My Generation

frenkel-subway trialThe defendants in the Petersburg subway bombing trial. Photo by David Frenkel

After a terrific, well-attended solidarity talk in support of the defendants in the Network case, held here in Berlin the other night, I spoke to a lovely young Russian activist.

I said to them that there were, of course, many more instances of wild injustice in Putinist Russia with which an engaged foreign audience could be regaled, such as the ongoing trial of several Central Asians, accused of complicity in the alleged terrorist suicide bombing in the Petersburg subway on April 3, 2017.

Like the Network case, the Petersburg subway bombing case has all the hallmarks of a frame-up. As in the Network case, there have been numerous allegations the defendants have been tortured by investigators.

“But the difference,” the young person interrupted me, “is racism.”

They meant that, since all the defendants hailed from Central Asia, there was no way to mount the successful solidarity campaign that has shown a harsh light on the Network case and garnered it widespread notoriety, especially within Russia.

The young person went on to tell me that a friend of theirs had been attending the subway bombing trial. She had told them it was horrific. The defendants had been assigned state-appointed lawyers who did nothing to defend them. The trial was such a flagrant frame-up the interpreters working it had banded together to try and do anything they could to help the young people, who in all likelihood have been accused of terrible crimes they did not commit.

It goes without saying that all of them will be found guilty and sentenced to long terms in prison.

The case has been covered spottily by Petersburg and Russian media outlets, but I have seen very little outrage or even mild concern about it from my acquaintances on Russophone social media, most of whom live in Petersburg.

Many of these same people are now visibly bent out shape about the goings-on in Israel-Palestine. In the past few days, they have been treating virtual friends like me to generous helpings of unsubstantiated hasbara.

Are they unconcerned about the miscarriage of justice perpetrated on nearly a dozen young Central Asians because they think all Muslims are terrorists and, by definition, guilty of every charge of terrorism laid at their door?

It has been a commonplace of Russian quasi-liberal thinking that Stalinism affected Russians so deeply it infected their collective DNA. The Stalinist bug, so this spurious argument contends, has been passed on to the new generation as well, even though the Soviet Union collapsed almost thirty years ago, before my interlocutor and huge numbers of other terrific young Russian social and political activists I know were born.

Supposedly, several generations must pass before the Stalinist bug will finally be expunged from the national genetic code and Russians can build a more democratic polity in their country.

In reality, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence pointing to the new generation’s eagerness and readiness to live that way right now.

On the contrary, it is my own age mates, the so-called last Soviet generation, who were born after Stalin died, who seem most afflicted by a kind of cognitive and emotional Stalinism that, often as not, emerges in their thoughts and deeds not as nostalgia or admiration for the real Stalin, but as dogmatic worldview that makes events in, say, Israel more real and important than most events in their own country and cities.

Given recent oddities around the Network trial and the unwonted negative publicity the case has generated for the FSB, I think there is a slight chance the powers that be might have decided to ratchet things down a bit. I could be wrong, but I would not be surprised if, when the trials in Penza and Petersburg resume after a long, unexplained recess, the defendants were indicted on lesser charges and then immediately released on probation, taking into account the long time all of them have spent in remand prisons since their arrests in late 2017 and early 2018.

There is no chance this will happen in the subway bombing trial for the simple reason that almost no one in Petersburg can be bothered to go to bat for a group of non-Russian Muslims or even bat an eye when they are tortured and framed exactly like their non-Muslim contemporaries. {TRR}

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You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party

Involving Teenagers in Unauthorized Protest Rallies Could Cost as Much as One Million Rubles
Experts Say Authorities Won’t Find It Hard to Prove Charges
Olga Churakova
Vedomosti
July 11, 2018

Госдума готовится ввести многотысячные штрафы за вовлечение подростков в несанкционированные митингиThe State Duma plans to introduce hefty finds for involving teenagers in unauthorized protest rallies. Photo by Andrei Gordeyev. Courtesy of Vedomosti

On Tuesday, the State Duma’s Family Affairs Committee gave the go-ahead to a law bill that would introduce penalties for “encouraging” teenagers to attend unauthorized protest rallies. On Monday, the bill was approved by the government’s Legislative Affairs Commission. In its written appraisal of the bill, the Family Affairs Committee recommended clarifying the minimum age at which offenders would be held liable for violations, although the relevant committee reviewing the bill is the Committee on Constitutional Law.

Tabled by Alyona Arshinova, Anatoly Vyborny, and other United Russia MPs, the law would amend the Administrative Violations Code to include penalties of 15 days in jail, 100 hours of community service or a fine of 50,000 rubles for individuals who encourage minors to attend unauthorized protest rallies. Fines for officials would range from 50,000 to 100,000 rubles, while fines for legal entities would range from 250,000 to 500,000 rubles. A repeat violation could send individuals to jail for up to thirty days, while legal entities would be fined as much as one million rubles [approx. €13,800].

“In my experience, there is no such thing as a perfect law bill. As for the current bill, the relevant committee has not yet meet to discuss it,” says Vyborny.

However, Vyborny is certain the amendments are necessary.

“Children cannot resist the negative influence of adults. It matters to them to express themselves, and we hope this bill will deter them from ill-considered actions. Administrative liability will be a deterrent,” he says.

What matters is that young people are not drawn into a culture of legal nihilism, the MP argues. According to Vyborny, the bill does not aim to punish minors, but protest rally organizers. Hence, the age limit is defined in the bill.

OVD Info estimated that ninety-one teenagers were detained on May 5, 2018, in Moscow at an unauthorized protest rally to mark the inauguration of Vladimir Putin as president for the fourth time. According to OVD Info, at least 158 minors were detained nationwide on May 5 at similar protests. OVD Info estimated that a total of 1,600 people were detained that day.

Lawyer Oleg Sukhov says proving protest rally organizers are in violation of the new law would be a piece of cake. Rallies are organized in different ways, including personal contacts and public announcements.

“Our government is planning to deter all means of organizing protest rallies. It realizes this work on the part of the opposition will only intensify over time not only via the web but also through communication with young Russians,” notes Sukhov.

The main point is the government would not have to prove anything, argues Sukhov. Minors will go on attending protest rallies. Whenever they tell police they saw an announcement on the web, the organizers will be charged with violating the law according to a fast-track procedure.

“Clearly, the law will be enforced selectively. It’s a classic manifestation of the so-called mad printer. The terms used in the wording of the bill are not defined at all. For example, what does it mean to ‘encourage’ a teenager to attend a rally? Can teenagers attend rallies? They can. So, how do we figure out whether they attended on their own or were ‘encouraged’? We can’t,” says Navalny’s righthand man Leonid Volkov.

Volkov does not believe the law will be effective since protesters have been paying fines as it is.

“It is no accident this attempt to intimidate young people made the news today, the same day the Investigative Committee released a video about a teenager who goes to prison for reposting [‘extremist’ items] on social media. Of course, this will only produce new Primorsky Partisans,” Volkov concludes.

“Extremism Is a Crime,” a video posted on YouTube on June 25, 2018, by the MultiKit Video Studio. The annotation to the video reads, “A public service video on the dangers of extremism, produced by MultiKit Video Studio for the Russian Investigative Committee’s Altai Territory Office. The video will be shown in schools to prevent such crimes.”

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KMO_156800_00022_1_t218_212746.jpgAlexei Avetisov. Photo by Emin Dzhafarov. Courtesy of Kommersant

Youth Policy Finds a Direction
Kremlins Finds a Specialist in Subcultures and Extremism
Sofia Samokhina, Maxim Ivanov and Lada Shamardina
Kommersant
July 11, 2018

Kommersant has learned Alexei Avetisov, member of the Russian Public Chamber and president of the Russian Student Rescue Corps, could join the Office of Public Projects in the Kremlin. Avetisov has been tapped to head the Department for Combating Extremism among Youth. Ksenia Razuvayeva, head of Rospatriotcenter (Russian Center for the Civic and Patriotic Education of Children and Young People) has been named as a candidate for head of the Department of Youth Policy in the Office of Public Projects. Both candidates would still have to be vetted by the Kremlin.

Alexei Avetisov, member of the Russian Public Chamber and president of the Russian Student Rescue Corps, could head the Department for Combating Extremism among Youth in the Kremlin’s Office of Public Projects. Currently, the Office of Public Projects, which is run by Sergei Kiriyenko, the president’s first deputy chief of staff, has no such department. Our sources say Mr. Avetisov would be tasked with overseeing youth subcultures and decriminalizing the youth scene, in particular, by dealing with the popular AUE network of criminal gangs. The Presidential Human Rights Council discussed the issue with Vladimir Putin in December 2016.

Olga Amelchenkova, head of the Victory Volunteers Movement and member of the Russian Public Chamber, told us there were few organizations in Russia involved in volunteering in emergencies, and Mr. Avetisov was one of the few people who had constantly brought up the subject in the Public Chamber.

An acquaintance of Mr. Avetisov’s said his Russian Student Rescue Corps had brought many universities together. The organization took part in the first Taurida Camp held after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, an event attended by MPs and high-ranking officials. From 2015 to 2017, Mr. Avetisov was director of Territory of Meanings on the Klyazma, a youth education form, sponsored by Rosmolodezh (Russian Agency for Youth Affairs). His main job at the forum was providing technical support for the camp.

On June 6, Znak.com, citing its own sources, reported law enforcement agences were investigating Territory of Meanings on the Klyazma and, in this connection, “questions for the forum’s ex-director Alexei Avetisov could arise.” The website indicated companies allegedly affiliated with Mr. Avetisov had for several years been awarded “lucrative” contracts for constructing venues at the forum. The firms in question had no experience implementing government contracts. Currently, some of the companies have either gone out of business or are dormant, wrote the website.

Timur Prokopenko, deputy chief of staff in charge of the Office of Domestic Policy in the Kremlin, had been in charge of youth forums in recent years. He also handleded youth policy in his capacity as head of the Office of Domestic Policy. However, on June 14, a presidential decree turned youth policy over to the Office of Public Projects.

znakcom-2039402-666x375Territory of Meanings staffers. Photo from the camp’s VK page. Courtesy of Znak.com

Gazeta.Ru has reported that Rospatriotcenter head Ksenia Razuvayeva could take charge of the Office of Public Project’s Department of Youth Policy. Before taking over the running of Rospatriotcenter, Ms. Razuvayeva ran the Moscow branch of the Russian Volunteers Union and collaborated with the Young Guard of United Russia (MGER), which Mr. Prokopenko ran from 2010 to 2012. Ms. Razuvayeva would not confirm to us that she was moving to the Office of Public Projects Earlier, a source of ours in the Kremlin said she might not make it through the vetting process. Another of our sources noted a possible conflict of interests was at play. Ms. Razuvayeva also told us it was the first time she had heard about Mr. Avetisov’s moving to the Office of Public Projects.

“The vast majority of Young Guardsmen and other pro-regime activists brought up through the ranks in the past decades are supremely focused on their careers. The system simply spits out anyone else,” political scientist Abbas Gallyamov told us.

According to Gallyamov, “Changing colors for the new boss and refusing to have anything to do with people they worshipped only the day before are quite ordinary for this crowd.”

“Therefore, it does not matter whose people they were considered yesterday. They will be loyal to any boss, just because he or she is the boss,” Gallyamov added.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Diana Rudakova: Seven Days in Jail for Supporting the Wrong Candidate

intro_diana 1
Diana Rudakova

Diana Rudakova, Navalny’s Tambov Campaign Coordinator, after Seven Days in Jail: “I Wasn’t Afraid and Did My Best”
Yekaterina Ivanova
7X7
November 13, 2017

Diana Rudakova, Alexei Navalny’s campaign manager in Tambov, was released on November 8 after spending seven days in the police special detention center. Rudakov was detained on November 1 after holding a well-attended rally, featuring Navalny, on October 29. 7X7‘s correspondent caught up with Rudakova and found out what her court hearing was like, what violations she was accused of, and why she went on hunger strike at the detention center.

Diana, let’s start with the background. Tell us how Tambov got ready for the meeting with Navalny this time round. As far as I know, you again had problems with the venue and contractors.

Our preparations were long and thorough. We distributed over eight thousand invitations to the meeting with Alexei. We looked for contractors and equipment. It was quite complicated, of course: people are afraid to work with us, afraid of pressure from the mayor’s office. So we looked for contractors in neighboring towns, but even that doesn’t guarantee you will get a stage and sound equipment. For example, our contractor from Ryazan turned around at one in the morning when he was halfway to Tambov. He said they had put the squeeze on him. He couldn’t work with us even though it meant he didn’t work at all that day. So we found another contractor in the middle of the night. On the day of the meeting with Alexei, we noticed all the roads around the shopping center [the meeting took place at the Bashnya Shopping Center on the outskirts of Tambov] had been blocked. We immediately made up our minds that the stage could not be transported to the venue, so we were ready to physically drag it there.

Plus, there were the sudden KVN [Club of the Funny and Inventive] performances, meant to distract young people and compete against the meeting with Navalny?

We didn’t even bother with the KVN command performances. They were trifling compared to the problems we had to solve on the eve of the meeting. But the meeting took place. It had to take place. Navalny met with supporters in a field. He spoke standing atop a speaker case and a small table. So, the simplest recipe for a successful meeting is Alexei and a group of people.

How many people showed up? How many people did you count on?

I was really happy with how the meeting turned out. I had expected half as many people to show up. We got a quite accurate count of the attendees, because we had handed out invitations, keeping the stubs for ourselves. We also counted the number of people who signed up on our mobile app. We handed out tickets to 1,243 people, and 1,291 people signed up on the mobile app. So the real number was somewhere in the middle. Plus, lots of people stood outside the fence: they didn’t come in, because it was closer to the stage. This was about two or three hundred people. So, all in all, there were about 1,500 people. This makes it, of course, the largest such event in Tambov history, not counting United Russia  “rallies,” where people were forced to attend.

Tell me all about your arrest. How did it happen? What were the charges? Why did they send you to jail?

Literally the day after the meeting, I came to work and saw policemen in our campaign headquarters. What was surprising was they had decided to arrest me for a solo picket I had held on October 7. Apparently, they had already written up the charge sheet and were holding onto the case file like a trump card, which they could pull out when it suited them and punish me. After detaining me at the office, they took me straight to the Soviet District Court. If a Navalny campaign volunteer is tried in the Soviet District Court, there’s a 100% likelihood of jail time. As we were approaching the court building, but hadn’t yet entered it, the policemen were already figuring out how they would drive me to the special detention center. I asked one of them to pretend to be lawful at least and wait until after the hearing. “Diana Borisovna,” he replied, “you’re an intelligent woman, and you know things work.”

You wrote on Facebook that the hearing was a pure formality.

The hearing lasted between ten and twelve minutes. The judge came into the courtroom with a pre-prepared ruling and commenced to read it out. He didn’t let my lawyer or me make a final statement. So I was sentenced to seven days in jail. I’m certain that the punishment had to do with the regime’s need to make an example of me to others. Because the authorities have stopped authorizing meetings with Navalny altogether. Holding meetings on private premises would have been a way out of this impasse. After our successful meeting, the federal campaign headquarters decided to focus on this format.

What prompted you to go on hunger strike?

After I found that my deputy coordinators and campaign office volunteers had been detained and sentenced to jail, I realized things could not go on this way and I went on hunger strike. [Leonid Yarygin was sentenced to 25 days in jail; Igor Slivin, to 20 days in jail and a fine of 300,000 rubles; and Margarita Zaitseva, to 5 days in jail.]

When you were in the detention center could you receive information from the outside? Did you know that many people tried to support you emotionally, that they handed out leaflets and circulated petitions?

A huge thanks to the folks and reporters, my friends and comrades who helped me on the outside by signing petitions, writing letters, reaching out to the independent media, and publicizing what happened to our campaign staff. After I went on hunger strike, a policeman immediately (ten minutes later) came to the detention center to write me up for violating Article 19.3 of the Russian Federal Administrative Code (“Disobeying a police officer’s lawful request”), because the day before I had refused to be fingerprinted and photographed, as was my right under the law. The next day, the policeman came again to write me up for something else. The deputy prosecutor and the prosecutor, all kinds of ombudsmen and overseers kept coming and going. A doctor constantly came to see me. Not a day went by when there wasn’t someone burning with the desire to talk to me about my hunger strike. So, if I hadn’t done it, my time in jail probably wouldn’t have been so rich.

Of course, I knew many of my friends and comrades on the outside were doing a lot to publicize the nasty things that happened to our campaign staff. If it hadn’t been for them, everything would have turned out differently. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the detention center, but would have immediately been dispatched to another court, where I would have been sentenced to another stint in jail.

I simply cannot thank people enough. A huge thanks to the campaign office volunteers who kept our office running, welcomed visitors, collected signatures on petitions, and plastered the entire city with leaflets defending Leonid, Igor, and me. They held solo pickets. When I was released and I was able to see all this, I was really touched. It’s quite hard to get information in the detention center, because you’re issued a mobile phone once a day for fifteen minutes and only to make calls.

How are things in the Tambov campaign headquarters now? What are your plans for the near future? Are you ready to throw in the towel after what has happened? You’re a young woman, after all, but now you’ve been arrested and spent time in a detention center.

Now we simply have to do what we need to do. I’m guided by the famous proverb, “Do what you must, and come what may.” I’m doing my best so that in the future, however it turns out, I can say I did everything I could, whether Russia becomes free or, on the contrary, remains unfree. In either case, I won’t have to be ashamed I was afraid. I wasn’t afraid and I did my best.

Diana Rudakova is 25 years old. She graduated from the architecture and construction program at Tambov Technical University in 2015. Her graduation project won third place in the Russian Nationwide Landscape Architecture Competition, which took place in Moscow at the Central House of Architects.

In 2012, Rudakova was co-organizer of a campaign opposing the merger of Tambov’s two universities, Tambov State and Tambov Technical, a campaign in which over 1,200 students were involved. From 2015 to 2017, Rudakova worked as a landscape designer in the Tambov Municipal Amenities and Landscaping Department while also being involved in the historical preservation movement. Since May 26, 2017, Rudakov has run Alexei Navalny’s campaign headquarters in Tambov.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of 7X7 and Diana Rudakova

I’ve Come to Wish You an Unhappy Birthday Because You’re Evil and You Lie

Petersburgers Congratulated Putin on His Birthday by Blocking Liteiny Avenue
Timofei Tumashevich
Activatica
October 7, 2017

An unauthorized [sic] rally of Alexei Navalny’s supporters in Petersburg turned out to be an unexpectedly serious, well-attended event. Most supporters of the unregistered candidate for the Russian presidency had expected the rally to be poorly attended. A few days before the rally, workers were replacing gravel on the Field of Mars, the announced venue for the rally. On Palace Square, a massive motorcycle rally, featuring the pro-regime motorcycle club Night Wolves, drew hundreds of bikers.

73b04ddf8a04872203eefc05a3524576.jpgMotorcycle rally on Palace Square, October 7, 2017

In addition, on October 7, an “event whose purpose [was] to inform people about society’s complicated attitude towards the homeless, orphans, and HIV-infected people” had been authorized for the Field of Mars. A few days earlier, on October 3, police had confiscated stickers promoting the rally at Navalny’s campaign office in Petersburg and detained local campaign coordinator Polina Kostyleva.

Most of all, however, activists were amused to hear announcements, broadcast through a loudspeaker, inviting people to a free screening of the patriotic blockbuster Crimea at the nearby Rodina cinema. The oppositionists greeted the announcements with laughter.

59244c58db9ad21d59070115135ee25e.jpgNavalny supporter holding the Russian flag and sporting a humorous “Navalny 2018” t-shirt on the Field of Mars in Petersburg, October 7, 2017.

def0c7749142b0d58dfe7b8faa21ee7d.jpgNavalny supporters and anti-Putin protesters milling about on the Field of Mars, Petersburg, October 7, 2017.

At 6:15 p.m., the people gathered on the Field of Mars chanted “Putin is a thief,” “Navalny,” “Freedom,” and even “Happy birthday!,” as the protest was timed to coincide wwith President Putin’s sixty-fifth birthday. On the Field of Mars itself, the protesters encountered no resistance from the numerous police officers on hand. They merely asked photographers to climb down from the walls of the memorial surrounding the eternal flame. Seemingly spontaneously, the crowd headed in the direction of Pestel Street. When the column of marchers spread out, it was obvious that no fewer than two or three thousand people were involved in the unauthorized [sic] march.

Otherwise, it would be hard to explain how the rally attendees easily managed to stop traffic on Pestel and, subsequently, on Liteiny Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in downtown Petersburg. The marchers chanted, “Down with the tsar!,” “Free Navalny!,” “We are the power here!,” “This is our city!,” and even “St. Isaac’s Cathedral is a museum!” An Interior Ministry press release would later claim that 1,800 protesters made it to Liteiny Avenue.

e4d6a553148ee96544cc0351818d185c.jpgProtesters abandoning the Field of Mars, where on June 12, 2017, around a thousand of their comrades were arrested for standing in place.

a946aaca63a568d52be8a8445b51dac4.jpgAnti-Putin protesters marching down Pestel Street, Petersburg, October 7, 2017

Police commenced to detain people roughly only at the intersection with Nekrasov Street. Police officers formed up in a line. Among the detaineed were well-known former political prisoner Ildar Dadin and photo journalist David Frenkel. Marina Bukina, an activist with the Detainees Support Group, was struck on the head by police. It has been reported that she suffered a concussion and had to have stitches. She was taken to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Polina Kostyleva, Navalny’s campaign manager in Petersburg, was once again detained by police. Georgy Alrubov, an employee of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, reported his own arrest on Twitter. A number of bloggers have reported that Alrubov arrived on the Field of Mars only after most of the other protesters had left.

3ad7563e56f3afd1978de1845b1d9d7e.jpgPolice forming a line on Liteiny Avenue

230bedd31bb91e0acc010a06eb1ec73f.jpgReporter David Frenkel during his arrest by police. He was later released from the paddy wagon.

Nevertheless, the police line on Liteiny was unable to shut down the protest march completely. Activists bypassed the roadblock by taking side streets and regrouped on Insurrection Square on the plaza near the entrance to the Galereya shopping center.  Several hundred people made it there. At approximately 8:05 p.m., announcements were made inside the shopping center that it was closing immediately due to “technical difficulties.” A mob of shoppers flooded out of the shopping center and mixed with the protesters.

bfe608b4e6bc970293ab9737c6235142.jpgProtester outside Galereya shopping center: “No to Moscow Fascism. Putin, go away! We’re going in a different direction.”

1a89f4c9f603592bc897831e10b588a2.jpg

Protesters, press, and police confront each other on Ligovsky Avenue, outside the Galereya shopping center and Moscow Station. Petersburg, October 7, 2017

Maxim Reznik, an MP in the city’s Legislative Assembly, was on hand for the rally.

“I gather that people headed spontaneously from the Field of Mars to Insurrection Square. This is the main problem, in fact. The regime itself has done everything it can to let the situation get out of control. Since they don’t allow people  to assemble and arrest the organizers, people will take to the streets where they will,” the MP told Activatica.

Reznik personally witnessed the most serious incident outside Galereya. An unknown provocateur threw a beer bottle at a police officer. Subsequently, a fight broke out between people in civilian clothing. Protesters suggested the provocation was incited by plainclothes policemen. [That is certainly how it appeared on Radio Svoboda’s live stream coverage of the eventTRR.]

1544a6490e22855fbbbef43e3a120d7e.jpgFight outside Galereya shopping center between person unknown, some of whom were probably plainclothes policeman.

Around 10 p.m, a group of protesters decided to assemble again, this time on Palace Square, where the concert portion of the motorcycle rally had wrapped up. Around a hundred people came to the square. There was a discussion on certain Telegram channels whether they should spend the night there.

At least forty people were detained during the protests in Petersburg. Two workers in Navalny’s Petersburg campaign office who were detained at the protest have been fined 40,000 rubles each [approx. 585 euros].

Interfax reports that a woman who lived on Kolokolnaya Street, in downtown Petersburg, died waiting for an ambulance due to the fact that Navalny supporters partially blocked traffic on several central streets. [In a post published yesterday on Facebook, reporter David Frenkel explained why this report sounds implausible—TRR.]

2bfdfaf4cc84c0fb9fd7d67013fd82dd.jpgProtester holds photo of President Putin aloft outside Galereya shopping center. In Russian tradition, the black ribbon indicates the person in the picture has just died.

Alexei Navalny’s supporters held rallies in eighty Russian cities on October 7. Navalny himself was arrested in early October and sentenced to twenty days in jail for urging people to attending an unauthorized [sic] rally and meeting in Nizhny Novgorod.

Protesters outside Galereya shopping center shouting slogans and waving flyers that read, “Navalny 2018.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. All photos courtesy of Timofei Tumashevich/Activatica

Blind Valery Remizov versus The Brainwashers of Samara

Valery Remizov. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Khizhnyak/Drugoi Gorod

Blind Student Interrupts No Extremism Forum in Samara by Singing Ditties to Officials about Potholes
Takie Dela
March 30, 2017

Valery Remizov, a student at the law faculty of Samara State University, interrupted a speech by Governor Nikolai Merkushkin at the No Extremism Forum, held on March 30 at the MTL Arena sports complex, and sang ditties about the poor state of the city’s roads. Remizov related the incident to Takie Dela himself.

Local officials, legislators, and police were involved in the No Extremism Forum, writes Volga News. The audience included university and high school students, schoolteachers, and university lecturers. One of the people present in the auditorium broadcast a live feed on Periscope entitled “Brainwashing Students in Samara.”

At the nineteen-minute mark in the taped broadcast, as Samara Region Governor Nikolai Merkushin is speaking, we see an audience member get up and sing ditties, accompanying himself on the guitar. A woman approaches him and tries to confiscate the guitar, and she is joined thirty seconds later by police officers. The audience applauds. Merkushin suggests the young man go to the microphone and explain his complaints, but the police have already removed the man from the auditorium.

The blind man with the guitar was Samara State University student Valery Remizov. He told Takie Dela he went to the forum to voice his disagreement with the regional authorities. He explained that, several months ago, had tried to get an appointment with the governor, but he had been turned down.

“I don’t agree with the restrictions on the number of rides you can take if you use the free public transportation pass. I’m outraged by the condition of the sidewalks and roads, which are chockablock with potholes. I’m sick and tired of falling into a cold puddle in a pothole and catching cold. So I showed up and sang about it,” said Remizov.

He said the police showed him to the door of the sports complex and checked his ID.

“The minister for social policy came up to me. We chatted and exchanged phone numbers,” Remizov added. After that, the police released him, and he left the forum.

Volga News, which published a short item on the forum without mentioning Remizov’s performance, described a film show to the students at the beginning of the meeting.

“Carefully staged by spin doctors, mass events undermine society from within and break down national consciousness. Ultimately, this leads to tragic consequences and even people’s deaths.”

On February 1, 2017, Samara Region authorities limited the number of rides passengers could take on the free public transportation pass to fifty. A protest rally took place on February 18 in Samara. Protesters demanded the restoration of social benefits and called for the resignation of Governor Nikolai Merkushin. Approximately a thousand people took part in the rally.

The Samara news website Drugoi Gorod published a profile of Valery Remizov in late January. The young man is passionate about music and politics, and is studying to be a lawyer.

“It seems to me that if you really want to improve the city, it has to be comfortable for everyone right away. We are all people. We all want to walk on decent sidewalks and drive on good roads. But when you’re walking on broken pavement, it doesn’t matter whether you’re sighted or not. Everyone breaks their legs,” Remizov said in the interview.

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

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By the way, that was my 1500th blog post since I began telling stories about “other Russians” on October 23, 2007, which was when I launched the Russian Reader.
Then for five years, from 2008 to 2013, I told more such stories at Chtodelat News, with a slightly different twist, before returning full-time to the Russian Reader, where I’ve been translating and scribbling like a bat of out hell since 2013.
During that time, I’ve had nearly 468,000 views on both blogs combined.
I know that hardly compares with the megastars of blogging and tweeting and facebooking. I hope, however, I’ve managed to persuade some of you there is much more to modern Russia than the vicious nonentity VVP and his ruling clique, and that you should be much more interested in all those other Russians than in the nonentity and his allegedly wild but basically useless (and, perhaps, altogether fictitious) “popularity” and its elusive (nonexistent) “sources.”
The Russian Reader is a completely unfunded, unaffiliated, all-volunteer, almost entirely solo effort, so there’s a lot I haven’t been able to do, stories that I’ve missed entirely, and an inevitable subjectivity to what I chose to write about and how I write about it.
Nevertheless, I hope it’s still worth my doing, but I won’t know that unless I get real feedback in the form of better readership numbers and comments, letters, and even offers of help from you, my actual Russian readers. TRR

The Kids Are (Not) Alright, Part 2

What’s wrong with this picture?

1

What follows is an excerpt from the seemingly endless series of “grassroots” exposés of the irremediable “stupidity” of twentysomethings, “most ordinary” Russians, Ukrainians, amerikosy, etc., that are posted in such abundance on the Runet these days.

At work, I have a personal assistant, a young woman, Nastya, a Muscovite, 22 years old [sic], who is in her final year at law school. She asked me a question.

Wow, why do they build the metro so frigging deep? It’s inconvenient and difficult!”

“Well, you see, Nastya, the Moscow metro originally was dual purpose. It was planned to be used both as public transportation and as a bomb shelter.”

Natasha grinned incredulously.

“A bomb shelter? How stupid? What, is someone planning to bomb us?”

[…]

“Have you been to the Baltic States?”

“I have. I’ve been to Estonia.”

“Well, how was it? Was it a hassle to get a visa?”

“I was there under the Soviet Union. We were one country then.”

“What do you mean, ‘one country’?”

“All the Baltic States were part of the Soviet Union! Nastya, did you really not know that?”

“Holy shit!”

“Now you’re going to totally freak out. Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova were also part of the USSR. And Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. As well as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia!”

“Georgia! You mean those assholes there was a war with?!”

“The very same. You do know that the Soviet Union existed then collapsed? You were even born in it!”

“Yes, I know there some kind of Soviet Union that then collapsed. But I didn’t know it lost so much territory…”

I was riding in the metro and looking at the people around me. There were lots of young faces. All of them were younger than me by ten years, a dozen years. Were they all just like Nastya?! The zero generation. Ideal vegetables…

Source: Kazbek Magerramov (Facebook), via allmomente.livejournal.com

Among the numerous comments to this Zadornovesque anecdote, most of which empathize with the author’s blunt point and bewail the allegedly vegetable-like state of the “zero generation,” I couldn’t find a single comment pointing out that if silly Nastya were now indeed twenty-two years old, she would have had to have been born in 1992 or 1993, that is, one or two years after the actual Soviet Union actually collapsed in 1991. But in this shaggy-dog story, the first-person narrator tells dumb Nastya that she was somehow born in this magical land about which she is so woefully ignorant.

This logical gaffe makes me think the whole thing has been made up. Like half the “tales from real life” about the laughable simplicity of “ordinary blokes,” twentysomethings, pindosy, ukropy, women or, alternately, the gritty folk wisdom of cabbies, roaming the mighty virtual steppes of the Runet nowadays.

The kids are alright, really. It’s just that they have been left to their own devices. Which, like all the other discriminated and marginalized groups left to their own devices over the last twenty-four years by the state, the ruling classes, the mainstream media, and their allies in the newfangled virtual Kadet parties and Unions of the Russian People, makes them ideal figures of “fun,” scorn, and fear. And perfect stalking horses for transparent exercises in post-imperial melancholy like this one.

Putin’s Russia (how it pains me to type this phrase) is not just a pollocracy. It is also an “anecdotocracy.” Researchers of “post-authoritarian” societies like Russia really should be delving deeper into how polls and anecdotes have been used to help people to oppress themselves and make common cause with others impossible.

The Kids Are (Not) Alright

Piter_april15_35

Enter Pioneers, all in ranks, some with plywood planes and lorries,
Others with piquant denunciations, handprinted in block letters.
From the next world, like chimeras, shades of pensioned janissaries
Nod their approval to the kids, whose snub noses gleam with ardor.
They crank up “The Russian Balldance” and dash in the hut to Dad,
Chasing out sleepy Dad from the double bed where they were made.

What can you do? Such is youth.
Strangling them would be uncouth.

—Joseph Brodsky, “A Vaudeville”

_________

Survey

Students at the Russian State University for the Humanities disrupted a lecture by Nikolai Starikov, a member of the Anti-Maidan movement. They were supported by some professors. How, in your opinion, should the conversion of public universities into hotbeds of liberalism and a source of manpower for a Russian Maidan be stopped?

• Regularly rotate teaching staff, weeding out teachers known for making Russophobic statements and being involved with dubious Western NGOs — 83 votes (25%)

• Actively campaign for vocational education as an alternative to countless “lawyers” and “economists.” People who are busy with real work do not rebel — 33 votes (10%)

• Follow the recipe used by Tsar Alexander III, who pacified Russia for a long time after the terror campaign by the Populists: reduce the number of higher education institutions and raise tuition costs for fee-paying students — 53 votes (16%)

• Leave them alone, let them sow their wild oats. Students have always been rebels, but once they graduated and wised up a bit, they became conscious and law-abiding members of society — 168 votes (50%)

Total votes: 337

Source: Kultura newspaper

Editor’s Note. The survey results were current as of 1:30 p.m. Moscow time on May 27, 2015. Thanks to the invaluable Andrei Malgin for the heads-up.

________

“We’re still little,” or Delegating political responsibility to adults
Anna Zhelnina
May 26, 2015
Vedomosti

Recently, debates about how bad things are in Russia—whether they are very bad or whether there is light at the end of the tunnel—have been topical. For example, an article by Maria Snegovaya and Denis Volkov, published in Vedomosti (January 20, 2015), dealt with the political mood of Russian young people. The authors came to a relatively optimistic conclusion. Young people were much more democratic and focused on Western values than the older generation. This attitude on the part of young people gave the authors hope for social and political change in the foreseeable future.

Research carried out by the Higher School of Economics in 2012–2013, as part of the European project MYPLACE: Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement, found that the views of Russian young people were much more complicated and confusing than has been suggested by the usual divisions into “pro-Russian” and “pro-Western,” “pro-Putin” and “oppositional” camps. Our data consisted of 1,200 surveys, answered by young people 16–25 years of age in Saint Petersburg and Vyborg, and sixty in-depth interviews with survey participants where we had the opportunity to discuss the political views of respondents in greater depth. The interviews showed the survey data had to be treated with caution. Even if a person had come across as liberal in the survey, it did not mean they did not consider Stalin an effective manager, and Putin, a democratic leader.

Entrusting Russian young people with one’s political hopes is, at very least, premature. They have noticeable problems with political consciousness. Until we got to politics, the vast majority of our respondents gave the impression of being quite conscious, informed, independent citizens. But when it came to political issues, many felt insecure and did not want to analyze them. In part, this explains the comfortable, quite normative choices of answers in the questionnaire. It was easier to check off that you support freedom of speech, the ability of citizens to shape events at home, and other “correct” answers.

On the other hand, young people have traditionally delegated responsibility to “adults” and “those who know best.” This position—that we are “little”, that we have to finish our educations, and get our own lives up and running—is a powerful barrier to collective action. It is curious this stance is a response to the attitude of “adults” towards young people. In the Russian discourse, young people are usually imagined as dependent objects in need of refinement, “patriotic” and other mentoring, but not as subjects of their own destinies. (Elena Omelchenko, director of the Center for Youth Studies at the Higher School of Economics, has long argued this point; see, for example, her article “Youth Activism in Russia and Global Transformations of Its Meaning.”) Young people willingly accept this position and do not want to change anything. Consequently, they do not shape the participatory skills, the civic skills they would need for political engagement in adulthood. Postponing interest in politics “for later,” young people practically postpone it forever. No wonder that a variety of civic education programs designed to instill the habits of citizens in young people are so popular all over the world.

When pinning hopes on young people, we need to consider two other things. First, young people, as they grow up, often forget about tolerance and the experiments of adolescence. Second, in Russian society there is not the radical ideological and cultural gap between the generations of parents and children that would be necessary for the kind of revolutionary outbursts of student unrest the world saw in 1968. For our respondents, parents and older relatives are the only people who can be trusted, and when making decisions, young people are guided by their opinions. Some respondents from the older age group (21–25 years of age) voted the same way in the 2011–2012 elections as their parents had. Moreover, family discussions of political change and parents’ opinions of the 1990s, the “restoration of order” in the 2000s, and even Soviet times have a much stronger impact on young people than any TV propaganda, which our respondents fairly easily identified and ignored, in contrast to the views of their elders. It is often forgotten that Russian society is experiencing a crisis of confidence in public institutions as well as in people outside the closest circles of friends and family. Our respondents are far from being ideological rebels in their families. Even if you do not agree about something with your parents, only they can be counted on for support, and only they want the best for you.

Under these circumstances, it was to be expected that the interviews showed the young people were extremely alienated from politics in general. Politics and everything associated with it was a “dirty business” in which involvement was absolutely senseless. This feeling of meaninglessness has been another important factor blocking attempts by even critically minded and informed young people from participating in political and civic processes. “Nothing can change” and “Everything has already been decided for us” were the phrases they used to explain their own lack of involvement. This, however, is not an exclusively Russian trait. Studies of European young people have also demonstrated a long-term, growing disillusionment with formal politics, declining interest in political parties, elections, and so on (see Flash Eurobarometer 375, April–May 2013).

Interpreting sociological data and trying to use them to make forecasts is a complicated and often thankless task, especially when it comes to mass mobilization, revolutions, riots, and similar “flash” events. Researchers of social movements have long been struggling with the question of why people do, nevertheless, take to the streets. Even in the most difficult conditions, when there is strong dissatisfaction with the situation, policies, and the regime, protests may or may not happen. That is why the analysis of attitudes and stated opinions is not an effective way of predicting behavior. People do not always do what they say, and even if they honestly believe in liberal values, it is not a given that at the crucial moment they will back up their statements with action. On the other hand, if they keep silent, it does not mean this will always be the case.

The author is a senior fellow at the Center for Youth Studies at the Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg. All texts were translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of anatrrra.livejournal.com