Mikola Dziadok: When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

vera zasulich street, 46-permVera Zasulich Street, 46, in Perm, hardly seems a fitting monument to the fearless Russian revolutionary, but the street is, apparently, the only Vera Zasulich Street in Russia. Photo courtesy of perm.vsedomarossii.ru

Mikola Dziadok
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November 3, 2018

When You Are Scared, It Is Better to Remain Silent

Ever since the events in Arkhangelsk, I have been waiting for the decent Russian media to publish a sensible portrait-cum-analysis of the new would-be member of the People’s Will, Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up at the local FSB office. My wait is over. Novaya Gazeta has published an article about him. It is a vile, shameful article, which I might have expected from anyone else, but not from Novaya Gazeta. Every quotation you can pull from the article, not to mention the conclusion, is a specimen of feeblemindeness compounded by fear.

“Unfortunately, now many people could come to regard [Zhlobitsky] as an icon, a martyr, a hero.”

That “unfortunately” tipped me off to the fact that nothing good lay ahead.

“Perovskaya and Zasulich: their forgotten names still grace street signs marking alleys.* Strictly speaking, nearly every municipality [in Russia] is thus guilty of excusing terrorism. Their ‘heroic deeds’ have never been duly judged. So, they have returned: a second-year student at a vocational college assembles a bomb at home in the evenings from available materials.”

Thanks to Sophia Perovskaya, Vera Zasulich, and people like them, people whom Novaya Gazeta‘s reporter [Tatyana Britskaya] considers reprehensible, Russia overthrew the tsarist autocracy, a realm in which the reporter’s great-grandfathers were whipped for not doffing their hats in the presence of their masters and were dispatched as cannon fodder to distant lands for the Empire’s glory. That was only a small fraction of the woes visited upon the heads of the common folk. The reporter, however, is still sad that streets are named after these heroines and heroes, and she brackets their heroic deeds in quotation marks.

“However, the three Arkhangelsk Chekists [sic] wounded by shrapnel were unlikely to be directly involved in the torture about which Mikhail Zh. wrote [in his farewell message on Telegram].”

This is really a masterpiece. According to the reporter, only a tiny group of FSB officers, a group that exists only in her head, has been involved in torture. All other FSB officers wear white gloves, compose poems, dance at balls, and have preventive discussions with schoolchildren, urging them not to become “extremists.” They also catch drug barons and ISIS fighters, interrogating them solely by looking at them sternly. Apparently, the reporter has forgotten about “repeat interrogations using an electrical memory aid” and the complaints by cops (!) accused of corruption that they were tortured by FSB officers.  The reporter must think that Zhlobitsky should have first approached [the three FSB officers he wounded] and asked them, “Do you torture people by any chance? No? Well, okay, then, I’ll go blow up somebody else.”

“Apparently, we never were able to assess or correct mistakes, and now history is taking us back for another go-round. This is facilitated quite readily by the fact that adults notice unhappy, confused children only when the latter perish while activating homemade infernal machines.”

What mistakes is she talking about? She is not condemning the butchers of the NKVD or the enslavement of entire nations, first by Imperial Russia, then by the Soviet empire. No, the “mistakes” were the members of the nobility who were among the organizers of the People’s Will and the members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, people who died martyrs’ deaths to liberate their own people from bondage.

Because reading it only provokes disgust, there is not pointing in parsing this libel any further. I would only note that the reporter is Novaya Gazeta‘s [Arctic Circle] correspondent, meaning she is a local reporter. This, apparently, is the reason for her condescending, judgmental tone and her attempt to turn a hero into a “confused child.” If you write too bluntly, you have unexploded FSB officers to deal with, as well as their colleagues and relatives. But she has keep working and get comments from the security service when she needs them. So, she will continuing putting a good face on a bad game, denouncing “violence of any kind.” My ass.

It is true what they say: scratch a Russian liberal and, deep down, you will find a statist and conservative. You want to live in a just society, but you think it can be achieved by pickets and petitions. You want the regime to respect you, but you condemn people who force it to respect them. You want freedom, but you are afraid to take it. You condemn the bravest people, thus projecting an image of victims, not fighters. In today’s stinking Russia, ninety-nine percent of you will end up hightailing it abroad. But not everyone has the opportunity, you know?

So, if you are scared, it is better to remain silent than to yap encouragingly at the butchers, who, for a change, suffered for their crimes.

I would like to emphasize I do not consider individual insurgency an acceptable or proper means of political militancy, nor would I advise anyone to engage in it. I believe everyone has the right to live, even a fucking FSB officer. But not everyone can adhere to the same beliefs I do while living amidst a terrorist dictatorship. I understand such people perfectly well, too.

* Translator’s Note. While there are a couple of dozen Sophia Perovskaya Streets extant in post-Soviet Russia, there seems to be only one Vera Zasulich Street—in Perm.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Special thanks to Mikola Dziadok for his kind permission to translate and publish his comments on this website.

The New Serfs

kozyrev-muscovitesPhoto by Yuri Kozyrev for the project Muscovites. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

The New Serfs
On July 9, Millions of Migrant Workers and Foreign Students Will Be Stripped of the Right to Freedom of Movement in Russia in a Single Bound. What Has Happened?
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Tatyana Vasilchuk
Novaya Gazeta
July 6, 2018

On June 28, Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 163-FZ, which clarifies the guidelines for immigration registration in Russia. According to the amended law, such notions as a foreign national’s place of residence and the party hosting the foreign national have been defined more precisely. The majority of media outlets have described the new law as making the lives of migrant workers less burdensome, since the new law says foreign workers can be registered as dwelling in construction site trailers. This has provoked grumbling among “tolerant” Russians, who have complained migrant workers will arrive in even greater numbers and occupy all the country’s trailers.

In fact, the situation is quite different. The new rules are a blow to all law-abiding migrant workers and nearly all foreign students. Any legal entity that attempts to hire foreign nationals to work or study in Russia could find itself in violation of the law.

Even people who have all the papers and permissions for staying in Russia could be deemed lawbreakers.

The July Eighth Law
When a foreign national arrives in Russia, she is obliged to present herself to the immigration authorities and register her place of residence. However, she cannot register herself: the people or entities who invited her are obliged to do this. If she has come on a private visit, this would be the owner of the flat she has rented or the hotel where she is staying. If she has come to Russia to study, the university where she will be studying is obliged to register her. If she has come to Russia to work, the company in which she is employed must register her. (The last instance is more flexible, because her company is obliged to register her with the immigration authorities, but they may or may not register her place of residence as they wish, apparently.) Private landlords are a separate topic, but legal entities would take the easy way out. The law used to permit them to register the university or the company’s main address as a student’s or employee’s domicile. However, the foreign national could actually live somewhere else. It was understood, however, that if the police or other competent authorities were looking for her, they could do so at the address where she was officially registered.

The old system had its advantages and its shortcomings.

“There are companies that have five or six thousand foreign nationals on staff. It is convenient for them to register people at their business address to oversee whether their employees are paying for work permits and extending their residence permits on time,” says migration expert Svetlana Salamova.

The other side of the coin has to do with the poor living conditions of some foreign workers. This is most often the case among migrant workers from Central Asia.

“Employers would sometimes accommodate fifteen people at a time in trailers, in which the living conditions were rough. Besides, finding people via their legally registered domicile was often quite complicated,” explains human rights defender Andrei Babushkin.

To solve these problems, the definitions of key notions in the immigration laws have been amended. Actually, however the circumstances of migrant workers and their Russian employers have been considerably worsened, not improved. The amendments signed into law on June 28 stipulate that the place where the foreign national stays cannot be a normal domicile, but it can be other premises where the foreign national or stateless person actually resides, i.e., regularly uses for sleep and relaxation. If she is registered by a Russian organization, the foreigner must live for all intents and purposes in premises belonging to the organization. However, the premises must be equipped as a dwelling space.

In other words, if a foreign worker wants her company to register her with the authorities, she is obliged to reside full time in the company’s living accommodations.

The catch is that most legal entities simply do not having living accommodations. Construction companies will have the easiest time of it. They will now actually be able to register workers as legally residing in trailers and makeshift barracks at construction sites. All other companies have nowhere to accommodate their employees from other countries. A sofa and a microwave are not sufficient conditions for turning a room into a legal residence.

“Legally speaking, a domicile is a place that has been registered as such,” says Salamova. “An office with a sofa in it is not a domicile, but if your company lets you keep your suitcases there and install a stove and refrigerator, theoretically you could be registered as dwelling there. In this case, however, the employee from the personnel department who registers you with the Russian Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] will have to supply the immigration authorities with paperwork showing the room has been registered as a domicile.”

Will Russian companies be willing to turn their offices into bedrooms? The answer is obviously no.

Large auditing and consulting agencies, a field in which many foreign nationals are employed in Russia (not only expatriates but also graduates of Russian universities who are nationals of the former Soviet republics) have started to warn their employees about the need to look for a place where they can be registered as residing. Victoria Plotinskaya, marketing and public relations director at AT Consulting, told us that foreign employees at her company must register at their actual addresses before July 9. Previously, AT Consulting registered them at its business address, but now it is willing to provide them with legal assistance. Plotinskaya assumes their employees will have no difficulties, since registering oneself as residing in a rented flat is not a problem,  she claims.

We, however, have learned that several employees of major companies have been thinking about quitting their jobs or transferring to their home countries because their landlords have no intention of registering them.

“Companies will lose the ability to keep track of the immigration registration of their foreign national employees, while  foreign nationals who live in rented flats will have to negotiate with their landlords about registering them,” says Roman Gusev, director of Ernst & Young’s taxation and legal services department. The company does not plan to lay off any employees.

“In practice,” Gusev continues, “we see that many landlords refuse to deal with this procedure, because they don’t want the added administrative burden. In such cases, foreign nationals will have to urgently look for new accommodations. On the other hand, landlords who agree to meet the new requirements will have to keep close watch over their foreign tenants’ arrivals in the Russian Federation, since they have to be registered with immigration authorities after each such arrival.

“There are also risks for conscientious landlords. If their foreign national tenants arrive in the Russian Federation and fail to inform them, the landlords will be breaking the law without knowing it. On the other hand, foreign nationals could also find themselves in a pickle if their landlords suddenly refuse to register them with the immigration authorities or are simply unable to do what the law requires of them because they happen to be out of town,” concludes Gusev.

Unfortunately, the new rules are also retroactive, apparently, meaning everyone who is registered as residing at a business beyond July 8 will be in violation of the law come this Monday—unless, of course, they are unable to swiftly persuade their landlords to register them. In this case, however, no one can vouch that landlord will supply this service for free. Rental agreements presume that landlords pay taxes on the rent they charge. Verbal agreements to rent someone a flat and register them while not paying taxes could lead to a rise in the price of flats let to foreign nationals in Russia.

Formally, nothing has been said about the retroactive force of the amendments to the law, as signed by Putin. However, human rights activists have already been getting reports of attempts to deport migrant workers for dwelling in places where they are not registered to reside. In fact, the Interior Ministry already has the power to deport a non-Russian national if an inspector discovers him somewhere other than his registered domicile, say, at another flat in the evening.

This was what happened to Uzbek nationals in Omsk Region, says human rights activist Valentina Chupik. The Uzbeks went to a immigration center with registration papers obtained from a middleman, and they were sent off to be deported, allegedly because they did not live at their registered domicile.

In other words, under the new law, migrant workers no longer have the right to spend the night somewhere other than their legally registered, actual residence.

Under Article 54 of the Russian Constitution, laws cannot be applied retroactively. This was underscored by the specialists at Alliance Legal Migration, a firm based in Petersburg. In theory, then, all registrations issued before July 8 should be valid for their full terms. This can be proven only in court, however. Yet Russian courts rarely side with migrant workers.

Dormitory Hostages
Foreign nationals employed by Russian companies are only half of the problem. If push comes to shove, they can pay landlords extra money to register them. All foreign students in Russia are now at risk as well. Previously, universities would register their main buildings as the legal domiciles of their foreign students, but now they will be obliged to register all of them in university dormitories. However, the number of rooms in the dorms does not match the number of foreign students, and out-of-town Russian students have to live in dorms as well. Besides, there are students who do not want to live in dorms and can rent flats, students who have children, for example. Previously, they could count on their universities registering them, but now they will have to take care of their own registration.

The new law also applies to students who left for summer holidays not knowing they would return to Russia in the autumn on new terms. In addition, students who are registered in dorms are virtually their hostages.

Any violation of university regulations or, for example, attendance at an opposition rally gives university deans the chance to opportunity to revoke the registration of “troublesome” foreign students, which automatically means they are in violation of immigration laws and can be deported. Considering the fact that many international students have never experienced serfdom, they behave like free women and men. Their freedom will now be harshly restricted by the hours when the dorm’s main entrance closes.

Universities themselves seemingly have not yet figured out yet what they are going to do. The new rules have been a big surprise to most of them. The main issue they face is how they will now enroll international students if registering all of them legally has become impossible.

The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) refused to comment on the amended rules. We were told by a spokesperson at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) that they were in the process of working out a way of dealing with the new rules. However, we have in our possession correspondence between students and the HSE’s immigration department, who categorically informed the students they could be registered only at their actual places of residence.

At Moscow State University (MGU), we were told, “The issues of timely migration registration and visa extensions for foreign students residing in rented flats is currently being examined by university management in order to find the optimal solution.”

“The university has not contemplated any limitations to enrolling foreign students due to the adoption of Federal Law No. 163-FZ, dated June 27, 2018,” a MGU spokesperson added.

Other universities failed to respond to our inquiries before this issue of the newspaper was sent to the presses.

“If a university does not have a dormitory or does not have enough room in its dormitories, students can ask for a written request from the university to landlords, asking them to register the students at their actual domiciles. And then the landlords can register them if they want to do so,” explains Salamova.

Closely Watched Flats
You should not imagine that all of the above is a headache for foreigners, but has nothing to do with you.

According to the new rules, Russian nationals who let flats to foreign nationals are automatically regarded as “hosts,” meaning they are obliged to register them as residing in their dwellings and are responsible for them.

“There will also be increased check-ups and fines in the case of noncompliance with the laws for people who let flats to foreigners,” predicts Salamova.

In all fairness, such fines also existed earlier, but they were almost never issued. We have been informed that as soon as the World Cup ends, the police will make an extra effort to inspect all residential buildings and search for unregistered foreigners living in them.

Moreover, Russians are currently responsible for foreign nationals, even if they have left the country but their immigration registration is still valid. A law bill, sponsored by Irina Yarovaya and on the verge of its second reading, has been tabled in the State Duma. If passed, it would make it possible to remove foreigners from the immigration registry instantly and on one’s own via the web. This means landlords would also be able to remove tenants from the registry whenever they wanted, claiming, for example, that they had lost touch with the migrant workers in question. Foreign tenants would thus be subject to the whims of landlords, who could raise their rent at the drop of a hat, threatening to remove them from the immigration registry if they failed to pay. Besides, if a migrant worker does not live in the flat where she is officially registered, she can find herself without papers at any minute because, according to yet another amendment, she can be stricken from the rolls as residing in a particular flat without her knowledge. This means that beat cops can stop her on the street and automatically fine and deport her.

In mid June, the State Duma approved yet another law bill in its second reading. If passed, it would make organizations that invite foreigners to Russia wholly responsible for their actions. For example, if a foreign national works somewhere else than the organization that invited him or “is up to no good,” as MP Viktor Karamyshev has put it, the authorities will pay a call to the foreigner’s primary host organization. In addition, companies would have to make sure that when an employment contract ends, the migrant worker leaves the country instantly. Otherwise, the companies would be fined.

At the same time, the State Duma approved a new list of fines for noncompliance with all these rules on the part of organizations and ordinary Russians.

Under the new regulations in the Administrative Offenses Code, individuals will pay fines of up to 4,000 rubles for violations involving migrant workers, while officials will pays up to 50,000 rubles, and legal entities will pay up to 500,000 rubles [approx. 6,700 euros].

Beneficiaries  
By and large, the batch of laws that have been adopted or are still under consideration (the Interior Ministry, for example, has launched an expert group to draft a Migration Code) should at least be sent back to the relevant committee for revision, since, as Babushkin says, “The harm they do outweighs the good.” But the way the new rules have been drafted and adopted behind the scenes—they did not warrant a single public hearing nor, as far we have ascertained, did their authors consult with independent migration lawyers—suggests their oppressiveness is advantageous as they currently stand.

Who stands to gain, however? MP Irina Yarovaya, for example, argues that certain changes, such as the ability to remove migrant workers from the registration rolls on one’s own, are in the interests of ordinary Russians. She states her case in a clarification to the law bill that the MP’s aides sent to us in reply to a request for comments. On the contrary, human rights activists argue the Interior Ministry, which now has complete oversight over immigration, has received yet another tool for extorting bribes. Any migrant worker can be stopped on the street by the police and threatened with deportation: he will find it easier to pay them off. Any landlord can be intimidated with fines.

The threat of deportation is a convenient tool for dealing with troublesome individuals.

Our newspaper published the story of Gulchekhra Aliyeva and her family. She and her son were locked up for five days without food and water at the Ramenki District Police Station in Moscow. They were let out of their cells twice a day to go to the toilet. According to the Aliyevs and human rights advocates, the police tried to extort them, promising to deport them if they did not pay up. The ostensible cause was the tightening of security on the eve of the World Cup. After human right defenders intervened, the Aliyevs were released, and a criminal investigation into allegations of torture was launched.

“However, when the Aliyevs were summoned for questioning, it transpired  the police planned to deport them for being registered at their place of work rather than where they actually lived,” says Chupik.

Moreover, this happened before the new law had taken effect.

“We basically saved them by escaping the police station,” recalls Chupik.

The special services also stand to benefit from the new law. As we have learned from a source with ties to the academic world, special services officers have connections to the immigration departments in several Russian universities.

This is tantamount to reviving the Soviet system of “working” with international students at universities. Given that they inevitably violate the rules, they can be inclined to “friendship” and “cooperation” when necessary.

Besides, foreigners per se will now be unable to take the slightest step in Russia without official registration. Nationals of our allies Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan will also be punished, but that is collateral damage.

Finally, fly-by-night fake migration registrars stand to gain from the law, since their entire business will disappear into the shadow economy. Even now, migrant workers who travel to the Multi-Purpose Migration Center (MMTs) in Sakharovo, in the far southern outskirts of Moscow, cannot have their domiciles registered while other papers are being processed, including their work permits. Human rights activists say the MMTs has lost this right due to the new law.

“Everyone mobs Kazan Station, getting registered by people who give them counterfeit papers,” claims Chupik.

As far as we know, the neighborhood around the Kazan Railway Station, in central Moscow, has the largest number of people offering such dubious services. Moreover, these deals are made more or less in plain view of law enforcement officers, who do nothing about them: maybe they know something important we do not know or know more thane we. The price of counterfeit registration papers is between seven and eight thousand rubles [approx. 95 to 110 euros], a hefty sum of money for migrant workers.

The Interior Ministry stubbornly persists in saying nothing about how the new law will be enforced: it has not published any official clarifications. We have sent the ministry a request to comment, but when this newspaper went to the print, the ministry had not yet responded.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Enslaved by History

Enslaved by History
Vasily Zharkov
October 1, 2014
Gazeta.ru

Constantly debating history and daydreaming of the past’s return, we shut ourselves off from the present and the possible future. By and large, we simply do not want to do anything, because everything is going to happen by itself at the next “stage of history,” in whose endless repetition we for some reason have come to sincerely believe.

Constitutional Court chief judge Valery Zorkin has caused the latest scandal in the blogosphere and the media by writing, “Despite all serfdom’s shortcomings, it was the main tie binding the nation together internally.” Even psychologists got involved in the ensuing commentary. I have the impression everyone was waiting for someone to say this. Chatting about serfdom’s possible return is timelier, after all, than discussing whether our country can develop modern technologies and a modern society.

If somewhere in America someone is talking today about the possible return of slavery, there is a good chance this person is a Russian immigrant. No one else is obliged to remember such things.

Of course, we all have good educations. We know lots of things. Unlike Barak Obama, we know for sure that Crimea was given to Ukraine not in the nineteenth century but in 1954. And we are, allegedly, the country that reads the most in the world. If the country’s president or a jailed oligarch finds himself with a free minute, the first thing either of them does is take a tome by nineteenth-century Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky from off the shelf. Because we need to learn, after all, and, that’s right, history the best teacher. And yet we do this without noticing that Klyuchevsky himself has long been history.

 But there are no other historians for us nowadays, just as there is no nowadays.

Learning from history is easy and pleasant. The point is we don’t have to do almost anything: someone has done everything already. Saint Vladimir adopted Christianity from Byzantium. Let’s argue whether this was good or bad. It’s a debate with no strings attached, because Christianity was adopted long ago. It is what it is, and many folks have since then even managed to do stints as atheists. But arguing about the “right” Christianity or the “wrong” Christianity is definitely easier than fasting or attending midnight mass. And it’s all the more easier than comprehending the basics of rational philosophy.

We can argue about reforms that we ourselves had nothing to do with. All reforms were handled wrongly, of course. In some cases, they were hurried; in some other cases, they were confused; in still other cases, they were not followed through to the end. How nice it is to talk about it! As we criticize other people’s mistakes, we grow smarter right before our own eyes. It’s not just that we can explain to the late Alexander III or Count Sergei Witte in layman’s terms where and how they went wrong, but also that we are not going to repeat their mistakes in the sense that there are not going to be any more reforms. Otherwise, God forbid, everything will happen all over again.

Our principal horror also resides in the past: Russian revolts, times of trouble. Unlike Hobbes’s war of all against all, they have a habit of repeating themselves. That is what we believe.

17 and 37 are not just bus route numbers to us. The worst Russian revolt and time of trouble occurred in 1917, and the horseman that gallops alongside it, like melancholy and calm in the Brodsky poem, is “another 1937.”

To a large extent, our entire society can be divided into those hoping for another 1917 while fearing a repeat of 1937, and, vice versa, those sadistically and lustfully looking forward to a another 1937 while also realizing with horror that 1917 is inevitable.

What the heck, the twentieth century traumatized us badly. The past thus consists of wall-to-wall demotivators. Unsuccessful reforms and bloody revolution, followed by what an émigré writer of the 1920s described as “everything as it had been, only worse.”

And then “the revolution devours its heroes” altogether. By contrast, World War Two is the main justification of our existence. Victory in the war was our country’s only success, while the Brezhnev Stagnation was a brief blessed moment when we could reread Klyuchevsky again. The Stagnation has already been reprised again and has even ended. Our Russian wit tells us that everything else is now going to happen again, too.

“What is to be done?”: the question itself has long been a part of history. Diluting luminous Klyuchevsky with dark Ilovaisky, wholesome, ruddy conservatives-cum-historical reenactment fans suggest bringing back “the Russia we lost.” Would that things were like they were under Alexander III or Nicholas I: candies and baranki manufactured in Belarus, golden-domed Moscow, the peal of church bells, rosy-cheeked schoolgirls and muzhiks in sheepskin coats carrying portraits of the tsar, a sputnik for all people of good will, a pogrom and the Pale of Settlement for all liberals, and a big fat middle finger for Europe.

And would that Stalin were with us again, as in a happy childhood. Those who don’t agree with that picture choose between the Banquet Campaign of the liberals and the harsh underground of the Bolsheviks. But neither “conservatives” nor “liberals” nor “leftists” really have any doubt that 1917 is on its way, followed by 1937. Whatever you do! Because for a long while no one in Russia has done anything.

Of course, you can try and run away from it all, if you have money, to the Europe of our dreams, to the kapstrany (capitalist countries) dear to the Soviet individual’s heart, to the places we were not allowed to go, but about which we know so much thanks to books and films. This is the Europe of Poirot and La Dolce Vita: the Europe of corner cafes, tasty beer, Martini on ice, chrome-plated old cars, and gentlemen in bowler hats. Hang on a second! Tolerance, you say? Where did all the blacks and Arabs come from? Why are the jeans made in China? Where is the Paris that, in Soviet movies, was shot in Tallinn? Alas, disappointment awaits most of us in Europe. 1930s Europe is long gone, 1960s Europe is, too, and the 1970s have disappeared over the horizon. Even old man Depardieu is now an official resident of Mordovia.

The present, the real, holds no interest for us, wherever it is. Because only what we can buy at an antiques market is “genuine” and “real” to us.

Well, until the oil money runs out, we can indulge ourselves in antiques, domestic and foreign.

According to one commonplace, Russia is a literature-centric country. However, all the literature we studied at school and of which we used to be proud has long been history. History is now our everything. And the more everything revolves round history, the less we notice the present, while no one at all wants to see the future. Why, pardon me, should we, since history always repeats itself? But the question is, ladies and gentlemen, what if, suddenly, our future is not necessarily a repetition of our past? What then?

To paraphrase a famous historical metaphor from the century before last, after all the storms and disasters that have befallen it, Russia looks like the “sick man of Eurasia.” Тhose who were appointed to take care of Russia have immobilized the wounded patient without thinking twice and put it on a drip. And while the exhausted country sleeps its drug-induced sleep, its history drips down the tube.

__________

Vladimir Putin excoriated the West in a speech on Thursday, comparing his foreign opponents to Adolf Hitler in their desire to destroy Russia while reminding foes that his armed forces were “polite but menacing”.

Speaking at the Kremlin in his annual address to parliament, Russia’s president defended his decision to annexe Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in the spring, saying that it was a place as sacred to Russians as holy sites in Jerusalem for Jews or Muslims.

He said that Russia faced a threat to its very existence from western states and accused the United States of manipulating Russia’s neighbours – in particular, Ukraine – in an attempt to subordinate Moscow to Washington’s will.

“If for many European countries, sovereignty and national pride are forgotten concepts and a luxury, then for the Russian Federation a true sovereignty is an absolutely necessary condition of its existence,” Mr Putin told MPs, ministers and regional leaders. “I want to stress: either we will be sovereign, or we will dissolve in the world. And, of course, other nations must understand this as well.”

[…]

Mr Putin said foreign foes of Russia had supported similar separatists “up to their elbows in blood” in the 1990s and early 2000s, but without success. “They would have been delighted to let us go the way of Yugoslavia and the dismemberment of the Russian peoples, with all the tragic consequences. But it did not happen. We did not allow it to happen.”

He added: “It also didn’t work out for Hitler, who with his man-hating ideas wanted to destroy Russia and throw us beyond the Urals. It would be good to remind everyone of how that ended.”

The Russian leader opened his speech by praising Russians for “going through an ordeal that only a united nation, a truly strong and sovereign state, could shoulder”.

In a clear reference to Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in the east of the country, he said: “Russia has proved in deed that it is capable of defending its compatriots, of honourably defending truth and fairness.”

Mr Putin justified the takeover of Crimea by saying that it was “where our people live, and the peninsula is of strategic importance for Russia” as well as it being the setting for the baptism of the medieval prince Vladimir the Great in the 10th century.

Crimea had “invaluable civilisational and even sacral importance for Russia, like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the followers of Islam and Judaism”, he added.

[…]

—Tom Parfitt, “Putin compares West with Adolf Hitler in desire to subjugate Russia,” The Telegraph, December 4, 2014

Zorkin: The Road (Back) to Serfdom?

valery-court-constitutional-chairman-862.siValery Zorkin

A little over a week ago, western media outlets made a big little fuss over an article by Russian Supreme Court chief justice Valery Zorkin, published on September 26 by Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper. They accused Zorkin of advocating a “return to serfdom.” Elena Holodny, writing in Business Insider, seems to have broken the story in the English-language press and thus set the tone for subsequent coverage:

He advocates for serfdom and says that it was the main “staple” holding Russia together in the 19th century. He justifies his argument by saying that serfdom is beneficial for the serfs.

In the article he writes (translated from the original Russian by Business Insider):

Even with all of its shortcomings, serfdom was exactly the main staple holding the inner unity of the nation. It was no accident that the peasants, according to historians, told their former masters after the reforms: ‘We were yours, and you — ours.’

[…]

The roughly translated term “staple” (in Russian “скрепа”) is significant. It’s an older word that has become popular in recent years after Putin used it in a news conference in 2012.

Prior to the conference, that word was basically never used in speech.

In the news conference, Putin said there was a “lack of a spiritual staples” among Russians — meaning there was no spiritual unity. And he subsequently indicated that Russia needed a “spiritual cleanse.”

“Putin essentially used the term ‘скрепа’ to mean the ‘spiritual staples that unite the Russian society.’ He was saying that we need a spiritual unity amongst the whole Russian society,” a Moscovite [sic] told Business Insider.

Following Putin’s news conference, Russian politicians and citizens have started using the word all over the place.

And Zorkin is following suit by using the Putin terminology to indicate that serfdom is the “spiritual staple that unites the [Russian] society.”

In the current climate of cheap hysteria and mental laziness, it is easier to make headlines, literally, saying a top Russian official wants his country to return to serfdom than to read his long, mostly dry-as-dust, pseudo-scholarly article and figure out what he was really trying to say. The payoff, in fact, comes in the final three paragraphs of Zorkin’s article, in which there is no mention, much less “praise,” of serfdom (the emphasis, below, is mine):

Opinion polls and many conflicts in our courts show that the broad masses of our people only suffer as a given the style and type of social, economic, political, and cultural life that the era after the revolution of 1991 brought to Russia. But internally they do not regard them as just and proper.

Moreover, polls show that the greatest degree of aversion pertains to legislative innovations that attack the moral and ethical sphere of social life. [This aversion] is registered primarily among religious people, regardless of denominational affiliation. It is especially pronounced among the older and middle generations. In contrast to the results of opinion polls taken a decade ago, however, it has also begun to manifest itself quite clearly among completely atheistic young people. The new legislative “tolerance” in family, gender, behavioral, and educational relations has been met with growing and increasingly widespread protest.

In connection with the above considerations and historical analogies, I want to reiterate a thesis that I have repeatedly voiced before. Any attempt to overcome “in a single leap” the gap between the law (and law enforcement) and mass perceptions of welfare and justice are fraught with social stress, shock, the growth of all kinds of alienation within society, and between society and the authorities, and, finally, social chaos. Which, as a rule, has to be extinguished by means of counter-reforms and repression.

Zorkin’s article is thus an apology not for serfdom as such. After all, before it was abolished, serfdom really had been the glue that held the Russian political economy together, just as slavery had been in the southern American states, and Zorkin goes to great lengths in his article to show that the nineteenth-century Russian elites, even the nominal conservatives among them, mostly agreed that serfdom was an evil that had to be “extinguished”—eventually and ever so gradually. The article is, rather, a defense of the current reactionary regime, which has increasingly used a combination of funhouse mirrors (“pollocracy,” the relentless manufacture and promotion of moral panics, wildly manipulative and frantically suspicious media coverage of political and social conflicts abroad, “weaponized absurdity”), outright crackdowns on prominent political dissidents, and targeted ultraviolence to persuade itself, the various Russian publics (whether liberal, leftist, conservative or indifferent), and western reporters, policymakers, and pundits that it is acting on behest of a “conservative” popular base dwelling in the heretofore unknown “Russian heartlands.” And even (by way of giving the talking classes more nonexistent fat to chew) that this newfound “traditionalism” has considerable appeal well beyond those heartlands, in the allegedly morally fatigued countries of the perpetually collapsing liberal West.

As a friend of mine wrote to me when we were discussing Zorkin’s article, “It is no longer enough to gang up on gays. We must also make women wear long skirts and headscarves. And forbid them from getting a higher education.” This new overwhelming necessity to de-modernize Russia, however, is not grounded in an actual conservative groundswell or the perennial aversion of the “broad Russian masses” to reform and (God forbid) revolution. Rather, it is meant to jam up brain cells so they cannot ponder (much less act against) sleights of hand like this:

Sanctioned [Russian oligarch] villa owners could be reimbursed with Russian pension savings: The government said in mid-September it was setting up a fund to support sanctioned companies, which would receive a cut of the 309 billion rubles ($7.8 billion) gleaned from redirecting part of the public’s pension savings to the budget this year, the RBC news agency said at the time.

Zorkin has not been the only top Russian official contemplating the lessons of Russian history in the past couple of weeks:

German Gref, head of Russia’s biggest lender Sberbank, on Friday castigated systemic inefficiencies in the Russian government that, he said, waste trillions of rubles and threaten to drag Russian society back into Soviet times.

“We have inconceivable social costs in the area of public administration,” Gref said in a speech to investors and top officials gathered at the VTB Russia Calling investment forum.

These costs increase government spending and render well-intended initiatives ineffectual, threatening Russia with a repeat of past mistakes, he said.

“[Soviet leaders] didn’t respect the laws of economic development. Even more, they didn’t know them, and in the end this caught up with them. It is very important for us to learn from our own history,” Gref said.

Actually, Gref’s speech was much more revolutionary (whatever you think of his neoliberal biases) than this mild account would suggest. If you listen to the whole thing (below, in Russian), you will realize it was a direct attack on the myth of Putin’s extreme competence as a manager of economic policy and the omniscient wizard behind Russian’s alleged newfound prosperity:

In this light, Zorkin’s article should not be seen as a literal call for a return to serfdom, but yet another warning (dolled up, as is often the case with pseudo-scholarship like his, as a “sober” reading of Russian history) that at least one important part of the ruling class is supremely ready and willing to deepen and expand the Duginist quasi-Talibanesque media spectacle of the past year, in which basically anyone at all (except the ruling class itself, of course) is blamed for Russia’s misfortunes or accused of plotting against it—the “Kiev junta,” “foreign agents” (i.e., local NGOs defending basic rights), NATO, Obama, singer Andrei Makarevich, “Ukrainian fascists,” western rock bands, Greenpeace activists, the EU, American students studying Russian at Petersburg universities, “extremist” journalists, you name it. The only solution offered for repelling these “assaults” is to intellectually and culturally medievalize the country that once, not so long ago, gave the world its first artificial satellite and sent the first man into space. But the real point of all this flailing is to prevent anyone from asking too forcefully why this incredibly wealthy country’s vast human and natural resources are siphoned away on frivolous mega projects like the Sochi Olympics and making a few members of a lakeside dacha cooperative fantastically wealthy.

In any case, serfdom’s alleged new best friend, like so many latter-day enemies of “innovative” gender relations and education for women, was singing a very different tune (almost the opposite one, in fact) only eight years ago. They do have ways of making a guy talk. And polling the life out of people whose heads they are otherwise stuffing with nonsense and who cannot be trusted to vote the “right” way.

Smychka

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When you can’t think of anyone else to blame (and especially when you wouldn’t think of blaming your collective self), blame the Russian peasants:

Leonid Vasilyev, head of the Laboratory for History Studies at the Higher School of Economics, believes that the times are very bad not only in Russia, but throughout the world.

“Poverty and ignorance have come to the fore: they are the twin pillars of the world today. Over the past half century, the population of the Earth has increased from 1.6 billion people to 7 billion, of whom 6.2 billion are poor and ignorant. We are seeing the same thing in Russia,” he said.

Vasilyev believes that the Russian peasant commune—archaic, ignorant, inert and hostile to innovation—has now come to power in Russia. The commune has acted as a powerful canopy over the history of Russia or, rather, it  has not let our country’s history come into its own.

“After all, what was the Russian commune for most of its existence? A nomadic population. The commune would use slash-and-burn agriculture to exploit a piece of land from four to eight years, and then it would pick up stakes and go cultivate a new plot. Hence the lack of horizontal ties, of solidarity, in Russia. Serfdom was a blessing for this population; it reduced the costs of encampment. Please note that the Russian commune never raised a rebellion against serfdom. Cossacks and Old Believers protested, but not the Russian commune. The folk liked living under serfdom,”  the historian argued.

At the end of nineteenth century, the commune rejected the intelligentsia’s campaign of “going to the people,”  but the Bolsheviks were able to reach out to peasants by giving them simple slogans and restoring serfdom in the form of collective farms.

“Eighty years have passed, and commune members have moved into the Russian cities. They have not changed much: there is still the same old archaism and ignorance. That is, they are the people whom the current regime represents. If you held fair elections, they would win a stunning victory,”  lamented Vasilyev. “What hopes are there that the situation will change? Hope is almost nonexistent.” *

* Quoted in Pavel Pryanikov, “The child is crying, demanding the pacifier of xenophobia,” Russkaya Planeta, November 23, 2013; photo courtesy of Russkaya Planeta and RIA Novosti.

The Return of Serfdom?

iuf.ru
September 2, 2013
The Cost of the World Cup
FZ-108 primarily threatens hundreds of thousands of Russian workers

A serious discussion has erupted since the contents of the notorious “2018 World Cup Law” (or FZ-108, for short)* were revealed to the general public. The focus of the discussion has been the consequences of removing restrictions on employing migrant laborers and the possibility of their runaway exploitation if the law’s clauses on voluntary contracts (which place them beyond the reach of a number of articles in the Labor Code) are enforced.

However, the people most threatened by FZ-108 are Russian citizens.

When the discussion of FZ-108 was getting underway, many in Russia were disturbed by the fledgling campaign against “illegal migration” recently undertaken by law enforcement and local authorities in several areas of the country, a campaign involving police raids and mass imprisonment of migrants in special camps, where they were forced to live almost on the bare pavement, without electricity and other basic conveniences. Given this background, it was unsurprising and even natural that the public would pay more attention to the clauses in FZ-108 dealing with the employment of foreign nationals and stateless persons. The perception exists that the law has nothing to do with Russian citizens.

But is this really true? The answer is simple: no, it isn’t!

* * * * *

Major sporting events like the World Cup always entail the generation of tens of thousands of jobs in construction, light industry, building maintenance, catering, retailing, transportation and so on. Yes, these jobs appear only for a few years, but wise use of such opportunities can give the economy a stimulus for decades to come. Increasing employment leads to growth in domestic spending and private savings, which, in turn, improve demographics. These are the three pillars of sustainable economic development.

But all that happens only when the new jobs are decent, meaning the wages they pay allow people to spend money, including on major and long-term purchases (e.g., home appliances, furniture and cars), and maybe even take out a home loan, and the terms of employment enable them to feel confident in the future, save money, and start and raise a family.

However, the wording of FZ-108 makes it clear that none of these things are expected to happen in Russia. Instead, the authorities are planning to tackle the job of preparing and staging the 2018 World Cup with slave labor, thus definitely ruling out any positive effects both for workers and the economy as a whole. The only outcome of this championship will be the personal gain of a few.

Why is such a conclusion warranted? The fact is that FZ-108, unlike, say, FZ-310 (which deals with the 2014 Sochi Olympics),** expressly stipulates significant exceptions to labor laws, exceptions that will diminish job quality. They are mainly concentrated in the controversial Article 11 (Chapter 4), “The Characteristics of Work Related to the Staging of the Events.”

First, Article 11 gives employers the right to establish long working hours unilaterally (Section 1).

Second, Article 11 allows employers to define the manner of payment for work at night, on weekends and on public holidays without regard to the stipulations of Articles 154, 113 and 153 of the Labor Code. Moreover, this can be done through collective bargaining, through the inclusion of such clauses in individual employment contracts or, more generally, through the enactment of “local regulations,” that is, yet again, unilaterally (Sections 2 and 3).

Third, overtime pay is abolished. Employers may simply compensate for overtime by “providing additional leisure time,” but the wishes of workers are not taken into account, and Article 152 of the Labor Code is effectively revoked (Section 4).

Finally, Section 5 abolishes such nonsense as the provision of elective annual leaves at times convenient for workers (such guarantees are given in Article 122 of the Labor Code, for example, to women before and after maternity leave). Like the rest of the lives of employees, holidays are governed by the “work plans of relevant organizations for preparing and staging the sporting events.”

However, as Vladimir Yurasov, a partner at the Moscow law firm Knyazev and Partners, rightly noted during an interview on RBK-TV, all these rules are clearly contrary to the Russian Federal Constitution. Article 37 of the Constitution states that everyone has the right to remuneration for work without suffering any form of discrimination, and that employment contracts guarantee workers statutory working hours, weekends and holidays, and paid annual leave, as stipulated by federal law. FZ-108 assumes that if workers are employed in the “preparation and staging” of the World Cup, this may very well serve as grounds for discriminating against them in terms of compensation, working hours and the right to paid leave and time off. In this case, “local regulations” are declared primary, rather than the Labor Code and Constitution.

Of course, these draconian measures do not apply to all workers in Russia, only to “FIFA employees, FIFA subsidiaries, FIFA business partners, confederations, national football associations, the Russian Football Union, the Russia 2018 Organizing Committee and its affiliated organizations, whose work activities are related to the staging of events.” The most interesting phrases in this clause are “FIFA business partners” and “work activities […] related to the staging of events.” Let us consider them in the order they appear.

As Article 2 of the law explains, a “FIFA business partner” is a “legal or natural person that has a contractual relationship with FIFA or its subsidiaries and is involved in events.” The list of such individuals and companies could prove to be quite long, because all commercial partners (including sponsors and licensees), suppliers, agents, broadcasters and so on will be included. Moreover, the provisions of the law apply not only to the “business partners” themselves but also to their subcontractors and subsidiaries.

Because preparations for the World Cup have just kicked off, the list of “FIFA business partners” is still incomplete. At present, for example, we know the names of only three companies that will serve as corporate partners to the 2018 World Cup: Coca-Cola, Hyundai-Kia and Anheuser-Busch InBev. In all, FIFA will have thirty-four such partners by 2018. Of course, all these companies have subsidiaries and subcontractors—personnel and temp agencies, construction and security companies, cleaning and catering companies, firms involved in maintaining equipment and buildings, supplying brand-name goods, producing and placing ads, and so on.

Another way to assess the scope of the problem is to compare the 2018 World Cup with another sporting event that will be hosted by Russia, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. We already know the names of all its suppliers, partners and licensees. Let’s take a look at the list.

• Worldwide Partners of the Olympic Games: Coca-Cola, AtoS, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonald’s, OMEGA, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Visa

• General Partners of Sochi 2014: Aeroflot, Megafon, Rostelecom, Bosco di Ciliegi, Volkswagen Group Rus, Sberbank of Russia, Russian Railways, Rosneft

• Official Partners of the 2014 Olympic Games: Ingosstrakh, PwC

• Suppliers of Sochi 2014: Avaya, Baltika, EF English First, Kommersant Publishing House, Abrau Durso, Adecco Group, EXECT Business Training, Kelly Services CIS, Detech, Microsoft Russia, GAZ Group, Scania-Rus

In addition, nearly seventy companies have signed licensing agreements with the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee.

It is obvious there will be no fewer companies wishing to link their logos to the World Cup. Only unlike the employees of Olympics partners, employees of FIFA’s business partners will be forced to waive many of their workplace rights.

But perhaps only a small number of workers will be affected by this restriction of rights? Unfortunately, the wording of the law gives no grounds for such a hypothesis. The law mentions employees whose work is related to the preparation and staging of the World Cup. However, the wording is utterly unspecific. How do we differentiate the work a company does in preparation for the World Cup from its other activities? For example, Coca-Cola produces beverages emblazoned with the World Cup logo. Does this constitute work performed as a FIFA business partner or not? Can it be construed as having to do with the preparation and staging of the World Cup? What about cellular network development work done by mobile phone companies? Or the introduction of new direct flights by air carriers? Without going out of our way to abuse common sense, we can construe nearly all commercial activity by FIFA business partners as preparation for the World Cup.

Of particular concern is the more than probable inclusion among the business partners of such companies as Adecco Group, EXECT Business Training and Kelly Services CIS – that is, companies still operating in the legal gray zone of personnel services. Given that Bill No. 451173-5, better known as the law banning contingent labor, which has already suffered serious damage and almost been stripped of its original intent, was returned for a second reading in the State Duma, the de facto support and promotion of these companies by official Russian sporting organizations and state agencies looks like a targeted attack on the quality of employment.

How many Russians will be affected by these measures at the end of the day? If we accept the flawed logic of FZ-108, we can agree with Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko that the concept of the World Cup has been developed and adopted by FIFA in such a way that almost seventy percent of the country’s population will be involved in preparing for it and staging it.

Does this mean, as some journalists have predicted, the return of serfdom? The answer depends largely on the actions of the trade unions.

_____

* The full text (in the original Russian) of the Russian Federal Law “On the Preparation and Staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in the Russian Federation and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” can be found here: http://www.rg.ru/2013/06/11/chempionat-dok.html

** The full text (in the original Russian) of the Russian Federal Law “On the Organization and Staging of the Twenty-Second Olympic Winter Games and Eleventh Winter Paralympic Games of 2014 in Sochi, the Development of Sochi as a Mountain Resort and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” can be found here: http://www.rg.ru/2011/06/06/olimp-dok.html