The Syrian Revolution 10 Years On

Speakers:
Leila Al Shami, Banah Ghadbian, Shireen Akram-Boshar, Sara Abbas, Zaher Sahloul, Wafa Mustafa
Moderators:
Yazan al-Saadi, Shiyam Galyon

Watch here:
https://www.facebook.com/147353662105485/posts/1790854954422006/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1Y7h4N_uHQ

Syria had been the focus of much regional and global attention following the massive eruption of popular revolt in mid-March 2011. The Syrian revolution gradually developed into a war involving multiple local, regional and international actors. As a result, the revolution and its massive protest movement, as well as the resistance from below that have sustained them, has been mostly ignored or silenced. Hegemonic narratives centered around geopolitical rivalries and sectarian conflicts have dominated much of international and Western discourse stripping the Syrian popular classes of any social, political or revolutionary agency.

To push back against these narratives, we had organized a series of an Online Summer Institute titled “The Syrian Revolution: A History from Below” that included presentations from activists, organizers, academics, and writers, who discussed an array of topics ranging from grassroots movements, imperialism and anti-imperialism, political economy, international solidarity, feminist struggles, the prison system, healthcare weaponization, Palestinian solidarity, Kurdish self-determination, refugees, revolutionary art, and the future of the Syrian and regional uprisings (2011 and today). To view the series on Syria’s past and present, go here: https://syrianrevolt159610334.wordpress.com/

Now, we shall turn our gaze to the future.

Marking more than a decade since uprisings erupted in Syria and elsewhere in the region and the world; there is an urgent need to start planning, preparing, and coordinating. Resistance against imperialism and dictatorships of all types is a long and grueling process. It will be painful, frustrating, depressing, and at times heartbreaking, yet to survive and prevail in this long, long war, it will require creative, passionate, patient, self-reflective and stubborn optimism.

In this spirit, we announce an event called “Syria, the Region, & the World 10 Years from Now”. This event will include revolutionary songs, footage from the revolutionary archives, and short interventions from activists, intellectuals, and organizers, and will not only commemorate the Syrian uprising, and other social movements for self-determination and dignity, but also revisit the past with a critical mindset to better prepare for the future. The webinar will examine, discuss, and outline practical steps that we could take to make the Syrian struggle and beyond more visible to people outside Syria. The webinar will also explore the connections between the different struggles in the region. The webinar will cover topics such as the effect of the pandemic on resistance and population, reflect on how to achieve accountability and justice for crimes committed against people, and examine how to develop transnational solidarity between communities struggling for peace and dignity.

This event will challenge the mainstream, orientalist, and Manichean perspectives, as well as push back against the pessimistic and compromising fatalism that have come to dominate narratives surrounding solutions and justice for Syria and others communities.

The future is ours, not theirs.

Speakers:
Leila Al Shami is a British-Syrian who has been involved in human rights and social justice struggles in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East since 2000. She is the co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War with Robin Yassin-Kassab, and a contributor to Khiyana-Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution. She blogs at leilashami.wordpress.com.

Banah Ghadbian is a Syrian woman poet, jewelry maker, and activist. She has a B.A. in comparative women’s studies and sociology from Spelman College and an M.A. from University of California-San Diego, where she is a doctoral student in ethnic studies. Her research focuses on how Syrian women use creative resistance including poetry and theatre to survive multiple layers of violence. Her work is published in The Feminist Wire (finalist in their 2015 poetry competition), and the print anthology Passage & Place.

Shireen Akram-Boshar is a socialist activist and alum of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). She has organized around the question of the Syrian uprising and the relationship between Syrian and Palestinian struggles for liberation, as well as on anti-imperialism and solidarity with the revolts of the Middle East/North Africa region. Her writing has covered the repression of Palestine solidarity activists in the US, revolution and counterrevolution in the Middle East, Trump’s war on immigrants, and the fight against the far right.

Sara Abbas is a Sudanese Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the Freie Unversität Berlin. Her doctoral research focuses on the discourses and practices of women members of the Islamist Movement and al-Bashir’s formerly ruling party in Sudan. Most recently, she has been researching Sudan’s resistance committees which emerged out of the 2018 revolution. She is a member of SudanUprising Germany and the Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialists.

Zaher Sahloul is a critical care specialist at Christ Advocate Medical Center in Chicago. Dr. Sahloul is the immediate past president of and a senior advisor to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a humanitarian and advocacy organization that provides medical relief to Syrians and Syrian refugees.

Wafa Mustafa is a survivor from detention, and an activist and journalist from Masyaf, a city in the Hama Governorate, western Syria. Mustafa left the country on 9 July 2013, exactly a week after her father was arrested by the authorities in Damascus. Mustafa moved to Turkey and began reporting on Syria for various media outlets. In 2016, she moved to Germany and continued her interrupted studies in Berlin where she studies Arts and Aesthetics at Bard College. In her advocacy, Mustafa covers the impact of detention on young girls and women and families.

Moderators:
Yazan al-Saadi is a comic writer, communications specialist, journalist, and freelance researcher based between Kuwait and Lebanon. He holds a Bachelor’s (Honors) degree in Economics and Development Studies from Queen’s University, Canada, and a Masters of Arts in Law, Development, and Globalization from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He often dreams of electronic sheep.

Shiyam Galyon is a U.S. based Syrian writer and communications coordinator at War Resisters League. Previously she worked on Books Not Bombs, a campaign to create scholarships for Syrian students displaced from war, and is currently a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.

Visit our website: syrianrevolt.org

Thanks to Yasser Munif for the heads-up. || TRR

Сирия и “анти-империализм” дураков

Стирание людей с помощью дезинформации: Сирия и “анти-империализм” дураков

Недобросовестные писатели и СМИ, часто действующие под эгидой “независимой журналистики” с якобы “левыми” взглядами, распространяют агрессивную пропаганду и дезинформацию, целью которой является лишение сирийцев политической свободы.

[Следующее oткрытое письмо было совместным усилием группы сирийских писателей и интеллектуалов и других лиц, которые солидарны с ними. Она подписана активистами, писателями, художниками и учеными из Сирии и 34 других стран Африки, Азии, Европы, Ближнего Востока, Северной Америки, Океании и Южной Америки и выходит на нескольких языках: английском, арабском, французском, испанском, греческом и итальянском.]

С начала сирийского восстания десять лет назад, и особенно с тех пор, как Россия вмешалась в Сирию от имени Башара Асада, произошло любопытное и пагубное развитие событий: появление сторонников Асада во имя “анти-империализма” среди тех, кто в противном случае обычно идентифицирует себя как прогрессивных или “левых”, и последующее распространение манипулятивной дезинформации, которая обычно отвлекает внимание от хорошо документированных злоупотреблений Асада и его союзников. Изображая себя “противниками” империализма, они обычно проявляют крайне избирательное внимание к вопросам “вмешательства” и нарушениям прав человека, что часто согласуется с правительствами России и Китая; тех, кто не согласен с их строго контролируемыми взглядами, часто (и ложно) клеймят как “энтузиастов смены режима” или обдураченных западными политическими интересами.

Раскольническая и сектантская роль, которую играет эта группа, безошибочна: с их упрощенной точки зрения, все движения за демократию и за достоинство, которые идут против российских или китайских государственных интересов, обычно изображаются как нисходящая работа западного вмешательства: ни одно из них не является автохтонным, ни одно из них не связано с десятилетиями независимой внутренней борьбы против жестокой диктатуры (как в Сирии), и ни одно по-настоящему не представляет желания людей, требующих права на достойную жизнь, а не угнетения и насилия. Их объединяет отказ бороться с преступлениями режима Асада или даже признать, что имело место жестоко подавленное народное восстание против Асада.

Эти авторы и средства массовой информации выросли в последние годы и часто ставят Сирию на первый план своей критики империализма и интервенционизма, которую они характерно ограничивают западом; российское и иранское участие, как правило, игнорируется. При этом они стремились присоединиться к давней и почтенной традиции внутренней оппозиции злоупотреблениям имперской властью за рубежом, не только, но и довольно часто исходящей от левых.

Но они не принадлежат к этой компании по праву. Никто из тех, кто явно или неявно присоединяется к пагубному правительству Асада, этого не делает. Никто из тех, кто избирательно и оппортунистически выдвигает обвинения в “империализме” из соображений своей конкретной версии “левой” политики, вместо того чтобы последовательно противостоять ей в принципе по всему миру — тем самым признавая империалистический интервенционизм России, Ирана и Китая, — этого не делает.

Часто под прикрытием практики “независимой журналистики” эти различные авторы и средства массовой информации функционировали в качестве главных источников дезинформации и пропаганды о продолжающейся глобальной катастрофе, в которую превратилась Сирия. Их реакционная, перевернутая Реалполитика так же зациклена на нисходящей, антидемократической “политике власти”, как и Генри Киссинджер или Сэмюэл Хантингтон, только с обратной валентностью. Но этот сводящий с ума упрощающий риторический ход (“переворачивание сценария”, как однажды выразился один из них), каким бы привлекательным он ни был для тех, кто стремится определить, кто такие “хорошие парни” и “плохие парни” в любом конкретном месте на планете, на самом деле является инструментом специально подобранной лести для своей аудитории о “истинной работе власти”, которая служит укреплению дисфункционального статус-кво и препятствует развитию действительно прогрессивного и международного подхода к глобальной политике, в котором мы так отчаянно нуждаемся, учитывая планетарные проблемы реагирования на глобальное потепление.

Доказательства того, что мощь США сама по себе была ужасающе разрушительной, особенно во время холодной войны, ошеломляют: по всему миру, от Вьетнама до Индонезии, Ирана, Конго, Южной и Центральной Америки и за ее пределами, массовые нарушения прав человека, имевшие место во имя борьбы с коммунизмом, очевидны. И в период после окончания холодной войны, так называемой “Войны с террором”, американские интервенции в Афганистане и Ираке не сделали ничего, чтобы предложить фундаментальную национальную перемену.

Но Америка не играет центральной роли в том, что произошло в Сирии, несмотря на то, что утверждают эти люди. Идея о том, что это так или иначе, несмотря на все доказательства обратного, является побочным продуктом провинциальной политической культуры, которая настаивает как на центральной роли власти США в глобальном масштабе, так и на империалистическом праве определять, кто “хорошие парни” и “плохие парни” в любом данном контексте.

Идеологическое сближение правых поклонников Асада с такого рода авторитарно-дружественной “левизной” симптоматично и указывает на то, что очень реальная и очень серьезная проблема заключается в другом: что делать, когда народ подвергается такому же насилию со стороны своего правительства, как сирийский народ, удерживаемый в плену теми, кто охотно прибегают к пыткам, исчезновениям и убийствам людей даже за малейший намек на политическую оппозицию их власти? По мере того как многие страны все ближе и ближе приближаются к авторитаризму и отходят от демократии, нам кажется, что это чрезвычайно важный политический вопрос, на который пока нет ответа; и поскольку ответа нет, во всем мире растет безнаказанность со стороны сильных и растет уязвимость для бессильных.

Об этом у этих “антиимпериалистов” нет полезных слов. О глубоком политическом насилии, которому подвергли сирийский народ Ассады, иранцы, русские? Нет слов. Простите нас за то, что мы указываем на то, что такое стирание жизни и опыта сирийцев воплощает саму суть империалистических (и расистских) привилегий. Эти писатели и блогеры не проявили никакой осведомленности о сирийцах, в том числе подписавших это письмо, которые рисковали своей жизнью, выступая против режима, которые были заключены в пыточные тюрьмы пыток Ассадов (некоторые в течение многих лет), потеряли близких, у которых есть друзей и родственников, которых насильственно исчезли, бежали из своей страны – хотя многие сирийцы пишут и говорят об этом опыте в течение многих лет.

В совокупности сирийский опыт от Революции до настоящего времени представляет собой фундаментальный вызов миру, каким он представляется этим людям. Сирийцы, которые напрямую противостояли режиму Асада, часто ценой больших потерь, сделали это не из-за какого-то западного империалистического заговора, а потому, что десятилетия злоупотреблений, жестокости и коррупции были и остаются невыносимыми. Настаивать на обратном и поддерживать Асада значит пытаться лишить сирийцев всякой политической воли и поддержать давнюю политику Асадов по внутренней политике, которая лишила сирийцев какого-либо значимого права голоса в их правительстве и обстоятельствах.

Мы, сирийцы и сторонники борьбы сирийского народа за демократию и права человека, воспринимаем эти попытки “исчезнуть” сирийцев из мира политики, солидарности и партнерства как вполне соответствующие характеру режимов, которыми так явно восхищаются эти люди. Это “анти-империализм” и “левизна” беспринципных, ленивых и дураков, и только усиливает дисфункциональный международный тупик, демонстрируемый в Совете безопасности ООН. Мы надеемся, что читатели этой статьи присоединятся к нам в противостоянии этому.

Подписанты [Институциональная принадлежность указывается только для целей идентификации, полный список можно найти тут]

Ахмад Айша, журналист и переводчик (Турция)
Али Акил, основатель и представитель Сирийской солидарности в Новой Зеландии (Аотеароа/Новая Зеландия)
Амина Масри, активистка/педагог (США)
Асмаэ Дачан, сирийско-итальянский журналист (Италия)

и многие другие.

___________

Источник: New Politics. Перевод яндексовских роботов с моей посильной помощью. Спасибо Гаральду Эцбаху и другим за подсказку. Фото: “Дейли Бист”/Дэвид Грей/Рейтерс

Leila Al Shami: The Case of Syria’s Communes

Building alternative futures in the present: the case of Syria’s communes
Leila Al Shami
March 18, 2021

Originally published at The Funambulist

“We are no less than the Paris commune workers: they resisted for 70 days and we are still going on for a year and a half.” Omar Aziz, 2012

On 18 March 2021 people around the globe will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune. On this date, ordinary men and women claimed power for themselves, took control of their city and ran their own affairs independently from the state for over two months before being crushed in a Bloody Week by the French government in Versailles. The Communards’ experiment in autonomous, democratic self-organisation, as a means to both resist state tyranny and to create a radical alternative to it, holds an important place in the collective imaginary and has provided inspiration for generations of revolutionaries.

On 18 March another anniversary will pass, but surely to much less acclaim worldwide. On this date a decade ago, large scale protests were held in the southern Syrian city of Dera’a in response to the arrest and torture of a group of school children who had painted anti-government graffiti on a wall. Security forces opened fire on the protesters, killing at least four, provoking wide-spread public anger. Over the next few days protests spread across the country, transforming into a revolutionary movement demanding freedom from the four-decade dictatorship of the Assad regime. In the following years, as people took up arms and forced the state to retreat from their communities, Syrians engaged in remarkable experiments in autonomous self-organisation despite the brutality of the counter-revolution unleashed upon them. As early as 2012, Omar Aziz a Syrian economist, public intellectual and anarchist dissident, compared the first of these experiments to the Paris Commune.

Omar Aziz was not a mere bystander to the events underway in Syria. Living and working in exile, he returned to his native Damascus in 2011, at the age of 63, to participate in the insurrection against the regime. He became involved in revolutionary organizing and providing assistance to families displaced from the Damascus suburbs under regime assault. Aziz was inspired by the movement’s level of self-organisation in its resistance to the regime. In towns and neighbourhoods across the country, revolutionaries had formed local coordinating committees. These were horizontally organised forums through which they would plan protests and share information regarding both the accomplishments of the revolution and the brutal repression the movement faced. They promoted non-violent civil disobedience and were inclusive to women and men from all social, religious and ethnic groups. Revolutionaries were also organising the provision of food baskets to those in need and setting up medical centres to tend to injured protesters who feared going to hospitals due to risk of arrest.

Aziz believed that whilst such activities were an important means to resist the regime and had indeed challenged its authority, they did not go far enough. Through their organisation, revolutionaries were developing new relationships independently of the state based on solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid, yet were still dependent on the state for most of their needs, including employment, food, education, and healthcare. This reality enabled the regime to maintain its legitimacy and perpetuate its power despite people’s wide-spread opposition to it. In two papers published in October 2011 and February 2012, when the revolution was still largely peaceful and most of the Syrian territory remained under regime-control, Aziz began advocating for the establishment of Local Councils. He saw these as grass-roots forums through which people could collaborate collectively to address their needs, gain full autonomy from the state, and achieve individual and community freedom from structures of domination. He believed that building autonomous, self-governing communes, linked regionally and nationally through a network of cooperation and mutual aid, was the path towards social revolution. According to Aziz, “the more self-organizing is able to spread … the more the revolution will have laid the groundwork for victory.”

Aziz was not concerned with seizing state power and did not advocate for a vanguard party to lead the revolution. Like the Communards, he believed in the innate ability of people to govern themselves without the need for coercive authority. In his view the new self-organised social formations that were emerging would “allow people to take autonomous control over their own lives, to demonstrate that this autonomy is what freedom is made of.” Aziz envisaged that the role of the Local Councils would be to support and deepen this process of independence from state institutions. Their priority would be working together with other popular initiatives to ensure the fulfilment of basic needs such as access to housing, education and healthcare; collecting information on the fate of detainees and providing support to their families; coordinating with humanitarian organisations; defending land from expropriation by the state; supporting and developing economic and social activities; and coordinating with recently formed Free Army militias to ensure security and community defence. For Aziz, the most powerful form of resistance to the state was a refusal to collaborate with it through building alternatives in the present that prefigured an emancipatory future.

In November 2012, much like so many of Syria’s revolutionaries, Omar Aziz was arrested and died in prison a short while later. Yet, before his arrest, he helped found four local councils in the working class suburbs of Damascus. The first was in Zabadani, an agricultural and touristic town surrounded by mountains, some 50 kilometres from the capital. The town was quick to join the uprising in March 2011, holding regular demonstrations calling for freedom and the release of detainees. By June, young men and women had formed a local coordination committee to organize demonstrations and carry out media work to communicate what was happening in the town to the outside world. Like the female Communards of Paris, the women of Zabadani also created their own forums. In mid-2011 the Collective of Zabadani Female Revolutionaries was formed. They participated in demonstrations in huge numbers and called for peaceful civil disobedience. They played a leading role in the Dignity Strike in December 2011, a nation-wide general strike that attempted to place economic pressure on the regime. In January 2012 they established Oxygen Magazine, a bi-monthly printed magazine providing analysis of the revolution and promoting peaceful resistance. The group later evolved into the Damma women’s network, which continues to work to support women to build resilience and alleviate the impact of violence in conflict affected communities, as well as providing education and psychological support for children.

Zabadani was liberated by local Free Army militias in January 2012. Barricades were set up and the town was brought under the control of its residents. A local council was established to fill the vacuum created by the regime’s departure. The town’s Sunni and Christian residents came together to elect the council’s 28 members from respected individuals within the community and to choose a president. This was Syria’s first experience of democracy in decades. The council established a number of departments to administer daily civil life, including for health care and humanitarian assistance, as well as a political committee involved in negotiating with the regime, and a court to resolve local conflicts. A military committee supervised the Free Army battalions to ensure security. Whilst the council representatives were all men, the Collective of Zabadani Female Revolutionaries played an important role in supporting the Council’s activities. Like the Communards of Paris, the people of Zabadani, who dreamt of a free and just society, managed to creatively self-organise their community independently from centralized state control.

Local autonomy and grass roots democracy was seen by the regime as its greatest threat. As the government of Versailles, which had refused to fight against the Prussians, turned their weapons on the Communards, so the Syrian regime directed all of its might against the people of Zabadani. The town was subjected to a siege, enforced by the regime and its ally the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, and daily bombing led to a dramatic worsening of humanitarian conditions. Inside the town, revolutionaries also faced challenges from extremist Islamist battalions which gained in prominence over time and finally wrested control from the local council in 2014. After a number of failed cease-fire agreements the regime regained control of Zabadani in April 2017, after which many of its residents were forcibly evacuated.

The experience of Zabadani was remarkable, but not unique. Over the course of the Syrian revolution, land was liberated to such an extent that, by 2013, the regime had lost control of around four-fifths of the national territory. In the absence of the state, it was people’s self organisation which kept communities functioning and allowed them to resist the regime, in some cases for years. Hundreds of local councils were established in the newly created autonomous zones providing essential public services such as water and electricity supplies, rubbish collection, and supporting schools and hospitals to keep operating. In some areas they grew and distributed food. People also worked together to set up humanitarian organisations, human rights monitoring centres, and independent media associations. Women’s centres were founded to encourage women to be politically and economically active and to challenge patriarchal mores. One example is the Mazaya centre in Kafranbel, Idlib, which taught vocational skills to women, held discussions on women’s rights issues, and challenged the threats posed by extremist Islamist groups. Unions were established for students, journalists and health workers. In the northern city of Manbij, revolutionaries established Syria’s first free trade union, which campaigned for better wages. Cultural activities flourished, including independent film collectives, art galleries and theatre groups. In the liberated town of Daraya, close to Damascus, revolutionaries built an underground library from books they salvaged from people’s destroyed homes.

After 2011, before the counter-revolution ground them down, communities across Syria lived in freedom from the tyranny of the regime. Power was brought down to the local level and people worked together for their mutual benefit, often in extremely challenging circumstances, to build a pluralistic, diverse, inclusive and democratic society that was the very antithesis of the state’s totalitarianism. They were not motivated by any grand ideologies, nor led by any one faction or party. They were driven by necessity. Their very existence challenged the myth propagated by the state that its survival was necessary to ensure the fulfillment of basic needs and stability. Syrians showed that they were more than capable of organising their communities in the absence of centralised, coercive authority by building egalitarian social structures and recreating social bonds of solidarity, cooperation and mutual respect. There was no one model or blueprint. Each community organised in accordance with its own needs, unique local circumstances and values – the very essence of self-determination – essential in a country which is as socially and culturally diverse as Syria. What they shared was a desire for autonomy from the regime and a commitment to decentralized, self-managed forms of organisation.

Whilst the experience of the Paris commune is well known and celebrated in the West, we must ask why similar experiments happening in our own time in Syria are not – why they have usually failed to attract even the most basic forms of solidarity. Whilst much radical theory holds pretentions to universalism, it often pays little attention to other, non-Western contexts or cultures. When leftists in the West think of Syria they often think of foreign state intervention, extremist Islamist groups, and numerous armed brigades jostling and competing for power and territory. Little attention is given to ordinary men and women and their courageous acts of defiance against a tyrannical, genocidal regime. These people formed the backbone of Syria’s civil resistance. They not only resisted the regime but built a viable, beautiful alternative to it. Their struggle became multi-faceted. They defended their hard-won autonomy from the regime and later numerous foreign forces and extremist groups that saw their existence as the greatest threat. They were shunned and often slandered by the international community, including by people who consider themselves part of the anti-imperialist left. Their existence became an inconvenience to the grand narratives people wanted to indulge in regarding Syria’s revolution and counter-revolutionary war. Epistemological imperialism left little room for Syrian’s lived realities.

As with the Paris Commune, there is much to be learnt from Syria’s revolutionary experience. In times of insurrection or at times of crisis, new ways of organising often emerge which provide alternatives to the hierarchical, coercive and exploitative systems practiced by both capitalism and the state. Through decentralised self-organisation, without the need for leaders or bosses, but through voluntary association, cooperation and the sharing of resources, people can transform social relations and effect radical social change. They show us that emancipatory futures can be built in the here and now, even in the shadow of the state.

*****

All quotes are taken from the English translation of Omar Aziz’s two papers on The Formation of Local Councils by Bordered by Silence, except for the introductory quote which came from Twitter, now deleted.

Thanks to Michael Karadjis for the heads-up. || TRR

Making Women Visible: Russian Language Classes for Immigrants and Refugees in Petersburg

apa-1
Darya Apahonchich with students during class. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“Making Women Visible”: Why Female Immigrants Stay at Home for Seven Years
Karina Merkurieva
Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
March 7, 2020

“My husband and children and I came to Russia from Afghanistan over eight years ago. At first, I had no time to learn the language: I had to help the children and work at home, and then I was unable to find suitable courses. So this is only my second year studying Russian,” says Suraya.

Since she is shy about speaking Russian, she agrees only to a written interview. She has been studying Russian for a second year at courses for female immigrants and refugees in Petersburg. Classes are held at Open Space, a co-working space for social activists, and at two libraries. Groups are divided into several levels according to how well the students speak Russian.

In February, project organizer Darya Apahonchich announced the launch of a new group for beginners. According to her, she saw the need for such courses in 2018, when she worked for a similar project run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“There were classes for children and adults. I taught Russian as a foreign language. The only problem was that only those who had official immigrant or refugee status could attend. In Russia, not everyone obtains this status. Another thing was that the course was limited in time. Not everyone was able to get the necessary minimum of Russian under their belt in this time,” Apahonchich says.

The group she led mostly consisted of women over the age of thirty.

“Young women who come to Russia at an earlier age and go to university have one set of opportunities. As soon as a woman becomes a mother, her set of opportunities decreases dramatically,” Apahonchich adds.

At one of the classes, a new student from Syria decided to join the group. In order for the students to get acquainted, Apahonchich suggested that everyone introduce themselves by telling what country they had come from, how long they had lived in Russia, and how long they had been studying Russian. It transpired that nearly all the women in the class had lived in Russia around seven years, but had only begun to study the language. According to them, they had no opportunity to study Russian before: they had to raise children. Working outside the home was not the custom in their native countries, so their husbands had not allowed them to take language classes.

apa-2A lesson in Darya Apahonchich’s group. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“I was very shocked at the time. These women’s children have basically grown up in Russia: they know Russia on the level of native speakers, and make jokes more easily in Russian than in their native languages. The women have found themselves linguistically and culturally isolated, however. They stayed at home all those years. They didn’t even have a place to learn the language,” says Apahonchich.

When the Red Cross courses were coming to an end, Apahonchich suggested to the women that they should not quit their studies, but continue studying Russian elsewhere. They leapt at the suggestion.

“I realized that those woman would go back to their families, and that would be the end of their introduction to the Russian language. I didn’t want to let that happen,” she recalls.

Other groups and new teachers have subsequently emerged. The project currently encompasses four groups at different levels of proficiency. Classes are taught by eight volunteer teachers. Some of them, like Apahonchich, majored in Russian language pedagogy at university, while others are native Russian speakers with humanities backgrounds and experience teaching history or Spanish, for example.

“I wanted to create a horizontal structure in which each teacher could organize their own groups and take responsibility for the learning process,” says Apahonchich.

As a result, the teachers work autonomously: they find venues for holding classes on their own, and decide with their groups what topics would be interesting to discuss in class.

In her group, for example, Apahonchich focuses not only on teaching the Russian language, but also on the legal aspects of life as an immigrant in Russia. During classes, her students read brochures on how to behave if you are faced with aggression from the police, how to get a job, and how to rent an apartment without falling victim to fraud.

“Our all-female collective discusses issues related to health and doctor visits,” says Apahonchich.

According to Suraya from Afghanistan, this is one of her favorite topics.

“I also like to read texts about Russia and Petersburg, and discuss the weather and family. I really need this vocabulary when I pick up my daughter from kindergarten or go to the clinic. In the clinic, however, I often encounter aggression. The people at reception shout at me if I don’t immediately know what to say,” Suraya explains.

While the courses are more aimed at teaching Russian, the instructors sometimes also talk to the female immigrants about women’s rights.

“Right now, the easiest way, I think, to get women out of linguistic and cultural isolation is to get them into the world of work. That way they could learn Russian more quickly, adapt socially, and make new friends. At the same time, we have before our very eyes the example of women from Central Asia who come to Russia to work and eventually find themselves separated from their families. That is the other extreme. For the time being, I just want these women to stop being invisible. Currently, the majority of the Russian populace doesn’t even suspect how many female immigrants live in cultural isolation in their country,” says Apahonchich.

According to the UNHCR, about 220,000 refugees and persons with temporary asylum status were registered in Russia in 2019. Most of those people came from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, and Yemen.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Blame It on the Weather

kinderworld

Ask yourself who in their right mind and good conscience would want to cut off humanitarian aid and medical assistance to over one million people while simultaneously bombing them at will. Then ask yourself why these acts of homicidal aggression against innocent people have provoked almost no reaction either among the citizens of the country perpetrating them or among this country’s numerous well-wishers around the world.

I’ve asked myself these questions almost every day for the last four and a half years and, occasionally, I’ve asked you the same questions. I’m still waiting for answers, especially from the numerous citizens of the country aiding, abetting and perpetrating this massacre who, I am quite certain by now, watch me like a hawk on this infernal machine, and this country’s equally numerous well-wishers, who blame everything it does on history, other countries or the weather. \\ The Russian Reader

___________________

Russia scored a victory for its close ally Syria on Friday, using its veto threat to force the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution significantly reducing the delivery of cross-border humanitarian aid and cutting off critical medical assistance to over one million Syrians in the northeast.

___________________


Lindsey Smith

Facebook
January 10, 2020

“What we saw today was horrible” ~ Nour.

Severe storms devastated our community partnership camp leaving a flooded disaster much more help is needed.

Updates:
* ALL tents re-enforced with wood and canvas
* Oil provided for all families for entire winter
* We have funds to provide jackets for all 91 children 0-18 years old. (Distribution planned 1/15)
* 64 Adults still in need of jackets. $25 each.
* Urgent priority need of gravel. $450 to make paths, $640 more to ideally cover entire camp

Fortunately our newly re-enforced tents withstood but could not prevent the ground from flooding and sewage to come into the camp. We’ve been asked to help provide gravel to absorb the damage. $450 will provide 45 tons of gravel to at least provide paths between tents. For $640 more, we can provide 135 tons which is needed to cover the entire camp. We will do what we can with what emergency funds we can pull together.

🙏🏻 Please share!

Designate KINDER WORLD in drop box option.

___________________

Kinder World
With love from Minnesota

The Project

Kinder World is a project that aims to create a sustainable support model for Syrian families seeking refuge through community partnership and solidarity.

Through the creation of this network, we will directly address the needs identified by camp residents and assist with solutions that empower the community.

Projects may include telemedicine services, medical and dental care, psychosocial support, nutrition, sustainable farming, education, language skills, parenting support, childcare, individual skill-building, team development through athletics, winterization, and access to clean water.

Minnesota Takes the Lead in Rethinking Aid

Minnesota and a settlement of 155 Syrians seeking refuge in Northern Lebanon are the first communities to partner using the Kinder World model. Our partner community in Northern Lebanon has identified their most prominent needs including winterization, clean water and proper sanitation, education for the children, and medical care.

We hope that the success of our project will inspire other communities to get involved and our outreach to Syrian families seeking refuge will continue to grow. Although our partnership US community is based in Minnesota, all are welcomed to get involved! All skills and all support are valuable.

Please contact us at kinderworldminnesota@gmail.com if you would like to be added to our email list for updates and opportunities to get involved!

Urgent Appeal for Winterization

Kinder World Minnesota Phase 1

Our partner community’s tents are dilapidated and won’t withstand the winter. This will result in flooding, damaging of their belongings, and illnesses from cold exposure. They need canvas and wood to rebuild their tents. Our community has also identified the great need for warm jackets and oil. They do not have proper attire for winter or the oil needed to keep their families warm.

Donate

For just $300, an average family size of 6-7 can be provided with:

– Warm jackets

– Wood and the heavy canvas needed to rebuild their family’s home

– Oil for heating

Select a one-time donation to support our community’s winterization.

You can also choose to select monthly recurring donations to continue to support Kinder World Minnesota and its ongoing projects.

Any amount helps! Click the donate button below and select “Kinder World” as the designation or include it in the comments!

Project Updates

Phase one is well underway in Lebanon as winter weather sets in.

Thanks to our partner community, new wood and canvas have been delivered for residents to reinforce their shelters for the winter weather and each family has received oil to heat their homes.

We would also like to extend a sincere thanks to our community leaders and our in-country coordinators who have made all of this possible in spite of difficult political and logistical circumstances in the country at the moment.

We hope to continue to work together to raise more funds to purchase the camp winter jackets and to move into the next phase of the project: sanitation.

About Us
In-Sight Collaborative is a registered 501(c)3 organization made up of a network of advocates with a shared vision for the improvement of the way we deliver humanitarian aid. Through partnerships and solidarity, we believe in promoting the empowerment of displaced populations and fostering self-sustaining growth through periods of adversity by supporting emergency interventions and long-term projects that aim to preserve dignity and independence while cultivating community. With nearly 70.8 million people displaced globally according to UNHCR due to factors such as conflict, natural disasters, and climate change, we recognize that modern displacement requires modern solutions.

Thanks to Ed Sutton for the heads-up. Images courtesy of Lindsey Smith and Kinder World. Read this article to find out fourteen more ways you can help Syrian refugees. \\ TRR

 

Picketing in Petersburg for the People of Idlib

idlib 5

Movement of Conscientious Objectors (DSO)
Jan 8, 2020
vk.com

“Done!” An Anti-War Picket on Christmas

Members of the Movement of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service held solo pickets on the evening of January 7 outside the headquarters of the Western Military District on Palace Square in Saint Petersburg. The decision to hold an anti-war picket demanding an end to the bombing of people in the Syrian province of Idlib was prompted by a series of articles in Novaya Gazeta about the actions of the Russian military.

idlib 1

Clockwise from upper left-hand corner: “Bombs don’t solve anything!” “Stop bombing for peace!” “Don’t serve war! Don’t join the army!” “Idlib needs medical care, food, and shelter—not bombs!”

We chatted online with Amir al Muarri, a musician from Idlib, and went out to picket on [Russian Orthodox] Christmas day.

As can be clearly heard in a recording of communications between Russian pilots and headquarters, they say, “Package received. Adjusting course. Counting down. Jackpot.”

They then release a missile that brings death, blood, and destruction to people.

After the missile has hit the target, a pilot reports, “Done.”

idlib 2

“Idlib! We are against bombing. I’m ashamed of my country.”

It is a pity we did not think to write these words in Arabic, only in English.

Read more about the situation in the Syrian province of Idlib in Novaya Gazeta.

idlib 3

As practice has shown, there are always people who start writing comments like “Where is the evidence?” I would like to reply, Do you see microbes? No. Then how do you know they exist? You believe scientists who have studied this question and shaped scientific opinion. It is the same with many other questions. I don’t claim to have researched all the questions in the world by myself. On this particular issue, I trust the journalists at Novaya Gazeta, in particular, Elena Milashina, who has studied the subject and authored a number of articles on it.

idlib 4

As for remarks that the American military is also bombing and killing people, I would reply that a pacifist’s uppermost concern should be criticizing the policy of war waged in the name of his or her country.

Otherwise, it is like the old Soviet joke. “We can also go out onto Red Square, shout that the US president is a fool, and get away with it scot-free.”

Or it is like in the famous song by Alexander Galich in which the narrator reads out a prepared speech written for a woman whom he urgently had to replace: “The whole world knows the Israeli warmongers. / I say, as a woman and a mother, / They must be brought to justice.”

Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Photos courtesy of the Movement of Conscientious Objectors (DSO). Translated by the Russian Reader

Always Open for You

always for you

It is important, I guess, to make note of the Putin regime’s now innumerable crimes at home and abroad, although it is practically pointless.

At home, in Russia, the progressive intelligentsia is more interested in debating meaningless “issues” like the virtues or, alternately, the vices of Greta Thunberg than it is in doing much of anything about the regime that has happily trampled all of its real and imagined opponents and enemies scot-free for twenty years while also destroying the rule of law, the welfare state, the education system, medical care, the environment, etc., and, just for fun, has also brutally put down a rebellion in Russia’s hinterlands (Chechnya), invaded three countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Syria), assassinated numerous “enemies” on foreign soil, and recklessly meddled in the domestic affairs and elections of numerous other countries all over the world.

But who cares? My experience of writing about these things for twelve years is that most people (including most people in Russia itself, bizarrely) are keen to give the Putin regime a free pass whenever possible, meaning it has only gained more confidence in the “justice” of its perverted cause over the years.

What is this cause? Ensuring that Putin and his circle remain in power in perpetuity and thus, in control, of the country’s vast wealth, which they dispense of as if it were their personal property.

Public indifference has been most depressingly on display when it comes to Russia’s decisive and murderous military intervention, launched four years ago, in defense of Bashar Assad’s criminal regime in Syria.

Frankly, I have no clue why Russians would need unfettered access to the World Wide Web when they signally have failed to make any noise or, as far as I can tell, even find out anything about their government’s baleful role in the world today.

In fact, if they think about it at all, I imagine they kind of like it. It makes them feel important. [TRR]

Thanks to Harald Etzbach and Boycott Russia Today for the heads-up. Thanks also to Sheen Gleeson for her abiding support. Photo by the Russian Reader

_____________________________

Putin Begins Installing Equipment To Cut Russia’s Access To World Wide Web
Zak Doffman
Forbes
September 24, 2019

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Russian Internet (Runet) [sic] into law to protect the country’s communications infrastructure in case it was disconnected from the World Wide Web—or so he said. Critics argued it was opening a door to a Chinese-style firewall disconnecting Russia from the outside world.

Now, Alexander Zharov, the head of the federal communications regulator Roskomnadzor, has confirmed to reporters that “equipment is being installed on the networks of major telecom operators,” and Runet [sic] would begin testing by early October. Such testing, reporters were told, is known as “combat mode.”

When the legislation was introduced there was some debate as to whether it would work in practice. The government claimed its objective was to deal with “threats to the stable, safe and integral operation of the Russian Internet on Russian territory,” by centralizing “the general communications network.” This would work by deploying an alternative domain name system (DNS) for Russia to steer its web traffic away from international servers. ISPs are mandated to comply.

The Moscow Times reported at the time that “Russia carried out drills in mid-2014 to test the country’s response to the possibility of its internet being disconnected from the web—the secret tests reportedly showed that isolating the Russian internet is possible, but that ‘everything’ would go back online within 30 minutes.”

As for this “combat testing,” Zharov has assured [sic] that everything would be done “carefully,” according to local media reports, explaining that “we will first conduct a technical check—affects traffic, does not affect traffic, do all services work.” The plan is for all of this testing to be completed by the end of October.

Although the regulator has been keen to emphasize that Runet [sic] is only for deployment when the system is perceived to be “in danger,” there is a clear question as to where and how such a decision would be taken. Such threats have been classified as “impacts to the integrity of networks, the stability of networks, natural or man-made impacts, or security threats,” all pretty wide-ranging classifiers.

Russia’s recent moves to shut down cellular data traffic to stymie anti-Putin protesters and government warnings that social media access may be curtailed have not brought much confidence to its tech-savvy citizens.

Runet [sic] is due to go live in November. According to Freedom On The Net, “Russian internet freedom has declined for the sixth year in a row, following government efforts to block the popular messaging app Telegram and numerous legislative proposals aimed at restricting online anonymity and increasing censorship.”

And there are no signs of that getting any better any time soon.

NB. “Runet” is a term that has long been used to denote the Russian or Russian-language segment of the Internet. Why Mr. Doffman thought it was something that would go online only in November or was “signed into law” is beyond me. But then I also do not understand why a respectable magazine like Forbes would not only fail to fact-check his article but also neglect to proofread it. I had to do the proofreading for them. [TRR]

More and More Russians

hongkong.jpgAccording to organizers, at least 1.7 million people attended a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong today, August 18, 2019. Photo courtesy of HKFP

More and more Russians seem to be breaking free of the old habit of trying to guess the party line. Increasingly, they just do what they deem important, and the authorities deal with the consequences. We are all much more used to the reverse relationship, which is why Russia’s new situation is hard to grasp. People in Russia are only now learning to peer into themselves, not into their television sets, searching for clues to what will happen next.

This does not mean that the Kremlin has suddenly become more transparent or less authoritarian. It only means that Russian society has started to realize that it may, in fact, be an originator of political and societal change, not just on the receiving end.

For how long this new situation—or an impression of it—will last is unclear. The Kremlin is at war and wants everyone in Russia to be at war too. Russians seem to be drifting away from this belligerence. The question is whose pull, the Kremlin’s or Russian society’s, is stronger. I am afraid the Kremlin’s is stronger but will be happy to be mistaken.
—Maxim Trudolyubov, “Ask Not What Will the Kremlin Do Next,” The Russia File, 16 August 2019

_____________________________________

What does the phrase “more and more Russians” mean, in the essay quoted above? How does Maxim Trudolyubov know they are doing anything at all, much more “breaking free of the old habit of trying to guess the party line” and doing “what they deem important” (whatever that means)?

If its organizers are to be believed, a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong was attended by 1.7 million people today, August 18. According to Worldometers, Hong Kong’s population, as of today, was almost 7.5 million people, meaning that nearly 23% of Hong Kong’s residents marched today in support of the city’s autonomy and democratic rights.

In Moscow, “up to 60,000 people” attended an “authorized” pro-democracy rally on August 10. It was, apparently, the biggest opposition rally in Russia since the fair election protests of 2011–2012.

World Population Review estimates Moscow’s population as slightly over 12 million people.

If the figures for the August 10 rally and Moscow’s population are to be credited, then, 0.005% of the city’s populace came out for an “authorized” rally—meaning an event where they had much less reason to fear a police crackdown than at the “unauthorized” rallies at which riot police and Russian National Guardsmen detained thousands of protests over the last month or so.

When you are trying to get your collective point across to an authoritarian government, the numbers do matter, just as they matter in non-authoritarian countries.

As I have argued in many different ways many different times, the Russian opposition, especially its self-declared leaders in Moscow, is woefully bad at two things: mobilizing ordinary pro-democratic Russians to make their numbers known to the regime, and meaningfully allying itself with the grassroots pro-democracy movement beyond Moscow.

In fact, at the very same time as a tiny minority of brave, smart Muscovites have been doing battle with the Moscow City Elections Commission and the security forces to defend their constitutional right to vote and run for office, an even tinier and, perhaps, braver minority of Petersburgers has been fighting to get a small slate of independent candidates onto the ballot for elections to the city’s municipal district councils, chronically underfunded entities with almost no power to do anything more than making cosmetic improvements to the neighborhoods they represent. Just as in Moscow, the would-be candidates themselves have been harassed, beaten, and arrested, along with some of their supporters.

Typically, when the Petersburg pro-democratic opposition held an authorized rally on August 3, only two thousand people showed up. Sadly and hilariously, Deutsche Welle described it as an “event in support of candidates not allowed to run in the elections to the Moscow City Duma.” In reality, Petersburgers rallied in support of their own beleaguered opposition candidates, in solidarity with Muscovites, and against the upcoming pro forma election of acting Governor Alexander Beglov, the Kremlin’s third satrap in the city, on September 8.

But the real story was too complicated for Deutsche Welle. It was, apparently, too gnarly for the vast majority of Petersburgers as well. World Population Review estimates Petersburg’s population as nearly 5.5 million. (I suspect it is actually much higher than this, but that is another conversation.) So, proportionately, even fewer people in Russia’s “cultural capital” are worried about their rapidly vanishing constitutionally guaranteed rights than their comrades in Moscow and their Chinese frenemies in Hong Kong: 0.0003%, to be exact.

In the face of these real numbers, which he signally fails to mention, Trudolyubov cites public opinion polls, notoriously unreliable indicators in a highly manipulated authoritarian society like Russia, and his own vague “impressions.”

He also makes an assertion that is debatable and a promise he probably has no intention of keeping, to wit:

“Russian society is turning into a much more active player in Russia’s public life. Importantly, it is not limited to the political protests that have been taking place in Moscow for the past several weeks. The protests are just the most visible part of the change. There is exciting new art, there is a new wave of independent journalism, there is an entire universe of YouTube and other social media channels that are completely free of both pro-Kremlin and strictly oppositional politics (all of those trends deserve a special take, which we will provide).”

I will have been reporting on these “other Russias,” as I have dubbed them, for twelve years come this October. I know them as well as any “outsider” can know them. I will keep writing about them and translating dispatches from these other Russias as long as I am able.

Despite my interest in the other Russias and Russians, however, and my endless admiration for the sheer courage, tenacity, and intelligence of many of the real-life heroines and heroes who have made appearances on this website over the years, I knew the fair elections movement of 2011–2012 was a non-starter almost as soon as it kicked off, even though it was a nationwide grassroots movement, unlike the 2019 fair elections movement, which has been practically limited to Moscow.

I knew that for two reasons. First, the numbers of anti-Putinists showing their faces in public at protest rallies, “authorized” and “unauthorized,” were also minuscule as percentages of the general populace. Second, the “movement” was managed lackadaisically, with indecently long pauses between “authorized” rallies.

In Moscow, at least, there does seem to be a greater sense of urgency and intensity this time around, but the numbers of people showing up for rallies have been halved. Paradoxically, however, those people have been more willing to face police crackdowns, but I am not sure this is necessarily a good thing, politically and strategically.

Like Trudolyubov, I am happy to be mistaken. Unlike Trudolyubov, I have no sense that Russian society has become a bigger player than it was seven years ago. There was also a lot of new art, independent journalism, and social media savvy on the margins then as now.

The sad truth is that, unlike countries and territories populated by people of color, such as Hong Kong and Puerto Rico, Russia gets way more credit for every tiny gesture towards democracy, autonomy, and independence made by its supposedly “white” people, even though Russian society punches way below its weight when it comes to every possible measure of official and popular support for democracy, minorities, civil and human rights, progressive environmental policies, engaged art, cutting-edge education, grassroots-driven urban planning, you name it.

What Russia does have a lot of is flag twirlers who have ensconced themselves in plum jobs at western news outlets and think tanks, places where, correspondingly, you will not find a lot of people of color and people from the formerly colonized parts of the world. So, even though the Kremlin has made xenophobia, anti-Americanism, rampant homophobia, Islamophobic, anti-westernism, anti-liberalism, Russian Orthodox obscurantism, and aggressive covert and overt interventions into the affairs of other countries planks in its unwritten ideological platform, and Russia’s opposition has said almost nothing about any of it, much less organized protests against, say, the Kremlin’s criminal military involvement in the brutal ongoing murder of Syria’s pro-democracy movement, the so-called west, at least as represented by places like the Kennan Institute and media organizations like the BBC, has way more time and sympathy for all things Russian than it has for anything happening in countries and places dominated by people of color.

It would be strange of me, of all people, to argue for less interest in grassroots politics and culture in Russia, but a genuine curiosity should also involve being able to tell the fibbers and crypto-nationalists from the truth-tellers and democrats. // TRR

Thanks to the fabulous Mark Teeter for the heads-up. I am nearly certain he would have a different take on Trudolyubov’s essay, but in my Facebook newsfeed it ended up cheek by jowl with an article about today’s truly massive protests in Hong Kong.