Sergei Vilkov: Everything You Thought You Knew About the Russian Working Class Was Wrong

kalashnikov workersWorkers of the Kalashnikov plant in Izhevsk, Russia, on September, 20, 2016. Photo by Mikhail Svetlov (Getty Images). Courtesy of Fortune

The Heroes of the Day: What We Know about the Russian Working Class
How the Proletariat Stopped Fearing TV and Came to Dislike It
Sergei Vilkov
News.ru
April 30, 2019

It has been a tradition on the eve of May Day to recall the working class, which in Russia has seemingly been usurped by televised images of the “patriots” and regular blokes who work at the Uralvagonzavod plant in Nizhny Tagil.

Actually, Russia’s workers are a genuine black hole to sociologists. No one had seriously researched their circumstances, sentiments, and views for thirty years.

The first tentative attempts to research today’s Russian industrial laborers have produced a portrait that many had not expected. It transpires that today’s proletarians, at least, the most politically and civically dynamic among them, almost never watch television. They have a sober take on politics. They are immune to state propaganda. They have a relatively relaxed attitude toward migrant workers.

They regard themselves as outside observers in the debates between the regime and the opposition, not finding their own interests reflected in them. They are more likely to feel trampled upon by plant management than by a new law passed in the State Duma.

It is the factory where they fight their battles, which are usually invisible to official statisticians. Most important, according to researchers, they have more in common with early twentieth century social democrats than with current parties who try and speak on behalf of workers. However, the new research leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. News.ru took a look at it.

They Got What They Fought For
According to official data, 26 million people in Russia or over 36% of the able-boded population are employed in industry, transport, agriculture, fishing, and several similar sectors. These figures do not include, for example, the large numbers of people employed in commerce and services. Overall, however, sociologists estimate that workers make up 40% of Russia’s population. They identify them as the largest group in society.

These people dwell on the dark side of Russia’s moon, as it were. It would be hard to say when someone last tried to examine them through an academic lens. However, understanding the nature of Russian society and its largest segments is, perhaps, the most ambitious humanities research project in the country today.

In government reports, Russia’s workers are imagined as a passive, homogeneous milieu that positively exudes tranquility. In 2017, Rosstat, the state statistics service, recorded only one strike, while in the preceding years their official number oscillated between two and five strikes annually.

By comparison, in 2005, according to official data, there were 2,600 strikes in Russia. And yet the following year, Rosstat claimed the number of strikes had decreased by a factor of 325. Since then, according to official statistics, it has remained consistently scanty, despite the economic crises of 2008 and 2014.

However, the Center for Social and Labor Rights, which has monitored the situation on its own, claims there were an average of 240 labor protests between 2008 and 2014. In 2016, when the political opposition was quiet, there were twice as many labor protests, while in the first six months of 2018, the last period for which it has data, the center recorded 122 strikes and acts of civil disobedience. Nearly half of these incidents led to workers downing tools.

Since 2014, a year dominated by an apparent “patriotic” consensus in politics, the number of strikes has increased abruptly due to an upsurge of resistance in provincial cities, including district seats. The largest number of walkouts and protests occurred in industry, especially the machine building and metalworking sectors, which have accounted for 28% of the overall number of strikes. The transport sector has accounted for the same percentage of strikes and protests, despite the fact they have mainly been carried out by employees of private transport companies based in the cities. The construction industry has accounted for 19% of strikes and protests during the period.

The main cause of protests and strikes remains unpaid back wages, which accounted for 60% of incidents. Demands to raise pay were factors in 19–20% of incidents.

The Center for Social and Labor Rights noticed a curious thing. In 2018, the number of spontaneous, unorganized protests by workers rose abruptly by 22%. Trade unions were involved in a mere 17% of all strikes and protests. The experts claim this was partly due to the fact that the Russian hinterlands, where there have been no real trade unions for the last one hundred years, have taken the lead in labor activism, along with sectors dominated by precarious employment.

Shop Floor Intellectuals
Someone has been organizing these strikes and protests, however. It is evident there is a core of energetic progressive activists among Russia’s workers.

On April 22, Alexander Zhelenin gave a lecture at a round table held in the offices of Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Zhelenin is a well-known expert on workplace conflicts, and part of his talk dealt with a research study on the Russian proletariat. In July and September 2018, he and his fellow researchers did a small-scale qualitative sociological research study in Kaluga and Omsk that focused on the self-identification and sociopolitical views of workers.

A total of twenty-three people were interviewed. The small sample was offset by a thorough probing, through in-depth interviews, of the respondents’ attitudes and views, which are never revealed by run-of-the-mill public opinion polls. The workers interviewed by the sociologists were somehow connected to independent trade unions, which had, apparently, supported the research study. However, in the main, the interviewees were not politically engaged: only one of them was a member of a political organization.

We should also not forget it is usually the most energetic people who agree to be interviewed for ordinary official public opinion polls, which affects their outcomes.

In Kaluga, the respondents worked in the food industry and the new auto assembly plants, while in Omsk, they were employed at old Soviet military-industrial complex plants. They ranged in age from twenty to fifty, and included women and men. They were quite well-paid technicians who were proud of their contributions to society. On the other hand, they had a constant sense of their status as subordinates. They tended to strongly associate themselves with their workplaces. Family “labor dynasties” were a possible factor in their outlooks.

Most of the workers interviewed at the auto plants had been abroad one or more times, and this partly had to do with Volkswagen’s work exchange programs. One of the things they had learned on these trips was independent trade unions were ordinary, valuable organizations.

On the contrary, a foreign-travel passport was a rarity among the workers of the old defense plants, and yet both groups of workers tended to spend their holidays on the Black Sea coast. Some respondents in Omsk said they had never seen the sea or had seen it in early childhood.

Mortgages were the main financial obstacles to holidays away from home. Financially, the skilled workers felt they were members of the so-called middle class. In terms of standards of living in their regions, however, they noticed the gap between the more affluent segment of the populace and themselves. Thus, they had a keen sense of the difference in life chances for their children and the children of rich families, talking about it with great indignation.

Pavel Kudyukin, ex-minister of labor and employment and a lecturer in public administration at the Higher School of Economics, commented on the growing social segregation in Russia.

“It comes to the fore when talk turns to children’s futures. It is an aspect that will become more acute, because we are moving from segregation to social apartheid. I think it will facilitate [grassroots] civic activism,” he said.

The authors of the report did not hide their amazement at the fact that the respondents were quite well-educated, intelligent people. Nearly a third of them had a higher education or an uncompleted university degree. Many of them pointed out it was ordinary to find university-educated workers on the shop floor.

Tellingly, a man from Kaluga, identified as Anatoly, who did not finish his university degree, and whose outward appearance (a bespectacled intellectual), cultivated manner of speaking, and hobbies (music and organizing non-profit music festivals) gave the researchers the impression he was a local intellectual, although he said he had been employed as a skilled laborer for over eleven years. Like some other respondents, Anatoly noted he had become a laborer because life had worked out that way and he had to earn money. Industry was the only place where it was possible to earn a more or less decent wage, the study noted.

They Have Their Own Values
And yet 74% of of the respondents unambiguously identified themselves as workers, stressing their difference from other groups in society and their direct involvement in production. The remaining 26% preferred to call themselves “employees” and supported the notion of so-called social partnerships with management. However, despite their decent standard of life, it followed from the interviews that the workers believed they occupied one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. This had to do with their palpably subordinate positions at work and the lack of prestige in their occupations. This circumstance was painfully apparent in the tension between blue-collar and white-collar workers at one plant, a tension exacerbated by the arrogance of the latter towards the former.

The workers were very annoyed by the fact that, as Sergei, a grinder who was involved in the Omsk focus group, said, “In terms of wages and education, the blue-collar workers often outperform the office workers, but the latter still treat them as inferiors.”

In Omsk, for example, the wages of workers fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000 rubles a month, but workers at some defense plants could earn up to 70,000 or 80,000 rubles a month. However, according to the same interviewee, the well-paid jobs were “inherited.”

Besides, he said, to earn such a wage, one virtually had to live at the factory, working twelve hours a day and enjoying only one day off a week, something not all workers would do. Meanwhile, office workers at the same plant could earn only 20,000 rubles a month, but they treated the workers “as if they were above [them],” said Sergei.

“A really interesting thing is the split in self-identification as workers and members of the middle class,” said Kudyukin. “It clearly manifests the pressure exerted in society by hegemonic views. It is like what Marx wrote: ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.’ Since the notion of the middle class is constantly in the air, people give no thought to the fact that it’s a sociological fiction. People realize they are workers. They work on an assembly line or operate a machine. Yet in terms of income they identify themselves as middle class in the sense that they are neither rich nor poor. Maybe this has to do with the notion that the middle class is formally defined by income.”

“Russia is a quite highly stratified country, and it is constantly becoming more stratified,” explained Gregory Yudin, a professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “It’s not a matter of income gaps, but of what these people say: the sense of symbolic superiority in cases where there is no income gap. When this sense takes root at a particular factory, what happens is quite predictable. In this sense, Marx was more or less right.”

Speaking about their place in production, the workers voiced the opinion their plants could run without managers, but without them the shop floors would grind to a halt. However, they sensed the arrogant attitude towards manual labor that had emerged in other parts of society. They realized that, from this perspective, their status was not considered prestigious at all. The factory laborers responded by opposing the values of their milieu to “other” values, saying that nowadays the chic thing to do was to steal and mooch, to make lots of money for doing nothing.

“I think this is an ordinary means of compensation, a psychological defense mechanism. We are considered impoverished in some way, whereas in fact we are the salt of the earth, and everything would grind to a halt without us. Their sentiments are quite justified. Despite the importance of managerial work, if you got rid of the management staff, the shop floor would function all the same. But if the workers suddenly disappeared, the plant would shut down,” said Kudyukin.

The research study showed the respondents perceived Russian politics as an established system that ignored their interests. This applied not only to the government but also to the opposition. Nearly half of the respondents consciously refrained from voting. By comparison, during the last presidential election, in March 2018, the Central Electoral Commission reported that 32.5% of registered voters did not vote.

Some of the respondents voted for the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), A Just Russia, and LDPR [Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party], although they noted these parties were entangled in establishment and supported workers’ interests more in words than in actual deeds. They were not a serious opposition.

What they had to say on the matter was telling.

“I have little trust in politicos and parties. I have more faith in the people here, the people with whom I work, the people I know. Here, at the local level, there are decent people among the members of different [political] movements. But the leadership is usually a bloody shambles,” said Sergei, 35, a grinder at the Aggregate Plant in Omsk.

“There are currently no parties that would defend workers’ interests. We need to create such a party,” said Sergei, who works at the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga.

Volodya, who also works at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was likewise certain such parties did not exist.

“All of them are against us [workers]. They represent business and big money, even the CPRF and A Just Russia. Those parties just use the ‘movements’ to score political points. They have great jobs. United Russia try and pass bad laws. They have the majority in the Duma, so [the three other parties represented there] can pretend to oppose them, since the bad laws will be passed all the same,” he said.

He quoted Mark Twain.

“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”

The federal government was a source of considerable irritation to the workers, especially in connection with the pension reform.

Roman, a 45-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was the only respondent in either city who said he had always voted for Putin and United Russia, but since the pension reform had passed, he was severely disenchanted and was more inclined to vote for the CPRF.

Vladislav, a 28-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, had a confession to make despite the fact he had never voted.

“I was never opposed to Putin. But I did not believe to the last that he would say yes to this cannibalistic reform,” he said.

“Their statements jibe with what we see in other studies,” said Yudin. “People are depoliticized, yes. They distrust the system profoundly. This distrust grew even deeper last year. It’s a typical Russian scenario, and I am not entirely certain it has something specifically to do with workers. It typifies many segments of the populace. People who espouse this worldview serve as the base for different populist projects.”

Researchers describe their views as a contradictory mix of spontaneous anarchism and paternalistic expectations from the state. They would like to see the state solving society’s problems and intervening in the economy to raise wages, create jobs, and distribute incomes more fairly.

Igor, a worker from Omsk, had a typical view of the matter.

“The government should definitely solve these issues if workers have hired them to serve the people. When are they going to handle all of this if they work six and seven days a week? They just don’t have the time to deal with their own improvement [sic],” he said.

However, their political beliefs were more leftist and democratic than conservative and reactionary, even when it came to ethnic, religious and gender issues.

“The workers with whom we spoke, irrespective of whether they believed in God, wanted to lived in a secular state, while hoping the Russian Orthodox Church would be behave more modestly when it came to secular issues and would be less politicized. The views of workers on gender roles, the place of women in families, society, and the state were generally quite democratic. In terms of their worldviews, the workers had more in common with classic leftists than with a good number of current leftist parties and movements in Russia,” write the study’s authors.

Cool Heads
The researchers claim the workers they surveyed were clearly not victims of government propaganda. Their attitude towards Russia’s involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria was generally very restrained, if not sharply negative. Many of them argued that Russia’s foreign policy, as defined by the country’s leadership, had nothing to with their interests and was even capable of harming them. They also had a skeptical attitude to the promotion of great-power patriotism, seeing it as a means of distracting working people from real problems. But while they openly voiced their attitudes to foreign policy, the workers were cautious about discussing it, emphasizing a lack of information on the subject.

Many of them said society was not told everything.

To the surprise of the sociologists, most of the interviewees (78%) identified the internet as their main source of information, despite the fact they were asked about this part of their lives in a way that mentioned television and newspapers first, while the internet was among the information sources listed last.

By comparison, in March 2018, Levada Center published a poll claiming 85% of Russians got most of their information by watching television; moreover, 72% of respondents preferred watching state-controlled Channel One. On the contrary, only five of the workers (22% of the focus group) watched news and political programs on television. They regarded what they saw on television quite skeptically, trying to detect the influence of certain third-party interests.

They had a rather low opinion of the state of the nation.

“Lately, I’ve been ashamed of my people,” said Roman, a worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga.

Another worker, Vladimir, countered Roman.

“To stop feeling ashamed of your nation, just don’t identify yourself with it. Russia, the people, and the nation are illusions that have been pounded into our heads. There is just the earth and the people who live on it. The people who lived before us dreamed up border: here is Russia, there is Ukraine, here is America. In fact, we are all people. If you look at things from this standpoint, everything falls into place. For example, I don’t acknowledge the existence of national Olympic squads. My world is the people I know. When they say, “Our guys are playing football,” I think of “our guys” as my neighbors, workmates, family members, and the clerks at the shop. I could not care less what is going on in Syria and Donbas,” said Vladimir.

The researchers got rather unexpected and ambivalent results when they asked the workers about their attitudes towards migrant workers. In July 2018, Levada Center reported that 67% of Russians regarded them negatively. It is such sentiments that currently fuel nationalism and xenophobia. Among the workers in the survey, however, the intensity of these sentiments was considerably lower.

The different focus groups were split in their opinions of migrant laborers.

“Why hide it? I have a positive attitude toward them, because they are former brothers [within the Soviet Union]. We have the same troubles as they do. They get paid under the table, and so do we. And sometimes they are not paid at all,” said Mikhail, a 55-year-old freight handler.

“I tend to believe we need to create jobs for our own people first, and only then can we create jobs for migrants. As a worker, I consider them competitors, but as a human being I have no problems with them. On the other hand, how do we employ Russians if no Russians want to work as janitors?” said Svyatoslav, a truck driver at the Volkswagen plant.

Ultimately, 45% of the respondents took anti-migrant worker stances. In Omsk, the breakdown between migrantophobes and internationalists was six to four. In Kaluga, on the other hand, where the focus groups and in-depth interviews were dominated by workers from modern, foreign-owned production facilities, there were seven internationalists, as opposed to three migrantophobes.

The study’s authors argue the discrepancies are due to the different types of industry in the two cities, contrasting the workers from the old Soviet defense plants with the employees of foreign companies. However, we would be remiss not to note the relatively low level of nationalism in all the groups surveyed.

“In our view, this is because the workers have closer and more frequent contacts with migrant workers, and thus have more personal experience with them, something that always shatters stereotypes. It is yet another testimony to the fact that the dominant media coverage in Russia has less impact on the views of workers,” argue the study’s authors.

As for attitudes towards religion, twelve of the twenty-three respondents identified themselves as believers, while eleven identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. Two of the respondents regarded themselves as deeply religious Russian Orthodox believers. However, all the respondents said they wanted to live in a secular country in which the Russian Orthodox Church should have a smaller role in secular issues and politics.

The views of the workers on gender relations and the place of women at home and in society were quite democratic. According to the researchers, nearly all the men agreed women had the right to pursue any career or calling. They would not stop their own wives from getting involving in public life and politics or pursuing a career.

However, they regarded female politicians in the State Duma quite skeptically, since they did not see them as politicians who hailed from the grassroots. The respondents named German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović as positive examples of women involved in politics.

At the same time, both of the experts we interviewed, Pavel Kudyukin and Gregory Yudin, agreed the research study had serious methodological flaws. Besides, it gave its readers no sense of the particular life experiences that had prompted the workers to embrace particular outlooks.

Thanks to Alexander Zamyatin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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A Russian Religious Revival?

churchMany Russian Orthodox churches are stunningly beautiful both inside and out, but the number of Russians who attend church services regularly and make an effort to observe the tenets of the faith is actually quite tiny. Photo of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki Church in Kolomäki, St. Petersburg, by the Russian Reader

There Are No More than One to Five Percent Genuine Russian Orthodox Believers in Rostov Region
The Heads of Most So-Called Believers Are Filled with a Mishmash of Christianity, Superstition and Paganism  
Sergei Derkachov
donnews.ru
January 11, 2019

Despite the robust building of churches in Rostov Region and the Russian Orthodox Church’s growing role in civic life, the number of practicing Russian Orthodox Christians in the region is still quite small, according to police statistics. Moreover, genuine Orthodoxy has a worse time of things in Rostov Region than in Russia as a whole.

There are no official statistics of how many people in Rostov Region identify themselves as Russian Orthodox. However, we can make a rough estimate based on other statistics. Thus, a couple of years ago, Merkury, Metropolitan of Rostov and Novocherkassk, said that, during the 2014–2015 school year, 72% of pupils in Rostov-on-Don schools elected to study “Foundations of Orthodox Culture.” In 2015–2016, the corresponding figures were 74.4%; in 2016–2017, they were 80.8%.

Recently, donnews.ru wrote about a public opinion poll conducted among Rostov-on-Don residents in 2017. 65.6% of those surveyed identified themselves as Orthodox, 29.2% as atheists, and 2.8% as Muslims.

In other words, the vast majority of people in Rostov consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians. However, practicing believers, meaning people who go to churches and attend church services, at least during major church holidays, is considerably  smaller.

Police tallies of the numbers of people who go to church on Christmas and Easter are basically the only way to estimate the real numbers of practicing Orthodox believers in the regions and Russia as a whole, since those who identify themselves as Orthodox but do not attend church regularly usually think it necessary to go to church on the main Christian holidays.

According to the Rostov Regional Office of the Russian Interior Ministry, approximately 42,000 people attended Christmas services in 2019, meaning a mere one percent of the region’s population. A similar figure was reported by the police in 2018. In 2017, approximately 50,000 people attended Christmas services in Rostov Region. The highest number of attendees, 80,000 people, was recorded in 2015.

2.6 million people went to Christmas services nationwide. Based on the current estimated population of Russia, this leaves us with less than two percent of the total population. In Rostov Region, however, with one percent of the population attending church services, this difference is more arresting. Curiously, according to a poll by VTsIOM, 72% of Russians observed Orthodox Christmas. Clearly, what this meant in the vast majority of instances was just another big holiday feast.

According to Russian sociologist Nikolay Mitrokhin, author of The Russian Orthodox Church: Its Current State and Challenges, although the number of churches has increased, the number of believers in Russia has basically remained the same.

“People who attend Christmas services in various regions account for around two percent of the entire population. This gives you a sense of the size of the Russian Orthodox Church’s current impact. In recent years, seventy to seventy-five percent and, in some cases, eighty percent of those polled have identified themselves as Russian Orthodox. And yet the number of people capable of dragging themselves to church on the most important holiday next to Easter is within the margin of statistical error,” says Mitrokhin.

The figures are much better for Easter. According to police statistics, 4 million to 4.3 million people on average go to church on Easter. The Interior Ministry did not supply figures for 2017 and 2018 in Rostov Region. In 2014, 135,000 people attended Easter services; in 2015, over 260,000 people; and in 2016, 326,000 people. In this case, however, we should take two important factors into account. First, the difference in weather conditions: Easter usually falls on a Sunday in late April or early May, whereas Orthodox Christmas is fixed on the calendar: the night of January 6 and the wee hours of January 7. Second, in the case of Easter, the police count not only people who attend church services but also people who stop by church only to have their Easter dinner delicacies blessed.

Generally, the number of people who go to church once a year on Christmas and Easter is many times lower than those who identify themselves as Russian Orthodox in opinion polls. It is also worth noting that a considerable segment of the populace persists in visiting cemeteries on Easter, deeming it almost an obligation or an Orthodox tradition, although the Church has designated a different holiday for the purpose, Radonitsa, observed during the second week after Easter.

This points to Russian Orthodoxy’s other major probem: the populace’s spiritual illiteracy. In 2012, Boris Dubin, head of sociopolitical research at the Levada Center, claimed that, according to their surveys, only forty percent of Russian Orthodox believers in Russia believed God existed. Thirty percent of the faithful were sure, on the contrary, that God did not exist. Only twenty-five percent of Russians observe the Lenten fast, according to annual polls by the Levada Center. In recent years, however, the Great Fast has been treated by some people as a diet that has no ideological and religious implications. People also often equate giving up one or two food items with keeping the fast.

The minds of most Orthodox Russians are filled with a mishmash of Christianity, superstition, and paganism. Even Metropolitan Merkury recently said Russians are “complete spiritual illiterates and devoid of religious education.”

“Our people do not have a clue about Holy Scripture, sacred history, and the deeds of Russian saints. They do not link these things together into a single whole,” he said.

The well-known Russian priest and writer Andrei Lorgus commented on these circumstances a year ago on his Facebook page.

“Every year, during Easter and Christmas, I look at the Interior Ministry’s tallies. Of course, they do not match our own estimates, which are based on records of parishioners. You could say that the holiday pool [sic] of Orthodox in Russia is less than 3.5%. We have even had people who were not baptized attend holiday night vigil services. So, the Church in Russia is numerically no more than three percent. There are three percent of us! Are there too few of us? Considering our tragic history, it is hard to say. But when perestroika kicked off, and the Church was restored to its rights, we expected more. As someone who was a neophyte in the 1980s, I am disappointed. Or, rather, I was disappointed, but I am not disappointed anymore. Indeed, there was no way there could have been more, despite the huge efforts and sacrifices that were made.”

Finally, Patriarch Kirill himself recognizes the small number of true Orthodox Christians in Russia. During a sermon delivered on November 24, 2018, at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Kaliningrad, he drew the flock’s attention to the difference between statistics and reality.

“Although statistically the majority of Russians now say they belong to the Orthodox faith, statistical belonging and actual strict observance are different things. We must work to make our people practicing Russian Orthodox Christians, to make people feel with their minds and hearts how vital it is to be with God, to make them feel the power of prayer, to make them feel how prayer closes the chain through which communication between them and God is effected.”

According to the patriarch, the Russian people are still only at the very start of their spiritual rebirth.

Thanks a billion to Nikolay Mitrokhin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Church and State

vladimir sunset

Nearly Fifty Russian Orthodox Church Affiliates Awarded Presidential Grants
Vedomosti
Yelena Mukhametshina
October 31, 2018

At least 47 organizations affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) have been awarded presidential grants totalling 55.3 million rubles [approx. 734,000 euros] in the latest NGO grants competition, according to the Presidential Grants for Civil Society Development Foundation website. They include lay religious organizations, monasteries, parishes, and dioceses.

Thus, the parish of the Church of the New Russian Martyrs and Confessors in Smolensk has been awarded 2.2 million rubles for a project entitled “The Pearl Necklace of Holy Russia,” meant to encourage youth tourism and cooperation with the Belarusian Orthodox Church. The ROC’s Yakutia Diocese has been awarded 2.5 million rubles for a project entitled “Yakutia’s Churches Are Russia’s Historic Legacy.” The grant winners plan to produce three documentary films, ten videos in a series entitled “Reading the Gospel Together,” and one video about Easter. The largest grant awarded to these NGOS was 10 million rubles. Mercy, an ROC organization that helps homeless people, won this grant.

According to Ilya Chukalin, executive director of the Presidential Grants for Civil Society Development Foundation, it is easy to explain why organizations associated with the ROC have won grants. The Orthodox Initiative Grant Competition has been held in Russia since 2005, so these NGOs have know-how in writing grants and also submit numerous grant applications. As Chukalin explains, the more applications submitted, the better the chances of winning.

“Besides, the grant applications are mainly submitted by church parishes, often in villages. Grants have to be submitted by legal entities, and there are only two types of legal entities in small villages: local governments and church parishes. Usually, they apply for small grants—for example, to build a park or sports facilities in the village,” Chukalin said.

Chukalin, however, underscored the fact that Muslim and Jewish projects have also been awarded grants.

Grants totalling 41 million rubles [appox. 554,000 euros] were awarded to eleven branches of the Combat Brotherhood, headed by Boris Gromov, former governor of Moscow Region, and Russian MP Dmitry Sablin. The Combat Brotherhood’s head office won the largest grant, worth approximately 20 million rubles, for a project entitled “Memory Is Stronger than Time,” dedicated to the thirtieth anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The Russian Union of Youth (RSM) has been awarded 63.5 million rubles [approx. 843,000 euros] to involve young people in developing small towns and settlements.

The largest grant in the competition overall was awarded to the Concerts, Festivals, and Master Classes Agency, which will spend nearly 112 million rubles on a project entitled “Yuri Bashmet to Russia’s Young Talents.”

A total of 19,000 applications was submitted to two competitions in 2018. 3,573 projects were awarded grants. The total amount awarded was 7.8 billion rubles [approx. 103.6 million euros].

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The largest presidential grants awarded to NGOs. 1) Concerts, Festivals, and Master Classes Agency, “Yuri Bashmet to Russia’s Young Talents,” 111.97 million rubles; 2) Association of Art and Culture Schools, “Second Tertiary Degrees for Creative Professionals,” 80.64 million rubles; 3) New Names Foundation, “Russia’s New Names,” 68.96 million rubles; 4) Russian Union of Youth, “The Space of Development,” 63.51 million rubles; 5) Golden Mask Festival, National Theatrical Prize, 50 million rubles; 6) Northern Capital Foundation, “A Road through War,” 40.97 million rubles; 7) Elena Obraztsova Foundation, International Competition for Young Opera Singers, 40.72 million rubles; 8) Butterfly Children Foundation, Compiling a Registry of Epidermolysis Bullosa Patients, 35 million rubles; 9) Tyumen Development Foundation, Local Community Development Centers, 27.04 million rubles; Peace Avenue Foundation, “The Country’s Main Law,” 24.92 million rubles; Urals Musicians Association, Urals Music Night International Festival, 23.86 milliion rubles. Source: Presidential Grants for Civil Society Development Foundation, October 2018

Alexei Makarkin argues that this way of awarding grants has its own rational. The ROC has long been an ally of the government, which can help it implement small projects, for example, to encourage an energetic priest.

The Combat Brotherhood has also been working with the government a long time, and this year marks the anniversary of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

The large grant awarded to the RSM, however, may have been triggered by the protest votes cast in many small towns during the recent local and regional elections, argues Makarkin.

“The hinterland is also vital, because in many small towns there is the sense of having reached the edge. There are no more budget cuts that can be made, and reforms will hit them hard. Therefore, the idea is to support local activists, whose projects do not require a lot of money,” Makarkin said.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Guerillas Gone Mental: Why the Russian Secret Services Forced Kristina Snopp and Her Husband to Leave Russia

Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB and Pictures of Putin: The Story of a Couple Seeking Political Asylum in Georgia
Sofia Rusova
OVD Info
August 22, 2018

Kristina Snopp and her husband, Denis. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info

A young married couple from Krasnodar Territory have applied for political asylum in Georgia. So far, they have had two interviews with the immigration service. The couple are certain that if they weresent back to Russia they would face criminal charges and prison sentences. Sofia Rusova discovered how a reporter at a municipal newspaper and her bike mechanic husband attracted the notice of local FSB agents and the police.

Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB
“I am Kristina Snopp,  and I am afraid to return to Russia.”

This was how the 32-year-old reporter from Tuapse prefaced her asylum request to the Georgian authorities. Snopp and her husband, Denis Snopp, are currently living in a refugee center in Georgia. Snopp made the decision to leave Russia after she learned her posts on the social media network VK had been examined for “extremism” and “insulting religious believers.”

Snopp never wanted to be involved in politics. She was never a member of a political party, permitting herself to have opinions only on a few issues like religion, the environment, and Russia’s foreign policy. If she did attend protest rallies,  they mainly had to do with ecological issues. Like many residents of Tuapse she protested construction of a bulk shipping terminal by the company EuroChem in 2011.

Back in 2014, Snopp received a call on her mobile phone from an FSB officer who introduced himself as Denis. He wanted to talk with her.

“For around two hours, he grilled me about the people with whom I interacted. Moreover, he asked personal questions about my beliefs, what organizations I was involved with, and why,” Snopp recounts.

“I’m a very inquisitive person. I’m really interested in world religions and, at the time, I was hanging out with people from different confessions, with the Hindus (yogis),  Muslims, Protestants, and pagans in our area. FSB agent Denis was really interested in information about people who practiced religions other than Russian Orthodoxy. He suggested I cooperate with the FSB in combating ‘cults.’ I turned him down. Denis copied down my details and said we should stay in touch, and I should contact him if I found out something new. He told me people in Russia should be religious believers, moreover they had better be Russian Orthodox Christians, since it was the ‘state religion and the most correct religion,’ as he put it. Denis also asked me questions about my political views. I replied I was basically uninterested in politics.”

As the saying goes, if you are not interested in politics, politics is interested in you. Roughly a month after the first informal meeting, the FSB agent came to the offices of the newspaper Chernomorye segodnya [Black Sea Today], where Snopp worked, and tried to make contact with her coworkers.

Chernomorye segodnya
In 2012, Snopp officially began working at Chernomorye segodnya, the local newspaper. After Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, the editorial policies of national media outlets changed radically. This change also affected the tiny newspaper in Tuapse. When she publicly criticized Putin’s foreign policies on social networks, local internet forums, and in discussions with friends, Snopp attracted the close scrutiny of her editors and once again came to the attention of Tuapse’s intelligence services.

“I was concerned about it, since I believed Russia’s actions were mean and unfair to Ukraine. Moreover, I had friends in Ukraine, who wrote to me on social networks about the real state of affairs there, about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea and Donbass, and the lawlessness they were perpetrating even as President Putin denied it was happening. I published posts on my page on VK in which Putin was compared with Hitler,” Snopp says.

Her editors at Chernomorye segodnya knew about Snopp’s stance on Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. When she labeled it annexation outright, her editor, Alexei Chamchev, said, “Then, what are you doing here? Leave the country.”

According to Snopp,  her job became more and more emotionally complicated. The newspaper published numerous commissioned articles meant to defame specific people, as well as articles that openly encouraged hatred of Ukrainians and praised Russian politicians. Snopp would refuse to work on these articles. She mainly wrote about daily news, and cultural and religious events.

Devastated Tuapse 
In 2015, under a pseudonym, Snopp published articles about environmental conditions in Tuapse on the website Proza.ru and VK. She wrote about environmentally harmful industrial facilities, the increase in incidences of cancer and high levels of unemployment in the city, and how city hall hushed up the problems.

“At press conferences, I would post straight, tough questions to regional ecologists who argued that all the indicators were well within the norms. My boss knew about it, of course. When I arrived in Tuapse as a student in 2001, the city was still beautiful and thriving. Lots of tourists visited the city. Gradually, the industrial estates expanded so much they literally consumed all the beauty of those places. The ugly oil tanks, the industrial buildings, the fumes, steam, and chemical dust produced by the factories, and the oil waste pouring into the river and the sea have disfigured and poisoned my beloved city. There is a lot to say about the harm caused to the locals,” says Snopp.

Dismissal from the Newspaper
There were no actual reasons to fire Snopp from her  job at the newspaper, but immediately after the 2016 New Year’s holiday, she was urged to quit her job on her own, as it were.

kristina_d.rThe photograph that supposedly led to Kristina Snopp’s dismissal from her job. Courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info

The ostensible cause for her dismissal was a playful, artsy photo shoot in which Snopp and her husband, dressed in black leather, portrayed Satanist metalheads, an inverted pentagram hanging in the background.

“The editor told me privately the real reason I was fired was something else. People in city hall had long been advising him to get rid of such a politically unreliable reporter,” says Snopp.

Krasnodar
After her dismissal from the newspaper in Tuapse, Snopp and her husband moved to Krasnodar. Snopp thought she would have no trouble finding work in the big city. At first, she looked for jobs in journalism. She had dozens of interviews and completed various assignments, but she was constantly turned down.

Snopp decided to write for her own pleasure while earning money another way. She got a job as a shop clerk at a tobacco chain store. Soon, however, the proprietor got a phone call from an anonymous caller who informed him Snopp was a member of an “extremist” organization. She was fired.

In February 2018, police officers telephoned Snopp’s relatives and her husband’s relatives, demanding they provide them with the couple’s exact address.

“On February 14, police showed up at Denis’s workplace. They wanted to see me as well. Denis called, and I went there. We were not given an official written summons. Nothing was explained to us. We were told we would have to go to the Interior Ministry’s main office for Krasnodar Territory.  Police Captain Denis Polyantsev assured us both it was no big deal. He just needed information from us. However, Polyantsev joked I could have been as famous as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, meaning my amateur punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental, which I founded in 2012. According to Polyantsev, it was the group that had provoked suspicions of ‘extremism,'” says Snopp.

guerillas gone mentalA photo of Kristina Snopp’s punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental. Courtesy of the band’s VK page

The couple were delivered to the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), whose officers asked about posts Snopp had published three years earlier on a social media page that had been deleted. Among the posts was a demotivator in which Putin was compared with Hitler, and parallels were drawn between Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Questions were also asked about post critical of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), for example, a demotivator in which an ROC priest blesses a missile dubbed Satan.

“I regarded these posts and cartoons more as political satire, the reaction of a concerned citizen to events in Russia. I had no intention of insulting anyone. Nevertheless, the Interior Ministry’s forensic examiners decided that by posting the cartoons I had incited hatred toward the president, Russian patriots, and Russian Orthodox Christians. I was shown a thick folder containing screenshots of my posts from various years and forensic findings I was not allowed to read,” says Snopp.

foto_s_cherepomA photo of Kristina Snopp holding what looks to be a skull. According to a police forensic examination, the skull was real. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info 

A photograph of Snopp holding a skull, taken in a cemetery during an amateur goth style photo shoot she published on her VK page, also caused suspicion among police officers. Polyantsev told Snopp forensic experts who examined the photos determined it was a real human skull. However, the online album containing the photos was captioned, and the captions clearly explained the skull was a fake. To be more precise, it was a piggy bank, purchased for 500 rubles at a souvenir stand in the railway station market in Tuapse.

Snopp says Polyantsev constantly put pressure on the couple during their questioning. He cited facts from her life and the lives of her relatives, suggesting he knew everything about them.

“Alas, my husband and I were so out of it that we went to the meeting without lawyers. We didn’t think about it from a legal viewpoint. We did not ask for copies of the summons, the forensic examinations or our own testimony. Basically, we had no written proof of what happened to us. However, the Russian police operate this way quite often, aware most people are illiterate when it comes to the law and lose their cool in these circumstances. Besides, we did not have the money to pay the fee the lawyer initially requested,” recounts Snopp.

Almost a month later, Polyantsev telephoned Snopp again. He informed her that the case file, containing her posts on VK, had been sent to Tuapse. She would need to go meet a police investigator on March 20, 2018, a meeting at which she would be given an official summons. Snopp realized if she signed for receipt of the summons, she would also be made to sign a form releasing her on her own recognizance and would probably be charged with several crimes, including “extremism.”

Snopp left Russia on March 18, the day of the last presidential election. Soon afterwards, her husband,  who had stayed on in Krasnodar to work, got a call from Polyantsev, who told him that if he did not tell investigators where his wife was, he would be accused of harboring a criminal. Several days later, Denis Snopp left Russia as well.

When they arrived in Georgia, Kristina and Denis Snopp applied for political asylum. They have had their second interview with immigration officials.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

It’s All Free for the ROC

Dmitry_Medvedev_and_metropolitan_Varsonofius.jpegDmitry Medvedev, then President of Russia, and Varsonofius, then Metropolitan of Saransk, during National Unity Day in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Free for the ROC: Petersburg City Hall Allocates Two Land Plots for Church Construction
Alexei Kumachev
Delovoi Peterburg
July 31,2018

Petersburg city hall [aka the Smolny] has allocated two land plots for church construction in the Primorsky and Petrograd distrists. According to documents published on the Smolny’s website, the land will be provided free of charge. It was reported previously that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) had announced plans to build a Sunday school on Heroes Avenue and a church on Konstantinovsky Avenue.

The St. Petersburg Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate will receive a land plot on Krestovsky Island. The total area is 2,000 square meters. A ten-year lease will be signed within a month.

Earlier, it was reported the ROC’s plans for the lot on Konstantinovsky Avenue involved construction of 254 square meter church, a 400 square meter school building, a 32 square meter belfy area, and a 28 square meter baptistery.

The proposal to transfer the land to the ROC was made by Petersburg Deputy Governor Igor Albin at a meeting of the city government.

The estimated cadastral value of the land is ₽15 million. According to Anna Sigalova, deputy director for investments at Colliers International in Petersburg, the plot could be sold for around ₽300 million [approx. €4 million]. The analyst added the price could change if the plot were rezoned for residentialhousing construction.

In addition, the ROC will receive a land plot in the Krasnoye Selo District for free. This is the previously mentioned plot on Heroes Avenue. The total area of the site is 2,200 square meters.

The ROC plans to build a two-storey Orthodox school with its own church on the site. The work will be done by the congregation of the All Saints Church in southwest Petersburg. The term of the free lease is ten years. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko signed the documents ceding the land to the ROC.

On July 18, we reported the Petersburg and Leningrad Region Arbitrage Court had agreed to hear a lawsuit filed by the city’s Property Relations Committee (KIO) against the congregration of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Church (St. Petersburg Diocese, ROC) concerning the ownership rights to the church, which was built on the former grounds of South Primorsky Park, opposite the house at 24 Valor Street.

16 сентябрь 2015 (12)Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Church while still under construction in September 2015. Photo courtesy of the church’s website

The 16,600 square meter plot had earlier been rezoned for construction of religious buildings and handed over to the ROC. The church building itself, however, was constructed. without the necessary permits. The first hearing of the lawsuit, which claims the city’s right of ownership to the church in the park, has been scheduled for September.

In July 2017, the Smolny transfered a nearly 5,000 square meter plot of land in the elite [sic] village of Komarovo to the ROC. The media wrote at the time the summer cottage of Varsonofius, Metropolitan of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, could be built on the site. At the same time, Petersburg Legislative Assembly member Boris Vishnevsky drew attention to the fact that a nearly half-hectare land plot was transferred to the Petersburg Diocese only due to the house on it.

In 2013, the ROC leased the land until 2062. The plot’s value was estimated at ₽30 million. Later, officials explained why they had decided to transfer it to the ROC.

“The plot contains a piece of real estate, a house whose cadastral number is 78:38:0022359:29, and whose rightful owner is a religious organization [i.e., the ROC],” said Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Mokretsov.

According to Mokretsov, an inspection established the plot was used for religious purposes. The Smolny leased the plot to the St. Petersburg Diocese on July 25, 2017.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Minority Report

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But in 2000 Putin came to power. Now Putin was director of the FSB (KGB), the executive branch, as it were, of the Soviet government’s war against God. [In reality, Putin was director of the FSB from 25 July 1998 to 29 March 1999. He was acting president of Russia from 31 December 1999 to 7 May 2000, when he assumed the same office as the popularly elected president of Russia.—TRR.] or such a man to become president was therefore a profound shock and a stern warning for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It was as if the head of the Inquisition had become head of the World Council of Churches, or Himmler, the president of Germany after the war.

Nothing similar would have been tolerated in a western country. But it was tolerated in Russia, first, because, as surveys showed, most Russians still considered the Soviet Union to be their native country, and Lenin and Stalin to be heroes; and secondly, because the west clung on to the stupid belief that over seventy years of the most terrible bloodletting in history (far longer and far more radical than Hitler’s twelve years in power) could be wiped out and reversed without any kind of decommunization, without even a single person being put on trial for murdering innocent people in the name of Soviet power’s collective Antichrist.

The tragic farce has reached such a stage that the KGB has become a hero of Russia literature and film, with its own church in the middle of its chief prison, the Lubyanka in Moscow, not, as it might be thought, to commemorate the martyrs who suffered so terribly within its walls, but for the executioners.

The west concurred with this filthy whitewash. The official Orthodox Church (itself run by KGB agents) concurred. The masses of the Russian people concurred by voting Putin into power repeatedly.

And then the rebirth took place. Without repenting in the slightest of his communist past, and while gradually reintroducing more and more Soviet traditions and symbols, Putin underwent a conversion to Christ. Or rather, from being part of the body of the Soviet Antichrist, which was anti-, that is, against Christ, he is now preaching a form of Communist Christianity that, as Makarkin puts it, copies Jesus Christ, placing its own ideas in place of Christ’s and passing them off as His. And if the copy is a poor one (just as Lenin’s stinking body is a very poor imitation of the fragrant relics of the saints, and the murderous “Moral Code of the Builder of Communism” is a very poor imitation of the Sermon on the Mount) this does not matter, so long as the masses are taken in by it or, if they are not taken in by it, at least convinced that Christ and the anti-Christian state are now on the same side.

So the Russian revolution has mutated from one kind of anti-Christianity to another, from Lenin’s anti-Christianity, which was openly against Christ, to Putin’s anti-Christianity, which pretends not to be against Christ but to copy Him and take His place.

There can be no doubt this new, more sophisticated kind of anti-Christianity is more dangerous than the former, and closer to the kind that will be practised by the actual Antichrist himself at the end of time. For of that Antichrist the Lord said, “I have come in My Father’s name and you do not believe Me: if another shall come in his own name, him you will believe” (John 5:43). In other words, you have rejected the real Christ, and as a direct result you will accept an imposter, a man-god, for the real thing, the God-Man.

But we must not be deceived, remembering Putin’s words: “Once a chekist, always a chekist.”

Excerpted from Vladimir Moss, “Putin, the Communist Christian,” 23 February 2018. Mr. Moss’s text has been lightly edited to make it more readable. Photo by the Russian Reader

Remembering the October Revolution on ABC Radio National

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While it’s not entirely true that the centenary of the October Revolution has been entirely ignored or dismissed in Russia itself, enthusiasm for marking the occasion and reflecting on the revolution’s meaning and impact seems to be much higher in other parts of the world.

One proof of this is the email newsletter I just got in my inbox from one of the best radio stations in Anglophonia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National or ABC RN for short. I’m reproducing it here nearly in full mainly to show what public broadcasting can be like when it stretches its wings a little, but also to reiterate what I’ve said on this website many times.

Russia is now one of the most reactionary countries in the world, and you cannot find more solid evidence than the bizarre attitudes that have been cultivated by Russian authorities and the Russian intelligentsia alike towards not only the October Revolution (about which there is, indeed, a lot to be said, good, bad, and contradictory, as well as legitimate arguments pro and con) but also revolution generally and even just vigorous grassroots involvement in politics.

This is not to mention that real curiosity about other countries, their histories and cultures, has been mostly eliminated from the Russian media, and this is another telltale sign of the blackest reaction. TRR

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It’s been 100 years since the Russian revolution, but its impact is still being felt today. So this week we’re zooming in on the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power and the legacy it left behind.

What do millennials see in socialism?
With the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, it was said that humanity had reached “the end of history”: the Cold War was over and capitalism, along with liberal democracy, had won.

Seventy-five years after the Bolsheviks came to power in the October revolution of 1917, the Russian revolution was no longer widely hailed as an international model for workers’ activism. More often, it was cited as proof the socialist experiment had failed.

Yet this year Jeremy Corbyn — a self-described modern socialist — led UK Labour to a near victory in the country’s general election. And in the US, Bernie Sanders — a Brooklyn-born socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union — offered Hillary Clinton an unexpectedly tough challenge in the Democratic presidential primary.

So what does socialism offer young people in 2017?

Read more from two millennials who think socialism is still relevant.

The legacy of the Russian revolution
The Russian revolution challenged ruling classes all over the world with the idea that it is labour that creates wealth.

And it caused political shockwaves internationally, especially in Europe and the United States.

“The Russian revolution was not simply about some redistribution of income or some increase in taxation on the wealthy. It was about changing the fundamental relations of power that existed,” says Wendy Goldman, Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Working people embraced the Russian revolution all over the world. And I think that was one of the things that really struck terror into the hearts of ruling classes”.

Hear more about the impact of the Russian revolution.

Inside the House of Government
In a real apartment building that still exists in Moscow, a group of romantic revolutionaries once dreamed of overturning the Czarist monarchy and establishing a golden utopia for workers and peasants.

They succeeded in destroying the monarchy, but not in creating their golden utopia.

The House of Government: A saga of the Russian Revolution is a work of history, structured as novel.

Its author, Yuri Slezkine, grew up in Moscow and remembers the building distinctly.

“I wasn’t really aware it was called the House of Government when I was child,” he explains.

“But I knew of it, as I think most Moscovites did, as a huge grey menacing looking building … covered with memorial plaques, dedicated to various revolutionaries.”

Hear Phillip Adams’s discussion with Yuri Slezkine.

No revolution for Putin
Much has been written, analysed, discussed and debated about the Russian revolution in other countries.

But in Russia, the anniversary is troublesome.

“The population is quite divided on whether or not this revolution was a good thing … [because] by and large the Russian Government likes to embrace historical events which can unite the nation,” explains author and historian Mark Edele, from the University of Melbourne.

So how do you celebrate the birth of communism when it has been renounced and the offspring, the Soviet Union, dissolved?

Hear Geraldine Doogue’s discussion with Mark Edele.

Russia’s anti-revolution
The philosophy of the late, and seemingly long-forgotten, Russian religious philosopher Semyon Frank is all about the unknowable.

Even his grandson, Berlin-based Nikolai Frank, doesn’t really understand it.

Accompanied by his friend, radio producer David Hecht, Nikolai Frank travels through contemporary Russia, to find out why his grandfather has been hailed by some in President Putin’s elite circle as “Russia’s salvation”.

There, they discover a deeply divided Russian Orthodox church.

Hear more about Nikolai and David’s journey in Russia.

Music of the Russian revolution

The year is 1917, the end of World War I is in sight. But Russia has been removed from the war and is undergoing a huge transition from the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union.

If you were attending the concert halls during this turbulent period, you would have been hearing a lot of Scriabin, who died two years before the revolution, but was seen as a musical champion, both leading up to it and for years after.

“He imagines the end of the world, and the transformation of the world,” explains Professor Marina Frolova-Walker, author of Russian Music and Nationalism from Glinka to Stalin.

Composers like Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and of course Shostakovich were all affected by the rising Iron Curtain — and some stayed, but many didn’t.

Hear about changes in music before, during and after the revolution.

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Newsletter text and image courtesy of ABC Radio National