Alexander Beglov said that Siege survivors “fully support” the fighting in Ukraine
🪖 At the Petersburg municipal government’s final session this year, the celebration of the breakthrough of the Siege [of Leningrad] was discussed. The governor of the city stated: “Veterans and Siege survivors approach the current difficult situation with understanding. They express their full support to our soldiers. Siege survivors from Donetsk have traveled here. In their life there was heroic Leningrad, and today there is the heroic Donbas. All these years they have preserved the memory of their hometown and the Siege.”
Beglov stressed that not a single Siege survivor should freeze during the festive events.
🪖 Elena Tikhomirova, the 88-year-old board chair of the organization Residents of Besieged Leningrad, was invited to the session. She thanked the governor, invited him to tea, and asked him to tackle unpatriotic advertising.
“The only thing I want to say is that you need to pay attention to advertising,” Tikhomirova said. “I ask the heads of districts to pay attention to advertising. We once raised the issue that there should be as little advertising in English as possible. But now the special military operation is underway. We need to be more patriotic, as they say. So that everyone in our city approaches this issue more patriotically.”
🪖 In an interview with a Yevgeny Prigozhin-owned publication, in 2021, Tikhomirova stressed that the most important thing that the Russian authorities had managed to achieve was many years of “peacetime.” “This year is the seventy-sixth anniversary of [victory in the Second World War]. And there has not been a single war since then. [Young people] were gifted life,” she said. She did not mention “peacetime” this year.
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. On 22 June 2022, artist Yelena Osipova held a solo anti-war picket on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg. On 22 June 2022, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the official Russian government newspaper, published a lengthy interview with Mikhail Piotrovsky, the longtime director of Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum,, in which he justified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as part of his country’s greater historical and cultural “mission.” Ms. Osipova and Mr. Piotrovsky were born a mere eleven months apart, in November 1945 and December 1944, respectively. If Ms. Osipova’s bravery doesn’t bring honor on her hometown, it’s not for her want of trying. Despite having much greater resources at his disposal and a bigger bully pulpit, Mr. Piotrovsky has definitely brought shame on his city. As long it is run by people like him, Russia’s great “cultural capital” has no future. In any case, Ms. Osipova’s barely audible message makes a jarring juxtaposition with Mr. Piotrovsky’s arrogant, “learned” apology for Russian fascism. ||| TRR
Yelena Osipova, photographed in front of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt in downtown Petersburg on 22 June 2022. Photo courtesy of Irina Bogdanovskaya, as posted on the public Facebook page Yelena Andreyeevna Osipova. Artist. Citizen. Thanks to Maria Mila for the heads-up. The placard on the left reads, “To the unknown soldier, 1941–1945. He was buried in the earth.” The placard on the right reads, “22 June 1941–1945. In memory of the Patriotic/Second World War. Become a pacifist! Pacifism – pacificus – peaceable. Pacifists condemn all wars and campaign vigorously and publicly to prevent them.” On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Ms. Osipova was born on 11 November 1945, that is, six months after the end of the Great Patriotic War.
[Elena Yakovleva]: We have all been shocked by the fighting not only on the fronts of the special operation, but also on the cultural front, by all the attempts to cancel Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff concerts, and the Russian language. What is behind “cancel culture”? Having ourselves escaped from the dictates of ideology, are we now witnessing its return in the West?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: The attack on us in the realm of culture is, of course, a semblance of what we had in Soviet times, when all connections were cut off by command, at a moment’s notice, at the snap of someone’s fingers. I have the sense that the Soviet Union, with its ideological dictates, has spread to the West. I did not expect that I would read in liberal Western newspapers such things as “The Hermitage is an imperial museum that preaches imperial ideology. It should not be allowed anywhere! The Hermitage’s [planned branch] in Barcelona should not be opened under any circumstances!”
I have been inundated with ultimatums. How dare you not speak out against the special operation in Ukraine?! Go out and protest immediately! Why are there no protests in your country?
But in this case we should understand that we have been subjected to such a powerful attack in the field of culture because culture is an area in which we are absolutely competitive.
We have the initiative here. We are trendsetters.
Are we an exporting country?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Yes, and our cultural exports are more important than imports.
Our recent exhibitions abroad are a powerful cultural offensive, a kind of “special operation,” if you wish. Which many people don’t like, but we are advancing. No one can be allowed to thwart our offensive.
In response to calls to cancel Tchaikovsky, smart people in Russia have been saying, “We won’t cancel anything. On the contrary, we will continue to love the Europe that we learned about while studying at universities.” Is the asymmetry fundamentally important in this case?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Of course. Given our cultural advantage, we don’t have to loudly announce that we are reneging on one cultural agreement or another in response to their bans. They can do it unilaterally. There is definitely no need for bilateralism — precisely because we are winning.
I think that under no circumstances should we succumb (and we shall not succumb) to the seductions of “cancel culture.” I believe we are immune to it because we have already been “canceled” six ways to Sunday. First, the entire culture of Tsarist Russia was canceled, and then Soviet culture was canceled. Monuments were demolished dozens of times. But we also know something else: monuments come back, everything is restored. The knowledge that memory and culture come back is in our blood. That is why we are not eager to overdo it when it comes to “cancelations.” Besides, you can’t cancel Tchaikovsky, except, perhaps, performances of Tchaikovsky by Russian orchestras. But this is just unfair competition.
Why is the West so passionate about “cancel culture”? And about the dictates of “public opinion”?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: I would not exaggerate the difference between the dictates of Soviet ideology and “public opinion.” Public opinion is bound up with governments or regulated by them.
As for “cancel culture” in the West, it is part of a large wave that was born amidst BLM, and linked to the culture of guilt and repentance for guilt. It suddenly surged: they began pulling down monuments and not standing for the American flag. They think that Voltaire is bad, and this guy, and that other guy. It’s a little ridiculous. How much can you repent for the terrors of colonialism, which in fact was so entirely categorical? Or for the unfortunate slave trade, which after all began not in Europe, but in Africa?
They seemingly had already begun to sense that this road leads nowhere, but then Russia turned up by chance. So let’s “cancel” Russia, they said. Although the glee with which they have rushed to condemn us, to tear us up and expel us, again speaks to the fact that we are strong in culture.
When the Bizot group boycotts Russian museums, it’s just ridiculous. I was one of the people who founded the group, and I know that we actually created it to help museums do cultural exchanges unencumbered by politics. But now it’s apparently been ideologized on the Soviet model. If this Soviet-style infection has gone so far, let them be sick alone. We don’t need to be sick too. We have historical immunity against this. I think we will spread it to others.
Since it hasn’t succumbed to the hype of cancellations, has the Hermitage keep its exhibitions abroad going?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Not only the Hermitage. When the special operation in Ukraine began, exhibitions by Russian museums were everywhere. We have a Morozov [Collection] exhibition in Paris and exhibitions in Italy. Our most controversial exhibition, a Fabergé show, was in London. The Russian Museum had an exhibition in Spain.
This was our “special operation,” if you like, a great cultural offensive.
As soon as all the ideological sirens were turned on due to the special operation in Ukraine, we initially announced that we were pulling everything out immediately. But then we thought it over and said that we had been given guarantees. The organizers were quick to confirm them. We organized the Morozov exhibition in Paris in cooperation with the Louis Vuitton Foundation, and suddenly realized that this global commercial company was a much better partner in today’s “Soviet” Europe than government entities were. Having no freedom of maneuver, they were “ordered” to break off relations with us, while the business people who made promises to us did EVERYTHING to fulfill them. It was a matter of honor for them: they promised us that [they would send] everything back on time.
But then people in Russia started yelling, “Why did you take our treasures there? They’re worth so much money!” And all hell broke loss on the other side: “Since they’re worth ‘that much’ money, let’s impound them!” People with tormented mercantilist mindsets could not really understand the essence of the matter, so very provocative things were shouted on both sides. I must say that the provocation by the press was the main complication in this whole special operation. Yesterday, I was sent a copy of the FT featuring a discussion by journalists in their art (!) department on the topic of whether Russian paintings should have been impounded. It was due to such journalistic caterwauling that pieces from our museums were detained at the Finnish border. It was the weekend, and Finnish customs officers had read their fill of newspaper articles about how everything should be confiscated from the Russians. Although before and after that, ten of our truck caravans passed through their border post.
From our side, it was the bloggers shouted more. The journalists have been schooled by you.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Only there are few real journalists left and just a couple of newspapers. Everyone is like a blogger now. And bloggers don’t understand that this is a cultural offensive, that the Shchukin and Morozov exhibition in Paris is like the Russian flag flying over the Bois de Boulogne. Do you know how everyone appreciated it in Italy? They said, “If the Hermitage can leave its paintings with us at a time like this, it means that they know what they are doing over there in Russia.”
It is also very important that the protagonists of our exhibitions were [Sergei] Shchukin and [Ivan] Morozov, Russian businessmen from the Old Believers community who largely defined the evolution of European culture. Matisse was once asked if he would have painted Dance had it not been for Shchukin. “And for whom would I have painted it?” Matisse said. Shchukin suggested things, commissioned things, was capricious, and great works were born. I was recently awarded the Demidov Prize, and it was an occasion to recall how Nikolai Demidov and the great French jeweler Pierre Thomire created this Russian style of malachite with bronze. They had such fights! Thomire said they should do things one way, Demidov said no, it must be done another way. But consequently, there is the Malachite Canopy in the Hermitage.
Does a producer [sic] have the right to interfere in an artist’s plans like that?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: He absolutely has the right. Yes, sometimes such interventions can be bad. But sometimes they can be good. In the case of Shchukin and Morozov, it was a good thing. They were the RIGHT customers.
Let’s not forget that it was the Old Believers who revealed to us the beauty of the old Russian icons. They were the first to clean them and preserve them. And Shchukin brought Russian icons to Matisse, in particular, to reverse the influence of Persian miniatures on him.
At the Morozov exhibition, we presented Russian paintings collected by him and showed art through the collector’s eye. Morozov collected Manet and [Valentin] Serov, and I would hear people say when they were leaving the exhibition, “You look [at their paintings] and you realize that Serov is no worse than Manet.”
The Fabergé exhibition made a very big splash. That is another Russian phenomenon that influenced the West.
So, we in fact did undertake a big cultural offensive. And we came out of it, having done everything we had planned to do.
Europe has long been a cultural model for us. The “RG” had a conversation with the writer Eugene Vodolazkin about attitudes to Europe. With reference to Dostoevsky, we talked about the fact it is almost dearer to us than to the Europeans.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We recently held a round table at the Council of the History of World Culture at the Academy of Sciences, which we were going to call “Is Russia Europe?” but instead called “Is Russia Europe? Is Europe the EU?” The general sense of our debate was this: we are Europe, as much a part of it as France or Germany, and maybe more than the United States. If Europe were not us, Gogol would not have written Dead Souls while living in Italy. We recently held another round table on visual art, at which we recalled that Dostoevsky wrote about the Sistine Madonna.
This is our long-standing choice: we are inseparable from European culture and from Europe itself. The special military operation in Ukraine does not change anything. There have been plenty of disagreements and wars within Europe, from the Thirty Years’ War to the First World War. We are Europe and at some moments more Europe than many of its classic [sic] countries. And certainly more than the EU, which is now turning into the Soviet Union.
Of course, we also have an Asian aspect. But Peter the Great already knew how to balance all this wonderfully. We at the Hermitage understand this like no one else, because our main theme is world culture in the Russian context. I constantly talk about our right to be Europe, because in the south of Russia we have a Classical heritage — Chersonesus, Kerch, Taman. And whoever has a Classical heritage is Europe. In Norway, for example, there is no Classical heritage; there were neither Greek colonies nor Roman legions.
Therefore, it is all ours. We must dispose of it as our own, and not think that we are opposing Europe. Do we have different values? But they all have different values. Do we have special Orthodox values? But there are Orthodox values in Europe as well. In many ways they are consonant with Catholic values and not consonant with various secular ones. As an absolutely full-fledged and equal part of Europe, we will never be isolated. It’s just our sense of self. And the Hermitage is a symbol of this self-awareness. I keep repeating that the Hermitage is an encyclopedia of world culture written in Russian. The Hermitage’s Rembrandts, which have been in Russia for three hundred years, are Russian Rembrandts. The Russian Shakespeare is impossible without [Grigori] Kozintsev and [Innokenty] Smoktunovsky. Other doors — to Asia — are always open. But this does not cancel our presence in Europe.
Since people who value Russian culture have not yet gained the upper hand in Europe, must we now form a European model for ourselves?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We must form this model now. And we are forming it.
Although there seem to be no Shchukins and Morozovs in Russia nowadays.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Shchukin and Morozov shaped tastes. But now we are shaping, for example, international law. For many years, we have been carefully fashioning guarantees for the return of our paintings by changing international laws and creating immunity from impoundment. All this was first elaborated for Soviet exhibitions, and later, already in my own time, we constantly worked on developing it. The descendants of Shchukin and Morozov tried to sue us, so I urgently got the pictures out of Rome by plane. But every year we have strengthened our legal safeguards. We said, “Do you want our exhibitions? Then give us real guarantees. Spell it out in the contract: the exhibition will be returned on time even in case of lawsuits.” Europe accepted all these terms. The Americans didn’t, so we haven’t had any exchanges with the Americans for ten years. Although people who wanted to host exhibitions from Russia introduced a new law in the United States that enabled the government to give us guarantees and immunity. But it was too late; now it’s not enough. But with Europe, all the guarantees worked. In particular, when paintings from our Italian exhibitions were detained at the Finnish border, our diplomats and Italian businessmen helped us. They immediately sent all the paperwork to the Finnish government: “We gave guarantees, how can you not trust them?!”
At the last moment — even amidst the sanctions — our Western partners introduced a clause stating that prohibited luxury items do not include items that are in exhibitions of Russian museums abroad. It was even stipulated that Russian transport companies have the right to transport exhibitions throughout the EU. We didn’t take the risk — we transported [the exhibitions] in foreign vehicles — but this point was specially inserted. So, we not only look at Europe as a model, but also try and shape the international rules ourselves. This is quite important, especially now, when there are disputes about every [piece of art] in the world over who it actually belongs to.
Has the attitude towards the Hermitage changed among its Western fans?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We’ve been getting stabbed in the back a lot lately. Outside the country, the Khodorkovskys of the world have been slinging mud at us, while here at home, as always, certain people have been calling for draconian audits. On the other hand, we have gotten a better sense of who our friends are and who are our enemies. The “society of friends of the Hermitage” have proved their mettle. In Israel, for example, they comported themselves brilliantly. They immediately spoke out. “How can we be friends of the Hermitage, using this honorary title, and then suddenly severe ties [with the museum]?”
Mikhail Piotrovsky: It changed a lot. But besides those who have been writing maliciously about us, unexpected friends have appeared — for example, those French and Italian businessmen I mentioned.
What should we be doing in the field of culture?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: I think we have to do everything in such a way that we are seen, but we don’t have to travel anywhere at all to do this. After becoming director of the Hermitage, I announced a moratorium on exhibitions inside Russia because it was dangerous to transport things then: there were thieves everywhere, there was no money, no real insurance, either. So we didn’t send exhibitions around Russia for ten years. But now we are announcing a moratorium on exhibitions abroad.
I urge everyone now to look back at the experience of the Siege of Leningrad — at the know-how for saving things in an organized manner that was acquired then, at the understanding that when guns speak, the muses should not be silent. On the contrary, they should speak loudly. The experience of the Siege also taught us to address the world beyond the encirclement. During the Great Patriotic War, the Nizami and Nava’i exhibitions and evenings at the Hermitage were examples of this appeal. They showed the whole Soviet Union and the whole world that we remembered the great poets even in the midst of famine and war. Therefore, we are now, as part of the “Great Hermitage” program, going to be doing everything to make the whole world see us and, roughly speaking, envy us.
Now, for example, we are opening an exhibition of works by one of the most famous Danish artists, [Vigilius] Eriksen. He painted Catherine the Great and her court, and for the tricentennial of his birth he earned an exhibition at the Hermitage. We requested pieces from Denmark for the exhibition, but they were not given to us. Well, we have more of Eriksen’s works than they have in Denmark. So, an excellent exhibition is now opening in the Nicholas Hall featuring huge portraits of Catherine and the Orlov Brothers, accompanied by the amazing stories of how they were created, how they were repainted and the medals on the uniforms were altered. The exhibition is on the internet, including a lecture in English. We are broadcasting a message to Denmark: look, a small but very important piece of European culture is the great portrait painter Eriksen in the Hermitage.
What do you say to those who demand that you repent for Russian policy?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Our country has now shifted into another time. The first period of the Scythian War is over. We retreated and retreated, now we are not retreating. A pivot has been made. And it is already clear that it’s the final one. Everything began in 2014 in Crimea. Crimea created a situation in which there was no other way, in which we had to pivot.
Our country is making great, comprehensive transformations. And we, respectively, are part of them and with her. Working calmly and normally is our stance.
The Hermitage has done exhibitions about war many times. What can you say about how it’s perceived? For example, a totally pacifist reaction is not something I find congenial. Apparently, I’m a militarist.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: We are all militarists and imperialists. (laughs)
First and most important, it is my country, and I must stand with it. I sometimes repeat the jingoistic formula: this is my country, such as it is. There are situations when it is absolutely clear that a person must stand with his country. In the West they understand that these are all substantive things — that we stand with our country. When a very serious issue is being resolved, there are no options.
I am currently reading Alexei Varlamov’s wonderful book about [Vasily] Rozanov, and [there is a section in it] about 1914 and his hyper-patriotic sentiments. This patriotism at the beginning of the 1914 war is [a phenomenon] known to everyone, but it has not been explained very well. We are somehow dismissive of it, but it was a quite important thing in fact. We, people of culture, must now understand our involvement in everything that is happening. A person involved in history, first of all, must do well what it is that he does [as a vocation], in keeping with the principle that when guns speak, the muses should also speak. And in keeping with the realization that culture, which for us stands above politics and everything else, will later ask us to account for what we did for it. As we were asked after the war, after the Siege: what did you do — on your own?
For me, the attitude to war is established by the great Pushkin in A Journey to Arzrum. Where is he rushing the entire book? To see the demoted Decembrists and then go into battle?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Arzrum was also the only foreign land Pushkin visited. It expanded the world for him. There is nothing wrong with the fact that a person wants to have the most complete set of sensations. This is especially true when he wants to embody his deep feelings in something, to see and do something new. If he has grounds for it, he throws himself into it. It is an element of self-esteem. I always say that Russian patriotism is a sense of one’s own historical dignity. An individual understands that he must go to war, while another person understands that he must do something else, but which is no less important. Behind this is a sense of one’s own historical dignity, the desire to live up to one’s history and the mission of one’s country. It sounds quite dramatic, but we understand our country’s historical mission. This feeling that our country is changing world history, and that you are involved in it, is crucial now.
Nor are things so simple when it comes to attitudes towards armed hostilities. On the one hand, war is blood and murder, but on the other, it is a means for people, for a nation, to assert themselves. Everyone wants to assert themselves, and in their stances on the war, they undoubtedly assert themselves. We have all been brought up in the imperial tradition, and an empire unites many peoples. It unites people by finding things that are common and important to everyone. It’s very tempting, but it’s one of the good temptations, let’s say. Although we don’t have to succumb to it, ultimately, and we must be able to regulate it within ourselves. Nor should we forget the principle that a person should do what he must do, come what may. For museums, “doing what we must” means preserving and promoting culture. And keeping in mind all the time what is beyond the besieged territory. And speaking not only to people inside it, but also “outside” it.
We met with Liudmila Nikolaevna Vasilyeva in between demonstrations. On February 24 she—a survivor of the WWII-era Siege of Leningrad and a Soviet veteran of labor—was arrested outside the Gostiny Dvor shopping center and taken to a paddy wagon. Her plan for February 27 was to buy flowers, take them to the Solovetsky Stone, and then to be on Nevsky Prospect [the main drag in St Petersburg] with the other protesters by 4 p.m.
“I managed to go to the hairdresser’s this morning before you came. I hadn’t had a haircut for nearly a year because of covid.”
Wearing a sober black dress and pearl necklace, Liudmila ushered me into her apartment. At the entrance we were met by her tomcat Africus and a kitten named Flash Drive recently picked up on the street.
“They woke me up the morning of the 24th, they were meowing,” Liudmila recalls. “I turned on TV Rain right away, where I heard about the war. My tears came flooding out, my blood pressure went up to 200—I haven’t experienced anything like that in ages. Back in 2014 when it was all just starting with Crimea and they hadn’t started fighting in Donbas, I asked my son Denis to print out a poster saying “No to the fratricidal war” and went out to picket. Vitaly Milonov called me a Banderovite then, but I was just talking to people: ‘Mothers, how can you be silent and not come out in protest, it’s your sons who will be killed!’ At work my co-workers kept assuring me ‘Liuda, there won’t be a war!’ But I could see what was going on and I remember everything as if it was happening right now.”
“I don’t believe there are Nazis in Ukraine,” Liudmila continues. “People there want freedom, while Putin wants to re-establish an empire. My heart hurts for everyone: for our boys who’ve been sent to fight, and for the Ukrainians. How could I not go to the demonstration?”
Her son Denis told her over the phone where and when the solo pickets would be happening. He currently lives in Germany.
“I felt helpless for a long time, kept asking myself: what can I do, how can I stop this? When my son called on the morning of the 24th, I told him right away, ‘I’m going out to protest! Just tell me where to go and when!’ And then I got ready and headed out. I got out of the subway and saw girls with placards. They didn’t even have time to unfold them—they were all arrested immediately. I said, ‘Give me your placard—I’ll stand there in your place!’ Of course, the police came running up right away. But I didn’t hand over the placard, so they took me off to the paddy wagon with it unfolded.”
“We had a delightful crew in the paddy wagon,” Liudmila smiled. “The girls were already there, some twenty-year-old boys with a bouquet of carnations—not even my children’s age, my grandchildren’s. We said hello and I suggested, ‘Why stay silent, let’s yell “No war!”’ And we yelled really really loud in the paddy wagon—maybe they could even hear us out on the street. One of the girls recited some of her poetry, I recited ‘Where does Russia begin’ by Viktor Bokov, and we all sang [Boris] Grebenshchikov’s ’Train on Fire’. When I hang out with young people I become younger myself. And then I started teaching the ones in masks and helmets a lesson: ‘Guys, look who you’ve arrested. Kids! It’s easy enough for you to wage war with them, but for some reason you’re afraid of [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov.”
“They took my [internal] passport and at this point, evidently, they realized that I really am a survivor of the Siege—it’s written there in my passport where and when I was born. They started asking me whether maybe they should call an ambulance for me. I said, ‘I don’t need any ambulance, and I’m not going anywhere—I’m staying here with the young people.’Then they came in again: ‘Let’s go!’ And this time the kids said ‘Go on, go on.’ So I went—got out of the paddy wagon and once again started yelling ‘No war!’, and told the young folks in parting, ‘I love you. You’re marvelous!’”
After releasing her, the police decided to drive Liudmila home in their police car.
“At first I said that I didn’t want their help and asked them to let me out by the subway.”
She added: “I don’t need a ride: you’ll try to plant drugs on me.”
“But they said they’d been ordered to do it. Then I started talking with them. One of them was silent the whole time, but the other one talked with me.”
On the way home Liudmila softened and invited the policemen in for tea, but they declined, saying that they weren’t allowed when in uniform.
“And then—I had already gone to bed—the doorbell rang. I put my robe on and peeked in the peephole—there were two people, not in uniform, a man and a woman carrying a bag. They said they came from police headquarters to apologize and had brought something sweet to eat. I’m not supposed to have sweets because of my age, but I made tea and had a ‘preventive conversation with them—we spent more than an hour sitting in the kitchen. They claimed that the men who had detained me were not police, but [Russian National Guardsmen]. I said it was all the same outfit. They appeared to more or less agree with me. I sent them off with the wish that they live in such a way that they would not be ashamed of what they were doing.”
“You see, I talk with everyone,” Liudmila explained. “We are people and we must try to get through to everyone. I can give examples: they earn practically nothing, while Sechin gets a million a day, at their expense. They’re all kids to me. And they have their own kids. I try to awaken a little goodness in them, so that the police hear something humane instead of aggression in response. I urge them to read the news from various sources, to have an opinion of their own instead of one imposed on them—many of them reply to me with phrases straight from the TV.”
Liudmila calls herself a “progressive lady”: she watches RBC, Euronews, and the Culture channel, reads the news from several different media sources, and listens to podcasts on her laptop.
“I tried to watch Russia 1 and RT to see what they’re saying there, but I couldn’t listen for more than three minutes: they’re roaring, calling names, so much noise and aggression and not a single true word. We are threatening the entire world and have gotten to the point that every single one of our words has to be fact-checked. But I don’t just watch the news, don’t get the wrong idea. I read books too. I started reading Nabokov’s Lolita but haven’t been able to finish it because of everything that’s going on.”
“Boris, my husband, loved to read,” Liudmila goes on. “When we visited people he always went straight to the bookshelves—to see whether he might borrow something. It’s too bad that he passed away nearly twenty years ago. He was very clever and erudite—and he educated me when we first met. I was an idealistic Soviet girl. I listened to what they told us—by the way, it’s practically the same as now: enemies all around, we’re defending ourselves all alone. I would say to Boris, ‘But in the paper it says this, on TV they say…’ And he’d reply, ‘And have you seen what’s written on the fences?’ He taught me to think. So when I was invited to join the Party, I said no: ‘As long as the Party people are like you, I’m not joining. You say one thing but in fact you’re fawning and two-faced.'”
When the war [WWII] started, Liudmila was two months old. She stayed in Leningrad with her mother.
“Of course I don’t remember anything from the first years, but I do have fragmented memories from closer to the end of the Siege,” she said.
“I remember how ice from the kitchen sink reached all the way to the floor, how we ate potato peels, I remember the rats running around.”
“The Second World War was one enormous tragedy. Mama always fought for us and didn’t lose her optimism—she was always cheerful, didn’t cry, but if you woke up at night you could see her lying in bed with her eyes open and tears running down her cheeks. Her husband’s uncle was on the Leningrad front. He and mama were saints. They’re the ones who were victorious! But the way our government is exploiting the war and the victory over Nazism these days: it would be better not to talk about it.”
“I’m going out again on the 27th for the March in memory of [Boris] Nemtsov,” Liudmila shares her upcoming plans. “I’ll buy flowers and go to the Solovetsky Stone. I do that every year. And every year on August 19th I go to the Mariinsky Palace, even though it was so long ago. During the [attempted coup in August 1991] my sister said, ‘Liudmila, they’ll kill you there.’ But I told her I can’t just stand there and not do anything. In 1991 the whole square was packed, but now people don’t come out to protest as much. All the more reason to go. Even if no one else was there, I would still go. And what do I have to fear now? I’m 80. My blood pressure has gone up—so what. I lived through yesterday and did it with style. Talked to the young people, gathered more strength. I saw their faces, their beautiful eyes. They’re still full of vim and vigor—they want to change something. I do too. And I want to take part in this, to speak out, to stop the war, so that people don’t die. The world is made up of people. Without them there’s nothing there. And to save even one life I will go on talking with just about anybody.”
P.S. On February 27 at 4:00 p.m., Liudmila was arrested again at Gostiny Dvor. This time she was standing with no sign, a small woman surrounded by five riot police officers. She opened her arms wide and said, “Well, what are you waiting for? Arrest me!” They did.
Source: Artyom Leshko, Novaya Gazeta, 27 February 2022. Photos by Artyom Leshko/Novaya Gazeta. Translated by the Fabulous AM
An inconspicuous monument to the tiny fish that saved tens of thousands of lives during the Siege • Stanislav Mikov • LiveJournal • May 21, 2020
If you are strolling around Kronstadt and walk over the Obvodny Canal via the Blue Bridge, take a closer look. You may not have noticed an amazing monument to one tiny species of fish.
Its modest size is absolutely out of proportion to the considerable role that this fish, the stickleback, played in the history of wartime Kronstadt and Leningrad.
So let’s stop here for a moment, look down the canal, and find out what this fish is known for.
First of all, let’s deal with the name of the fish itself, so that there is no confusion. This article is about the stickleback [kolyushka, in Russian]. There is another fish with a similar name — smelt [koryushka, in Russian] — and it is even one of the city’s unofficial mascots. But that’s not the fish in question.
During the Siege, the populace quickly faced a shortage of food, so they had to make the most of all available resources.
Commercial fish soon ran out in both the Gulf of Finland and Leningrad’s river and canal system, so attention turned to a tiny fish that had always been considered waste — the stickleback.
In peacetime, this fish had not mattered at all. Due to its tiny size (3-4 centimeters), sharp spines, and bony fins, and the impossibility of fishing it with a net, the fish was not even used to feed cats. If fishermen accidentally caught it, they usually would immediately throw it away.
During the Siege, however, the stickleback suddenly became one of the most valuable resources.
The residents of the besieged Kronstadt and Leningrad set to fishing the stickleback. Special teams were even organized that caught stickleback using wicker baskets and nets made of fabric and, sometimes, clothes. The maximum catch was obtained in the spring, during the ice run. It was possible to catch 4-6 kilograms in 3-5 hours.
The stickleback was used to make soup, and cutlets were made from the minced meat. It was also used to produce fish meal, and fish oil was extracted from it.
Stickleback oil was used not only for cooking, but also for treating wounds and burns — a special ointment based on it was developed at the Second Leningrad Medical Institute.
The monument was erected in Kronstadt in 2005. Initially the fish were painted silver, but a few years ago they changed their color to gold.
The memorial plaque located on the opposite side of the canal features a quotation from Maria Aminova’s poem “To the Siege Stickleback.”
To the Siege Stickleback
The shelling has stopped and so has the bombing, But praise still sounds For the little Siege fish That helped people survive…
The memorial plaque “To the Siege Stickleback” was made at the behest of the Kronstadt Council of Veterans
Snipers, security cameras covered with masking tape, and disinfected snowbanks: a Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery employee talks about the unprecedented security measures for the president’s visit • Galina Artemenko • Novaya Gazeta in Petersburg • 28 January 2022
On January 27, St. Petersburg celebrated the 78th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad. Vladimir Putin came to the city to visit the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. On the same day, a video was posted on the web showing how veterans who had come with flowers were not allowed to enter the cemetery. A young woman in an orange jacket explained to them, “People who have come just to lay flowers will not get in until three o’clock.”
Novaya Gazeta found the young woman: she turned out to be Piskaryovsky Memorial Complex (PMC) employee Margarita Nikolayeva. We asked here to explain why veterans were not allowed in and who was responsible for what during the president’s visit.
How many days’ notification do you usually get that the president is coming to the cemetery?
Vladimir Putin has not come for the last couple of years. We knew for sure that the president would come this year on January 24. On the same day, we posted an announcement on the PMC’s official website that the memorial would be closed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. o’clock. This information was given to us by the FSO (Federal Protective Services). Our employees shared the same information with everyone who telephoned to find out about the possibility of visiting the PMC on January 27. Several dozen people called a day.
Did you announce this on radio and TV, where it was more likely that older people who do not use the Internet would hear the news?
No, as far as I know, we didn’t.
In the comments under the video on the internet, you are accused of being the one who ordered not to let anyone in. What really happened?
It’s not my first year working for the PMC, and I know that every year there are people who come to lay flowers but have not looked at our the website, and they have to be told that it’s pointless to wait outside, especially in the cold. So I went up to the police and asked what to say to people who were expecting to be let through any minute. They pointed to the FSO officers: they said they were in charge.
The FSO officers clearly replied that no one would be allowed on the grounds until three in the afternoon. I exited the perimeter and told this to the people waiting outside.
Had it ever happened before that people came on January 27, but were not allowed in?
Yes, and last year it was like that too. People would come and wait for the delegation (Beglov, the Legislative Assembly, and other dignitaries) to go through, and then they would be let in, usually around noon. I believe that on such an important day for Petersburgers, everyone should be let into the cemetery without restrictions. But this is my personal point of view. Unfortunately, I do not decide such matters.
But this year everything was complicated because of the president’s visit. It was announced that the cemetery would be closed until three. In fact, they began letting people in not at 3:00 p.m., as the FSO had said they would, but at 1:30 p.m., when the president left the memorial. But still many people stood in the cold for two hours or so. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said people waited for ten minutes. That wasn’t so.
People were just left to stand outside at the entrance? Were they not invited inside the pavilion to warm up and drink hot tea?
How is the commemorative ceremony involving high-ranking officials organized?
Usually, the Smolny’s social policy committee sends us a list of organizations: the governor, the Legislative Assembly, the Federal Assembly, and the judges of the Constitutional Court are all arranged in hierarchical order. We print their names on pieces of paper, put them on music stands, take them outside, and arrange them so that no one, for example, stands in front of the governor.
I know that the social policy committee (which is in charge of the PMC) starts making the lists around two weeks before the ceremony. [Current Petersburg governor Alexander] Beglov is included automatically. I also never noticed any special preparations before visits by [former Petersburg governor] Valentina Matviyenko. At most, her protocol staff would come to the PMC to find out the details of the ceremony.
How was this presidential visit to the cemetery different from the previous ones?
The fact that he (the president) walked completely alone, that the security cameras were covered with tape, that the wreath stand was moved away from the sculptures, and that the snow was disinfected. The harshest preparations began at 8:30 a.m. on January 27. Metal detectors were set up: this had never been done before. A metal fence was set up on the opposite side of the Avenue of the Unvanquished, and public transport stopped making stops at the cemetery in the early morning.
They covered the security cameras with tape? Why?
The ones that were next to the Motherland monument, where the wreath laying took place, were covered with ordinary masking tape. We didn’t ask why. Probably for security reasons: so that [FSO] officers could not be seen next to the president.
We have a sound engineer’s room, and the cameras that were taped up feed into this room. The sound engineer turns on the music, the metronome, and the anthem, unless a military band is playing. To turn everything at the right time, he needs to have a view of the grounds. So, after the security cameras were covered with tape, they left him a small window so that he could see only the spot to which the president walked.
A photo of snipers standing on the roof of the museum pavilion has been posted on the web. Is it a fake?
No, it’s not a fake. I saw them with my own eyes on the roof of the pavilion (the pavilion on the right side, if you stand with your back to the Avenue of the Unvanquished). There were also snipers in previous years. The picture was taken from inside the memorial: the snipers were aiming towards the Motherland sculpture, that is, where the laying of flowers would take place.
You mentioned that the snowdrifts were disinfected. It sounds funny, although in fact, what’s so funny about it? What did it look like? How many people were involved? Did the snow color change from this treatment? Did it smell? Was the snow treated in previous years?
I can’t say for sure. I wasn’t on site at that moment, my colleagues were there. About half an hour [before the ceremony], a special vehicle arrived: people got out, treated the snowdrifts with something, and left. The snow has never been treated before. There were other precautions: the wreath-bearers were brought from Moscow, where they were quarantined for two weeks. They were brought to the cemetery in a special vehicle and dropped off. They rehearsed with the wreath at a distance from everyone else.
All images courtesy of Novaya Gazeta. Translated by the Russian Reader
The fact is that hovering around a neighbor, waving a bat, and saying “Why you so jumpy? Why you so jumpy? I ain’t done anything yet” is just as disgusting.
In a proper world, thousands of hands would have risen from the mass grave at Piskaryovskoye Cemetery* and torn this hypocrite into atoms.
* Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery (Russian: Пискарёвское мемориа́льное кла́дбище) is located in Saint Petersburg, on the Avenue of the Unvanquished (Проспект Непокорённых), dedicated mostly to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad.
The memorial complex designed by Alexander Vasiliev and Yevgeny Levinson was opened on May 9, 1960. About 420,000 civilians and 50,000 soldiers of the Leningrad Front were buried in 186 mass graves. Near the entrance an eternal flame is located. A marble plate affirms that from September 4, 1941 to January 22, 1944 107,158 air bombs were dropped on the city, 148,478 shells were fired, 16,744 men died, 33,782 were wounded and 641,803 died of starvation.
I don’t know why, but I have come across ladies with dogs so many times that I could do an entire exhibition on the subject. And yet, for example, I have never encountered an old man with a cat! That’s as good a topic for a large-scale sociological study as any other! 🤓
Real “popular opinion” is what people say and do unrehearsed and uncoerced — not the dodgy sentiments that the Kremlin, Levada Center, and self-appointed Russia experts put in their mouths. ||| TRR
Social media posts translated by the Russian Reader
Update (27.01.2022). This, apparently, was the subtext for Ms. Vvedenskaya’s remarks, above:
Photo of the day: Vladimir Putin came to lay flowers at the Piskaryovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg in honor of the 78th anniversary of the complete liberation of the city from the fascist siege. The Siege survivors themselves were not allowed into the cemetery — they were left standing behind the fence. Photo: Alexander Demyanchuk / TASS
You may have already run into problems when you tried to visit the OVD Info website, or seen disturbing news headlines about our project. We would lie to ell you what we know about the problem at the current moment.
On Saturday morning, our website was blocked by decision of the Lukhovitsy City Court. Later, Roskomnadzor sent a request to social networks to block our accounts. We have not received any official notification.
Later, comments made by a Roskomnadzor official to the media made us aware of the reason Roskomnadzor had ordered our website blocked, and had also sent a request to the administrators of social networks to block our accounts.
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Source: OVD Info email newsletter, 25 December 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader
Five hundred years ago, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that it is best for a ruler to be both loved and feared, but ‘it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both’. The Kremlin seems to share this belief. Since the government’s economic policy is aimed at maintaining ‘stable stagnation’ rather than economic growth, it won’t be able to buy the population’s complacency. On the other hand, although the government’s propaganda is still working, its long-term performance is questionable. The share of Russians who obtain information through television has decreased by 25% in the seven years since March 2014. At the same time, citizens’ trust in information from social media and online publications is growing. Against this backdrop, along with the consolidation of online censorship, the politics of fear is becoming an increasingly attractive tool for controlling public sentiment.
Lauren Young, a professor at the University of California, Davis, demonstrated in her recent study how repression works and what dividends a dictator can reap from it. Citizens are more likely to feel fear when witnessing violence used by the authorities. Fear, in turn, leads to pessimism about the prospects for collective action (‘no one will take to the streets, and I won’t either’) and a lower willingness to take risks. All of this diminishes citizens’ desire to express disloyalty to the authorities. In the case of Russia, the politics of fear is also amplified by the fact that many Russians depend on payments from the state budget. As studies show, state-sector professionals, all other things being equal, are less likely to protest and are also less supportive of democracy.
Yes, repressions undermine the legitimacy of state institutions and can even, albeit with very low probability, lead to the opposite effect when people lose patience and pour into the streets. But the year 2021 showed that the Russian regime will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.
The E.E. Brömme Mansion is a historic mansion in St. Petersburg. It is located in the Vasilyevsky Island District, at 41 12th Line, Building 1-Zh. An official regional cultural landmark, it is one of the few surviving wooden mansions in the city’s historic center. It is also known as one of the “Siege addresses”: the so-called Vitamin Pharmacy operated in the mansion during the Siege of Leningrad.
In 1893, the lot was purchased by the brothers Eduard, Robert and Wilhelm Brömme. They were the sons of the German architect Eduard Georg Christian Brömme, who had settled in St. Petersburg in the early nineteenth century. The Brömme brothers were related to the famous Poehle family of Petersburg pharmacists Pele: their father was married to Wilhelm Poehle’s sister Wilhelmina Maria, and one of the brothers, Eduard, to his daughter Emilia.
In the mid-1890s, the trading company Brömme Brothers founded a factory for the production of essential oils and chemicals. In 1897-1898, additional factory buildings, designed by the architect A.P. Soskov, were constructed in brick on the lot where the mansion was located. The Brömme factory produced essential oils for perfumes and pharmaceuticals, fruit essences used in the manufacture of soda pop and confectionery, and aniline dyes.
The wooden one-story mansion with a mezzanine floor, which at that time belonged to Eduard Brömme and also served as the factory’s office building, was redesigned in 1906 by the architect V.S. Karpovich. The building was adorned with carved neoclassical decor, as well as two majolica panels and a majolica figured medallion featuring floral motifs, in a wooden frame containing the figures of griffins. All three ornaments were made at the Geldwein-Vaulin ceramic workshop by Pyotr Vaulin. The mansion and its fence faced the building setback line on the 12th Line, while the garden surrounding it served as a buffer zone between the house and the factory.
After the Revolution, the factory was nationalized. In the 1920s, it was known as the Fruit Aroma factory. In 1931-1935, the chemical plant of Politkatorzhanin, an industrial firm run by the Leningrad regional branch of the Society of Former Political Prisoners and Exiled Settlers, operated in the same facilities. The plant produced essences and oils for the food industry. After the society was liquidated, the plant was transferred to the People’s Commissariat of the Food Industry and converted into a vitamin-manufacturing plant (Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1). The wooden mansion was repurposed as cafeteria for workers and a kitchen, and was also used as an administrative building.
“The Vitamin Pharmacy”
At the outset of the Siege, Leningrad’s chemists and doctors said that, in addition to hunger, the inhabitants of the besieged city were threatened by diseases caused by a lack of vitamins in the diet — in particular, by scurvy. A research group was organized that included chemists, biochemists and engineers. Alexei Bezzubov, the director of the chemical engineering department at the Vitamin Industry Research Institute and a consultant for the Leningrad Front board of health, was appointed head of the research group. On October 15, 1941, it released draft regulations for the production of conifer infusions — a remedy for vitamin C deficiency. On November 18, 1941, the Leningrad Executive Committee issued a decree entitled “On measures to prevent vitamin deficiency.” Pine and spruce needles for the production of infusions were harvested on the outskirts of the city by teams of women. Carotene was also obtained from the needles. Later, the production of yeast from wood rich in B vitamins and the processing of saltbush, hogweed, cow parsley, sorrel, nettle, and dandelions were established. Infusions from these plants saved the servicemen defending the city from night blindness caused by a lack of vitamin A. Tobacco dust, found in Leningrad’s tobacco factories, was used to produce nicotinic acid for treating pellagra.
All these drugs were produced at specialized enterprises in the city, including the Mikoyan confectionery factory and Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1. The plant’s administrative building — the Brömme mansion — also functioned as the outlet where city dweller received their vitamin rations and was popularly known as the “vitamin pharmacy.” Vitamin plant employees warmed up and partially lived in the mansion, since it was easier to heat than the factory workshops.
Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1 on the 12th Line continued to operate after the war. From 1977 to 1987, it was one of the production facilities of the Farmakon chemical pharmaceutical company.
Despite the fact that there has never been a memorial plaque on the building, Petersburgers remember the Brömme mansion as the “vitamin pharmacy,” a “Siege address.” There is a tradition of laying flowers outside the building on the commemorative dates of September 8 (the day the Siege of Leningrad began) and January 27 (the day the Siege was lifted). In 2021, residents of Vasilyevsky Island who are members of the Facebook group From the Spit to the Harbor organized a commemorative action that lasted from January 18 (the day the Siege was broken) to January 27.
“On January 18, we will bring photos of our relatives who went through the Siege on Vasilyevsky. We are not planning any big meetings or gatherings, but we hope that between the two Siege anniversaries, everyone who wants to join the action will bring photos of their relatives: those who stayed on the Island during the Siege; those who left the Island to defend Leningrad; and Siege survivors and veterans who themselves had nothing to do with the Island, but whose descendants now live on Vasilievsky Island. You can bring your photos on any day of the action and at any time. On January 27, we will collect all the photos (the memorial is intended as a temporary one) and keep them until next January.”
Consequently, flowers and wreaths were laid outside the Brömme mansion, and photographs of Leningraders who survived the Siege were posted on the mansion’s fence. A homemade plaque memorializing the Siege chemists and the “vitamin pharmacy” was also mounted on the mansion’s wall.
Source: “E.E. Brömme Mansion,” ru.wikipedia.org. Translated by the Russian Reader
The honor of discovering Vasily Kaluzhnin belongs to the Petersburg writer Semyon Laskin (1930-2005). His novel The Hostage of Eternity recounts the tragic life of the Leningrad artist Vasily Kaluzhnin, a friend of Yesenin, Akhmatova, and Klyuev.
“Damn it, old man! Well, why aren’t you painting?” reads the handwritten inscription on one of Vasily Kaluzhnin’s self-portraits. Addressed to himself, Kaluzhnin’s words sound like a confession of faith. Painting was his only god, and this deity’s temple was a room in a communal apartment on Liteiny Prospect, chockablock with paintings.
The word “miracle” suits best what we know about the artist Vasily Kaluzhnin (1890-1967). He miraculously survived the Siege of Leningrad and the Stalinist crackdowns, and his body of works has been miraculously preserved. Most important is the miracle of his paintings and drawings. Black charcoal “lace,” sanguine drawings, now thick and almost brick-colored, now delicate and transparent. The besieged city, a pearly fog on the Nevsky, emptiness and grandeur. Post-war landscapes of Leningrad and Murmansk, portraits, and genre scenes, painted freely, without fear of being accused of “formalism.”
The work of the artist Vasily Kaluzhnin is presented in the museum of the poet Anna Akhmatova for a reason: Akhmatova and Kaluzhnin were neighbors. And not so much geographically (the artist lived most of his life at Liteiny, 16, across the street from Akhmatova), as in the sense that they inhabited the same cultural and historical space. Their destinies were connected by invisible threads, and their lives were lived in close proximity to each other. They were born and died within a year of each other. Both of them lived long lives, sharing with their generation the full fate of the twentieth century. Both felt a sense of belonging to world culture, in whose space the paths of the poet and the artist so often intersected.
A photo from the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Mikhail Kuzmin’s literary career (1925) is the only document that records the fact that Akhmatova and Kaluzhnin were acquainted, along with a small dark drawing, made with thick charcoal, depicting either Akhmatova or Dante in profile. For Kaluzhnin, the poet who lived across the street from him was of the same magnitude as the great Dante Alighieri. The drawing was probably produced in the 1920s.
The exhibition represents only a small part of Kaluzhnin’s artistic legacy: ballet and theater sketches, nudes, landscapes, and portraits from the 1920s to the 1960s. One of the important themes is the besieged city and the evacuation of paintings from the Hermitage, made in different versions and media, from colored pencil to paints. The exhibition also includes rare photographs and documents from private collections.
“New Hope. All drug addicts quit using. Some manage to do it while alive.” Photo by the Russian Reader
Where Militaristic Infantilism Leads Society’s Losing Its Fear of War Is More Dangerous Than What Happens in the Absence of an Anti-War Movement
Andrei Kolesnikov Vedomosti
November 28, 2018
The “polite people” in the Russian military have taken to ramming ships, shedding their politesse. A military coming out has happened. Either so-called hybrid war has become more hybridized in terms of the variety of its methods or it has become more like good old-fashioned war, involving actual armed clashes. Politically, Russia has become not merely toxic but hypertoxic. A premonition of war prevails among more timid folks, although the footage of the ramming at sea, as painless and triumphal as a military parade on Red Square or a football match (“Crush him!”), still make military operations appear unscary and toylike. We will carry the day in any case, sans victims and blood (ours, that is), as in a cartoon by Putin.
This militaristic infantilism—the loss of the fear of war, the loss of the idea that war is terrible—is the worst outcome of our country’s daily intoxication with the thought of its own greatness for several years running. The army is greatly respected nowadays. People need to trust someone, and the armed forces have bypassed another institution, the presidency, in trustworthiness ratings.
Does this mean Russians are ready for a real war? To put it more plainly, are Russian parents willing to let their eighteen-year-old boys be called up to fight Ukrainian boys just like them? Does anyone understand what they would be fighting for? Is it really all about cementing the nation, “Crimea is ours!” and the personal ambitions of several high-ranking figures in the Russian establishment?
Since 2012, Russia’s collective identity has been built on negative foundations, on awakened resentment, which had been dozing, but had no thought of waking up. The plan has worked quite well. This resentment, however, is verbal and fictitous. Public opinion supported “coal miners” and “tractor drivers” verbally. In Syria, the official army and private military companies fought, or so Russians imagined, at their own risk. The proxy war with the US has gone very far at times, but in the summer of 2018 it did not stop the majority of Russians from abruptly improving their attitude [sic] to the States and the west in general.
But suddenly there is the threat of a real war. On the other side of the border, in the country [i.e., Ukraine] that the Russian imperialist mind never really considered sovereign, a mobilization is underway and martial law has been declared. Is this reality capable of changing popular opinion and rousing Russian civil society, which has a lot going for it except an anti-war movement? No, because so far the war has not been regarded as real.
Identification with the military is the last bullet in the Russian regime’s gun, but it is a blank or, rather, a prop. Exploiting what Russians regard as sacred—i.e., privatization of the memory of the Great Patriotic War [WWII] by a particular group—is a tool that is still in play, but militarism as such has lost its power to mobilize and consolidate Russians. If “German POWs” are marched around Novgorod on January 20, 2019, in an absurd attempt to reenact the NKVD’s Operation Grand Waltz, and on January 29, a military parade is held in St. Petersburg to mark the latest anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad, it will not raise Putin’s approval rating from 66% to 80%. Those days are gone. So, the props have been dropped in favor of direct action in the Kerch Strait, but its power to mobilize people is not at all obvious.
You can cynically throw the ashes of those who perished in the Siege of Leningrad to stoke the furnace of fading ratings as much as you want. You can march people dressed up as German POWs round Novgorod as much as you like. When, however, pollsters ask Russians between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four what countries they regard as role models, they list Germany, China, and the US. This is not because young Russians are unpatriotic, but because not everything comes to down to the top brass feeding on the poisonous corpse of the Stalinist past. The present day, progress, and visions for the future matter, too.
Can we do it again? We cannot. Nor is there any reason to do it. Infantilized by the regime, Russian society’s maturation will be measured by the numbers of people who are convinced that we cannot and should not do it again.
Andrei Kolesnikov is program director at the Moscow Carnegie Center. Translated by the Russian Reader