Red Flag

As of the morning of May 1, around a hundred billboards featuring the image of the iconic pensioner who gained famed after the events in Ukraine [sic] had been installed in different districts in Petersburg. Fontanka.ru has analyzed the scale of this visual statement. The news-related intrigue lies in the fact that state agencies have nothing to do with the campaign.

“Under the banner of victory!” All images courtesy of Fontanka.ru

In the early hours of May 1, identical posters bearing the image of the famous pensioner holding a Soviet banner were officially installed in about one hundred outdoor media displays in Petersburg.

News about the woman broke out back in April, when she went out with a red banner to greet servicemen in Ukraine, confusing them with Russian soldiers. Her age, her deed, the reaction of the Ukrainian soldiers, and the video that went viral on the Net immediately turned her into a symbol of victory. The old woman’s face has appeared on DPR postage stamps, graffiti artists began to draw her in different cities in Russia, and so on. Even the Russian Federation’s delegate at the UN Security Council talked about her.

Currently, the images of the heroic old woman have been installed in the Central, Admiralty, Petrograd, Vyborg, Maritime, Kalinin, and Moscow districts. These include both large billboards and typical demonstrative surfaces [sic] along the roadways.

The urban spaces chosen for this campaign can be analyzed. The images have been installed near places of authority: on Suvorov Prospekt, next to the Smolny [Petersburg city hall], the seat of the Leningrad Region government, and the Interior Ministry building; on Tapestry Street, near the FSB building; on Horse Guards Boulevard, near St. Isaac’s Cathedral; and around the monument to Alexander Nevsky, outside the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.

However, many similar phenomena [sic] have popped up on Moscow Prospekt, Pulkovo Highway, and the October and Vyborg embankments.

Fontanka.ru has learned that state (regional or federal) agencies did not pay for the campaign. Petersburg advertising market insiders, on terms of confidentiality, informed our correspondent that they had heard about the proposal from representatives of a private individual in mid-April. “It’s definitely a businessman. We are sure of this at least, since we called each other when we began receiving preliminary inquiries,” one of the insiders said.

As for the scale, according to the information we have obtained, the order received was for the placement of one hundred billboards at an approximate cost of around ten million rubles [approx. 139,000 euros]. “And that’s if they got a discount,” one source added. Several of our experts more or less agreed with this figure.

If someone in the advertising market has more accurate information, Fontanka.ru is ready to listen to it with a full guarantee of anonymity.

Source: Fontanka.ru, 1 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


A Cult of Dementia

Putin’s red-brown ideology has taken the worst of Nazism and Bolshevism and mixed it with the cartoonish oligarchy from Dunno on the Moon. The final product has no equals anywhere in the world.

Just think about it. For several months now, Russian propaganda has been chewing over the image of a traitorous old Ukrainian woman who was waiting for the invaders with a Soviet flag. Compassionate Ukrainian soldiers gave her food, but took away her flag. That’s the whole story.

But no, the story didn’t end there. In Russia, the crazy old woman was made a real hero, and her image began to appear on buildings. But the occupiers have driven themselves into an ideological trap: no one except such “young Komsomol women” was looking forward to seeing them in Ukraine. The invaders were not greeted with flowers and bread, but were treated to Molotov cocktails and poisoned pies.

If you think about this story more deeply, the old lady with the Soviet flag perfectly reflects the main watchword of Putin’s Russia, its underlying doctrine, and the true purpose of invading Ukraine: our lives have sucked and we won’t let anyone else live either.

She is thus undoubtedly a hero to Russia, as is Pavlik Morozov. Russia has nothing to offer the world. It offers a rollback to the past and endless attempts to cash in on lost “greatness” instead of progress, old age instead of youth, betrayal instead of loyalty, and humiliation instead of pride. So, an old woman holding a Soviet flag is the most accurate symbolic depiction of modern Russia.

It’s funny, because the propagandists don’t care about Russian pensioners or about veterans of the Second World War. Old people in Russia live out their days (they live them out, they don’t live) in want and humiliation, in terrible conditions and hopelessness.

Source: Andrey Churakov, Facebook, 2 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Z Is for Zombie Box

The Putinist Zwastika now graces the halls of Petersburg’s renowned physics and maths magnet School No. 239, writes Alexander Rodin, an alumnus who says that he will now try and get his alma mater excluded from all international projects including the school Olympics in maths and physics, and that he is sure that all his fellow alumni (some of whom I know) share his sense of shame at this turn of events. Thanks to PZ for the link.

The Zombie box. Smart people have been trying to persuade me that it is not a matter of propaganda at all, but that it has to do with the peculiarities of Russian culture and history, or with the psychology of the Russian populace, with complexes and resentments. As for the latter, I don’t really understand how one can deduce a particular reaction to current political events from such general categories as “culture,” which consists of many different things, nor do I really understand how so many complexes and resentments about Russia and the world naturally arise in the head of a specific person who mainly thinks about their own everyday problems. But as for the former — that is, propaganda — there is no theory for me here. Instead, there is the daily practice of observing my nearest and dearest: how this dark force literally enchains them, how this poison contaminates their minds, how these people repeat verbatim all the stock propaganda phrases and figures of speech, passing them off as information and arguments, and how they lose the ability to hear objections. Perhaps it isn’t the Zombie box that is the matter, but just in case, I advise you to turn it off and try to expel Saruman from your brains.

Source: Sergey Abashin, Facebook, 21 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

_______________

Vladimir Putin’s speech at the concert and rally in Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, 18 March 2022

Putin Marks Crimea Anniversary, Defends ‘Special Operation’ in Ukraine in Stadium Rally
Moscow Times
March 18, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin led a pro-government rally that was beset by “technical difficulties” and reports of people being forced to attend.

The event marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which is not recognized by most countries, came three weeks into Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that has sparked fierce international condemnation.

“We have not had such unity for a long time,” Putin said, referring to the “special military operation” in Ukraine as he addressed the crowd of about 95,000 and another 100,000 outside the stadium, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium was awash with Russian tricolor flags as snippets from Russia’s military insurgency in Crimea flickered across the stadium’s screens, accompanied by songs that celebrated the success of Russia’s military.

A number of guest speakers, including RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, spoke from a stage emblazoned with the phrases “For Russia” and “For a world without Nazism.”

Many guest speakers were wearing orange-and-black St. George’s ribbons in the shape of a Z, a new symbol of support for Russia’s Armed Forces in the wake of the invasion.

Putin’s impassioned speech defended Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, citing the need to protect those in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region from a so-called “genocide.”

“This really was genocide. Stopping that was the goal of the special operation,” said Putin, who was wearing what has been identified as a $15,000 parka.

But the broadcast of his speech came to an abrupt end as Russia 24, the channel broadcasting the event, switched to footage of a military band playing on the same stage.

Russian state television is tightly controlled and such interruptions are highly unusual.

The Kremlin later said that the broadcast was “interrupted due to technical problems on the server.”

Reports prior to the event stated that many of those in attendance had been forced to attend, with state employees used to bolster the annual celebration’s numbers.

“They stuck us in a bus and drove us here,” one woman told the Sota news outlet outside the stadium.

Meanwhile, a photo shared by the Avtozak Live news channel suggested that event-goers were offered 500 rubles to show up to the event.

Videos circulating on social media showed streams of people leaving the stadium some 20 minutes after the event had started.

Crowds were subject to rigorous security checks when entering the stadium, as the atmosphere in Moscow remains tense amid the Kremlin’s decision to launch a military operation in neighboring Ukraine that many Russians have voiced opposition to.

The event’s strict guidelines also banned any symbols associated with Ukraine or the West, according to an unconfirmed report by the Baza Telegram channel.

Despite what appeared to be a festive mood in the crowd, a number of independent journalists were detained near the stadium, according to Sota, all of whom were later released.

In addition to referencing the Bible, Putin closed his address by invoking naval commander Fyodor Ushakov, who is now the patron saint of Russia’s nuclear bomber fleet.

“What a coincidence that the special military operation should fall on [the commander’s] birthday,” the Russian president said, as onlookers whooped in agreement.

“People Are to Blame”

Alexander Kynev: “A moment of patriotic joy. I don’t know if there is anything more bogus. Even the Young Pioneer line-ups of my childhood were more natural.”

The video Mr. Kynev has embedded on his Facebook page is entitled “Zapolarye Za Mir” — “The Arctic for Peace.” The activists identify themselves as “residents of the Murmansk Region” (and, indeed, are standing on a hill overlooking Murmansk itself.) In addition to the newfangled Russian “Z” swastika, the hoodies sported by the lead troika of “activists” are also emblazoned with the “We Don’t Abandon Our Own” slogan that featured heavily in Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and has been revived for the new invasion. ||| TRR

__________

 

A Perekrestok chain supermarket in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“People are to blame…”

I stopped by Perekrestok and was blown away. Bananas were 140 rubles a kilo, pre-washed carrots were 100 rubles a kilo.

The hypermarket itself is open until eleven p.m. nowadays, not around the clock.

“Prices have really gone up. Is this all because of the w*r?” I say to the middle-aged woman at the checkout.

“No, it’s not just because they’ve attacked the neighbors. It’s because of the people.”

“The people who unleashed it all? I hope they will be held responsible…”

“No, because of the people, all of us, who allowed this gang to take over Russia. And each of us will bear our share of responsibility for this. And bananas at 140 a kilo are still just icing on the cake… We are to blame for what happened. Everyone who let this happen. Everyone who ‘wasn’t interested in politics.'”

Source: Alexei Sergeyev, Facebook, 15 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

“It’s Terrifying to Be Here Amidst This Hell”

I’m a translator, an academic, and a US citizen. Over the past week I have received many dozens of emails from people all over Russia who are desperate to leave and looking for any way out of Russia and into a stable academic or arts-related position.

The one I’ve translated here (with permission from the author, whose personal information has been removed) is both characteristic and particularly exhaustive, and reveals a lot about the situation in Russia now. Just as the prospect of a “war in Europe” and “World War III” has activated memories of the Second World War, in Russia the new crackdown on free media and civic protest has dredged up a lot of cultural trauma around Stalin-era repressions, particularly among the intelligentsia. Postmodern apocalypse rules, with totalitarian concentration camps and 1984 rubbing shoulders (see also Nadia Plungian’s piece analyzing the 20th-century’s death-grip on the modern-day cultural imagination in Russia).

The specters of the twentieth century are additionally deleterious in the way they constantly bring back and elevate specifically Russian suffering. While this suffering is linked to real, undeniable and still largely unprocessed trauma, it feeds into the self-absorption and political passivity that underpins the state of things in Russia today (I don’t have to point out certain parallels with the US and mainstream American culture). It’s not my place to blame Russian citizens for what their insane government is fomenting in Ukraine; there is just clearly much work to be done to build civic consciousness and a functioning society.

Hello.

Although I was born and have spent my whole life in Russia, I am, ethnically speaking, half Russian and half Ukrainian: my grandparents are from Ukraine, and even quite recently I was thinking about applying for Ukrainian citizenship in order to move to a normal, free country, all the more so since I have roots there, but I took too long to decide and now the war has canceled all of those plans. What’s happening right now in Ukraine puts me literally into a state of shock, and what’s happening in Russia makes my hair stand up on end from horror and the realization that this is not a bad dream or nightmare that one might at least eventually wake up from.

This inhumane and senseless war that Putin is waging against Ukraine, which the Russian governmental media insist on calling a “special operation” (while using the word “war” carries the threat of criminal charges), this is only half of the hell, the other half is happening inside Russia. In downtown [city’s name redacted; it is not a capital city], I witnessed the police arresting he small number of people protesting the war. The police used truncheons to shove a grandma holding a “NO WAR!” sign into a paddy wagon. I can’t get my head around the fact that being pro-peace is a crime now. But there are very few protests, the people capable of thinking, the ones who understand how absurd what’s happening is, they’re spooked and scared of protesting lest they end up crippled or have fabricated criminal charges pinned on them.

But the worst thing is that many people, including my former colleagues from the theater, absolutely support this hell that Putin is creating right now in Ukraine, this totally unprovoked and unjustifiable, senseless and bloody slaughter. A huge majority of people has been zombified by the propaganda on TV and are openly welcoming this war, thoughtlessly reproducing the TV propagandists’ fascist, misanthropic slogans. And it’s impossible to convince them otherwise, they brand any rational argument a “fake” and hate the people who argue with them. Today, near my building, I saw that my neighbors had painted the “Z” symbol on their cars, this new swastika that marks the Russian military equipment going to attack Ukraine. They’re all in favor of the hellishness, the blood and death, the war. It’s so scary.

The most absolute insane and absurd madness is being fomented, madness that has no sense and virtually no grounds. Besides this bloody war, besides the sanctions that the entire civilized world has imposed on Russia, here inside the country right now the most severe censorship is being implemented, the last free media outlets that covered the last alternative points of view are shutting down. This is the end. They have been destroyed simply because they called the war a war. There are new laws being passed that threaten fifteen years in prison for telling the truth, and who knows how long it will take before they bring back the firing squad for any kind of freethinking. The prime minister already voiced his support for [restoring] the death penalty. Every day things get worse and worse, and the end is nowhere in sight.

This is a surreal nightmare! Reality just all of the sudden lost its mind. In the blink of an eye everything turned from a vague sort of dictatorship into a totalitarian concentration camp along the lines of Orwell’s 1984, and this is no exaggeration. Soon nothing will be left here besides crowds of insane, poverty-stricken people, completely turned to morons by fascist propaganda, their last bit of reason lost, roaring bloodthirsty slogans, and they will simply destroy anyone who allows themselves to think differently.

I just don’t know how to go on living in this concentration camp that Putin is building here in Russia. Before the start of the war, one could at least try to live one’s life, to be free, to make a living through one’s art and not engage with the universal vector of militarization and dumbing down, to have some kind of hope and plans for the future, but now that’s over, there is no hope left. Navalny is in prison, the opposition has been totally crushed, and the state media, radio and TV, all without exception just repeat one and the same lies, lies, lies and nothing but lies, while the non-governmental sources of information are either already closed or are being destroyed and persecuted. The state is mercilessly rooting out even the weakest rudiments of free speech and of rational thinking in general. It’s terrifying to be here amidst this hell.

While I was writing this I got the news that PayPal and Payoneer announced that they would not be doing business in Russia anymore, and that means I will literally be left without any source of income for my creative projects, while working as an actor in this country involves propaganda in one way or another, because free creative activity has not been possible here for a long time. I became convinced of this myself when I left a theater whose management literally threatened the acting troupe to get us to vote for the candidate they wanted.

I’d like to just live peacefully, make art, learn new things, create beauty, and work to build a bright and joyful future. But now wanting peace will just get you beaten up and thrown in prison. I don’t know what to do and how to go on living.

Translated and prefaced by the Fabulous AM. Photo by the Russian Reader

“Dese funny folks. Glad I aint none of em.”

This comment, addressed to a friend of mine who had liked the original post (a link to this dispatch from Petersburg), was made last night by a Vasily Milykh on The Russian Reader Facebook page. My friend confirmed that Mr. Milykh is a real person, whom they had met many years ago while raising money for a very worthy charitable cause in Russia.
This is a snapshot of Mr. Milykh’s Facebook page. He is a former vice president at Alfa Bank, a former analyst at CSIS (Center for Strategic & International Studies), and was educated at Harvard and the University of Wyoming, among other places. I hope this gives the lie to the common prejudice that Putin’s “base” is the unwashed, uneducated provincial hoi polloi. ||| TRR

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

quora-life in russia

Screenshot from quora.com, taken January 21, 2018

What’s the difference between a baldfaced lie told by a politican and a baldfaced lie told by a “real person”? The “real person” is more likely to be believed by actual real people, especially if they are gullible, not curious, don’t know how to weigh the relative worth of competing truth claims or don’t have the time or desire to do it.

The claims made about life in Russia by Russian hasbara troll “Katya Huster” on the faux populist Q&A forum Quora, which does a heavy sideline in whitewashing dictatorships like Putin’s and Assad’s, will make people who live in the actual Russia sigh, laugh or punch the wall, but they could sound plausible to the millions of North Americans and Europeans whose shallow notion of thinking “politically” involves automatically disbelieving all politicians, the allegedly perpetually evil and mendacious MSM, and anyone else who sounds too smart.

If the Quora bean counter is to be believed, Katya’s well-timed lie, posted on July 1, 2017, has been been viewed by 64,600 real people, 1,145 of whom “upvoted” her answer.

By the way, that is about 4,000 more people than viewed my website all last year. I really don’t know why I bother doing what I do. Real people don’t want contradictory messy reality, as reported and described by real, smart, brave Russians, with the occasional editorial comment by someone who has lived half his life in Russia and been involved in all sorts of things here, i.e., me.

They want “Katya Huster,” her baldfaced lies, and her half-truths. TRR

P.S. Here is another of the numerous pro-Putinist, pro-Assadist posts that pop up constantly on Quora. Although it is much less coherently fashioned than virtual Katya’s big lie, it has garnered 5,600 views since Saturday and 58 “upvotes,” suggesting it will have a similarly successful career on Quora.

By way of comparison, I am lucky to have over 5,000 views on this website in a month, although I post between fifteen and thirty items—translations of articles by the quality Russian press, translations of analyses and reflections by Russian scholars and activists, and my own occasional riffs on particular issues—in a typical month.

 

quora-russiasyria-1.jpeg

russiasyria-2.jpeg

russiasyria-3

Like Flies on Sherbert

I was at my neighborhood cinema last night to watch a real movie made by a real filmmaker: Aki Kaurismäki’s 1996 film Drifting Clouds. When I was exiting the lobby and box office to go home I picked up this flyer.

krym-1
An Alexei Pimanov film. Crimea. Love is stronger than hate. In theaters from September 28

An Alexei Pimanov film. Crimea. You don’t leave behind the ones you love. A story of love, faith, honor, spiritual strength, and genuine friendship, set against the backdrop of real events of the 2014 Crimean spring of 2014. [Sic] Destiny brought them together in Crimea near the ancient city of Mangup Kale. It was love at first sight. In a difficult time of historical change, they must save their lives and preserve their love. BASED ON REAL EVENTS. Starring Roman Kurtsyn, Yevgeniya Lapova, Pavel Trubiner, Boris Shcherbakov, Pavel Krainov, Alexei Komasko, Nikita Abdulov, and Igor Buyanover

Crimea even has a trailer!

A few overloaded tablespoons of love and sex, “breathtaking views” of the Crimean landscape, a maudlin soundtrack, a few awkwardly choreographed shoot-’em-ups, “riots,” and cavalry charges to save the good guys (Russians) from the bad guys (“fascist” Ukrainians) is a sure-fire recipe for a film that will have Russian viewers rushing in droves to see this latest cinematic masterpiece like flies on sherbert.

Not to mention it’s an easy way to continue the furious rewriting of history that has been going here almost since Putin took power in 1999.

But since it seems designed for the especially gullible and people who have never see a real movie before and thus cannot distinguish cinema from propaganda, I’m almost certain Crimea will be a boxhouse flop, like most other “patriotic” films in recent years, doomed to go into heavy rotation on second-tier Russian TV channels, where it will comfort alcoholics, the bedridden, and insomniacs in the mid-afternoon and two in the morning for a year or two before it’s shelved till kingdom come. TRR

_______________________________________

Manufacturing Half-Baked Consent in Russia

Here is a textbook example of today’s Russian-language propaganda journalism (the bill footed by Russian taxpayers, one sixth of whom have slipped below subsistence level living, according to Rosstat).

canadian smiThe headline reads, “Canadian media: By provoking Russia, US risks following in the footsteps of Hitler and Napoleon. With its mendacious rhetoric and endless military exercises near the Russian border, the US is trying to pull Moscow into a military conflict, write Canadian media. However, journalists [sic] argue that Washington should remember how previous attempts to conquer Russia ended.”

If you actually read the article—and why bother, because its robot compilers want you to scan three things very quickly and get the takeaway message in under ten seconds: 1) like Napoleon and Hitler, the US wants to “conquer” Russia for some reason; 2) the US has been taken over by neo-Nazis—just look at the picture; 3) even the otherwise loyal “Canadian media” are writing about this fiendishness—you’ll find out that the “Canadian media” referred to is really just this one article, published on the more than dubious Canadian Putin fan club website Global Research.

The article was written by someone named Stephen Lendmann, “who lives in Chicago.”

Well, Mr. Lendmann does much more than just live in Chicago. He has also edited a nice little anthology of pro-Putin writing by western leftists and “anti-imperialists,” entitled FLASHPOINT IN UKRAINE: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III.

At $24.95 a pop, it’s a steal, I think.

Meanwhile, back in Putinland, where it will probably soon be a crime to read or speak English (lest anyone get any funny ideas), Russian readers will have to content themselves with this Russian-language summary of Lendmann’s article, which features, inexplicably, a photo of someone dressed up as Hitler and looking desperate.

A waxwork of Adolf Hitler before a 41-year-old man tore its head off from the controversial exhibit on the opening day of Berlin's Madame Tussauds July 5, 2008 is seen in this July 3, 2008 file photo. The man was arrested by police after he jumped over the desk and ripped off the head of the waxwork figure in protest of the controversial exhibit that showed a glum-looking Adolf Hitler behind his desk in a mock bunker during the last days of his life.   REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz/Files  (GERMANY) - RTX7NQ0

A quick Google image search reveals that this is not someone dressed up as Hitler, much less the world’s greatest villain himself, photographed on the eve of his demise in the bunker, but a waxwork figure of Hitler whose head was torn off by an enraged visitor on the opening day of Madame Tussauds Berlin in July 2008.

This has been a brief lesson in how consent is manufactured facilely and cynically in Putin’s Russia at taxpayer expense. Basically, all the major Russian media outlets have been engaged in this manufacturing of reality for most or all of Putin’s reign, but since the winter of 2014, the brakes have come off the buggy and fact-based reality almost never makes an appearance in such “news reports.”

* * * * * *

Sadly, lots of people here buy into this stuff, at least partly, if only in a half-baked “since they rant on about it day and night, at least some of it must be at least sort of true” way. I am not the “liberal” (i.e., profoundly misogynistic, Russophobic) Levada Center, and I don’t believe that polls in this country are used in any other way than the implicitly violent, authoritarian “we get the feedback we want” mode, so I will never cite any of these dubious surveys to make an argument about how many people believe this crap, much less how they believe it. (Which really would be the only interesting aspect of this “pollocracy” to study.)

However, a student of mine, an otherwise level-headed psychiatrist, told me the other day that the large numbers of young patients he sees with severe personality disorders and traumas had something to do with the chaos of the nineties, when many of these young people, then small kids, were left to fend for themselves, emotionally, at least. It is hard to argue with that hypothesis.

But then he said something I am sure he didn’t believe himself when he said it.

“Russians have been better off psychologically when they have had a strong leader.”

The desire to conform to “public opinion” among God’s allegedly smartest creatures is strong, almost irresistible at times, and not only in Russia.

P.S. A simple Google image search revealed that the photo of the Sieg-Heiling US neo-Nazis, above, was undoubtedly filched from this Reuters article about how, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (who never saw a hate group they didn’t like to blow out of proportion), the number of hate groups in the US has declined by 17% over the last year.

And yet, if RT is to be believed—visually and viscerally, so to speak—these selfsame declining neo-Nazis have somehow either seized power in the US or are dictating US policy towards Moscow. Or have something to do with provoking the powerful anti-American, pro-Moscow tilt of the “Canadian” media.

In reality, they have nothing to do with anything.

us neonazis