Yelizaveta Mayetnaya
Radio Svoboda
December 5, 2017

“Citizen Putin! If there is a clampdown on public liberties under the pretext of terrorists attacks, it will be clear to everyone who is behind them!”

“Putin is war. Say no to war!”

“Dimon got what was coming to him. Let’s go after Vovan.”

“We live the way we vote.”

Dmitry Skurikhin, owner of a store in the village of Russko-Vysotskoye, near Petersburg, reacts immediately and visually to every political event in Russia.

Skurikhin immediately hangs each new poster on the front of the store, a small, two-storey building, so it is readily visible from the nearby bus stop. They usually do not stay up for long, however. The record is held by the slogan “Peace to Ukraine,” which stayed up for two weeks.

На митинге Навального

Skurikhin at a pro-Navalvy rally on the Field of Mars in Petersburg

43-year-old Dmitry Skurikhin is a local businessman, whose family owns three village shops. By local standards, he is well off. His family owns several cars, and they have everything they need. However, Skurikhin says the incomes of villagers have taken a nosedive in the past year: “They buy almost nothing, because they barely have enough for food.” Around six thousand people live in Russko-Vysotskoye. Very few of them are holiday cottage dwellers. The majority commute to work in Petersburg. Skirukhin was the first businessman in the village to open self-service stores, but “then the Pyatyorochka and Magnit chains moved in, and we croaked, of course.” He now sells toys, newspapers, clothings, and sundries.

He has been hanging political posters on his store, situated along a road, for almost four years. Before that, he pasted homemade bumper stickers on his car. Skirukhin recalls that the first bumper sticker read, “No new taxes!” The year was 2005.

Skurikhin: They had decided to raise taxes on us local businessmen then. It was one of those taxes you couldn’t avoid paying. Either you worked and paid the tax or you didn’t work and didn’t pay the tax. We businessmen realized they were clamping down on us. We joined forces and beat back the tax. It made such an impression on me that since then I haven’t been able to stop going. There are at least some improvements in our lives, specifically in our village. I’m a local grassroots activist, not even a region-wide activist, but a village-level activist. I was born here, and I live and work here. My kids go to school and kindergarten here. I think I have helped improve life in our village.

Radio Svoboda: How exactly have you improved life in the village?

Skurikhin: As they call it now, I was a municipal district council member from 2009 to 2014. At the time, our district authorities were running this interesting scam. They were “milking” the villages. They would buy heat from the producer and sell it to residents. They marked up the price one hundred percent. When the situation had reached a deadlock, it transpired they were charging residents, but not paying the producer anything. They were getting heat for free. The chair of the district council was mixed up in the scam. Thanks in part to my efforts, the gentleman was conveyed directly from the district chairman’s office to prison. That was in May 2012. Since then we haven’t had any disasters with our supply of heat and water.

We still have problems sometimes, but we are now longer in that disastrous state when a group of people affiliated with district officials were just robbing people by latching onto the flow of payments for housing and utilities. Then we had problems with the road. I organized a decent protest rally. A lot of folks turned out for it: 165 people, which is a huge number for our village. We demanded the road be repaired. The road was repaired. So, by starting with small changes like that, stirring people up, I have been trying to bring them round to the idea that fair elections, free speech, and democracy mean improving the welfare of society. On May 1, we had a rally that wasn’t about the roads (we’ve had the roads fixed), but was about healthcare, fair elections, and responsible authorities. Those were the topics of our rally. 45 people showed up. The rally was authorized. I always try and authorize events with the authorities, but we rallied at the skating rink on the edge of the forest.

Кто будет следующим

“Dimon got run over. Let’s go after Vovan.” This is a reference to Alexei Navalny’s film documentary exposé of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his untold riches, Don’t Call Him Dimon. “Vovan” is a humorous reference to Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, my time as district council member ended for a simple reason: our team doesn’t pay for votes. If you don’t buy yourself votes, meaning if you don’t pay off the right people during early voting, then you’re out of the race, because your opponents do pay for votes. United Russia paid 1,500 rubles per vote! All the other candidates lost.

Radio Svoboda: Did you prove in court they paid for votes?

Skurikhin: It’s impossible to prove in court, because the scam is quite competently organized. They don’t buy votes, but pay for the services of fake campaign workers, meaning they contract out their campaign. United Russia has a team of between ten and fifteen people, depending on the number of seats that are up for grabs in a specific municipal district, and they hire canvassers. But the canvassers don’t have to canvass. They just need to show up and vote ahead of time, for which they are paid 1,500 rubles a pop. That’s it. It’s perfectly legal. All the evidence is circumstantial. When I tried to get hired as a canvasser in a neighboring village, I was told I would not do, because I wasn’t registered in that precinct.

“How’s that?!” I said. “I’m a local resident. I have a store here. I know everyone in the village, and they all know me. I’ll canvass for you like nobody’s business.”

“No, no, you don’t fit us.”

“What’s the deal?”

“You’re registered somewhere else.”

It’s all clear, guys! You don’t need canvassers: you need voters, whom you buy off for 1,500 rubles apiece. I dubbed the technique “bribing a voter under the guise of paying a canvasser.” It works like a charm in all the villages, where the populace is not too savvy. The populace in general is not very savvy, but in the countryside it’s just unbelievable. The salary in these places is commonly 1,000 rubles a day [approx. 14 euros a day]. People who get a 1,000 rubles a day don’t suffer. I ran a counter-campaign against this.

When the villagers were going to vote, I would say to them, “Guys, are you really unaware that when they get seats on the council, they’ll shake a hundred times more out of your pockets?”

“I toss manure on a farm with a pitchfork for a 1,000 rubles a day. But here I’m getting 1,500 rubles for five minutes of my time. Maybe you’d like to go and pitch manure for me?” one guy told me.

That’s their whole rationale! There’s nothing more to say.

Radio Svoboda: When did you hang the first political banner on your store? How long did it stay up?

Skurikhin: It was the spring of 2014. My fifth daugther was born then. I decided to give my wife a present by building a politicized bus stop opposite the store. I fashioned the frame and the foundation. We didn’t have a stop there. People would always stand outside there, and the buses would stop to pick them up. I built a bus stop and draped it with posters. This was when the annexation of Crimea was happening. We had a couple of posters about Crimea: I demanded an end to the disgrace. Then there were posters demaning pay rises for ordinary doctors and school teachers. I was still a council member. I gathered information on how much doctors were paid in Russia. President Putin had literally just claimed that there were no doctors in Russia who were paid less than the average monthly salary in their regions. That was an outright lie. I wrote it on my poster, because I knew how much our doctors were paid. I had gathered the information in my capacity as a municipal district council member.

Radio Svoboda: How much did doctors really make then?

Skurikhin: The ophthalmologist in our village was paid 14,000 rubles, while the average monthly wage in Leningrad Region was 35,000 rubles. I think this as an absolutely proven lie. I hung it up on the bus stop. The local authorities were completely shocked by it. The stop had been turned into a shelter and was hung with banners and pasted with posters. They didn’t know what to do, so the posters stayed up for three weeks or so, I think. Then a major from Center “E” [the so-called anti-extremism police] in Petersburg came and had a long chat with me. That was April 1, 2014. I remembered the date, because it was the day the Russian State Duma issued a resolution condemning restrictions on freedom of speech in Ukraine. And I was sitting there chatting with this little vampire who was directly threatening me and my business.

“We will shut you down if you don’t stop it!” he told me.

The bus stop stood for a month, and then it had to be demolished. All that’s left is the concrete slab, where locals still wait to catch the bus.

Radio Svoboda: Who demolished it?

Skurikhin: I did, on orders from the local authorities. They told me either I had to demolish it and haul it away or they would do it themselves. Since then I have been hanging posters on the store.

I hung up the poster “I congratulate you on the 61st anniversary of the Dragon’s death. The Dragon is dead, but his cause lives on. // Russian citizens, stop being slaves. Become citizens. Kill the dragon inside you.” The poster, which showed Stalin in his casket, used to be coupled with the second part, about citizens, which was swiped by the polizei. The poster “Peace to Ukraine” broke all the records: it hung for two weeks.

Вторую часть плаката

The second part of this poster, featuring a dead Stalin and a call to “kill the dragon inside you” and “become citizens” was “swiped by the polizei.”

The local authorities, by the way, didn’t know how to react. The poster was hanging on my building. It’s my property and my land, and the poster belongs to me. It hung there for quite a long time. Other events took place, for example, the 2014 elections. I hung my campaign posters there. As a municipal district council member, I was competing for votes. I would hang up a poster. It would become stale, and I would hang up a new one. And then, when I clearly campaigned against Putin. . . For example, I had posted a banner reading, “Putin should resign.” It was 9.4 meters by 2 meters. The banner caught everyone’s eye: my store stands next to the road. Well, they just came and swiped the banner. I decided to hang up another banner. Since it was forbidden to demand Putin’s resignation, I demanded Putin be freed. Since he considered himself a galley slave, I wrote, “Free Vladimir Putin! Let’s free this galley slave. Otherwise, he and his pals will row [rake in] too much.” This banner was also 9.4 meters by 2 meters.

Radio Svoboda: It was probably removed immediately, no? 

Skurikhin: I don’t know why, but it stayed up for nearly two weeks. I saw policemen come and look at it. Maybe they didn’t get it? I can’t say how the authorities make decisions. But then they removed it anyway. I have been doing this on purpose. My goal is to ensure President Putin loses this election. During the last election, in 2012, I printed flyers and ensured that Putin got the least number of votes in our district in our precincts, although he won anyway, of course. Our precinct was among the ten worst precincts in Leningrad Region. Numbers decide everything in a democracy. I worked on the electorate the best I could.

Radio Svoboda: Do the security services often summon your for talks and try to reason with you?

Skurikhin: Earlier they did, but recently they have left me alone for some reason. I think they just realized, probably, that they should be talking to me in handcuffs, whereas talking to me just for the heck of it, what’s the point? Besides my chat with the major from Center “E,” a major from the FSB, a colonel from the FSO (Federal Protective Service), and the Investigative Committee summoned me. Each of my posters has been sent off for a forensic examination. Policemen photograph them, and the photos are sent to Center “E” and Saint Petersburg State University for analysis: they have this forensics examination center there. Their forensics experts study my posters and render their findings. If the findings are neutral, the posters are returned to me, accompanied by an official ruling refusing to file criminal charges against me. I’ve had around a hundred such posters. Each one is also accompanied by a description. The police also try to do everything by the book. In Nazi Germany, they incinerated Jews by the book. Here in Russia, they have been trying to shut me up by the book, to put it crudely.

Radio Svoboda: What grounds do the police have for removing posters from private property? How does it usually happen?

Skurikhin: First, they get a complaint either from the local council or from a resident: someone is unhappy with the poster hanging on my store. The police arrive and write me up for violating the regional law that all posters must be vetted with the local council. This little law was invented in Leningrad Region. I disagree with it, so I simply say it wasn’t so. They write me up, then they bring a slave from the local housing authority, whom they force to climb up and remove my poster. Then they leave. After which the situation proceeds as I’ve described it. Unfortunately, the forensics experts have concluded that two of my posters insulted the honor and dignity of the president and incited social discord. I try not to insult anyone. I think through all my posters and make sure that they are worded as properly as possible, because you don’t help things by insulting people. I want to persuade people to vote against Putin, persuade them we need democratic values, freedom, and liberalism. Yet two of my posters have been deemed insulting to Putin. They were the reason I was summoned to the Investigative Committee to talk with an investigator.

Radio Svoboda: Have criminal charges been filed in connection with the two posters?

Skurikhin: You know, I haven’t asked the police about it. But they did get me summoned to the Investigative Committee, where I was asked for an explanation. I was shown the findings of the forensics experts. The poster in question was “Putin is war. Say no to war.” As you remember, it was Anna Politkovskaya who said, “Putin is war.” The slogan was written with bloody smudges, so there was nothing in particular to interpret. It was clear as clear could be. The poster was deemed to have insulted Putin’s honor and dignity. I don’t think I insulted him, but the Investigative Committee does.

Radio Svoboda: What war did you have in mind when when you wrote the slogan?

Skurikhin: Any war. Because Putin is, in fact, war. We were flattening Ukraine at the time.

Radio Svoboda: Have they threatened to close your business?

Skurikhin: The major from Center “E” threatened me, but no one else has. It’s just I’ve been in business for twenty-one years, and all the agencies they could sick on me, I’ve been working with them for a long time. I have a good relationship with them. Most important, all of them are on my side. As they’re tearing down the posters, the policemen say to me, “Damn, what you write is true.” But they’ve taken an oath, they have their orders, they would immediately get hell from their commander, so they can’t say it that way. I can because I don’t have a commander. Firefighters, the guys at Health Inspection Services, they all understand what is happening in Russia. Most of them are smart people.

Против кого на самом деле надо сакции вводить

“Americans, don’t sanction all of Russia. Our head vampires got their jobs dishonestly and run things dishonestly. Sanction them!”

Radio Svoboda: Does your family support you?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. Sure, they worry about me. The situation in Russia is such that the most active dissenters are shot down. My kids are aged nineteen, fourteen, seven, and four. All of them are girls: I live in a flower garden. If I’m arrested, my wife will feed the family: she’ll be like Vassa Zheleznova. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we’ve talked it all throgh, of course. So that’s why I try and write slogans that are legal. I have studied a ton of material on the subject. What is an insult? It’s when you compare someone with an animal. The rest can be offensive and unpleasant, but it is not insulting in the criminal sense. You can say, “Skurikhin, you’re an idiot.” Yes, it’s possible for you to have this opinion. But I think differently. But if you say, “Skurikhin, you’re a jackass,” that is an insult.

Radio Svoboda: Have other businessmen put up similar posters?

Skurikhin: There were elections to the State Duma in 2016. As a member of Parnas (People’s Freedom Party), I ran in them in my own electoral district, the southwest  district of Leningrad Region. Sergey Naryshkin, now our top spy, ran in the same district. I made the rounds of all my businessmen friends and asked them to support me. I made banners that read, “Skurikhin and Parnas are your only worthy choice.” In our part of the world, most of the shops are village shops, and they are on private property, so I was able to hang them up for free. No other candidate got that kind of support. The rest had to pay for billboards. I spent 150,000 rubles on my election campaign. My wife later gave me a piece of her mind about that. I took second place in the elections in my own village. Only Naryshkin got more votes. I got support for my posters and ideas, for saying “Putin should resign.” My fellow villagers gave me the number two spot. In my native Lomonosov District, I took sixth place, and I took eighth place in the entire electoral district, which has a population of 500,000. What does that tell you? I would argue the outcome shows that liberal and democratic ideas are popular in society, but they simply never get conveyed to the voters, since the media are totally blocked. I have no other way of telling people Putin should have been dismissed from the Kremlin long ago. I only have my posters. But, generally speaking, it’s very hard for a Parnas member to get around United Russia on the first try.

Radio Svoboda: Do you attend all protest rallies?

Skurikhin: Yes, I try to go to all of them. At the last pro-Navalny rally, in June, I was wearing a “Sick of Him” t-shirt and carrying a flag. I was taken to a police station, but I escaped. This year there were also primary elections—Naryshkin gave up his seat in the Duma when he was appointed head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) in October 2016—and this year there were reelections. We also held events that, in my opinion, were meaningful to our district. I couldn’t let my people down, so I had to hightail it from the police station.

Radio Svoboda: Are you following the presidential campaign?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. I’ll go all out to ensure Mr. Putin loses the election, at least in my precinct. I support Navalny’s registration as a candidate and Ksenia Sobchak’s candidacy, because we need as many candidates as possible in the first round just to take votes away from Putin and get a second round. If there is a second round, that will be a significant victory in itself.

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

Victoria Lomasko: Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki

Victoria Lomasko
Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki: Grassroots Protests in Russia, 2015–2016

In late February 2015, politician Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Russian opposition, was gunned down near the Kremlin.

Grassroots activists immediately set up a people’s memorial, made up of bouquets, photos, drawings, and candles, at the scene of the crime, on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. For over a year, they have been taking shifts guarding the memorial from members of various nationalist movements and bridge maintenance workers, who routinely haul away the flowers and photos as if they were trash.

Slogan on man’s t-shirt: “Navalny didn’t steal the timber.” May 24, 2016

“The assaults on the memorial occur like pogroms in a Jewish shtetl: it’s the luck of the draw,” these two people on vigil at the memorial told me. “They pick a time when the people on duty have let down their guard, like three or four in the morning.”

Woman: “People will take to the barricades only when food runs out in the stores.” Slogan on her shirt: “The ‘Russian world’ has no use for science and education.’” Rally in defense of science and education, June 6, 2015

Headed by opposition leaders and attended by thousands of people, the 2012 rallies and marches for fair elections and a “Russia without Putin!” ended with the show trials of 2013 and 2014 against opposition leaders (Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov) and rank-and-file protesters (the so-called prisoners of May 6).

In 2015 and 2016, the Marches of the Millions have given way to small-scale rallies and protests. People far removed from politics have tried to defend their own concrete rights.

I made these drawings at a rally in defense of the Dynasty Foundation. An NGO founded to support scientific research and science education in Russia, it had been declared a “foreign agent” by the Justice Ministry.

“Today, they killed Nemtsov. Tomorrow, they’ll kill a nationalist leader.” Rally in defense of science and education

Torfyanka

In June 2015, residents of Moscow’s Losiny Ostrov (Moose Island) District came together to stop construction of a church in their local park, Torfyanka. The building had been planned as part of the Russian Orthodox Church’s 200 Churches Program.

“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015
“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015

Residents set up a tent camp in the park and stood watch in shifts to keep construction equipment from entering the site. They also filed a lawsuit, asking the court to declare the public impact hearing on the construction project null and void. The hearing had been held without their involvement. Continue reading “Victoria Lomasko: Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki”

Alexei Gaskarov: “If the Way to Freedom in This Country Runs through Prison, We Are Ready to Go”

The verdicts on the second group of defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case will be announced in Zamoskvoretsky Court in Moscow on August 18. The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Alexander Margolin and Alexei Gaskarov to four years in prison; Ilya Gushchin, to three years and three months in prison; and Elena Kokhtareva, to three years and three months suspended, with four years of probation. All four defendants have been accused under Article 212 Part 2 (involvement in rioting) and Article 318 Part 1 (use of non-threatening violence against a public official) of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

On August 4, 28-year-old antifascist Alexei Gaskarov made his closing statement in court. This is the complete text of his speech.

gaskarov-Feldman-3-600x400Alexei Gaskarov

The so-called Bolotnaya Square case has been symbolic in the sense that through it the public sees how the authorities interact with the opposition, with those people whose viewpoint differs from the general line.

The first thing I wanted to talk about is something that was not addressed in the trial, but which I think is important: why on May 6, [2012,] despite everything, so many people decided to be involved in certain events, rather than simply stand another two or three hours in queues, and ultimately did not permit themselves to be beaten with impunity.

The May 6 demonstration was the seventh major event staged by the opposition [during the 2011–2012 fair elections protest movement]. Whereas earlier, before December 2011, a few thousand people attended protest rallies I had witnessed, when you-know-who said the idea of rotating governments was not the best thing for Russia, the core group of protesters increased significantly. And these people did not go organize riots, but went to observe elections in order to understand and record the way the political processes that occur in our country are legitimated.

kohtareva-11-600x400Elena Kohtareva

Everything fell into place on December 4[, 2011, when parliamentary elections were held in Russia]. Despite the fact that the institution of elections had been destroyed much earlier, the large group of people who went to the polls as observers saw how the legitimacy of the current government was shaped. I myself was an observer at those elections, and what we saw was quite straightforward. Indeed, it is a strange situation when you are trying to find at least one person among your acquaintances who would say they voted for United Russia. In fact, such people did not exist: there was no mass support for the government. When they tried to counter the Bolotnaya Square protests with an event on Poklonnaya Hill in support of the current government, they could not gather more than a thousand people.

This subject itself was extremely important, but unfortunately it was not sufficiently popular with the authorities. Fair elections are still the only legal way of changing the political system, and once it has been changed, you can solve social and economic problems. A huge number of people took to the streets. There was almost no reaction on the part of the authorities. The protests were peaceful, the protesters were numerous, and it was obvious the demands they made and the problems they talked about were real, but instead we saw only a reluctance to engage in dialogue and, at some point, flagrant mockery.

A lot of people now do not like what thuggish characters in Ukraine are calling people from Southeast Ukraine. But here in Russia the same thing happened: when people came out on Bolotnaya Square, the country’s president called them Bandar-log and made many other unflattering comparisons. We were told we amounted to only one percent, that only one hundred thousand people in a city of ten million came out to protest, that it meant nothing at all. But later, when they actually allowed a fair poll, as happened during the [September 2013] mayoral election in Moscow, it turned out it was not one percent, but forty percent, a significant segment of society. And I would like to say that we should be glad on the whole that the events on Bolotnaya Square happened as they did.

In all developed democratic countries, protest rallies, the opportunity to express points of view that differ from that of the authorities, generate political competition, which enables countries to find the best way of developing. By the way, certain problems in the Russian economy began precisely in the third quarter of 2012, because it is impossible to build a stable economic and social system when you completely demotivate and exclude such an essential part of society. And it was obvious that this part of society was essential.

The first signal that comes from our case: does the right to protest, which exists in all developed countries, exist at all in Russia? As we see now, Russia has been deprived of this right.

And the second signal, which it is impossible to ignore: has the rule of law survived in Russia? Individuals must be protected from the actions of the authorities not only by a system of checks and balances but also by the possibility of appealing directly to the law in the way in which it is worded. I think this can be seen in our case. There is Article 212 of the Criminal Code: it may be poorly worded, but it is worded the way it is. And it is wrong, I think, to raise such obvious questions at the trial stage, because the law is worded quite clearly. We read a lot of commentaries to the Criminal Code and nowhere did we find that the corpus delicti of “rioting” could be defined alternatively, based on the evidence listed in the charges. Nevertheless, this has been consistently ignored. Even in those decisions entered into the case file, this subject was roundly rejected.

In and of itself, the rule of law is the most important of the institutions that protect the rights of individuals from the state. And, of course, we cannot ignore the selective application of the law to citizens. I realize that Russian law is not based on precedent, but it is impossible not to notice that if, for example, you are a nationalist, block roads, and set fire to shops, but refrain from speaking out against the actions of the authorities, you are only guilty of disorderly conduct. If you go to protest rallies where people shout, “Putin is a thief!” you are, accordingly, liable to serious criminal charges.

guschin-Feldman-3-600x400Ilya Gushchin

There is one last point following from our case to which I would also like to draw attention. I think a signal is being sent: if you are loyal to the authorities, you will enjoy the most favorable conditions; if you are disloyal, you will go to jail. This concerns the evaluation of the actions of demonstrators and the actions of police. It is too obvious that not all the police behaved as they should have behaved. I understand this was not specifically the matter in dispute in our case, but not a single criminal case has been opened against the police. Practically speaking, they have tried to turn the police into a caste of untouchables as part of our case. When there was a public debate on the Bolotnaya Square case, the same phrase always came up: “You cannot hit police.” Even in our group of thirty people charged in the Bolotnaya Square case, only three people actually struck police officers. And yet the whole complexity of this situation was primitivized through a single phrase: “You cannot hit police.”

margolin-svoboda.org-3-600x400Alexander Margolin

But it seems to me this way of posing the question dismisses and completely destroys any criticism of the government. We cannot forget that many terrible things have happened in our country (for example, during the Great Terror [under Stalin in 1937-38]), that people in uniform committed all these crimes, and everything they did was legal for all intents and purposes. But now they tell us there should be no critical rethinking of this situation, that it is necessary to stupidly obey the thesis that was endlessly repeated during discussion of our case.

The main thing I would like say, your honor, is that I really would not want it to happen that, after our trial, speaking of the law as an expression of the principle of justice became a sign of bad taste. I would hope that our trial did not pursue any other political objectives that have been imposed on it, that have been set for it—and all that is in the case files—but that we be judged for the things we really did. But if, in this country, the way to freedom runs through prison, we are ready to go. That is all.

Originally published, in Russian, at Grani.ruPhotos courtesy of Bolotnoedelo.info.

Afterword (copied from People and Nature‘s first publication of this translation)

On July 24, two other defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case, the left-wing activists Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev, were each sentenced to four and a half years in prison on charges arising from the May 6 demonstration. Supporters of Alexei Gaskarov and the other three defendants being sentenced this month fear similarly harsh penalties on August 18.

Solidarity makes a difference in such cases. While the Russian government claims to be championing “antifascism” in Ukraine, it is sending antifascists and other oppositionists in Russia to jail for long periods. The more support for these activists from antifascists internationally, the better.

Please copy and republish this article; demonstrate or protest however you can; write to the Russian embassy; and look on the Free Alexei Gaskarov site and the May 6 Committee site.

Update. On August 18, Alexei Gaskarov and Alexander Margolin were sentenced to three and half years in prison; Ilya Gushchin, to two and a half years; and Elena Kokhtareva, to a suspended sentence of three years and three months including three years’ probation.