Puppies

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 19 July 2022
As Western sanctions tighten against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, RFE/RL asked Muscovites how Russia’s isolation affects their daily lives. Originally published at https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-moscow-residents-west-weapons-ukraine/31950589.html

The Ukrainian authorities would never control the liberated areas of the Kharkiv region again, said the head of the temporary civilian administration of the Kharkiv region Vitaly Ganchev.

“We will receive comprehensive assistance. That is, Ukraine is not coming back here. And every time I am asked whether the Ukrainian authorities will return, whether we can feel calm, I […] tell everyone that no, none of those Nazis will be coming back here, we are going to build a decent life,” he said.

Source: TASS, Telegram, 20 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The behavior of some Western countries is comparable to the behavior of these puppies. When the special military operation in Ukraine began, everyone seemingly barked in unison, spewing columns of flame and, periodically, sanctions. Realizing the futility of their actions, silence momentarily ensued, and then a plaintive whining was heard. All their supposedly noble efforts had played a cruel joke on them.

Thinking before doing is a luxury beyond the reach of some Western leaders. Who would have thought that an unprecedented number of sanctions against Russia would do absolutely nothing. The people are not rebelling, gasoline prices have not soared, and store shelves are chockablock with a variety of products. The analogy with the feckless barking of small puppies is more than apt, although it is an invidious comparison.

Source: Ramzan Kadyrov (“Kadyrov _95”), Telegram, 20 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


An artful juxtaposition of a poster advertising a theatrical performance of Dostoevsky’s The Devils (left), and a Zwastika on a touchscreen map of the Petersburg subway (right), taken at the Tekhnologicheskii institut station by PZ, a grassroots activist. Unfortunately, I know the station well as it was my “home” station for four years.

Truly revolutionary transformations are gaining ever greater momentum… These colossal changes are, of course, irreversible. Both at the national and global levels, the foundations and principles of a harmonious, more just, socially oriented, and secure world order are being developed — an alternative to the unipolar world order that has existed so far, which by its nature, of course, has become a brake on the development of civilization.

The model of total domination by the so-called golden billion is unfair. Why should this “golden billion” dominate the entire population of the planet, impose their own rules of behavior based on the illusion of exclusivity?! It divides peoples into first and second class, and therefore is racist and neocolonial in its essence, and the globalist, supposedly liberal ideology underlying it has increasingly taken on the features of totalitarianism, restraining creative endeavors [and] free historical creation!

One gets the impression that the West simply has no model of the future of its own to offer the world. Yes, of course, it is no coincidence that this “golden billion” became “golden,” that it achieved a lot, but it took up its positions not only thanks to certain ideas that it implemented. To a large extent it took up its positions by robbing other peoples in Asia and Africa! That’s how it was! India was robbed so much! Therefore, even today, the elites of this “golden billion” are terrified that other centers of global change could present their own scenarios!

No matter how much Western and supranational elites strive to maintain the existing order of things, a new era is coming, a new stage in world history!

And only truly sovereign states can ensure dynamic growth, set an example for others in standards of living and quality of life, in defending traditional values, lofty humanistic ideals, and models of development in which the individual is not the means, but the supreme goal!

Sovereignty is the freedom of national development, and therefore [the freedom] of each individual. It is the technological, cultural, intellectual, and educational viability of the state — that’s what it is! And, of course, sovereignty’s most important component is a responsible, industrious, and nationally minded, nationally facing civil society!

Source: Andrei Kolesnikov, “Vladimir Putin spun the turbine at GES-2,” Kommersant, 20 July 2022. I have removed Mr. Kolesnikov’s editorial asides and insertions from the text of the monologue quoted, above. Translated by the Russian Reader

Support

There wasn’t much left of Russian army Sgt. Andrei Akhromov’s body when it arrived in a zinc coffin at his hometown, a four-hour drive south of Moscow, relatives said. The 21-year-old died in April near the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv when his tank was hit by enemy fire.

Sgt. Akhromov’s cousin, Sergei Akhromov, said a representative of the regional governor’s office told the family it took the armed forces three weeks to identify what remained of him using DNA analysis. Loved ones didn’t look into the casket before burying him last week, he said.

“I only blame America—not Ukraine, not Russia,” Mr. Akhromov, a 32-year-old parks-and-recreation worker, said. “Biden, or however he is called, allowed for Nazism to flourish in Ukraine, and so Russia had to fight not only to protect its people and borders, but also the Ukrainian people, women, children, elderly.”

Source: Evan Gershkovich, “As Coffins Come Home, Russians Confront Toll of Ukraine Invasion,” Wall Street Journal, 4 May 2022

I see that there is a struggle underway over the numbers [of Russians] supporting the war. We are all asked whether Russians want war, how different segments of society relate to the war, etc. There is a temptation (a natural desire) to find grounds — everyone has their own — for our “sense of society’s reaction to the war.” The old liberal circles in Moscow, of course, do not want to reconcile themselves to the fact that society in a patriotic frenzy sincerely supports all the monstrous violence, destruction, and sowing of death and grief produced by Russia’s political leadership and army. Hence the struggle arises. VTsIOM says 75% [of Russians support the war], but independent sociologists says it’s 58-59%. And look at Levada’s figures: by the end of the second month [of the war], support had fallen from 74% to 68%. And so on.

However, if you think about it, what is the political significance of this struggle over the sociological grounds for “non-support”? There is none, since there is no way to mold “non-support” into a political factor. It’s like when the Polish uprising of 1863 was put down. Russian society, including the educated classes, experienced a patriotic upsurge. This is a historical fact. Some people, of course, did not support it, but politically that didn’t mean anything. Therefore, no “figures” or “focus groups” change anything now. They do not enable one to shift Russian society’s attitudes to the war from where they are now. This society is currently under martial law – undeclared, but de facto — because the norms of military censorship have been been instituted, economic data has been partly made off-limits, and civil rights have been completely restricted. Under martial law, “non-support” is tantamount to desertion, “alarmism,” sabotage, and treason. Under martial law, there are no civil institutions within which you can politically voice your “non-support.” Therefore, what are we talking about when we raise the question of who supports the war and why they support it?

Source: Alexander Morozov, Facebook, 4 May 2022. Translation and photo 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

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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.

“Something Tells Me He’ll Never Want to Learn the Truth”

“Do you know who lives next door? Vigilance is the key to security.”

I admit that I sometimes try and get people talking to understand what’s going on in their heads. Today, however, I had no such plan. I only permitted myself to go outside for ten minutes to drink a cup of coffee and to look at the sun as seen from somewhere other than the window of my office. I went to my favorite coffee shop, a two-seater, without any ulterior motives. And without wanting to hobnob with anyone. I sometimes have a nice chat with the barista, because it was simply impossible to have an unpleasant chat with him before [the war]: he has no interest in politics whatsoever. He’s an exemplary sweet summer child, a vegan, the antipode of universal evil. But then he tried to get me talking, on the contrary, taking me by surprise. He suddenly started discussing Ukraine. For some reason I assumed that the hellishness going on there would disgust him, but far from it! When I said that civilians were being killed there, he was genuinely surprised. “Who’s killing them? What civilians?” In a nutshell, he has a girlfriend in Kharkiv. She stays at home, doesn’t go out, and hears gunshots, but she hasn’t mentioned anything to him about casualties. “There, in Kharkiv, you know, everything is fine, you just shouldn’t go outside.” Then he started complaining to me that, in Ukraine, they name streets in honor of [Stepan] Bandera. Tall and blond, the guy looks to be about twenty-five. Bandera is the bane of his existence, but otherwise everything is cool. Something tells me he’ll never want to learn the truth.

This feuilleton was posted friends-only on social media earlier today by an experienced and thoughtful Moscow-based journalist and activist. They have kindly permitted me to translate and publish it here. Photo by the author. (It was taken on another occasion several years ago, but seemed to fit this story.) Translated by the Russian Reader

“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

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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

Vox Pop

Vadim F. Lurie, Yaroslavl, 13 March 2022. From left to right, the shop signs read, “I Want It Beauty Salon,” “Blind Tomcat Men’s Haircuts,” and “Power Bar: The Power of the Present.” Reprinted with the photographer’s kind permission

The biggest surprise for me (and my biggest miscalculation) has been the number of people supporting Putin.

I had expected something else after two years of idiotic measures against the pandemic (measures that caused the deaths of more than a million people), after the [economic] crisis and the pension reforms.

This support cannot be explained solely in terms of propaganda. The regime’s propaganda is eclectic: it doesn’t supply people with a holistic worldview or logical arguments. It supplies them with mind-numbing slogans. The Russian Federation still has a fairly educated population, with a relatively broad outlook inherited from the Soviet education system. Over the years, I have learned from my own experience as an activist how difficult it is to convince such people using slogans alone.

In all the conversations [about the war] that I have had with people, it was they who initiated the conversations, vigorously advanced their positions, and went on the attack. This is completely atypical. Usually, it’s the other way around.

In all cases, the conversations boiled down to “we don’t know the whole picture” and “there must be good reasons,” segueing to “we don’t decide anything” and “it’s all completely pointless anyway.” A friend said that mothers refusing to look for their sons killed in combat have been saying, “There is no point, [the authorities] won’t give us anything.” A colleague at work ended our conversation [about the war] by saying, “Over in Khabarovsk they protested in defense of [Sergei] Furgal for three months and what of it? It’s completely useless.”

Now I have the feeling that people are very alarmed. They expect the worst and manifest the “social instinct” typical of post-Soviet society — siding with the strongman and rallying round “our guys” whoever they are.

That is, it is not propaganda that encourages them to support [the war], but “instinct.” Propaganda, on the other hand, only satisfies the demand for an explanation after the fact, the need for an indulgence and an analgesic.

Probably we should have expected something like this because the Russian Federation has been living in “counter-terrorist operation” mode for twenty years with berserk cops and crazed lawmakers. Nevertheless, I expected something different.

I don’t see any positive prospects yet. To do something, you need an organization, resources, intelligence, bases of support, media, and experience in underground work, finally. None of this exists. We are now in circumstances resembling those faced by the White Rose — only the authorities are not killing us yet, they can only send us to prison for ten years. And we don’t have the slightest preparation for working in such conditions.

The worse the situation in the country, the more people will consolidate. No introspection or arguments will break through the barrier generated by fear, guilt, and the imperial complex. Partisans [guerrillas] must have the support of the populace, but we don’t have it. One-off heroic actions would simply send crowds armed with pitchforks and torches to the houses where the heroes’ relatives live.

On the other hand, there are admirable examples of protesters mobilizing. They have also been consolidating and learning self-organization and mutual support. (Their leaders have all been jailed.) Theirs is not a left-wing mobilization, nor is likely to become one.

The left had a mobilization two years ago and we wasted it on another round of party-building projects.

These reflections were posted friends-only on social media by an experienced and extraordinarily thoughtful Russian grassroots activist whose day job as a tradesperson brings them into contact with Russians from all walks of life on a daily basis. They have kindly permitted me to translate their remarks and publish them here. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Russian Pollocracy Unmasked

DSCN1730.JPGWhen will pollsters, politicians, researchers, and reporters stop milking the dead plastic cow of Russian “public opinion”? Photo by the Russian Reader

VTsIOM Records Another Dip in Putin’s Confidence Rating
But If Respondents Are Asked about the President Directly, a Majority Say They Trust Him
Yelena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
May 31, 2019

Russians’ confidence in Vladimir Putin continues to plunge. According to VTsIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Foundation), during the week of May 20–26, 30.5% of people polled expressed their confidence in the president. This was Putin’s worst showing since 2006. (Earlier polling data is not available on VTsIOM’s website.) The previous all-time low, 31.7%, was recorded a week ago.

VTsIOM asked an open-ended question (see the inset, below, for the exact wording), meaning respondents were free to identify the politicians they trusted.

This was VTsIOM director Valery Fyodorov’s explanation for the discrepancy between the level of confidence in Putin and the president’s electability rating.

VTsiOM also published responses to closed-ended questions for the first time, meaning questions about the confidence of respondents in specific politicians. Putin’s confidence rating was 72.3% when the question was put this way to respondents. VTsIOM also quizzed them about their attitude to the prime minister and party leaders, but confidence in them was considerably lower.

FOM (Public Opinion Foundation) also asks respondents specifically about confidence in Putin. Last week, 62% of people they polled said they either “absolutely” or “more or less” trusted the president.

What VTsIOM Asks
The open-ended question was worded as follows: “We all trust some people while not trusting others. If we talk about politicians, whom do you trust to make important government decisions? Whom would you not trust?”

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, said on Thursday, May 30, that the Kremlin had taken note of VTsIOM’s poll showing a decline in confidence in Putin. He asked the pollsters to explain the discrepancy between the confidence rating and the electability rating, which has been growing.

For example, according to FOM, the president’s electability rating has increased by five percentage points since March. Last week, it was 50%. This week, it dipped to 48%.

“We expect an analysis on the part of Russia’s esteemed specialists on how these figures correlate. How can the confidence rating fall when the electability rating increases? It’s a complex analysis. We hope to see this analysis sooner or later,” Peskov said.

On May 24, VTsIOM published polling data on confidence in politicians. 31.7% of respondents said they trusted Putin to make important government decisions. It was the lowest figure since 2006. However, Russians [sic] still trust the president more than any other Russian politician.

“The open-ended question about trust is sensitive to the public’s moods and emotions. When the mood is sour, as it is now, many respondents refuse to answer, choosing ‘no answer’ or ‘I don’t know,’ etc. VTsIOM does not publish the numbers of people who respond this way, but around thirty percent of people polled give these answers in similar polls done by the Levada Center,” said Dmitry Badovsky, director of the ISEPR Foundation.

As for VTsIOM’s first closed-ended poll on confidence in specific politicians, it would be interesting if the pollsters had included in the list all the politicians people ordinarily name in VTsIOM’s customary open-ended poll, including Putin, Sergei Shoigu, Sergei Lavrov, Pavel Grudinin, and Alexei Navalny, argued Badovsky.

He would not rule out the possibility that VTsIOM would do this in its next round of polls.

“It would be impractical to get rid of the open-ended question about trust. It has been asked for many years, since 2006. Such long-term data sets are rather important in research and analyzing the situation,” argued Badovsky.

“Fluctuations in the president’s ratings have been much discussed over the past year. It’s just that it rarely gets on the agenda, but when it does, there is a conflict. It’s hard to deny negative trends, but it’s considered indecent to acknowledge them,” said political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov ironically.

“However, there have been few instances when the publication of ratings was suspended. If I’m not mistaken, it happened to Medvedev’s electability ratings when he was president. Declining to publish ratings is tantamount to acknowledging you are powerless to reverse the trend. Yes, the ratings have dropped, but not so critically as to warrant panicking,” Vinogradov argued.

It would make more sense to natter on about the subject until society and the media switch their focus to some other problem, he added.

We asked Fyodorov whether the pollsters would now publish responses to both questions about confidence.

“We shall see how society reacts and decide accordingly. Maybe we will publish both polls. Or one poll. Maybe at the same time or maybe at different times. We haven’t discussed it yet,” he replied.

He did, however, promise to keep publishing results of the open-ended survey about trust.

Translated by the Russian Reader

DSCN1893Russian “public opinion” polls are “udderly” useless. Photo by the Russian Reader

In October 2013, during the height of the Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise crisis, Shaun Walker wrote this in the Guardian:

In the queue outside the [detention center in Murmansk where the Greenpeace activists were held], there is little sympathy for Greenpeace among relatives of other detainees, as they wait to deliver packages. “We have a saying in Russia: you shouldn’t go into someone else’s house and try to live by your own rules,” said one middle-aged woman who had bought a parcel of food for her 33-year-old daughter, who had been inside for five months on charges she did not want to reveal. She had been waiting in freezing temperatures since 4am to ensure she was among the lucky few who got to deliver her package.

Another man, waiting to deliver a package to his brother, suggested the Greenpeace activists were paid by western oil corporations to undermine Russia and should be “shot, or at least sent to a camp”. The opinions reflect surveys which show that the majority of Russians support the piracy charges.

Walker’s take on Russian “public opinion” struck me as so wildly wrong that, a few days later, I wrote and published my first attack on what I would subsequently dub the “pollocracy.”

For some reason, as the country sinks deeper into the Putinist fascist night, this “saying” becomes more and more popular. I’ve personally heard and read it something like six hundred thousand times over the past few years, but it’s hard to remember anyone ever saying such a thing in the nineties. It’s just remarkable how people participate so willingly in their own enslavement and extinction, and with the help of such “sayings.” Yes, “folk wisdom” really does consist in repeating over and over again what some fat cats with soccer teams in England, kids in Swiss schools, and mansions on the Riviera want you to think.

On the other hand, reporters like Shaun Walker wouldn’t have to look that hard for Russians who don’t think this way, even in Murmansk. And it’s pointless, as he does here, and as avid Russian watchers both inside and outside the country love to do, to cite a “public opinion” poll that, allegedly, shows the majority of Russians don’t support the arrested Greenpeace activists. Aside from any other number of methodological and philosophical issues with such polls more generally, not only in Russia, “public opinion” is a nearly meaningless concept in a country lacking all the things that make it a somewhat more meaningful concept in other countries, things like free elections, broadly based political parties, non-astroturfed grassroots groups, much stronger and more militant independent trade unions and, most important, freedom from constant terrorization and brainwashing, in the not-so-distant past and now again, over the past fourteen years, by officialdom, whether in the form of bureaucrats, police or state media.

Why does “the majority” not support the arrested Greenpeace activists? Because they (or, rather, a good number of the people who answered this dubious poll) thought that this was the response expected from them. Why did they think that? Because state and loyalist media have portrayed Greenpeace as the second coming of Al Qaeda, willing dupes of the CIA, and any other baleful thing you can think of. You don’t even have to believe this stuff. You just know that if some “polling organization” calls you up out of the blue, there are strong cues out there in the big media world to which you have access telling you how to respond to such questions. So what’s the point of thinking something different out loud? But then Shaun Walker, hundreds of other reporters, “political analysts,” “sociologists” and so on cite this “public opinion” as if it weren’t obtained under duress. It’s a vicious circle.

I knew I was probably not alone in my profound distrust of attempts to depict Russian “public opinion” so facilely. Actually, my friend the reporter Sergey Chernov had been making similar arguments in our endless conversations about politics then. It was Chernov who hit on what I think is still the consummate formula for how the pollocracy works in Russia: “Levada—TV—Levada,” ad infinitum. A vicious circle, indeed.

But I wanted to see whether other Russian reporters and political scientists had reached similar conclusions. Although, as I discovered, they were few and far between, there were other Russians besides Chernov who had noticed that the leaders of their country, where nearly all elections were faked and had just protested this sad circumstance in large numbers for several months, were positively and paradoxically bonkers about “public opinion” polls.

Since 2013, I have enthusiastically translated and published their articles on the subject while also wearing out my already thin welcome by insisting on this website and other venues that Russian “public opinion” polls are worthless as measures of what real Russians really think and should be shunned by conscientious reporters and researchers.

Worse, Russian “public opinion” poll are barefaced attempts to mold public opinion by persuading the 99.99999% of Russians who are not asked what they think about anything that everyone (except them, perhaps) is gaga about Putin, crazy about Stalin, bonkers about the occupation of Crimea, etc.

Events of recent weeks have brought into sudden, sharp focus the dubiousness of public opinion polls in Russia, whose elites and security service have been rapidly descending into neo-totalitarianism while society at large seems, at very least, to have quite a lot of the democratic fight left in it, especially when it comes to NIMBY-style battles over parks and waste landfills.

This emerged forcefully in Yekaterinburg, where the powers that be unexpectedly suggested polls and plebiscites as a way out of the conflict between rank-and-file residents defending a city park and the Russian Orthodox Church, who planned to build a church in the park.

Now it transpires (see the article, above) that one of Russia’s troika of “trusted” (official or quasi-official) pollsters, VTsIOM, has been engaging in double-entry bookkeeping, so to speak, when it comes to gauging the public’s trust in Russia’s would-be president for life.

For reasons that are not clear, it asks the victims of its survey open-ended and closed-ended questions about their confidence in Putin’s leadership, questions that produce wildly different outcomes.

What does it all mean? I would hope it means that people who are serious about reporting and explaining the complexities of the Russian elite’s police tactics and the political resistances mounted (or not mounted) by the Russian grassroots will forever forswear the nasty handiwork of Russia’s troika of public opinion manipulators.

The article in Vedomosti, which I have translated, above, shows, without really trying, that the troika of pollsters (Levada Center, FOM, and VTsIOM) cannot be trusted if only because they are mixed up with the Kremlin in a shady game to persuade perfectly intelligent, well-educated, thoughtful people they know what they think only when Putin, Levada or the TV set tells them what to think.

And yes, even when a Russian “public opinion” poll seemingly goes the opposition’s way, as it has in this case, it is still worthless. {THE RUSSIAN READER}

“Die in Battle and Go to Valhalla”

DSCN3949Russian public opinion? Photo by the Russian Reader

I don’t trust Russian public opinion polls, but the Putin regime, which rigs elections and otherwise tries to quash every manifestation of public life it does not astroturf itself, has increasingly relied on such wildly dubious methods to monitor the success of its propaganda machine, especially, television, in shaping hearts and minds. So, it must have noticed that a few of the elections it rigged did not go as planned this past autumn, and that Putin’s spurious approval ratings have dropped.

The regime’s response? Ram a few Ukrainian boats in the Kerch Strait to whip up patriotic fervor. It worked in 2014, and so maybe it will work again in 2018.

Since there is pointedly no Russian anti-war movement to mobilize public opinion and actual people against any military aggression by the Kremlin, it is hard to say how the Kremlin will fare in the polls after the Kerch gambit. Maybe Putin’s wholly ersatz popularity will nominally shoot up a few dozen points as “Russians” “express” “their” “outrage” over Kyiv’s nonexistent military agression. Maybe, unaccountably, TV viewers will suddenly see through the nonstop war dance that has undoubtedly erupted on all Russian news channels and drop Putin’s rating another few points.

What definitely won’t happen is that millions of Russians will take to the streets to demand the resignation of a would-be president for life whose reign has been marked by military aggression and “patriotic” manipulation of public sentiment since day one.

There were one or two largish protests in Moscow against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine at the very start of that glorious campaign, and that was that. There has never been even a middling protest against Putin’s decisive use of military force against innocent Syrians opposed to the butcher Assad. And on an issue that should have been a cakewalk for the opposition, the so-called pension reform (i.e., raising the retirement age precipitously to save money for military spending), the vast majority of Russians decided to get upset, if they did get upset, in the comfort of their homes, watching the FIFA World Cup on TV, rather than bravinngthe balmy weather that prevailed all over Russia this past summer and showing the government how angry they were.

But popular demonstrations are never just a matter of public sentiment. They are also a matter of political organization. And while nearly all opposition forces in Russia did at least make the attempt to get people into the streets this past summer to oppose the pension reform, they would never risk whatever political capital they had to call for anti-war marches and protest rallies.

Maybe they would be surprised by the turnout if they did call for such protests and put their hearts and souls into organizing them, but that is not going to happen for the simple reason that the unacknowledged, apparently invisible bull in the china shop—Russian imperialism—informs the Russian liberal and leftist “anti-Putinist” views of the world as much it does Putin’s view of the world. {TRR}

It Was a Joke

rostovpapaRussians do not swallow the regime’s propaganda hook, line and sinker, argues Ivan Mikirtumov, but use it to guide their public behavior. Photo by the Russian Reader

Why the Russian President Made Fun of Russian Propaganda
Ivan Mikirtumov
Vedomosti
October 22, 2018

Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 18, Vladimir Putin told his audience the punchline of what would later emerge as a “funny” joke about nuclear war.

“As martyrs, we will go to heaven, and they will simply croak, because they won’t even have time to repent,” said Putin.

Judging by the overall reaction, the joke has been a success.

The genre of the humorous anecdote, including the political anecdote, was typical of the Soviet period, that is, of a communist dictatorship in the midst of the Cold War. Unlike texts and drawings, anecdotes were an oral genre and, therefore, were relatively harmless to disseminate. The technical difficulties of proving someone had told a joke made it a less than reliable tool for snitching on other people. This sometimes had to do with the content. If you wanted to inform on someone who had told you a joke about Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, the KGB, the Politburo, etc., then likely as not you would have had to quote in writing what you had heard or, at any rate, admit you knew the joke. Under certain circumstances, however, this knowledge could be used against you.

In post-Stalinist times, people were rarely punished for telling jokes. Jokes were widespread in Soviet culture, achieving exceptional heights of wit and observation. Jokes could be used to track public opinion, since they reflected society’s critical self-consciousness. Jokes were a form of feedback, but by virtue of its unique incompetence the Soviet regime ignored them, too.

Everything dangerous, hostile, evil, harmful, stupid, and meaningless is made into a figure of fun when it fails and falls through. People do not laugh at things that are huge and horrible until they are rendered pitiful, proven weak, and shown to be a sham. Stalin gave people little occasion to laugh, because he rarely failed, but the leaders of the late-Soviet period and the entire Soviet system were perfect targets for jokes and other species of ridicule. It is said Brezhnev was smart enough to laugh at jokes about himself, but it was not something he did publicly.

Putin told his audience the punchline of a joke whose opening line we can imagine as an oral exam question at the General Staff Academy, a question asked by the examiner in a room adorned with framed photographs of the commander-in-chief and the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

“Tell me, how will the outcome of a nuclear war differ for Russians and people in western countries?

Why is it that Putin’s answer to this imaginary question might seem funny? What was he ridiculing?

Mentioning heaven, martyrdom, and repentance in a military context in Russia, a country in which cynicism has reigned supreme, is tantamount to a direct attack on official religiosity, as instilled by the regime, a religiosity that has become dreadfully tiresome to everyone. The notion Russians will go to heaven wholesale, whether they believe in God or not, whether they are religious believers of any denomination at all, and whether they are vicious or virtuous, is tantamount to a scathing parody of religious beliefs.

Nuclear war is the business of the military. It thus transpires souls are saved and people canonized as martyrs at the behest of the Russian army’s top brass. With Putin in charge of it, heaven promises to be something like an army barracks, so the entire satire on martyrdom and salvation was performed as a “humorous shtick” of the sort favored by Russia’s siloviki.

What do generals have to say about the soul’s salvation? They say what they are supposed to say, as they gaze at the patriarch’s framed photograph on the wall.

Recently, General Zolotov and the two heroic Russian tourists who took a trip to Salisbury this past March found themselves in the limelight nearly at the same time. We can easily imagine these men holding forth on heaven, martyrdom, and repentance. Putin’s joke was clearly a sendup of the symbiosis between state-imposed religiosity and militarism, a crucial concept in current Russian agitprop.

It is short step from a joke like this to jokes about Orthodox secret policemen, monarchist communists, sovereign democracy, the Kiev “junta,” the US State Department’s vials and cookies, and ritual murders, performed by Jews, of course, on Orthodox babies (and the tsar’s entire family in the bargain), and so on. During the years of Putin’s rule, a whole Mont Blanc of drivel has sprung up, and whole hosts of freaks have come out of the woodwork. It is simply amazing there are still so few jokes about Putin and Putinism in circulation, but now, I imagine, things will kick off, since the main character in these jokes has taken the bull by the horns.

This does not mean, of course, that, by artfully telling his joke, Putin meant to take the piss out of himself and his regime. We are dealing here with the long-familiar militarist bravado summed up by the saying “Broads will give birth to new soldiers,” with the teenage frivolity typical of the siloviki, a frivolity they enjoy acting out.

“We’ll wipe the floor with them,” as they would say.

If, however, Putin was publicly ridiculing the concept behind current state propaganda, we are confronted with a bad joke, a bad joke told to the selfsame ordinary Russians who are targets of the propaganda so ridiculed, while the guy who made the cute joke is the same guy who presides over production of this propaganda and benefits from it.

The rules of the genre have been violated, for now it is the audience, the public that has been ridiculed. Clearly, Russia’s ruling elite despises the people it attempts to manipulate, and the propagandists sometimes laugh themselves silly backstage after they have concocted a particularly nimble con.

I don’t think Russians are gulled by the Kremlin’s propaganda. Rather, they register the messages transmitted to them by the regime as signals telling them what to say and do in certain circumstances. This lovely consensus is destroyed when the concept underpinning the propaganda has been publicly turned into a laughingstock, because people who have been pretending in recent years that they take it seriously find themselves in an awkward situation. They have lost face, having themselves been made ludicrous.

How, then, do they answer the question as to why they played along with the regime in its efforts to gull them? The only plausible explanation for this behavior is shameful thoughtlessness, fear, and impotence, things to which no one wants to admit.

Ivan Mikirtumov is a visiting lecturer at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

A Brief Note on Comments

Since I just received a comment on my previous post in which the commenter, who, by the looks of it, was otherwise completely illiterate, identified me as a “lover of Putin,” I thought I should explain my policy on comments.

I am not interested in debating out-and-out deadbeats and people otherwise hostile to my work on this website, which consists, broadly speakly, in giving the Russian grassroots a voice in English, highlighting important stories ignored by the press in Russia and abroad, and creating a coherent narrative and, thus, an archive on issues such as immigration, poverty, housing, labor rights and trade unionism, free speech and assembly, the economy, nationalism, environmentalism, healthcare, and grassroots resistance to the current regime through my own translations of texts from blogs and social media, as well as articles published in the quality independent liberal, anti-authoritarian, and regional press (e.g., Novaya Gazeta, Mediazona, OVD Info, Takie Dela, RBC, Vedomosti, Fontanka.ru, 7X7, Grani.ru, etc.).

I also occasionally permit myself to comment on these issues in editorial posts and wander off into subjects near and dear to my heart, such as Russian underground art and music, architecture and urban planning, Russian poetry, Soviet cinema, and Petersburg’s history and “psychogeography.”

Since the Russian Reader is produced by me alone in my free time and receives no funding from any outside sources whatsoever, I think I can allow myself to pursue this perhaps bewildering agenda as I see fit. The growing numbers of readers over the past five years confirm what I do here is interesting and useful to a fair number of people all over the world.

However, I do not believe in free speech to the extent of letting my website be trolled by angry illiterates who cannot be bothered to read carefully what I have written or translated. I have no compunction about identifying their comments as spam and trashing them immediately.

On the other hand, I happily approve comments that question the texts on this website if they are written in polite, literate English and evince no hostility towards me personally. TRR

P.S. As regards the hostile anonymous entity who slandered me by calling me a “lover of Putin,” you would know, entity, if you actually knew anything about the subject and the lay of the land, which you obviously do not, that the Carnegie Moscow Center is not an “American think thank,” but a Russian think thank funded by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. If you actually followed their work closely, as I have followed it, you would know their researchers and fellows sometimes take stances and publish articles on the center’s website that are anything but pro-American and might even be interpreted as pro-Putin, for example, this article, published in March 2017, arguing that western sanctions against the Putin regime have been helping Putin rather than harming him.

On the other hand, they are equally capable of publishing an article like this one, criticizing the Russian judiciary. It was written by Olga Romanova, a fierce Russian judicial and penitentiary reforms activist now in exile in the west. So, the Carnegie Moscow Center is a quite broad church, indeed.

But it is not an American church, and it is no more capable than Russia’s infamous troika of pollsters of overcoming the prejudices and faulty methodological assumptions that skew their polls and thus of finding out “what Russians really think.” When the Carnegie Moscow Center has engaged in “public opinion” research, which it has done on several occasions, it has been just as complicit in perpetuating one of the biggest cons in recent history as the troika itself has been.

Photo by the Russian Reader