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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.